Hearing on Wiener housing bill points to the roots of this crisis

Supes committee, with two members missing, hears critical discussion on a measure that would upzone most of the city -- without providing the tools to prevent massive displacement

Most of the time, when San Francisco supervisors ask the board to weigh in on a state or federal issue, it’s just an agenda item at the end of the meeting. Most of the time, it’s pretty non-controversial.

Not so with Sup. Aaron Peskin’s proposal to put the city on record opposing SB 827, the bill by state Sen. Scott Wiener that would in effect upzone the entire city.

Peskin asked for a hearing Monday at the Land Use and Transportation Committee, to give the public a chance to weigh in on the measure. And weigh in they did: Although testimony was limited to one minute per person (since committee member Ahsha Safai had to leave early and Jane Kim wasn’t there), the hearing lasted more than two hours. There were Yimby folks who supported the bill, but the overwhelming majority of the speakers opposed it.

Some of the people who like the Wiener bill said that it was harder for renters who are working to show up at the hearing – fair enough (although the SF Tenants Union is strongly against the bill). But Peskin said that his office had received more than 100 emails urging the supes to oppose the bill – and only a handful supporting Wiener’s position.

The hearing, and the debate, brought again into focus the dramatic disagreements over housing policy in San Francisco – and the willingness of our entire legislative delegation, along with such “liberal” officials as Berkeley Sen. Nancy Skinner, to go along with free-market ideology.

In the end, the panel (with Peskin seated as a temporary member) agreed to pass on to the full board a proposal to call for amendments instead of opposing the bill outright (the chair, Katy Tang, still seems to think this measure can be salvaged).

But along the way, we learned some interesting things:

For starters, the bill is supposed to encourage housing along transit lines and deal with the Bay Area’s housing shortage – but in reality, it mostly affects San Francisco. Peskin held up this map, which shows where the upzoning would take place:

The suburban communities that have accepted huge amounts of tech office space can stay low-density, since they don’t have much in the way of transit.

Then there’s the problem that the bill gives cities no additional money for the transit infrastructure they will need to meet the demands from increased density. “It will continue to burden our infrastructure,” Peskin said.

Put tens of thousands of new housing units on existing bus lines, and someone has to pay for more buses and drivers.

But Peskin raised two bigger issues: Displacement and the ability of landowners to benefit from upzoning while the city can’t capture any of that value.

San Francisco has a long history of displacement, Peskin said, mentioning the I-Hotel, the Western Addition, and the legacy of redevelopment. “This bill puts us on the precipice of policy-making of displacement and the ruining of lives,” he said.

That’s Point One in the debate here: Wiener and his Yimby supporters don’t seem to understand that increased market-rate housing can, and often does, lead to the displacement of vulnerable communities. They just assume that if we allow the private market to build without limits, prices will eventually come down.

There is no evidence that this has ever worked in San Francisco.

Then Peskin raised Point Two: “When the city confers a financial benefit on landlords, we have a responsibility to recapture that benefit for the good of the public.”

In other words: If you upzone land, the owners can sell for more money. We are talking about billions of dollars in increased wealth for people who currently own property in San Franicisco.

(A side note: The Yimbys complain that older residents who own property are opposing density because they want to protect their property values. There may be homeowners who want to keep their low-density neighborhoods, and I am not among them, but the reality is that increased density in SF typically drives UP property values.)

“This is conferring massive value on property owners,” Peskin said.

But the Wiener bill gives the city no ability to capture any of that value; in fact, it would prohibit the city from mandating higher affordable housing levels, or raising transit impact fees, or doing anything else to give the public some of the benefit of this huge giveaway.

Peskin noted that a group of tech leaders, including plutocrat Ron Conway, sent the supes a letter endorsing the bill. These are the same folks who think that the city shouldn’t regulate Google buses, or Uber and Lyft, or limit new office development.

He quoted one of his colleagues on the Coastal Commission calling this “urban renewal 2.0” and asking, “how does your senator get to rezone Compton?”

If the state wants to help with the housing crisis, Peskin said, the legislature should repeal Costa-Hawkins, approve Prop. 13 reform, give cities the money and the tools to prevent displacement and fund affordable housing and transit – and quit relying on private-sector solutions.

The much larger issue that hardly anyone talks about came up in the hearing, too. The Yimby folks argued, as they do, that San Francisco has historically underbuilt housing, for decades, and that we are now in this crisis because of that failure.

There’s another way of looking at the issue:

Maybe San Francisco hasn’t historically underbuilt housing. Maybe it’s historically overbuilt commercial office space. The Bay Area hasn’t underbuilt housing; it’s allowed developers and tech companies to add so many jobs, so fast, that local communities — who are strangled by Prop. 13 and state laws making it radically difficult to raise taxes – can’t possibly keep up with the infrastructure and affordable housing needs that rapid growth has created.

Maybe we have this backward – and Wiener is driving us further down a path of failure.

  • Y.

    I agree with you, Tim, except for the “maybe”s. You’re being modest, I know,

  • Ochotona_Princemps

    You are flatly wrong about “value capture”. SB827 leaves in place any jurisdictions’ inclusionary zoning requirements, impact fees, and other “value capture” type regulations. SB827 only removes height limits and design restrictions that drop FAR below certain thresholds.

    It’s obvious you’re scared, since you’re lying more openly than is typical. Is this really what you want your legacy to be? A desperate old man spreading falsehoods, merely to ensure it remains illegal to build 4-story apartment buildings in fancy neighborhoods?

  • goodmaab

    Add the repeal of Costa Hawkins to the bill as a “friendly amendment….”, and remove the twitter tax break, and recoup the billions in money stashed overseas by tech-companies… to fund essential services, housing, transit, parks, schools, public infrastructure, green energy, and anything we can think of, since we are supposedly upzoning the whole city, should we not see an equitable distribution of the wealth to be made from the “air-rights”….


    Couple things:

    1. Tim didn’t mention any of the anti displacement measures added to SB827 earlier this month

    2. The MTC map Tim and Peskin are citing appears to be missing many affected areas in the South Bay, making the contrast between SF and Silicon Valley appear more extreme than it is. Eg the 281 bus route would upzone a lot of Palo Alto but is not shown on the MTC map. This map may be more acccurate:


    • Y.

      What’s the source of your map?
      They don’t seem all that different. SF, Oakland and Berkeley still take the bulk of it.

      • NIMBY CLUB

        It’s the transitrichhousing.org map.

    • RuMADorRuREALLYmad

      Where exactly are the transportation hubs in San Jose? Please elaborate.

      • NIMBY CLUB
        • RuMADorRuREALLYmad

          Can you name 3?

          • NIMBY CLUB


          • RuMADorRuREALLYmad

            Just confirming you don’t know what you’re talking about. Thanks.

          • NIMBY CLUB

            The only thing you confirmed is that you’re obnoxious

          • RuMADorRuREALLYmad

            Sure, “NIMBY CLUB” I was born and raised in the Bay Area. I know it well. I have lived all over. You don’t know what the eff you are talking about. But what could I expect from someone whose identity is based in their political approach to housing policy. #Weirdo

    • Zhoosh

      One of those amendments made by Wiener “explicitly defers to and preserves local demolition controls”.

      In fairness to Tim and Peskin, they wouldn’t have their map with San Francisco covered in red if they accurately removed all the places protected by local demolition controls. It would look a lot less scary. They had to ignore the amendments in order to make their “point”.

    • Stephen Nestel

      Where are these “magic” apartments going to be built if not on the same site are thousands of homes and businesses? Of course it will lead to mass exodus and tragic disruption of peoples lives.

  • zutsa

    “Maybe San Francisco hasn’t historically underbuilt housing. Maybe it’s historically overbuilt commercial office space. The Bay Area hasn’t underbuilt housing; it’s allowed developers and tech companies to add so many jobs, so fast… ”

    Right, its not that the Western half of the city has been kept a suburb for too long, or that NIMBY homeowners delay and scrutinize any an all projects near their homes to oblivion, it’s those pesky job creators and paycheck writers that are the problem. How dare they provide jobs to the area when clearly we had enough jobs at the start of this boom around 2010, fresh off the 2008 financial crisis! Now only rich people have jobs, right?

    You know what else is the issue? The weather. The damn climate here is so nice and moderate, so unique to the rest of the country, that so many people want to just keep on moving here. Maybe we should block out the sun for a few months out of the year in order to make the demand a bit more reasonable. Only rich people enjoy nice weather anyway, right?

    And damn the proximity to beautiful places like Tahoe, the Redwoods, etc. Maybe if we made the roads to these natural destinations a bit more windier that way it takes 5x as long to get to them. That will also reduce demand. Only rich people go there anyway, right?

    And man, SFO is such a hub. One can travel anywhere in the world from there rather easily. Maybe if we made it so that every flight has to make at least 1 changeover elsewhere on the West Coast then we can remove “living close to a major airport” as a demand inducer. Only rich people fly in those fancy aeroplanes anyway, right?

    Anything but build apartment buildings over 3 stories. Clearly every other city that’s tried something as ridiculous as a 6 story apartment building has gone to shambles.

    • Zhoosh

      IMHO the cuisine is also a major problem. The combination of incredible produce from the central valley in the hands of wonderful Asian chefs who have migrated here…this surely contributes to the attractiveness of San Francisco and hence to the housing situation.

      It’s not an insignificant problem. The supes need to set up a moratorium on any restaurant (including food trucks) that serves food that is better than the average restaurant in Des Moine, Iowa.

      One more step in making the city less attractive and therefore more affordable.

    • pch1013

      “something as ridiculous as a 6 story apartment building”

      I know, right? Paris is *such* a dump.

    • sfsquirrel

      Well, at least you have finally come out as a YIMBY despite all your earlier protestations, as well as a right-wing Libertarian.

      • zutsa

        Yes, labels make us all feel better. Just like how you totting yourself as a progressive allows you to mask your classically conservative tendencies like scapegoating, denial of science, xenophobia, and desperate preservation of your own lifestyle and surroundings. Oh, but you say you’re a progressive that cares about poor people and moved to SF some time ago so you’re exempt from being labeled a selfish conservative. Right.

        Isn’t label slinging fun? Let’s play the ideological compartmentalization game rather than discuss issues, shall we? Let’s skip talking about facts, trends, numbers, analysis, etc. and just say “No, you’re an X, so must be wrong!”. How many degrees of separation am I from Reagan? Or Hitler?

        Nothing says “right-wing Libertarian” like looking at photos of the Sunset district and saying “They could totally stand to put some taller apartment buildings there”, right?

        • sfsquirrel

          If you don’t like labels, don’t use them, i.e. “NIMBY homeowners,” which you use disingenuously knowing full well that many, many people who oppose SB827 and other such measures are renters who have real concerns about displacement.

          If you don’t want to be called right wing, then don’t use right wing terms such as “job creators.” https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Job%20Creators

          It is also a common right wing tactic to leave out inconvenient information. Why bother to argue the facts with you when you consistently twist or deny what does not fit your agenda? You seem incapable of arguing without putting words into other people’s mouths. It’s tiresome and shows bad faith.

          I don’t know, you tell me about your ties to Reagan or Hitler, you brought it up. I didn’t.

          • zutsa

            What do you call the people who blocked the Forest Hills development that we’re both on the same side for? If they aren’t NIMBY homeowners then what are they? Let’s not apply a specific neat label and call them this: selfish entitled assholes.

            You got me on “job creators”. Yeah, conservative people have used that term before. Urban Dictionary link really put me in the ground on this one. You know I can create an entry for sfsquirrel in Urban Dictionary right now if I wanted to, right? Trying to twist good jobs for people into a bad thing just because not *everyone* can have that same good job is fucking stupid. Being a physician is also a high paying job with good benefits, but not everyone at the hospital is a physician. The medical field is morally bankrupt then! Stop caring about where other people work or how much money they make, it’s none of your business.

            Here are some facts: The Bay and California has not been building housing as fast as other parts of the country have. Supply and demand applies to the housing market. Several different local neighborhood and activists groups around SF have moved to block both market rate and affordable housing in tandem. Subsidized units have gone unbuilt because locals don’t want to see neighboring market rate housing go up. The demand comes from people, and blaming the demand is the same as blaming the people. Blaming people for wanting to move here is unfair, for the reasons I stated above. It’s not all just the tech companies that are driving people here and the tech companies are not evil. As a transplant yourself, you’d think you’d have a little bit of empathy for those coming here today. But you don’t.

          • sfsquirrel

            From Truthout: While the deification of a billionaire who attracts votes with fascist rhetoric is alarming, so is the way the term “job creator” has
            marginalized important issues that pertain to working-class Americans.
            Like the well-crafted political slogan “support our troops” obscures the central question of whether you’re for the war or against the war, the creation of jobs doesn’t say anything about exploitation and maltreatment. Do workers deserve a wage with which they can support a family? Do they deserve health care? Should they have the right to
            bargain collectively? Should mothers and fathers be entitled to maternal and paternal leave? In the absence of these questions, capitalists likeTrump and Uber CEO Travis Kalanick can emerge as godsends in an economic universe that mirrors the simplicity of the creation myths pushed by Christian fundamentalists. Having faith in the capitalist class — rather than skepticism, critique and collective action — is what we are told will deliver us from poverty and inequality.


            Rant and rave some more if you wish, I have work to do.

          • Don Sebastopol

            The Forest Hill development was blocked by the developer’s own
            geotechnical report..

    • Don Sebastopol

      It may be best to keep the sunset as a suburb because as Millennials are aging and having children, they are moving to the suburbs. If we value families and children, we need to provide them a place to live.

  • SanPrecario

    Tim, citing yourself citing a study from 2007 that doesn’t even directly support your point does not count as evidence that Market Rate Housing causes displacement. 827 does not override demolition controls, inclusionary requirements, or any other requirement placed on the new development. All it does is change the zoning.

    The only way for low income folks and middle class folks to outbid the rich for scarce land is to increase density. Put your money where your mouth is Tim and if this bill gets passed turn your home into 5 stories of subsidized housing. maybe then people will finally take you seriously.

    • Sanchez Resident

      Landlords are evil, money hoarding leeches on a free society. Mr. Redmond should not be required to do as you suggest. Our local and state governments should be building and maintaining all the required subsidized housing for the income restricted citizens.

    • Don Sebastopol

      Low income folks outbid the rich in high density areas? How so? Where are the data?

  • Don Sebastopol

    “but the reality is that increased density in SF typically drives UP property values” Is that true?

    • sfsquirrel

      It’s true when the density is created by market-rate housing in a hot market. Currently, wealthy people want to live in a dense environment with cafe’s, restaurants and bars, nice shops, etc. Land values go up because developers know they can increase their profits by building more units that can be sold or rented to the highest bidder.

      • Don Sebastopol

        I just looked at the data. Overall, high density areas have more non-family Households and fewer children. But there is no relationship to home
        values and a moderate negative correlation with gross rent. On the other hand,
        there is a positive correlation with higher value per room and higher rents per
        room. There is a moderate negative correlation with incomes.

        However, it is a mixed bag. Very high density is different than lower high-density areas. The highest density areas Like Downtown, Tenderloin, Chinatown have low home values and low rent, but the price per room and rent per room is above average. Above average density areas but less high-density areas are high value and high rent: like Marina Pacific Heights, Russian Hill, NobHill, Cow Hollow, Haight, Mission Dolores-Castro, Telegraph Hill.

        • sfsquirrel

          I guess this just goes to show that there are many variables that go into property values than just the level of density.

          • Don Sebastopol

            Census tract data is not that precise, but it does suggest that you pay more for less in high density areas. In some low-rent areas the rent per room is high. The data also suggests that higher income people live in less density. Or they can afford to buy more living space.

            There may also be an optimum density that is lower than very high density. High income people are more likely to be found in neighborhoods with a high percent of 2-4 units buildings, and high income single people in 5-9-unit buildings. When it come to a high percent of 20 or more units buildings there is a weak negative relationship with high income and a moderate negative relationship in neighborhoods with a high percent of 50 or more-unit buildings.

  • Jane

    Where were Kim, Peskin et al when they advocated for the 5M project, which goes 47 stories where current zoning is 8-10 stories, and which will make billions for the Hearst & Forest City families and make traffic in Central SOMA even more of a nightmare? Cloaked in a guise of “community benefits” that are mostly illusions…oh, yes, but is on a transit line and only in poor old SOMA…but other districts fight going up to SIX stories…sheesh!

  • Charlie In SF

    Hmmm. I don’t see 580 in the tri-valley area designated as a transit corridor, in the same manner that El Camino is on the Peninsula. We just expanded BART out there so that more housing could be built. I smell a rat.

  • Parque_Hundido

    48Shills issues another love letter to the NIMBYs in SF.

    How does Tim Redmond take notes while licking Peskin’s ass? It’s a mystery.

  • Smart people,

    Take a moment and read this.

    I think it is far and away the best column of the year by anyone in town.

    It’s from the Examiner’s ‘Broke-Ass Stuart’ and it just ain’t getting enough views in my opinion (which to me is the only one that matters)


    Go Giants Again!


  • ¤ Where’s the editorial advocating for increased transit in the suburban communities that don’t have much in the way of transit?