You want to live in Manhattan? Move there.

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(191)
Can you see Valencia Street?

I feel like I've been having this discussion for 30 years, and it still keeps coming back. The latest installment (thanks to sfist for the link) is a Slate article by Matthew Yglesias arguing that San Francisco could solve its housing crisis by becoming as dense as Manhattan. Lots of highrise condos and apartments in places like the Mission. A total of 3.2 million residents.

Obviously, a totally different city:

Obviously that would have a transformative effect on Oakland as well in various regards. It's obviously not "politically realistic" to imagine San Francisco rezoning to allow that kind of density. But uniquely among American cities, I completely believe that 3.2 million people would want to live in a hypothetical much-more-crowded version of the city if they were allowed to. You'd need to build another heavy rail line or three and do some better dedicated bus lanes, but it'd be affordable with a much larger tax base.

Here's the problem. Two problems, really.

1. That level of density hasn't exactly made Manhattan affordable. (Although if you want to move there, it's probably cheaper than SF at this point). There's been a huge surge in housing construction in NYC, and housing prices are still way too high. The housing market in San Francisco is so unusual that demand is essentially infinite; you can't build your way out of this.

2. There are already 800,000 people living here, and most of us don't want to live in Manhattan.

One of the reasons San Francisco is so attractive is that it's still a human-scale city. I've spent a lot of time in Manhattan, and the rush is pretty cool, and some urbanists say that's how we're all going to have to live in the future -- packed into tall buildings in dense cities -- but that's not how I want to live. I know I sound old and I'm becoming a curmudgeon and one of those "you should have seen us in the old days" people, but I like the fact that there are no highrises in the Mission. 

Yeah, San Francisco is going to have to grow in population. There are ways to do that -- to make dense neighborhoods that are still very livable. See: North Beach. But San Franciscans have generally taken the position that we don't want to be Manhattan. We want to be San Francisco.

Now: My vision is not in synch with how housing is allocated in a hyper-capitalist system. Me, I think housing should be treated as a human right and regulated like a public utility. Landlords should be allowed a "reasonable return on investment" but not the greatest profit the market will bear. Homeowners should see their property appreciate at a reasonable level, but not at a speculative level. Housing shouldn't be bought and sold as a commodity. And it should be allocated by seniority -- that is, the people who have been a part of a community for the longest get the better housing.

That's how you avoid the demand-exceeds-supply issue (and again, in this city, there will always be more demand than supply.) I know that's commie shit, but that's the way it is.

Still, whatever the economic or policy arguments, you can't force that level of density onto this city. Because before you make those kinds of plans, you have to check with the people who live here.

I wrote this mostly to give the trolls some red meat, since they don't seem to be agitated enough lately. Go to it, Adam Smith.

Comments

Some eastern Block nation circa 1988 would have made Tim much more empowered.

Progressobots circa 2013 missed the chance to put their money where their mouths were, but Tim could have easily gone red in the 80's and be living hand to mouth now.

Perhaps there is something mitigating non loser belief structure in 2013?

Posted by Matlock on Apr. 19, 2013 @ 5:15 pm

Where housing is assigned by the state. Tim should pay a visit.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Apr. 19, 2013 @ 5:40 pm

"that's the way it is"

No, that's your incorrect viewpoint.

Reality doesn't work that way.

But I have a feeling that reality and your mind are often in different places.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 19, 2013 @ 5:15 pm

I love the idea of allocating housing based on seniority. That obviously has nothing to do with you living in SF for 30 years. Just wondering if it'll also be a bunch of old farts deciding who is allowed to move to SF?

Thanks, this post perfectly sums up the 'I got mine' attitude thats way too prevalent in the bay area. Next time someone asks me what I find wrong with SF I'll point them here.

Posted by Meh on Apr. 19, 2013 @ 5:27 pm

Tim postulates an interesting idea.-- And taken to its logical conclusion, no one would be able to live in San Francisco. Stringing together several points that you have made over time: Housing is a right; Food is a right; Health-care is a right; freedom to migrate to any place from any place (ie., open borders) is a right and NO responsibilities attached, everyone living in San Francisco would have a right to a free life and no responsibility to contribute to the cost of providing for those rights.

So I have the right to have whatever I desire and no responsibility to pay for any of it? Where do I sigh up?

Posted by Guest on Apr. 19, 2013 @ 6:04 pm

This is the exact problem with the Bay Area and why we will be left behind. "Manhattanization" is an idiotic term that people need to get rid of. It is urbanization plain and simple. San Francisco will NEVER be Manhattan, let alone, New York City. SF needs something to rebel against and in all honesty, it will never be able to be as dynamic of a city. (Born and raised here in the Bay Area and have lived in NYC.) San Francisco needs to become a denser more urbanized city. We allow people in the Bay Area to tell us that we're better off as we are, but no. We are losing so much of actual diversity here. Not just race, but socio-economic as well. You can complain about pricing in NYC, but you also have to remember the things that level the playing field in NYC. Transportation is the biggest. Heating and water are typically included in your rent. Accessibility to areas outside of the City...the list can go on. I'm not saying SF should be NYC, but we need to step it up or lose out to....wait for it.....Los Angeles....seriously, LA is working on a new level of urbanism and is vastly more affordable than here. Let's not even get started on Seattle...

Posted by Guest on Apr. 19, 2013 @ 6:14 pm

And don't let the door hit ya.....

Posted by Richmondman on Apr. 22, 2013 @ 10:27 am

The author didn't mention gentrification, classism or race issues that would arise from San Francisco becoming more dense.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 19, 2013 @ 8:38 pm

The theory is that a few million more apartments would lead to greater affordability and greater affordability would lead to lowering the bar to residence for those traditionally excluded from housing in SF.

The theory goes on to state that the current conditions of artificial scarcity due to restrictive zoning is what is causing gentrification. If the newcomers had a ready supply of housing, the theory goes, they would not need to displace existing housing vulnerable communities.

I don't agree with the theory, however I understand it and can recapitulate it.

To a certain extent, we do need more housing. This theory is being pursued and we are seeing the production of the most profitable housing, luxury condos. Housing prices are rising as this happens.

No proponent of the "let the market build us out of the affordability crisis" theory has ventured a guess as to how many units would be required to be produced over what time interval to lead to what level of downward pressure on price.

At a certain point, this theory destroys San Francisco as we know it, the built environment's relationship to the terrain that establishes a unique sense of place. It goes all Yogi Berra on us, that so many people are living in San Francisco that nobody wants to live there anymore.

At any rate, the race and class arguments made by activists fall on deaf ears within the race and class communities they claim to speak for. Quezada's shellacking in 2008 should have been a wake up call. Activists need to switch to organizer mode and connect with the communities on their terms that intersect with activist priorities instead of berating people for not seeing things the activists' way before it is too late.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 19, 2013 @ 9:51 pm

Tim just can't admit to himself that he was one of the primary agents of gentrification in San Francisco. In a capitalist system, when you limit the supply of something but don't do anything to control demand, price goes up. He and the other "Progressives" (really reactionaries) who attempt to stop any kind of progress of any kind are the primary reason that The City has driven out the Middle Class. Fantasies of overthrowing capitalism are okay when you are young, but by the time you reach adulthood and certainly by Middle Age, one should understand the constraints of what is possible and try to make positive change rather than hold out for some utopian vision.

It is really too bad, too. A modest amount of high rise market rate smallish apartments (think Cubix, but big enough for families) could have made a real difference in the political climate of San Francisco in the 80's and 90's. Instead they waged a scorched earth campaign for rent control, while preserving the views and property values of the wealthy Telegraph Hill Dwellers. The inevitable result is that demographics went against them and the high water mark for political power of the Left in SF has passed us.

We need to go higher though for a much more important reason and that is the environment. I say this as a radical Green: every person we put in San Francisco means one less commuter driving in from Tracy.

Tim in many ways is a typical Boomer and he thinks that the world should put him and his interests first and screw everyone else. This tactic worked when they were younger, but as that generation becomes more and more dependent on younger people for support, you are going to find that the rest of us are going to tell you where to get off. Look at the Polk Street crowd for a good example of Boomers behaving badly.

Tim, I at least appreciate your support for things like the bicycle movement, which have the potential to pay great dividends in the longer run. But your land use policies are bonkers.

Posted by glenparkdaddy on Apr. 19, 2013 @ 10:13 pm

"I say this as a radical Green: every person we put in San Francisco means one less commuter driving in from Tracy. "

There is no evidence that the SF housing market has anything to do with the Tracy housing market. There is no evidence that building in SF stops urban sprawl. These are two very different housing markets.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 19, 2013 @ 10:26 pm

The Bay Area is perhaps a little more complicated than a city like NY or Chicago because we have more than one downtown (SF, Oakland, San Jose and a few smaller ones). And we have a major work center in Silicon Valley which is ex-urban. So there are many nexi of work locations and the old idea of a downtown and then suburbs only gets you do sar.

Tim's idea that SF should be dense in the way that North Beach is dense rather misses the main point of SF - it's diversity. saying that all of SF should be like North Beach is as bad as saying it should all be like downtown.

That said, there clearly are area's where we could build high - we've been doing that in SOMA for a decade or two now and the results are excellent. We're seeing higher blocks going up along Market and that makes sense too.

What I'd really like to see is high rises west to, say, 16th Street and south as far as possible given the demand, potentially all the way to Candlestick. While leaving the western area's more traditional.

Tim's premise is wrong. He sees it as either/or with respect to building high. But we can have both and thereby preserve diversity. Everyone gets some of what they want.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 20, 2013 @ 4:48 am

No evidence? Go look at the backup on the Bay Bridge every weekday morning. There are over 300k people who commute into The City every day and that is after subtracting all the commuters headed south. If you don't know anyone who commutes in from East of the tunnels, you really need to work on fixing your connections to the working class marcos.

Posted by glenparkdaddy on Apr. 20, 2013 @ 6:54 am

There are already 2m people living in the East Bay Suburbs and are ill served by transit who are not going anywhere. Those are the people who are commuting across the Bay Bridge, up and down I-880 and I-680 as well to job clusters around the Bay Area.

Your claim was that new ticky tacky tract homes in Tracy competed with relatively dense attached or higher rise condo homes in San Francisco. There is no evidence that the two markets are in any way linked. Traffic on the Bay Bridge is not evidence to that effect

Posted by marcos on Apr. 20, 2013 @ 8:16 am

pricey, then Oakland RE starts to appreciate and then, in turn, the further out suburbs. That is true with every major city.

The timing can be different tho. SF will be the first to recover; Tracy the last.

But we are all one major urban area.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 20, 2013 @ 12:21 pm

It is absolutely one housing market. What do you think that people in Tracey live in, chicken coops? Where is new housing being built? Where are people who live in the Bay Area going to live?

I can point to the academic studies coming out of the UC that the Sierra Club uses all the time to argue the same point if you like. But you have to promise to at least take a look at them, it will take me a while to find it.

Posted by glenparkdaddy on Apr. 21, 2013 @ 10:16 pm

So you're trying to tell me that there are actually house seekers who evaluate a high rise $750K condo in San Francisco against a detached SFH with a yard in Tracy?

There is no economic evidence to justify the case made by the sprawl preventers that building up in the inner city competes effectively against SFH in the suburbs or exurbs.

These arguments SEEM like they should work but looking under the hood, there's nothing there.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 22, 2013 @ 7:52 am

For instance, with BART there is an option to live 30/40 miles from downtown SF and still get to work in an hour or so, about the same time it takes Muni to get into downtown from the west side.

I know people who have looked for homes to buy both in SF and in neighboring counties, and then made their decision. It's not like the south, east or north bays are in another urban area, and ferries, freeways and BART can largely negate the fact that there is a few miles of water inbetween.

So while North Beach might not be competing with Tracy, much of SF is competing with much of our suburbs. It's just too bad that the Bay Area doesn't have a co-ordinated housing policy. Too many tiny fiefdom's.

Posted by anon on Apr. 22, 2013 @ 9:40 am

Fuckface, if there is a relationship between the disparate markets for SFH in the sprawling exurbs and high rise luxury condos in the City, it is de minimus and plays no functional role in the San Francisco housing market.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 22, 2013 @ 9:56 am

Do you always have such a hard time controlling your outbursts? Just remember: he who loses it, loses the argument.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 22, 2013 @ 10:49 am

Just naming our little fuckface for the little fuckface that the little fuckface is.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 22, 2013 @ 2:37 pm
Posted by Guest on Apr. 23, 2013 @ 12:33 am

http://www.redfin.com/CA/Livermore/1856-Blackwood-Cmn-94551/home/1131289

http://www.redfin.com/CA/San-Francisco/185-Russ-St-94103/home/44648802

Took me about 30 seconds to find two comparable places to live, both newish construction, both about the same size, both about the same price. One in Livermore and one in Tracy.

You really need to try the old fact based way of arguing. It really makes you more credible. Instead of the old "fuckface" "fuckface" "fuckface" way.

Posted by glenparkdaddy on Apr. 23, 2013 @ 10:49 pm

Hell you know what I mean. One here and one there. It sucks that the new stuff is all luxury though, you got me 100% with that one. I am sure we can build more middle-income stuff if we tried.

Posted by glenparkdaddy on Apr. 23, 2013 @ 11:31 pm

We can all learn from Tim Redmond. He embodies the Law of Unintended Consequences.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 20, 2013 @ 9:27 am

Tim just can't admit to himself that he was one of the primary agents of gentrification in San Francisco. In a capitalist system, when you limit the supply of something but don't do anything to control demand, price goes up. He and the other "Progressives" (really reactionaries) who attempt to stop any kind of progress of any kind are the primary reason that The City has driven out the Middle Class. Fantasies of overthrowing capitalism are okay when you are young, but by the time you reach adulthood and certainly by Middle Age, one should understand the constraints of what is possible and try to make positive change rather than hold out for some utopian vision.

It is really too bad, too. A modest amount of high rise market rate smallish apartments (think Cubix, but big enough for families) could have made a real difference in the political climate of San Francisco in the 80's and 90's. Instead they waged a scorched earth campaign for rent control, while preserving the views and property values of the wealthy Telegraph Hill Dwellers. The inevitable result is that demographics went against them and the high water mark for political power of the Left in SF has passed us.

We need to go higher though for a much more important reason and that is the environment. I say this as a radical Green: every person we put in San Francisco means one less commuter driving in from Tracy.

Tim in many ways is a typical Boomer and he thinks that the world should put him and his interests first and screw everyone else. This tactic worked when they were younger, but as that generation becomes more and more dependent on younger people for support, you are going to find that the rest of us are going to tell you where to get off. Look at the Polk Street crowd for a good example of Boomers behaving badly.

Tim, I at least appreciate your support for things like the bicycle movement, which have the potential to pay great dividends in the longer run. But your land use policies are bonkers.

Posted by glenparkdaddy on Apr. 19, 2013 @ 10:14 pm

Pathetic small mind. Basically the writer is pleading that SF never change. Welcome to the rest of the Universe and the reality of life, where the only constant is change. The rest of us should not have suffer in a high cost hovel just because the author can't handle tall buildings. You want a small town, move to Mississippi. But the author is not the only one with the god-given right to live in SF. The rest of us who want to should be able to as well, and to fit aus all here, without having tons more homeless, means building up. And the author should not be able to force people to live in Montana just so he can enjoy his "human-scale" life. If someone wants to build an 90 story bldg on their property that is their right. And anyone who doesn't like it is entitled to move to a farm.

Posted by BillW on Apr. 19, 2013 @ 11:35 pm

Not everyone gets to live in Monaco, St Moritz or Davos. If you want 3m to live in SF, then find the $100b to pay for the transit and get back to us. Then we can talk about the billions required to pay for the rest of the infrastructure to service the hoardes.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 19, 2013 @ 11:47 pm

argument is exactly what people always say when SF'ers whine that SF is too pricey. Not everyone can afford Davos and not everyone can afford SF.

Why does that matter, as long as there are other more affordable places you can like, like Oakland, Richmond, Daly City etc.?

We need more homes in SF but maybe not for 3 million. What we really need to do is find ways of people living near SF but not actually in it. I could see 3 million in Oakland over SF because they have the land.

Meanwhile we are spending on transit, e.g. the Central Subway which will help the people moving into all those SOMA high-rises to get around.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 20, 2013 @ 4:52 am

We're talking tens, hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure required to service such a residential load, dollars that are not forthcoming.

Not one more unit of upzoning in SF until the BART ring is upzoned to San Francisco's average 45' and is 1/2 built out.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 20, 2013 @ 10:11 am

high-rise new build is typically zoned only in those area's with existing and planned transit capacity e.g. SOMA, BayShore etc. We built the 3rd Street "streetcar to nowhere" and are building the Central Subway precisely because that is where the people are, or will be.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 20, 2013 @ 12:23 pm

Existing transit infrastructure is at capacity and does not provide rapid and reliable service to existing residents and thus cannot handle any new capacity.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 20, 2013 @ 1:33 pm

Most obviously, the 3rd Street "streetcar to nowhere" is under-utilized, which comes to no surprise to those of us who opposed it as racial pandering when it was first mooted. So we could add many thousands of units in the SE without a problem.

SOMA can be built up further because of the already planned Central Subway and HSR. Indeed those are over-engineered based on current demand - we need more people to fill them up.

Then we can build along major routes such as Market and Geary - in fact there are many apartments being built along Market right now.

We do not need to extort money from developers and suppress supply, in those areas where I often see empty streetcars and buses.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 20, 2013 @ 9:38 pm

You can't get to most places from most places in real time because transit is spotty. The major lines, both in the City and regionally are at capacity.

The T-Third runs slower than the 14 Mission and it has no ridership.

This system cannot support existing transit demand, there are no plans to invest in it to the extent that it can, there are no plans to make transit more attractive than driving, and there are no plans to build out a system that can handle existing plus zoned for loads.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 20, 2013 @ 9:44 pm

should build high-density homes along that corridor, ensuring that our existing transit infrastructure is fully utilized.

Transit capacity could also be greatly extended with more staggered working hours.

I do not buy the idea that we have to greatly expand existing transit but, if we do, then I'd like to see the funds go to expanding BART in the city, say out along Geary and Van Ness. Muni will never be up to scratch.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 21, 2013 @ 12:53 am

The T-Third has low ridership BECAUSE it runs almost as slow as the J Church. We can't paint our way out of this one, there has to be investment at the level of current deficit plus anticipated load.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 21, 2013 @ 7:28 pm

No doubt the T was built overground to save some money, but that entails a slow ride.

Nonetheless, as Rob Anderson points out below, it is already SF strategy to build high along major transit corridors, and so starting with transit routes that are under capacity, like 3rd Street, or where you can walk everywhere (SOMA) is a good plan.

Posted by anon on Apr. 22, 2013 @ 9:36 am

Fuckface, streetcars run on the street, subways run underground.

Slow transit does not attract anyone out of their cars. You can't "walk everywhere" in SOMA because traffic on the streets makes the neighborhood inhospitable to pedestrians, it has amongst the highest rates of auto/ped collisions in the City.

Once you take the slow T line to regional transit, then you're stuck on that for an hour or more each way. Ain't gonna happen, people are going to keep their cars and use them. TOD is a sham.

You've really got your head up your ass on this, Fuckface.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 22, 2013 @ 9:53 am

How do you know a moron on the Internet has lost an argument?

When all he has left are ad hominems.

Posted by glenparkdaddy on Apr. 22, 2013 @ 10:43 pm

They have these things called sidewalks and crossings. They work great.

And your distinction between subway and streetcar is ridiculous because they are the SAME TRAINS. They are overground at some points and underground at others. My point was that they work much better underground.

Again, it is official city policy to build higher on transit corridors and we should start with the under-utilized ones. The T-third may not be so fast or great but remember it was built for racial pandering and not based on strict need. Now we need to build that need.

Central Subway will help massively to create another high-density axis.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 23, 2013 @ 12:37 am

You want to live in Carmel? Move there.

The idea that the oldest US west coast city should be a quaint seaside village is absurd. Some of us want an urban lifestyle right here in SF and are not content with an unchanging city.

Don't even get me started on a seniority based housing system. SF would resemble the SW Florida retirement communities.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 20, 2013 @ 5:44 am

Well stated.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 20, 2013 @ 12:08 pm

No matter how much housing htey build, the number of people who want to live here will exceed it. It is not our responsibility to provide housing, services and employment to all who want to move here. And it should be illegal for non-citizens to purchase property.

Posted by Chingon on Apr. 20, 2013 @ 5:59 pm

with green cards and work visa's. I agree that people who cannot afford SF should not be subsidized to be able to live here. The best method of ensuring that we do not have too many people here is to price out those who do not contribute economically to the city.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 20, 2013 @ 9:39 pm

Sorry man, your first statement has no basis in reality. If San Francisco has a billion housing units, would the number of people who wanted to live here exceed it?

I disagree with you the second and third sentences as well, but at least they are stated as opinions. I think we have a responsibility to share our great city with as many people as we comfortably can. It will definitely improve their quality of life and I think ours as well, as long as we do it right.

Why do you think that it should be illegal for non-citizens to purchase property? Do you think that would help keep the price down?

Posted by glenparkdaddy on Apr. 21, 2013 @ 10:47 pm

There is not an adequate water supply for the level of population the density peddlers want. Worse there are huge sewage boxes under the financial district and south of Market that during the dry season start to overflow threatening to expose us to airborne illnesses.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 20, 2013 @ 9:58 pm

extra capacity could be built into the design.

In any event, water is more of a problem in southern California than here where, bluntly, it rains and snows a lot more.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 21, 2013 @ 12:55 am
Posted by Guest on Apr. 21, 2013 @ 1:00 am

Hey Tim Redmond,

I just want to let you know that your posts/rants about housing actually have a ton of supporters here in SF. Well, hopefully you already know that. There's something about anonymous online message boards that seems to make them have a universal frothing-right-wing bias. Maybe right-wingers have more free time? Who knows?

Yesterday there was an ACT UP San Francisco protest with 100-150 people present, demonstrating against Ellis Act evictions and the disparate impact they have on people with HIV/AIDS in San Francisco - many, many of them long-term tenants who are being displaced. Everyone there recognized the current housing crisis we have, and the fact that solutions to the crisis need to be geared towards rent control and stopping evictions. We can't solve the housing crisis with the free market, period.

Furthermore, given that the number of properties used as second homes and vacation homes increases with the market value of such properties, it is reasonable to assume that a large number of the high-end residences being built today will be vacant for at least part of the year. This is unacceptable - when a unit is vacant, it ceases to become housing. If it were possible, these vacant properties should be rationally expropriated to meet the need for housing in the city - and given to those with the greatest need for it. This is socialism - and I'm proud to be a socialist.

Posted by HeartTenderloin on Apr. 21, 2013 @ 3:26 pm

Sure, they've drifted deeper and deeper into total irrelevance over the past few years, but times are about to change! Call in the secret weapon... 100 Socialists!

Good christ. That's actually like the opposite of what the SFBG needs, lol. They're a dying publication because they promote a hardline, fringe view that relates to less and less local residents every year. So having the support of 100 fringistas who march down the street and fuck up everyone's Saturday afternoon isn't going to turn things around. Actually, it just makes it worse.

Posted by Scram on Apr. 21, 2013 @ 9:48 pm

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