Saturday, April 02, 2005

Planning's Free Market housing policy

It's heartening to see that at least some people agree with me about the alarming We Need Housing movement that is sweeping all before it in San Francisco. Dana Smith of Daly City, who I've never met, had a letter in the Examiner last week that I could have written myself:

Kate O'Hara of the Greenbelt Alliance touts the benefits of high-density high-rises on transit corridors (Letters, March 25). However, Greenbelt's "smart infill" plan proposes the perfect formula for the largest land grab and displacement of lower-income people ever imagined in the Bay Area. The plan promotes the agenda of a "Who's Who" of corporate and developer lobbyists. They envision upscale "vibrant" communities re-colonized by highly skilled, higher-income residents who will be moving in from outside the Bay Area---they make up 50% of the Bay Area's population growth. The urban re-colonization relies on the use of redevelopment eminent domain to seize our homes and our small businesses to hand over to corporate developers. The Greenbelt Alliance plan recommends using massive re-zoning for high-rises, expedited permits, exemptions from environmental impact reviews, developer subsidies, developer protections from lawsuits and new state laws that mandate higher densities. If you think Greenbelt Alliance's smart infill plan is about saving the environment, then you probably believe oil companies' ads claiming they really care about saving wildlife.

She even scornfully puts the ubiquitous "vibrant" in quotes. Good girl! Smith could have been writing about San Francisco, since her description matches the We Need Housing movement here, wherein progressives, the Planning Dept., and developers form a coalition that is about to put 30-40-story residential high-rises in the Market-Octavia neighborhood just like they did, with Chris Daly's crucial help, on Rincon Hill. They now have their eyes on Market and Mission St. as a location for more highrises (see pages 34-36 of the Market/Octavia Neighborhood Plan). Never mind that these neighborhoods are already densely populated. They will be a whole lot more "vibrant" when young Marshall Foster and the zealots in Planning get done with them.

I disagree with Smith about how much authorities are going to use the eminent domain tactic, at least here in the city. Instead, what the Planning Dept. is doing, as she points out, is rezoning whole neighborhoods to allow for higher density, less parking, and higher buildings, making building housing even more lucrative for developers. Never mind that Muni is already close to carrying capacity. Let them ride bikes, is the message from the Planning Dept.

Randy Shaw in BeyondChron complained recently about the Mid-Market Redevelopment Plan and the arts funding scam that involves: "This looks more like a Bush Administration strategy than a progressive approach to supporting cultural work." In fact, the whole misguided We Need Housing Movement has a Free Market premise, that the more housing you build---even if you trash neighborhoods in the process---the lower housing prices will go. Wrong! As Smith points out, it's not going to be artists or hotel and restaurant workers who buy these condos and rent these apartments, even though there will be the usual token "affordable" units trumpeted by Planning and developers; these units will be occupied by the well-off from other areas, thus accelerating the gentrification of the city, while degrading public services and the quality of life for the rest of us.

In their nicely-done, 45-year anniversay hand-out, the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council congratulates itself---and rightly so---for stopping developers from putting mini-highrises along the Panhandle:

Back in the 1960s, speculators were buying up buildings along Oak and Fell streets and planning to build 80 foot, eight-story towers, like along New York's Central Park. HANC led the all-volunteer fight to change zoning to 40 feet and saved many of our historic homes.

Well and good, but what about other neighborhoods in the city---those unfortunate enough to be on "transit corridors"---that, if Planning gets its way, are going to be lined with 30-40 story highrises? Is that acceptable to the good folks at HANC?

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