Sponsored link
Monday, January 30, 2023

Sponsored link

Home Featured YIMBYs, Smart Growth — and unanswered questions

YIMBYs, Smart Growth — and unanswered questions

The real-estate industry loves smart growth; here's why

On February 1 I flew to St. Louis for the  New Partners for Smart Growth conference, the largest gathering dedicated to dense, transit-oriented/walkable/bikeable development in the United States.

For many years the event has been run by the Local Government Commission, a non-profit, i.e., private, organization headquartered in Sacramento. In 2014 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded LGC a $208,000 grant to organize and plan the annual conference for five years (2014-2018). The 768 people listed on the 2017 roster of participants included public officials, consultants, developers, educators, health care professionals, and others. To my knowledge, I was the only member of the press in attendance.


What drew me to St. Louis, where the temperatures can (and did) drop below freezing in early February, was a desire to see how smart growth, the dominant paradigm in U.S. city and regional planning, would be presented on a national stage.

I had a particular interest in the session alliteratively entitled “Growing Grassroots ‘Good Growth’ Group.” Moderated by Greenbelt Alliance Executive Director Jeremy Madsen, the panel of three self-declared YIMBYs (Yes in My Backyard) included BARFer and East Bay Forward founding member Gregory Magofña, who was a legislative aide to former Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates.

I sat in on that session and four others dealing with smart growth basics, inclusionary housing, urban manufacturing, and public-private partnerships for “shared mobility.” That was a tiny sample of the nearly 90 sessions convened during the three-day event (I was there for two of those days), but it left some strong impressions.

I was hoping that the conference format would allow me to raise forbidden questions—planning issues that are suppressed in public policymaking in the Bay Area and beyond—and to see how smart growth advocates would respond. It did, as I describe in the following accounts of the Good Growth and “shared mobility” sessions.

Three flavors of YIMBY

The description for the Good Growth session:

We’ve all seen proposals for high-quality smart growth projects, policies and plans downsized, delayed or defeated by a small group of well-organized detractors. Local elected officials who make decisions to approve or deny development projects, policies and plans are responsive to residents of their community. If elected officials see more constituents supporting smart growth, they will be more likely to approve good proposals. Recent years have seen a rise of grassroots “good growth” groups in communities across the country. This session will explore this phenomenon and the impact it is having on the smart-growth movement. How are these groups forming? Who are their members? How do they determine shared goals? How do equity considerations factor into their work? What’s working well and what remains challenging? What are the pros and cons of different models? How are they having an impact in their communities? 

In the course of the 75-minute session, moderator Madsen posed each of those questions to Magofña and the other two panelists: Susan Somers, president of the Board of Directors of AURA, a non-profit in Austin whose website says its members “want anyone and everyone who wants to call themselves an Austinite should have an opportunity to do so”; and Will Toor, a member of the steering committee of Better Boulder, described on its website as “advocat[ing] for sustainable and smart development.”

It soon became apparent that while East Bay Forward, AURA, and Better Boulder share a smart growth agenda, they also differ in significant ways, starting with organization.

East Bay Forward, the youngest of the trio—Magofña said its first anniversary would be ten days hence—is also the most loosely organized. He used the term “do-ocracy” to emphasize the group’s voluntaristic character: people are encouraged to focus on whatever activity interests them. “We aren’t planners.” He also distinguished himself and his Millennial comrades from “older YIMBYs whose work precludes speaking out in public.” He and another member “do the design work for flyers. Someone else brings out people to city council meetings.”

Magofña explained that East Bay Forward grew out of SFBARF (the San Francisco Bay Area Renters Federation), splitting off to focus on the East Bay, where “we tried to not silo our efforts in different cities.” Originally unincorporated, East Bay Forward recently joined its parent organization in a new 501(c)4 non-profit, YIMBY Action. Unlike a 501(c)3, a 501(c)4 can engage in lobbying activity for causes that are consistent with its social welfare mission. For East Bay Forward and its fellow Bay Area YIMBYs, that mission is promoting housing at all income levels. “The housing shortage in the Bay Area is so dire,” Magofña said, that it’s even affecting the middle class. East Bay Forward supports rent control and “upzon[ing] the really rich areas around subway stations.”

It should be noted, however, that YIMBY Action does not have a smart growth agenda, as indicated by the lawsuit its affiliate, the California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education Fund, has brought against Lafayette regarding a project on a site that is far from any transit stop.

Like East Bay Forward, AURA is led by young people and uses social media to recruit members and publicize its work. The organization dates back to 2007. It began, Somers explained, as an urbanist pro-transit group that collaborates with neighborhood development corporations and other non-profits. She said it has more of a “wonky,” policy focus than other YIMBY groups. AURA doesn’t take positions on individual zoning cases. Nor does it do “a lot of public input,” which Somers called “a distraction—doing arts and crafts with people who are really angry at you.” Instead, it publishes at least one white paper a year. Its top priority is fostering housing more effectively than other “smart growth/urbanist organizations in our town….We’re more on the leading edge.”

Unlike East Bay Forward and AURA, Better Boulder has young and old members. NIMBY groups, said Toor, have “a lot of retired people” with “a lot of time on their hands.” Toor himself is a seasoned political activist and public official. From 1998 to 2004 he was mayor of Boulder and from 2005 to 2013, a county commissioner; he was termed out of both offices. After spending many years fighting urban sprawl, he discovered that his colleagues were fine with open space but “didn’t want any part of infill” development, “despite the youthfulness of the community.”

Better Boulder got started in 2013. Whereas Somers told how AURA members connected via social media, Toor said that Better Boulder spread its message by “going out to brewpubs.” His group represents “a broad, pro-housing constituency” that encompasses the tech sector, the Chamber of Commerce, Realtors, environmentalists, non-profit housing advocates, transportation and bike activists. For Toor, this venture meant working with some former enemies. It has no staff. The Boulder Chambers provides three-to-five hours of weekly administrative support. Another organization does the webpage. The Board of Realtors, he wryly noted, “used to sue me when I was mayor.” But, he added, “we’re not market fundamentalists.” Better Boulder supports inclusionary zoning, but not rent control, which is illegal in Colorado. Both policies, Somers had noted, are illegal in Texas.

Unsurprisingly, given its personnel and backers, of the three groups, Better Boulder has the most impressive track record. In 2015 it helped to defeat decisively (62-38%) two slow-growth measures, one that would have allowed neighborhoods to vote on developments, a second that would have substantially raised impact fees. “Every incumbent councilmember who supported these measures lost,” said Toor, leading to a new, pro-growth majority on the council.

Toor didn’t note that he and his allies received $32,000 from the National Board of Realtors. The NAR was one of the conference sponsors, along with the EPA and Smart Growth America. At the NAR table I picked up the 2017 issue of Realtors ® & Smart Growth’s publication “on common ground,” which features walkable neighborhoods.

Better Boulder also worked to pass a measure that legalized up to 15 unrelated people sharing a single residence. That fight, said Toor, was “incredibly contentious,” with opponents crying, “You are destroying our community!”

AURA can also claim a major success: after the group issued a report urging the legalization of granny flats and garage apartments, technically known as Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), the city council followed suit. In 2016, Somers said, Austin had 251 ADU applications. AURA is hoping they ramp up to 500 a year. (Austin has a population of 931,800 and covers 271 square miles; for comparison: San Francisco measures 47 square miles.)

East Bay Forward has less to show for its efforts, but then, it’s barely a year old. According to Magofña, the group’s biggest success has been alerting Oakland planning commissioners to the perils of downzoning parts of the city. “A lot of elected officials know who we are,” and the do-ocracy approach has fostered East Bay Forward’s reputation for “being sane.” He also mentioned that they’d gotten “lots of people involved” in the repurposing of the Naval Weapons Station in Concord for new housing and parks (a Lennar project).  

But Magofña also marked key reversals. One occurred on the municipal level. In 2014 voters approved Berkeley’s new Downtown Plan and its provisions for dense construction. In last November’s election, however, “Berkeley flipped in a very surprising way: it went completely NIMBY.”

The other setback was both political and personal. When Magofña was working as an aide to Tom Bates, his questionable backroom machinations were exposed by the editor of “a news rag”—he didn’t name the publication; clearly it was Becky O’Malley’s Berkeley Daily Planet—that, he said, “is supposed to be reputable” but “is now her opinion column.” The editor “associated me the mayor, so I had to step away” from East Bay Forward.

Where Berkeley really stands on smart growth and political ethics

When it came time for Q & A, I had my question—I knew I’d have a chance to ask only one—ready. I prefaced it with remarks to Magofña, stating that what he’d said about smart growth being popular in Berkeley (my town) was not true. The reason that all the candidates save one who’d been endorsed by Tom Bates, including incumbent Darrell Moore, lost badly last November was that voters opposed the new buildings going up in Downtown, notably the eighteen-story, luxury tower at Harold Way (off Shattuck) that had been waved on by the Bates council. Magofña did not contest my claim.

I didn’t have to comment on his run-in with O’Malley. As he said, she did go after him, in an April 2015 op-ed that opened with this memorable lede:

If it wasn’t such a cliché, I might say that you can’t make this stuff up. How could it be ethical for Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, who will eventually be reviewing variances sought by 2211 Harold Way in his quasi-judicial role, to lobby himself using the services of his taxpayer-funded aide, who seems to be organizing “a special Berkeley sub-group” of the now notorious SF BARF group which fronts for developers?

O’Malley continued:

It appears that the Berkeley activities of the pro-development San Francisco Bay Area Renters Federation are being coordinated out of the office of Berkeley Mayor Bates, or at least by one of his city-paid staffers. A reader who lurks on the San Francisco BARF list-serv forwarded this communication to us:

From: Gregory Magofna <gregory.magofna@gmail.com>  

Subject: [sfbarentersfed] Berkeley Community Benefits/Housing Mitigation Fee

Date: April 7, 2015 PDT 

To: SFBArentersfed@googlegroups.com

I know a special Berkeley sub-group was created upon my request, I will get to that with specific projects in the coming weeks. I just wanted to let the group know about something on tonight’s city council agenda: Significant community benefits for developments over 75 ft in Downtown Berkeley. 

The fight is over what else developers should be required to do and NIMBYs have been making outrageously impossible demands to meet to block the project. There is talk of another meeting coming up just on this so it’s not the end of the world if no one attends, but it does set the stage for the other 4 tall buildings in downtown. Please plan on coming to the special meeting in May. 

There was no need to defend the Planet against Magofña’s insinuation of disreputability. That indictment was undercut by his admission that in the wake of O’Malley’s piece, he’d had to temporarily abandon East Bay Forward.

YIMBYs: no limits on growth, as long as it’s “smart”

I then asked the panel whether the concept of good growth included carrying capacity—specifically with respect to water and fiscal impacts, noting that pension costs were a growing concern in California and elsewhere.

Magofña didn’t reply.

Toor alone responded to the pension question. Build more housing, he said, and younger workers will help us with pension issues. In response to my follow-up emailed query, Toor noted that “this was a general response, not specific to Boulder,” which does not have its own pension system but participates in a statewide plan, “so the age distribution in town doesn’t affect [the pension situation].”

Somers and Toor, joined by Madsen, simply dismissed the carrying capacity issue.

Somers said, “I disagree with the premises of some of your questions. Denser development can get more bang for our buck by lowering energy and water use,” a major concern in semi-arid Austin. “I think there’s a lot of research to support my position.”

Likewise, Toor said that “there are enormous opportunities in increasing the efficiency of water use. The more we grow in our existing footprint, the better we do in terms of sustainability.” In any case, “water supply is not a meaningful constraint on infill in our city.” The challenge, rather, is “to reduce the amount of land dedicated to Kentucky bluegrass”—presumably a swipe at the lush lawns fronting suburban single-family homes.

Madsen interjected, “32% less water is used in infill settings than in a similar house in a sprawl setting.”

Conference-style Q&A doesn’t allow for a debate at the sessions proper. After the panel broke up, I went up to Madsen and said: “You didn’t answer my question. Are there limits to growth?” “I think that’s the wrong question,” he replied. Me: “Why?” Madsen: “The state is going to grow.” I agreed, and asked, “But how?” Madsen: “Where else should people go?”

That diversionary response left me flabbergasted. I should have asked: Are you really saying that California is the only place for people to move? Instead, I cited former Palo Alto Mayor Pat Burt’s exhortation that job growth needs to be metered. Madsen disagreed.

I concluded that for Madsen, growth has no limits. That’s consistent with Greenbelt Alliance’s embrace of Yimbyism, as well as its fiscal sponsorship of the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition, and Madsen’s presence on the Bay Area Council Economic Institute Board of Trustees—all part of the Bay Area’s build, baby, build axis.

Why this position should be called smart beats me.

Using Uber is “like getting a book from the library”

The session on “shared mobility” showcased another troubling aspect of smart growth: its proponents’ enthusiasm for collaborations between public transit agencies and so-called transportation network companies, a.k.a. Uber and Lyft.

The session description:

Transit: The Backbone of Shared Mobility

A vital challenge facing the nation is the changes for expanded and affordable mobility. These changes affect every income and demographic level. Technology is a significant driving force. New terms like shared-use mobility and mobility on demand are forging new public and private transport. Public transit will remain the backbone, as it is strengthened by partnering with bikeshare, carshare and ridesource services. This trend has implications for enhancing smart growth and promoting equity. Some suggest the trend could reduce car ownership. Ironically, this means that mobility options are actually expanded. For transit, two principal benefits are increasing ridership and addressing the “first and last mile” components of transit trips. Hear how the public and private sectors are ramping up collaborative efforts. The session will highlight the trends and the diversity of impacts for community-building, new federal activities, expanding mobility options and partnerships to lower transportation costs to support equity.


“Shared mobility” is a generic term for forms of transport other than the private automobile: bikesharing, carsharing, and ridesourcing services provided by companies such as Uber and Lyft, taxis, microtransit shuttles, public transit, and mobility hubs.

Organized and moderated by longtime planning consultant David Taylor, the panel had four members:

  • Gwo-Wei Torng, director of mobility innovation, Office of Research, Demonstration and Innovation, Federal Transit Administration
  • Jameson Auten, chief transportation officer, Kansas City Area Transportation Authority
  • Sharon Feigon, executive director of the Shared-Use Mobility Center
  • Paige Tsai, transportation policy associate, Uber.

Sharon Feigon spoke first. Formerly associated with the Chicago-based Center for Neighborhood Technology and IGO Car Sharing, which pioneered car-sharing in Chicago, Feigon is the founder and executive director of the Shared-Use Mobility Center, described on its website as “a public-interest organization working to foster collaboration in shared mobility and help connect the growing industry with transit agencies, cities, and communities across the nation.”

In 2016 the Shared-Use Mobility Center prepared a report, “Shared Mobility and the Transformation of Public Transit,” for the American Public Transportation Association. The center offers an online toolkit that surveys more than 700 policies and includes a benefits calculator.

“All the big tech companies and auto manufacturers,” said Feigon, are getting into this market. She hailed the $70 billion in new transportation funding that was approved last year by U.S. cities and regions—most spectacularly, the passage of LA’s $120 billion Measure M. She also mentioned BART’s $3.5 billion bond Measure RR. Declaring that “ride-hailing companies and transit are complementary,” and that “mobility is the goal,” Feigon lauded apps that “incentivize mode shift [giving up the private auto for a shared form of transportation] in real time” and “fare deposit integration” as tools for “enabl[ing] transit agencies to participate in these partnerships.”

Next up was Auten. KCATA is the regional bus agency serving Kansas City, Missouri, Kansas City, Oklahoma, and most Missouri suburbs. The agency, said Jameson, “is going through a rebrand” under new leadership. Buses, with their “high-capacity, high-frequency” ability to “move masses” “are the backbone,” but “bus companies are now into mobility facilitation; we don’t have to operate these services; we can [just] manage them.” Facilitating mobility in Kansas City, Missouri is a tall order: the town encompasses over 300 square miles.

Jameson highlighted a new program called RideKC:BRIDJ, an on-demand microtransit, i.e., shuttle, service launched last March that relies on Boston-based BRIDJ’s app to connect riders with Ford Transit 14-passenger vans. This is not door-to-door service: each route is mapped out according to where the people on board want to go. You might have to walk to or from a “pop-up” station. The one-year pilot program’s introductory fare is $1.50. As I later read online, this was the first public-private partnership to link “a major transit system, an automaker, and a tech company” [in order] to enhance an existing mass transit system.”

“The private sector is driving innovation,” said Auten. The Federal Transit Administration needs to “tell us what rules we can relax to help you drive deeper into the on-demand area.” He informed us that Uber now belongs to the American Public Transportation Association, and that at the APTA annual meeting in LA last September, he found himself in a huddle with Uber Transportation and Mobility Policy Manager Andrew Salzberg and the CEOS of the largest transit agencies in the United States.

These remarks elicited an approving nod from Uber’s Paige Tsai, who then presented a handsome PowerPoint about “enhancing mobility” by linking Uber and public transit. Her company’s goal is “to provide everyone with a reliable ride at the push of a button.” Uber, she said,” also allows its drivers to “earn a flexible living.” The firm now operates in more than 400 cities and 70 countries. It benefits cities by “increas[ing] mobility, reduc[ing] congestion and pollution, and “extend[ing] the reach of public transportation.” Rather than “competing with or replacing taxis,” Uber is “filling the gaps that traditional transportation is not serving.” To monitor driver behavior, it uses a smart phone gyrometer.

Tsai offered examples of Uber’s impact. Without UberPOOL, which allows customers to share an UberX with other riders, “Van Ness Avenue would be congested.” Tsai also cited UberPOOL’s partnership with Caltrain during the Superbowl; the $100 monthly credit toward using Uber that the owner of the massive Parkmerced complex will make available to new tenants; and Massachusetts Bay Transit’s partnership with Uber to provide disabled customers with on-demand paratransit.

The final speaker was Gwo-Wei Torng of the Federal Transit Administration. After advising us to “think of Uber like getting books from the library,” Torng opined that the “sharing economy is not new; what’s new is the enabling technology….We are not very good at innovation; we are good at regulations” (appreciative laughter).

He described a new FTA program: the Mobility on Demand (MOD) Sandbox Demonstration Program. Why “Sandbox”? Because “there’s no one way to play.” To Torng and his colleagues, “that sound[ed] like a sandbox.” Eligible recipients of funding included providers of public transportation, state and local government Departments of Transportation, and federally recognized Indian tribes partnered with other state or local government entities, operators of transportation services (employee shuttles, airport connector services, university transportation systems, parking and tolling authorities), and private for-profit and not-profit organizations, including shared use mobility providers, among others.

Last October the FTA announced $8 million of awards to eleven mobility on demand projects. “Quite a few,” said Torng, “involved Uber.” For example, the LA County Metropolitan Transportation Authority got $1.35 million to create a two-region mobility on demand partnership with Lyft in LA and Seattle that will “explore the viability of first/last mile solutions for trips originating and ending at select transit stops.”

The session closed with Q & A.

Asked about ADA provisions, Tsai mentioned the on-demand paratransit pilot with the MBTA. That program, however, does not accommodate people with wheelchairs. The problem, she explained, is that “most people do not own a wheelchair-accessible vehicle,” meaning that it’d hard to find Uber drivers who can transport people who needed a wheelchair.

I got called on. I started by telling Torng that using Uber is not the same as getting a book from the public library. The book is free, because we’ve paid taxes to support the library.

I also challenged Paige’s contention that Uber is simply extending, not raiding, public transit, citing recent reports that Uber and Lyft have significantly siphoned off BART patrons going to and from the San Francisco and Oakland Airports.

But my main address was to the public officials:

You’re entrusted with protecting the general welfare and public safety. How do you justify partnering with secretive, unregulated transportation network companies, whose drivers don’t have to go through the training—I don’t care about gyrometers—or the background checks that taxi drivers do? Why are they cheap? Because of how they treat their workers—and as Sharon noted, Uber isn’t even profitable. It’s troubling to hear public officials promoting such a business.

To my surprise, Auten replied: “You’re exactly right.” “In Kansas City, we’ve given thought to everything you’ve mentioned. As TNCs evolve, they have to learn.”

Given Auten’s remarks about loosening regulations and his praise for private sector innovation, I didn’t expect that response. Back in Berkeley, I Googled KCATA’s BRIDJ program and then emailed Austen that it looked as if the drivers are public employees working for KCATA—is that correct? I also asked him if KCATA is currently partnering with Uber, LYFT or other TNCs or if it’s planning to do so.

He promptly emailed back that BRIDJ is staffed by KCATA employees who belong to the Amalgamated Transit Union, and that his agency “does not have any partnerships with TNCs nor do we have any plans in place at this time to do so. We do work with a local taxi provider and have for quite some time.” He added that KCTA does contract for some paratransit services with Transdev, a private taxi operator; and that it oversees contracts with First Transit, a private bus operator on behalf of two local governments.

Torng did not reply to me.

Feigon said that BART “is good for moving people who are near BART stations” and “not good for moving people who are far from those stations.” I didn’t and don’t understand how that relates to the decline in BART ridership to and from the airports.

Tsai also responded: “I appreciate your stating your concerns. We can’t emphasize enough about how concerned we are about the safety for our drivers….Uber is increasing accessibility for people who have been discriminated against by taxis.”

If this had been a debate, I would have said:

Why not crack down on taxis that won’t pick up disabled passengers? Or provide public transportation, including wheelchair accessible vehicles, that will pick them up? There’s been a lot of talk at this session and this conference about equity. How about equity for workers as well as customers and citizens? Why not apply the same rules to the TNCs as you apply to taxis? And if Uber is so concerned about the welfare of its workers, why is it suing Seattle for having authorize TNC drivers to unionize?


And to the room at large: what’s with the sneering at government’s regulatory role? I’ve seen it at other sessions at this conference. Is smart growth anti-regulation?

Auten seems to get it. Yet at the panel, his position was blurry. I wonder if that’s because one of his fellow panelists was the director of a federal agency to which his own agency might well be applying for a grant in the future. Indeed, the whole conference had the air of a trade show, with planning consultants galore displaying their wares to the representatives of public and private institutions.

Trade shows are not conducive to the forthright discussion of knotty problems. Smart growth is long overdue for such an exchange. It didn’t happen in St. Louis.




  1. Sorry about that, the title is:

    Impact of the Real Estate Market on the Decision to Have a Baby. LJ Detting et al

    “The estimates imply that a $10,000 increase leads to a 5 percent increase in fertility rates among owners and a 2.4 percent decrease among nonowners. At the mean U.S. home ownership rate, these estimates imply that the net effect of a $10,000 increase in house prices is a 0.8 percent increase in current period fertility rates. ”

    That’s nationally, where 35% percent of millennials own homes. Less meaningful to extrapolate in places like San Francisco and San Jose where home ownership rates among millennials are 6 and 7 percent respectively.

  2. “A recent study found for every $10,000 increase in home values there is a 0.8% decrease in the birthrate (journal public economic oct 2013)”

    I looked at the October 2013 issue of the Journal of Public Economics and didn’t see an article that addressed this. Did I miss it? Could you please provide the title of the article?

  3. I see the influx of young people as a benefit. However, it is that influx that is the cause of the rise in prices. I don’t see the rise in housing prices as a problem. It may be a problem for you, but not for all young people.

    Lots of Children are found in single-family neighborhoods in San Francisco and the Bay Area. However, San Francisco has the lowest percent of single family homes in the Bay Area. There are lots of children in my single-family owner-occupied neighborhood, comparable to single-family neighborhoods in the suburbs.

    However, most children in my neighborhood were born in higher density neighborhoods. Many don’t move here until they are school age. The number of school-age children has increased in the past 5 years at the same time our home prices have skyrocketed. It is true that there are very few young families in their 20’s who move here. One young couple recently moved in down the block from me, but that is unusual. Most families with children who move in are in their 30’s, when their children are ready for school or they have a second child. I am guessing it takes time for their careers to advance to where they can afford to buy.

    There is a correlation between the percent of families with children, especially school-age children, and the percent of owner-occupied single-family homes. There no correlation between families with children and home values or family income. Seacliff has the same percent of children as Vis Valley, Forest Hill Extension more than Portola, Balboa Terrance more than Crocker Amazon and the Excelsior.

    In SF, there has been an increase in children under 5. More so than other Bay Area counties. But when children are ready for school they leave the City. The is a limited supply of single family homes in the City. I would believe that the average age of first time home buyers has increased. I would guess the average homeowner in Hillsborough is over 35, and when they were 25 they could not afford to buy anything.

  4. For you and Zelda the problem is the influx of people that you perceive as threatening your way of life. For us younger folks the problem is out of control housing costs. I see NIMBYs like you as the major impediment to lowering housing costs, therefore I see you as part of the problem.

    Here in the SF-Oakland-Hayward area, home ownership rates among 18-35 year olds (people who would be having children) is just 6%. In many other major cities that number is around 30%. Not surprising that it’s so low since home values in the Bay Area have risen roughly 5 fold relative to incomes since you were that age. The amount of labor that earned a house in your day only gets you a down payment today.

    NIMBYism contributes to rising housing costs, and rising housing costs contribute to lower birth rates. A recent study found for every $10,000 increase in home values there is a 0.8% decrease in the birthrate (journal public economic oct 2013). So in a place like the Bay Area, where home prices are artificially inflated by $500k or more, you could infer inflated housing costs reduce the birth rate by 33% or more. This is supported by the fact that San Francisco has the highest housing costs of any US city, and the lowest birth rate of any US city.

    75% of San Francisco is zoned RH-1/RH-2 by area(single family homes and duplexes), so by your logic we should have lots of children, right?

    Bottom line is your logic is flawed and the policies of your generation are hurting my generation.

  5. Part of what problem? I agree that we need to regulate land use to prevent overbuilding. The point was that zoning may determine demographics. The smart growth in Walnut Creek gives us fewer families, fewer children, far fewer school-age children, and the majority still gets to work by car. I don’t object to more density in the eastern part of the City to meet the demand created by the hordes of young adults who continue to flock to the City. It may help keep my owner-occupied single-family neighborhood from ruin. As those young people create families maintaining my neighborhood will allow more of them to stay in the City.

  6. good so save like everyone else, and don’t drink too much and in 10-15 years you too may be able to buy in SF…

  7. Its not the existing population at fault for the US tilting westward, the Twitter tax was the first big miff by city government. SFMTA/Google Bus deal is another one…

  8. That’s the problem with YIMBYism…. It ignores anything else relevant in the conversation, from transit, to schools, libraries,pools, open-space and who pays for the whole revamp of SF…. Instead of two tier bus systems for tech-workers, we should be building housing in St. Francis Woods (splitting bigger units to quads, or re-zoning pacific heights and the sunset and not tossing all the housing in outer areas underserviced by mass-transit… Muni is at crush-capacity and bike-lanes and BRT wont solve it. Recent Pool and Library revamps were cosmetic and not adequate for denser populations… This is the crux of the problem. Pundits and lobbyists demanding more square footage built but ignoring the impacts…

  9. No, I can’t, actually. My job is here. My life is here. My healthcare is here. My family is here.

    I’m here to stay and you’ll have to learn to live with that.

  10. It’s no surprise you don’t “know what we should do,” because you’re part of the problem. I don’t mean that as an insult.

    Yes, builders want to build what buyers need and can afford, but land use regulation and local opposition prevents them from doing so.

  11. I doubt you understand how prop taxes work these days. The new people who bought the house for 2.25m will not pay $10,485 in prop tax, they will pay about $20.5k in prop tax & fees by Berkeley council, which passes tax raising fees for many things through prop taxes.

    The people you are disparaging at that property bought back in 2004 for just $441k. Perhaps they were teachers? Lots of teachers live in those properties. They most likely could not afford $20k a year for prop tax.

    Again, I confirm that property tax is theft. People should not have to pay a tax to the state for property they own. And seniors should not be out of their homes due to outragesous prop taxes.

    Have a good day.

  12. In particular, what infrastructure funded by the public, is needed to build more housing, particularly under private ventures?

  13. You pay $3k a month, you have tech skills according to the internet, don’t you work at a tech company now as well as your (LOL) activism? Otherwise you would not be able to pay that $3k a month you pay as rent.

  14. Then verify it. Buy a home hin Berkeley for $2m. Your prop taxes will be $20k per year. Buy a home in E Oak for $550k your prop tax will be $5500 per year. Look it up.

  15. I’m not going anywhere. Where did you come from, again? Also we native SF’ers do not feel the same about you interlopers.

  16. I don’t think you should donate your Prop 13 savings to YIMBY Action. Donate to Berkeley’s Housing Trust Fund instead.

  17. I paid 50% more taxes than you did on a house that’s worth half as much as yours.

    No one is saying commercial property shouldn’t be re-assessed regularly. We’re saying residential ALSO should be re-assessed regularly.

  18. I don’t have anything to be embarrassed about so I’ll just put it out there. Purchased Dec 2015. Assessed at 525k. 2016-17 tax bill is 8k + 3k supplemental. Redfin says current value is 575k.

    So please, millionaire boomers, tell me how much you pay vs. what your house is worth, and how that’s fair.

  19. Ah, this old chestnut. The last refuge of those who can’t win their arguments on its merits wanting seniority welfare. Fuck off.

  20. Looking past your suggestions that I kill myself, I can get 50 butts in seats for a Wednesday afternoon planning commission meeting. Of the two people in this thread, you’re the only one who cares about Twitter.

  21. Actually it’s rather common to pay substantially higher property tax per year for a modest home in East Oakland than for 2 million dollar homes in Berkeley. This is easy to verify.

  22. Why be so coy? You clearly think that “an accounting of the costs of new development” is important because new development isn’t worth it, which is why you are constantly opposing new home construction. And since you (correctly) believe that tenants should be protected from displacement, your position is that a minimal number of new residents should be permitted into the Bay Area–just enough to keep pace with outmigration and deaths. That’s the point of the “limits of carrying capacity” argument you’ve been making.

    People would respect you more if your clearly stated your true opinions and defended them on the merits.

    As for the evolve proposal, anything that weakens Prop. 13 is great. The way the small business exception is structured gives me pause, but I could live with it.

  23. I’ve never advocated “cut[ting] off new residents.” I’ve asked for an accounting of the costs of new development. Are you opposed to such an accounting?

    And where do you stand on the Evolve proposal to annually re-assess non-residential commercial property?

  24. Yeah why didnt I, a poor millennial with no money who moved west to find a job, not have 500k on hand a couple of years ago.

  25. Given the way Prop. 13 steadily lowers the effective property tax rate of existing structures, and the fact that low-density areas cost more to maintain on a per-capita basis than high-density, seems very likely that Bay Area NIMBYism is worsening municipal budgets.

    The plan is to cut off new residents and new, taxed-at-full-value housing, but then somehow pay for the enormous boomer pension obligations and deferred infrastructure maintenance? Doesn’t add up.

  26. You wrote: “Yes there are limits, I.e. when resources are jeopardized, but such up-in-the-air hypotheticals are irrelevant to the current situation.”

    I’m the one who’s been asking for data.

    Check out the Berkeley city manager’s report (dated February 28) on the city’s current and future liabilities. Lots of data there. Not reassuring, to put it politely. New development needs new infrastructure and services. How is Berkeley going to pay for those things, given its already strained budget?


  27. I don’t know what we should do. But urban planners don’t build homes My guess is that builders will want to do what the market wants and can afford. I doubt many can afford a house on one acre in San Francisco. But if I could afford it I would want one. People do move to where they can afford more house with more space. They vote with their feet. That will probably include many of those young people who now live in the transit village. The point was to look at what zoning gets you in terms of demographics. The Transit Village was an example.

  28. I just looked you up on Twitter. You have almost no followers. Have a nice day Victoria. I’ve seen so many people come and go in SFBA like you, you come in screaming at the top of your lungs because it’s not really about any cause specifically. It’s about you you you. And you garner tons of press for a while because the press loves crazy screamers, they make good copy. But then you get absorbed into the high cost of living here, and you scramble & you get older, lose your youth & no one cares anymore. You settle into your full time activism in poverty. If lucky you’ll find some wealthy donors to your cause, then you start using all that money which should be allocated to your cause to upgrade your lifestyle. Good luck, but your anger gets absorbed quickly and like I said, right now you’re screaming the loudest but one thing about SF & SFBA, it has it’s own timeline & absorbs &, sadly, a lot of screamer-angry-activists wind up suicidal. Why? Because of reality. Have a nice day. Those are the tea leaves.

  29. I have a mortgage on top of my 12k, I’m paying about $4k a month, your expenses are laughable compared to mine. Why didn’t you buy a couple of years ago?

  30. Well the survey’s I’ve seen say more than 90% would prefer to live in a mansion on an acre of land, so maybe we should downzone everything?

  31. Were they really better off? In 2006 a UCLA study estimated LA taxi drivers made $8.39 per hour after expenses and worked on average 72 hours per week. Nominal wages grew 20% in the following decade, so adjusted for wage inflation that’s $10.06 an hour in 2016 dollars. By most estimates Uber drivers in LA are making more than that. Not saying it’s a living wage, but it’s hard to argue they’re definitely worse off.

    Regarding the janitor, he’s not mythical. His name is Liang Zhao Zhang and he earned $271,000 last year. KTVU obtained surveillance footage in which Zhang spent up to 168 minutes a day in a broom closet.

  32. Actually, I was referring to Uber and Lyft vis-à-vis public benefit. But if you’re talking about its drivers, yes, pre-TNC taxi drivers in NY and everywhere else were much better off. At least there was the option to fight the MTA. Now cabbies and amateur TNC scabs often drive the kind of hours you mention to make it—with little recourse.

    As for an anecdotal—mythical?—janitor in a closet, that’s hardly grounds to scrap BART, if that’s your drift.

  33. So Uber is worse than the pre TNC taxis in NY where a driver had to pay over a million dollars for a medallion? Of course no one had that kind of money, so drivers had to rent their taxis from medallion owners and drive half 16 hour shift to break even. At Uber has to compete with other services like lyft.

    And what about Bart? Ageing equipment running beyond capacity at rush hour, while a janitor sleeping in a broom closet is making $270K? Really??

  34. Most everyone I know bought their house for the lifestyle not as an investment. The fear is that lifestyle could be negatively impacted by development; It is not to increase their property value, although, increasing or maintaining value is not a bad thing. Increasing values generally mean an improved neighborhood.

  35. Victoria, will you stop with the cheap shots? Why would she give you money if she doesn’t think your cause is good? She’s contributing a great deal of her time to what she thinks is the right approach, even if you don’t believe it is. Stop assuming that everyone who happened to buy a house in the past has nothing to live for beyond their house’s market value.

  36. You’re absolutely right: the primary benefit of ownership /should/ be housing security but changes must be made to ensure that we treat housing as infrastructure and not an investment.

  37. Your property tax is only $12k a year, but my rent is $30k a year. Go on, how are you being treated unfairly by high living expenses again?

  38. “Rather than ‘competing with or replacing taxis,’ Uber is ‘filling the gaps that traditional transportation is not serving.’”

    Oh, that’s a good one! Uber’s founder stated publicly that he aimed to destroy the taxi industry. Uber and Lyft have undercut taxis at a loss to accomplish this. Of course, local taxi companies everywhere are going belly up. The elderly are especially hurt by this.

    Here’s another whopper:

    “Without UberPOOL, which allows customers to share an UberX with other riders, [Uber’s Tsai said,] ‘Van Ness Avenue would be congested.’”

    Even Uber supporters must admit that San Francisco’s traffic is a dystopian nightmare. By the city’s count, there are 45,000 Uber and Lyft drivers who come to San Francisco from all over the state. Not only is traffic gridlocked around the clock, these inexperienced drivers have made our streets less safe for drivers and pedestrians.

    Here’s one more:

    “Uber is increasing accessibility for people who have been discriminated against by taxis.”

    More than one lawsuit has been filed against TNCs on behalf of disabilities groups, whose elderly and wheelchair-bound members have been shut out by them.

    What’s happening in private-public transport is all kinds of wrong. Corporate monopolies form, accountability goes out the window, regulations disappear, prices go up, safety goes down, traffic and carbon emissions increase, and local economies suffer as money is sucked out and off-shored by these megalithic, bullying corporations.

  39. You seem to be unclear on supply and demand. Just because we build “thousands of housing units,” doesn’t mean prices will fall. In order for prices to fall, the supply must increase faster than the demand. That hasn’t happened.

    The anecdotal experience of your friends is not evidence that supply and demand “doesn’t work.”

    The only thing wrong with supply and demand is the increase in density necessary to make a meaningful difference is unpalatable to nimby homeowners like yourself (I’m assuming you’re not a renter because you have “friends who rent”)

    And please don’t tell me to “get the f*** out.” Maybe you should change your user name to “be rude to people who disagree with you” to more accurately reflect your attitude.

  40. The one time Zelda and I spoke in person I got these 2 nuggets: “Why do people think they deserve to live in Berkeley?” and “Why can’t Silicon Valley just disappear?” Advocating that people just move somewhere else is absurd and removed from reality. I got the feeling that she doesn’t actually want to solve the bay area’s housing issues, she just wants to complain about it.

  41. The issue for most is not being able to afford San Francisco; being “displaced.”

    The primary benefit of ownership is security not financial benefit. Of course, many working class and persons of color have benefited by selling out and moving to better housing outside the City for half the price. If over 55 they keep $500K tax free. But they had to leave the City to benefit.

  42. Glad that you ventured into the national “Smart Growth” discussions and came back with much needed information. As we look at the situation that is evolving in Sacramento and Washington, it helps to have a national perspective. It is good to hear that the theories and policies are playing out differently in different cities. There is no one size fits all when it comes to development. The land wars are just heating up so it helps to see more options and more perspectives on how the future may unfold.

  43. > NONE have benefited from the thousands of housing units that have been build in San Francisco the last few years.

    Maybe get to know one of those thousands of people now living in the new units? Or the local shops they visit? Or the low income families that aren’t competing in the same market with them anymore? Then you’ll know some who have benefited.

  44. Stop dodging and answer my question. Are you going to take out a mortgage on a portion of your multi-million-dollar home and donate that to us?

  45. That, uh, is still benefiting from skyrocketing house prices. High house prices are incompatible with housing affordability.

  46. Serioiusly, no you don’t. But I think we should get rid of all property tax. THAT is theft & it is breaking the backs of the middle class.

  47. What are you talking about? We only bought at the downside! And our prop tax is now about $12k a year! Can you pay that for us?

  48. What prop 13 windfall? If anything property tax is theft. Paying $12k a year for property tax to the state is theft pure and simple. Frankly I’d like President Trump to get rid of all property taxes.

  49. Berkeley voted for Jesse Arreguin largely because Sanders endorsed him. He also played the part as the progressive and oftentimes played down his NIMBYism, though he wasn’t the best at hiding it.
    Secondly, “are there limits to growth”, is a ridiculous question for a region covered in single-family homes and row-houses. Yes there are limits, I.e. when resources are jeopardized, but such up-in-the-air hypotheticals are irrelevant to the current situation.

    Zelda’s advocacy for population control, rather than building housing for people is absurd. Even more absurd, are homeowners who share this view, yet live in housing stock that thankfully wasn’t shot down by residents of the past.

  50. Could you tell that to the Alameda County Tax Collector, to whom I just wrote a big check?

    So you think it’s okay for corporate owners of non-residential commercial property to have their holding assessed only when it changes hands, which it does much less frequently than private residential property?

  51. Yup. Annual re-assessments for commercial property isn’t enough. Destroy Prop13 in entirety and re-assess all property yearly. I pay orders of magnitude more in property tax on my house in E Oakland than Berkeley and Rockridge millionaires do, and that’s horseshit.

  52. Your use of public services is being paid for by newcomers. You pay an effective 0% in property taxes while first time homebuyers subsidize your lifestyle.

    Don’t come at me with that “unfair taxation” line unless you’re willing to acknowledge your own gains in the status quo.

  53. Yeah, shame on the boomers for not predicting a tech bubble with lots of workers working for companies that still have not profits to show.

  54. I was referring to how anyone who lives in a home has directly benefited from development… considering that its development which has given them a place to live…

  55. * I have friends who are now able to look at moving again due to the recent softening in rental prices, which is a result of the new units coming online. Anecdata battle!

    * Nah, we’ll stick around and fix things, eventually.

    * If boomers didn’t stop building and pull up the ladders around 1990 once they had Gotten Theirs there wouldn’t be a housing crisis in the first place.

  56. But it is fine for NIMBYs to be funded by rich homeowners who benefit from skyrocketing house prices, right?

  57. People experiencing homelessness benefit from development, so presumably the author intends for us to take donations from those who stand to lose by having more neighbors: homeowners afraid of change.

  58. I want to repeal Prop 13 in its entirety. Prop 13 needs to be killed to the roots, torn out, and the land salted for a thousand years.

  59. Hi, Zelda, known land owner. Would you be willing to donate a few thousand of your annual $100k+ home appreciation to us?

  60. Anyone who lives in California can vote to overturn San Francisco’s absurdly restrictive fiefdom. Maybe San Francisco can secede from California, secede from the United States, and be a perfect little world on its own. To the rest of us, preempting San Francisco rules is perfectly valid part of democracy. Get used to it or get out.

  61. Could you please document that request and response?

    And where does YIMBY Action stand on the Evolve campaign’s proposals to reform Prop. 13, including initiating annual reassessments of non-residential, commercial property?


  62. There is a Transit Village in Contra Costa County and may be a model. The residents are mainly young adults with few children and even fewer school-age children. 63% get to work by car and 26% get to work on public transit. That does not seem very good to me. Also, planners don’t take into account what people want. The surveys I have seen show more than 70% prefer lower to higher density living. Most of these young people in the transit village will eventfully move to less dense neighborhoods.

  63. I know many people who rent. NONE have benefited from the thousands of housing units that have been build in San Francisco the last few years.

    If you don’t like democracy in San Francisco where we vote on height limits and other zoning issues, get the fuck out. There are plenty of places that allow whatever to be built, such as the rest of the entire United States.

    To a person, I do not know anyone who believes San Francisco is a better place because of the recent crush of workers and resulting demand for housing.

  64. Yes, we’ve tried asking homeowners if we could have a share of their prop 13 windfall but they’re hesitant to support anything that might encroach on their property values.

  65. “If YIMBYs want to be taken seriously, they need to stop taking money from those who benefit from development. ”

    Who benefits from development? Developers, yes, and also anyone who rents or seeks to buy a home. YIMBY goals are aligned with developer goals, so why shouldn’t they take the money?

    Who benefits from land use restriction? Landlords, home owners and anyone seeking to sell a property. From my perspective, a landowner promoting slow or no growth for personal gain is unethical.

    Housing is created by developers, by definition. YIMBYs believe when you have a shortage of something, in this case housing, you should create more of it. NIMBYs create the conditions that allow for massive developer profits, then demonize them for reaping those profits.

    It’s time we start demonizing NIMBY landowners, not developers.

  66. If YIMBYs want to be taken seriously, they need to stop taking money from those who benefit from development. This is ethics 101.

  67. Cliff notes:

    1. Zelda the anti-growther goes to a smart growth conference

    2. Zelda notes out of the 768 attendees she seems to be the only member of the press (really?)

    3. In an effort to delegitimize, Zelda paints fledgling YIMBY organizations as small, disorganized and disreputable. She notes one group received $32K from a Realtors association

    4. Yimbys are bad because they don’t believe in limits on growth

    5. Uber is bad because because it cannibalizes Bart airport rides and is anti regulation. In response to the assertion that Uber is more accommodating to disabled customers than taxis, Zelda suggests cracking down on Taxi drivers who do not pick up disabled passengers as an alternative to Uber.

    From 1960 to 1990 California averaged 200K housing starts per year. Now, in the midst of a severe housing shortage, we’re down to 97K units per year. The population didn’t stop growing, we just stopped building. YIMBYs are opposed to growth limits because growth limits create housing bubbles and housing crises.

    Zelda seems to think that YIMBYs can’t be legitimate without agreeing to limits. In the YIMBY view, overzealous growth limits are the very root of the housing crisis and are counter to the core of the YIMBY mission, which is to make housing affordable for everyone.

Comments are closed.