Pandemic casts a shadow on future of San Francisco’s would-be high-rise Hub

By John King : sfchronicle – excerpt (includes audio track and map)

Uncertainty has always clouded the urbane visions of an emerging high-rise residential district at Market Street and Van Ness Avenue, so it seems weirdly appropriate that the plan has now been approved in the midst of a global pandemic.

That’s what San Francisco’s Planning Commission did last week — clearing the way for a cluster of apartment and condominium towers that on paper has the potential to be a dynamic crossroads. A place where downtown workers live above bustling pedestrian-filled sidewalks and plazas.

It’s also the type of idealized 21st century setting thrown into doubt by the pervasive impact of the coronavirus on everything from the global economy to how we behave in public — if we choose to venture out at all…

Some commissioners questioned whether the plan takes sufficient note of how the coronavirus might alter urban life. Will Muni be able to handle an influx of new passengers at a key transit crossroads if buses and trains can’t handle as many people? Will extra shadows on existing parks erode the quality of outdoor spaces should strict shelter-in-place requirements be imposed in response to viruses yet unknown?…(more)

On the audio track, SF Controller Ben Rosenfield describes the future potential economic downturn he anticipates and the effects it may have on the city for a years. His concerns raise more questions about the wisdom of approving any large projects at this time of future uncertainty. Voters in November may want to request the candidates weigh in on how they intend to support or deny these kinds of projects before deciding who to support.

Move LA gets fully behind Peter Calthorpe’s vision

via email

Move LA is getting fully behind Peter Calthorpe’s vision of building new housing (including affordable housing) on major boulevards to replace underutilized retail and commercial spaces, and adding zero-emission bus lines to serve them. (While leaving existing residential neighborhoods alone.)

Here is what they are saying:

*Everyone knows there isn’t enough affordable housing in LA County* and that too many people live on the street. How are we going to expand the supply of housing for our low-income workforce and for people likely to become homeless as the economy flounders and more jobs are lost due to COVID-19?

Moreover, how can we rebuild transit ridership in urban neighborhoods served by transit when the people who use it the most can’t afford to live there anymore?

Move LA has a proposal about how to do this. We call it “Boulevards of Equity and Opportunity.”

First, we need sufficient land with good access to frequent transit where new neighborhoods can be built without requiring the demolition of existing housing or the displacement of residents. Second, we need policies in place and/or sufficient public capital to build housing affordable to low and moderate-income households in these new neighborhoods.

Below we discuss where we think we can find the land on which to build sufficient housing without displacement. Next week we will write about where we think we can find the resources to build a significant amount of affordable housing on this land.

What We Propose

We believe state and local governments should enable and encourage, even prioritize, multifamily mixed-income housing along commercial boulevards and in downtowns that are well-served by transit—especially zero-emission bus rapid transit (BRT)—where because of longstanding zoning policies little housing has been built.

LA County boulevards have long been dominated by commercial uses, but many of these boulevards declined as retail moved to shopping centers, a decline accelerated now by the increasing popularity of online shopping. Many are ready for reinvention and redevelopment.

The new mixed-use neighborhoods with multifamily housing that we propose building along these boulevards should include robust urban greening as well as improvements that make it both safe and appealing to walk and bike—which would help attract new residents as well as new development.

There are already very successful local examples of neighborhoods like this, including some dating back to the 1980s. We think it’s time to take this model to scale.

Local History with Mixed Use

In the late 1980s the cities of Pasadena and Santa Monica, for example, began experimenting with mixed-use development, adding multifamily housing  above ground floor commercial uses in Old Pasadena along Colorado Blvd and  around Santa Monica’s new Third Street Promenade. These initiatives necessitated challenging the specialized building codes and banking practices of the day.

To the surprise of many, people were eager to live in these neighborhoods. More than 3,000 units have been built in Santa Monica’s downtown since 1990 including 1,000 deed-restricted affordable units. This experiment in Santa Monica and Pasadena pioneered a new urban model for LA County.

In 2006 the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), concerned about the surge in regional population growth and sprawling development, released a study showing that if housing were built in downtowns and along commercial corridors served by frequent transit that all SoCal’s projected population growth could be accommodated on just 2% of the region’s land.

Enthusiastic essays about SCAG’s “2% Strategy” were written by experts ranging from renowned real estate developer and philanthropist Randall Lewis: The 2% Strategy  to author, urban planner and former City of Ventura Mayor Bill Fulton: If the 2% Strategy a Solution for Southern California? SCAG kept the momentum going with their Compass Blueprint planning grants program  and other cities in Southern California, including LA, began encouraging mixed-use developments on commercial boulevards.

There are dozens of boulevards in LA County where this program could work—including Victory, Vanowen, Vermont, Valley and Venice, to list just some of the “Vs.” Many were once served by the Pacific Electric Red Car; some were important contributors to local economies and are still commercially viable. But many had their heyday decades ago and could benefit from the changes we propose.

Where Do We Start?

Fundamentally this program requires a partnership between LA Metro, local cities and LA County. The State of California would need to create a fund for affordable housing as well. Metro has planned but also needs to prioritize implementation of BRT projects along the boulevards with significant potential for community development and ensure that the city in which the boulevard is located is willing to collaborate and sponsor the development of affordable housing.

Many other required policies and resources are already in place:
• Funding was dedicated in both Measures R and M to develop BRT lines. Three projects are moving forward and Metro is working to identify several more.
• Measures R and M also provide funding to cities for complete streets and for walkable/bikeable first-last-mile connections to transit.
• Statewide funding sources, including the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program funded by the state’s Cap-and-Trade dollars, could be tapped both for affordable housing and urban greening.
• Move LA sponsored SB 961, a bill authored by Sen. Ben Allen and signed into law by Gov. Brown in 2018, to allow cities and counties to create Neighborhood Infill Financing and Transit Infrastructure districts, called NIFTI-2 districts. This makes it possible to recreate a kind of community redevelopment district near transit, where tax increment financing can be used to build affordable housing in mixed-use mixed-income multifamily developments, as well as to fund transit infrastructure and urban greening.

We stress, however, that it is essential that we find a reliable source of funding for affordable housing at both the state and local levels if we want an affordable housing program to succeed. More on that soon.

We’ve Stirred Up Considerable Interest

In 2018, Move LA’s Executive Director Denny Zane—who had initiated the Third Street Promenade and the mixed-use planning model described above while mayor in Santa Monica—was awarded the Durfee Foundation’s Stanton Fellowship to develop a program that would essentially work toward realizing the 2% Strategy.

The intent was to marry Measures R and M’s commitment to BRT with a robust affordable housing program. He called this plan “Grand Boulevards,” but changed the name to “Boulevards of Equity and Opportunity” to emphasize the importance of creating new affordable housing and avoiding the loss of existing housing as well as the displacement of low-income families and longstanding commercial businesses.

Along the way Denny began a conversation with Peter Calthorpe, a San Francisco-based architect, urban designer, planner and principal/co-founder of UrbanFootprint company that provides cloud-based graphic GIS mapping and evaluative services that can help determine the potential for housing and transit ridership. Both were interested in the idea of building mixed-use development along underutilized commercial corridors served by transit as a way to create sustainable transit-oriented neighborhoods.

Last month we scheduled a symposium on the topic at SCAG — with Peter Calthorpe, Metro CEO Phil Washington, LA City Planning Director Vince Bertoni, Estolano Advisors CEO Cecilia Estolano (formerly CEO of the Community Redevelopment Agency in the City of LA), and many other speakers.

*We got so many RSVPs after just one emailed invitation we would have filled the room. And then came the coronavirus. We had to cancel the event.*

But we will stay the course. We are organizing several conversations on Zoom to discuss this further over the next three months. It is our near-term goal to convince at least one city or council of governments to become interested in beginning a boulevard planning process with Metro that can become a model for other cities.

*We will tell you more—in case you want to help!— in coming weeks.*

Gloria Ohland for Move LA

Move LA 2020: Boulevards of Opportunity

Random Access – 3 Mayors Discuss Affordable Housing and Traffic Concerns

Video and comments By Sunnyvale City Council Member, Michael S. Goldman

A 15 minute round-table with: Mayor Lynette Lee Eng of Los Altos, Mayor Eric Filseth of Palo Alto, and Mayor Steven Scharf of Cupertino.

“City bankruptcies, deteriorating public services as funds are drained from cities trying to cope with increased demands by new construction. That will be CASA’s main impacts. See a transcript on Michael’s site:

Thanks to these Mayors for their frank discussion on what many consider to be overlooked considerations that were not addressed adequately by the SF Bay Area regional planners who concocted the CASA Compact. Forcing more up-zoning on landfill that is sinking under the tall towers already built, is a losing proposition. How many people want to throw more money at the Joint Powers Authority that designed and built the closed, failing Transbay Terminal?

The Sierra Club and the luxury-housing developer

By Zelda Bronstein : 48hills – excerpt

Northern Alameda chapter backs San Leandro project in a sign that the pro-growth forces are trying to take over the environmental group.

Are you a Sierra Club member who lives in Berkeley, Albany, Emeryville, Alameda, Piedmont or San Leandro? If so, you fall under the aegis of the club’s Northern Alameda County Group, which is nested within the larger Bay Chapter.

Be aware, then, that the NAC Executive Committee is currently dominated by a pro-growth coterie that’s exploiting the Sierra Club’s cachet to push a pro-development agenda that violates the club’s commitments to affordable housing, neighborhood integrity, and democratic governance.

If you’re a Sierra Club member who lives elsewhere in the Bay Area, you should also be concerned. The growth boosters on the NAC Ex Com include two men who wield considerable influence in the Bay Chapter, Igor Tregub and Andy Katz. Tregub also chairs the chapter Executive Committee. Both he and Katz sit on the Bay Chapter’s Political Committee, which makes the Sierra Club’s endorsements of political candidates and ballot measures. In the Bay Area, where the club claims nearly 60,000 members, and environmental values are widely embraced, Sierra Club endorsements carry a lot of weight. (UPDATE: Tregub tells me he has stepped down from the Political Committee, which only makes advisory recommendations on endorsements.)

This is an alarming trend for the club; already in San Francisco, Yimbys have tried to take over the local chapter (and so far failed). But the pro-development forces know that placing people on the boards of all-volunteer organizations is not that difficult. There’s little doubt that “smart growth” advocates are trying to shift the influential Sierra Club in their direction, locally and nationally(more)

Mission Joins Citywide Allies for Two Days of Transit Justice Actions

missionwordsf – excerpt

Supervisor hearing calls on SFMTA to keep red bus lanes for public buses, paratransit, and taxis; Community demands SFMTA board adopt transit justice first policy.

Residents from the Mission, SoMa, Richmond, and other San Francisco neighborhoods converged on City Hall for two days of actions December 3rd-4th, demanding the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority (SFMTA) end the corporate use of the red bus lanes, improve access and service to buses, and commit to community planning and other equity processes to keep the Mission and other vulnerable communities safe.

On Monday, December 3rd, approximately 50 residents joined a special hearing item called by Supervisors Fewer and Ronen at the Board of Supervisors’ Land Use Committee. The meeting called SFMTA officials out to the meeting to answer concerns regarding the private use of these lanes…

Fewer closed the hearing by calling on the SFMTA to commit to working with her office towards removing the private buses and shuttles from the red lanes. The SFMTA officials agreed to Fewer’s request…

The following Tuesday afternoon of December 4th, citywide advocates rose from their seats at the SFMTA’s semi-monthly board meeting as Carlos Bocanegra of United to Save the Mission delivered the transit justice first demands from a coalition of advocates from the Mission, SoMa, Excelsior, and Richmond districts…

The community is suffering and the merchants are suffering,” Edwan said. “We are losing customers and we are losing our businesses due to the red lanes.”

In a 2018 survey by the Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA) of more than 100 Mission Street businesses, 39.5% of the merchants surveyed said they have concerns about the impacts the red lanes are having on their businesses…. (more)

We have some ideas on how to solve a few of the problems that we will be sharing soon. Some of them involve a few changes in Sacramento. Stay tuned.

Let’s not forget the switchbacks on Third Street that are cutting off rides to people in the Bay View and Hunter’s Point and other points south along the T-Line. This is also a classic case of transit injustice.

Number one complaint about the SFMA is “They never listen to the anyone or do anything people ask them to do.” This needs to change.

Mayor London Breed’s huge political fumble on Prop. C

By Joe Eskenazi : missionlocal – excerpt

San Francisco’s mayor could have confounded and neutralized the city’s political left for years by embracing homeless measure Prop. C. Instead, she isolated herself, rejecting it with specious arguments.

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.

London Breed is the mayor, and you are not. We have “takes.” She makes “decisions.” The mayor’s decisions carry weight. They are tangible…

So, make no mistake: Breed’s firm rejection of homeless measure Proposition C — a choreographed Friday announcement coming in lockstep with Sen. Scott Wiener and Assemblyman David Chiu — was a crushing and credibility-destroying decision.

This was rendered even clearer by Monday’s splashy announcement from Marc Benioff, the city’s favored benevolent billionaire, that he was going all-in on supporting Prop. C. The measure’s backers had, previously, likened themselves to David battling the Downtown powers-that-be Goliath… (more)

There are better places to live and work that have nothing to do with Prop C and taxes. Businesses have soured on San Francisco for the same reason we all have. A high cost of living should at least guarantee a high quality of life and San Francisco is not delivering. We are poor has-been version of a once great city and no one seems to know how to pull us out of a race to the bottom, or if they do, they are being ignored.


New study says rent control doesn’t discourage new housing

USC researchers say the data shows that Prop. 10 wouldn’t stifle housing production. That’s a direct challenge to the real-estate industry campaign

By Tim Redmond : 48hills – excerpt

The landlord lobby – and it’s one of the most powerful interests in the state of California – is spending more than $40 million to convince voters not to support Prop. 10 – a measure that would allow (but not require) cities to impose effective rent controls…

The USC study, sponsored by the California Community Foundation, suggests that rent control tends to keep rents lower even in uncontrolled buildings, helps preserve housing and community stability – and has little discernable impact on the construction of new housing.

The study’s authors are not economists. The lead author, Manuel Pastor, is a sociologist. The two other authors, Vanessa Carter and Maya Abood, are urban planners.

But unlike the Stanford economists who put out a complex study on the economics of rent control, complete with equations that almost nobody can understand, the USC report looks at the existing literature on rent control… (more)

The market appears to be in a self-correction mood that could slow development regardless of how the outcome of Prop C and the repeal of Costa-Hawkins.

Grass roots opposition to SB 828 and AB 2923 mounts

By Richard Eber : capoliticalreview.- excerpt

Opposition within the legislature has been minimal in passing various bills intended to streamline the permit process to build so called affordable housing. However, not all the natives are pleased. Battle lines are being drawn in suburbia to fight “Big Brother” in Sacramento when they will be trying to enforce SB 828 and AB 2923 in the coming years.

It comes down to a case of “It’s not fair” that ordinarily refers to children complaining about their parents making them perform disagreeable tasks. Here it is reflected in a grass root political movement of outraged citizens fighting progressive government in Sacramento.

With the ink barely dry from Governor Jerry Brown signing SB 828 and AB 2923 into law, a similar out cry of protests is coming from communities throughout California. A lot of folks are upset by state taking urban planning decisions away from locals and giving them to unaccountable bureaucratic regional agencies they don’t directly vote for.

The purpose of these bills is to encourage the construction of much needed affordable housing by ignoring local zoning laws and streamlining the permit process. An outcry is being heard from cities who are unhappy with the impact these new construction will have on traffic, law enforcement, congestion, schools, recreational facilities and the availability of scare water resources… (more)

San Francisco ranks No. 1 in US in property crime

: sfchronicle – excerpt

It’s official: Your backpack, laptop, tablet or phone — or the vehicle in which you left all these things behind — are more likely to catch the fancy of a thief in San Francisco than any other major metropolis in the country.

FBI data released last week show the city had the highest per-capita rate of property crimes among the 20 most populous U.S. cities in 2017, tallying 6,168 crimes per 100,000 people. That’s about 148 burglaries, larcenies, car thefts and arsons per day.

San Francisco’s property crimes spiked from the previous year, shooting up from about 47,000 in 2016 to 54,000 in 2017.

Los Altos, Danville and Los Gatos had the three lowest rates of violent crime among California’s 245 cities with a population of at least 30,000 people. Each reported zero murders and fewer than 20 rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults for all of 2017… (more)

Looks like we are not imagining it. San Francisco is not only one of the worst major traffic nightmares in the country, but it now can claim to be the property crime capital as well. Lose those famous views and what do we have left to offer tourists other than a peak into their future if they follow our leads? What next? Ask the candidates running for office how they plan to fix the problem. And offer suggestions to the Mayor and our Supervisors. Contacts

Maybe we should quit complaining about how Los Altos, Danville and Los Gatos  conduct their business and consider emulating what they are doing right?

Editorial: Muni’s terrible summer may cost SFMTA head his job

It’s been a terrible summer for San Francisco Muni riders, and Mayor London Breed is losing patience.

In a letter to SFMTA director Ed Reiskin last week, Breed wrote, “I have communicated to the SFMTA Board of Directors that I want to see significant improvements in Muni service, and in fact, in all facets of the SFMTA.”…

The letter felt like a strong hint that Reiskin’s job may be in jeopardy. Replacing him isn’t likely to happen overnight — the SFMTA board is the body that would fire Reiskin. On Tuesday, the board voiced support for Reiskin after he apologized for Muni’s failures.

But Breed fills empty seats on the board, and vacancies could easily allow her to engineer Reiskin’s ouster if improvements don’t happen quickly…

The MTA has said the company failed to disclose those violations — but the MTA should have done its due diligence.

Asked about Muni’s string of woes, SFMTA spokesman Paul Rose said, “We did not correctly anticipate the level of impact on our system and riders at the time.”

Rose added that the agency is trying to find solutions that can be implemented quickly. To combat a long-standing driver shortage, it’s converting some part-time operators to full-time hours and working to certify more than 200 operators by the end of the year.

Those are fine ideas. Unfortunately, they should have been taken before the June tunnel closure. If they’re not implemented rapidly, they may not be enough to satisfy either City Hall or the hundreds of thousands of frustrated riders who rely on Muni every day.

This commentary is from The Chronicle’s editorial board. We invite you to express your views in a letter to the editor. Please submit your letter via our online form:

Please send your letter as we are invited to do. You may also want to suggest some new board directors if you have any in mind as a new one will be appointed very soon.

Fed-up locals are setting electric scooters on fire and burying them at sea

: latimes – excerpt

They’ve been crammed into toilets, tossed off balconies and set on fire. They’ve even been adorned with dangling bags of dog droppings.

As cities like Santa Monica and Beverly Hills struggle to control a rapid proliferation of electric pay-per-minute scooters, some residents are taking matters into their own hands and waging a guerrilla war against the devices. These vandals are destroying or desecrating the vehicles in disturbingly imaginative ways, and celebrating their illegal deeds on social media — in full view of authorities and the public…

In Santa Monica, where Bird is headquartered, City Council members voted to cap the number of scooters on city streets while officials craft longer-term regulations. Beverly Hills officials ordered them banned for six months. Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz asked officials last week to take “all available measures” to outlaw the scooters within the city.

While most tech entrepreneurs expect some criticism and calls for regulation when they introduce new and potentially disruptive products, they don’t necessarily anticipate the outright destruction of their property. They also don’t expect to see such carnage celebrated and encouraged on social media.

Yet mayhem directed at dockless scooters is the order of the day on Instagram’s “Bird Graveyard,” whose contributors relish publishing photos and videos of scooters that have been set aflame, tossed into canals, smeared with feces and snapped into pieces. The account has more than 24,000 followers… (more)


Bird Graveyard

If a bird or lime scooter has died, please send us pictures or video so we can honor its death. RIP