Saturday, January 13, 2018

"Staying the course" with Breed and Conway

Ron Conway

From a SF Chronicle editorial:

One reasonable remedy would be for the board to appoint Breed as interim mayor, which would require her to step down from her supervisor’s seat — and she then would be allowed to appoint her successor, so the ideological balance of the board could remain intact. Without question, Breed will have her hands full adjusting to her expanded role as mayor, but she will have a considerable legion of appointed aides and career bureaucrats to keep the government rolling.

"Ideological balance"?  This refers to the great myth of San Francisco politics, that there are significant policy differences between a "moderate" faction and a "progressive" faction of the Democratic Party in the city.

If there are significant differences on important issues between London Breed and so-called progressive Aaron "Highrise" Peskin, I'm not aware of them (See Peskin and Christensen: Not a dimesworth of difference).

Breed was a blank slate before being elected after a campaign during which actual issues weren't much discussed, a feature of the awful Ranked Choice Voting system. As a consequence, she was quickly co-opted on policy by City Hall and city departments (see also London Breed: President of the Board of Supervisors).

From the Examiner the other day:

A day before Leno filed, Assessor-Recorder Carmen Chu announced Sunday she would not run and on Monday morning Assemblymember David Chiu announced he also wouldn’t run. That means there will be no well-known Chinese-American candidate in the contest.

That's why Breed proposed renaming Portsmouth Square after Ed Lee, a crude attempt to get votes in Chinatown.

More from the Examiner:

Both Chiu and Chu are considered more moderate, as is Breed, which helps Breed position herself as the go-to moderate candidate. Breed had early on picked up the support of former Mayor Willie Brown, who helped Lee become mayor, and the support of Ron Conway, a Silicon Valley angel investor and Lee’s prominent backer who encouraged making it easier for technology companies to flourish in San Francisco.

Ron Conway supposedly supports Breed so that the tech industry will continue to dominate San Francisco. From the Examiner:

Conway has much stake in the election. Past administrations have fostered a friendly environment for the tech industry. It doesn’t take the latest app to figure out Conway fears progressives could end San Francisco’s tech romance.

There's no evidence that the pseudo-progressives on the board of supervisors have any such intention.

From the SF Chronicle back in 2012:

Silicon Valley angel investor Ron Conway's family spent nearly $100,000 to defeat incumbent Supervisor Christina Olague in District Five. But even though the election is over, the San Francisco mover and shaker hasn't stopped spending in the district, to the benefit of victorious challenger London Breed.

Breed's campaign filings show that Ron and his wife, Gayle; sons Daniel, Ronny and Christopher; and daughter-in-law Michele each made the maximum contribution of $500 for a total of $3,000, starting on Nov. 10, four days after the election...

Opponents criticized Breed for the contributions she received from landlord and real estate interests. She said her campaign is not in debt and that she didn't ask the Conways for money. "
Just because someone gives you money doesn't mean they control you or own you," Breed said.

Typically obtuse comment by Breed. She didn't have to ask for the money, since Conway knew exactly what he was paying for with his contribution. For more on Conway's negative influence on local politics, click on "Ron Conway" below.

See also The imaginary "balance" on the board of supervisors and Another post-mortem on the District 5 election.

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More "pixie dust" from Scott Wiener

"Transit-rich" zones under Wiener's bill

California state senator Scott Wiener, who represents San Francisco, has introduced Senate Bill 827, which would effectively void all local zoning rules in “transit-rich” areas, meaning areas within a half mile of a rail station or a quarter mile of a stop on a frequent bus route. Wiener’s goal is to allow the construction of high-density housing in those transit-rich areas, thus simultaneously providing more affordable housing and encouraging more people to ride transit.

This bill would severely disrupt neighborhoods throughout San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, and many other cities that currently have frequent transit service, as maps reveal that it would virtually eliminate zoning in most of the land area of those cities...most people who live in zoned urban neighborhoods appreciate the benefits of such zoning. By limiting the maximum density of housing, zoning minimizes traffic congestion, noise, and other problems.

Moreover, neighborhoods are built with streets, water, sewer, and other infrastructure to serve the needs of the density at which the neighborhoods were built. Major increases in density would require expensive improvements to water and sewer infrastructure–far more expensive than building new infrastructure on greenfields–and streets probably could not be redesigned to accommodate the density increases in any case.

Besides, city zoning isn’t the cause of high housing prices, nor will densification make housing more affordable. With the exception of Houston, every major city in the country has maximum-density zoning, but housing prices are unaffordable only in cities that also restrict development of rural areas around the urban fringes.

Residents who oppose densification of their neighborhoods are often accused of being NIMBYs who are borderline racists getting in the way of market demand. But the urban-growth boundaries and other restrictions on rural development have so distorted California and other housing markets that any demand for density is totally artificial.

Without those rural restrictions, housing would be affordable to almost everyone regardless of race or incomes. The fact that homeownership rates in Brazil and Mexico are far higher than in the United States shows that homeownership is limited more by government regulation than by incomes.

The Portland building mentioned here a few days ago demonstrates why denser housing isn’t more affordable. Where low-rise housing in areas without growth management sells for around $100 a square foot, a supposedly affordable high-rise tower in Portland is expected to cost more than $320 a square foot. A Portland affordable housing study found that mid-rise housing costs 52 percent more and high-rise housing costs 68 percent more per square foot than low-rise housing.

On top of construction costs, land costs in urban areas that have been forced to grow dense by urban-growth boundaries are so high that it is nearly impossible to build enough density to make housing affordable. A buildable lot in Portland is at least 25 times more expensive than one in Dallas or San Antonio, and one in San Francisco is hundreds of times more expensive.

For these reasons, regions that have grown denser due to growth boundaries have become less affordable, not more. Since 1970, the population densities of the San Francisco-Oakland and San Jose urban areas have each grown by about 50 percent, yet their median home prices relative to median family income–a standard measure of affordability–have each tripled...

Scott Wiener

Rob's comment:
Of course San Francisco's growth is not limited by artificial "urban growth boundaries" but by geography, since it's surrounded by water on three sides.

From a writer who formulated the transit/housing concept on how that idea can be clumsily applied in San Francisco ((San Francisco's Housing Element---Built on misunderstanding):

...More important, transit ridership is not the only goal of transit-based housing. The main goal is community-building. Transit stations, especially heavy-rail stations, provide opportunity for new communities, whose residents are not dependent on automobiles for local or regional trips. These communities ("transit villages") mix housing with neighborhood-serving shops, public spaces, and other amenities, with streetscapes that encourage a safe and easy walk to the station.

By these characteristics, most San Francisco neighborhoods already qualify as transit villages. Their densities are far higher than in the suburbs---in fact, they are higher than nearly all urban areas outside New York City. They mix housing (multi-family and single-family) with commercial and neighborhood-serving retail uses; and residents can get around by foot and bicycle, as well as short automobile or bus trips (emphasis added).

Furthermore, a key transit village concept is scale. There is not one correct density for the transit village; rather, the appropriate density depends on the scale of the surrounding neighborhood. Transit villages respect the character of the surrounding neighborhood, especially as that character is supported by existing residents.

The [San Francisco] Housing Element, in contrast, ignores neighborhood character. It seeks to squeeze persons into these neighborhoods, often in odd configurations and against neighborhood opposition. It assumes that many new residents will not own cars---even though our research showed that transit village residents, while using transit for many trips, do own autos and need parking...

Think of San Francisco neighborhoods like Noe Valley, the Inner Richmond, West Portal, the Castro, the Inner Sunset and the Marina: They are jewels in their bustling shops and stores and active street life, yet they possess a human scale and accessibility. Other neighborhoods around San Bruno Avenue, the Lower Fillmore, Third Street and the Outer Mission are improving their commercial areas and can become urban jewels.

Yet, all of these neighborhoods are fragile and can easily be undermined. City planning needs to support neighborhood-based planning and high-quality Muni service in the built communities, and encourage new transit-based communities in the city's emerging central waterfront and Southern areas.

See also Scott Wiener's "contempt for voters".

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