Last weekend about 120 attendees from 17 cities gathered in downtown Oakland for the Yimbytown 2017 conference. Organized by East Bay Forward, the event was bankrolled by a $40,000 grant from Open Philanthropy, a project of Cari Tuna and Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz that also funded the initial Yimbytown conference in Boulder. Chicago Cityscape also funded scholarships for a quarter of the conferees. Admission was $75.

The event featured 20 sessions and three keynote speakers, including State Senator Scott Wiener. For this reporter, the most memorable aspect of the proceedings was the contrast between the participants’ civility and collegiality at the event proper and the organizers’ incivility and paranoia behind the scenes. A close second was Wiener’s disingenuous put-down of his and other Yimbys’ San Francisco opponents.

In an unusual gesture, Open Philanthropy posts the applications of its would-be grantees online. The Yimbytown application describes the conference as the “annual…catalyst for unifying housing organizers, funders, builders, and thought leaders on a national scale.” This year’s grant went to CaRLA (California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education Fund), the legal affiliate of SFBARF (Bay Area Renters Foundation) that sues suburban cities for purported violations of the state’s Housing Accountability Act.

Housing for all — or just market-rate housing for the rich?

The application lists four goals for Yimby 2017:

  • Unite the North American Yimby Movement
  • Facilitate Peer to Peer Learning
  • Construct a National Yimby Framework to “further create a national visual brand, platform and chapter structure”
  • Amplify Yimby Research, Opportunities, Concerns and Solutions

 

A Yimbyism Primer

Missing from the application’s anodyne language is the actual content of Yimby ideology. Its basic assumptions: growth is good; limiting growth is bad. But sprawl is also bad. Hence, Yimbys push for the “densification” of existing, urbanized areas (upzoning)—the denser, the better—and fight those who seek to limit the construction of compact new housing. In the Yimby playbook, that means fighting current residents, especially owners of single-family homes, and the elected local officials who respond to such constituencies by passing or maintaining low-density zoning.

Yimbys also hold that growth constraints, particularly “exclusionary zoning,” harm disadvantaged populations by limiting supply and thereby driving up the price of housing.

I find this curious: To begin, all zoning is in some way exclusionary; that’s the point of zoning. Moreover, what’s primarily boosting the price of housing in the Bay Area is a factor that went unmentioned at Yimbytown 2017, tech-industry-driven demand. I also find curious the Yimby conviction that building market-rate housing will generate ample housing for people who can’t get into the market.

To my pleasant surprise, at the conference a few speakers voiced support for rent control and inclusionary housing, requirements that market-rate development include a certain percentage of officially affordable housing. However, I did not hear any references to the fierce battles being waged in San Francisco and Berkeley over the percentages, with Yimbys at times arguing for lower numbers and their adversaries arguing for higher ones.

 

Four Sessions at the Conference

The Yimby precepts were variously elaborated by the presenters at the four sessions I attended on Friday. Alan Durning, founder and executive director of the Sightline Institute in Seattle, spoke about that city’s Housing Affordability and Living Agenda, the ambitious program initiated by Mayor Ed Murray—a program that, in Durning’s words, came “straight out of the Yimby imagination.” He identified four HALA principles: upzoning combined with developer incentives for affordable housing; loosensed single-family zoning (in HALA-speak, Mandatory Housing Affordability or MHA) —“by far the most controversial”—55% of Seattle’s buildable land is zoned for single-family homes; reduced parking quotas; and re-legalized micro-apartments.

Yimby messaging: Downzoning hurts affordable housing

According to the city’s website, the mayor has set a goal of 50,000 new homes, including the preservation and production of 30,000 new homes in ten years. One of the fastest growing cities in the U.S., Seattle has a population of around 700,000.

Durning didn’t simply cheerlead for HALA; rather, he offered a nuanced evaluation of its progress so far: “too early to judge.” In downtown and the South Lake Union districts, he said, they city “got upzoning right.” In the University district, the “math is bad:” The upzoning is not high enough to motivate developers to build. The result will be “higher prices” and “fewer affordable homes.” He commended the idea of a “parking benefit district,” whereby revenues from parking meters funds local improvements, a concept that Seattle is testing via a pilot project.

He also credited the HALA campaign with having “scrambled….normal urban politics.” Ordinarily, people he dubbed Housers—nonprofit housing developers, housing advocates, and social justice groups—align with Incumbents—“anti-change” parties, including business interests—in a “Nimby-Trotsky coalition” that opposes Urbanists—private developers, transit advocates, environmentalists, and urban planners. HALA has united the Housers and the Urbanists in “a new coalition that doesn’t have a cute name.” Durning compared its members to two prison escapees who are handcuffed to each other—a metaphor worth pondering.

For 48 hills readers, HALA itself is worth pondering, because it’s being touted as a model for the Bay Area by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, who, by virture of its hostile takeover of the Association of Bay Area Governments, has effectively morphed into a formidable one-stop regional planning agency.

My second session featured Issi Romem on “The Expansion and Densification of U.S. Cities.” Romem is an economist who works at BuildZoom, a company that helps people find contractors, and an adjunct lecturer at UC Berkeley. Displaying a quick succession of charts and maps, Romem set out three alternatives: Cities can 1) Not expand and not densify; 2) Densify but not expand; or 3) Expand. (Note: When Romem says “cities,” he means Combined Statistical Areas, defined by the U.S Census as “two or more adjacent metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas that have substantial employment interchange.” His “San Francisco” stretches from Santa Rosa to Gilroy.) He then set out three outcomes: A) Avoid sprawl; B) Pursue affordability and social character; C) Preserve the physical character of the built environment.

Romem said that a city “facing growth pressures” can achieve any two of these alternatives, but not all three, and that each alternative involves sacrificing one outcome. In the U.S., new housing is now “overwhelmingly built in low-density areas.” The much-vaunted urban revival is just “an itch.” Densification has slowed down across the country. “Metropolitan America is becoming more and more suburban.” In the Bay Area, “outward expansion has ground to a halt.” Meanwhile, restrictive zoning has limited densification. The upshot is the sacrifice of affordability and social character.

In session three, Brent Gaisford, Mark Vallianatos, and Ezra Gale told how Yimbys helped defeat last March’s hotly contested slow growth ballot measure in Los Angeles, Measure S. Baisford and Vallianatos sit on the steering committee of Abundant Housing LA. Baisford is also the co-founder and COO of Upwell Real Estate Group. Vallianatos is an author and an adjunct faculty member at Occidental College. Gale is a senior planner in the office of LA Councilmember Mike Bonin.

Vallianatos began by noting that in 1986, Los Angeles voters approved slow growth Measure U by 70%. Since then, LA’s permitting process has been “highly discretionary.

“Any project,” he said, “is a fight.”

Measure S would have limited reductions in parking requirements; enacted a two-year moratorium on General Plan amendments; and banned spot zoning for specific projects. According to the three presenters (I came in a bit late and didn’t get the names straight until midway in the session), the problem is that “the city has chronically underfunded long-term planning,” leaving the its zoning code in dire need of a “clean-up.” One-half to one-third of housing projects require zoning changes—some of them extensive. Prohibiting amendments to the General Plan would have stalled the creation of new housing.

The trio also described the contending campaigns. The Yes side was funded by $5.3 million from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation—a commitment that, according to the Abundant Housing representatives, was motivated by the desire of Foundation President Michael Weinstein to avoid a new high-rise that would block the view from his own high-rise office. Yes on S paid former LA Weekly editor Jill Stewart $50,000 to direct the campaign. They ran ads on TV and billboards. They also did a mass mailing of a mocked-up eviction notice.

“We were pretty freaked out.” Abundant Housing LA mobilized. “Given the money that was being spent by the other side, we had to have volunteers.” They recruited student leaders at UCLA. The No campaign got some “good” endorsements, and the Los Angeles Times “got pissed” and started running anti-S editorials almost every day. Organized labor joined the measure’s opponents. Measure S was crushed, losing by 70% to 29%, an exact reversal of the vote for Measure U thirty-one years earlier.

Having followed the fight, I found the Abundant Housing account selective. Only after someone in the room asked about the funding for the No campaign, did the speakers note that “a few big developers”—there were ten—kicked in $6 million to defeat the measure, and that Mayor Garcetti personally raised $1 million. Only after someone observed that the measure addressed “bad government”—specifically rampant backroom deals and spot-zoning—did they acknowledge that development in Los Angeles is plagued by “crony capitalism.”

And it can’t be true that every project is a fight, because, as Vallianatos told me in a post-session email, “Developments with 50+ units or 50,000+ square feet require site plan review which makes them discretionary. Smaller developments are by right, though due to outdated community plans we mentioned, some smaller projects seek variances or zone changes, pushing them out of the by right category.” At the end of Q & A, Gale conceded that “parts of Measure S weren’t so bad,” for example, forbidding developers to choose their own Environmental Impact Report consultants and requiring community plans to be updated.

Vallianatos presented the fourth session I attended. His subject: “Unhousing the Golden State: who did it, and how to fix it.” He marked three California booms. The first, in the 1920s, unleashed “uncontrolled” subdivisions and sprawl. The second, after World War II, spurred “environmental laws.” The third, occurring from the1960s to the 1980s, was an apartment and office boom, leading to community planning and project review.

He then surveyed eight layers of slow growth sentiment and activism in the state:

  • “exclusionary” suburbanism
  • good planning
  • counter-culture romanticism of the Sixties and Seventies
  • historic preservation
  • the New Right
  • the New Left
  • quality of life/urbanism
  • anti-displacement

Quite a mix. Its upshot, Vallianatos submitted, is the state’s housing crisis, and its affordable housing crisis in particular.

Vallianatos offered a host of recommendations, started with “reforming California’s regulatory framework” so as to strengthen Sacramento’s authority over local housing policy: bolster by-right approval, strengthen the Housing Accountability Act and the enforcement of the Regional Housing Needs Assessments. He also advocated stronger regional planning: have regional entities do the “big-picture density zoning,” and let local jurisdictions “fill in the details.”

He called for changes to the California Environmental Quality Act, including stronger infill exemptions and sectoral environmental review, instead of just new project scrutiny. Turning to the Coastal Commission, he favored allowing density bonuses for housing projects on the coast, averring that “high-rises are fine in some areas….[T]he visual thing should be somewhat downgraded.” In his view, we need “more residences in cooler coastal zones,” where people don’t need energy-sucking air conditioners. He recommended land value taxes, limiting development impact fees, and eliminating inheritable assessed valuations under Prop. 13. Finally, he pondered strengthening rent control and working for more “non-distortive” state and local funding for affordable housing.

 

Laura Loe’s Intersectional Urbanism

At all four sessions, the general tone of discourse was engaging and respectful. The precedent for that tone was set on Friday morning by the keynote speaker, Laura Loe, an educator, author, activist, and self-described Yioby (Yes in Our Backyard) from Seattle. Loe prefers Yioby to Yimby, because, she said, the latter tag defines “you against what you’re against.” Say you’re a Yioby, and people’s curiosity is pricked: what does that stand for? You have an opening into a conversation and possibly a relationship that you wouldn’t have had otherwise.

That position encapsulates the major theme of Loe’s talk: how to do “intersectional” organizing. She dispensed a lot of advice: try to let people have the last word; to make your case, use stories, not statistics (“expecting statistics…to change minds” is “nonsense;”) send “unconventional messages” (she sends paper thank you notes); disarm people; do lots of one-on-one meetings; be funny; lead with kindness; be charming; but also, “be relentless”—“keep showing up at meetings.”

Walking her talk, she told her own story. A resident of Seattle since 2009, she got involved in local politics in 2015 by managing a “slow growth” council campaign in northeast Seattle. She liked the unnamed candidate’s support for historic preservation and more voices in government. But as she went door-to-door, she “got troubled” by the “individualistic” concerns she was hearing. People talked about their street, their path to the grocery store, and seemed oblivious to collective issues. “I thought Seattle was progressive;” this experience shook that belief. She was drawn to two other candidates, whom she dubbed “the urbanists,” Rob Johnson and Michael Maddux. Johnson won and now serves on the Seattle council. Loe, who volunteered to me that she’s 41, subsequently quit school and, in January 2016, started tweeting about “intersectional urbanism.” She now works as a pro-density, “independent activist” supported by donations from like-minded individuals. In 2016 she was elected to the Sierra Club’s Seattle Group, where she focuses on housing.

Sen. Scott Wiener tweeted this photo of him at the Yimby conference

Loe’s politics are quirky. A tenant herself, she was one of the conferees who endorsed renter protections, including move-in fee reforms. She also inveighed against patriarchy and “systemic racism.” A good chunk of her presentation was devoted to deploring “Yimby dudes” who mansplain. She “considers [herself] a socialist,” but thinks that “by taxing developers, we’re not going to get to socialism.” What will get us there is “taking things away from people” who “feel threatened” by the Yimby agenda. Intersectionality, in other words, is a style, not a political agenda.

In a brief, post-session chat, I noted her socialist identification and observed that she hadn’t mentioned Amazon. She replied that “Amazon participates in a system—capitalism; they’re not the system. People need jobs, and it provides them. Seattle is a company town. Think Boeing.” What “we need to change,” is the for-profit “financial system.”

Loe was the most intriguing person I encountered at Yimbytown 2017. Some time I’d like to sit down with her and hash out the tensions in her pronouncements, as well as our political agreements and disagreements. I’d also like to ask some people on the other side of the political divide—for example, my occasional correspondent John Fox of the Seattle Anti-Displacement Movement—how well her on-the-ground activism jibes with her avowed intersectionality.

But right now, I want to document the stark contrast between Loe’s recommended disarm-and-charm approach to politics and the censor-and-censure tactics of the local conference organizers.

 

Bay Area Yimby Style: Censor and Censure

When I go to conferences, I usually prepare some tough questions (see my story about the New Partners for Smart Growth conference in St. Louis last February). But not this time. That’s because in order to get a press pass, members of the media had to agree to follow this amazing set of rules:

Media Guidelines

We want to make sure that YIMBYtown is a safe and welcoming place where real and difficult conversations can take place. As such, we want to make sure that all attendees feel that they can talk openly and freely to explore ideas, learn, share, and grow.

The following rules are set in place for members of the press:

 Everything is off-the-record by default, and explicit verbal or written consent is required for anything that can identify individuals or organizations

  • The press is free to write about overarching themes or sentiments of the conference without permission, but shall refrain from specific details that identify people and organization affiliations without explicit written or verbal consent.
  • Conference attendees will be wearing identifying markers on their name badges indicating whether they grant permission to be photographed.

Members of the press shall be observers and refrain from participating in or influencing discussions

  • The press is free to ask clarifying questions to individual participants outside of group talks and discussions so long as they follow other press guidelines.

  • To attend the conference, members of the press must acknowledge that they agree to these guidelines. 

 

Reluctantly, I agreed and then entertained the possibility of writing a self-redacted story, in which all names and details would be blacked out. Fortunately, I was spared that absurdity, because in the late afternoon of July 13, just before the conference began, the conference organizers sent out a corrected version of the media guidelines. Now only (?) “Everything OUTSIDE OF PANEL CONTENT would be off-the record by default.” The rest of the rules were the same.

Even with the revision, members of the press were still forbidden to ask questions or participate in or influence discussions. I confess that I broke that rule but did so very carefully (an East Bay Forward monitor attended every session): I asked only for clarification or for information that, I thought, would not put presenters or conferees on the defensive. Apparently I passed muster, because nobody called me out.

But the bizarreness of the media guidelines was mild, compared with the outlandish verbal offensives that followed. On July 12, 48 hills editor Tim Redmond posted his story “Listen, Yimby!” Billing his piece as “an open letter from someone who is not a Nimby,” Redmond asked, “What if your market-based model is destined to fail?”

On the morning of July 13, SFBARF founder and recently declared candidate for San Francisco District 6 Supervisor seat Sonja Trauss emailed Redmond. In the interest of illuminating the discursive style Trauss would likely bring to the Board of Supervisors, I am reprinting their entire exchange.

She wrote:

1 – we do listen to you, we hear you say that new housing is bad for SF and new people should not come here. We disagree with that, and we let you know. 

I definitely think dialogue is the only path forward. There are a few questions in your alerts on twitter now. In the interest of the dialogue you claim to want to have, I encourage you to go answer the questions that are being posed to you. 

2 – I appreciate the idea that you “don’t want to dismiss us as shills.” Luckily for you, there is nothing stopping you from not doing that! At any time you can start engaging in dialogue (see point one), and start taking our points seriously. 

While it’s great that you have come to this point, it’s also a bit late. I’ve been doing this for three years, and the entire time has been an experience of relentless personal attacks and claims that I’m insincere. I’m looking forward to you being an advocate of more balanced, civil coverage of our activities and goals.  

 

Redmond replied:

Thanks Sonja. My point is not that you are corrupt or evil or in anyone’s pocket (any more than all of us who disagree with you are motivated by greed and wanting high property values). I just don’t think your approach will work, and it instead will make things worse. But happy to keep talking.

Late that afternoon, Trauss emailed back an invitation: “People are reading what you wrote and engaging with it—can you come on and do your half of the convo?” She closed with specifics: “If you want to address the conference, please come tomorrow [Friday] and propose a session for Saturday.” Very intersectional.

But sandwiched between the bifurcated invitation, was a non-intersectional—what is the proper antonym here?—how about, insulting?—message:

Also you should prepare yourself for the possibility that you might be wrong. People who have wrong beliefs often believe that people who disagree with them don’t understand or aren’t listening. That’s not the case. I understand what Flat Earthers are saying, and I think they’re wrong.

There are also just different goals. I understand perfectly well that pro-lifers don’t want women to have abortions. The conflict between them and me won’t be solved by more listening. We disagree. That’s what I think is happening here.

I think life would be better for hundreds of thousands of people, and would be better for me, if a million or more people lived in San Francisco. You think life would be worse for yourself and others like you if a million people lived in SF. I understand your position, I understand that if we achieve our political goals you will feel sad. I just don’t care. Politics arises out of conflicts.

No disrespect, but the fact that you think our strategy will fail is irrelevant to me because you have a bad track record of participating in strategies that succeed. Ostensibly, for over 30 years, you have been trying to make SF “affordable.” In that time SF has become more expensive than it has ever been and the most expensive city in the U.S. So how could a person with even half a brain look at your track record and think, “that’s a guy that knows what he’s doing! He sure picked a winning strategy!”

For someone who thinks “dialogue is the only way forward,” Trauss is pursuing a mighty strange path.

What’s particularly odd is her self-pity. Her claim that “I’ve been doing this for three years, and the entire time has been an experience of relentless personal attacks and claims that I’m insincere” is ludicrous. True, she’s also been assailed by opponents; as Randy Shaw has written, “she is deeply despised by some progressives.” But opposition comes with the territory, and whatever criticism Trauss has encountered from progressives has been greatly outweighed by the acclaim that’s been showered on her by the power elite in the Bay Area and beyond.

Trauss has been featured in a full-color spread in The New York Times and lionized by the media at large. Last February she was the featured speaker at USC’s Price School of Public Policy. In March the San Francisco Business Times named her as one of the Bay Area’s 40 outstanding business professionals under 40. In April she participated in the Real Estate Development Talks series in Vancouver, B.C. On Monday State Senator Scott Wiener endorsed her candidacy. She’s told the Biz Times that SFBARF’s current budget is $500K, and that the organization now has five staff “and a policy arm in Sacramento.”

I was planning to absolve Trauss of the insincerity charge, but then I saw her July 12 Twitter exchange with African-American planner, consultant and author Pete Saunders. Saunders had posted a Chicago story that illustrated his “anti-upzoning argument”:

Where upzoning succeeds, it creates more housing in the place where the demand is greatest.  Upzoning gives license to the development community to do just that.  It also gives license to others — us — to forget about the underutilized parts of our cities, and wait until other neighborhoods are “emptied” so they can be “leveraged” to address the overcrowding in other areas. 

This is repugnant.

Trauss tweeted in response: “Yeah – this is similar to/a version of the only scruple I have with my life’s work: gentrification is what we call the revaluation of black land to its correct price.”

This is no small scruple.

Redmond was booked for Friday and Saturday and couldn’t attend the conference. But I did, and there I had an even less intersectional encounter with another prominent Bay Area Yimby, Laura Foote Clark, the Executive Director of Yimby Action. Our run-in occurred on Friday afternoon in the hall between sessions. I was talking to Sam Moss, who directs the Mission Housing Development Corporation. Earlier in the day, he and other Yimby conferees had posted some snarky tweets about me. I’d never met Moss, and I decided to introduce myself and ask him why he and his colleagues were so mean. At first, he demurred; then, he apologized. Meanwhile, Foote Clark had come up to the Yimby merchandise table where we talking. She’d initiated the earlier Twitter exchange. I’d never met her either, and so introduced myself and told her what Moss and I were discussing.

Foote Clark did not apologize. On the contrary, she accused me of having muttered nasty things at a SPUR [Bay Area pro-growth think tank] forum. The charge was partially plausible—I’ve never been good at keeping a poker face—but how is that like posting taunts online?

Then came a tirade. Foote Clark cited the subhead—“did anyone ask you?”—that Redmond had written for a 48 hills piece of mine posted last November. The headline had begun: “More than a million people in San Francisco.”

“Don’t you think people should have a say over who lives in their city?” I asked, obviously meaning, in the context of our discussion, how many people. “No!” she replied. “That’s what got into the situation we’re in now.” By which she meant, not just the affordability crisis, but the displacement of poor people, especially poor people of color.

She also accused me of wanting to keep the South Bay just the way it is, i.e., a place of mostly single-family homes; of opposing Home-SF; and of never having “reached out to her.” This last accusation was weird; I’ve never written about Yimby Action; why should I have reached out to her? I observed that when I did a story about her fellow Yimby, former Palo Alto Planning Commissioner Kate Downing, I’d asked for an interview and never heard back. Also that I’d never written about Home-SF.

All to no avail. Referring to 48 hills’ regular contributors, Foote Clark shot back: “I think you’re all fricking like that.” She used a term unfamiliar to both me and Moss: “hate-reading:” “Eighty percent of 48 hills readers,” she said, “are hate-reading.” Later I Googled it. The Urban Dictionary defines hate-reading as “an online activity in which one visits a website, Twitter feed, or Facebook page for the express purpose of ridiculing—or indulging one’s disdain for—the author and/or the content on the site.” When she declared, “I’m wasting my time,” our row ended.

Or so I thought. On Saturday, instead of doing a speech for his keynote, Wiener sat for an interview with Foote Clark. On Sunday morning, I sent her a short email asking her to confirm (or not) my notes from that exchange. That evening, she replied.

Her letter took the same form as Trauss’s invitation-cum-denunciation to Redmond. It began politely. First she confirmed my notes. Then she apologized for “losing my temper with you this weekend,” though she diluted that apology with an accusation:

When I found you yelling at my friend Sam, I was a bit incensed and defensive of him. He has been a tireless advocate for Affordable Housing and I have a lot of loyalty to him. I do not apologize for what I said, but I do apologize for the intensity and volume at which I said it.

 

Then Foote Clark launched into a diatribe that, to be fully appreciated, has to be read in its entirety. She wrote:

It is very hard for me not to hear a defense of single family home only zoning and exclusionary policies when you defend local control, because that is the end result of hyper-local control when communities are allowed to segregate and keep people out. When cities and towns are allowed to continue to think of themselves as fragmented communities, rather than part of a larger Bay Area community with regional – and even national – obligations, when we allow exclusionary policies, this is the result: exacerbating inequality, unaffordable housing, and an entire generation stunted by a chronic housing shortage. That you can see this much suffering and react with a selfish attitude of “why can’t they just go elsewhere?” is a level of cruelty that honestly shocks me.

You ask “Are there limits to growth?” and I will answer you: maybe, but California is nowhere near them. Japan has barely come close. And though that may “frighten” you, it is not “unlivable.” That is like saying “No one goes to that bar anymore; it’s too crowded.”

I see you repeatedly asking only the most selfish questions. Variations of: Did anyone ask us? Is CA the only place people can live? These questions demonstrate a surprisingly selfish attitude for someone who identifies herself as a progressive. Why can’t you open your heart to more neighbors? Why do you believe your life will be so negatively effected by urbanization?

In your piece on Kate Downing your overall argument involved stating that prices in Palo Alto aren’t inflated, and Kate should just settle on getting something worse for the money she had in her pocket. Rather than being outraged that families are being ripped off by this entire system, you point the finger back at a struggling mother and basically say “Why don’t you just settle for less than my generation got?” This is why there is a stereotype about entitled boomers. This is the selfish sentiment that I find so outrageous throughout your writing.

Just because you don’t straightforwardly defend single-family home only exclusionary zoning (rooting in segregation), doesn’t mean that isn’t the end result of the policies of hyper-local control you advocate for. You have the opportunity now to educate yourself about the history of segregation and zoning.

 

 

This demands a reply. First, let’s set the record straight on Kate Downing. In fact, I wrote that housing prices in Palo Alto are “insane.” It’s impossible for me to regard Downing, a tech attorney who repeatedly cited her personal success, and who, with her husband, an employee of Peter Thiel’s Palantir, bought a four-bedroom home in Santa Cruz for $1.5 million, as “struggling.” Laura, I have no idea what you mean by “getting something worse for the money she had in her pocket.” By the way, I don’t know anyone in my generation—though there must have been some—who at the age of 31 owned a four-bedroom house. At that age, I was renting an old house in Berkeley with two other young people, and most of my acquaintances were living in similar circumstances.

As for regional loyalties: I look at who’s calling the shots at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, and I see representatives of Big Capital, starting with the Bay Area Council, which since the 1970s has been lobbying to disenfranchise local governments. I don’t think the needs of big business should dictate public policy. Do you? 

I challenge you to show me the hard evidence—not just anti-Nimby rhetoric—that local growth controls are a major factor in the Bay Area’s current housing crisis.

Long term, the demonstrable sources of that crisis are Prop. 13 and the withdrawal of federal and state funding from affordable housing. Why aren’t California Yimbys crusading to reform Prop. 13—starting with a split roll that annually reassesses non-residential commercial property (see the Evolve campaign)—and lobbying Jerry Brown to show the same glad hand to affordable housing that he displays to his high-speed rail vanity project?

Short-term, the culprits are the flood of highly-paid tech workers who’ve flooded into the region and bid up property values. Not to be crass, but could Bay Area Yimbys’ silence about the tech tsunami’s pivotal role in the housing affordability crunch have something to do with the largesse that tech entrepreneurs have lavished on Yimby endeavors? The $40K grant for YIMBYtown 2017 was peanuts. Open Philanthropy has also given CaRLA $300K. And now Trauss’s business partner at CaRLA, Brian Hanlon, has raised $500K from tech executives to fund a political action committee, California YIMBY, that will push pro-growth policies in Sacramento. As the old saying goes, follow the money.

Sen. Scott Wiener thinks people who fear displacement from market-rate housing are “quacks.”

Scott Wiener calls us ‘quacks’

At noon on Saturday, Foote Clark and Scott Wiener perched on side-by-side stools and had a conversation before the adulatory Yimbytown crowd. After declaring that “he’s done everything he can to power this movement from Day One,” Foote Clark tossed the rookie state senator a series of predictably softball questions.

His responses projected the same sense of courage in the face of adversity conveyed by Trauss’s self-presentation. In 2011, he said, it was “pretty lonely on the Board of Supervisors,” what with “all these people opposing housing….Only the Planning Department and developers” were on his side.

Likewise, he “thought [SB 35, his controversial by-right approval of housing bill] was going to die in thirty seconds.” Instead “pro-housing sentiment” among his fellow state legislators turned out to be “impressive.” In the Senate, to his professed surprise, SB 35 was supported “by very conservative Republicans and very lefty Democrats.” It also garnered the support of the “legislative leadership” of both houses. Colleagues approached him and confided: “’I can’t say this publicly, but thank you for doing a streamlining bill. We get all this opposition [at home].”

These remarks were enlightening, though perhaps not in the way Wiener intended. When it comes to boosting the real estate industry, the party divide is a mirage. Republican or Democrat, it’s the rare elected official who doesn’t side with the growth machine. And as their private thanks suggests, in supporting an aggressive pro-growth agenda, most elected officials are representing their own views (and the views of their major campaign donors), not the views of their constituents.

Indeed, the vast majority of California voters have no idea that SB 35, which, once the building trades unions withdrew their opposition in return for goodies that Wiener traded for their support, sailed through the Senate and is now sailing through the Assembly, will drastically curtail local voice in local development decisions and foster gentrification and displacement of economically vulnerable communities. It mandates no environmental review, no public notice, no hearings, no negotiations for community benefits for market-rate projects with as little as ten percent officially affordable housing. That most Californians are in the dark about this looming calamity doesn’t jibe with the tribute to “transparency” that Wiener also voiced at Yimbytown.

Neither does the attack on local critics of the Yimby “pro-housing” agenda that Wiener issued during Q & A. In a seemingly conciliatory gesture, the Senator credited those opponents as having “correctly identified the problem: rising housing costs and evictions.” The trouble, he averred, is that they think “shutting down development” will solve them. “You can reach some” of dissenters, he said, but with others, the “ideology that “development is the enemy is so deep that you will never reach them. I will not name any names, but San Franciscans know who I’m talking about [laughter in the room].” These “quacks … put out theories that are just false, like the theory that supply and demand don’t apply to housing, the theory that building more housing makes housing more expensive, in a very sophisticated way….I’m shaming them, so they’ll say it less.” But they persist, “manipulat[ing] people” who “see new development and don’t like it,” because of the traffic, less sunlight, or because “wealthier people are living there and changing the fabric of who’s in the neighborhood….These quacks come in and give [these resentments] the sheen of academic [authority],” thereby “confirming…internal biases” against growth.

This was a moment that I wanted to raise my hand and query Wiener, but given the ban on questions from the media, plus the strong likelihood that Foote Clark wouldn’t call on me, I refrained. Here’s what I would have said:

Senator Wiener, Please tell me who argues that building new housing makes housing more expensive. I’ve never heard anyone make such a moronic claim. The argument I’ve heard from the people you’ve declined to name—surely you mean Tim Redmond, veteran affordable housing advocate Calvin Welch, and the co-directors of the Council of Community Housing Organizations, Peter Cohen, and Fernando Martí—is that building more market-rate housing makes housing more expensive. Moreover, far from dismissing the laws of supply and demand, they point to the demand side of the equation, which you and the rest of the Nimbys ignore, as a major factor in the Bay Area’s housing affordability crisis. Please respond.

 

I’d still like to hear the Senator’s response. Better yet, I’d like see a face-to-face debate—a “convo,” if you will—between Yimby representatives and Yimby critics—the sort of “real and difficult conversation” that the media guidelines at Yimbytown 2017 presumed to foster but actually precluded. Yimbys: can you handle it?

  • FunnyBecauseItsTrue

    they point to the demand side of the equation, which you and the rest of the Nimbys ignore, as a major factor in the Bay Area’s housing affordability crisis

    Ah yes, the demand side of the equation. Lets institute some internal passport control system, only people who are California citizens are allowed into the state! That will surely reduce demand!

    Ya know Zelda, you represent demand, if you want to see demand decrease you should move away!

    • Rosh HoshHosh

      Did she mean Yimby or Nimby there? Hard to keep this one straight ..

      • FunnyBecauseItsTrue

        99.9% sure she meant Yimby, as using “nimby” her doesn’t make any sense.

    • Y.

      Cities can avoid approving office buildings for jobs which would drive away existing residents. It shouldn’t be Seattle’s residents responsibility to accommodate 100K Amazon workers.

      • FunnyBecauseItsTrue

        Large cities can’t really exclude specific businesses, but they can stop making more office space, which will force the least productive/profitable user of office space to move away. This is usually bad, because the “least profitable” users of office space are things like non profit organizations that we generally consider good for society and the “most profitable” users of office space are the places people tend to complain about, in Seattle’s case: Amazon.

        • Don Sebastopol

          I thought there was a limit on new office building in SF. However, as more offices are built in the East Bay and down the Peninsula, it increases the demand for housing in SF. In my neighborhood, nearly 48% leave the City to get to work. So maybe if no new offices were built in SF we would still have an increasing demand.

          • eean

            Don, that sounds like a good argument for regional land use authority.

          • Don Sebastopol

            I prefer local authority. I want to keep my single-family neighborhood single-family. There is no requirement that SF meet the demand for housing created by business development elsewhere.

          • eean

            You realize that SF’s population expands during the workday right? Your millionaire neighbors might be commuting out of SF, but tons of low-income workers have to commute to SF.

          • Don Sebastopol

            Yes, 379,151 come into the City for work, 156,775 leave the City for work, and 231,620 work and live in the City. However, it is not tons of low-income workers. Higher wage workers are more likely to commute than lower wage workers. Millionaires also cannot afford to live in SF; afford what they deem as desirable and acceptable. If they can’t afford Seacliff they are forced to move to Tiburon.

            There was a time when some of my neighbors would move to Palo Alto because they could get a similar house for the same price and send their children to public school and not have to pay for private school in the City. However, now a similar house in Palo Alto is 2 to 3 time more expensive; SF is more affordable.

        • Y.

          If suspect that if you restrict large office developments, you’ll have large companies opting to set up shop elsewhere, without much of an effect on smaller companies.

        • Jane Hardberry

          If specific cities can be precluded legally from making local housing laws, specific businesses can be excluded from specific cities, no?

        • Do Something Nice

          Yeah, how come I suspect that you don’t give a shit about the least productive/profitable user of office space moving away?

      • eean

        Yep, many YIMBYs agree with this, including me. Mainly that we should acknowledge that we have a housing crisis and be skeptical of new high income job creation while the shortage persists.

        • anotherneighborhoodactivist

          Really? I didn’t see any YIMBYs lobbying the City Council to not give away the farm (massive up zones in South Lake Union) to Paul Allen (Vulcan) and Jeff Bezos (Amazon). Two of the wealthiest people in the world, and what did Seattle get in exchange? A pittance for low income housing, nothing for anything else, and a huge wave of gentrification. Much of that history is laid out in chapter 4 here

          • SnapsMcKenzie

            Who gives a shit about what you saw in Seattle? This story is not about Seattle, it’s about the Bay Area and specifically – San Francisco. Unlike Seattle SF is not dominated by a single mass employer (like Amazon) which has grotesquely distorted the wage and employment market in the city.

          • anotherneighborhoodactivist

            I see quite a bit of discussion of Seattle in the article, at least of the YIMBYs from here. And the political economic dynamic is similar to S.F. What’s your problem?

          • SnapsMcKenzie

            There are some parallels but enormous differences too. At issue in Seattle is the increasingly dominant role of Amazon, it’s hard to point to a parallel company with that kind of influence in San Francisco, much less the Bay Area. Even Google or Facebook don’t compare. But then again WA state has always had just a few companies which dominate, previously it was Boeing, now Amazon seems to be displacing Boeing AND Microsoft for the honors.

          • anotherneighborhoodactivist

            Seattle is a few decades behind the Bay Area. So what? As I said the political dynamic is similar, right down to the “YIMBY v NIMBY” debate, the failure to consider that limits to growth are real, and that the demand for growth is driven by the same forces that drive our increasing inequity, looping right back to the housing affordability “crisis.” The crisis is capitalism.

          • Y.

            Apple, Google, Facebook, Salesforce… it’s not one employer, but it’s one industry, including several large employers, which has been doing to the Bay Area what Amazon is doing to Seattle, only for a longer time.

          • ZRX3918

            You too are a provincial jerk. One employer in Seattle. LOL

          • MudBaby

            I would think if HALA is being touted as a model for Californian cities to emulate you would care about what is going on in Seattle. If you guys embrace HALA you will get as thoroughly hornswoggled as we are up north. In addition, Amazon does plan to hire tens of thousands of more employees, but it is by no means Seattle/King County’s largest employer.

          • MudBaby

            Here’s the list:

            The Boeing Co.
            81,919

            Microsoft Corp.
            43,031

            University of Washington
            30,200

            Amazon.com Inc.
            24,700

            King County Government
            13,400

            Starbucks Corp.
            11,239

            Swedish Health Services
            10,758

            City of Seattle
            10,080

            Costco Wholesale Corp.
            9,264

            Nordstrom
            8,982

            Group Health Cooperative
            7,271

          • ZeldaBronstein

            It's being touted by the regional agencies as a model for the Bay Area, not California (at least as far as I know).

          • eean

            I don’t know anything about Seattle, just speaking for myself and some YIMBYs (there’s no consensus on office). For instance Jon Schwark here opposing the Central SoMa Plan for creating too many jobs.
            http://sfbamo.com/news/open-letter-commentary-on-central-soma-plan-eir/

          • ZRX3918

            Pretty provincial aren’t you. I live in the East VBay and know what’s happening in Seattle.

          • FunnyBecauseItsTrue

            They also got a higher tax base to support more social services but please, continue to brush that under the rug

          • anotherneighborhoodactivist

            What higher tax base; what are you talking about? Washington has the single most regressive tax structure in the country; the wealthy pay a smaller percentage of their wealth/income in taxes relative to the middle and lower income than in any other state. No income or capital gains tax, and heavy reliance on sales tax. As for the specifics of South Lake Union and the public’s gift to Vulcan, the city spent about a half a billion in infrastructure to support the development of Amazonia in electricity substations, street improvements, and a street car. Not to speak of the externalization of gentrification and displacement from the huge influx of high paid employees along with the boom in secondary employers (E.g., Tableau).

          • MudBaby

            In addition, thanks to a ballot initiative passed in 2001, each government taxing district in Washington is prohibited from increasing regular property-taxes by more than 1 percent a year unless voters approve new levies. Therefore, it isn’t accurate to claim that Washington has a high tax base.

          • MudBaby

            Seattle is getting 2% “Mandatory Housing Affordability” in its three fastest growing neighborhoods, South Lake Union, Belltown and Downtown. YIMBYs are living in a dream world if they think this amount of affordable housing is adequate for people who make less than $100K. To make matters even worse, developers don’t even have to include affordable units in their new buildings. They can instead opt to pay into a fund that will pay for the construction of affordable housing somewhere else, typically in the poorest neighborhoods of Seattle, years later, and possibly necessitating knockdowns of naturally affordable housing. Seattle doesn’t even attempt to quantify how much affordable housing it has with any specificity with respect to location and cost, nor does it track affordable housing lost and gained. The entire HALA exercise is a shell game conceived by a committee consisting overwhelmingly of developers, contractors and corporate landlords with only token representation of actual housing activists, very low income citizens and homeless people.

        • Don Sebastopol

          I would agree to being skeptical of new high income job creation, but “we” don’t have a crisis. You may have a crisis but I don’t.

    • Don Sebastopol

      The demand increases as housing increases. Why is it necessary to meet the demand?

      • FunnyBecauseItsTrue

        Thats just… not true. Demand increases as we add more jobs and office space. People move to the SFBA from outside because they get a great job offer, not because they want to pay 3x more in rent than they are currently paying.

        • Don Sebastopol

          I was not suggesting that more housing causes demand. Yes “good” jobs cause the demand. Demand is not static. So it may be we can never meet the demand and the prices will continue to go up even as the supply goes up. Maybe the effort should be to stop adding more office space. There is an upper limit on what people can afford or are willing to pay even if we don’t increase the supply.

          I was born here and I don’t really know the motivation of those who came to San Francisco from other places. It may be a chicken and egg question. From what I know, traditionally talented young people moved to SF for they lifestyle and employers with high paid jobs followed. Some may move here for the job. They may also take the great job offer here because they can live in SF. Part of the great offer is the location.

          I always read news stories about how teachers can’t afford to live in the City. Nearly all the stories feature young teachers who moved to the City within the last two or three years. They knew the pay and the cost of living when the took the job, but came here anyway. It seems that even though SFUSD pays teachers less than other Bay Area jurisdictions and the price of housing in more, SF has an easier time recruiting and retaining teachers than other areas such as Antioch or Santa Rosa.

    • eean

      why would she spend all that time getting the city to build a park across the street from her house just to move away? 😀

    • Nancy Snyder

      I applaud Ms. Bronstein’s incisive and well-written article – and her bravery in publishing it. Don’t understand the rage/anger of these YIMBY’s here.

  • Rosh HoshHosh

    –Ms. Trauss supports all of it so long as it is built tall, and soon. “You have to support building, even when it’s a type of building you hate,” she said. “Is it ugly? Get over yourself. Is it low-income housing? Get over yourself. Is it luxury housing? Get over yourself. We really need everything right now.” (NYTimes)

    –Trauss tweeted in response: “Yeah – this is similar to/a version of the only scruple I have with my life’s work: gentrification is what we call the revaluation of black land to its correct price.” (48hills)

    It appears to me Trauss has some serious disconnection going on. I would ask her who exactly it is that she is looking out for? And I would remind her that any motorcyclist in the bay area knows BARF has long been the acronym for the Bay Area Rider’s Forum.

    • Don Sebastopol

      I am always curious on who gets to decide what “we need?”

    • ZRX3918

      BARF means vomit. Exactly what this group makes me want to do.

  • goodmaab

    3 years and she is an expert planner, architect and urbanist….

    Many plans take decades to develop and build, not to mention public process, it’s how things work.

    Unfortunately lobbyists, developers and groups like SFHAC and SFBARF fail to see the good in any serious compromise or alternative to their way or the highway density….

    It ignores too much too often, which is why we have major issues brewing in SF with transit, traffic, declining ammenities and lessening affordability citywide….

    The YIMBY’s need to sit down with the NIMBY’s and spend a day learning from those who have looked at alternatives for density, provided options that make developers a decent profit, and showcase broader solutions than just maxing out heights and property lines for profiteering beyond a fair balance to provide for less costs housing for the many cases the few….

    We did it in the 1940’s and 50’s and with a bit more philanthropy (see recent article in cash reserves overseas of Apple/Microsoft/Google etc) we should be able to build a quick 40-50k units by infill and reshuffling the focus of the developments to a spread system and infill approach in multi city locations…

    But please YIMBY’s include others and discuss transit as SF is slowly bogging down to a standstill and adding more people without true mass-transit solutions is not a solution…and bikes don’t work for everyone….

    • FunnyBecauseItsTrue

      I think the fatal flaw in the “yimbys and nimbys should sit down and hash out a decision” won’t work because the nimby side of the argument has adopted an ideological opposition to market rate housing as any part of a solution. Their opposition to new MR housing is unsupported dogma that betrays an ignorance equitable to denying global climate change.

      • Don Sebastopol

        Nimby’s oppose market rate housing? I am a Nimby that supports market rate housing and opposes inclusionary housing; but not too much more of any kind of housing.

      • goodmaab

        once again stating my opinion without knowing my opinion…
        I believe 100% in global climate change.
        The Green Party has stated alongside the Sierra Club, and Preservation organizations like the NTHP, that the most environmentally sustainable alternative is adaptive-re-use and NOT demolition of sound housing.

        All developments can go denser, they can go higher, they can become bigger, over time, and through process, and inclusion of solutions that fix the bigger picture of transit, open-space, and essential services. The problem is the rush to profit known as “green-$-greed” where developers showcase their projects as LEED or certified and they ignore the upfront carbon costs, the trucks, the demo, the gas, the methods and means of building the “dirty” in construction… Re-grading sites costs energy, releases carbon, costs water, and resources…

        There will be new solutions, technology and science can assist us, but we sometimes need to rethink strategy and the existing systems…

        The fatal flaw in YIMBY’s is that they tend to point out NIMBY’s as someone anti-market-rate, I actually prefer communities where they have a good mix of people, its called a social setting… we all live in a big one called SF…. and a larger one called the world,… we all can do better, think better, and start dealing with people in a different “dogma” than calling someone ignorant and unequitable about topics, that they actually stand quite tall for…. 🙂

        Funnybecauseitstrue, should think about the concerns of the many, and that some of us, design density, build and propose better solutions, but are often drowned out by the ongoing onslaught of housing proposals that benefit the top 1% and still ignore any strategy that worked prior, like garden rental apartment communities, co-ops and social forms of shared housing… It can easily be done again, but will take some effort, some pre-fab, some market rate housing proportional, and within the developments, and a mind-set that is open on the future and how these developments and where they should be built to lessen the environmental impacts of a sprawl and city gone rampid….

        • Jane Hardberry

          It will take massive influx of private wealth, too…Good luck on that. Where are those white guys who are the most successful at “pitching” ideas to venture capitalists when it comes to pitching affordable housing? lol…

          • MudBaby

            Those wealthy white guys have zero interest in affordable housing. Some of them are much more interested in colonizing Mars than taking care of problems here on earth.

      • Jane Hardberry

        There is much more to the discussion than NIMBY and YIMBY. That is where both are so wrong-headed. Just ignore the silent majority as you make rules to push them around. How many will develop if there is rent control?

    • ZRX3918

      Yeah but that’s what they want. Everyone to ride a bike.

      • anotherneighborhoodactivist

        El socialismo puede llegar solo en bicicleta.
        [Socialism can only be reached by bicycle.]
        José Antonio Viera-Gallo,
        Assistant Secretary of Justice for Salvador Allende

        Source: Energy and Equity, Ivan Illich, 1974

  • Y.

    What the yimbys are doing is helping with the same bait-and-switch that conservative-backed corporations have been doing forever. Build a coal mine or clearcut a forest, they say. The corporations are just trying to help the locals make a living, and help the tax base. Environmental regulations? These were invented by the rich city elitists who care nothing for the poor folk. If they succeed, they do whatever they can to automate employment and lobby for lower tax rates, and once the coal or the trees run out, the damage is done, and the meager new jobs and taxes are gone as well.

    And here, it’s the same thing. Our conservatives tell us that the large developers are a benign force helping ordinary folks get affordable housing; at the same time those same developers are fighting tooth and nail to maximize their profits by housing as few as possible as those ordinary folks and sell housing for as much as they can. Anyone who talks about sustainability or quality of life is sneered out of the room. But in the end housing will still be expensive, and cities, not developers or not tech companies who relocate to the Bay Area, will have to bear the costs of lack of transportation and other public facilities. This is all according to plan, the plan to maximize profits above all else.

    There are well-meaning yimbys, just as there are well-meaning people who vote Republican. They each believe that regulations are what’s keeping prosperity away from them. And as each regulation is peeled away and everyone’s quality of life drops a notch without economic improvement, it’s always the next regulation to be eliminated, the next bit of over-exploitation, standing between them and a good life.

  • Jonathan Bonato

    Randy Shaw did a better job reporting on the YIMBY conference in Beyond Chron. This is a rambling report with personal conflicts interjected.

    • FunnyBecauseItsTrue

      Yea, but zeldas thesis boils down to “finders keepers”/”get off my lawn”. I think a dialogue would be helpful to show her intellectual bankruptcy, but it will do nothing to change her opinions.

    • Jane Hardberry

      How do you propose to work with poor people?
      It appears that all poor people are considered dolts by many commenters.
      Will you be able to work with poor people as equal humans, or will you work with those who don’t believe it necessary to ever consult with the little people? Those in power whose raison d’etre is to push poor people where it does those in power the most good.

  • Don Sebastopol

    My yeses. Single-family zoning: Good. Sprawl: Good. Gentrification: Good.

    • Porfirio666

      Don, as usual, summarizes the NIMBY mentality beautifully.

  • sfsquirrel

    In his bid for election last year, Scott Wiener used the late Ted Gullicksen’s image and quote out of context to appear as if Ted endorsed him. But Ted was among those Wiener now dismisses as “quacks.” You want to use the phrase “working tirelessly”? Well, then look at Ted, who quite literally worked himself to death for the rights of tenants and who opposed the proliferation of luxury condos in SF, i.e. displacement of lower income people. So, now he’s a “quack” Scott Wiener? So, you, Sonja Traus, Laura Foote Clark and your ilk have been “working tirelessly”? Really? You don’t know the meaning.

    And the arrogance that you come in with, trashing local activists, most of whom work as volunteers or relatively low-paid employees of non-profits that are NOT funded by Big Capital, and whine that we don’t listen to you? You skew your language to hide the truth. Trust me. We are listening, and we see through your rhetoric, and we pay attention to who pays your way.

    You say we have to build more so that housing will become affordable — to whom? You don’t mention that you fight any effort to require developers to build anything that would be affordable now, or in the future, to working class people. You spout alternative facts like “80% of readers of 48 Hills are hate readers, and that those who don’t agree with you are all wealthy home owners concerned about devaluation of property. You throw terms around like NIMBY without a thought or care. And why? Perhaps because those you call NIMBY have valid arguments against your simplistic theory of supply and demand and all you have to say in response is that we are blinded by ideology. Sounds like classic projection to me.

    • Heart

      Truth.

    • Heart

      The corporate, developer, venture capitalist cash fueled YIMBYs are rabid. Their actions contradict their rhetoric. YIMBYs are the lackeys of Tech billionaires and realtors. Word is out.

      • FunnyBecauseItsTrue

        Or like maybe we just want a place to live close to our jobs with enough space to raise a family, and we don’t want to hand a land lord half of our paycheck to get it…..

        • Don Sebastopol

          Get a bigger paycheck!

          • FunnyBecauseItsTrue

            w/o supply growth, rent in SFBA is zero sum. Any aggregate increase in pay goes into the pockets of landlords via increased rents as more people have more resource to compete over the same limited supply of housing. This is the entire problem YIMBYs are trying to solve. “Make more money” doesn’t change anything.

          • Don Sebastopol

            Where are the data showing aggregate increase in pay goes for rent? It is true that as the number of higher wage earners increase as employers with higher paid jobs arrive and employers with lower paid jobs leave, more can afford the higher rents. So rent goes up where they were previously lower. But not necessarily that the already high rent gets higher. There is a limit on what people can and are willing to pay. If the demand keeps increasing the rents may not come down even if there is an increased supply. If you don’t have the job skills you may be out of luck and maybe should move where housing is more affordable.

        • James Windsor

          If you read the article, you might have noticed they are not interested in your home, they are interested in making more money. The whole group is pHONY.

        • Don Sebastopol

          I don’t know who the “we” are that wants a place close to work with enough space to raise a family. Does that mean you? I would guess all other things being equal most would prefer to live close to work. There are many different lifestyle preferences making that impossible. It may be some give a higher priority to that lifestyle than living close to work. Higher wage workers are more likely to commute than lower wage workers. There are many higher wage workers than cannot afford their preferred lifestyle in the City.

          Families tend to choose lower density owner-occupied single-family neighborhoods to raise children. That is where you find the highest percent of families with school-age children. If they can’t afford three bedrooms and a yard in the City they leave, even if it means living farther away from work.

          Many can’t afford to live in a single-family neighborhood in the City because the supply of single-family homes is limited. If you want enough space to raise a family close to work to be more affordable, then you should support building more single-family homes, or at least try to maintain single-family neighborhoods by maintaining current zoning laws. That means you become a NIMBY not a YIMBY.

          • hcat

            Or demand that Apple move its headquarters from Cupertino to Manteca.

      • Porfirio666

        More rabid spittle-fueled attacks from Heartless.

        • Don Sebastopol

          Where is the rabid in logical arguments? It may be true that unemotional arguments are seen as “heartless.” I see rabid from those making emotional arguments with heart.

          • Porfirio666

            “YIMBYs are rabid.” (direct quote). That’s hearts de facto response here.

    • SnapsMcKenzie

      Ted’s dead. He’s entered the increasingly dusty and yellowing pantheon of progressive martyrs, a collection which matters to less and less people every year.

      • Jane Hardberry

        Don’t die, YIMBY scum

        • SnapsMcKenzie

          Gonna happen to everyone genius

          • James Windsor

            Troll elsewhere. You have no friends here.

          • Nancy Snyder

            don’t think so; don’t bring out the champagne yet

      • James Windsor

        Ted is actually highly regarded by the community. After the Pulse massacre in Florida, I saw ed lee and scott weiner speaking at a Pulse memorial. 30,000 people were there. Both weiner and lee were completely booed off the stage by 30,000 people. Those two lee and weiner are your increasingly dusty and yellowing pantheon of regressive martyrs, a collection which matters to less and less to everyone every day.

      • Nancy Snyder

        you just sound like a very nice person; someone whose forced wit translates very well as to your character

    • sfjohn

      scotty has always been sucking the Real Estate cock

  • quarternine

    Can you say more about how you think Bay Area cities should address the “demand side of the equation,” as you put it? My initial thought is that decentralization and local control would create similar problems there, too– i.e., if San Francisco limits new job growth, but other cities in the Bay Area do not, it seems unlikely that demand for housing in San Francisco will fall very much. (Isn’t that basically the story of Prop M during the 1980s/90? Please correct me if I’m missing something here.)

    • quarternine

      I’m putting aside questions about whether the effects of limiting job growth would be desirable in the first place. I’m skeptical for several reasons, but I’m willing to consider the possibility.

      • anotherneighborhoodactivist

        Acknowledging the reality of limits to growth would be desirable in the first place.

        • curiousKulak

          I find it ironic that out of the 50 largest cities in the world, our biggest – NYC – is 50th! And SF is 1/10 the size of NYC.

          Maybe the world should start with birth control. US population is estimated to grow 10% in the next 15 yrs.

          So, yeah, lets pull up the drawbridge and stop stop stop the building. Sounds like a plan, yeah.

          • anotherneighborhoodactivist

            If everyone on the planet consumed energy and material at the per capita rate of U.S. residents, or even the average of residents of the overall less gluttonous OECD countries, how long do you thing Earth’s ecosystem would be able to sustain that economic metabolism? You do know that the economy is subject to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, right?

            Yes, maybe the world should start with educating and empowering women so that the birth rate drops. And maybe we should consider that our largely unrestrained corporate capitalist political economy is not sustainable. Please try thinking about what I’m saying before just reacting. Did you even read the short review of the Worster book? Here’s a couple more short pieces: Malhi 2014; Motesharrei et al. 2014.

            There is only one planet: “drawbridges” are irrelevant to the next few generations, or until things fall apart. Our current path for sure is not a good one. Have you read James Hansen’s new paper about the climate issue yet? Fighting over so-called growth management in American cities that you correctly observe are relatively quite small globally is not a prescription for solving such problems.

            But feel free; it’s Friday night. Have at it.

        • quarternine

          Not sure what your point is. If someone doesn’t move to the Bay Area they don’t just disappear and stop consuming finite resources. In fact, if they move to the Central Valley instead because you and others resist growth here, they’ll probably end up consuming MORE finite resources than they would have otherwise.

          • anotherneighborhoodactivist

            Determining the per capita footprint of people based on where they live is one metric. Others that appear to be at least as significant are the amount of wealth the people have. Poor rural people have a lower footprint than rich people in the urban core. There are some studies that look into these relationships. If you have any references that shed light on the subject, please share them; I’m always on the look out for such analyses.

            For example, this study concludes “Contrary to theoretical expectations, larger cities are not more emissions efficient than smaller ones.” And please note the word efficient; the issue is per capita footprint, not overall. As the world urbanizes (which includes the suburbs that are part of urban agglomerations), the per capita footprint of rural people becomes less significant. And the gross footprint of the urban areas becomes ever more important. The conclusion I draw from that study, and others like this, indicate that we’d be better off promoting smaller cities rather than more density in the core of large megalopolises.

          • quarternine

            Interesting paper, thanks (the first one, at least; I couldn’t access the second one.) I’m no expert on this topic, but their finding re: lack of efficiency in large US cities doesn’t seem as “counterintuitive” to me as they suggest. The typical “large” American city isn’t San Francisco or New York, it’s Houston. And I haven’t heard anyone suggest that Houston (or Dallas or Atlanta or any other sprawling sunbelt city) is a model of sustainability just because it’s big. It’s things like density and transit usage that matter for sustainability, I imagine (plus a temperate climate that reduces energy demand for heating and air conditioning). In the US those efficient characteristics don’t necessarily correlate with bigness–in part because people who already live in places like San Francisco make it really hard for people to move there and increase its population!

          • anotherneighborhoodactivist
          • quarternine

            Thanks. Haven’t read beyond the abstract (I have to go to bed), but thus far it sounds like it confirms my point above–i.e, dense central areas of big cities are considerably more efficient while sprawling suburbs much less so. Solution? Build more in the central areas (esp. in temperate regions like SF) so more people can live there instead of the suburbs!

          • anotherneighborhoodactivist

            Please read the studies carefully; increasing the density the core may increase efficiency (reduce per capita footprint) in the core, but it does not reduce the overall footprint of the urban area. IOW, no one has solved sprawl and no one is addressing overall growth.

            Simple math: If you double efficiency (halve per capita impact), but do so by doubling population, the overall impact is the same (or higher due to cumulative affects). Show where in these or any other study this is not the result?

    • ZeldaBronstein

      Good point. This is about the failure of regional planning. Key (suppressed) questions about job growth: jobs for whom? and what kind of jobs?

      • Porfirio666

        How about going one step beyond regional planning, to statewide planning. That’s what Weiner’s bill is about.

        • ZeldaBronstein

          That certainly is what SB 35 is about. As I indicated in the story, no public notice, no public hearing, no environmental review, no negotiations for community benefits. And to what end? To authorize by-right approval of market-rate housing with as little as ten percent officially affordable housing. In other words, the state’s genuine affordable housing crisis is being used as pretext to stifle local voice in development decisions and to push a bill that will foster gentrification and displacement. If local growth controls were a major factor in the affordability crisis, that would justify suppressing them. But they’re not. This is just a power play by property capital–in the name of social equity–being advanced by real estate Democrats like Wiener and my own state senator, Nancy Skinner.

          • quarternine

            I’m still waiting to hear some concrete ideas from you for how we should go about reducing demand.

          • quarternine

            Also, why did you suggest that YIMBYs talk more about reducing demand if you don’t actually think that the imbalance between supply of housing/demand for housing is a cause of the affordability crisis?

          • Y.

            What’s causing unaffordability is not the raw number of houses. What determines the price is what people are willing to pay. When enough new jobs are created that offer significantly higher wages than the median, these earners will bid up everyone else, whether or not few or many houses are built. An influx of poor immigrants will not raise housing prices as the same influx of rich programmers would. It won’t whet the appetite of builders either.

          • quarternine

            Bullshit. Read chapter one of Arnold Hirsch’s classic book “Making the Second Ghetto,” which describes the insane competition for housing in Chicago’s black neighborhoods during and after WWII. A gigantic influx of poor southern black migrants into a racially segmented housing market (i.e., one where blacks could only access the limited supply available in black neighborhoods) caused rents to skyrocket.

          • quarternine
          • Y.

            p. 29: “Rents in black areas ranged from 15% to 50% higher than that paid by whites for similar accommodations” in 1944. In 1960 blacks pay 10%–25% higher rents. That is still nowhere near what the Bay Area has been seeing, even though we have considerably higher vacancy rates than Chicago had then.
            There’s a limit to what people can pay, and that is the demand side of the equation. Beyond that, people start doubling up or commuting. In the case of Chicago (and elsewhere) prices did not increase to infinity even as vacancies disappeared, because there are some prices which people just can’t pay.

          • Stephen Nestel

            All demand affects supply. I think the YIMBYs are really saying” there isn’t enough housing at the price I want to pay”.

          • ZeldaBronstein

            I’ve never denied that that the imbalance between supply and demand is a factor in the CA affordability crisis. I deny that local growth controls are the major factor. I cite other, much greater constraints on supply, starting with Prop. 13 and meager government support for affordable housing.

          • ZeldaBronstein

            You already said it: limit new office development via a regionally coordinated policy (with teeth). In the Bay Area, regional planning is going in the other direction. See Plan Bay Area 2040.

          • quarternine

            Fair enough. If that’s your view, though, I think you need to stop talking about local control as an end in itself.

          • ZeldaBronstein

            What do you mean “as an end in itself”? I’ve written about regional governance as it could be–but isn’t: 48hills.org/2015/05/12/the-false-promise-of-regional-governance/

          • Stephen Nestel

            Local control is just another way to say, “local democracy”.

          • Stephen Nestel

            The market fullfills demand by price. Cant afford it? Find another place to live. Currently, Vallejo is a hot market.

          • Porfirio666

            Thank you for your response. All coastal California counties are experiencing acute housing shortages. Why? Because local communities have too much power. Locals do not like non-locals. They want to keep strangers out. This is why homes are so expensive throughout California. “My back yard” is too powerful. I believe that Weiner understands that and is taking the right corrective steps through his proposals.

          • ZeldaBronstein

            Please cite evidence that local growth controls are the major factor in coastal CA’s housing prices and supply.

          • Porfirio666

            Citing just one example, from this article in The Economist on housing in Los Angeles:
            “LA’s deep-rooted culture of NIMBYism makes matters worse. If developers could build more high-rise or high-density housing, rents would fall. But thanks to restrictive zoning laws, they find this extremely hard. The zoning code hasn’t changed much since the 1940s. More than 78% of the city’s residential land is currently zoned for single-family dwellings…”
            https://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21613318-why-homes-even-unfashionable-parts-la-cost-so-much-la-storeys

          • quarternine
          • ZeldaBronstein

            Ah yes, the much-cited LAO. Lots of correlation; scant causality. I asked for evidence that local growth controls are the major factor in coastal CA’s housing prices and supply. The LAO provides no such evidence. Lots of generalizations; no hard evidence. Instead, hard evidence of many other factors–high demand, high land costs, high construction costs, topography, limited developable land (coastal CA is largely built out). The citation of local ballot measures (p. 17) is meaningless; to determine how any measure affects development/growth, you’d have to research its effects. LAO does no such thing. Moreover, just like the Yimbys, the LAO ignores the local business climate–in the Bay Area, that means the tech industry with its venture capital and high-paid workers, as well as foreign capital. Given the LAO’s claim to provide objective expertise, this is remarkable.

          • Stephen Nestel

            So you oppose people having a voice is own local affairs if YOU disagree? Do you believe in democracy or prefer leadership by unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats?

          • Porfirio666

            Thank you for your response. Yes, there must be give-and-take and compromise between full-on unfettered development (ie Houston) and full-on NIMBYism. I think the NIMBYies have too much sway in California and that the evidence of that is clearly conveyed by the housing shortages throughout the state.

          • sfsquirrel

            I came here as a stranger in 1993 and did not feel unwelcome. I have met many newcomers who are decent people and they don’t feel unwelcome. Maybe if you feel this way, it is you. Maybe you should learn some basic manners and develop some respect for those who came here before you.

            Why would anyone welcome a group whose chief ethic is “disrupt,” who thinks the rules don’t apply to them, both in a legal sense and in a social sense, who stare glassy-eyed at their phones and can’t even make eye contact, much less simple small talk, with people outside their small inner circle? Why would we welcome someone who comes at us swinging, calls us names, spuriously blames us for their relatively easy problems, dismisses our concerns, and lobbies to destroy our democracy? You’re not asking us to roll out the welcome mat. You’re expecting us to be your doormats.

          • Porfirio666

            Thank you for your response. I came here as a stranger in 1983 and did not feel unwelcome. I do not feel unwelcome here now. In 1983, you could look in the Chron and get an apartment with a couple of mates for $500/mo. Many whiteFolks from middle-class backgrounds did the same. So I am part of the problem by some measures.

            In my view, the housing shortage throughout California–and hence high rents and housing prices–stems from barricades to construction at the local level, and Wiener’s proposal is a good step and solving this problem. The name-calling works both ways. There is a poster here (Heart) who screams “YIMBYbot real estate stoooge” every time anyone argues against him.

          • Stephen Nestel

            How do you explain housing shortages nationwide? Restrictive urban boundaries to create high density pushes up prices. Smart growth urbanism does not work to reduce housing costs anywhere. It doesnt provide the kind of housing desired most and enslaves us to a regional bureacracy.

          • Porfirio666

            Thank you for your response. There is no nationwide housing shortage. Many states have emptying townships and cities or crumbling houses as in Detroit.
            In-fill equals smart growth, in my humble opinion. As I stated to Zelda, I believe ‘statewide’ rules are better than ‘regional ones’; they are less “enslaving” than both local (NIMBY) and regional authorities.

          • Stephen Nestel

            Clearly, you want to live under an authoritarian control. Good luck with that. It is great until the decisions move against you and you have no recourse. What makes you think it will be benevolent?

          • Porfirio666

            Thank you for your response. Setting the legal boundaries broader than you desire is not “authoritarian.” Nor is it necessarily any less benevolent than any other jurisdiction. In my humble view, enabling locals to determine policy for their local area is more authoritarian because it keeps the status quo in place permanently. When locals devise the rules, nothing changes. California has added five million people since 2000 but build housing for less than half of them. I think this is why housing costs (rental and buying) are so high. Of course, the haves (NIMBYs) don’t mind that so much. If first got interested in this subject when I realized that my children, and all of her friends, will never be able to live in San Francisco. They are the ones who will suffer from current housing policy. And I applaud Scott Wiener’s bills.

          • Stephen Nestel

            If you want your life and your self-governance to be controlled by the whims of power politics and be forced to live by the trickle-down government choices forced on you by central planning then the you’ll love Plan Bay Area 2040.

          • Porfirio666

            Thank you for your response. I believe the opposite is true. You are much more likely to be subject to the “whims” of your local Power Broker under the current system. I think Wiener understands that in his efforts to break local shackles of power.

  • con

    Followed Sonia since she opened her carpetbag.She here for the $$$$,it’s a gold rush.They want to build,build,build so they can sell,sell,sell.

  • Porfirio666

    Zelda’s article was only 6,107 words this time. She’s learning how to edit a little bit.

    She has her own piece of property in Berkeley and doesn’t have much sympathy for all those left out in the cold because of the local NIMBY practices that prevent new housing construction.

  • James Windsor

    Nothing but crooks living off the non-profit bandwagon.

  • James Windsor

    When we were being evicted three years ago in San Francisco, Scott Whiner came to a couple of tenant demonstrations to support tenants being evicted. At the same time he was accepting money from the real estate companies evicting the very same people.

  • Wow – Weiner, especially, is a real piece of shit.

  • paxallen1067

    A related issue–unless it was covered here–is the preferential treatment given by KTVU/FoxNews ‘Assignment 2’ reporter Candice Nguyen to East Bay Forward leader Victoria Feirce, in recent morning-news features on the arson-wasted apartment projects. She also engaged a man who could have been homeless and who actually endorsed market-rate housing–something he’s unlikely to see the inside of, unless he’s asked in for sherry. No inconvenient voices were heard. The fix is in. We are invited to contact the reporter via Facebook (etc..) which upon inspection is a rather personal gusher, not the place for professional rebuke..

  • sebra leaves

    Comparing the Housers and Urbanists to two prison escapees who are handcuffed to each other is indeed a puzzling comment. I can easily imagine them jumping into a river trying to swim without drowning. The most united political movements I know of are non-partisan issue-oriented. People are sick of politics. Who gives a flying fig about Trump? Both parties are trying to sell their platforms instead of asking voters what they want. Sacramento is bent on removing power from local governments and individual voters and no one knows about it. There could be a huge backlash against the parties or at least the people in power when the voters figure it out.