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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

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News + PoliticsWho's 'against change?'

Who’s ‘against change?’

Or does that just mean some of us are against the sort of change that the powers that be are pushing?

Like 48 hills editor Tim Redmond, I welcome UC Berkeley geographer Dick Walker’s piece in the East Bay Express debunking the supply-side approach to the Bay Area’s affordable housing crisis. As Walker writes, that’s the approach taken by “mainstream policy shops and planners such as Gabriel Metcalf, president and CEO of the pro-urban growth organization SPUR.” In their view, the problem is “activists and neighborhood residents who oppose more market-rate housing development. Their solution is to allow developers to build more freely.”

Is the real issue in the housing wars growth? How much can one region take?
Is the real issue in the housing wars growth? How much can one region take? Photo by Peter Menchini

Walker agrees that the region needs more housing. But “building more housing,” he contends,

cannot solve the problem as long as demand is out of control, as it is today….Three basic forces are driving the Bay Area’s housing prices upward: growth, affluence, and inequality. Three other things make matters worse: finance, business cycles, and geography. All of these operate on the demand side of the equation, and demand is the key to the runaway housing market.

He goes on to mark the region’s 500,000 new jobs since 2010, the tech industry’s huge profits and correspondingly high salaries and wages; the gaping, growing inequality of income and—even worse—of wealth in the Bay Area; and the “geography of privilege and power” that enables “the nouveaux riches of the tech world….to outbid working stiffs, families, artists and the poor” for housing.

Also well-advised are Walker’s recommendations for local policy: restrict speculation via development fees and controls on rents and evictions; create and fund housing land trusts; build new housing that includes low-income units; and do it all in behalf of “a livable city” that incorporates “good design, historic preservation, neighborhood protections, mixed use, and social diversity”—and “a collective, democratic and yes, conflictual process of politics and public debate.”

It’s a commendable agenda, though I wish Walker had grappled with what he rightfully identifies as the “key to the runaway housing market”: inordinate demand, which is to say, excessive growth. Instead his piece raps those who “oppos[e] all new building, greater density, and neighborhood change” and “cling to the idea that our town or neighborhood will remain the same in a dynamic urban system.”

I’ve never met anyone who opposes “all new building, greater density and neighborhood change,” and I’d wager that nobody else has, either. It’s a fiction, part of the diversionary rhetoric employed by none other than Metcalf and Co. that aims to discredit and stigmatize “activists and neighborhood residents who oppose more market-rate development” as irrational extremists.

When people say, “You’re against change,” they really mean, “You’re against the kind of change I want.” The essential question is, what kind of change is that?

As Calvin Welch pointed out in these pages last December, the kind sought by the fast growthers—SPUR, the Bay Area Council, the Building Industry Association, the real estate Democrats, and their allies in the planning profession and the regional planning agencies—is the same kind their ilk purveyed as “urban renewal”: “market capitalism using state power” to achieve “demolition and displacement for tens of thousands of San Franciscans” in the name of “‘housing opportunity.’”

This is the true irrational extremism. And as Welch also points out, in San Francisco urban renewal was defeated by grass-roots activists—

seniors, working-class retirees and Latinos in South of Market and the Mission [who] 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.

Today community activists around the Bay Area are fighting against the new urban renewal, a.k.a. “smart growth.” They’re pushing back—not just in San Francisco, but in Alameda, Berkeley, Oakland, Mill Valley, and Palo Alto, among other places.

You read that right: Palo Alto. Thanks to the “nouveaux riches” of the tech world,” Palo Alto has a jobs-to-housing ratio of 3-to-1 and commercial space that’s been so extensively colonized by tech offices that the council passed a citywide ground floor retail space protection ordinance. Should Palo Alto build housing to accommodate all the workers in the city’s tech’s offices? I don’t think so, but I’m not sure what Walker thinks.

His embrace of “high-rises” is incautious. Massive high-density development does not necessarily provide “moderate priced homes” or “low-income public housing.” As ever, the devil is in the details. Witness the controversial 18-story residential project proposed for 2211 Harold Way in downtown Berkeley, the town in which Walker and I both live. It has no affordable units at all—one of many deficiencies cited in a lawsuit filed by a community activist.

Density’s dubious relationship to housing affordability aside, the larger growth question remains. To paraphrase the title of a much-cited article by David Talbot, how many people can one region take? That question would seem to be entailed by Walker’s recognition that demand is “out of control.” It’s suppressed in the halls of power, including the offices of the Association of Bay Area Governments and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. For the sake of genuinely livable cities, community activists need to raise it, loud and clear.

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  1. From your article: “(Urban populations are still growing, but because of births and immigration, not internal migration.)

    “The common narrative isn’t entirely wrong about the long-term trend lines. Millennials are moving to the suburbs at a much lower rate than past generations did at the same age.”

    So, the takeaway is that urban areas are still growing, so we need to house people in these areas. This is why we need denser zoning, in areas that are convenient to transit. Suburbanites have this image of their towns as rural villages, but it’s an increasingly unrealistic one.

  2. Are you really trying to claim that people are moving out of cities? that demand for urban apartments and condos is dropping? I don’t care what a survey commissioned by Pulte or Shea or some other tract home builder says. The FACTS show that people are flocking into cities. For the last decade urban census tracts have far outpaced growth in suburban census tracts and that gap is only slowly closing because our cities are refusing to build enough new housing and we are forcing people into long costly commutes from their McMansions in the exurbs. Do you honestly believe that a Palo Alto school teacher wants to live in frickin Patterson and get up every morning at 4:30am to start her commute? You might call that a “choice” but in reality, its a Hobson’s choice.

  3. To cite very specific data published just this month based on a large survey – this very recent survey contradicts your assertion that “there ABSOLUTELY IS NOT a preference for single family homes”, source:

”Over three-quarters of surveyed households would purchase a single-family home if they were to buy in the next six months, and 79 percent of renters would choose to buy outside of an urban area”

    “The survey data reveals an overwhelming consumer preference for single-family homes in suburban areas. Most current homeowners (85 percent) and 75 percent of renters said they would purchase a single-family home, while only 15 percent of homeowners and 21 percent of renters said that would buy in an urban area.”

    Sorry, the data doesn’t support the utopia you are dreaming of. People are not being “forced into” this as you frame it. We live in an attractive region with a high concentration of high paying jobs. Given this situation many choose to sacrifice commute time to live in a single family home. High density apartments are not the droids you’re looking for.

    Time to put the hammer of growth away, not everything is a nail.

  4. Your statement that “the supply side solution to the housing crisis is not working” is incorrect and is not supported by the historical facts.

    Since the late 70’s, “supply side solution” has not been allowed to happen due to anti-housing development polices that have characterized the last 35 years in SF and the greater Bay Area.

    This has lead to extremely high prices for housing due to chronically inadequate housing production in the face of increasing demand over this period.

    * i.e., down-zoning, massive expansion of the Planning Code / regulations, NIMBY dominance, creation of an extremely expensive and time-consuming entitlement “process”, etc.)

  5. it is true and the realities of the current situation reflect that truth. Space zoned for PDR is now in large part occupied by non PDR uses. The market, as the market always does, is dictating the use and it has no regard for the Board of Supervisors paltry attempts at social engineering. SOMA and the eastern neighborhoods is some of the most valuable real estate on the planet and to zone it for 1950s era industry is just dumb. Using zoning to create “diversity” is bogus. Zoning is the antithesis of diversity. The very practice of Euclidian zoning was invented to keep poor people out of rich white neighborhoods. The first zoning lawsuit filed in this city was to stop a Chinese laundry from opening in Pacific Heights. PDR zoning in the eastern neighborhoods had one goal and that was to stop the construction of housing, not to preserve blue collar jobs….and its working exactly as intended.

  6. Richard you are a professional NIMBY. Just change the name of your website to KEEP MARIN WHITE AND WEALTHY and be done with this charade that you actually are about planning. Americans are moving back into cities in huge numbers. Surveys are often wrong or biased. Facts never are. The numbers do not lie. Except for a few rustbelt deadzones, all large American cities are experiencing large scale population growth.

  7. Since the supply side solution to the housing crisis is not working, the obvious solution is to reduce demand. Let’s have more crime! Let garbage rot in the streets! Make our bad schools even worse! That will drive down the number of people in the Bay Area to a figure acceptable to commissars like Ms. Bronstein.

  8. Hi Zelda,

    Could you give us your opinion of the maximum desirable total population for the 9 county Bay Area (or even just the city of San Francisco), and if that value is above the total current population, could you tell us roughly what maximum sustainable rate of growth you think is desirable to get there?

    That would clear up a lot of the noise in this thread, I think.

  9. Totally agree with you there Alberto. SF is one of the worst offender cities. Santa Clara only Bay Area county that has more workers commuting out of San Francisco than in.

  10. To cite very specific data published just this month based on a large survey – this very recent survey contradicts your assertion that “there ABSOLUTELY IS NOT a preference for single family homes”, source:

    “Over three-quarters of surveyed households would purchase a single-family home if they were to buy in the next six months, and 79 percent of renters would choose to buy outside of an urban area”

    “The survey data reveals an overwhelming consumer preference for single-family homes in suburban areas. Most current homeowners (85 percent) and 75 percent of renters said they would purchase a single-family home, while only 15 percent of homeowners and 21 percent of renters said that would buy in an urban area.”

    Sorry, the data doesn’t support the utopia you are dreaming of. People are not being “forced into” this as you frame it. We live in an attractive region with a high concentration of high paying jobs. Given this situation many choose to sacrifice commute time to live in a single family home. High density apartments are not the robots you’re looking for.

    Time to put the hammer of growth away, not everything is a nail.

  11. there ABSOLUTELY IS NOT a preference for single family homes! the problem is that you can build a 4/2 SFH in Manteca for $300K and sell to a consumer for $400K. That same consumer can’t buy a shoe closet in San Francisco for $400K because it costs about $600K to build a 1 bedroom condo here which sell for $800K. We have made homes ridiculously expensive to build here because of CEQA lawsuits, mandatory union construction, 25% inclusionary ordinances, impact fees up the wazoo, that the awful alternative of 4 hours in a car each day is what we force prospective buyers into. Most people do not choose that life, we force them into it.

  12. @Alberto@albertorogers:disqus You frame the argument to serve your bias that we must build our way out of traffic congestion. If we build more at the urban cores workers will choose to move there. This is not just a self-serving gross over-simplification but it flies in the face of everyday realities of what factors affect where people choose to live.

    If we build housing for those 160,000 workers in San Francisco can we expect congestion and commuting to radically drop? I would say no. We’ll just get another 160,000 people in the area and 160,000 or more will continue to commute in.

    The peer reviewed UC Berkeley paper “Is Jobs Housing Balance a Transportation Issue” pokes such gaping holes in your argument that it collapses due to the following factors identified on page 7:
    – for many living near work is not a high priority
    – people are attracted to “neighborhood quality”, availability of parks, quality of schools, racial and ethnic mix, microclimate among a host of other factors
    – compared to housing costs, commuting costs are small. Housing costs decline with distance from major employment centers so additional commuting costs can be traded off for cheaper housing. Thus many households CHOOSE to live in outlying areas,
    – there is a strong preference among US households for single family homes; which I only hope is not what you are proposing is built in SF
    – there is a growing number of multiple worker households; a location may be near householder 1’s work but far from householder 2’s work
    – most people in the US have multiple jobs in their lifetime, people are mobile

    What you’ll achieve is a transportation mess that will be irreversible and will adversely affect the quality of life for new and existing residents. We need to push back on this supposedly irresistible urge to develop to solve our problems – if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

    – autonomous cars and autovots are on the horizon and rapidly approaching and look set to transform transportation, let’s embrace them as quickly as is safe and reasonable
    – let’s jettison this irresistible itch we have to scratch of growing fast and focus on quality of life balance with moderate growth
    – let’s face up to the facts that people don’t always want to live near where they work, and they aren’t embracing transit – in fact quite the reverse based on US census figures, so let’s not get overly fixated on transit and associated transit oriented development as a solution
    – let’s assess our transportation infrastructure and water and identify what population we can reasonably support and grow with
    – and finally let’s ditch the obsession that transit is greener than cars; in cities where ridership is high this may be true, but in the suburbs ridership doesn’t achieve sufficient levels and cars in many cases emit less CO2 per passenger mile than buses or trains

  13. That’s not true. Cities need services and many PDR businesses offer those services. Also, these businesses create economic diversity for city revenues.

  14. PDR zoning is a joke. San Francisco preservationist nonsense thinking that flies in the face of economic realities. Zoning so much of the eastern neighborhoods PDR was not an effort to preserve leather tanning or artisanal cloth manufacturing, it was an effort by well heeled homeowners to stop housing.

  15. San Francisco’s population increases every workday by 160,000. That’s 160,000 people who have to travel here to work, many from as far away as Sacramento, Manteca and Patterson, because San Francisco refuses to build housing. Do our political leaders focus on this problem? No. They prefer to try and shut down the buses that take just 8000 people out of the city to jobs on the peninsula.

  16. Open floor plans are what’s in vogue.The Execs get private offices, while the rest are set up like a We Work location.

  17. The only time office rents have been low was when we were in a double depression. Dare to dream. What do you think’s cheaper, a class C office space, or a 1 bedroom?

  18. Conversion of PDR reduces PDR spaces and drive those prices upwards. See how that works?

    Office rents are high now. We are in a bubble now. The bubble is not sustainable. Wash, rinse, repeat.

  19. To be fair, the 90’s boom did see jumps in rent, but instead of a rent crises there was a home buying crises, with homes getting multiple offers, overbidding, for the first time. I agree much of it was policy, and economy influenced, but it also helped that SF appeared to be thriving.

  20. Marin refuses to invest in any infrastructure that will support more population density, including water storage.

  21. VMT is increasing not because people want to live in Manteca and commute 4 hours a day to their Bay Area job, its increasing because that’s where Bay Area nimbys have sent their affordable housing.

  22. San Francisco, Mill Valley, Palo Alto, Oakland, Alameda, Berkeley….all home to large populations of rich white pseudo liberal home owners who oppose new development because they like their cozy white liberal neighborhoods and their huge property value inflation.

  23. Conversion of PDR to offices (which I agree shouldn’t be allowed), increases supply of offices leading to lower priced offices. You are advocating for decreasing the supply of new office space through regulation — which will just price out office renters that can’t afford high rents — generally non-profits and small businesses.

  24. In my 30+ years in SF, we’ve see bubble after bubble. Sometimes businesses get squeezed out other times, rents are dirt cheap because of huge gluts. The point is that even those ‘bad times’ we didn’t see corresponding high vacancy rates in residential rentals.

  25. Which rules would those be? There isn’t rent control or eviction controls for commercial tenants.

  26. It’s not that simple. If we restrict office supply, the price goes up, and we already have some of the most expensive office rents in the country. This policy will drive most non-profits and small businesses out of SF.

  27. If you look at the history of displacement in San Francisco you will see that we lived through at least two other dot com booms and busts without a rent crisis. This has less to do with tech and more to do with politics and the economy. During the last booms we had height limits imposed by Prop M and financing was not cheap.

    The courts recently blew the lid off Prop M height limits, development funds are practically free, and there is also a lot of cash looking for a place to land. Landlord tenant relations are tense, so many land owners are selling out to developers, forcing desperate tenants to resort to media tactics and shaming. No one is happy. The result is a high rate of vacancies and short term rentals.

    Most people feel their only hope of staying in San Francisco, other than a disaster, is to elect a new body of politicians who will support a better plan than what is currently being offered by the powers that be at City Hall. The discussion about the future of San Francisco needs to be with the candidates running for office. This is where our hope lies.

  28. If that happens, it would no longer be the best place to live in the US, and you never would have moved to the city you’re imagining.

  29. BTW Speaking of Palo Alto… Did you know more people commute from San Mateo county to San Francisco than vise versa?

  30. An important point worth noting is that in the last few years, a lot of offices have increased capacity by ripping out the old law office style big cabins with open spaces and have been increasing the per sq. unit occupancy. An estimate I came across in a presentation was that could double the occupancy rate by 60-75% in the next 5 years. This would sure still happen even if you dont build new offices. Something to consider. (I am not saying is this is good or bad, just that its a reality that is less well known).

  31. Yep, I live in a suburb. But the fast growthers with the help of ABAG had our suburb redesignated as a Priority Development Area transforming it into an urban area without consulting any of the residents.

    You seem to misunderstand what’s occurring. Suburbs are being surreptitiously turned into urban areas without any buy in from the residents.

  32. Where I’m from, we have a word for places with the kinds of population densities that seem to appeal to you. We call them “Suburbs”. And if that’s what you like, you should move to one.

  33. You misconstrue neighborhood groups. Most understand there will be some growth and accept some subsidization of “affordable” housing. However, what is being pushed is rapid growth, disregarding existing acute traffic and parking issues. The impact of new development on traffic and parking can increasingly be dismissed thanks to state Senate Bill 743 and the state office of Planning and Research changing the rules which few people are aware of but which is an outrage.

    Transit is being pushed as is if it is the silver bullet to handle the inflated resident population. However, few trips by new residents use transit, if anything transit use per capita is dropping – like it or not people increasingly prefer cars – consequently the impact of new development is even more acute traffic issues.

    The alternative is not displacement as you falsely frame it. The alternative is to not grow in places that are unsuitable due to acute traffic or parking issues. There is a carrying capacity. Once you push past this capacity life becomes miserable as people are left wasting hours in traffic or facing issues finding parking in their neighborhoods.

    The point is don’t plan to add development / population and deal with the impact after the fact, ineffectively. Propose a plan based on realities:
    – water supply
    – taxes are already high (not least things to unfunded benefits)
    – capacity to handle additional traffic and parking based on REAL WORLD BEHAVIOUR, not desired or imagined behaviour that new residents will take transit
    – impact on schools; if you overload an area with affordable housing it can have adverse impact on taxes / school capacity

  34. “yet are pushing for a world where the lower-income people who work in this city are commuting from further and further away on our already overcrowded highways.”

    You presume that people want to live near where they work. That if you build small apartments for the workers the workers will move to them. Newsflash! People don’t base their decision on where to live based exclusively or even significantly on work location. Wouldn’t that make things simple. Don’t believe me? Here’s a peer reviewed UC Berkeley paper, read page 7 right of page section titled “Factors affecting where people live and work”:


    What we can do is make some reasonable accommodations for “affordable” (newspeak for “subsidized”) housing. Where I live 20% of all new housing must be affordable otherwise developers pay a fine and the fines are used to build affordable housing elsewhere. Given that taxes are at an all time high (mainly due to a lack of control of unfunded pension liability) the appetite to subsidize an amount over 20% is limited. We should ensure that what limited growth continues to occur – and it will be limited/measured – balances out impact on taxes, traffic and parking.

  35. Sorry, you had me at “vibrant”. Who are these people who want “no growth”? I don’t know any. (Tip – you are using a straw man fallacy argument).

    I live in a neighborhood with 20% affordable units already. Because of a stupid train (based on ludicrous economics and ridership) the area 1/2 mile around my neighborhood was unilaterally volunteered to double or triple the planned number of units. When the community found out they had been volunteered, with the city admitting it performed zero outreach, they were outraged. It was viewed as subversive.

    After a year or more of residents taking time out of their lives to fight this preposterous fast growth from 1,150 units to 3,000 or more we finally succeeded in rejecting the “PDA” designation that had been foisted upon us. We accepted some growth – perhaps 300 or so units; but people were sickened by how a manipulative “Station Area Plan” process had been used to attempt to push through rapid growth (multiplying the number of units threefold or more).

    This isn’t an isolated story. Similar things are occurring across the Bay Area as residents discover subversive methods being used to push through what can only be described as fast growth – adding buildings each with hundreds of units – into locations already affected by acute traffic issues.

  36. “Fast Growth” is newspeak. The dispute is between people who want no growth, or at least no growth near them (NIMBYs) and people who want some growth.

  37. If neither you nor anybody else knows how many people should live here (I don’t know. Neither does anyone else), then this is angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin speculation that gets in the way of good public policy that helps actual people with actual needs.

    Shouldn’t activists promote good policy that helps people?

  38. I am sorry Zelda, but I did not find this piece very illuminating. There is no real agenda or thesis at work here.

    The reason Walker’s piece has made a splash is that he points out that the basic economic forces at work in the combined housing/business cycle work at different rates of speed in such a way that there will always be a huge amount of market inefficiency and dislocation as long as the two cycles are strongly linked as they are in a capitalist economy. In other words, housing “supply siders” are wrong because housing supply cannot ever be summoned up quickly enough to meet demand. What is needed are market mitigators like rent increase controls and eviction protections. It’s a very convincing argument.

    Zelda, the problem with your piece is that you seem to be at war with the very notion of a
    healthy, vibrant local economy. Which will, inevitably yes, lead to some housing shortages and issues which our elected officals and local and regional planners need to be pushed very hard so that they grapple with them.

    That being said, the solution is not to wish that the tech economy would just disappear, or to push to enact business growth limits. That is just silly and counterproductive. There are hundreds of thousands of people in our region who, yes, are in more precarious
    housing situations as one result of the booming local economy. But THOSE SAME PEOPLE are in much LESS PRECARIOUS WORK SITUATIONS, also as a result of the booming local economy.

    It is not just the “Tech Bros” who benefit; it is the black construction workers from the
    Bayview, the Latina housecleaners from the Excelsior, the unlicensed immigrant chinese electricians, the guy who runs your corner store. There is more money and a better standard of living for all of us when things are going well around here.

    And density of both business and housing is an unmitigated good thing. More density is basically always better. The trick, once again, is to push planners and officials into making the necessary infrastructure investments. The Bay Area needs to massively prioritize regional and local mass transit. We should be at work on a new southern transbay tube for BART now. We should be tunneling out more San Francisco (and Oakland!) municipal subway lines now. Bart should be extended down the 101 corridor all the way to San Jose now.

  39. Absolutely. I’m sure there’s a lot of ground we would agree, and will agree on in future discussions. I also didn’t mean to imply that your heart wasn’t in the right place.

  40. You’re right, my tone here is a bit presumptuous. You’ve correctly assumed that I am a relatively recent transplant, and I realize now how irreverent it sounds for me to so nonchalantly propose large changes to the city and the region. I sincerely appreciate you for calling me on that. Please understand that my fervor over this issue is coming from a place of good faith. I think we simply disagree on questions of economic cause and effect.

  41. I moved here a few years ago, originally for a research job in Berkeley, and now as a tech worker in San Francisco. The Bay Area cities, and in particular the East Bay, are perhaps the best places to live in the entire United States. We should be radically expanding this opportunity to the millions of people who would also love to relocate here, from elsewhere in the country or the world. I live in a single family home, but exclusive single family zoning was designed (with Berkeley as the laboratory) for one purpose: economic and racial segregation. Today this is called “neighborhood character”, but the intent is the same, the protection of privilege for people who “got here first” or “bought at any cost.” Let’s build more homes, starting in my neighborhood, and get on with the next century, forgetting forever the post-war detour into sparsely populated cities.

  42. It’s a tax worth discussing, I agree….I’m not sure how much SF has an absentee landlord problem, but I guess that’s meant to handle the overblown AirBnB issue?

  43. Do you realize how obnoxious it is to list what parts of the Bay resonate with you, then declare war on the rest?

    Let me be very clear – whether or not your intention, what you’re talking about will be the very reason people are displaced, and it already has been the very reason.

    It’s not a straw man, the build everywhere crowd want the entire city rezoned. None of them called the plans for West. Divis. too extreme. None of them are being honest about the demographic shift there and how this will finish it off.

    We’re already building a hell of a lot more. The straw man is to say people are trying to shut down all development. There are projects coming down the pike, and more on the way. Great. Yet that’s not enough for you if you have a problem with single family homes in Burlingame or Berkeley or Sea Cliff.

    You’re wrong, population growth doesn’t need to be stopped, we just don’t need to be giving it a boost with more development, that will create more growth . There’s not going to be $1000 rent again no matter how many Soviet Block glass buildings you build.

    Now if SF doesn’t have the right architecture for you, leave. Go to where it does. There’s some poor soul who loves the city and wouldn’t want to see it destroyed who could use your housing. You probably won’t be here in 20 years anyway, and not because of displacement.

  44. Zelda Bronstein already has an affordable, stable living situation, so it’s very easy for her to support policies that will make the Bay Area less affordable for everybody else.

    She’s prioritized her own personal aesthetics over allowing homes to be built for people who need them. This is selfishness, privilege, and arrogance.

    This is the Frontier Mentality at it’s worst. It says “I got my slice of heaven, and anybody who got here after me can go to hell.” It is an aging white Baby Boomer putting her needs before the needs of younger generations, despite the fact that younger generations will have to live with the consequences of this selfishness long after Zelda’s dead.

  45. No, Ms. Bronstein, this discussion is about the instant piece published on 48 Hills. You are its author. I have deleted all my comments to which you took offense, and would be only too happy to delete more, should you do direct. I am asking you a simple question:

    How many people should live here?

  46. “calling to give developers open season” This is what I mean by a straw man. My position, “build a hell of a lot more”, is not the same as “let developers do literally anything they want”.

    I think you’re wrong that I can’t love the city, but also want to see it change. The things I love about the city are the history, the culture, the people, the natural beauty, etc. The things I could care less about are free parking, car-based living, and low-density sprawl. I say let’s trade a little bit of the latter to preserve the former.

    I also think we’re forced to make a choice. We can’t stop population growth. So the question is what do we do? We can try to achieve equitable, sustainable population growth by protecting existing residents while making space for new residents. Or we can do what we have been doing, which is to not build nearly enough, and tackle the problem of population influx by displacement and sprawl. I can’t understand how anyone thinks this is desirable.

    I will concede one point though. I think the “densify SF” position is appealing to me, because I would honestly prefer to live in a denser more transit-based city anyhow. For people who prefer a less dense city, I can see why my position is unpalatable. However, the only other option, as I said, is displacement and sprawl. And if we can achieve greater density, I don’t think the detractors will find it nearly as terrible as they expect it to be.

  47. I think a peid-a-terre tax could help, but I haven’t done any research as to the legal implications/hurdles for such a tax.

    Our housing approach should be a general loosening of zoning a planning restrictions, an increased BMR set-aside, and incentive cheaper housing/even higher BMR components by offering variances, etc.

  48. See, you’re at odds with yourself. You want rigid zoning laws that would prevent office space converted into the usage you wish there were more of…you’re obstructing the solution to your problem.

    Office space doesn’t always require a flood of new workers. Salesforce tower (which I’m no fan of) will just upgrade their facilities, not double their staffing. It also depends on the businesses themselves.

  49. “If you work hard and get ahead you too could afford a house in an attractive area near a high income employment center like SF or the peninsular.” Thanks for the condescending words of encouragement, but I do perfectly well for myself. But is this really the world you want? You claim to care about climate change, yet are pushing for a world where the lower-income people who work in this city are commuting from further and further away on our already overcrowded highways. It seems like you’re trying really hard to make your desire for low-density somehow gel with the reality of climate change, and it’s just not going to work. Cities are the future.

    Plus your “meritocratic” understanding of who gets to live in the city is fucking gross. I make a lot more money than many rent-controlled tenants in the Mission. Should we evict them to make room for me, because according to you I’ve “worked hard” and earned my place here? That’s hella gross

  50. In a bubble/strong economy in areas with low unemployment, increasing the supply of workspaces increases the number of workers. Increasing the number of workers increases the demand for housing.

    There are many examples where there are few/no zoning restrictions and they are all good examples of how things should not be done.

  51. “Literally no one wants to displace “tens of thousands of San Franciscans”. ”

    Right, but literally nobody calling to give developers open season will acknowledge that it will result in more displacement.

    You’re taking it a step more extreme by calling for open season on the Bay Area, lifestyle and all, as we know it. People come to the Bay, learn some history, get excited by it, play activist, call for these idealistic plans that are truly destructive, and then run for the hills when the city declines, or they just get bored with being here. Because if you moved to a city you truly love and plan to live in for the rest of your life, you wouldn’t want to see it not just changed, but morph into another city entirely.

  52. How about we loosen zoning restrictions so as needs change, properties can be used for what’s in demand the most? Office space isn’t the enemy. It doesn’t always mean out of state ringers in need of homes.

  53. Right, and why would speculation be lumped in with development? Developers get hit pretty hard as it is, and the answer isn’t to pretend investment properties are merely for the wealthy and the developers.

  54. You often have to work hard to buy into attractive areas. There is a finite supply. No one’s advocating “no growth”, just measured growth that aligns with the architectural character of neighborhoods. If you work hard and get ahead you too could afford a house in an attractive area near a high income employment center like SF or the peninsular. You then call this “selfish”? I call it “the system”, it’s not perfect.

    The alternative is that we embark on an ocean boiling exercise to defy basic supply and demand economics and “make the Bay Area affordable again”.

    Residents don’t share your vision. You are good at framing issues to suit your vision.

  55. Do you mean Dick Walker? Yes, I’d also like to know how he would respond to that question.

  56. It seems like you’re going through a lot of mental gymnastics to justify maintaining the status quo. This status quo is one in which my tax dollars subsidize a low-density car-dependent lifestyle that is only available to those who came here long enough ago to buy in. This is precisely what I mean by “selfish”.

  57. It seems only good manners to hear out the author whose advocacy piece fomented debate. How many should live here?

  58. I agree that we are full of ourselves and that our transit systems need to be improved. But that does not change the fact that MOST of the US is lacking in transit options, has no recycling, has incredibly low density cities and yet we the burden is ours to increase our density, to build more offices so more businesses can move here, etc. If that is the case, we should be able to tax low-density communities to pay for the infrastructure needed to facilitate high-density living.

  59. If you’re asking, how many can the region support–ecologically and fiscally–I don’t know. Neither does anyone else, because, as I wrote, public officials have suppressed the question. If it ever does get raised in the robust public conversation it deserves, there will inevitably be big disagreements about the answer. Fine. Let the debate begin.

  60. The Bay Area loves to pat itself on the back. “We have a train!” Never mind that the system is desperately in need of expansion and repairs and that our highways are getting more and more congested. We shouldn’t try to improve, because at least we’re better than some other cities?

  61. “dense, transit-based living reduces per-person greenhouse emissions”

    You do realize that per capita driving is increasing. People are voting with their accelerator pedals. People’s travel preferences aren’t adhering to the transit oriented narrative. The trends we are seeing based on the US Census figures are that transit use is in decline, working from home is in ascension, and biking and walking is barely moving the needle.

    In suburban areas transit is failing to keep up with the low emissions of cars – because it fails to attain sufficient ridership. Meanwhile cars are getting greener and greener. Just last year the state department of transportation made an award of cap and trade funds that made a mockery of the entire sustainability agenda. They awarded $11m in TIRCP cap and trade funds to a train in Marin to buy 3rd carriages based on an application that claimed every train would be filled to capacity. The same grant application was denied by MTC because they saw the figures were exaggerated by over 30 fold.

    As for your consideration of selfish – you presume we must welcome large numbers of newcomers, or else. Land is a finite resource. Large portions of it are off limits to development to prevent sprawl in the name of sustainability. Those that are developed include some urban areas where density is appropriate and welcomed, and suburban areas where people elected to move to for a less urban life, often working hard and sacrificing large amounts to pay to move. They aren’t about to abandon their investments and watch mid-rises go up next to their houses, typically based on the “transit oriented development” flawed premise and SB743 that the new residents will take transit, so sc*&w the fact that the already acutely congested roads will be made even worse.

    Meanwhile TODers have their heads stuck in the sand around facts like:

    – despite billions in transit investments per capita transit use continues to decline, citation:

    – autonomous cars are an emerging technology that appear set to transform transportation planning (when I asked ABAG their planners weren’t even thinking about this, they’re still fixated on rail).

    Existing residents aren’t fighting to preserve an unsustainable lifestyle. You’ve framed it oh so conveniently. They are already facing acute traffic and parking issues, they are resistant to their neighborhoods being transformed into mid-rise apartments, and they’re absolutely not bought into transit oriented development that’s being surreptitiously foisted upon them by those who claim to know best.

    There are other cities and regions better suited to taking the growth that don’t have such acute water, traffic, parking, tax and land use issues. If we build more here then more will surely come; if we don’t then the flow of newcomers will be reduced.

  62. I’m not talking here about specific projects; I’m talking about the big picture. The policymakers in California, from Sacramento down to every planning department and most city councils, are committed to unlimited growth. To question unlimited growth as an absolute good is outside the ideological pale. That’s partly if not largely because politicians’ election campaigns are funded by real estate interests–and in San Francisco, the tech industry, which is is deeply tied to property capital. Meanwhile, the region’s infrastructure and local finances and services are strained beyond their limits, as even the Chronicle intimated last Sunday (I linked to the story) and our quality of life is deteriorating. I want to legitimate the question, so that the ecological issues broadly defined can be discussed and debated.

  63. No disrespect to the author, Ms. Bronstein, but I would say that to read your body of work here on 48Hills, it’s very easy to come away with the impression that there isn’t any kind of growth of which you would approve. It would be interesting to see you write about an example of development that you think was done well.

  64. If we can sue communities to make them build more housing, we can also sue them to slow the demand. Would it work? I don’t know.

    I believe that in part of Marin County, housing development is legally limited because of the scarcity of water.

  65. Why should the public-transit-rich SF and Bay Area be held to a higher standard? Why not look at other areas that have no public transit, no recycling, and very low density?

  66. “..restrict speculation via development fees and controls on rents and evictions”

    We have these already. Eviction controls can’t get much stronger while remaining constitutional, and rent control expansion is preempted at the state level…

  67. Why is it selfish to fight to preserve the status quo? It’s selfish because it ignores the fact that dense, transit-based living reduces per-person greenhouse emissions. It’s selfish because it ignores the needs of newcomers and of vulnerable long-term residents alike. It’s selfish because it ignores the needs of the young. Preserving vast swaths of single-family car-dependent communities prevents us from building the kind of housing that a young person or a working class person might be able to afford. Fighting to preserve one’s unsustainable lifestyle at the expense of sustainability and inclusiveness is unambiguously selfish.

  68. Not all activists and neighborhood residents who oppose more market-rate development are “irrational extremists”. A large fraction are rationally self-interested landowners who place a greater value on their own “quality of life” than on families who are being displaced due to the cost of housing. The linked Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning group is typical; its “vision” is to avoid inconveniencing existing residents and nowhere does it promote or consider affordability.

    Given federal and state law (freedom to migrate, vast majority of developable land privately owned, freedom to buy and sell land, difficulty of passing progressive taxation), the alternative to real estate growth is displacement. Progressives might wish for the rich newcomers to wait in line in Stockton. But in reality, the mechanism we have of rationing housing (and commercial real estate) is the market price, so the poorest families and the poorest businesses get forced out instead. In particular, the progressives of San Francisco have absolutely no solutions to protect the younger generation that do not yet own a home or yet have a rent-controlled apartment. In this segment, SPUR does far more anti-displacement advocacy than 48hills.

  69. I’m not anti-growth and I’ve been consistent in saying that San Francisco’s population should be ‘grown’ to about 1.5 million.

    But my question is why is it selfish for citizens of a region to vote that the way it is is they way they want it to be? And isn’t it selfish to continue to grow the economy here when other regions in the country are suffering from lack of economic growth?

  70. You’re acting like we have a choice. Tens of thousands of people are moving to the region every year, so to a very real extent our growth rate is fixed. There’s a lot to be said about why this is the case. The tax structure of our state encourages municipalities to pursue job growth, rather than population growth. And the fractured nature of municipal governments ( >100 cities in the Bay Area), means that each city is incentivized to pursue it’s own self interest, at the expense of the region as a whole. This is how we get massive job growth without commensurate housing growth. This is our reality. Although you won’t see these anti-growth/anti-housing types like the author trying to find a way to combat these forces.

  71. Okay but this is a hilarious straw man of the pro-growth side. Literally no one wants to displace “tens of thousands of San Franciscans”. Most of us just want to build tens of thousands of new homes, so that no one has to be displaced. To do so, let’s displace parking lots, underused parcels, and single family homes (where doing so won’t uproot vulnerable residents).

    Also the author’s suggestion that the region is essentially “full” is selfish nonsense. The Bay Area is only “full” if you want to preserve the unsustainable 1950’s era lifestyle of sprawling single family homes and car-dependency. It’s extremely charitable for the author to let Palo Alto off the hook for creating 3x as many jobs as homes. The multimillionaire residents of that city, who contribute to the region’s jobs-housing imbalance out of pure selfishness and entitlement, owe her a debt of gratitude.

  72. I did not “question whether there should be any growth at all.” The question I posed is: how much growth can the Bay Area take? Instead of engaging that question, you offer the very sort of smear–48 hills is starting to sound a lot like the 1950s National Review–that this piece critiques as diversionary tactic.

  73. Ms. Bronstein’s nearly thousand word article does not advocate any growth whatever. It is not policy musing, it is advocacy that concludes with a call to action: for activists to question whether there should be any growth at all.

    That is the very definition of reaction, and calls to mind the climactic ‘Stop’ of Mr. Buckley’s infamous mission statement immediately and unbidden.

  74. Do smart and fast growthers somehow have a monopoly on progress? You conveniently interpret measured growth into “stop”.

    You’re sounding an awful lot like Bush…

    “you’re either with me (fast & smart growth) or against me – which is it?”

  75. A conservative is someone who stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.

    48 Hills is starting to sound an awful lot like the 1950s National Review.

  76. To me this piece is more NIMBY than ensuring sustainable growth.

    “Slow growth” has been the mantra since Jerry Brown was governor the first time. The only new proposals now are grouped as ‘smart growth’, to distinguish from the sprawl of the last 70 yrs (“smart-“); but also to distinguish the ‘no-growth’ that has been the essence of “slow growth” to date (“-growth”), There is no movement or practical theory for ‘sustainable growth’ that is not ‘smart growth’ which sometimes morphs into ‘fast-growth’

    Infrastructure is important. And I don’t think its being considered in much of what passes for ‘smart growth” (Market-Octavia for one). Smart growth assumes increases along established transit corridors. But if the corridors are at or near capacity already, then how ‘smart’ is that, really?

    To me it makes sense to keep northern CA water in Nor Car – instead of shipping it to LA. But if all the building it taking place down south, its going to be difficult to deny political calls to ship that water south.

  77. A brilliant piece. The fast growthers have attempted to subvert language – the “newspeak” is enough to make George Orwell turn in his grave.

    There’s no ultimatum that we must grow fast or else, measured growth that ensures we grow in a manner where we can support new and existing residents alike with infrastructure is the right way.

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