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News + Politics On housing policy, is everything really "going to be...

On housing policy, is everything really “going to be OK?”

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No, it’s not — and the voters seem to agree

People angry over housing policy don't think things are just going to get better
People angry over housing policy don’t think things are just going to get better

By Calvin Welch

NOVEMBER 24, 2015 — In a recent Chronicle Open Forum (November 20, “We Can Resolve Housing Crisis With Teamwork”) Gabriel Metcalf, Executive Director of SPUR, penned an oddly argued, personal, upbeat exhortation about how our affordable housing crisis is going to be solved if we just understand that “its going to be OK.” He says we can take his word for it: “I want to say to everyone already here, as compassionately as I can, is that its going to be OK.” He says that if we “take taller buildings,” “take more transit,” and “make room for more people” “it’s going to be OK.” That’s pretty much the sum total of his argument.

It seems clear that Metcalf’s reason for directing his remarks to “everyone already here” is that so many of us simply do not agree that under current development policy, strongly urged by Metcalf’s organization, SPUR, that “everything is going to be OK” for the obvious reason that everything, now and in the recent past, has not been “OK” and it’s clear for all to see which is why Metcalf’s musings are so odd. In the same edition of the Chronicle that his article ran — November 23 — three stories made this point.

A new market-rate development at Van Ness and Market will have only 20% of its units affordable to current San Francisco residents; the city is scrambling to find a short term $200 million “bridge loan” to continue the construction of the Transbay Terminal while having no idea how to finance the additional $2.5 billion to move CalTrain and other commuter transit service to the facility; and a front page report measures how the “Awful Commute is Getting Worse” in the Bay Area as the working class is priced out of Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose ( “all three are dynamic and growing” says the rather breathless Metcalf) and must commute, by car, from Tracy, Stockton and Ripon.

This November’s ballot in San Francisco showed how current residents disagree with Metcalf. Six of the 11 measures on the ballot dealt directly with trying to protect people already in San Francisco from the development pressures he and SPUR support. Each one of the measures got more total votes cast for them than the total votes cast for mayor.

Indeed, Mayor Lee, the chief proponent of the development policy favored by SPUR, got the fewest votes cast for any citywide candidate, and his hand-picked District 3 candidate, widely seen as favoring the same development policy as the mayor, was solidly rejected in favor of a candidate who campaigned directly on a program of protecting current residents and businesses from eviction and displacement. Clearly San Franciscans want equitable public policies not “faith based” exhortations to govern their future.

That we didn’t get all that we sought this November does not mean that we should quit trying and put our faith in the Metcalf “it’s going to be OK” line. We need to redouble our efforts at crafting creative, comprehensive and inclusive development policy.

The facts are indisputable:

 

San Franciscans correctly understand that the housing crisis we face is one of affordability, that housing affordability is dependent on household income and that household income, for San Franciscans, is often dependent on the ability of local businesses to continue to be located in San Francisco. The three go hand in hand and are, all three, dependent on a system of informed local land use policy that integrates the three (see Section 101 of the San Francisco Planning Code, drafted by the people and made law by the passage of Prop M in 1986 ).

That’s what the six ballot measures on this November’s ballot were mainly about: housing affordability and jobs for San Franciscans. What Metcalf calls for is the disaggregation of local land use policy (“we need to make some different planning decisions”), centered not on the needs of San Franciscans but for “waves of new arrivals” even as the “new arrivals” of yesterday are being displaced and evicted today!

“Things are going to change…that’s the nature of city life” he says. But the policies he supports simply keep the essential things the same: the wealthiest getting even wealthier, housing affordable only by the wealthy and streets, bridges and freeways clogged with cars. The only changes his polices have accomplished have diminished us all: fewer middle class people living and working in San Francisco, fewer San Franciscans riding Muni, fewer African Americans, artists and young families able to find employment or housing they can afford.

We need a comprehensive development policy that places housing in its true social context, that protects and enhances our neighborhoods, communities and businesses, that preserves space for the arts, the very young and the very old. To do that will produce real social change that will preserve and enhance a city not only for us but all in the world who, like us, yearn for such a place to live.

Calvin Welch teaches classes in the development history of San Francisco at USF and SFSU. He was a founder of the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods and the Council of Community Housing Organizations.

 

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.

50 COMMENTS

  1. You only win when that which you decide to propose connects with a majority. When you take polling that indicates 70% support and add elements for which there is no polling data to support and you are an electoral weakling with a 25 year record of electoral defeat, then not only do you lose the election, you telegraph weakness to your opponents and invite further .

    When Calvin Welch offers gifts such as this to the elites, he is rewarded with continued access to city funds for his nonprofit cartel while the people who are not politically connected are frozen out of the process.

  2. Progressives like Peskin and The Sierra Club oppose a subway station in North Beach. This is why we need new leadership in The Sierra Club.

  3. Also, just another fact check, Muni ridership isn’t down, it’s up. The best way to keep it going up is investing in new lines and improvements so that it is consistantly a better option than driving. Pretending that stopping transit-oriented residential construction and clamping the population will make ridership go up is just silly. We know that car ownership in new construction is actually MUCH lower than the city as a whole. Even in Rincon Hill, the kind of development you seem to think will kill Muni, car ownership is lower than in the Sunset. Actually, if we wanted Muni to be healthy and sustainable, we could greatly increase the residential and office density outside of downtown so that the lines were being used in both directions all day. We have a very centralized business district compared to places with successful efficient subway systems (and drastically lower car ownership) like London, NY, or Tokyo.

  4. He was a founder of the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods

    Calvin Welch’s relationship with the CSFN is probably about as healthy as the low income communities that CCHO dominates the politics of.

  5. Egan says the city’s cost per unit is 200k (balance is leveraged state and federal money). So that 50M for the Mission would be 250 units. Assuming the city doesn’t blow the money like it did on that S Van Ness parcel that bought at an absurd price.

  6. You’re becoming semantic pedant. Calvin Welch hijacks political opposition to development not to stop development rather to advance his own narrower agenda.

  7. If Prop I represented political outrage at overdevelopment, why aren’t there tens of thousands demonstrating in the streets?

    Not to belabor the point, but what outrage?

  8. And how far would that $50m in Prop A go to build housing in the Mission? 100 @ $500K/unit which provides some wiggle room for leverage. Rounding error on chump change.

  9. The original statement was that SPUR’s endorsements went better than CCHO’s endorsements, not what role SPUR played in crafting the measures that made the ballot.

    You only win when you’ve got the conservative elites on your side.

    You only get the conservative elites on your side when you’ve given up more than you’ve gained.

    When you “win,” we lose more than we gain.

  10. SPUR having nothing to do with it? I guess you weren’t the one paying attention. Gabe Metcalf and the Mayor both spoke at the Yes On A kickoff. While you guys were fighting over how many neighborhoods to expand the next moratorium ballot measure to, they won that one. Let me ask you, what percentage of your time this election did you spend on A versus I and F?

  11. I’m saying that when running a political campaign from a very weak position, that it is an error to put one’s own personal narrow parochial interests first if those interests would draw opposition that you’re too weak to counter. It probably cost the measure several points.

  12. So you’re actually advancing the theory that the Mission moratorium would’ve succeeded had it only not gotten in the way of Kink’s desire for a music venue? That’s hilarious.

  13. SPUR has built thousands of homes for SF residents. Your contribution is a net negative number of homes, while enriching yourself on the property you shrewdly bought before spreading NIMBYism like a self-serving plague.

  14. I guess you weren’t watching closely or you are simply trying to confuse people.

    Prop.A was a GO bond based upon the 1996 measure (the first and until the Nov vote, the only such passed in a major American city) conceived, drafted and campaigned for by progressive affordable housing advocates. It was placed on the ballot by the votes of progressive supervisors only after Lee was forced to add $50 m more for the Mission. SPUR had noting to do with it. D was passed because of its 40% affordable housing component hammered out by progressive community based affordable housing advocates after progressive supervisors threatened a counter ballot measure. It was placed on the ballot because of the passage of a measure designed by progressives and opposed by SPUR. SPUR had nothing to do with increasing the affordable housing portion of D. K was conceived, drafted, and campaigned for by community based affordable housing advocates. SPUR had noting to do with it. To give SPUR credit for these measures is to completely ignore the political reality that produced them and to deny the strong voter support for that reality. SPUR simply endorsed the work of affordable housing advocates and to confuse the two is either an act of mindlessness or a very mindful attempt at confusion.

  15. Wow. I usually disagree with what’s on 48hill, but this piece is really disingenuous. That analysis of the election blatantly mischaracterizes the results. The voters did unenthusiasticaly reelect Ed Lee and sent his D3 appointee packing, but the the Lee agenda soared as far as the Props were concerned.

  16. Early polling can represent almost anything – low information respondents, a bad survey, who knows – and that’s when the poll actually asks directly about a subject.

    What outrage?

  17. Come on…don’t be mean. When you see little kids who still believe in Santa do you also point out that he doesn’t really exist?

  18. “This November’s ballot in San Francisco showed how current residents disagree with Metcalf.” -really? Last I checked SPURs ballot endorsements blew 48 hills’ away in the election. OOPS my bad, 48 Hills is prohibited from making endorsements (LOL) so they did it through their codpiece the Guardian instead. Can you show us please how your endorsements did better than SPURs?
    No. Because they didn’t.

  19. More than you’ve built, troll, but not enough to counter the gentrification and displacement they’ve failed to stop.

  20. There was 70% polling in favor of a Mission moratorium on housing earlier this year. If that poll was correct, it represented outrage. Calvin Welch sees outrage as opportunity, so Calvin Welch hitched PDR onto the housing moratorium, attracted the opposition of kink dot com and in so doing figured out how to squander a healthy lead at the polls by larding up the measure with poison pills.

  21. The Council of Community Housing Organizations signed onto Eastern Neighborhoods and Market Octavia which upzoned vast swathes of the east side. And they develop some affordable housing units. They cut crap deals that produce more bad housing than I’d like to see. And then they take political outrage at overdevelopment and neutralize it by running poorly drafted ballot measures that lose.

  22. I think you mean the “”progressive” no housing movement”
    How many units has this “progressive” movement made happen in the last decade?

  23. “Why does Calvin Welch still get paid to do this work if his handiwork has not been up to the task?” is the question I’d like to see answered.

  24. Everything is not going to be okay so long as Calvin Welch continues to assert dominance over what’s left of the “progressive” housing movement.

    Calvin Welch has not won a contested election in more than a generation. The only time he wins is when he cuts a deal with the elites where they get more than we do.

    In fact, Calvin Welch was one of the few to oppose Prop C on November 2015’s ballot, a measure that passed with 75% citywide. Calvin Welch opposed Prop C because he wanted to conceal his taxpayer funded astroturf operations from public scrutiny.

    Over and over again we’ve seen that to Calvin Welch the fiscal health of the nonprofits in the CCHO cartel comes before the well being of San Francisco residents.

    On policy, Calvin Welch is always reactionary, he never articulates a positive, affirmative vision for San Francisco that can magnetize the electorate. This is because Calvin Welch holds San Franciscans in nothing less than contempt.

  25. Mr. Welch’s essay is an extremely “selective” analysis of the election results as seen through his very narrow (and outdated) ideological prism.

    It’s interesting that the supposed “progressive left” in SF has, this way, somuch in common with their rightwing Tea Party counterparts at the national level.

  26. And part of it seems to arise from the 2008 foreclosure crisis; a lot of big money went into housing, at the expense of middle-class people. And that kind of investment really doesn’t want increased competition. I see the housing market is continuing to be constrained , Resulting in increased asset value at the expense of regular people.

    It’s not just San Francisco; it’s not just the bay area or California; it’s the whole nation

  27. What does this mean?
    “Mayor Lee, the chief proponent of the development policy favored by SPUR, got the fewest votes cast for any citywide candidate” – Were the other people running for Mayor with vastly less votes, not “citywide” ??

  28. According to Calvin the supply has no impact on demand in San Francisco. View everything he says through that lens.

  29. The major salient fact is that the US is not investing enough in housing. Post hoc rationalizations matching a preferred world view don’t change the numbers. Housing share of US GDP has been in the 3% range for seven years. This share should be 4.5% to 5%, as it was for fifty years prior to the 2000s bubble.

    Post hoc reasoning ignoring this fact doesn’t advance the policy discussion.

  30. Calvin Welch and many others have been working to resolve the housing issues for decades and yet we find ourselves in the current mess. At what point will Calvin take responsibility and admit his policies have failed, or is it everyone else responsibility and if that is the case can he admit he has been impotent on the issue. Either way I think Calvin and is ilk should bow out and leave it to a new generation to clean up their mess.

  31. He says that if we “take taller buildings,” “take more transit,” and “make room for more people” “it’s going to be OK.” That’s pretty much the sum total of his argument.

    Terrible summary. If that was a 2nd-grade book report I would give you a frown-y-face sticker on the assignment.

    I’d encourage folks to read the original, but here’s what Gabe Metcalf wrote:

    “We have allowed San Francisco to become the most expensive big city to live in, and the rest of the Bay Area is just as bad. We’ve let our housing get so expensive that it’s threatening everything else we’ve achieved.

    It’s not the economic miracle that’s hurting people; it’s our high housing costs.

    And I don’t think we can be forgiven for this, because unlike the problem of economic inequality, the problem of high housing costs is one that we actually have the power to solve, here, through different choices that we could be making.

    There is no mystery in this, folks.

    We have to let more housing get built, while at the same time investing in affordable housing. So many of the fights we are having — I think we all know — are distractions from the core of the problem, or else marginal solutions. But the way we have made this place so expensive is that neighborhood after neighborhood, in city after city, decided that they didn’t want to be inconvenienced by more traffic or more people or taller buildings.

    I know that most people in the Bay Area are appalled at the anti-immigrant agenda that they hear coming from other parts of the country. But we may as well be building a wall ourselves by our refusal to allow new housing to be built.”

    It’s almost as though there’s a tremendous common ground between opponents in the ongoing debate about the housing crisis, which could be used as a starting point in a sincere, evidence-based conversation around how to best achieve the goals of an inclusive and affordable city. Wouldn’t that be something?

    But no. Here’s some more disingenuous polarization from Welch:


    It seems clear that Metcalf’s reason for directing his remarks to “everyone already here” is that so many of us simply do not agree that under current development policy, strongly urged by Metcalf’s organization, SPUR, that “everything is going to be OK” for the obvious reason that everything, now and in the recent past, has not been “OK”

    The context for “everyone already here” is this:


    We have a wonderful quality of life here, and we have this incredible economy. So yes, a lot of people want to come here to be part of it. And what I want to say to everyone already here, as compassionately as I can, is that it’s going to be OK. We can make room for more people.

    In countless arguments about constructing new housing in San Francisco, anti-development activists will mention that the character of the city is being destroyed by new building, or they’ll come right out and say that the new residents themselves are the problem. Metcalf’s line seems addressed to that particular sentiment. The city is not “full”. New residents are not the problem, affordability is the problem.

    The truly progressive response to such a sentiment would be something like “Bravo, let’s not blindly demonize outsiders, and work together on solutions for all!”—but Welch opts to spin this as yet more evidence that Metcalf is disinterested in / oblivious to the problems facing longtime residents and the displaced.

    See, for example, this line:


    “What Metcalf calls for is the disaggregation of local land use policy (“we need to make some different planning decisions”), centered not on the needs of San Franciscans but for “waves of new arrivals” even as the “new arrivals” of yesterday are being displaced and evicted today!”

    That sounds monstrous, until you read what Metcalf actually wrote:


    “We are idealists, we are the Left Coast, and that means we care about people having a fair chance in life, we care about the environment, we believe in having communities that welcome everyone. So we need to make some different planning decisions, in order to live up to those values.”

    It’s puzzling, too, that Metcalf would be arguing for new planning decisions, when Welch implies several times that the current planning policy is the sort of nefarious policy Metcalf supports:

    “protect people already in San Francisco from the development pressures he and SPUR support”
    “Mayor Lee, the chief proponent of the development policy favored by SPUR”
    “current development policy, strongly urged by Metcalf’s organization, SPUR”
    “the policies he supports simply keep the essential things the same”
    “The only changes his polices have accomplished have diminished us all”

    Which sort of obliquely touches the center of this whole thing. Metcalf and co. think that when a city’s population grows by 50,000 people, it needs to build more than 8,000 units.

    Welch disagrees. He is one of the most vocal proponents of the idea that supply and demand don’t apply to San Francisco. To back this up, he says “the facts are indisputable”:


    “Over the last decade as we built more high rise, market rate housing actual housing costs increased (see the Controllers Residential Real Estate Summary) ;”
    “Existing neighborhoods experiencing most high density, market rate development are also experiences displacement of existing populations and local businesses that serve them (see UC Berkeley Urban Displacement map ) ;”

    If you’re at a party and you’re eating some snacks, but you still get hungry, your thought is “I should go eat dinner”, not “chips and salsa must not be food.”

  32. The major salient fact is that the US is not investing enough in housing. Post hoc rationalizations matching a preferred world view don’t change the numbers. Housing share of US GDP has been in the 3% range for seven years. This share should be 4.5% to 5%, as it was for fifty years prior to the 2000s bubble.

    Post hoc reasoning using cherrypicked factoids doesn’t advance the policy discussion.

  33. It’s bizarre that Welch thinks that the recent election endorses his views.

    Most obviously, not only was Lee re-elected, but F and I both crashed and burned.

    The pro-housing A and D passed, but then those were both Lee initiatives.

    The only result that went Welch’s way was the election of a NIMBY to D3. Yeah, Welch, because NIMBYism has worked so well for us right?

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