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Thursday, September 28, 2023

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News + PoliticsHousingWhat the Yimbys keep getting wrong

What the Yimbys keep getting wrong

Some of us support more density and more housing—just not the private market.


Kim Mai Cutler knows better.

In her tweet about the weird tech guys plan to build a new city in rural Solano county, she calls 48hills a “Boomer Left Nimby Blog.”

She cites a story I did back in 2014. I still think I was right; in fact, it looks better today.

She got one word right.  We are, indeed, a publication with a left-wing attitude. But we are not a blog; we’re a digital daily newspaper with new, locally reported content five days a week. I am the only one on staff who can possibly be tagged as a “boomer.” And we are not Nimbys.

Community organizing turned a luxury housing project into 100 percent affordable housing. Yes, we support that.

I have never opposed an affordable housing development in San Francisco, and I have vocally supported many of them, including in my neighborhood. I would support building 50,000 new units of non-market social housing in San Francisco. I have no problem with density. (I’m a little dubious about demolishing existing housing on a large scale, but I don’t think we need to; there’s plenty of room in SF for 50,000 units of social housing.)

I just don’t believe that the private market is going to solve our housing problems. I don’t believe that private developers, even if we get rid of all the zoning and “red tape,” will ever build housing in San Francisco that’s affordable to low-income and working-class people. That’s not how capitalism works.

And I don’t believe that building new fancy housing for rich people will somehow trickle down to lower prices in older housing. There is no evidence that this has ever worked in the United States.

Cutler knows my position. I even once talked to her about it in person, over lunch. This kind of tweet is just needlessly insulting in the way of the Yimby world: Attack anyone who doesn’t agree with you.

Oh, and that magical tech city in the ranchland? I think we are all arguing about something that’s never going to happen. Building what the tech bros are talking about is going to cost multiples of tens of billions of dollars, and take probably 20 years.

That’s assuming the people of Solano County are going to approve perhaps the most massive rezoning in the state’s modern history.

There’s no way to get there, except a freeway that’s packed all the time already. Michael Moritz tells investors that the land is “a short distance from San Francisco and Silicon Valley—except that even existing traffic makes that trip very time consuming.  Are they going to build an entire new rail system to connect with BART and Caltrain to get people in and out?

Add a few more tens of billions.

They will need schools, and stores, and restaurants, and cafes, and dry cleaners, and car mechanics, and health clinics, and a lot of other types of establishments. And unless a very high percentage, say 40 or 50 percent, of the new housing is subsidized, there won’t be anyone to work in those places serving the technorati.

Add tens of billions more for the affordable housing.

Where are they going to get the water for this new city? California is, for the first time in years, not in a severe drought situation, but the ranchland they are buying is typically dry, with low rainfall, and no easily accessible source for water rights.

These folks are tech investors with no experience in real estate, especially not at this scale. My bet is that, in the end, like so many grand housing plans, it never pencils out.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.

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