With a big assist from the state Legislature, the SF Planning Department opened a new front in the city’s density wars last week. On Thursday, staff asked the Planning Commission to eliminate “automobile delay,” measured by Level of Service (LOS), as a significant impact on the environment—that is, as a possible basis for a Environmental Impact Report—and to replace it with “vehicle miles traveled” (VMT).

That means that a proposed project could no longer be challenged on the basis of the traffic congestion it would generate.

Touted as an anti-sprawl policy, this change is really an aggressive pro-development maneuver that sacrifices on-the-ground quality of life to the dystopian fantasies of “smart” growth.

Unfortunately, for now the defenders of neighborhood livability have lost this battle. As planning staff observed, the switch is mandated by SB 743, which was passed by the California legislature in September 2013.

However, the state bureau that’s prepared the technical guidelines associated with the change, The Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, has said that the new rules won’t be finalized until they’re certified by the California Natural Resources Agency in about a year.

Nevertheless, the Planning Commission voted 6-0 to adopt the replacement of LOS by VMT.

At the Planning and Conservation League’s annual conference at UC Davis on February 27, I asked OPR Senior Counsel Christopher Calfee how San Francisco could jump the gun. Nodding knowingly, Calfee said that because the city is also its own congestion-management agency, the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, it has the authority to do this.

SFCTA — Not to be confused with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency — is the sub-regional transportation planning programming agency for the city. Pursuant to state law, the Transportation Authority is a separate legal entity from the City and County of San Francisco, with its own staff, budget, operating rules, policies, borrowing capacity, board, and committee structure. But the agency is deeply enmeshed in the politics and governance of the city: its board comprises the Board of Supervisors. (The SFMTA board, appointed by the mayor, is just as deeply enmeshed.)

At the Planning Commission’s March 3 meeting, staff from Planning, the SFCTA, and the SFMTA filed up to the podium to urge adoption of the LOS-to-VMT switch. Genuflecting to smart growth, they argued that designating traffic congestion as an environmental impact privileges automobility and thereby encourages sprawl and discourages walking and biking. Traffic engineers grade the movement of cars through intersections; a grade of E or F could trigger an EIR and result in widening a street and removing sidewalks and bike lanes, they said.

The smart growthers’ larger argument against LOS is that speeding up car traffic is likely to increase greenhouse gas emissions. By contrast, they contend, limiting the distances people drive—and judging proposed developments by the amount of driving they’re likely to induce—addresses air quality and climate change.

Moreover, the traffic congestion standard puts infill projects at a disadvantage. By its very nature, infill is a latecomer to a place. In an already congested area, the traffic generated by a new infill project can easily tip the LOS into E or F territory, rendering the development vulnerable to a challenge from opponents on CEQA grounds. VMT, by contrast, is hospitable to infill, because infill increases density and mixes uses (housing, shops, offices), making it easier for people to do what they need to do without a car.

In a January 20 op-ed published in the Chronicle, Sarah Bernstein Jones, the Planning Department’s director of environmental planning and the city’s environmental review officer, offered the example of “a new development in the dense South of Market neighborhood with 300 new housing units and local retail on the ground floor.”

While a relatively small number of cars would be added as a result of this project, they would be in an area with highly congested intersections. Under current guidelines, this could lead to a conclusion that the project might add to traffic congestion and require several years and millions of dollars spent [by the developer] to prepare an environmental impact report.

If the same development were assessed on the basis of the amount and distance of automobile it would generate, no EIR would be required.

I emailed Jones asking what leads her to assume that people living in a new 300-unit development would add only “a relatively small number of cars” to the neighborhood stock. Her reply was vague:

Data shows that a much higher proportion of trips in San Francisco occur by means other than the single occupant vehicle.  In a location such as SoMa, where there is already a high volume of traffic (much of it going through the area, not originating or ending there), a single building will not substantially add to overall traffic levels.

On February 29 I emailed back:

Surely the size and type of a single building make a big difference in how much traffic the building generates. What, exactly, does it mean to say that a building “will not substantially add to overall traffic levels”? How many cars and auto trips are we talking about? Does the city have data tracking auto use generated by recent projects? If so, could you please refer me to it?

I’m still waiting for a response to these questions.

If even a “relatively small number of [additional] cars” makes a highly congested area even more congested, shouldn’t that count as an environmental impact?

It should not, say planners and the state. According to them, traffic congestion is a social impact, not an environmental one. As OPR puts it:

[T]he focus of environmental review must be on physical changes in the environment. Generally, social and economic impact are not considered as part of a CEQA [the California Environmental Quality Act, the state’s premier environmental law] analysis. (CEQA Guidelines §15131.)….As a measurement of delay, LOS measures motorist convenience, but not a physical impact to the environment. (emphasis in original)

In other words, the palpable environment has been virtualized. It’s as if the smart growthers have literally lost their senses. Planners like to tout their commitment to “placemaking.” Indeed, “Placemaking” is the name of the community newsletter that the Planning Department launched last summer. But real places in San Francisco and other urban locales will be degraded by the replacement of LOS by VMT.

During OPR’s February 9 webinar on the implementation of SB 743, staffer Chris Ganson said, “LOS just addresses localized congestion,” but “worsens regional congestion.” VMT, Ganson opined, “attacks regional congestion more effectively,” but—he did not add—worsens local congestion.

Regional congestion is an abstraction that has never been and never will be experienced by anyone. Local congestion is something that everyone has experienced, and that everyone will experience more intensely as a result of SB 743. The staff report to the Planning Commission concedes as much, averring that “it is often not feasible in developed urban areas like San Francisco to improve LOS.” So we just make local traffic congestion worse by disregarding the local traffic impacts of infill development?

Even more distressing, the abandonment of traffic congestion as an environmental impact is only one of the ways in which actual places are written off by the changes to the California Environmental Quality Act that are mandated by SB 743. Unmentioned by the staff report, the law also stipulates that

[a]esthetic and parking impacts of a residential, mixed-use residential, or employment center project on an infill site within a transit priority area shall not be considered significant impacts on the environment. Public Resources Code 21099(d)(1)

A mini-glossary:

Employment center project: “a project located on property zoned for commercial uses with a floor [to] area [FAR] ratio of no less than 0.75 and that is located within a transit priority area.

Transit priority area: “an area within one-half mile of a major transit stop.”

Almost all of San Francisco is covered by transit priority areas:

The shaded areas are "priority development areas," pretty much the whole city
The shaded areas are “priority development areas,” pretty much the whole city

Major transit stop: “a site containing an existing rail transit station, a ferry terminal served by either a bus or rail transit service, or the intersection of two or more major bus routes with a frequency of service interval of 15 minutes or less during the morning and afternoon peak commute periods.”

Not incidentally, the SFTA is supporting state legislation (AB 1886) that will expand CEQA exemptions to include projects where 50% of the project area is farther than a half-mile from a high quality transit corridor or major transit stop. Currently only 25% of a project area can be over a half-mile away.

Unlike the LOS-to-VMT switch, these provisions took effect in January 2014. As attorney, now also Larkspur Councilmember, Kevin Haroff noted in 2014, they

substantially reverse a recent decision of the California Fourth District Court of Appeal, in which the court found that parked cars are “physical objects” (as though there could have been a rational dispute about that) and therefore can have a direct impact on the environment.

Haroff also noted that for the purposes of CEQA review, SB 743 took off the table “two of what arguably are impacts of greatest public interest—visual and traffic impacts.” Not only is traffic congestion out as an environmental impact; so are increased glare and diminished views of public spaces.

The reason the implementation of SB 743 has taken so long is because the draft guidelines published by OPR in August 2014 met a blizzard of opposition from many quarters. Some of the most interesting objections came from the representatives of big business. In a letter to the OPR that’s worth quoting at length, Bay Area Council President & CEO Jim Wunderman wrote that

the use of the VMT metric could potentially be obsolete before it ever gets off the ground[,] given that we now have 100,000 electric and other low/zero emission vehicles on California roads. If VMT is a proxy for GHG reduction, …it has to be pointed out that not all VMTs are created equal. A mile traveled in an electric car produces a quarter the carbon/GHG [of] the mile traveled in a comparable gasoline car. If in 10 years California is at 33% or 50% market share for electric cars and plug in hybrids, VMT will be a largely meaningless statistic, particularly if we continue to get more electricity from renewables in California which will further drive down GHG production by electric vehicles. OPR is putting in place guidelines for a 20th century world, not the world we live in, certainly not the world we are headed towards.

Here I find myself in rare agreement with the Bay Area Council. As Oakland environmental attorney Stu Flashman pointed out at the PCL conference last Saturday, for VMT to address climate change, it would have to take into account fuel efficiency, electric cars, and, a power profile source for electricity; SB 743 stipulates none of this.

To be sure, the BAC’s main objection to the draft guidelines was that the new rules would facilitate litigation against infill development.

It’s hard to see how that will be the case. Along with the aforementioned changes, SB 743 expanded existing CEQA exemptions for infill to include mixed-use residential and commercial projects in transit priority areas. Previously only residential development in a transit priority area was exempt.

Who’s responsible for this debacle? For sure, the legislators who voted for it, including Assemblymember Phil Ting and State Senator Mark Leno, as well as my own state senator, Loni Hancock.

But blame also lies with the high-profile environmental groups that supported SB 743 or at least its LOS-to-VMT mandate, if not the giant sop for the Sacramento Kings’ stadium tacked on to the bill at the last moment by its author, then-State Senator Darrell Steinberg: the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Natural Resources Defense Council, TransForm, the Planning and Conservation League, and Greenbelt Alliance.

And as demonstrated by the cheerleading at the Planning Commission, at the municipal level the smart growth charge is being led by the planning profession. Introducing the staff request, Jones said that “replacing LOS…with a metric [VMT] that captures the physical impacts of car travel now, instead of waiting a year for state certification, would reinforce “San Francisco’s role as a leader in planning.” She reported that city staff had been actively involved in OPR’s preparation of the new CEQA guidelines. She also claimed that “easing CEQA for infill is not the motivation,” stating that the goal is to align the environmental review process with the city’s vision: “to keep people moving as the city grows” by providing safe and healthy alternatives to single-passenger automobility.

Jones was followed and echoed by her predecessor in office, Bill Wycko, the city’s prior Environmental Review Office and, according to Jones, “the brains behind this from the start”; Planner Wade Wietgrefe; SFCTA Executive Director Tilly Chang; SFMTA Executive Director Ed Reiskin; SFMTA Board Vice-Chair Cheryl Brinkman, former chair of Livable City San Francisco; SFMTA Chief of Staff, Sustainable Streets Division, Viktoriya Wise; Planner Devyani Jain; SFMTA Senior Analyst Andy Thornley, and SFCTA Transportation Planner Drew Cooper; and other city officials.

Members of the public who added their voices to the VMT lovefest included Walk San Francisco Executive Director Nicole Ferrara; San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Advocacy Director Janice Li; attorney Andrew Junius, a principal at Reuben, Junius & Rose, one of the city’s go-to law firms for developers; SPUR Transportation Policy Director Ratna Amin; and SFBARFer Jon Schwark.

In a notable equivocation, city staff both hailed and discounted “LOS reform.” On the one hand, it’s “a milestone” (Jones), “a very positive, exciting change for the city and environmental review” (Wietgrefe). On the other hand, it’s no big deal. “All we’re doing,” said Jain, “is shifting a metric that was already in the pipeline since 2013.” EIRs, Wietgrefe maintained, are “a tiny amount of environmental review,” and the “public will still have an opportunity weigh in.”

It fell to attorney Junius to clarify matters:

It sounds a little wonkish, but this is huge! The entitlement process takes this long [holds up his hands]—a huge chunk of that is CEQA, a huge chunk of that is transportation studies, and huge chunk of transportation studies it the LOS mess. It should have never been adopted to begin with for urban areas. Thank god we’re going to get rid of it.

Discordant reality also spurted out during Commissioner Antonini’s remarks. The commissioner began by praising VMT, calling the change “wonderful legislation” and decrying “the ill effects of LOS-type thinking that have prevailed in the Bay Area for the last fifty to sixty years”—suburban sprawl, exacerbated, for example, by the new bore in the Caldecott Tunnel. But then Antonini pivoted:

The only thing that could be said about LOS is there are instances where the traffic is backed up on First Street going to the Bay Bridge, and you probably inhale more pollution as you walk by there with them hardly moving at all, and just idling.

Only one speaker, Sunset community activist Eileen Boken, opposed the abandonment of LOS. Boken said that Berkeley environmental attorney Antonio Rossmann recommends using both LOS and VMT.

Curious, I emailed Rossmann, asking if he’d written about LOS vs. VMT. His reply—the most reasonable, environmentally sensitive, empirically grounded position on the subject that I’ve encountered:

Zelda, I have not written any academic or legal briefing papers on the use of both, but while agreeing that we should use VMT as the leading surrogate to test regional transportation plans and new non-infill (sprawl) development, that does not mean we should exclude LOS in urban settings, where local congestion can become a leading adverse environmental impact.

One argument of an exclusive-VMT approach is that it avoids the establishment of mitigation measures to relieve LOS — usually widening or adding traffic lanes.

There are two responses: encouraging alternatives can also relieve LOS; and in any case, if a project shows new adverse LOS, it can simply be disapproved, or else approved in the face of public awareness that the project will turn local streets into congestion.

It’s not that high rise developers should not be left off the hook without creating more mitigation for their projects. It’s that projects that can’t be mitigated should just be scaled down.

I recently heard a VMT advocate explain that we actually want LOS 5 or 6 [E or F] because that shows that roads are being used beyond capacity and therefore people will get out of their cars. “Successful cities are the most congested.” As Justice Scalia would have said, “Argle, bargle.” Compare, say, Rome and Los Angeles. LOS helps measure the carrying capacity of the land, and it’s a valid public purpose to maintain streets that are useable by local residents in a non-stressful way.

San Francisco, given the slope and size of its streets, thrives on an FAR [floor to area ratio] of 3:1. Paris, flat and with numerous wide boulevards, seems to work on 6:1. Manhattan works on significantly higher but at a great cost to quality of life (costs and loss of freedom for group or distant travel to remote places.

At the Planning Commission last Thursday, scaling down a project that can’t be mitigated was not an option. Staff said that it would be the rare project that exceeded the VMT thresholds of significance (points beyond which a project would be judged to have a negative impact on the environment and be subject to CEQA proceedings) they’d laid out: for residential projects, 7.15 household VMT per capita; for office projects, 16.21 work-related VMT per job. And if a project did exceed those thresholds, staff would recommend mitigations à la Transportation Demand Management (TDM), meaning strategies that prioritize transit, walking, bicycling, and ridesharing.

Responding to a request from Commissioner Christine Johnson for “real life examples,” Jones said, “there will be projects with significant VMT impacts.” In a subsequent email to Jones, I noted that OPR had provided very details examples of such projects and asked what, specifically, would such examples look like in San Francisco?

Her reply: “That exchange was about the situations in which we would do project-specific [sic]. It’s not possible to state in the abstract that any type of land use project would have a significant impact for VMT.” Huh? Her Chron op-ed provided an abstract example of a residential project in SoMa that would not have a significant impact for VMT, so why not provide an abstract example of one that would?

The driving force here—you should excuse the expression—is, as MTA Executive Director Ed Reiskin put it—to accommodate growth. Concerns about “carrying capacity”—the maximum population a place can support—do not arise in the smart growth world.

To wit: I noticed that the planners’ calculation of VMT are based on 2012 data. San Francisco Chief Economist Ted Egan tells me that according to the state’s Economic Development Department, from the second quarter of 2012 to the second quarter of 2015, San Francisco added 82,509 jobs; and that the 2015 population estimates for the city have not yet been issued by the Census. I’ll go out on a short limb and speculate that the city added 18,000 new jobs in 2015. That would mean 100,000 more jobs than the ones that CTA staff fed into their computers.

I emailed SFCTA Planner Wade Wietgrefe, who crunches the VMT numbers, asking if that massive growth could have altered the city’s work-related numbers?

Wietgrefe replied:

The addition of new jobs certainly will change total VMT, but will probably have a small effect on VMT per job because the addition of new jobs does not necessarily change the locations people are traveling from to get to those jobs.  Of course, long term shifts in housing and employment locations will change VMT.  But even our long-term forecasts produce relatively modest changes in these numbers.  For example, average daily VMT per SF resident in 2040 is estimated at 7.2 versus 8.4 in 2012.

I emailed back:

When you write that your long-term forecasts produce relatively modest changes in SF’s VMTs, what sort of land use patterns (jobs-housing relationships) expectations are you assuming?


Land use forecasts are prepared by ABAG and adjusted by SF Planning.  The land use scenario we currently use is the Sustainable Communities Strategy: Jobs-Housing Connections from Plan Bay Area.

Plan Bay Area, the regional land use and transportation “blueprint” mandated by SB 743’s antecedent, SB 375, also authored by Steinberg, foresees a 34% increase (190,780) in jobs in San Francisco, from 568,720 in 2010 to 759,500 in 2040. It also foresees a 35% jump (284,490) in the city’s population, from 805,240 to 1,089,730.

It cannot be said too often that these numbers are the creation of public policy. That means two things: they are mutable, and they should be subject to public vetting. To my knowledge, the people of San Francisco have never been asked if it would be a good thing if 190,780 more people worked in the city, or if 284,490 more people lived here.

How about asking them?




  • Bob

    What will happen when progressives that “support” adding additional housing in SF run out of reason to oppose adding additional housing in SF

    • wcw

      That joke isn’t funny any more.

  • Andy M

    “To my knowledge, the people of San Francisco have never been asked if it would be a good thing if 190,780 more people worked in the city, or if 284,490 more people lived here.How about asking them?”

    First of all, we the residents of San Francisco get a million opportunities a year to weigh in on how San Francisco develops. Every project or rule change is heard before one Board or another at which the public can comment. As you pointed out in your article, the switch to VMT was publicly discussed at the Planning Commission and only one person spoke in opposition.

    But more importantly (and I’ve commented on this before), this blog has promoted really problematic exclusionary policies. If the policy is to make SF a place where anyone that wants to live here can, then we need to grow. If the policy is not to grow, then someone needs to decide who gets to live here and who doesn’t. This means prices go up and low-income families get the boot.

    • Wrong. False. Untrue.

      Most people have no idea what’s going on in this town, because the processes that allow or deny anything getting done are designed to be as opaque and un-representative as possible. That is to say, almost nobody in City Hall gives the damn what the residents think about housing, traffic, or our rapidly deteriorating infrastructure. Attending a meeting where you get to voice your concerns AFTER the project has already been approved in the backroom is not an “opportunity.” And how is a person with an actual life supposed to keep up with all the machinations gong on in government? And why should they have to? Our representatives should know what’s best for the residents of the City, and pursue it vigorously. What we have now is mostly a default setting that favors capital, not people.

      • Andy M

        The switch from LOS to VMT has been debated for years.

        Here’s an article from 2013 about it. http://usa.streetsblog.org/2013/10/03/the-beginning-of-the-end-for-level-of-service/

        Here’s another one from 2009: http://www.fogcityjournal.com/wordpress/1005/new-ceqa-guidelines-expected-to-shift-transportation-priorities/

        Maybe your complaint about backroom deals is correct, but the switch to VMT, ain’t one. I’ve been following it eagerly for a very long time.

        More important switching from LOS to VMT is widely believe to be a good thing. This is why there was basically no opposition from anyone, including the Sierra Club. It does not, as you suggest “favor capital, not people.” It actually does the opposite. VMT favors projects that disincentive car use, which creates more livable, walkable communities. That kind of development overwhelming benefits lower income people over wealthier commuters.






        • The City, State, or Federal governments have done NOTHING that “overwhelmingly benefit lower-income communities.” Ever.

          • Andy M

            I’m sure your suspicion about government is grounded in valid experiences, and there are plenty of programs that disadvantage low-income people (mortgage interest tax deductions, transit money going to highway construction that connects leafy suburbs, restrictive zoning, capital gains tax rates, etc.)

            But there are government programs for which lower-income people are the greatest beneficiaries: subsidized bus and rail service, social security, TANF, medicare, rent-control, etc.

            The switch from LOS to VMT is one such, relatively minor, switch. It represents an important move away from having cities cater to and accommodate the needs of people who live in wealthy suburbs. Why should San Francisco have to plan its development or limit the things we need because people from the suburbs drive into city to work? LOS is really the ultimate in status-quo city building. It favors car owners (including those in the suburbs) over muni riders, walkers, and cyclists.

            I hope you don’t read this article and think “ah, here’s a kindred spirit who is also suspicious of government, so I can trust her.” I really feel strongly (and I’m no developer hack), that this article is dead wrong for the people of cities.

          • The bottom line in these agreements appears to favor developers, not existing residents.

          • Andy M

            Mea Culpa, I’m pretty much limiting the scope of my discussion to things I expect the city to deal with. I’m not trying to take on crony capitalism, just make it easier to build affordable housing in empty lots in San Francisco.

      • Bob

        Reading this, one might thing you were describing some place where buildings go up everywhere, willy nilly, by the thousands.
        Not SF, which has the most onerous development policies of any “large” city in the US – with the most politically active and vociferously opposed to anything residents.

        • Spoken like someone who just got here. As a native and long-time resident, I was here when Diane Feinstein and the Brown Brothers decided this City should look like Manhattan. And speaking of “willy-nilly,” the Hyatt on O’Farrell is one of the most obvious examples of an out of scale and out of place building in the City; there are many more if you care to look.

          • chasmader

            Not everyone shares your taste or opinions.

          • Ask me if I care….

          • Bob

            Please. I have been here for just as long. If you personally believe that a few towers placed outside of the financial district = development unrestricted then we wont agree to much.
            How about Bellaire tower on russian hill (1930) or 2500 steiner street (1927) ?

          • I LOVE 2500 Steiner St! Used to walk by it everday on my way to school.
            It is a beautiful structure, and I’m sure the interior is plaster and hardwoods, not sheetrock and pressboard. And it doesn’t look out of place. On the other hand, the monstrosities dominating the waterfront and marching inland through SOMA and Mission Bay are abominations on the landscape.

            And my definition of a “few” is less than five.

  • wcw

    Touted as an anti-sprawl policy, this change is really an aggressive pro-development maneuver that sacrifices on-the-ground quality of life to the dystopian fantasies of “smart” growth.

    The only way lower urban densities do not promote sprawl is through depopulation, like Japan’s via low birthrate and aggressive anti-immigration policy.

    If depopulation is not on the agenda, increased urban density is the only rational way to combat sprawl.

    • Vertical sprawl is not an acceptable alternative to suburban sprawl, nor is it the only alternative. A City that prides itself in being innovative is still hidebound (!) to traditional development models. The very first thing that needs to happen is to replace 19th Century technology (autos and busses) with 21st Century transportation models; various rail and shuttle systems. Quality of life should be the FIRST consideration in planning anything, and nothing detracts from that as much as auto traffic.

      • wcw

        Well, sure: those who find suburban sprawl is preferable to urban density will want to promote sprawl, not combat it. It is nonetheless clear that absent depopulation, lower urban densities promote sprawl.

        At the density of a pleasant suburb like Davis, San Francisco would require an additional 80 square miles. New York City would require an additional 960. Where will the 21st Century, free of the hidebound madness afflicting us city dwellers, find thousands of square miles of land for all those people?

        • There are millions of square miles on this continent where people could live in autonomous, sustainable communities. I’m not at all sure what instinct drives some people to want to live in termite-mounds, but I guess that’s the fate of the typical “worker.” I believe machines should do all the work, therefore eliminating the need for someone to drive from X to Z to sit at a computer. Planned communities of 20, 200, 2000, 20,000, 200,000 people can exist almost anywhere, thanks to solar/wind energy and satellite communications. Cities are dirty, noisy, visually appalling, vectors for communicable diseases, dangerous, and expensive to both live in and to maintain.

          • wcw

            Wait, this isn’t just sprawl, this is utopian sprawl?

            Lofty goals have their moments, but moving the entire population to brand new Davis-like towns that somehow eschew unsustainbable extractive activities is.. audacious. Is there an example of such a thing at any scale for more than a brief time, ever?

          • There’s a first time for everything. Not long ago, a minimum wage was a Utopian dream. The present regime is not working; even the 1% cannot survive climate change caused by Business As Usual. “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (and I feel fine).

          • chasmader

            Some of us, especially those who’ve lived in San Francisco for decades are tired of social engineering and just want to live our lives.

          • Without “social engineering,” half of America would be out of work.
            Which might not be a bad thing…..

          • hcat

            It’s all social engineering; it’s a question of whose social engineering, yours or theirs. Unless you favor landowners being the sole judge of what to build with no government at all.

          • wcw

            Don’t suburbs, especially clean, quiet, visually appealing suburbs, contribute orders of magnitude more to climate change than cities?

            The minimum wage was grounded in legal and regulatory structures that took centuries to build. This utopia sounds more and more like the classic approach, ‘all right – assume a pony.’

            Dreams are free, but not every idea is equally reasonable.

          • Kyle Huey

            “Cities are dirty, noisy, visually appalling, vectors for communicable
            diseases, dangerous, and expensive; both to live in, and to maintain.”

            I will never understand why people with such disdain for cities live in them.

          • Most people who live in cities worldwide are economic refugees, driven off of the land, first by the railroads, then increasing by mining, oil, timber, and agribusiness interests. I am fortunate that I grew up here when it was a livable place; hella open space and sight-lines, you could cycle on the streets without risking certain death, and Muni pier wasn’t falling into the Bay. Since…Back In The Day, I have been able to live most of the time in rural communities or in very small towns; including two years in Belize.
            Cities are great places to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there full time.

            Unless it was in Pacific Heights…..

          • dawdler

            We have a complicated economy now. Many people don’t work directly with the land anymore. Unless you’re proposing that we all go back to working with the land, then I think urban cores provide critical mass for complicated economies that small, self-sustainable towns may not.

          • If by “complicated,” you mean “dominated by Chinese goods,” then I suggest a move back to the land might be preferable to shoddy consumer goods, Pimp Architecture, Hollywood, and Politics As Theatre Of The Absurd.

          • Kyle Huey

            “Today, 54 per cent of the world’s population lives in urban areas, a
            proportion that is expected to increase to 66 per cent by 2050.
            Projections show that urbanization combined with the overall growth of
            the world’s population could add another 2.5 billion people to urban
            populations by 2050, with close to 90 percent of the increase
            concentrated in Asia and Africa, according to a new United Nations
            report launched today.”


          • First of all, figues don’t lie, but liars can figure. At this stage of my career, I wouldn’t believe anything the UN says. And “urban areas” is not the same as cities. And why would people go to cities when there are no jobs except to be servants of the rich? The trend to “urbanization,” which is mostly a result of indigenous communities being driven off of their land, will reverse soon. In fact it already has, starting with Chiapas, Mexico. Cities are simply to big, dirty, and inefficient to survive in their current form. They will virtually diappear when the oil runs out, and it will.

      • AlbertoRogers

        What the hell is vertical sprawl? is it something like cold heat? or quiet noise? just because you coin a catchy phrase and you repeat it again and again, doesn’t give it any meaning. its a nonsense dichotomy.

        • curiousKulak

          Well, I see “vertical sprawl” as being like Hong Kong, where 20-40 story bldgs butt up against one another, making canyons of the streets. Nobody gets sunlight except those on top.

          • Kyle Huey

            Or those willing to venture to the 2/3rds of Hong Kong that is open space, or the waterfront, or the public parks, or etc.

          • AlbertoRogers

            there’s plenty of sunlight in Manteca.

        • Oh, so you like that, huh. Well, you’re free to use it anytime you want. Twitter it, ot whatever it is you kids do these days. The definition should be obvious, but for those who were dropped on their heads when very young, “vertical sprawl” is rows and rows of sterile, almost identical buildings that are vertually indistinguisable from industrial air-conditioners, or from each other. Building that are constructed as quickly and cheaply as possible, that are impersonal and “corporate,” and that are not environmentally friendly. Most importantly, these “buildings” often replace actual communities of families, replacing them with highly transient single people and temporary couples that drive up rents area and City-wide. They also create artificial weather conditions by trapping heat and cold shadows by blocking the Sun.

          So put THAT in your pipe and smoke it, ya whippersnapper…..

      • Bob

        There is no such thing as “vertical sprawl” – The idea is pure nonsense.
        The term sprawl means to spread OUT.
        Lets not just make up terms to sound smart.

        • You know Bob, in todays world of “humanitarian bombing,” words mean pretty much whatever you want them to mean.

          • Bob

            Yes, I am jealous that I didn’t think of a word which is completely meaningless and which goes against what literally almost every expert says about how we should be concentrating growth.
            So jealous.

  • sojourner_7

    Ah, Plan Bay Area and its mandates. Brings up bile in my throat. And they are getting ready to kick out the 2.0 version… “representing” us in spite of our concerns.

  • I knew this had to be a Zelda article based on how fast my eyes glazed over while reading this. Still, it’s interesting stuff. Somebody is trying to hide details in complexity.

    If this stuff doesn’t stop, a quarter of the area’s population will be gone in five years. Mark my words.

  • Great piece of investigative reporting again, Ms Z. The problem is that there are dozens of feifdoms composed of unelected individuals with narrow special interests who get to make decisions that affect all of us. I had never even heard of some of these largely redundant agencies and public officials until I read this post. The reason nothing gets done in this town (and everywhere else) is not because of NIMBYism, it’s because of bureaucracy has replaced democracy, and “planning” has replaced community development.

    • chasmader

      Don’t forget the self appointed neighborhood organizations; claiming to speak for “the neighbors” when they are just simply little fiefs, run by political hacks.

  • AlbertoRogers

    I have a challenge to all the “anti development” folk here. If you are truly committed to this anti development agenda, why don’t you go home right now and put a match to your place? Your home is development after all…or are you just opposed to development for other people? Your development is fine, we just cant have any new development, that would be bad!!!

  • Ragazzu

    What’s impossible to measure, and has skirted any CEQA study, is the increased traffic from Uber (14,000 drivers by its own admission), Lyft (ditto), Chariot (privatizing Muni), tech buses, and all manner of poverty-gig deliveries: Postmates, Munchery, Caviar, Sprig, InstaCart, Breeze, OrderAhead, SpoonRocket, Lugg, WorkGenius, Eat24, etc., not to mention Amazon one-hour delivery, Safeway, and on and on.

    Rich folks can stay in the condo and own no car, while a Shanghai-like cesspool of traffic roars below. Crave a cup of gourmet yogurt? Poor saps will underbid each other for the privilege of double-parking in gridlock and rushing it to your lobby in hopes of a tip.

    I know this is slightly off topic, but this is what’s really happening on the streets of SF.

  • curiousKulak

    LOS incentivizes and prioritizes single-occupant auto travel. Do we really want 45 cars clogging Geary St, or do we want one bus and a dozen bicycles transporting the same # of people?

    Addtionally, ‘congestion’ will become less of an enviormmental issue (air quality) with adoptoin of more electric vehicles.

  • Alfiejr

    truth is this change in EIR method will have no impact on what actually happens. EIR’s for Central City projects have shown cumulative LOS significant impacts on traffic at the E and F levels for many intersections for years, starting with the Giants Stadium EIR in the late ’90’s. there is nothing new to learn here. traffic will be awful damn near everywhere at peak hours – duh! i think we all realize that already.

    no lawsuit about this – that the mitigation is inadequate would have to be the case – has a chance. the city just points to a range of pending/proposed transit improvements, and no court is going to dispute the sufficiency of that theory. we are seeing the ultimate test case for that now with the Warriors Arena, where the opponents can actually afford the technical studies to challenge this and plan to. but it won’t succeed. the city has proposed enough traffic/transportation mitigation there to cover its legal ass.

    what we are really seeing is the realization in real life of the city’s long-predicted “manhattanization”. surprise! (not). get used to it.

    where the new EIR method might actually help is making a stronger case to reduce the parking allowed for new development, office buildings in particular. and setting aside more of it for shared use vehicles. that calculation should be potent for vehicle travel miles reduced. advocates should focus on that. it’s been a goal for years.

  • Kraus

    The title of this article would have been more accurate as follows:

    “All of those of us interested in the creation of more housing — in the right places, i.e. cities — in order to address the dire need for housing win with “smart growth” rule”

  • mbrenman

    No, this is a complete misreading of the change. LOS is a very old-fashioned measure, and VMT more closely represents vehicular traffic.

    • AlbertoRogers

      there is also no reliable or agreed upon methodology to calculate the VMT created by say a 200 unit condo project next to a BART station in downtown Oakland. It is a CEQA plaintiff’s wet dream. perhaps that’s the true intent. Just another tool for the NIMBYs to use to block new housing….because they got theirs’, screw everyone else!

  • sfparkripoff

    48 Hills is finally waking up to the connection between transportation and the over development of the city. If you do a little more research you might find the most common “red flags,” or indicators, of possible corruption, bid rigging, collusive bidding kickbacks, and how taxpayer money AND JOBS get funnel to lobbyists and other city hall insiders. Some people say that developers and their astroturf organizations have been scamming taxpayers for years to redesign the city into their CAR-FREE utopia http://web.archive.org/web/20070729010141/http://livablecity.org/pipermail/carfreeliving_livablecity.org/2005-May/date.html#start

  • reedm

    You forgot to include myself and the SF Transit Riders, as supporting VMT along with SFBC and WalkSF. Sitting on years of needless CEQA paperwork to build commonsense transit projects makes absolutely no sense. The current LOS favors low-density suburban style growth, which unfortunately is the opposite of environmentalism—destroying large swaths of natural space. If the entire Bay Area were as dense as San Francisco, we’d all fit inside the city limits of San Jose and could be surrounded by protected natural space. The suburban model doesn’t work, human-scale density is critical, and public transportation and better street life is the way we get there. http://sf.streetsblog.org/2016/03/10/sf-planning-commission-officially-prioritizes-humans-over-cars/

    • sojourner_7

      Please, SF is anything but “the suburban model”, and what is best for SF is NOT what is best for every city. And lots of us do not wish to be in a dense megalopolis, surrounded by protected natural space. Your dream is your dream, leave others out of it. There isn’t “One Path” forward, there are many paths forward. The streetsblog nut-cases represent a minority.

      • rickbynight

        There are many paths forward, but they all come with consequences. I would never argue for a dense megalopolis—I have a strong dislike of extreme density, including that of Manhattan, but again, that’s my personal view. But the sprawl model that they Bay Area employs is ultimately not sustainable. It gridlocks growth without destruction of natural space. In the meantime, San Francisco loses out on good transportation, a diverse population, and better natural space access. You’re absolutely correct that intelligent people can disagree on the path forward. Regardless, this discussion is primarily about VMT vs LOS — and LOS favors the sprawl we’ve seen across the bay area. I would encourage our surrounding communities to support VMT as well.

  • jonobate

    Here’s an example of the sort of destruction that will be reigned down upon our neighborhoods by those foolish CEQA reforms replacing LOS with VMT: http://sf.streetsblog.org/2016/03/16/berkeley-advocates-win-agreement-for-long-delayed-bike-lanes/

    So much vertical sprawl! Those evil developers, whatever will they think of next?

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