Scott Wiener’s war on local planning

His next round of housing bills force cities to accept growth and displacement—without giving them the money or tools to mitigate it

On January 19, I attended UCLA Extension’s 2018 Land Use Law and Planning Conference at the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. Seated in long rows of tables under the glittering chandeliers of the hotel’s Crystal Ballroom, hundreds of elected and appointed public officials, developers, attorneys, and consultants are annually briefed by sharp pro-growth land-use lawyers and other like-minded experts on the latest California land-use legislation and case law.

Sen. Scott Wiener wants to force cities to allow more high-end housing, without giving them the tools or money to control the impacts

This year the star of the show was State Senator Scott Wiener. He earned that role by authoring SB 35, the controversial “by-right” housing bill that Governor Brown signed into law in September. Like his fellow Yimbys, Wiener believes in a supply-side, build-baby-build solution to California’s housing woes and blames those woes on local jurisdictions’ resistance to new residential development. He presents himself as a brave policymaker who grapples with hard issues that others have dodged—an image belied by his evasive responses to my questions.

In California, Wiener told the conferees, “housing has been a purely local thing.” There have been “few laws on the books,” those that are on the books “are not enforced” and are outdated. What needs to happen, he said, is that the state should govern housing the way it governs education. Local school boards “set policy,” but “the state sets the ground rules.” Just so, last February the senator told Streetsblog, “if you [a city] are meeting your RHNA [Regional Housing Needs Allocation, set by the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development] goals…you maintain full local control.”

This strains to the breaking point any reasonable definition of local control, which, moreover, the Legislature has been chopping away for years. For starters, see SB 375, which spawned Plan Bay Area; SB 743, which eliminated local congestion as an environmental impact; and, in last year’s “housing package,” SB 35, SB 167 and AB 1515. On January 3, Wiener introduced two new bills, SB 827 and SB 828, that move beyond chopping into slash-and-burn territory.

SB 827

Drafted by California Yimby Executive Director Brian Hanlon, and coauthored by State Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) and Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), SB 827 would prohibit cities from limiting heights to lower than 45 feet (six stories) or 85 feet (eight stories)—depending on the width of the street—on parcels within a half-mile of a “major transit stop” or a quarter-mile of “a high-quality transit corridor.” For such parcels, SB 827 would also suspend local parking minimums, density restrictions, and “any design standard that restricts the applicant’s ability to construct the maximum number of units consistent with any applicable building code.”

The bill defines a major transit stop as “a site containing an existing rail transit station, a ferry terminal served by either a bus or rail transit service, or the intersection of two or more major bus routes with a frequency of service interval of 15 minutes or less during the morning and afternoon peak commute periods.” The California Government Code defines “a high transit corridor” as “a corridor with fixed route bus service that has service intervals of no more than 15 minutes during peak commute hours.”

SB 828

Wiener’s companion bill, SB 828, would exponentially increase both cities’ Regional Housing Needs Allocations (RHNAs) and state authority over local land use planning. I’m going to review the bill in wonky detail, because though SB 827 has gotten the lion’s share of publicity, support, and pushback, SB 828 is likely to have at least as much impact.

Every eight years, the California Department of Housing and Community Development determines how much housing at various income levels will be needed to accommodate each region’s forecasted population. The region’s council of governments—in the Bay Area, the Association of Bay Area Governments—divvies up this number among its local jurisdictions, who must then plan and zone accordingly.

Wiener and other agents of the California growth machine have long complained that the RHNAs have “no teeth,” that the state lacks the legal authority to force cities to approve housing commensurate with their allocations. The senator marketed SB 35 as a first step toward providing such dentures; the new law ties by-right approval—no public hearing or environmental review—of certain infill housing projects to a city’s RHNA shortfalls. SB 828 would further strengthen Sacramento’s bite.

According to the SB 828 summary from Wiener’s office, the RHNAs have the following problems:

  • “The state’s historic population forecasts do not take into account historic underproduction of housing.”

“As communities stifle housing construction locally, their population is limited by how many new homes are built, creating the illusion that population growth is slowing or stagnant. This illusion is prevalent even in areas that have thriving job markets and skyrocketing housing demand and prices.”

  • “No rollover mechanism” ensures that “communities who underperform in one cycle are held accountable to their remaining obligation when the next cycle starts, creating a perverse incentive for cities to routinely underperform on RHNA.”

The upshot: cities’ “population growth will slow, their previous obligations will be forgiven, and their allocations will be reduced.”

  • RHNA methodology varies from region to region, with little state oversight, resulting in “heavily politicized allocations that are divorced from the data about true housing demand and fair share principles.”

For example, in the current cycle, three “adjacent and demographically similar coastal communities” in Los Angeles were awarded highly disparate RHNAs: Redondo Beach, got 1397 units, Manhattan Beach got 37, and Hermosa Beach got two. At the conference, Wiener cited these numbers and said that wealthier communities get lower allocations.

(The choice of jurisdictions is a bit strange, given that the Southern California Association of Bay Governments, whose purview includes the three coastal cities, embraces the build-baby-build agenda. Indeed, last fall SCAG produced a seven-minute video, “The Bay Area: A Cautionary Tale,” in which Yimby Action Executive Director Laura Foote Clark and other Bay Area growth evangelists, backed by a mournful Philip Glass-like score, sermonize about their region’s failure to produce sufficient market-rate housing to support the burgeoning tech economy.)

Cities “are expected to zone for precisely 100% of projected growth,” an “underwhelming requirement that sets communities up for failure in housing production, as not every newly zoned parcel will have a development application completed and project constructed to its full capacity within several years.”

To address these issues, SB 828 would

  • Require HCD to do “a one-time unmet need assessment for every California region before the next housing cycle, and then add those numbers to the forecasted allocations”
  • Establish “methodologies that acknowledge the particular need for moderate and above-moderate income housing in areas where housing prices are increasing at a rate far faster than wages.”
  • Authorize HCD “to challenge inequitable allocations between comparable jurisdictions.”
  • Require HCD “to rollover jurisdiction-specific underproduction from the last cycle to the next if a city has underperformed and not met their [sic] RHNA.”
  • Prohibit “regional planners from purposely underallocating in cities that they know are underperformers and will have rollover numbers.”
  • Require the “Housing Elements” in cities’ General Plans “to zone for 200% of their housing obligation every cycle—not 100%.”

Wiener dodges my questions

Wiener’s panel was followed by a short Q&A. I got to ask the last question—or more precisely, questions, for I had two. The first dealt with the unfunded mandates that Sacramento keeps imposing on local jurisdictions. SB 827 and SB 828 would dramatically increase cities’ populations and hence the demand for services—police, fire, sewerage, water, parks, schools, and transit—without providing funds to pay for the new services.

I didn’t have time to point out that SB 827’s concluding paragraph specifically lets the state off the hook:

SEC. 3. No reimbursement is required by this act pursuant to Section 6 of Article XIIIB of the California Constitution because a local agency or school district has the authority to levy service charges, fees, or assessments sufficient to pay for the program or level of service mandated by this act, within the meaning of Section 17556 of the Government Code.

But I did cite Wiener’s fellow panelist, attorney Barbara Kautz. Another supply-side devotee, Kautz dutifully recited the growther catechism, asserting that the California Environmental Quality Act is being misused by opponents of development, that project approvals take way too long, and so forth.

But Kautz also displayed flashes of objectivity: her PowerPointed inventory of barriers to new housing included a list with the heading “NO FISCAL BENEFITS”:

  • Not enough $$ to pay for school expansion
  • Perceived as a fiscal loser
  • No state $$ for infrastructure
  • No state $$ for planning (until SB 2 passed last year)
  • Loss of RDA [Redevelopment Authority] $$ without replacement

At the mic, I pointed out that while growth resisters are called racists, elitists, and reactionaries, Kautz had identified “objective” factors behind such resistance.

In reply, Wiener first conceded that when it comes to services, “we have lot of challenges.” He mentioned in passing Prop. 13 but notably did not state his support for a split roll. Nor did he refer to any of the items on Kautz’s list. Mainly, he dismissed my question as irrational and uninformed.

On the first charge: some people, he claimed, say “until we fix everything all at once, don’t fix everything at once, and we should fix housing.” But under the pretext of fixing housing, SB 827 and SB 828 would worsen a huge existing problem: California cities lack the money to serve the populations they already have.

On the misinformed count, Wiener asserted that “housing does not bring people in….People come here whether or not we build housing. Don’t build it, and they’re going to come anyway,” leading to soaring rents and overcrowding.

This is partly true: people come to California for jobs. But a major source of both current housing unaffordability in the Bay Area and the region’s growing wealth gap is the influx of hundreds of thousands of highly-compensated tech workers. If policymakers were serious about lowering housing prices (and undoing gridlock), they’d stop approving new mega-office projects. Problem: Wiener and California Yimby are generously funded by the tech industry. More than 100  tech executives have signed a letter supporting SB 827.

My other question addressed housing equity. SB 827 would inflate real estate values by encouraging massive new development in so-called “transit-rich” neighborhoods. In major cities, many such neighborhoods are home to low-income people of color. Some of the most vehement opposition to the bill has come from community leaders who view it as an engine of gentrification and displacement. In a blistering manifesto issued days after Wiener introduced the bill, Crenshaw Subway Coalition Executive Director Damien Goodmon called SB 827 “a declaration of war on South LA” that “must be killed.” Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín subsequently reiterated that sentiment.

As initially drafted, SB 827 contains no provisions against displacement or demolition. There was no point, however, in asking about such provisions, because in a Medium piece posted on January 16, Wiener said that such provisions would be added.

Instead, I queried him about support for repealing the Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act, the 1995 law that allows rent-controlled units to be leased at market rates when a tenant moves out. “You wrote on Medium that under SB 827, ‘if a city has rent control, it will continue to have rent control,’” I said. “But Costa-Hawkins’ vacancy de-control makes rent control—if not a dead letter, then a very weak one. Please comment.”

Wiener began by stating that he’s been “very public about supporting repeal” of Costa- Hawkins. Then he attacked AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein, who’s providing major funding for an initiative to put repeal on the California ballot in November. This, said, Wiener, is “just another losing ballot measure” supported by the same people who ran Measure S, the Los Angeles slow-growth initiative that was defeated last March. During the post-panel break, I followed Wiener into an adjacent room and asked again about Costa-Hawkins. He said he’d like “to bring everyone to the table” to work out legislation that would allow “new apartments to transition over time into rent-controlled affordable housing.” When I pressed him on the content of the initiative, he launched another personal attack on Weinstein: “He loses everything. Weinstein will set Costa-Hawkins reform back” by “driv[ing] it into ground.” But that is a discussion about political strategy, not about the issue.

SB 828 would make RHNAs even more unfair

If I’d had time, I would have specifically asked about SB 828. I agree that the Regional Housing Needs Allocations are arbitrary. But by pegging housing RHNAs to doubled forecasted population growth and above all to high-end residential construction, SB 828 would make them even more so. To claim, as the draft bill does, that

Median rent or home prices that exceed median income will be alleviated by rapidly increasing housing supply for moderate and above-moderate income households.

and that

Communities with high rates of income growth must also have a high rate of new housing production for households of all income levels to ensure equity and stabilize home price and communities.

is to ignore market realities. Rapidly increasing the supply of high-end housing will ensure inequity and destabilize housing prices and communities.

Moreover, the overview of SB 828 put out by Wiener’s office undercuts the claim that local approval or disapproval is the major factor in housing production. That document accurately observes that “not every newly zoned parcel will have a development application completed and project constructed to its full capacity within several years.” Translation: housing is built by developers, not cities, and even when their projects have been approved, developers, not cities, decide if and when to pull a building permit, and if and when to build. And as Wiener doubtless knows, just about the only housing that developers are building is housing for the high end, because that’s the only kind that pencils out for their investors.

Finally, if the Legislature really wants the RHNAs to foster equity and stabilize housing prices, it should start by eliminating the requirement that each city must allocate

a lower proportion of housing need to an income category when a jurisdiction already has a disproportionately high share of households in that income category, as compared to the countywide distribution of households in that category from the most recent decennial United States census. [CA Government Code Section 65584 (d)(4)]

As Berkeley Housing Advisory Commissioner Tom Lord has explained, this is a pro-gentrification, pro-displacement policy in a city such as Berkeley, where the percentage of low-income residents is higher than the countywide percentage. The state’s RHNA policy requires Berkeley to zone for more affluent residents, even as the current red-hot market is displacing low-income Berkeleyans. “In the short term,” Lord point out, “the RHNA demands that the most affordable parts of the [Bay Area] become less affordable.” How about fixing that?

This year is different

When he drafted SB 827 and SB 828, Wiener did not bring everyone to the table. At the Biltmore, he expressed the same contempt for local democracy that he voiced at the Yimby national conference in Oakland in July. Once again, he said that colleagues in Sacramento privately thanked him for authoring SB 35, whose draconian measures would be anathema to their constituents (had they known about them).

The stealth approach worked in 2017. The cities didn’t wake up to the threats posed by SB 35 until much too late in the legislative season to make a difference. Other than tenants’ rights and affordable housing advocates in the state, who mounted the major opposition to the bill, the grass-roots barely stirred.

This year is already different. Vigorous local opposition to SB 827 is flaring from social equity advocates and others, and some power players have come out against the bill. The Sierra Club California formally opposed SB 35 but, cowed by the Yimby lobby, did little more than state its opposition on the club website. On January 18, the club sent Wiener a letter asking him to withdraw SB 827. And, remarkably, on January 23, the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board registered its objections to the bill.

On the other hand, the San Francisco Chronicle welcomed the legislation, noting that in an interview Wiener had “acknowledged” that SB 827 is “’an aggressive bill for sure” whose draft “’is unlikely to be its final form.’” Does this mean that he and California Yimby are going to put out something outrageous, tweak it to something slightly less outrageous, and then declare, “we’ve compromised?”

We’ll soon find out. SB 827 and SB 828 will have their first hearings in February. They should be lively.

Sen. Wiener will be holding a town hall meeting Saturday/3 at the Taraval Police Station Community Room. 2345 24th Avenue. RSVP: 415-557-1300.  

141 COMMENTS

  1. “Wiener asserted that ‘housing does not bring people in….People come here whether or not we build housing. Don’t build it, and they’re going to come anyway,’ leading to soaring rents and overcrowding.”

    And the rebuttal to this is “Don’t come here” ? What kind of bullshit is that? This is progressive? Let’s handicap the economy by stopping job growth so that people stop moving here because YOU already have a job? This is the most obvious “fuck you, I got mine” piece I’ve ever read.

    • Nobody says that more supply = more demand, but the *type* of housing you build has an impact, period. If we were building thousands of shacks with tin roofs, they wouldn’t be renting for $7k/mo. When you build tens of thousands of “luxury” units, it changes the housing mix to favor those at higher income levels, and absolutely can increase demand within certain demographics. Just like you can’t lump “housing” into a single bucket, you can’t lump “jobs” into one either. What *type* of jobs, at what level, and at what pay all matter, just like the type of housing that gets built.

      It’s fine to argue that we should keep increasing white collar tech jobs in the bay area—but we have to recognize that’s the driving force behind our housing crisis every bit as much as those who refuse to build new housing. Everyone has a responsibility here — if you’re refusing to build any units, you’re driving prices up when demand increases. If you’re promoting demand increases through gentrification or high-paid job increases, you’re driving prices up as well.

      If housing prices were the only goal, we’d want to both increase supply of all housing types AND actively work to reduce demand (more progressive taxes to reduce high-end take-home pay, more regulations on business, etc.). Neither YIMBYs nor NIMBYs want that, so you have to recognize that both positions are impacting this crisis.

      • ” If you’re promoting demand increases through gentrification or high-paid job increases, you’re driving prices up as well.”

        Here’s the thing though. Most places in the country would kill for high-paid jobs to come to their area. It’s the sign of a healthy economy. Unemployment has been very low in this area, and the wages across the board are the highest in the country. It’s not just the “highly-paid” that are benefiting from this. There were some tax breaks to facilitate this but it’s seen as an investment for the region. Regardless, the area is just absolutely beautiful and has proximity to the mountains, amazing beaches, and the climate is very mild and unique. There will always be at least some demand for the area, and that’s out of anyone’s control.

        What do we have control over? Building housing. It’s easy. Or, at least, it should be easy but it’s being made difficult. All new housing is luxury housing at the moment. A 350 sq ft studio going for $3k/month is only luxury because of it’s price. There’s just no vacancy, period. With some catch-up things can level out a bit and less people will be displaced. This is achievable. Finding ways to curb or adjust the organic growth of a population is not achievable, so why even have the conversation? Unless, you just don’t like “them”?

      • But how can you argue that it’s “not just the highly paid” that are benefitting that when we’re watching communities get uprooted, predatory real estate flip homes or hold property for investment, people of color and middle income displaced?

        The theory is great, but the burden shouldn’t fall on those who can’t afford the top while simultaneously arguing we need to increase white collar jobs.

        I ABSOLUTELY believe it would be amazing if we could have both, but realities have tradeoffs and I guarantee you the VAST a majority of those who aren’t in the top 1/3 would vastly prefer San Francisco 10 years ago to San Francisco today—so clearly the burden is being borne disproportionately—and the benefits not shared equally.

        I strongly believe we should increase density, but absolutely not at the expense of existing communities. That’s where the how the which and the where come in. They’re not all created equal.

        In good conscience, I can’t support a group that is willing to deal with displacement as a side effect of allowing economic growth at all costs. At the same time, I can’t in good conscience support a group that is willing to fight every development tooth and nail and prevent us from growing to accommodate a broader population. Everyone I encounter seems to be an extremist on one side or another, and that strikes me as very problematic.

      • We really could build enough housing to hold everyone without displacing existing people. The price is that communities will look different. And unfortunately powerful neighborhood groups don’t want that. Meanwhile we have a billion dollar unfunded pension problem, which we can only fix with economic growth. SF is like a shark: either it grows, or it dies as Prop 13+pensions lead to a bankruptcy.

      • Well, yes and no. “The price is communities will look different” is a pretty deep problem. If it were simply that things like buildings got taller, I don’t think ultimately that would be a big issue. (Of course the Calvin Welch’s of the world will continue to play their ridiculous anti-development cards.) What I’m worried about is the communities themselves—the people, the social fabric that’s ripped apart when money changes the dynamics.

        This sort of dynamic plays out in so many ways around the globe as those with money decide they want resources/property/inhabitation that is currently occupied by someone else. Accusing the people there of not accomodating the new, wealthier folks appropriately, and forcing them to tear down their homes, businesses, and ultimately change the dynamics of their society is pretty problematic to me as a stance.

        I get the philosophical / policy side, but realities with humans a whole lot messier than simply saying we can build our way out of this.

        Here’s an example. Let’s imagine you live in Vernazza Italy, Cinque Terre. A beautiful historic coastal town, gorgeous weather, excellent views, high quality of life. The town is relatively modest in income. Now, let’s say a few venture capitalists decide they want to live there to take advantage of this greatness. Let’s even imagine they’re respectful of the culture, the history, and the communities that exist. They start inviting entrepreneurs there for funding, who fall in love. Vernazza starts growing in popularity and leveraging global capital to start renting and buying property in Vernazza. As communities there are displaced, the response is “you should have built more housing to accommodate all of us.” Meanwhile, many entrepreneurs don’t like the rustic older buildings of Vernazza, eschewing that lifestyle for a more modern existence, continue to live in more modern cities and apartments. Eventually, the infusion of capital and moderate displacement results in real estate developers eyeing the property valuations and wanting to build new luxury housing. Modern developments start popping up, rooftop decks, wine bars exclusive to residents, private outdoor fire pits, dedicated yacht parking. All of a sudden, Vernazza starts to become more exciting to the entrepreneurs who were looking for a more modern existence—particularly as they start to see more of their entrepreneur community moving there. They bring friends, family, continuing the cycle of driving up prices, all the while getting angry at those who were there before for not building enough to accommodate them. The notion being that, if they build enough, of course, the original inhabitants would surely be able to live there once again. Meanwhile Vernazza has lost the community that held the city together, the people who called it home no longer have basic needs met—laundromats replaced with high end cocktails, grocery stores with boutiques.

        You can say, well, that’s what happens, things evolve and change, deal with it. But the problem is that it’s always run by whoever has the money and whatever they want. I cannot, in good faith, buy into the argument that we have to be thankful for this influx at all costs, while our communities are torn apart. I’m not even the kind of person to argue that we should preserve cities as museums or prevent building (I think we *SHOULD* build in SF — I think Tenderloin-density is a beautiful thing), but I don’t believe a city should bow down to external global capital at all costs. I think the tension is IMPORTANT and a good thing. SF will not die — our budget is bigger than cities 3 times our size. What should die is the notion that capital is more important than people, and that those with money should be able to do what they want while those in the middle or lower income brackets should turn everything upside down to accommodate them.

      • “…communities get uprooted, predatory real estate flip homes or hold property for investment, people of color and middle income displaced?”

        I find that hyperbolic. I and many others I know have been evicted, yes, but neighborhoods shift. It’s happening very quickly right now and likely would have happened much more reasonable pace should there have been enough housing. CA is behind in building and I believe that’s to blame. This process happens naturally; neighborhoods change, it’s just happening so quickly people can’t adapt. And I get that. You can have strong tenant protections AND more housing. The two complement each other. I really think we can have both, and the tradeoffs you speak of are overblown. https://sf.curbed.com/2017/10/27/16557562/san-francisco-san-jose-owest-eviction-rate-study

        “The theory is great, but the burden shouldn’t fall on those who can’t afford the top while simultaneously arguing we need to increase white collar jobs.”

        No one said anything about the need to increase white collar jobs. You know that building new housing is huge for blue collar workers, right? White collar jobs have come in droves and that’s not one person or policy’s fault. It’s a trend, and it happens.

        The vast majority of San Franciscans long for yesteryear. So does basically everyone, about everything. It’s call nostalgia and it’s a ubiquitous phenomenon.

      • “I and many others I know have been evicted, yes, but neighborhoods shift.”

        Of course neighborhoods shift. But when the trend is away from economic and social diversity, that’s problematic — and something worth fighting.

        “It’s happening very quickly right now and likely would have happened much more reasonable pace should there have been enough housing.”

        I don’t care how fast or slow it’s happening, we should not be shifting demographics through income displacement, period. This is very different than wealthy communities choosing to move elsewhere.

        “You can have strong tenant protections AND more housing.”

        I absolutely agree, which is precisely what I was saying above. Anyone who believes affordability is the number one goal should be concerned about how demand is shifting AND how supply is being impacted. If you take one or the other as a given, you are bringing your own string biases to the conversation.

        “No one said anything about the need to increase white collar jobs. You know that building new housing is huge for blue collar workers, right?”

        Please read back through the thread. All I’m saying is that the type of jobs and they type of housing matter.

        “It’s call nostalgia”

        That’s entirely different thing. The vast majority of objective quality of life metrics have declined since a decade ago. I’m not advocating we go back to the 1970s or the 1950s or anything of the sort. I’m saying that the benefits are not distributed equally, and the majority of San Franciscans below the top 1/3 objectively have a worse quality of life today. That’s a problem, surely you understand that?

      • “There will always be at least some demand for the area, and that’s out of anyone’s control”.

        Right, so all these inflated salaries and their financed purchases are going to remain if and when facebook is no longer tres chic? lol, puhlease.

      • Having lived through the dot-com bust, I’ve definitely seen the reverse. I mean, 15 years ago trying to get developers to build anything was pretty rough. I don’t see that developers are really unintelligent enough to just keep building as prices continue to fall…As the ROI drops, so does investment money. The only way to slow the bust is to slow the boom, but I guess that’s not a very American way of thinking.

      • Facebook and other big name tech companies only represent a small number of total employees / demand in this area. Medical and pharma tech are also huge. Just because they may not be recession proof industries doesn’t mean they aren’t real or that they will all just disappear if there’s a downturn. And you’re ignoring everything else that helps up demand here that is literally out of anyone’s control like climate and proximity to natural destinations.

  2. Wiener is a force of destruction, a love-child of neoliberalism, which is the main force behind racial and class inequality. Build, Baby, Build is not sustainable, particularly on the coast.

    From a review of Extreme Cities, a book by Ashley Dawson: A cutting exploration of how cities drive climate change while being on the frontlines of the coming climate crisis

    How
    will climate change affect our lives? Where will its impacts be most
    deeply felt? Are we doing enough to protect ourselves from the coming
    chaos? In Extreme Cities, Ashley Dawson argues that cities are
    ground zero for climate change, contributing the lion’s share of carbon
    to the atmosphere, while also lying on the frontlines of rising sea
    levels. Today, the majority of the world’s megacities are located in
    coastal zones, yet few of them are adequately prepared for the floods
    that will increasingly menace their shores. Instead, most continue to
    develop luxury waterfront condos for the elite and industrial facilities
    for corporations. These not only intensify carbon emissions, but also
    place coastal residents at greater risk when water levels rise.

    In Extreme Cities,
    Dawson offers an alarming portrait of the future of our cities,
    describing the efforts of Staten Island, New York, and Shishmareff,
    Alaska residents to relocate; Holland’s models for defending against the
    seas; and the development of New York City before and after Hurricane
    Sandy. Our best hope lies not with fortified sea walls, he argues.
    Rather, it lies with urban movements already fighting to remake our
    cities in a more just and equitable way.

    As much a harrowing study as a call to arms Extreme Cities is a necessary read for anyone concerned with the threat of global warming, and of the cities of the world.

    https://www.booktopia.com.au/extreme-cities-ashley-dawson/prod9781784780364.html

      • Pretty sure YIMBYs have bragged about their takeover of the Sierra Club, which is why they are so frustrated with their failure with the local SF chapter. In fact, I recall on some forum that they were bragging that they got a lot of us to join the Sierra Club to defeat them, thus giving money to the national organization.

        And now that I’ve looked at your link, I see it is an article about the YIMBYs. Wow, what a surprise! Sierra Club is a bourgeois organization that has had some taken some troubling positions, such as nuclear energy being a good idea. (if I’m not mixing them up with some other bourgeois enviro group)

    • OK, so if some future “pro-environment” San Francisco city government decides to require the immediate departure of half the city’s population, in the name of anti-capitalism or whatever, will you volunteer to be among them?

    • For all of those that don’t want to blow 30 bucks, a summary of Mr. Dawson’s book as it relates to the California Housing Crisis is a follows:

      “We’ve all got to wait until the next communist revolution before we can grant ourselves permission to build enough housing near a bus stop to meet our needs.”

      Exactly what I’d expect of an “activist” professor of english whose specialization is “post colonial studies” (Britain in particular) and who’s work focuses on the “rhizomatic organizing forms of the global justice movement”.

      According to the grim Professor Dawson, the age of “disaster communism” is upon us. Hallelujah!

      Landlords like Zelda are going to love it!

  3. Maybe if we taxed multimillionare landlords like Zelda Bronstein we could pay for services. And maybe communities like Cupertino and Mountain View could build adequate housing. Of course, Tim Redmond ignores that SB 827 will mean that places like Glen Park and the Richmond will be zoned equitably, instead of driving all apartment buildings to poor areas like the Mission.

      • longterm landlords are massively undertaxed. I was living in a non-rent controlled place in Berkeley when it got purchased from longterm owners. The property tax probably tripled at least, but my rent didn’t change much. The previous owner was just soaking up all that cheddar.

      • I think that situation is an anomaly. Long term landlords usually own long term buildings, in which the rent collected is rent-controlled, no? Especially in SF, not as well versed about Berkeley and its rent control.

        With that said, the idea and oft repeated statement “being able to pay for services” without specifying which “services” or for whom, solely by “taxing multimillionaire” landlords is too reflexive to take at face value as well. Given that, this city’s budget does one thing only – it grows. And honestly doesn’t have all that much to show for it, IMO.

      • I mean the place I lived in was built in the early 80s so it wasn’t rent-controlled. This isn’t different from SF. 30+ years seems like a long time to me!

        But I guess in Berkeley and probably also in SF ‘built in the 80s’ is pretty anomalous ha.

    • Do you now live in SF? I thought you lived in Berkeley. You move here and want change the City. If you didn’t like San Francisco the way it is, why did you move here in the first place? The nice thing about SF is its diversity of neighborhoods, it is not an homogenized cookie cutter city and can accommodate different lifestyles.

      • The whole bay area is a region. And by diversity do you mean diversity of buildings, or diversity of people? Because right now we can’t have both.

      • If you know anything about San Francisco the diversity of neighborhoods both in terms of people and buildings is apparent. To a large degree the buildings determine the mix of people.

  4. Zelda Bronstein owns 9 rental properties in the Bay Area worth over 30 million dollars and cannot be trusted to advocate for renters interests.

    When locals like her are put in charge renters lose and she grows rich.

  5. Another long-winded diatribe from a multi-millionaire landlord exhibiting classic rent-seeking behavior through her advocacy of regulatory-induced housing scarcity.

    As such, Zelda continues to make a killing off the status quo of NIMBY-driven, balkanized local control that has become — over the past 40+ years — a disastrous anti-housing-creation “system” and the single greatest cause of increasing economic inequity throughout California.

    https://medium.com/the-ferenstein-wire/a-26-year-old-mit-graduate-is-turning-heads-over-his-theory-that-income-inequality-is-actually-2a3b423e0c

    How “progressive”.

      • “Where are there examples of economic inequity in the Bay Area; how do you measure that?”

        Don — turn off your computer, walk outside your cozy house in the Sunset and hop on an east-going bus.

        Once you’re downtown; look around.

      • What would be helpful is if you spent time in San Francisco first and stop faking it.

        Reading about us and arguing about us online isn’t a substitute.

        YIMBY internet gatekeeping, aka astroturfing for dollars owns your soul. This city raised me, and I will participate long after your privileged ass is run back to places like North Dakota, and Philadelphia.

      • Have you seen downtown? You’ll see human feces and beggars in the street where millions of dollars are made daily, and this in a “progressive” city. Maybe if we had more development and used the fees to fund social programs that actually work we wouldn’t have shit on the streets.

      • You’re saying “Bend over and let back east developers rape the City or we’ll use the homeless to stage a tent city and showcase inequality”. Piss off, and figure it out – the more you throw up shitty glass cubes, the more feces ends up on the streets.

      • Are you comparing 5 story apartment buildings to rape? And the fact is new development lowers displacement: this is what every study has found.

      • FWIW, even the Urban Displacement project — a project of Cal + UCLA + Portland State — that has been widely used to advocate for more housing on the state level, argues:

        “[M]arket mechanisms work differently at different geographic scales. At the regional scale, the interaction of supply and demand determine prices; producing more market-rate housing will decrease housing prices in the long term and could reduce displacement pressures. At the local, neighborhood scale, however, new luxury buildings could change the perception of a neighborhood and send signals to the market that such neighborhoods are desirable and safer for wealthier residents, resulting in new demand. The differences in our regional modeling versus local modeling would support these arguments.”

        Yet again, what we build and where we build it matters.

      • They didn’t have the evidence to say either way. Of course, the homes have to go somewhere, and SF has dumped them in minority neighborhoods. Maybe SF should put some more on the West side if you are so concerned about displacement in the Mission.

      • “SF has dumped them in minority neighborhoods.”

        No, developers have. This is why we fight, and anyone who claims to be concerned about affordability should be fighting against this. This is why I have not been able to support YIMBYs — nobody seems to actually care about this stuff, just “build anywhere.” And when I try to discuss it, I get dismissive answers like yours as if we live in some policy vacuum.

      • Have you seen a zoning map? Half of the city is off limit to new development. Developers didn’t do that: the SF planning commission did.

        Market rate housing reduces displacement. More supply means lower rents, just like food is cheap when we have a bumper year for crops. But don’t take my word for it, read the Urban Project’s report from UC Berkeley.

        Mission activists were wrong about the causes of displacement. People want to live in the mission. We either could give them places to live, or have them displace people already there.

      • I am quite familiar with the zoning map, but can you help me understand how the Mission is not off limits to development while the rest of the city is?

        Here’s the thing. You have to stop quoting Econ 101 every time and recognize the complexity of systems. As I’ve said repeatedly, WHAT you build and WHERE you build it matters. Housing is not identical. Increasing the quantity of caviar in a neighborhood that struggles to pay for bread isn’t going to solve hunger.

        “But don’t take my word for it, read the Urban Project’s report from UC Berkeley.”

        I LITERALLY cited them in my previous comment and they specifically call out how important what and where you build is.

        “Mission activists were wrong about the causes of displacement”

        So, in your mind, building market-rate housing in the Mission won’t have any impact on demand (despite what the models in the Urban Project indicate) and that ignoring the communities that are feeling the impacts of displacement and come in and tell “them” what “they” need, is the right solution? I don’t understand.

        You seem to be reinforcing my stereotypes of the extremist views espoused by both “YIMBYs” and “NIMBYs.” If your goal is affordability for the majority of San Franciscans, particularly those getting displaced, why would you be fighting against them?

      • Most neighborhoods in the west of the city have very restrictive density and height limits, making it hard to develop new housing. SF has deliberately steered market rate housing to poor neighborhoods. And yes, the rent is rising in the Mission for existing housing, so new housing does matter in relieving the displacement pressure. It’s more like wonderbread vs. french bread.

        You’re misreading the report: they found no evidence of displacement locally. Karen Chappell later clarified this. I don’t see how you get this from the models: it isn’t there.

        I’m fighting against them because they are wrong about the solution. But we can compromise and put all the necessary housing on the West side of the city. The faster and cheaper we make building the higher inclusionary percentages can be. It’s just that we need to build.

      • Do you have a source for the reference that they don’t believe there is such a thing as local displacement, regardless of types of housing built in each neighborhood? Not only do I find that hard to believe, but the post I referenced specifically indicated otherwise.

        I think it’s foolish to equate all locations as equal. I have always agreed with the need for more housing. I have never agreed that it’s worth causing community displacement to get there.

        If you care about communities and their impacts from this external force, I highly recommend you spend time aligning and fighting alongside, not against. Only recently have I seen some evidence of self-espoused YIMBYs working alongside social justice and community groups. It’s hard for me to align myself with any group that fights for profits and against communities, even if you think you’re right. (Remember, redevelopment and urban renewal were both data-backed visions for how to improve the lives of lower-income communities.)

      • Yes, that paper. They mention several times they don’t have the data to look at the subregional level where they think displacement might be occurring. Chappel sent out a clarification letter about this.

        I hear a lot about communities fighting against greedy developers whenever someone proposes building more in wealthy areas. Strangely these social justice groups never show up to the meetings when streamlining affordable housing or building in the west of the city is on the table. Every time I’ve suggested this, they’ve done nothing about it, instead demanding we join with them to fight against projects.

      • Not having the data isn’t the same thing—and the quote I gave specifically stated it’s likely.

        Social justice groups not showing up to help push for more housing in other areas sounds unfortunate, but I don’t think it’s a reason to ignore them. We move forward with coalitions, and it’s hard work, but I don’t think it’s worth ignoring. If they’re being unreasonable, it’s not a reason for you to be unreasonable too.

      • Please explain to me what the cause of increasing housing production has to gain from helping people shut down more projects in the few places where they are legal. There is a long history here, but a lot of it has to do with some nonprofit housing developers having some questionable practices, and things like Prop C really didn’t help.

      • You’re right, it depends on what your cause really is. If your cause is to build housing at all costs, then you have no reason at all, and I will continue to disagree with you. If your cause is to improve affordability and create a more economically and culturally diverse city, then you have lots to gain by working alongside groups that share similar goals.

      • Excellent points Rick. I think it all boils down to “allowing communities the dignity to govern their own future”. A neighborhood is not “improved” if existing residents are driven out. They HAVE a home. In this sense, I believe it is correct to view the Housing Activists as colonizers who have a strong interest in destroying neighborhoods so that their neighborhoods can be built. FIGHT BACK. This is not just about housing. It is about HUMAN DIGNITY and DEMOCRACY.

    • Ferinstein: “if it wants to properly deal with the inequality problem.”

      Maybe we don’t want to deal with inequality and maybe it is not a problem. It is true where there is economic growth there is greater inequality but the poor and middleclass also benefit from the growth.

      CBPC: “The new data show that California continues to have the highest poverty rate among the 50 states largely due to high housing costs.”

      Poverty is relative and is not necessarily the same thing as standard of living.

      “Statewide, more than half of renter households pay more than 30 percent of their incomes toward housing, making them housing cost-burdened, and nearly a third of renter households are severely cost-burdened, paying more than half of their incomes toward housing.”

      In San Francisco 42.6% of renter households pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing. 34.6% pay more than 35 percent. A third do not pay more than half their incomes toward housing. By comparison SF is more affordable and more equitable.

      • Control-F is the panic button at 661 Natoma.

        1001 YIMBY Disqus accounts, – we shouldn’t expect better.

      • “zutsa”,

        Regarding “Foginacan’s” comment:

        If one has a command of the facts — and one’s opponents are incapable of refuting them — then out of frustration and bewilderment, they lash out in a pathetic/last ditch attempt to marginalize by dubbing you a “professional astroturfer” or a “shill” or some such nonsense.

        It’s rather sad and impotent, but that’s all they’ve got, so you just let them roll with it.

        It’s the compassionate thing to do.

      • I’ve been wondering if Kraus is Brian Hanlon or maybe that other cray right-winger, Scott Beyer — both are close to Sonja Trauss. Do you know something?

      • It’s a shared account initiated by Sonja Trauss, used by Brian Hanlon, I’m not sure who else has access to it.

      • Yeah, sounds like Brian Hanlon — and that would explain the link to Tyler Cowen that Kraus once provided — not that a lot of YIMBYs aren’t into Cowen.

  6. “Vigorous local opposition to SB 827 is flaring from social equity advocates”

    Social inequity comes from zoning rules that require $1M worth of land for one unit of housing. Easing zoning rules means less land per unit of housing, which means the less well off can compete with the wealthy for the same land (horrifying, isn’t it?) This means more people can live where they work instead of commuting long distances and generating traffic/smog/CO2 in the process.

    Anyone who claims to prioritize social equity while opposing increased density is either a fraud or doesn’t understand the problem.

    • Ok, I’ll bite. The lowest cost homes in America today are low density suburban. I don’t disagree that’s messed up, but the vast majority of high density places are also the most expensive. You can argue that’s because of zoning, and I won’t entirely disagree, but density alone does not equal social equity, by any means.

      Let me add a divergent hypothesis to your statement:

      Anyone who claims to prioritize social equity while disagreeing (with or not even involving!) social justice organizations and low income communities is either a fraud or doesn’t understand the problem.

      We’ve had an entire history of well off white people telling low income and people of color what “needs” to happen so that “they” can be better off. We had decades of data-forward visions for what “they” need and how “they” should have better housing. Maybe “they” should be the ones making the policy. (Or is it that they seem to keep disagreeing with developers and real estate investors…?)

      You want to take the bottom out of the housing market? Ban profiting off of land.

      • What people want makes a difference on what it built. Based on where people live and many surveys, most people prefer single-family homes and lower density living. Of course that also depends on age and other factors. At the same time, people want to be able to walk to services and not live too far from work. Just because something is allowed does not mean it will be built. But I would rather they don’t mess with single-family zoning. In San Francisco you can have single family lower density living, walk to services, and live not too far from work. But that may also be true for other Bay Area cities as well. 80% of the Bay Area jobs are not in San Francisco. In general people do have lower density living and can live close to work.

      • The issue isn’t that people don’t want the homes that are out there – they do! They do so badly that the prices for them have been driven to pretty unaffordable levels, even for techies. If you don’t mess with single family zoning, you can’t build more, and if you can’t build more, prices will keep going up.

        This is a problem in SF but also across the whole bay area – regional problems don’t get solved if the cities involved all expect their neighbors to move first

      • Families with children want single family homes. Eliminate single family homes in San Francisco and you will eliminate more families with children. The remaining single family homes will become less affordable. People who want less density, or don’t want to live in high density, will move to where there is lower density and I assume drive up the price of lower density living. With industrial sprawl it become easier to find the lifestyle one prefers.

      • Not everyone wants the same thing. You fit the profile of someone who would prefer urban living (60 to 65 percent of those surveyed): Renters, Progressives, Singles, No kids, Millennials, Unmarried without kids at home, Low Income.

        With respect to Millennials they are following the pattern of Baby Boomers. As they age and have children ready for school, they are moving to the suburbs for more affordable single family homes. That is already happening in other metro areas, but not apparent in SF yet.

        However, the majority of people prefer single family lower density living (between 60 and 80 percent), especially families with children. At the same time the majority prefer single family they also would like to walk to services and not live too far from work so they must make tradeoffs.

      • And if people want to move to suburbia they can. Why should government subsidize their living in city boundaries close to jobs.

      • If families with children can’t find a single family home in San Francisco they to move to the suburbs. As Millennials age they are starting to move to the suburbs to find more affordable single family homes. Losing families and families with children is not good for the City. The government does not subsidize their living in the City. Only poor people get government subsidized housing.

      • Lots of families with children live in apartment buildings. There is a subsidy: zoning makes it cheaper to use large amounts of land for buildings by forbidding putting apartment buildings on that land.

      • Not a lot of families with children live in Apartment buildings. Can you point to a neighborhood in SF with a lot of apartment buildings that have lots of families with children? I can find some higher density neighborhoods, such as Anza Vista, NOPA, and the Marina, that have an above average number of preschool children but with a below average number of school-age children.

        You say you would like to see all neighborhoods to be equal. What SF neighborhood would you like to see all of SF look like? What is your favorite neighborhood?

        Unless I am mistaken I have the impression that you would like to see more density so you could afford to live in SF. That you don’t currently live in San Francisco. What would you be willing to pay for how much space?

      • That may also have to do with the perceived quality of the schools. Vouchers, tax credits, and charters are a matter of social justice, to give people options.

      • Not necessarily. When we had our daughter, we needed to move from our 2BR apartment to a 3BR (so we can accommodate our parents, who live abroad, when visiting).

        Unfortunately 3BR apartments are incredibly scarce in SF, not surprisingly as you can get more rent per square foot on studios, 1BR and 2BR than 3BR and it makes more sense for apartment builders to pack lots os smaller units in a building.

      • Not necessarily, but most do. In general a child reaching school age is the motivation for moving. It also takes time save for a down payment and for one’s career to advance. However, some families did not move into my single-family neighborhood until they had a second child. A third or fourth child may be reason to leave the City to find more affordable larger homes.

        There is a strong correlation between the percent of families with children and the percent of single family homes, but there is also a correlation with the number of bedrooms. If there were more 3 and 4 bedroom condos it could attract more families. But there would also need to be other features like a safe, uninhibited outdoor play area, and an environment around the homes safe from traffic, pollution, and unnecessary physical and social hazards.

      • OK single family homes use more land. If they are to be affordable, land has to be really cheap. Apple should have built its doughnut in Manteca, not Cupertino, if it really wanted to serve the interests of its people.

      • I expect others to go first. San Francisco has less of a crisis compared to other counties. When those counties catch up in terms of the crisis, and have the same density, we can talk about doing more. Also, 38% of workers with steady employment who live in San Francisco leave the City to get to work. SF is providing housing for those who do not work in San Francisco.

      • “The lowest cost homes in America today are low density suburban. ”

        No, cost is determined by supply and demand. If an area is low density, you can’t draw any conclusions about the cost, e.g. a mobile home might cost $10k in Arkansas or $400k in San Jose. A unit in a high-rise in Detroit might be dirt cheap despite the density – in this case the density tells you housing was expensive at some point in the past, not necessarily now.

        “disagreeing (with or not even involving!) social justice organizations and low income communities”

        Lots of disparate opinions there, would be impossible to agree w/ them all

        ” Ban profiting off of land.”

        That worked for Marijuana, and Alcohol, and the USSR, so why not?

      • I’m not saying density = higher cost. I’m saying that the reverse is also not true, which was the postulation in the comment I was responding to. I don’t disagree that costs are determined by supply and demand, but that’s also an exceedingly sinplistic understanding of the issue. Lots of things impact both sides.

        “Lots of disparate opinions there”

        Sounds good. Which minority or low-income run groups are in support of Wiener’s plan out of curiosity, and how many people of color helped shape this policy?

        “That worked for Marijuana, and Alcohol, and the USSR”

        Thanks for the rational conversation. Really insightful stuff there. Dictatorial communism is clearly the only alternative to a 100% free market.

      • I think the point was that density does not necessarily get you more affordable. There are high density neighborhoods in San Francisco where the price far exceeds the price of homes in a lower density area. And of course, low density neighborhoods where the price of homes far exceed the price of units in a high density neighborhood. High density San Francisco and Manhattan are among the cities with the highest cost of living.

    • Still no examples where more people can live where they work instead of commuting long distances. Are there any examples in the Bay Area where people who work in that city also live in that city? 80% of the jobs are not in San Francisco. One would think that if one works in a city with more affordable housing they would also live in that City. All things being equal most people would prefer not to have a long commute. I can’t find any examples where that is true. Maybe not all things are equal.

      BTW I do not prioritize social equity but do oppose increased density in single-family neighborhoods.

  7. Zelda Bronstein is a landlord and owns 30 million dollars in Bay Area real estate. She also has 5 evictions in her record. It’s pretty clear to me that she is not an ally for affordable housing. I’m surprised she is given a voice on Tim’s blog.

    • Didn’t know about Zelda’s second life as a landlord. Good to know.

      So Tim is collects a $4000 monthly paycheck from SEIU 1021 but doesn’t disclose it. Calvin Welch is on tape making patronizing statements about African-Americans, and helped drive them out of the Haight by downzoning it. Now we know Zelda is property speculator who evicts her tenants.

      There are a lot of skeletons in the 48Hills closet, even before we get into the sketchy tax-exempt status of Tim’s “Progressive Media Center.” Not sure what business 48Hills is in, but ain’t journalism.

      • Every day, every article, every thing I read here just leads me to believe that these “progressives” are just a new flavor of conservative. Wealthy property owners co-opting low-income minorities as martyrs (Canada:Steinle) to promote the preservation of their neighborhoods. Resisting change (NIMBYism:Nationalism). Scapegoating the other (techies:immigrants). Spreading fear of the boogieman (Conway:Soros). Denying science and academia (economics:climate change).

        They’re duping tenants the same way Trump dupes the poor who vote against their own best interest in red states. Convince them that the problem is someone else’s fault out of fear and ignorance and vote to make things better for those loud voices at the top. It’s getting despicable.

      • Is it possible that both Zelda and the supply and demand oriented folks both have some valid points?

        I’m skeptical of anyone who tells me what I should and shouldn’t believe. You’re no exception, that is for sure.

      • Yes, totally possible. Just like how one can be both pro-housing development and pro-tenant protections. I’m sure Zelda has a lot of great ideas for protecting current tenants (or maybe not because she’s evicted people? not sure), but her ideas on housing from an economic standpoint are ridiculous. It’s either greed, ignorance and stupidity, or xenophobia.

      • Calling someone names is not a logical argument. It adds nothing to the discussion. You have not addressed her ideas.

      • Thanks dude! I always know you got my back on environmental issues (son of Lorax), and it’s super appreciated.

        Zutsa couldn’t back up what he or she had written. That’s when they go bye-bye. 🙂

      • I investigated your life and found out you’re this weird fat racist old guy who punched a city official in Marin.

    • You are a white tech worker who moved into town in 2014 and hate your neighbors cause you can’t afford the rent in the Mission . Cry me a river. Your spoiled, self centered, entitlement is what is making the city a meaner place. You think nothing about the people who have lived here first.