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Saturday, October 16, 2021

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News + PoliticsChaos isn't "change"

Chaos isn’t “change”

Cities always change -- but is the private market the only factor that matters?

Is unregulated growth the only answer to SF's problems?
Is unregulated growth the only answer to SF’s problems?

By Calvin Welch

DECEMBER 23, 2015 — In a period when our national politics are dominated by candidates on the right that rely on “counter factual facts” (that is lying) without paying any political price whatsoever, it should not be surprising that, locally, our right wing pundits argue that that chaos is, in fact, “change” and prattle on about the “inevitably” of “change” in cities in general and San Francisco in particular.

This is happening at a time when the unchecked real estate market has created a level of social chaos unseen in San Francisco in the last 60 years.

Unlike their national brothers and sisters, our “counter-factuals” should pay a political price for their falsehoods. 2016 would be about the right time to do it.

Let’s stipulate that social change is what cities are all about. Cities historically are the places where peasants are transformed into petty traders, petty traders into industrial workers and industrial workers into post-industrial consumers and post-industrial consumers into…

Into what?

It’s that next step that all the fuss is about in San Francisco and every other city in the world. And while that next step must include a system of economic exchange, it’s both logically and historically absurd to assert that only one kind of economic system can work for all time in all cities regardless of who lives in them, and no matter what the natural and physical conditions are.  In short, to assert that everything else changes but market capitalism is the ultimate rejection of “inevitability” of change.

Yet that is precisely what the constant bended-knee suck-up to market-rate developers does: claim that market forces alone are the mechanism of urban change. It’s as if the human history of the last 300 years never happened: no long expansion of first political rights and then economic and now human rights of the people. No creation of the intermediating power of the state to first enshrine the legality of those rights and then defend them through the rule of law. The innovative power of the many against the inherited power of the few, always fought out in the cities first, always won in the cities first, is the real engine of urban change — not the buying and selling of urban real estate for private profit.

Unchecked, unmediated capitalism creates social chaos, pitting all against each. Effective popular movements for equality, sustenance and sustainability — uniquely possible in urban setting — unite people and create social change.  To confuse one with the other is to confuse dynamic, sustainable urban growth with rigid class stratification and social strife leading to urban decline.


While it is true that capitalist social chaos almost always produces social change, it is neither sufficient nor necessary for change to happen.  Historically, urban life — the proximity of diverse people to each other — seems to spark technical, artistic, political and social innovation regardless of (or in spite of?) the presence of urban market capitalism. Indeed, the recent history of San Francisco is that the city was more innovative, more dynamic, open to more change when real estate prices were lower — that is, when urban market capitalism exerted less influence on who lived and worked here.

When the pro-development forces argue that change means more density and more market-rate housing because that’s what market capitalism demands, and that the role of local government is simply to accommodate that demand, they are simply wrong in terms of the well being of current San Franciscans.

Like Trump and Carson, they have to lie in order to advance their cause because what they are really selling would not be popular with voters.

Adding another 200,000 to 300,000 full time residents, which is what they are advocating, would mean the displacement of tens of thousands of current residents and businesses because they are living in buildings that would have to be demolished to build the high-density market rate housing their patrons want. We have nowhere near enough vacant land or “soft sides” to accommodate 100,000 to 150,000 new units. The logical and practical effect of their policy is the demolition of thousands of existing buildings.

Even more devastating is the simple fact that in a Proposition 13 world -market rate residential development doesn’t even pay its own way. It doesn’t generate enough property taxes to meet the demand the new residents create for city services. It doesn’t pay for the new transit services that might make it sustainable.

In a period in which the city has more than 50,000 units in the approval pipeline and plans for another 30,000 units in high-density development proposed for the center and western portions of the city – the overwhelming majority being market rate and therefore unaffordable to all but 10 percent or so of current residents — the Mayors Budget Office is projecting a combined $340 million General Fund shortfall for the next two fiscal years!

SFMTA has only identified about 20 percent of the revenue needed to meet its projected 20-year capital development costs, and of course it has very little idea, other than the General Fund each year, where it will get is operating budget.

General fund shortfalls mean Muni shortfalls — and 50,000 or so of the new 300,000 residents driving cars because there is no Muni service to their new homes spells disaster for the city’s sustainability.

This is not the first time San Francisco faced “change” defined by the folks situated to make personal profit out of demolition and displacement and sold by groups like SPUR and politically ambitious supervisors. Read the history of redevelopment in San Francisco. Understand the role played by the politicians of yesteryear who supported “urban renewal” — which was market capitalism using state power to demolish and displace.

When you do you, will see that the “change” offered then is the same “change” offered now: demolition and displacement for tens of thousands of San Franciscans offered as a “housing opportunity.”  But you will also see the response of the community, a response that lead to real change both at the local and national level.

It is a historic lie that the community, organized and united, did not prevail against urban renewal: thousand of African Americans continued to live in price controlled housing in the Western Addition until the present time, although they are now threatened with displacement as the federal and state government has turned a blind eye to the need for an aggressive affordable housing development program in our nations cities and the Lee administration wrings it hands, hoping for handouts from market-rate developers.

If you follow that history, you will see how seniors, working-class retirees and Latinos in South of Market and the Mission rejected redevelopment’s market-rate housing and devised the city’s first community-based and community-controlled housing development corporations that built affordable housing owned by the community, keeping thousands of low-income residents in the city.

This was real social change: Defeating powerful real estate interests, well funded bureaucracies, and the political establishment while creating powerful community organizations and effective community controlled housing development corporations that kept African Americans, Latinos, and low-income seniors in the Western Addition, South of Market and Mission. Real change required modifying market capitalism, not seeking accommodations to it.

What would real change look like in 2016 San Francisco?


It would require regulating and limiting urban market capitalism, redirecting profits away from private investors to a wider community in order to stabilize housing costs.

First, at the state level, 2016 may be the year we see a real run at repealing the part of Prop. 13 that requires counties to charge residential property at the same rate as commercial property. Making this change would mean tens of millions of additional revenue for San Francisco that could be used to buy housing sites for affordable housing development.

Second, again at the state level, Sup. Aaron Peskin’s pursuit of an expansion of rent control to buildings built after 1978 would mean thousands of units coming under price controls so clearly needed in San Francisco’s overheated, speculative housing market.

Third, real change would require the city to aggressively implement the use of city land for affordable housing development as mandated by the voters.  In 2016 that mandate should be expanded to deal with Port property, the hottest property owned by the city.

Fourth, real enforcement of short term rentals could occur by simply banning the listing of any property not registered with the city. Fewer than 900 of the 10,000 STR are currently registered. At that rate it will be 2025 before all the existing units are legal. Since nothing happens if one is not registered, the web site should be fined for listing unregistered units.

Fifth, the city needs a market-rate housing/transit linkage mechanism that links approvals of all market-rate housing to actual funding of public transit.  The Market/Octavia “transit-oriented” development plan, in which increased density was allowed along the “transit-rich” Market/ Octavia corridor, was completed just as the city cut transit service to the area.

Supervisor London Breed sponsored huge density bonuses along Divisidero, claiming that the area was “transit rich” while requiring only minimum transit service or “maintenance of effort” even for the existing service. She initially failed to get any additional affordability for the whopping increase in density — although community outrage caused her to change that (note the source of real change!).  She still refuses to require adequate transit funding for the density bonus given developers.

Sixth, the city would need to require market rate developers to provide at least 25 percent of all new units affordable to households earnings between low and median income ($36,000 to $71,000 for a single person). BMR in the highest-priced market in the nation is not “affordable housing;” it’s simply below an insane market rate. Kim has introduced a version of such legislation.

Seventh, the Planning Department would need to pull back the ill-conceived  and insanely mis-named “Affordable Housing Density Bonus” (no new affordable housing would be built) proposal and actually engage in real planning  with western San Francisco neighbors to take more new housing development in those neighborhoods.  Former Supervisor Jake McGoldrick had a reasonable proposal to link better transit service to the Richmond with increased density on selected corners along Geary along with a stronger inclusionary requirement and an annual Muni service fee.  This could be the basis of honest and real neighborhood planning — not the “top down,” “Nimby bigot” baiting stuff passing for planning in Ed Lee’s Planning Department.

Eight, it’s time to start planning, seriously, for Bay level rise and its impact our city and the regional economy. Throw out the silly assumption about two or three feet rise of sea-level rise by late century and recognize that the increase could be as much as 25 feet by then — with eight or ten feet in 20 years or less.

Oakland Airport and SFO will be underwater. So will Treasure Island, Mission Bay including UCSF, and most of the “eastern neighborhoods” where most of the 50,000 pipeline housing units are slated to be built.  Freeways and bridge approaches, parks and open spaces, most of the financial district, all of Recology’s solid waste facility will be inundated as will the city’s wastewater treatment facilities.


And then there’s Muni — its underground tunnels swamped, its maintenance and repair yards at risk. When do we get real about this, start figuring how we get through this, together?  First, we may start by discarding non-sense transit-oriented-development” pipe dreams dominating regional thinking when neither the transit nor the development will be above Bay level.  Should we start planning for this mother of all “changes” now? What’s the “market based” solution to that change?

Lastly, put the housing affordability crisis in it true social context: How do we create, given the climate challenges we face, a sustainable future for our people, ALL of our people?  Housing is a function of income. It’s no surprise that we have a housing affordability problem at the same time we have an income inequality problem. Most jobs in San Francisco (and the Bay Area) simply do not pay enough to afford paying only 30 percent of your income for housing. Tech jobs account for only about 10 percent of the jobs in the city, and most of the other 90 percent earn less — yet the private market sets prices based upon that 10 percent income, leaving the rest of us in crisis. That’s how the capitalist market works. Regulating it aggressively will buy us time — but that time must be spent making some hard and creative changes based upon what we face.

The road ahead leads to change. Does anyone seriously think that simply raising our density to more than the current 18,000 people per square mile will meet these changing realities?

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  1. Part of the theme of this blog is that the “middle class” is becoming an endangered sector on the verge of extinction in many American cities which is not a healthy trend

  2. Which is why statements like yours, implying everyone in SF is rich because property values are sky high, is very misguided.

  3. The definition of Middle class vs rich or poor is subjective nowadays. The skew ends of the spectrum can be so far from each other, and property values differ so much from state to state that someone considered rich in one area is just barely middle class somewhere else.

  4. Decries “counter factual facts,” then spews out dozens of them. Dear readers, please keep in mind that this is an opinion blog, not real journalism.

  5. So you’re saying there’s no need for middle class housing, because it’s all for the rich now? Ludicrous.
    The middle class still exists.

  6. The results? The results are equally clear: Syrian oil production is a rounding error. It runs around 30 thousand barrels per day, 0.03 million. Texas produces over 3 million. The Saudis? 12 million.

    Dunning–Kruger seems more likely here than EIA incompetence.

  7. How does trillions of dollars of wealth disappear from the commons into the hands of billionaires? If corporations can have the same rights as humans, why can’t people have the same rights as corporations, i.e. immunity from prosecution, taxpayer subsidies, and political patronage? Why are Americans so bleepin’ violent? Sorry, I don’t know the exact mechanism, but I see the results.

  8. As a landlord I like the low density environment in SF. It means when I have an available unit I can charge an enormous premium. Progressives want low density and low rents. Unfortunately they can’t have it both ways.

  9. It rarely happens, which is why this inspired a news story, also mentioning the tenant on 57th St. who set the previous record. The buyouts are usually much, much less, between 20k and 200k. New York builders are selling high end apartment for tens of millions with concierge service, and a long list of amenities. It doesn’t really apply, because in SF, you can still buy a mansion in Pacific Heights for that money. It’s really the low, and middle class housing where SF is out of control.

  10. Why do your figures start in 2010? Oh, I get it now. You think SOMA as we know it always existed?
    Heck, you probably think the Sunset/Parkside as we know it always existed.

    I’m actually against much of the Zoning restrictions out there, mainly because they’re abused and the Zoning Administrator’s face should be front page news, up for ridicule. I know of stories where Planning limited the number of units for no reason other than they’re idiots. But it wasn’t fears of Manhattanization that sparked all this but you would have to go back to the 70’s to really get it, and based on your timeline, that’s not something I’ll expect. The Manhattanization fears were actually promoted not by the City but by liberal groups. Remember, the highways were pretty new at this point, and the Transamerican Pyramid was new. They were weren’t talking about fears that nobody would be able to afford living in Oceanview Park, or that SOMA of all places would one day be unaffordable or even in demand for residential. It would have been crazy talk.

    I’m sorry, but this idea that there’s always been a shortage of market rate housing or policies invented to limit market rate housing as if we’ve always had a shortage, smacks of a history invented in 2010.

  11. I am not willing to simply accept that “scarce, desirable things are expensive” – with all of the machinations from the political and corporate elite that have rendered SF too expensive for nearly everyone – that line doesn’t hold any reasoning any longer

  12. “Difficult as it was, there has been new housing built in places like SOMA.”

    Over the years of 2010 – 2014 SF has added the following number of units (including BMR):

    2010 1230
    2011 269 (!)
    2012 1317
    2013 1960

    less than 5,000 units.

    In that same period SF’s population has grown by almost 50,000


    No one is saying that not a single market rate unit has been constructed in the last 20 years. What is being argued is that the number of units constructed is totally insufficient for the demand. If you disagree with that basic statement, which apparently you do, there’s no possibility in engaging in productive, intellectually honest debate.

    With respect to SF policy. Obviously SF policy has lead us to the current situation, noting that lack of action is itself a policy. Which other cities policies are to blame? It’s a fair question to ask whether SF’s housing policies were passed with the intent to limit market rate housing, or whether that was an unintended consequence. But the vehemince of Mr. Welch’s tirade above, the fact that much of SF’s zoning restrictions were passed under the banner of ‘no Manhatinization’ and more recently the attempt to pass the Mission Moretorium, a bald attempt to eliminate all market rate construction, indicates that it was, in fact, the intent of many of the parties involved.

    What was unintended, perhaps, was that such an effort to limit market rate construction and create an accute housing shortage would ignite a vicous circle of hyper-gentrification that would rapidly begin removing the entire lower middle-class and working class from SF.

  13. That measures success. How else do you measure downzoning?

    That Welch has been a supporter since the 1970s shouldn’t be controversial; his 1976 testimony in favor of downzoning in front of Planning was posted here recently, and none of his current advocacy seems a repudiation of his historical views or activism.

  14. How does an entire government agency fake these figures, exactly, without the fraud quickly entering into common knowledge?

  15. A Manhattan developer recently paid $25 million to three tenants of a rent controlled building in West Manhattan to get them to move out. It may seem like a lot of money but to a billionaire developer it is obviously worth it. Tenants with protection in New York City can sometimes fight the process of eviction long enough to make eight figure buyouts a demand. A developer who wants to move in and build right away may figure these massive buy out costs are part of the cost of the property. They also don’t want to be responsible for some older person becoming homeless or dying as a result of eviction.


  16. Sam is an idiot like yourself who makes up their own “facts,” believes them, and then insults people who don’t agree with them. You provided no proff of your assertions. It is not my fault if you can’t follow a simple link and research it. If you did, you would finfd out that your friends Israel and Turkey are buying oil from ISIS, for example. I’m a pro-peace “stooge.” You are apparently a chickenhawk “liberal.”

    p.s.You actually have to READ the article to fnd out about the oil.

  17. Interesting, but I think the answer is there hasn’t been a policy not to build market rate housing, and irregardless, it’s not what lead us to this current situation.

    Difficult as it was, there has been new housing built in places like SOMA. And the Market has been tight since back when it became a short sale market, and financing became impossible, just before Obama’s term. Facebook was huge, but aside from Genetech’s growth, the real tech explosion happened after, or at best, around the same time. It wasn’t a cause and effect situation.

  18. You linked to some blog again, kid. Prior to that you linked to a girl in Australia’s youtube page.

    Syria sells about 1 billion barrels in oil, nowhere near 36 billion of Saudi Arabia.
    Even if you believe Syria discovered more oil, it doesn’t mean they can access it or it’s currently on the market. Israel discovered oil too, but they’re not oil rich, are they? I said Israel, so now you can keep yourself busy eating your own arm off, because you are that predictable.

    Who is Sam? It takes a special damaged puppy to pray and hope they’re disagreements on the internet are all with one single person who has sock puppet accounts. Kinda deranged, and I hate to break it to you, but your foreign issue political views are in line with hyper Right Wing conspiracy theorists. It’s not progressive to make up facts to explain why you’re a pro-Assad stooge.

  19. I wasn’t advocating for more sprawl. My point is that using the metric of San Francisco’s population as a percent of California’s total population over time is not indicative of anyone’s “activism” or San Francisco’s policies.

    It is what people wanted.

  20. “Right Wing (sic) extremist parrot links?” That only proves you didn’t even bother to read them. Another sad sad troll wasting my time. Oh well, you have to live with yourself. As for “growing up,” if you mean “be like me;” well, no way buddy. It’s you who need to mature, and stop believing mainstream media propaganda.

    As for my initial claims about Syrian oil, this is my source (again):

    “In 2010 oil in great quantities was found under Syria. Off the Syrian coast, 14 new fields with a total recoverable volume of 37 billion tons of oil were discovered. To show the scale of this, the proven reserves of Saudi Arabia amounted to about 36 billion, Iraq has 15.7 billion tons, Kuwait has 4.28 billion tons and the UAE, 14 billion tons. Even more, the depth of these fields is about 250 meters. This is very shallow and means that the cost of extraction will be very low. Less than a year after this discovery, the “spontaneous” protests against Assad broke out (Minin, 2013). http://sco.lt/7cwAfh

    What’s yours?

  21. I have to admit, I haven’t been the best pro-density warrior on this. I deleted my previous post before posting it as it was basically the same thing I’ve posted many times before, only in a slightly more exasperated tone. Some on 48Hills might find the following Yglasias article interesting:


    Yglasias reiterates two facts

    1. Tight housing marks benifit the rich

    2. To have a tight housing is a decision made by a city through a selection of housing policy, not a preordaned fact imposed by geography.

    Here is the time worn graph of SF housing construction pace:


    What Welch is trying to convince us is that SF must resist admitting any more tech workers and the way to do this is to not build any more market rate housing.

    Even if we grant that keeping tech out of the city is desireably, what he fails to demonstrate is:

    – How not building market rate housing in the future will result in a different outcome than not build it in the past, the policy that lead us to the current situation.

    – How BMR housing can be built in sufficient quantities to even dampen the torential gentrification that’s currently occuring and the vast exoduse that the city is seeing of its lower middle and working class

    – What the city is to due about the already huge number of techies who currently live in the city and will become an increasing part of its political scene as they mature and become established.

  22. Lashing out? By the way, neither “Syrian Girl” (could she have pandered harder with that name?) or your Right Wing extremist parrot links validated your initial claims about Syrian oil. Grow up.

  23. Many people want sprawl, along with cheap gasoline and empty freeways. In 1950, that model made sense.

    Sure, a fatalist can argue that we’re all doomed anyway, so we might as well sprawl where it is cheap so pollution doesn’t concentrate in cities. Rich surburbs, however, hardly welcome the poor.

  24. Calvin Welch had a strong hand in creating the current mess, so I don’t really think further essays from him on how to fix things are particularly helpful.
    I find it interesting that so many words are dedicated to squirming around the simple single truth: SF must build more housing. It’s amazing that people debate for hours on every angle under the sun while completely ignoring this one fact.
    I honestly think people like Calvin starts these discussions about everything BUT adding more housing to distract the narrative until the next economic crash happens and the real estate crisis lessens.. I can see them leaning back, satisfied, claiming “aren’t you glad we didn’t ruin our neighborhoods?

  25. Except that people wanted sprawl. White flight, the desire for bigger, cheaper homes, the opportunity for home ownership, post-WWII VA loans and many other factors contributed to increased population in suburbs. So yes, relative population is a simple metric, but it doesn’t necessarily indicate problems with San Francisco’s policies.

    Environmental policy aside, those who are not wealthy may have better opportunities for healthy living in suburbs as well.

  26. Actually, I got it from YOUR mother……

    To give yourself any credibility, you must click on the links and check the veracity of the information yourself.

  27. You made it clear you know nothing about Syria, and still can’t back up your initial posts, no matter how many “Syrian Girls” you link to.

  28. The EIA are a bunch of civil servants trying to do their jobs. Mistaking their work for the very real disinformation that emanates from the political side of any number of governments is a severe category error.

    Thanks for the laugh, though. It is awfully amusing to see such an addlepated hypothesis floated with Brent under $40.

  29. where did you get all this information from your grandmother or the dog walker that was passing by. To give your comments any credibility you must quote your sources.

  30. It’s your filtered crap. You are over-the-top defensive, probably have lots of practice trying to increase the stickiness while throwing it at the Disqus wall.

  31. It’s not my crap; it’s called information, and it’s available on your internet machine. Maybe you should learn how to use it for somethng besides being a troll.

  32. WTF are you on about? Or what are you ON? I did not create the information on the webpages I posted. Your argument, if you had one, would be with the authors of those pieces. Syrians are indeed real people, not some characters in the movie in your mind.

  33. The NWO hates Syria? Oh lord. Alex Jones/Loose Change nonsense under another wrapper.

    Look, Syria isn’t a made up place. We’re not talking about made up people. Syrians, and their families live in SF, read this forum, and can tell you what goes on in Syria because they’ve been there, their families have suffered, and they know the economy well, and know, just as US citizens know, where there is oil in their own country, and where there isn’t. The events in the region effect them first hand, and it’s not a new download to your gaming system.
    We both know you’re just gravitating towards what reaffirms what you want to believe.

  34. Oh please, save me all your crap and all the references to your own little scoop webpage. I said nothing about believing government propaganda, but I certainly don’t believe your propaganda. An open mind considers all viewpoints, you are a one-trick pony.

  35. I suggest you do some basic research before you start regurgitating mainstream media newspeak and expecting me to take you “seriously.” Being as this is the Holiday Season, I’ll get you started:

    NATO’s Counter-Christmas Crusade: http://sco.lt/95S9Mf

    Assad Protecting Christians: http://sco.lt/7t9jKT

    Syrian Woman Destroys McCain: http://sco.lt/7BQhDV

    The ISIS Fraud: http://sco.lt/7cwAfh

    and of course: https://youtu.be/TP3mXVRd89Y

    You’re welcome…..

  36. Believing government propaganda is having an “open mind?”


    If you don’t know by now that “your” government routinely lies about almost everything, from unemployment statistics to 9/11, you are either very young, naive, or are the one with a closed mind.

  37. “You can believe what you want, I’ll stick with my sources.” Revealing attitude, reflects an open mind. Not.

  38. You mean suburban expansion, and the introduction of BART had no influence?

    (sorry, someone already made that reply)

  39. Seriously? You could argue that attacking Syria isn’t the best method to resolve the mess out there, but you can not in good faith argue there is no mess, and it’s a fabrication to get oil, and then, out of sheer lack of knowledge, decide Syria holds more oil fields than Saudi Arabia. I’ll help, at best, your argument might be that it’s about the pipeline, not the oil production. They’re a small producer. As for the crimes against humanity, a civil war looking to establish a caliphate,or general oppression as people are slaughtered in the streets to the tune of hundreds of thousands, I guess you’re not phased.

  40. Oh sure, I’m going to believe the liars in the US government.
    You can believe what you want, I’ll stick with my sources.
    And the fact there is no other logical reason to be attacking Syria.

  41. As long as there’s only enough space here for 2% of California’s population, and this is still a desirable place to live, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the cost of housing is so high. Scarce, desirable things are expensive.

  42. Are you suggesting that every city maintain populations levels consistent with historical percentages?

    And it would seem that BART has more blame than Welch.

  43. ” In 2010 oil in great quantities was found under Syria. Off the Syrian coast, 14 new fields with a total recoverable volume of 37 billion tons of oil were discovered. To show the scale of this, the proven reserves of Saudi Arabia amounted to about 36 billion, Iraq has 15.7 billion tons, Kuwait has 4.28 billion tons and the UAE, 14 billion tons. Even more, the depth of these fields is about 250 meters. This is very shallow and means that the cost of extraction will be very low. But that’s not all. The depth of the discovered fields is approximately 250 meters. Less than a year after this discovery, the “spontaneous” protests against Assad broke out (Minin, 2013).”

  44. There is plenty of public money; local, state, and federal. I advocate spending it on housing, education, healthcare, public transportation, and food security. Presently it is being spent on endless wars, boondoogles like the high-speed rail system, Peripheral Canal II, and the Willie Brown Bridge, and what I can only assume is cocaina, massage services, and expensive liquor.

  45. Syria has less oil than notable petroleum powers Australia and Vietnam, and less than 1/100th the proven reserves of Saudi Arabia.

  46. You can wake up from your dream, now. There isn’t any “public money” left in the SF budgets, only “public debt”. The city is financially underwater right now, and raising property taxes will increase rents.

  47. Excellent article. For a supposedly modern and progressive City, it is still dominated by 19th Century thinking and technology. Everytime I look at those ridiculous overhead wires for MUNI I am reminded of just how primitive our infrastructure is. Planning for an economy based on people driving from A to B for school, shopping, entertainment, and employment is one reason we are invading every country in the world that has oil under it. (Syria has more than Saudi Arabia).

    But I digress. Mr. Welch’s article points out that the private sector and their political enablers have done a F- job of providing housing for everyone that needs it. And that community action is the only way anything will change, because capitalists and politicians have no incentive to do so. He also points out the simple fact that for all the money the City has at it’s disposal (more than some small countries), it’s not nearly enough to for what needs to be done over the next 20 years.

    The only part of these wild development schemes that is relevant is the fact that there are hundreds of dilapidated structures in the City that are dangerous to live in, and should be demolished. Our most vunerable populations live in these buildings; immigrants, seniors, single parents, people with disabilities, and the genuinely poor. Indeed, the first public money spent should be on replacing these structures (mostly in Chinatown, the Tenderloin, and Mission) with modern solar/wind/methane-powered structures, with light and air and community kitchens. The temporarily displaced persons can live in some of those half-empty towers while their units are being built.



  48. Yay, a person with a 2.3 million dollar duplex in a living trust on Ashbury Street lecturing the rest of that “more people/development bad” thereby preserving his investment. And frankly, I’m not going to let someone who got his social science degrees at SF State and in Uganda inform me on urban planning or economics.

  49. Your last paragraph describes something far closer to China, and is rather naive as far as being a realistic alternative. Let’s also limit families to one-child each, right?

  50. I recently moved to Eugene, Oregon where population increase was accommodated by expanding the city’s borders. A practice that, thankfully, appears to have ended. Right now Eugene is 5 times larger in square miles than San Francisco, but has 1/10th the population.

    San Francisco cannot expand its borders. In fact, given sea level rise, its borders may shrink. So, the only way it can increase its population is by increasing density. The question is not if its density should increase, rather the question is how best to accommodate that inevitable (and perhaps desirable) increase.

    It is too bad that housing is not a fundamental right. Imagine a world were a person with a job inside San Francisco would have more right to housing in San Francisco, than a person with a job in Sunnyvale. What if people were taxed based on how far they lived from where they worked? What if San Francisco defined housing as a fundamental right?

  51. Mr. Welch has supported low density for forty years. His activism succeeded. San Francisco’s relative population dropped by nearly a third. In 1976, 3.1% of California lived here; now 2.2% does.

    Almost funny now to read Mr. Welch muse about displacement and climate change as if his activism had not been part and parcel of the process. Does anyone seriously think that lowering density hasn’t increased displacement from the city, or that inland commuters with air conditioners and lawns haven’t contributed a disproportionate amount to atmospheric carbon these last forty years?

    Like the lackwit politicians he lampoons, Mr. Welch should pay a political price for contributing to displacement and climate change. Perhaps the good people of Antioch will name a new subdivision after him.

    @dgouldin @StephenNellis @SFyimby Calvin Welch, 1976, says downzoning increases property values, while pic.twitter.com/RxnIwdiXDc— Kim-Mai Cutler (@kimmaicutler) November 3, 2015

  52. And I found Mr. Welch’s essay cast historical matters so generally that his “historical facts” are impossible to confirm or refute. Thus, the entirety of his policy conclusions are unsupported by his narrative, and we are left with zero to discuss intelligently. Next, please.

  53. “Does anyone seriously think that simply raising our density to more than the current 18,000 people per square mile will meet these changing realities?”

    It doesnt matter. Our elected leaders have been bought and paid for. Plan Bay Area was a trojan horse that was engineered by Urban planners. They knew in advance that the plan would cause displacement and increased housing costs.

  54. Without going into any of the merits or problems of these 9 proposed elements for ‘real change for San Francisco in 2016’, my initial reaction is that none of these can realistically come to pass. Big shifts in policy would be required, many beyond control of SF city government. That requires consensus, and current state of affairs is no where near consensus. Changes in policy and laws – in whatever direction – will happen slowly.

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