Transit, Vision Zero, Livable Streets, and other Highlights of the “Focus on the Future” Conference

: streetsblog – excerpt

hat if San Francisco becomes the next Detroit?” asked Jonathan Miranda, Director of Strategy at Salesforce.com, during a keynote speech this morning at the “Focus on the Future” conference in downtown San Francisco. Given the region’s meteoric growth, that may seem far fetched–but no more so than Detroit’s fall after the booming years of the auto industry. He said that given San Francisco’s inability to build sufficient housing, that’s a real possibility. “Companies are moving to Austin, Denver, Seattle–what happens if software and Silicon Valley start looking for a different place?”

Miranda’s warning was part of a theme at the conference about how important it is for the Bay Area to address issues such as housing costs, transportation, and the safety and livability of our streets. The conference is run by the “Self-Help Coalition,” an organization of 24 different California transportation authorities and government organizations which share planning and policy intel. The event also featured tours of the Central Subway, the Transbay Transit Center, and a discussion of the Better Market Street plan. (more)

GENTRIFICATION is the word that is making the rounds these days to describe the economic disparity that is plaguing the nation. Pretty much everyone is concerned about it but no one is attempting to solve the problem of extreme cost of living increases that are exasperating the homeless crisis and causing much of the stress in our cities.

GROWTH has limits and inviting disruptive high tech industries to experiment with our society is exacerbating the conflicts between the top and bottom levels of society as everyone scrambles for empty units like empty seats in a game of musical chairs.

DISRUPTION is not a game to be taken lightly, but, it is the new tech mantra that is being sold to cities that want to partake in the technology revolution. Citizens get no say in the matter and many are unaware that they are being sacrificed on the corporate alter of progress until it is too late.

COMPANY TOWN is the title of a movie that Investigates Tech Industry’s impact on tow of SF’s most vulnerable neighborhoods. There is a new attempt to mitigate some of the housing crisis by creating “company towns” that include housing on the corporate campus to alleviate some of the housing crunch.

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Facebook is dropping $35 million to lease a beautiful, earthquake-resistant skyscraper in San Francisco

By Melia Robinson : businessinsider – excerpt

Thousands of Facebook employees are about to experience a much more pleasant commute.

The social-media giant has signed a lease at 181 Fremont, a mixed-use skyscraper that will be the tallest residential building on the West Coast once it’s completed later this year. The tower rises 70 stories over San Francisco’s Financial District and will house between 2,000 and 3,000 Facebook and Instagram employees across 33 floors.

The 436,000-square-foot office space will be Facebook’s first outpost in San Francisco. The company currently shuttles thousands of employees from the city to its headquarters in Menlo Park, which is about 35 miles south. The jaunt can take up to two hours in traffic.

The blockbuster deal, which was first reported by the San Francisco Business Times, marks San Francisco’s largest office lease in three years. The Business Times didn’t report the duration of the lease but said the asking rent was “around $80 per square foot,” which would total $35 million for the entire space. Facebook declined to confirm details of the lease.

Facebook employees will share the stunning new skyscraper with some well-heeled residential tenants — the upper floors hold 67 luxury condos… (more)

Hopefully they will move their SF workers to the SF office and eliminate their tech shuttles.

Strangest thing: Some agreement in SF housing debate

Special by Joel Engardio : sfexaminer – excerpt

Not-so-odd Couple: SPUR director Christine Johnson, left, and Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods president George Wooding are supposed to represent opposite sides of the housing debate, but they agree on more issues than anyone expected.

In the simple version of San Francisco’s housing crisis, two giant generations are fighting over limited space in a peninsula city that isn’t configured to fit both.

Baby boomers bought up scarce housing decades ago, created their own piece of paradise and worked to preserve low-density neighborhoods by resisting new development. Now, there’s no room for millennials, who want to reshape San Francisco into a denser and less car-centric city.

The boomers won’t yield quietly.

“Neighborhood character is the hill I will die on,” said George Wooding, 61, president of the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods. “As more height and density becomes the norm, we’ll start to look like the row houses of St. Petersburg, Russia. There is a beauty to San Francisco worth saving.”

But millennials see preservation as a losing prospect…

Wooding and Johnson lead very different constituencies in the debate over what San Francisco should look like and who should live here. Yet, their personal views are less simplistic than their public roles suggest…

“We want the same thing — a city that’s livable and comfortable — but we have different ways to get there,” Wooding said…

CARROTS OR STICKS?

San Francisco has an unknown number of vacant units that add to the housing crunch. Some people fear renting out empty space in their homes. Strict tenant protections can make it difficult to reclaim the unit when the owner needs it for an aging parent or adult child.

Wooding supports giving skittish homeowners an incentive to rent to longer-term tenants and not just Airbnb tourists.

“I believe in rent control, and we can create a new option just for those empty units: a three-year contract with an escape clause at the end,” Wooding said. “There is great potential in older people sharing their larger homes.”

Johnson said a tax abatement program would be the right carrot to encourage people to open their homes to renters. She also backs a stick approach that would tax vacant units… (more) 

CLARIFICATION BY GEORGE WOODING: “Yet Wooding, who lives on the Westside, remained firmly opposed to new construction that encroaches on single family housing, RH-2 and RH-3 housing.”

 

Whatever became of Berkeley’s neighborhood-serving retail?

Editorial by Becky o’Malley : berkeleyplanet – excerpt

Having lived in university towns for all of my adult life, I am very conscious of the difference in atmosphere when most of the students go home for summer vacation. One obvious benefit is that parking becomes infinitely easier. Yes, yes, I know that we’re not supposed to be driving, even those of us who are over 75 and a bit arthritic. Yes, I know that students never drive any more—well,hardly ever. It must be just a coincidence that many, many cars disappear from Berkeley streets in the summer—surely it’s not because the students are gone…

It will take more than inspiration to overcome what’s going wrong with small businesses in downtown Berkeley. They are getting evicted to make room for developments aimed at BART commuters to San Francisco, who will most likely do most of their purchasing in The City, and by UC offices for employees who drive in from distant suburbs with big box stores.

University Hardware, a stalwart for many years, was pushed or jumped from its wonderful location on University, complete with parking lot, to a dark and dreary car-free location on a side street. Now to add insult to injury the new store has lost access even for customers’ curbside pick-ups of large purchases to the city’s poorly conceptualized new bicycle routing.

There’s a host of similar examples of local businesses done wrong which give the lie to the perpetual myth of a Downtown Berkeley renaissance. Among other things, it’s past time to re-think Berkeley’s downtown area plan, which was jammed through by the previous city administration for the exclusive benefit of developers of mega apartment blocks for well-off consumers who’ll make their purchases elsewhere. A new and better plan would give much more respect to neighborhood-serving businesses and much less latitude to the smash-and-grab crowd who covet our downtown as potential building sites for commuter condos.

And don’t get me started on the way the University of California is sucking up downtown Berkeley as lebensraum for offices which don’t even pay property taxes. That’s a rant all its own, for another day… (more)

This story is repeating itself in communities all over California. The Berkeley story of disappearing local businesses is being exported to Napa County where the housing industry is getting ready to push the wineries out. What will tourists come for once the beautiful views, local wines and food are replaced by housing enclaves? What will people do with their time when the jobs are replaced by robots?

Emergency Resolution needed to preserve San Francisco businesses

Op-Ed

Here is an idea. SF has carved out hundreds of miles of car-free lanes for bikes and pedestrian-safe zones with no regard to the losses of the businesses that are effected by loss of traffic and parking. The streetscape programs have resulted in huge numbers of business closures and what appears to be an average 30% drop in income of the businesses that survive. No one is talking about the loss of jobs or the flight of the families those jobs once supported.

Why don’t we support the rights of businesses that require traffic and parking by setting up a SFMTA-free enterprise zone, that protects businesses that rely on customers who drive. We need a parking-protected zone to protect businesses while their streets are under construction.

We have see the future as it is being written by Plan Bay Area 2040 and they are anticipating a loss of 40% of the middle class by 2030 or 2040, depending on which report you read. As they extend the debt they extend the time to pay it off and the year of the study changes to meet that goal

Perhaps the Supervisors could legislate a temporary protected zone for businesses to escape from the SFMTA while their streets are under siege with protected loading and parking zones for motor vehicles only. We could use one in China Town and pretty much every neighborhood, The Supervisors can treat it as an emergency resolution to save middle class families by saving the small businesses and jobs they depend on them that are being killed off by the over-zealous SFMTA and developers.

We understand there is a history of placing limitations on disruptive construction projects in one area to protect residents and businesses from the negative impacts of too much construction in one place. Perhaps it is time to revisit that limit. Why not finish the major street projects now underway before starting any new ones.

Perhaps it is time for the Board of Supervisors to devise some method for curtailing city agencies and reigning them. There is ample evidence that the departments are not working well together or communicating changes to large projects as they rush to get them underway.

Perhaps we need new procedural rules to protect our citizens like the CEQA administrative amendments that were enacted to help developers a few years ago. Others are suggesting some Charter amendments may be in order. That will take time. We need some faster protections and we need them now to stop the damage to is being done to our city in the name of future plans.

This was inspired by story on ABC7 News on the plight of Chinatown businesses:

Chinatown merchants say Central Subway construction leading to business bust

by Leslie Brinkley : ABC7news – excerpt (includes video)

Up to 2 million visitors stroll through Chinatown per year. Locals hit the markets in the area too, but lately business is down…. (more)

These stories all have one thing in common. The Future is heavily featured as the reason for the disruption we are living in today. Always the promise of a better tomorrow and know consideration of what is being done to make our lives better today. How can you trust a system that doesn’t function today to make tomorrow better? Let us see some proof. Fix it now.

 

How owner move-in reform will affect SF tenants and landlords

Op-ed by Cynthia Fong : sfexaminer – excerpt

Owner move-in reform unanimously passed through the Board of Supervisors on July 18. This reform adds enforcement mechanisms to protect tenants from landlords who abuse OMI evictions and never intend to move in. Here is what this new legislation means for tenants and landlords:

This legislation, aptly named “Administrative Code – Owner Move-In Reporting Requirements,” primarily impacts landlords by requiring new and improved reporting requirements. Landlords are now required to provide a declaration under penalty of perjury stating that they intend on residing in the unit for at least 36 continuous months. In addition, the Rent Board is now required to annually notify the unit occupant of the maximum allowable rent (which is the rent of the previous tenant) for five years after an OMI.

This reform also extends the amount of time that a tenant has to exercise their rights and keep landlords accountable…

Finally, and perhaps the most significantly, nonprofits like the Housing Rights Committee and the San Francisco Tenants Union will be able to exercise a “right of action” to enforce the law…

Effective enforcement mechanisms were passed because tenant advocates pushed for real solutions…

Cynthia Fong is a community organizer with the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco in the Richmond District... (more)

 

Parking-space spat may halt $400 million tower

By J.K. Dineen : sfchronicle – excerpt

Van Ness and Market is the location of the One Oak Street Project. This intersection is known for its powerful winds that sweep through the wide intersection. Photos by google.

The tower proposed for the northwest corner of Market Street and Van Ness Avenue is big and bold in every respect. It would rise 40 stories. It would cost more than $400 million to build. It would bring a European-style piazza, an expansive restaurant with 30-foot glass walls and 304 luxury condos to one of the city’s busiest crossroads…

In the case of the One Oak Street tower, which goes before the Planning Commission on Thursday for approvals, the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association is pushing the developer to trim the number of parking spaces by 60 spots, from 136 to 76. This would represent a reduction from .45 to .25 parking spaces per unit, or from nearly 1 for every 2 to 1 for 4…

“It’s a marketing tool,” Yarne said. “Nobody, myself included, expects people in this building to be driving everywhere. We don’t. But the marketing professionals will tell you until the cows come home that people want the option.”…

“We are in challenging times in San Francisco because construction costs are high and sales prices have flattened,” Yarne said…

If the Planning Department approves the development, it goes to the Board of Supervisors’ Land Use and Transportation Committee in July and later to the full board for final approval… (more)

The more famous SF becomes for being a parking nightmare the more people will demand parking, but this project sounds like it has more than just parking issues. The idea that the public space will be cleaner and more well-kept than most is the real page turner since this is ground zero for the needle brigade. Stay tuned…

After a short deliberation the Planning Commissioners approved the higher number of parking spaces. Commissioner Hillis said that he know of only one family in his childrens’ school that did not own a car. One assumes that his is not that family. AS they voted to approve the project the Commissions admitted that some day condos may be built without parking spaces but that day has not yet come. One need only look at the numbers of requests for parking to verify that is true.