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The Problem with Building Up in San Francisco

May 19, 2016

by Michelle Klug : thebolditalic – excerpt

There seems to be a never-ending supply of people who want to move into the city, yet there’s virtually no place to put them. A number of aggressive housing-interest groups have formed — some are lobbying to block future development completely, and others want to fast-track it in any way possible.

A recent New York Times article highlighted the actions of BARF (the Bay Area Renters’ Federation), a group that falls into the second category. Their stance: we need more housing for incoming tech-industry workers, and we need it fast.

But Manhattanizing San Francisco is not going over well. Beyond interest groups, affordable-housing advocates, politicians, environmental orgs and voters are all questioning the consequences of rapid luxury growth and whether or not it’s alienating everyone who isn’t a rich tech worker. There are a lot of potential problems, both logistic and cultural, that come with what BARF is suggesting. And we shouldn’t ignore them…


A rapidly growing city needs a reliable, efficient transit system, both within the city and regionally. Our current transit system is old, strained and unreliable…

A growing city needs a reliable, efficient transit system. In our case, a bus rapid transit that will help relieve our already congested streets. How can we expect to accommodate a rapidly growing city without that?


Between the Pacific and the San Francisco Bay, whales migrate through our waters, and sea lions suntan on our shores. Many large luxury development projects along the waterfront have been challenged out of fear that they will block some residents’ ocean views. It may seem minor, but the thought of a solid wall of waterfront development blocking bay views for commoners doesn’t sit well with voters…


Beyond the politics behind environmental concerns and citizens’ ability to enjoy their unique environment, there is the question of effectiveness. If we waive height restrictions, build up, build fast and build luxury units, will it even make a difference? If we lose views of the bay, change the culture of the city, create gridlock and literally live in the shadows, will we really achieve lower rents? Will the market then go back to normalcy and allow lower- and middle-class families to stay in their neighborhoods?

“You would have to double the size of San Francisco to actually have an impact on supply. It’s not going to happen. You’re not going to build to the level that you need to in order to have an effect,” said San Francisco supervisor David Campos…


Once a haven for hippies, nudists, weirdos, artists and musicians, the city now teems with tech busses and white guys in start-up shirts repulsed by the sight of our city’s homeless. If you’re a longtime resident, it’s hard not to be a little bitter. The end result of the decades-long gentrification of the Mission was 10,000 displaced residents, 8,000 of whom are Mexican. Indeed, many feel that the tech crowd has a general lack of care for the city and its culture — especially since their migration has quickly shifted that culture…

Aside from cultural diversity, there is socioeconomic diversity to consider. San Francisco is quickly shedding lower-income and middle-class residents. As depressing rent prices soar (currently $3,100 for a one-bedroom according to Trulia), those without high salaries or rent control cannot afford to live here anymore. This city (and all cities) need workers of all income levels to properly function — teachers, shore operators, plumbers, firefighters, hairdressers, shop attendants, cops, PG&E workers, etc.

“It changes the character of the city. It changes who we are, who we have been. We have been a progressive, avant-garde, artistic, cultural city because of the people who have come here. Because of the artists. Because of the teachers. If those artists and teachers cannot afford to live here anymore, than we’re no longer the city that we were. We’re losing that,” said Supervisor Campos… (more)

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