Through the cracks journalism
The latest catch.
Let City Hall know you are fed up with the SFMTA.
Support Prop L – MTA Board Appointments and Budget
The amendment will split the MTA Board appointments between the Mayor and the Supervisors, 4 to 3 and lower the requirement to reject the SFMTA’s budget from 7 to 6 supervisors, putting the SFMTA management in line with other city departments, and making it easier for the Board of Supervisors to respond faster to voter requests. Contract approvals will still require a majority vote of the Board of Supervisors.
Link to legislation File No. 160389
Proponent: Supervisor Yee Opponent: Supervisor Wiener
They work for us. We don’t work for them. The SFMTA is the one that needs to shift policies and goals, not the residents. San Francisco needs a transportation system that works today, not a plan for the future. We need a Board who listens to the public not one that dictates to us. Taking seats out of buses and removing bus stops will not help our aging population take public transportation. Link to a Sample letter to the supervisors
By Kevin Kelly : mercurynews – excerpt
“In general, we need to review the entire catalog of options when it comes to helping our residents stay in their homes and thrive,” Cline said. “Options range from adding affordable housing to rehabilitating older structures to increase and improve housing … to rent control to … policies against evictions. Lots of options, but nothing will solve it alone.”‘
MENLO PARK — As the urgency grows for Menlo Park to build more housing with an influx of thousands of new workers looming, Mayor Rich Cline says he is open to the idea of increasing downtown zoning density.
“I could support an increase if there were tradeoffs that would mitigate against increased traffic volumes,” Cline told The Daily News on Tuesday.
Downtown zoning rules established in 2012 allow up to 680 more housing units, with 18 of those approved and 462 proposed, accounting for 71 percent of the total…
Adina Levin, who serves on the Transportation Commission and lives near downtown, said she supports the idea of increasing downtown density even if it means three-story buildings on Santa Cruz Avenue.
“We’ve had people who say, we want to keep the buildings the same to preserve the character … but if we keep all of the buildings the same, we lose the character of the people,” Levin said Aug. 18 during a housing crisis forum at Kepler’s Books…
Kepler’s held the housing forum — moderated by council candidates Ray Mueller, Cecilia Taylor and Catherine Carlton, as well as East Palo Alto activist Kyra Brown — to raise awareness about a growing problem that affects many of its employees. According to an analysis by the Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County, the county added 70,800 jobs and 2,501 housing units between 2011 and 2014.
Between 50 and 60 people attended the event, with roughly a dozen speakers blaming government officials for the problem. Kate Downing, who cited displacement in her recent decision to resign from the Palo Alto Planning and Transportation Commission, put the blame squarely on city councils.
“The root of the problem … begins and ends with your local city councils,” Downing said. “I hear a lot of blame about Facebook and I hear a lot of blame about Google … but they don’t make these decisions alone. … Be wary of the politicians who say that affordable housing is the only solution. … We need to get rents down, not just for affordable units, not just for the subsidized units, but for all units.”
At the event, Mueller said he hopes Menlo Park and East Palo Alto can “share revenue” to deal with the jobs/housing imbalance. Both cities are undergoing General Plan updates.
Cline said he’s also open to the idea of rent control, but noted the General Plan update might not be the best place to address it.
Email Kevin Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org
OpEd By JOEL KOTKIN and WENDELL COX : ocregister – excerpt
Jerry Brown worrying about the California housing crisis is akin to the French policeman played by Claude Rains in “Casablanca” being “shocked, shocked” about gambling at the bar where he himself collects his winnings.
Brown has long been at the forefront on drafting and enforcing regulations that make building housing both difficult and very expensive. And now he has pushed new legislation, which seems certain to be passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor, that makes it worse by imposing even more stringent regulations on greenhouse gas emissions, mandating a 40 percent cut from 1990 levels by 2030.
The press and activists may cheer the new bill, which will require massively expensive and intrusive measures likely to further raise housing costs. A 2012 study by the California Council on Science and Technology found that, given existing and potentially feasible technology, cutting back carbon emissions by 60 percent, roughly comparable with the new legal mandate, would require that “all buildings … either have to be demolished, retrofitted or built new to very high efficiency standards.” Needless to say, this won’t do much for housing affordability…
Some have seen Brown’s recent suggestions to loosen up some regulations and add to housing subsidies as positive, although they have little chance of making it through Sacramento due to environmental, labor and municipal opposition.
But even if it is passed, Brown’s proposal would hardly affect housing supply or prices, in large part, because the governor’s people-last radical environmental theology rules out what Zillow economists identify as the one of “tried-and-true” means of reducing housing costs: single-family tract housing developments on the periphery (where the city meets the countryside). In contrast, Brown’s housing proposal focused on larger, multifamily developments in urban core areas…
Brown and the middle class
Brown’s housing policies offer little to the middle class. Densification, for example, has no record of making housing affordable much of anywhere. It is also not what most people want, which is one reason that middle-class families, particularly young families, continue to move out of the state, according to an analysis of 2014 Internal Revenue Service numbers.
California millennials already have among the lowest rates of homeownership in the country, with many staying with their parents after their mid-twenties. Brown’s proposal would have at least produced small units, although such units are hopelessly unfit to attract young families.
The biggest victims: The poor, the working class and the new generation
Brown’s land-use regulation policies – including those tied to greenhouse gas emissions – have been disastrous, especially for low-income households. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, California has by far the highest poverty rate in the nation of any state when adjusted for housing costs. With a rate 50 percent above that of Mississippi, for low-income households, California is regulating itself into something of a third-world country, with large portions of the population stuck in permanent poverty… (more)
: cbslocal – excerpt
SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) — At least a dozen officers are living in RV’s in the parking lot right near the San Jose Police Department’s headquarters.
Mandatory overtime forces them to work up to 17-hour days. Combine those long hours with horrendous traffic, and commutes from as far away as Manteca, Stockton, Tracy and even Reno, these officers are staying in an RV during the week and then driving home on their days off.
It turns out the recreational vehicles are legally parked on city property…(more)
Wow! The cops living in cars need protection while the ordinary homeless people living in cars get the boot or towed if they don’t move. This is a new low in double standards.
A few weeks ago we wrote about the “by-right” development law, which Gov. Jerry Brown is pushing for approval this year, as a speedy trailer bill to the state budget with no public hearings. The narrative behind the governor’s bill is that it would help increase the supply of housing being built — both market-rate and affordable — and therefore ease the demand on housing that today is at crisis levels. But this deregulation-based approach, like many before it, is a false solution to the housing crisis. Instead, we point to other ways that state and regional government can increase housing with more helpful policies and real interventions.
Gov. Brown’s bill would, by state law “pre-emption,” deregulate housing development approvals, supposedly in the name of affordable housing: taking away public review hearings, trumping local conditions of approval and overriding Planning Commission discretion for development proposals that simply comply with a local inclusionary housing requirement (the minimum amount of affordable housing developers are required to include in projects). For cities that don’t have a local inclusionary requirement, the state law standard would be as low as five percent affordable units in a project to be “eligible” for by-right approval. In San Francisco, this deregulation would basically apply to all residential development projects…
As we reported earlier, in San Francisco, where we have a pipeline of 19,000 more approved units than have actually been built (not even counting those approved in The City’s big redevelopment areas), a backlog growing by approximately 700 more units each year, it isn’t the approvals process that slows down development, but something much more fundamental: financing for actual construction of approved projects. And deregulation — the favored approach of some politicians and developer front groups — isn’t going to affect that fundamental fact.
In actuality, increased deregulation has the potential for terrible consequences. As the head of the State Buildings Trades Council pointed out last week in the Los Angeles Times, both the state’s energy crisis and the national financial meltdown in the last decade were preceded by similar deregulatory approaches, with disastrous results as everyday people have experienced. The Building Trades leader was quoted as poignantly saying: “We have found the history of mass deregulation in America doesn’t work well for working people.”
Instead of focusing on the overblown boogeyman of regulation, if the political leadership were really serious about seeking solutions to the state’s housing crisis, there are other regulatory interventions that would actually address the question of housing production…
1) Give teeth to existing housing development requirements:…
2) Reform property tax law to promote residential development:…
3) Pair housing policy with the necessary state-level investment:…
4) Link state and regional investments to local government action:…
These are real ways we can begin to encourage good housing development across the state. But as long as developer front groups masquerading as “housing advocates” and some politicians continue to chase after false solutions based on 1980s-era deregulation policies, they will fail to meet the increasingly dire housing needs of Californians.
Peter Cohen and Fernando Marti are co-directors of San Francisco’s Council of Community Housing Organizations…(more)
Deregulation is largely to blame for the housing crisis. Not many people will dispute the fact that the banking crisis that started the world economic downturn was the result of the deregulation of the banking industry. The failure of governments to protect citizens from the excesses of the banking and investment industries resulted in the lack of trust in the governments that brought us to this global call for radial changes that is racking our world.
People who claim you cannot put the genie back in the bottle and reverse the direction we are going in would also have us believe that they are smarter than we are and they know what they are doing. We don’t think the status quo is helping most residents of San Francisco and we certainly don’t trust them to know how to fix the problems they created.
We shall see how the voters feel in November. Big money has not helped win many local elections lately. If that trend continues, we may see some changes in policies and priorities, especially if the decentralization of power plays resonates.
OpEd: by Zrants
I have often been asked why this dotcom boom is displacing neighborhoods when former ones did not. Having lived through a number of booms and busts I see some major differences this time. A short history of the development of the eastern neighborhoods should explain it, so here is Part One in the series.
History of the Mission and SOMA Development – Part One.
In the 1970’s the Mission, and what came to be called SOMA, were full of empty industrial building, factories, warehouses and old worker housing with a sprinkling of beautiful Victorians and other vintage properties that were abandoned for better neighborhoods. The cheap rents and relatively lax building codes drew artists and entrepreneurs with wild ideas to the neighborhoods of empty properties on empty streets. In some areas they were patrolled by gangs at night. City officials pretty much ignored those areas.
The new residents created a hip new community and cleaned environment with no help from private or government funds. Sweat equity was the currency we ran on. The activity and excitement of creating our own spaces, drew the best, most motivated problem solving talent.We had no money but we were young and full of energy and ideas.
Instead of tearing down the old properties, the tenants threw themselves into creating their homes inside of the old buildings. The wages were low and so were the prices of materials . We lived on a limited no-credit budget.
By the time of the first dotcom boom, the Eastern Neighborhoods were ready to join that movement. Our homes were finished. Our streets were clean and we were ripe for the picking. We had cool galleries and entertainment spaces and walls full of murals and we loved our funky old streets filled with empty parking spaces. The gangs were gone and the streets were clean.
During the first two dot come booms, possibly because of tighter height restrictions, higher taxes and higher interest rates, the rents stayed relatively low while wages sky-rocketed. People were paid ungodly sums for not doing much of anything by companies that had no idea what they were doing or trying to sell. The utilities could not deliver the service they were selling so many companies relying on it failed and the first dotbust so many layoffs.
We still had our low rents and our traditional talents to fall back on so things were not so bad. Most of us weathered the storm of the first dot bust and came back for the next round of ups and downs that was brought on by the millennium crisis. Once that was past us, we had the next round of layoffs. This proceeded the economic downturn brought on by the housing crisis.
(Stay tuned for Part Two)
By Mark Gimein : newyorker – excerpt
In 1948, a federal housing bureaucrat named Paul Oppermann, trying to come to terms with the perils of the nuclear age, proposed a solution to the problem of protecting America’s cities from the bomb: empty them out preëmptively by encouraging the population to move to suburbs and small towns of fifty thousand or fewer. “No power in the world could afford to drop an atomic bomb on a city of 50,000 or less” is how the San Francisco Chronicle summarized the talk that Oppermann gave to a local planning organization. Plus, Oppermann explained, you get slum clearance into the bargain. The next year, Oppermann assumed office as San Francisco’s planning director.
The story of Oppermann—who did not send the residents of San Francisco packing but merely crippled growth with arcane lot-size rules and off-street-parking-space minimums—comes down to us via a San Francisco Bay Area cartographer, programmer, and amateur historian named Eric Fischer. Fischer, a transplant from Indianapolis, has spent his free time in the past months digging through newspaper archives to understand how San Francisco housing came to be as insanely expensive as it now is…
With all the advantages of hindsight, it’s hard to believe that anybody didn’t see the skyrocketing cost of housing coming in New York and San Francisco (and other cities around the globe like London, Singapore, and Washington, D.C.). But, in fact, for many years the conventional thinking pointed in the opposite direction. Urban planners such as Oppermann saw growing cities as an overcrowded traffic puzzle. Later, it was said that the deterioration of old urban cores would push everyone who could afford it out to “edge cities.” Most recently, we were promised that information tech and the virtual office would make cities largely unnecessary.
In reality, the opposite happened. New York, San Francisco, Washington, Miami: these have become international centers of commerce, issuing an ever louder siren call to the global élite. The San Francisco Bay Area is the most widely discussed example; nearly half of the fifty-eight billion dollars invested in technology last year was concentrated in San Francisco and San Jose, California. But economic vitality of all sorts has become increasingly concentrated in a few desirable locales. Brooklyn is the country’s third leading locale for new businesses; Miami-Dade County, which has also seen spectacular increases in rent, is No. 1…
So what is to be done? One hardheaded answer is to build more housing. An increasing supply of housing would theoretically put downward pressure on prices. The reality, unfortunately, is that almost all urban construction happens too late. Fischer estimates that bringing San Francisco’s rents back to the level of fifteen years ago would require adding close to a hundred and fifteen thousand living units to the city’s current three hundred and eighty thousand—all in a city short on space and with infamously onerous building regulations. It would mean, more or less, an urban Marshall Plan for housing.
On the other hand, it is also possible to encourage the migration of wealth outside imperial metropolises. To some degree, this is already happening; Vauhini Vara wrote recently about the emerging technology scene in Denver. There are signs of success in smaller cities around the country, sometimes tied to universities, sometimes driven by refugees from Silicon Valley and New York. Given enough time, these cities may grow into true competitors. But enough time means decades, at the very least.
The recent history of urban planning has to invite some humility in offering solutions. Cities that seem to have been resistant to the efforts of planners like Oppermann to shrink them may prove equally resistant to the ideas of future planners about how to expand them. Simply describing just where we stand, though, has value. The cost of living in New York, San Francisco, and Washington is not just a local problem but a national one. That these cities have grown into centers of opportunity largely for those who already have it is not good for the cities, which need strivers to flourish. It would be a shame if the cities that so resiliently survived the anxieties of the atomic age were quietly suffocated by their own success…(more)
By Ted Goldberg : KQED – excerpt
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee plans to send a delegation to Washington, D.C., to meet with federal housing officials who rejected a city measure that would give low-income and minority residents priority in new affordable housing developments in their neighborhoods.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s rejection of the city’s neighborhood preference plan was met with anger from San Francisco’s African-American leaders.
The decision led Sen. Dianne Feinstein to call on the department’s chief to work out a compromise with city officials.
“I ask that you personally oversee this partnership to ensure that San Francisco can pursue anti-displacement strategies,” Feinstein wrote to HUD Secretary Julian Castro.
HUD rejected the neighborhood preference program, saying it could violate the 1968 Fair Housing Act by limiting equal access to housing and perpetuating segregation.
The city’s program would have given black seniors in the city’s Western Addition preference to move into a 98-unit affordable housing development this fall.
The Board of Supervisors and Lee enacted the neighborhood preference plan in part to answer the continuing departure of the city’s African-American population…
“The city is caught between a rock and hard place,” Iglesias said. “This is a collision between fair housing law and our ongoing chronic affordable housing crisis.”…(more)
A journalist doesn’t have to take sides, just try to make sense of this quagmire of obtuse government meddling we find ourselves confronting.
There have been allegations that HUD was responsible for large numbers of foreclosures that started the housing crisis brought on by the bad loans that sank housing values and brought on the financial meltdown. The banks got bailed out by the taxpayers, but not the homeowners. They were kicked to the curb.
Someone needs to investigate the claims about HUD’s involvement in the foreclosures.