Sunday, February 23, 2014

City progs' abject failure on housing

One Rincon Hill: Smart[sic] Growth, SF style

In their minds San Francisco progressives are always Fighting the Good Fight, speaking Truth to Power, supporting the Little Guy against the Big Guys, opposing War and supporting Peace, etc. It's like the Prairie Home Companion intro about Lake Wobegon, "where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average." In reality they're more like the Forty Year Old Hippie: "Two hundred trips and they've all been bummers. But I ain't givin' up!!!"

Take the Bay Guardian, which in the last 15 years has screwed up every important issue facing San Francisco, including housing. Former Guardian publisher Bruce Brugmann looks back and celebrates how he and Sue Hestor "terrorized big developers" who tried to "Manhattanize" San Francisco (Sue Hestor's 70th birthday party: "We Shall Overcome"):

Well, the Hestor faithful may not have "overcome" the big developers and their latest monstrous Manhattanization plans. But they have come pretty damn close. On Sunday, the day after Sue's party, the Warriors caved on its waterfront project and Matier and Ross did a Chronicle column with the head, "Warriors call for timeout on Waterfront arena plan."

Nope, not even close. The Warriors' project is not dead yet, the ballot initiative is not passed yet, and there's even litigation trying to keep it off the ballot.

And the Guardian hasn't been helpful for years in opposing "their latest monstrous Manhattanization plans," to put it mildly.

The Guardian's campaign against highrises in downtown was about office buildings, but now it's about residential highrises, about which the Bay Guardian has been essentially AWOL. Back in 2005, when Chris Daly's Rincon Hill highrise project was moving briskly through the process, Brugmann editorialized against it lamely:

Simply put, five more towers of luxury condos is too many. No matter how lucrative the payoff, when the projects come through for final approval, city leaders should reject at least two of these towers.

Take that, "big developers"! Turns out that the Rincon Hill highrise is mostly providing pieds-a-terre for rich people from out of town. Gee, what a surprise.

The Guardian didn't even mention the massive Market and Octavia Plan---40-story highrises at Market and Van Ness!---until 2007, after it was already passed and a done deal. In 2008 the Guardian wasn't worried about what that kind of population density will do to the city and its infrastructure. Instead we got this: "The city needs to do a real study of how shadows and wind affect people on the street before it approves more high-rises."

The Guardian also came in late and lame when City Hall allowed UC to rip off the old extension property on lower Haight Street.

Steven Jones in the Guardian the other day:

Real estate speculators and greedy capitalists are rapidly changing the face of San Francisco, killing its diversity and some would say its very soul, and the Mayor’s Office hasn’t done anything of any real substance to address the problem.

Neither has the Guardian for the last ten years. What happened: what I called the We Need Housing movement was subsumed by the dumb Smart Growth movement, which meant that developers were essentially given a green light for any and all housing projects in San Francisco. The problem was/is that this approach brought not a lot of smaller housing developments with affordable housing but large, Stalinoid projects with market-rate housing that were way out of scale for a relatively small city like ours---the Market/Octavia Plan, Treasure Island, Parkmerced, etc.

The "progressive" Smart Growth approach to housing has now turned San Francisco into a developer's dream. One of the formulators of the transit corridors theory on housing warned the city that City Hall was misinterpreting it by applying it to city neighborhoods.

Even I tried to spread the alarm here back in 2005:

As I've pointed out before, the greatest threat to the city's neighborhoods isn't from greedy developers but rather from the powerful alliance of developers and progressives who constitute the city's We Need Housing movement. Progressives have adopted a Free Market approach to housing in the city. The classic, right-wing theory: build enough housing and housing prices will go down. The flaw in the argument? Building housing for rich people won't produce housing for Chris Daly's constituents in the Tenderloin. Or for those of us who work in the hotels and kitchens of San Francisco. Instead, it will just bring more well-off people into the city to buy condos with a view of the bay and the city.

And that's exactly what's happening now. The only interruption to this process was the Great Recession that made it hard for developers to get loans. The development floodgates are now wide open.

Sue Hestor herself wrote a pretty good op-ed on the subject of highrise development back in 2007, but that was the last Guardian readers heard about the subject.

Progressives---with of course Mayor Newsom's support---created the political foundations for the present accelerated gentrification of the city. Now it's like the last scene in Orwell's Animal Farm, with a few of my alterations:

No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the progressives. The creatures outside looked from progressive to developer, and from developer to progressive, and from progressive to developer again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

Can we build our way out of an affordable housing shortage? Calvin Welch doesn't think so.

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At 9:19 AM, Blogger Rkeezy said...

Follow the money! All the backing for pedestrian and bicycling lobby groups can't just be coming from member donations...

You said it right - building luxury condos (which is all any developer wants to produce, which could be connected to greed and it could be connected to it being impossible to produce new cheap housing in SF without subsidies) isn't going to bring down prices. We're just going to have more Chinese businessmen buying things up for cash value, the developers get paid, city hall gets their property taxes, and the rest of us get hosed. You'd think progressive minded people would be categorically opposed to this trend, but unfortunately they've seem to have bought into the BS that city hall and the developers are selling...

At 4:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

so what, developers are going to build buildings that chinese businessmen will then buy and leave empty?

How does that hose anyone anyway?

At 7:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, if you can't afford to live in SF, then you just can't. It's not for everyone.

There's always Oakland.

I love it here and I'm glad I scrimped and saved and didn't whine about housing prices when I bought my fixer in Noe Valley 25 years ago. I'm quite happy.

At 1:19 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Yes, and still another "quite" anonymous asshole.


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