Should we build lots more housing in San Francisco? Three reasons people disagree

by Julia Galef – excerpt

Some people, such as YIMBYs, advocate building lots more housing in San Francisco. Their basic argument is:

Housing in SF is the priciest in the country, with the average one bedroom apartment renting for over $3,000 per month (compared to the nationwide average of $1,200.)

The main reason rents are so high is because the supply of housing has been artificially restricted — new developments are constantly getting blocked by land use regulations and neighborhood associations. Meanwhile, demand to live in SF continues to rise. And since supply is not keeping pace, rents go up, as a growing number of would-be tenants outbid each other for the limited housing available.

Therefore, it’s important that we find a way to increase the rate at which we’re building new housing in SF, or it will be a city in which only the rich can afford to live.

I’ve been trying to understand why others are critical of this argument. I think there are three main areas of disagreement between what I’ll call the advocates and the critics, and I’ll briefly explain each in turn. (Note that I’m trying to present the strongest version of each argument, which may be different from the most common version.)… (more)

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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.

 

The big lie about California’s housing crisis

By Deepa Varma : sfexaminer – excerpt

SF-skyline

New SF skyline shot from the bay by zrants

It’s official: The rent in California, not just San Francisco, is too damn high.

California now has the highest poverty rate in the nation when the cost of housing is taken into account. Since 2005, more than 2.5 million Californians have been forced to leave the state in search of an affordable home.

Unfortunately, the prevailing supply and demand — “just build” — mantra put forward by opinion leaders is diverting state government from the hard truth that the market has not responded to the demand of California families for affordable homes — not luxury and market-rate homes.

We are told a big lie, that the solution to our housing crisis is to get government out of the way and leave it to the free market to let affordable housing magically “trickle down” to lower-income households. The truth, though, is developers build to make a profit, not to provide a social need. Luxury housing doesn’t trickle down, at least not at a scale to bring down rents in a meaningful way…(more)

Other countries take a different approach to values…

In World’s Best-Run Economy, House Prices Keep Falling — Because That’s What House Prices Are Supposed To Do

Eamonn Fingleton : forbes – excerpt

When Americans travel abroad, the culture shocks tend to be unpleasant. Robert Locke’s experience was different. In buying a charming if rundown house in the picturesque German town of Goerlitz, he was surprised – very pleasantly – to find city officials second-guessing the deal. The price he had agreed was too high, they said, and in short order they forced the seller to reduce it by nearly one-third. The officials had the seller’s number because he had previously promised to renovate the property and had failed to follow through…(more)

Big move, big bucks: SF Department of Public Health plans to relocate

By Joshua Sabatini : sfexaminer – excerpt

The Department of Public Health is considering moving from its headquarters at 101 Grove St., pictured left, to both Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, pictured right, and Laguna Honda.

San Francisco may have found a cure for its seismically unsafe Health Department offices in the Civic Center area: moving.

To that end, the department is considering relocating from its headquarters and other buildings in the Civic Center area at a cost of tens of millions of dollars.

The moving day discussions — it would, in fact, take a decade — come as The City is finalizing its 10-year capital plan due out March 1 and as discussions about the move have been ongoing for months among city officials.

The department is currently spread out in nine different buildings — some publicly owned while others are leased — in the Civic Center area, including the department’s main headquarters at The City’s 101 Grove St. public building across the street from City Hall, a building described as seismically unsafe.

The most recent cost estimate of the move is $60 million, which would be borrowed using certificates of participation and paid back over time plus interest.

The move would relocate the department to both the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Laguna Honda campuses. No final decisions have been made about the move, but plans show executive offices moving into ZSFG Building 9 and into vacant wings at Laguna Honda… (more)

Local activists are eager to make a New Years revolution

By David Talbot : sfchronicle – excerpt

A great cloud of melancholy has settled over Facebook land, or at least over those regions I inhabit. The coming ascension of Donald Trump has deeply darkened the usual year-end winter blues. But you can also feel a kind of strange euphoria in progressive enclaves like the Bay Area — the growing fierceness of soldiers eager for battle.

Of course if this rising passion is to have any real political impact, it has to be directed and disciplined. So I’ve been eagerly reading two new books that are loaded with useful advice about how to build a mass movement and make major change. The first, Rules for Revolutionaries: How Big Organizing Can Change Everything, is co-written by Becky Bond, an experienced 46-year-old San Francisco activist, who, with co-author Zack Exley, helped mobilize the sprawling volunteer army that came amazingly close to winning the Democratic nomination for a 75-year-old Jewish socialist from Vermont.

The first important lesson that Bond and Exley learned from the Bernie Sanders campaign: demand big changes. In recent years, note the authors, politics has become professionalized, with a “technocratic elite” focusing on small issues and running campaigns according to computer models. But Bernie thought big: He demanded a “revolution” to counter the “corporate oligarchy” that has taken over the country. And he wasn’t afraid to use the word “socialism.”…

Another key lesson from the Sanders campaign: “The revolution will not be staffed.” Because Bernie worried about being stuck with a big campaign debt, his relatively small staff was forced to rely on a growing multitude of volunteers, which proved to be one of the campaign’s great strengths. By leveraging teams of trained volunteers across the country, the Sanders campaign was able to tap into a torrent of human energy and ideas…

The year 2017 is off the election cycle so the political action is likely to move into the streets. That’s why, like Bond herself, I’m also reading “This Is an Uprising: How Nonviolent Revolt Is Shaping the 21st Century,” by writer Mark Engler and his activist brother Paul. The book is a deeply informative history of direct action, from Martin Luther King Jr.’s groundbreaking Birmingham, Ala., campaign in 1963 to Occupy, the Arab Spring and Black Lives Matter…

Stephen Zunes, a University of San Francisco politics professor whose study of nonviolent resistance is cited by the Englers, believes that we’re about to see a tidal wave of such popular action. “I think there’s going to be more street protests and mass arrests than in the 1960s,” he says…

There’s a growing disconnect between the social crisis in San Francisco and the political machine’s inability to deal with it, says Bond. “Where’s Mayor Ed Lee? Where’s the bold vision?” This is the kind of failed leadership that sparks a revolution. “We will see more direct action, more antieviction protests, more occupations, more efforts to build homeless shelters. If the politicians don’t act, the people will.”…(more)

San Francisco Chronicle columnist David Talbot appears on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Email: dtalbot@sfchronicle.com

I think I shall call it “government letdown”. That is the way I feel. The government has let us down. If this is the best system, as they like to claim, we are in trouble. Me thinks there is not a best and if there is, it doesn’t last. Politics is fickle. Thanks to David for letting us know that there is a plan or plans are in the works. We have no where to go but up.

 

New California housing laws make granny units easier to build

By Kathleen Pender : sfchronicle – excerpt

California homeowners should find it easier and cheaper to build a second unit on their property, or turn an illegal unit into a legal one, thanks to two laws that take effect Jan. 1.

The laws, along with a third that took effect in September, will ease or eliminate the off-street parking requirements and often-enormous utility-hookup fees that homeowners face when they create a second dwelling, often called an in-law or granny unit.

One set of rules will apply if the second unit is created within an existing space — such as a bedroom, basement, attic or garage. Another set will apply if the new unit, whether attached or detached, adds square footage outside or on top of existing structures.

Homeowners will still have to comply with local building codes, find a contractor and arrange financing. Sylvia Krug, who is looking to convert bedrooms in her Novato home into a rental unit, said she interviewed three contractors “and they all have yearlong waiting lists.”…

The laws that take effect Jan. 1 — AB2299 and SB1069 — amend the state law governing second units and rename them “accessory dwelling units.”

About two-thirds of California’s cities and counties have their own second-unit ordinances, but the state law is more permissive than most of them. Jurisdictions that have not adopted or amended a local ordinance that complies with the new state law by Jan. 1 will have to follow the state law until they approve a compliant one.

Under the new law, second units are allowed on any lot with a single-family home, but local ordinances can say where they will or won’t be permitted based on factors such as water and sewer services, traffic flow and public safety… (more)

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OP-ED The Eastern Neighborhoods Plan has Failed Us

by potreroview – excerpt

In the late-1990s, before the dot-com bubble burst, San Francisco’s eastern neighborhoods faced many of the same issues as today:  rapid gentrification and displacement.  In Potrero Hill and Dogpatch real estate investors gobbled up industrial sites made valuable by 1988 Live-Work legislation that was supposed to help artists, instead displacing them, along with small businesses and manufacturers. Developers skirted zoning controls, bought cheap industrial land and converted it quickly to more profitable housing, receiving tax benefits and exemptions from residential code requirements.

In an attempt to resolve land use conflicts, an eastern neighborhoods planning process began in 2001. The goal was to build complete communities, with a balance of land uses, as well as affordable housing, transportation, and new and improved open space to serve a growing population.

As the planning process dragged on, development in the eastern neighborhoods continued mostly unabated until 2006, when a 68-unit Mission District condominium project, 2660 Harrison Street, was appealed to the Board of Supervisors. The Board upheld the appeal, reversed the Planning Commission’s decision to exempt the project from full environmental review, and instructed the developers to evaluate its impacts on blue-collar businesses and affordable housing. The Planning Department then applied the same standard to a number of pipeline projects, effectively initiating a two-year moratorium until a comprehensive plan for the area was developed.

The Eastern Neighborhoods Plan was approved by the Board of Supervisors in 2009, at a time when the real estate market had collapsed.  The Plan emerged from what many considered to be an exhaustive community engagement process that identified a number of laudable objectives. The Showplace Square/Potrero Area Plan sought to balance light industrial, knowledge sector and design space to provide “good jobs” for residents and a significant amount of new housing for a diverse range of household incomes. It promised “a comprehensive package of public benefits” and rezoned much of the land in the Potrero Flats and Showplace Square to Production, Distribution and Repair (PDR) and Urban Mixed Use (UMU).

But the Plan had no mechanism to deliver on most of its promises, particularly those supporting mixed land uses and providing the public amenities necessary for complete, livable neighborhoods.

The idea was, since industrial land was inexpensive, conversion to UMU zoning would provide a viable means for developers to build affordable housing. A requirement that PDR be included within UMU projects was stripped out. In the end, speculators got a free pass to build more profitable, entirely residential projects; Showplace Square and Potrero Hill ended up with “anything goes” zoning markedly similar to what’d been allowed under Live/Work legislation(more)

Cheap affordable land with too-good-to-be-true deals for developers. This does sound like the “live/work” tax exemptions from an earlier era, but, the live-works had a minuscule displacement effect compared to the UMU conversions and other city policies and priorities, and, now we have the state bearing down on us demanding even more development.

My question for the state senate candidates:

“Given the push-back against displacement and forced lifestyle changes brought on by the Eastern Neighborhood Plan, and the opposition in other parts of the city to dense housing, loss of back yards, traffic and parking issues, if the voters show clear opposition to the Governor’s plan, what will you do if elected to the state Senate? Will you support the will of the people of San Francisco or will you support the Governor?”

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