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San Francisco's Fog Over Growth (bloombergview.com)
111 points by saeranv on Jan 12, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 96 comments



The point about people in rent controlled apartments having very little incentive to favor increased density is a different one than I've heard, and a telling one. If between owners and rent-controlled apartments you have a large voting majority, you end up with a large voting majority that has no interest in making the city more welcoming to newcomers.

People often talk about middle class people being driven out of SF, I think it's actually dangerous that even people making well above average wages have trouble affording housing alone. Many tech workers I know earn a decent living but having an apartment to themselves is simply unaffordable.

Yes, yes #richpeopleproblems, and of course we should worry about people further down the income scale, but it's indicative of just how pathological the situation has become that even people who are well off can't afford the city comfortably.


I agree that part of the motivation for people supporting zoning is to preserve or increase their property values. But I think that people that spend a huge chunk of change on a house should care about preserving the neighborhood they bought into. As an extreme case, without zoning, what if each home lot on your street were turned into a high rise residential or commercial building? I don’t think any homeowner expects nothing to change, but they bought a house hoping that it continues to have a similar quality of life going forward. It’s not all about money. Peace and quiet is important to people, for example. Lack of traffic is important to people. Having one neighbor on each side rather than 100 is important to people.


Zoning is important. The issue is that it is often abused and poorly thought out in San Francisco. For instance, Mission Bay [0] was a rail yard with no inhabitants sitting at the foot of San Francisco, just south of urban SoMa. It was a prime opportunity to make it a dense, metropolitan extension of the city with little voter backlash since there were no residents in the area. Not to mention, it is also the most accessible, commutable part of the city with 2 Caltrain stops and 2 freeway on-ramps. Instead, they made it it a low-rise biotech neighborhood with primarily 40 ft zoning.

There's another development in Downtown SF (SoMa to be exact) where current residents are suing to block the transformation of a PARKING LOT into a housing/office complex with over 200 units of affordable housing[1]. The area is already dense and urban, the building itself is not out of character (there's a 400 ft hotel right next door). It also introduces a lot of much needed open space to Central SoMa. However, some residents in the area are suing, claiming that development would cast shadows on nearby parks (0.08775% and 0.167% of sunlight in winter months) and increase traffic to the area. The lawsuit will probably delay the development for years. It's just sad to see such an irrational attempt to impede the progress of a potentially great city.

0: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mission_Bay,_San_Francisco

1: http://www.5mproject.com/


Unfortunately there are many examples of this in SF. Over time, this leads to very poor land use. Other examples:

1) Balboa reservoir : people prefer to keep it as an empty parking lot

http://sf.curbed.com/archives/2015/05/08/at_balboa_reservoir...

2) Francisco Reservoir : although there is already a park nearby, they chose to turn this into another park

http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/SF-s-Francisco-Reservo...

Current residents are unfortunately much more vocal than potential future residents or housing advocates.


If every house around you is turned into a high-rise then your property values are going to shoot up massively. So, cash out and move. The real question is why can 1x people living in an area decide that 99x people get to move there or not.

In the end Mixed use walkable communities are much better for both peoples health and the environment. You can always move to the middle of Montana if you don't want to live near development, but carving out the hart of city's and saying "FU I have got mine" causes worlds of problems.


That's an excellent point. I live in an R1 neighborhood, but a buddy of mine lives in a SFH in an R2. He would technically be allowed to convert his SFH into two 3bd/2ba apartments, he could sell one of them, and profit so much that he would cover his entire mortgage with lots left over. While he'd still face permit challenges, this has been done (legally, with all required permits) on his block. However, this remains a relatively rare situation in SF.

I gotta say, for a moment there, I was a tad bit jealous that he had this option.

Yeah, truth is, if large sections of SF were rezoned for multi story dwellings, property owners might very well benefit, since the value of their land could substantially increase. I'm not sure how this would all work out, but it certainly seems like a possibility.

This is why I think that SF's opposition to new development isn't really driven by property owners who wish to maximize the dollar value of their asset. I think it's rooted more in a very preservation minded populace (not always such a bad thing), a left-leaning hostility to "greedy" developers (not always unwarranted), and a deep suspicion of redevelopment projects that they worry will tear out the soul of a community and replace it with something corporate and soulless (plenty of that has happened). There's also a tendency to leave good enough alone (prop 13 insulates property owners from the tax burden of massively rising property values, and many people just aren't interested in more money once they're happy. If you live in a neighborhood you like just the way it is, and you can easily afford it, what do you care if you could make more money tearing down your house and building an apartment building? You're more interested in making sure that doesn't happen right next to you).

In short, San Franciscans will happily vote against their own economic interests (well, their own asset value maximization) in order to "preserve" what they like about where they live.

While we probably agree that the bay area needs more density, I'd be against tearing out the french quarter in New Orleans, even if that would lower the price of housing there. I personally think that the bay area actually can substantially increase density, both in SF and out, and vastly increase excellent light rail (preferably underground) without tearing down old and interesting neighborhoods, and that the city that would emerge would be a richer and more interesting one.

Truth is, I put "preserve" in quotations, because one of the best qualities of San Francisco has been lost. Interesting people, with a half formed idea that is too strange or misunderstood to be funded as a thing, used to be able to move to SF and give it life. That's largely gone, because it's nearly impossible to live in SF without working so hard to pay the rent that you have no time left for things that nobody understands well enough to pay for. You do have to ask yourself what you're preserving and what you're losing. Interestingly, I actually think this will influence tech as much as the arts. There are now career paths in tech that are lucrative and are available more in SF than anywhere else, but there's certainly a wild, misunderstood, and creative side of tech that nobody will fund because they just don't understand it yet, and that requires the freedom of time to tinker. SF may lose this just as surely as it loses interesting non-tech arts and culture.

In fairness, this has also happened in the vastly more dense and urban city of New York. I found this link about the galapagos art project moving to Detroit very interesting: "You can’t paint at night in your kitchen and hope to be a good artist. It doesn’t work that way… If the core competitiveness of the big apple is culture, but actually being an artist in New York City costs you a full time career in another industry, then the best and brightest – the ones our meritocracy would obviously miss the most - won’t allow their work to suffer just to be among our tall buildings."

http://www.galapagosdetroit.com/whydetroit/

Not sure this will work, but my guess is that Patty Smith was right when she said "New York has closed itself off to the young and the struggling. But there are other cities. Detroit. Poughkeepsie. New York City has been taken away from you. So my advice is: Find a new city."

I'm all for building more density in SF, but finding a new city sounds like good advice.


>This is why I think that SF's opposition to new development isn't really driven by property owners who wish to maximize the dollar value of their asset. I think it's rooted more in a very preservation minded populace [...] and a deep suspicion of redevelopment projects that they worry will tear out the soul of a community and replace it with something corporate and soulless (plenty of that has happened).

Even worse has happened in living memory: the Embarcadero Freeway. For those not familiar with it:

https://lostsf.wordpress.com/2010/11/07/the-elephant-obstruc...

I too think that way too much weight is placed on the "NIMBYs stopping new housing supply to drive up their property values" theory. The one friend I know who owns a house in the Mission wants to see more density as he thinks that will drive up the value of his home. And here in Mountain View, over the last few years the voters have become increasingly pro-housing, and the city council is responding.

In the case of San Francisco, there was a lot of truly destructive behavior in the name of progress and development in the 20th century. The development process we see today emerged in reaction to that, in an effort to limit the destruction, and then to roll it back. That doesn't mean that there aren't old hippies who are against anything new, of course. But that doesn't mean that all development ideas are good either.

I really wish everyone would take a good long look at the pictures of the Embarcadero freeway before lecturing people on how it's always wrong to oppose development. NIMBYs need to be reassured, not mocked for thinking there's such a think as bad development.


"And here in Mountain View, over the last few years the voters have become increasingly pro-housing"

MV is at least as NIMBY as other areas. A few years ago, "preservationists" fought a planned Home Depot at 85 & El Camino out of claimed noise and traffic fears (the lot is literally right next to the freeway). It was forced to the ballot and defeated, resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars in local sales tax share going elsewhere.

A residential care facility went in there instead. The subsequent reduction in commercial traffic there resulted in the supermarket next door also closing.


I was here for that vote, and "preservation" was not an issue. The lot in question had been unoccupied for about 20 years at that point. People were eager to have it replaced with something useful.

>It was forced to the ballot and defeated

Home Depot voluntary withdrew their application for a zoning variance before it ever received a hearing with the City, and then filed the ballot initiative instead. This unwillingness to even try to work with the city council was seen by voters as arrogance, and led to the measure's defeat.

>A residential care facility went in there instead.

Actually, a (large) medical center went there:

http://www.pamf.org/mountainview/

>The subsequent reduction in commercial traffic there...

Note that since the lot had been unoccupied prior, the construction of the medical center led to an increase, not decrease, in commercial traffic.

>...resulted in the supermarket next door also closing.

The ballot measure was defeated on March 5, 2002. The supermarket closed on November 8, 2014. It seems unlikely the two events are connected.

This level of inaccuracy when arguing against "NIMBYism" is unfortunately common here in Mountain View. Indeed, I've seen worse. Which is why I encourage to people to understand historical context and try to engage with people they think of as NIMBYs rather than just dismiss them out of hand. Even in San Francisco.


1) "residential care" is my error; I was thinking of the care facility two blocks down, where Cherry Chase Bowl was.

Now regarding the "this level of inaccuracy" snark:

2) "large medical center" is an odd term for a place with neither emergency nor urgent care. And it itself is not commercial traffic given that no (taxable) commerce goes on there.

3) the Lucky supermarket closed in 2014, not the Albertsons that was there in the 2000s.

4) you ignore that there were two different Home Depot proposals (a full store and, later, an Express), at least one of which won Planning Commission approval.

5) "The lot in question had been unoccupied for about 20 years at that point." No, the lot was never unoccupied -- the Emporium building remained into the 2000s. I lived a block away until 1995.


How do you propose dealing with NIMBYs who refuse to be reassured?



As I understand it, that's less about reassurance and more about setting a precedent that can be used to force the NIMBYs into silence.

Which I, personally, love. But perhaps isn't what parent meant by reassuring people.


A big difficulty of building a new city in the US is that, in the age of the car, we'd not build anything dense enough to feel like a city. I live in a metro area that has a bit over a million people, but in no way does it feel anything like a European city, NY or SF. Without any pressure that makes land expensive, we build wide, single family houses on half-acres.

Just look at the difference between SF and the rest of the bay: SF is interesting because space really is limited, and it's old enough to have been built before the car took the US by storm.

So I have little hope for a place like Detroit, KC, Austin or Chattanooga to ever grow to become an interesting city without some new, technological pressure that makes us all want to minimize car use.


True, the US is kind of a black hole for urbanity, but you'd be surprised how many hidden gems there are.

East coast obviously is not strained for fantastic cities. The South has fantastic places; Charleston, Savannah, New Orleans are rightfully world class (and surprisingly expensive, for a good reason). Ohio Valley cities are charmers in their own right, though urban renewal really did a number on them. Great weather too; sultry heat in summers, relatively mild winters.

Plus, the US can offer attractive urban experiences that you'd be hard pressed to find in European cities. Many streetcar suburbs offer that unique mix of spacious living and convenience within walking distance, where you're often surrounded by stupendously attractive architecture and lush mature greenery.

But you're right of course, the car has absolutely killed the American city, and in most places growth continues to be on the periphery. It's no wonder that SF is so popular, it's really something of a refuge. It's not as an inhuman place as NYC (gargh, what a dump, a city for machines), but it is also not the strip mall wasteland that's most of the US. It really hits that sweet spot IMO, wish I could afford it.


You do see walkable areas spring up where older downtown cores have gentrified--Raleigh NC is one example I'm personally familiar with. But these walkable cores are typically relatively small.

The cities of the desert Southwest like Phoenix and Las Vegas offer an example of the type of housing people tend to buy (and therefore the type of housing that gets built) when there's plenty of cheap land.


Phoenix is finally hitting the limits of how much it can sprawl. And it's also beginning to produce more walkable communities: downtown Tempe, Chandler and Mesa are all more walkable, and developers are building downtown, walkable apartments, instead of the old parking-lot-centric complexes. While it's still incredibly difficult not to own a car, if you want a walkable lifestyle, it's nearly possible. Just not in midday during the summer.


Low-rise San Francisco is very pleasant, probably the most pleasant place I could imagine living. It's quite walkable and quiet in the right places. And in a place like that you can know your neighbors. Ironically, people live more segmented lives the higher buildings get.

I also understand why people would want to maintain the quality of life they had when they purchased their house, even if it is at the expense of community at large. As such, there should be a significant property tax to compensate for comfort when housing costs are so high.

Then again, the city and state have bizarre tax laws for property so I could be suggesting a political impossibility for all I know.


Unfortunately, property tax law in California does the exact opposite. The tax can't be higher than 1% of the assessed value of the house, and that assessment can't go up by more than 2% every year as long as the house isn't sold. So the people who have been living in the neighborhood the longest and complain the most about "neighborhood character" also pay much less property tax than their neighbors. And by "much less" I mean 10-20 times less in some cases, given how much property values have gone up over the past 40 or so years.


The tax rate can also be passed down to your heirs upon your death. It also covers commercial buildings. What was originally sold as "don't tax grandma out" is obviously a power move to create a land holding elite.

I'm a property owner, but I don't really like the system. I also don't like how mismanaged the property taxes here are, but that's another thread.


Can't agree more. The laws made in late 70s were made to benefit a specific class of people, and they are most vocal against any change which is aimed to bring equality.


"The tax rate can also be passed down to your heirs upon your death."

So can rent-controlled rents, believe it or not.


Not quite. There are "parcel taxes" too that keep going up.

And 2%/year increase isn't inconsequential.


2%/year is pretty inconsequential.

Consider that the average inflation rate is 3-4%/year[1][2], and houses generally tend to increase in value at roughly the same rate as inflation[3]. Thus, your property taxes are expected to get cheaper in real cost every year, assuming the housing market is relatively stable.

Of course, in SV, the situation is much much worse than this, because housing prices have grown much faster than inflation due to the booming economy.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inflation#Measures [2] http://inflationdata.com/Inflation/Inflation_Rate/Long_Term_... [3] http://observationsandnotes.blogspot.ca/2011/07/housing-pric...


Parcel tax increases are voted on so they aren't just random increases. And I think they need 2/3 to pass.


But parcel taxes are added by popular vote of city/district residents, so they almost always pass.


I've known maybe 20% of my neighbors in SF,and I didn't live in high rises. I've lived in the low density housing you speak of. Sunset, Tenderloin, Nob Hill, and Russian Hill. People in the Sunset live very insular lives. Maybe it has to do with the immigrant nature of it, or maybe because some places are brothels or grow houses. Tenderloin had a better sense of community, and it's probably the highest density of all four places.


I'm sure this is totally different for various different people and different blocks, but over the course of 10 years living in 4 neighborhoods in SF (Soma, Mission, Inner Sunset, Inner Richmond) I never knew more than one neighbor along each street. I moved to Oakland 3 months ago to a very communal street and already know every person along our approx 25 house block. The lack of neighbor contact always seemed pretty ingrained in SF culture for whatever reason.


There's a really interesting book called [A Pattern Language](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Pattern_Language) that goes into this.

They attribute tall buildings with insanity, as denizens begin losing scope of their world simply by virtue of not being able to see beyond buildings.

Another thing to note is that "Centers of Culture" are beginning to become more amorphous, as tech gentrification is whitewashing a lot of what gave San Francisco its identity. The Mission is probably the most glaring example of transformation, for better or worse.


Most of SF is not low-rise buildings, but 1–2 story single family houses.

Re-zoning SF to allow low-rise buildings throughout could increase density by something like 3–5x.


You have a right to your private property. That right does not extend to publicly owned land or land owned by other private parties. When you buy land in the heart of a large metropolitan area in an under-developed neighborhood, it's reasonable to expect that the city will densify and grow around you. Thinking that nothing will change is the unreasonable expectation here. San Francisco has been continuously changing for 150 years, expecting the city to freeze for you as soon ay you buy a piece of property does not make sense.


I don't mind that some homeowners seek to block new housing; that's their right, and might be in their best interest.

What I mind is that SF's local media never blames these people for their role in the housing crisis, and that ostensibly progressive organizations stand by their side, even though thwarting change and enriching the establishment at the expense of newcomers is about as far from progressive as you could get.


"preserving the neighborhood they bought into"-That means you're condemning all but the very well to do from every moving in in the future. You've lucked out on life's lottery, to be able to own a house in San Francisco.


... which is sort of an interesting criticism, until you consider that you get a chance to "luck out" every 6-8 years or so when the real estate market crashes.

There have been at least 3 such occasions since the Netscape IPO, and another on it's way. Hope you saved some money.


While there are reasonable arguments on both sides of the growth/zoning/etc. debate, I suspect that in the January 2016 economic climate in the Bay area, no reasonably imagined housing expansion would make more than the smallest dent in housing prices.

Look at Manhattan. Yes, you can't build willy-nilly whatever you want but there's certainly plenty of high-rise residential construction and housing prices are still pretty high in desirable areas.


> ...and housing prices are still pretty high in desirable areas.

Isn't that kind of tautological? Prices are always relatively high in desirable areas, and the high relative prices are actually a contributing factor to their desirability. What's more eye-opening is that prices in desirable areas are so high relative to above-average incomes for the area.


"in desirable areas" basically referred to the fact that housing prices aren't necessarily particularly high in upper Manhattan. But they're pretty high where all the construction is taking place below 110th Street or whatever the appropriate dividing line is.


So what you are saying is that there is an enough of an increase of demand attributable to desirability of particular areas (Manhattan below 110th) that new construction does little to bring down high prices.

But without that new construction, those seemingly high prices would be even higher than they are now, unless you assume that the increase in demand is itself a byproduct of the new construction.


Or housing prices end up at some upper level past which the market won't support. The same sort of effect has been observed with traffic capacity. Add capacity and you get more traffic but, generally speaking, people won't sit in traffic for 6 hours per day.

Obviously there is a correlation between supply and demand but there can also be a demand increases to meet supply effect up to a certain level.


That's because you've defined area incomes to be incomes for that area, except San Francisco housing is a global market.


Sure, it's long painted itself a global city after all, so it's not surprising that the housing market became globalized when it became a major center of economic growth.


"I suspect that in the January 2016 economic climate in the Bay area, no reasonably imagined housing expansion would make more than the smallest dent in housing prices."

I agree. I wasn't talking about expansion causing prices to drop - I was talking about an economic downturn and a contraction in credit.


Does it even really make sense to "own" land?

One alternative is "Georgism", which is the idea that land is a resource collectively owned by society, but people can temporarily monopolize a piece of land by renting it from society. The rents thus collected go into the society's general fund to pay for public goods like fire stations, healthcare, universal basic income, etc.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgism


The problem with that scheme is that a reasonable implementation of it will still greatly resemble land ownership.

Say I rent a parcel of land from society and pay money each month to do so. I build a building on top and use it.

Under what conditions can I keep using this land, besides paying the rent? Do I lease the land from society for a fixed term, after which the land may be freely rented to someone else? In that case what happens to the building on it that I've invested my own money into?

The problem here is that land by itself is not useful but improvements in combination with the land is, but said improvements are almost always not portable. I can pack up my furniture and move out of my apartment, I can't pack up a building.

So naturally we'll want some way to ensure people who have improved the land can continue using the land - which really starts resembling ownership + property tax at this point.


Does it make any more sense to declare that land must be "owned" by society, and that rents should be extracted from it, than that it can be owned and exploited by individuals? The difference between the two seems like semantics to me, in either case the land is still owned.


I'm not sure I buy into the whole thing, but do see some value in land taxes over property taxes in that it is an incentive for density: if you have 10000 square meters you are taxed the same whether you build a single story ranch house with a big yard, or an apartment building.

That said, how's it work out in practice? You can't tax land in downtown Portland at the same rate you tax it in Harney County, where it's mostly empty desert. But if you tax land outside cities cheaper, maybe that would encourage sprawl towards the cheaper areas?


The main problem is Prop13, in other states property taxes increase and drive people out as land increases in value. In California land owners are locked in forever. OTOH, somehow California ended up with the fastest growing economy in the country. Causation? Correlation? Who knows.


> OTOH, somehow California ended up with the fastest growing economy in the country.

Huh? California is decidedly middle-of-the-pack:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_economi...


Sorry, that was worded wrong. I meant that California ended up with San Francisco's economy.


People are expected to care about preserving their neighborhoods. But the concerns of existing residents can't possibly be dispositive.


In a democracy, they end up being so, because those are the people who get to vote. One solution is to move some of the planning functions one level up in the government, so people in the Central Valley also get a say in deciding whether SF's zoning is reasonable or not. This is basically what Japan does.


That's true until residents start to accept payoffs to defect, which is what's happening in SF when wealthy outsiders pay above market to get their hands on property.

Residents can do nothing and just let that keep happening, but if they do, they'll eventually end up getting priced out.


The opposition to density is actually happening more at the neighborhood level than the city level. Current zoning rules would allow quite a bit more density in many neighborhoods, but the approval process allows for tremendous delays if neighbors object.

It's true that this could be fixed at the city level by streamlining the process. My supervisor, Scott Weiner, is pushing that, specifically for 100% affordable housing. That's not going anywhere, which demonstrates that the opposition to development is more about wanting parking, light, and views - not about affordability.


San Francisco is largely made up of renters (63%) and planning decisions are made by the City of San Francisco, not individual neighborhoods. The problem you describe exists in small communities where the neighborhood is de facto a jurisdiction. Like Brisbane, right south of SF. In San Francisco, NIMBY homeowner are actually a minority playing against the interests of the majority of the citizens of this city.

Now there are several causes for this. A major one is concentrated harm vs distributed benefits for specific development. A new development in a residential neighborhood is gonna piss off a small number of people and motivate them to organize to put pressure on the planning commission. This development would benefit pretty much everyone else, but in a way that is so distributed that it's really hard to motivate people to fight for it. A new development is gonna have a very concentrated impact on neighbors and a very diluted effect on the rest of the city.


Unlike the rest of the country, there is no right to build in SF if you meet all zoning requirements. Zoning isn't even the problem.


Or at least a regional authority. Something like the ABAG but with authority and teeth. Otherwise we end up with local governments doing their own uncoördinated thing, so there is lots of duplication and also lots of haphazardness to development and organization, and perhaps most pernicious, lots of localization.


If you want to preserve the character of the surrounding property, buy it.


Relevant to this topic, Youtube channel "The School of Life" talks about this issue where people are reluctant to build, causing the housing price to go up. One Reason Homes Cost So Much: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dcbjWGj3jBk

As a follow up, the same channel offers some more ideas and broader view solutions. How to Make an Attractive City: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hy4QjmKzF1c


It's a shame that when people focus on the bay area's ludicrous housing costs, they tend to speak exclusively of San Francisco and ignore the opportunity to develop Oakland, which has a lot of flat land that is easier to build tall buildings on top of, instead of trying to densify San Francisco's endless peaks and twists.

The author said a potential future for San Francisco is as a "gated community for the rich." That may be the case, perhaps already having been so for a long time. It's unfortunate that an economic juggernaut heralded as the shining center of modern American capitalism is also so inaccessible, but that does not mean the overall solution is by making that place accessible at the expense of more realistic options.

The author compares the density of SF to NYC's Brooklyn. Like Manhattan, San Francisco is owned by the rich and their rules, yet Brooklyn is big and booming. Oakland is prime to take up the role of the Bay's Brooklyn.

Side note: if people want to return to the halcyon days of San Francisco when the wealthy and the workers could live atop the same rock, it will cost a ton of money. Hairdressers, grocery clerks, teachers, and the like will either need massive housing subsidies or comparable salaries to tech workers. That possibility could exist too, if the well-heeled agree to let go of a big chunk of change.


> It's a shame that when people focus on the bay area's ludicrous housing costs, they tend to speak exclusively of San Francisco and ignore the opportunity to develop Oakland, which has a lot of flat land that is easier to build tall buildings on top of, instead of trying to densify San Francisco's endless peaks and twists.

It doesn't get ignored. The problem is that Oakland costs about as much to develop as SF does with potential revenues that are much lower. It's a terrible business proposition.


I get the sense Manhattan was established, and then tapped out, hence Brooklyn. Whereas San Francisco is neither of those. San Francisco is the hip place to be (for tech) and Oakland is perceived as the fallback for companies that can't afford to host. Which really surmounts to: I would much rather work in SF than Oakland (I really base my decision on what food & bar options I have around me, though).


Parts of Manhattan which are popular with the very wealthy are certainly pretty well tapped out (the West Village comes to mind as a neighborhood with well-protected zoning regulations and lots of low to mid-rise buildings similar to many San Francisco neighborhoods). In other parts of Manhattan though new neighborhoods are being created from underused space (look at the Hudson Yards project, creating thousands of housing and commercial units on top of an active rail yard on the west side of midtown). Dozens of new towers are currently under construction in Manhattan.

I've lived in both SF and NYC and feel like Oakland has much more of a stigma than Brooklyn does simply because of transit access. You can live in SF and enjoy walkable local communities. You can live in Oakland and enjoy walkable local communities. But getting between the two can be a much more arduous process via Bart or bus than the many plentiful subway connections between Manhattan and Brooklyn. Visiting friends, of even the prospect of a commute, between SF and Oakland would have given me much more pause than getting over to Brooklyn. BART and the transbay buses are woefully inadequate for an area which is trying to pitch itself as a region rather than two distinct cities with a bridge between.


I think the only stigma is that BART closes at midnight while New York subways run all night long, which means people who live in Brooklyn can go out in Manhattan until 4 AM and still get home, while people who go out in SF on Saturday night can't get back to Oakland from midnight until 8 AM Sunday unless they take the bus.


The other thing is getting to BART - if you live in the Mission or within a handful of blocks of Market St; and your destination is in downtown Oakland or on the west side... you're fine. But if not, you need to coordinate your trip between BART and two different bus networks on either side of your train trip (or shell out for a car service / cab).

Not only are train lines between Manhattan and Brooklyn much more plentiful, they fan out to a much larger collection of destinations on either end. It can be a one-system trip, which makes a big difference.

BART isn't bad by any means, and SFMTA/AC Transit do a decent job, too. I've lived in Miami and around Tampa, two other large cities which do an almost immeasurably worse job with transit. But BART is still a very commuter-centric network for getting commuters from suburbs to downtowns, and isn't a substitute for a true local subway network. Thats where the stigma comes from, in my opinion.


That seems a good assessment. I suspect that there may be a bit of hindsight bias about Brooklyn, given that we know today that (parts of) it did gentrify and quite rapidly. But your point about transportation links--and, heck, a bridge you can walk over--is well taken.


I really don't understand the entire BART tube fear. You can get from fidi to downtown oakland in 12 minutes on a consistent schedule. I think it's more the bridge with it's horrible 1 hour traffic and how most of the bay area is a very car dependent place.


"You can get from fidi to downtown oakland in 12 minutes on a consistent schedule."

Yes, but that's all you can do. If you're in pac heights or the presidio or ... anywhere west ... you're going nowhere.


That is a failure of SF transit. It takes 30m to get from the west to the east side of SF already. 20m to get to the mission from pac heights with an uber, 45m with muni! For east side SF friends in the mission, oakland is closer than ocean beach.


BART can be standing room only quite often during commutes, but if you're going from Market Street to an Oakland station, its really not that big of a deal.


NYC is standing room only during most commutes too. I'd rather stand for 15 minutes than be stuck in traffic for 45 minutes any time.


You may not be aware that Oakland has an amazing and burgeoning food and bar scene, one that has arguably stolen the authenticity crown from San Francisco. Traditional restaurants also are alive and well in Oakland if that's your thing.


Well, most of Brooklyn probably wasn't all that appealing (for certain values and types of appealing) 15 or 20 years ago either. [1] At any rate, it wasn't gentrified. But Manhattan, in spite of doing a fair bit of development in at least sections of the city, was really expensive so young professionals started "settling" on Brooklyn. At the same time, some areas of Manhattan that were previously, shall we say, rather disreputable were also gentrifying.

So, yes, you'd prefer to live in SF than Oakland but 15 years or so ago, you'd probably have preferred to live in Manhattan than Brooklyn.

[1] http://www.wired.com/2015/09/photos-brooklyn-hipsters/


Your comment seems a few years out of date. SF's rents and COL is notoriously sky-high and has been for the last 3-4 years or so, and the movement to Oakland has also been taking place during that year. Not to mention, Uber, perhaps one of the region's greatest up-and-coming unicorn juggernauts, is going to move to Oakland. The ship has long since sailed towards the East Bay.


I'm not sure about Oakland's geology, but the part of SF where I live (outer sunset) is more or less just houses on top of sand dunes. I'm no geologist, but I've always wondered how well one could build tall buildings on that kind of ground.


Imagine how different San Francisco would be if plans like this had moved forward: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Bruno_Mountain#Westbay_Con...

Not only did they want to fill the bay in with the mountain, they wanted to build another Bay Bridge there.


It's interesting that SF can be so pro-immigration on the national level, but so anti-immigration on the municipal level.


Because it's somehow become socially acceptable to hate on whites and Asians.


Being a Bay Area native, my opinion is that the push back to increased growth is due to the horrible traffic situation. More people means traffic gets worse, muni gets more crowded, commutes get longer. The only people who want growth are real estate developers and recent transplants who are fine with not trying to actually go anywhere besides home and work.

There's a point where the congestion starts to lower quality of life drastically and people would rather deal with high rents then being stuck in traffic for hours or stuffed into a filled to the gills muni, bart or caltrain with people coughing up flem around them.

Getting to work in downtown is awful when there's a Giants game going on and they wanted to eliminate pier 30 parking and put another stadium in there? I'm glad that got shot down. San Francisco is full. Get over it.


Too bad transportation infrastructure is completely verboten in America.

New York has it grandfathered in (was built before the car era) and New York does not have this problem. The simple reality is that cars don't scale beyond a certain density because, well, cars can't pass through other cars. Cars work fine for light to medium density but beyond that you must either build trains or stop growing. (Or waste billions and countless hours every day with millions of people stuck in traffic.)


My favorite part is that SF has gotten it in its head that being car-unfriendly (planned closing of Market St) is a great idea, while not improving public transit at all.


Legit thought experiment and not a troll, because I'm curious about thinking through this.

What happens if legislation is passed that more or less prevents people from owning property that's not their primary residence? Like: if you don't live in it more than 190 days a year, you pay a really high property tax on it.

I've always thought a big part of the landlord - tenant issues around rent control, fair market housing, and a lot of other stuff all stems from the position that people are allowed to own more homes that they can live in, and derive income from landlording.

There's some obvious issues - not everyone wants to live in a home / apartment that they own (liquidity, mortgage, etc). This could be obviated with some workarounds (and market forces might help out a bit too - I'd imagine real estate could change hands a lot more frequently in that situation).

Anyway. Thoughts?


My opinion is that San Francisco's housing problems are at root a case of demand vastly exceeding supply. The solution is to produce more housing. This would happen naturally when demand exceeds supply, except that San Francisco has an excess of regulations that prevent construction of new homes and new apartments and a strong political coalition opposed to the construction of new housing.

Adding more restrictions on housing helps no one.


I don't doubt that demand exceeds supply. San Francisco also is not really a representative sample of US (or global) home ownership vs rental and so on.

All that aside, I don't really see the line of argument that links my proposed idea to "more restrictions". My initial thinking was something like (basically): current market forces (especially in SF) favor the consolidation of ownership in the hands of the few people who can afford the large capital investment required to build new housing.

IOW: home prices are ridiculously high at least in part because the future value of rent extraction makes these homes good long-term investments for people who don't live there. See also: removing units from rental for AirBnB service in the long-term (sources differ on how many units in SF are lost to permanent AirBnB hotel status, but they seem to all agree that at least some are off the market for this reason).

So, what happens if this element of the market is removed? I know, I know: it's central to capitalism, I'm becoming a communist, etc etc. What happens when the supply - demand relationship is between residents and other residents? Do home prices trend upwards? Does the current bloc of owners and rent-controlled residents stop acting to fight against further expansion?


I see your idea as a restriction that would hinder housing development because no person (or company) that owned an apartment building could construct and own a second one. They would have to sell their existing stock in order to produce more, and that seems like a disincentive.


> What happens if legislation is passed that more or less prevents people from owning property that's not their primary residence? Like: if you don't live in it more than 190 days a year, you pay a really high property tax on it.

That already exists in a way - there's the concept of a primary residence tax deduction, which is (more or less) what the name sounds like.

It varies widely by jurisdiction, (not just country, but state and local government as well), but the idea of trying to differentiate residents from landlords in tax policy is nothing new.


If you do that, you'll get more single-owner homes, and less rental units, but you'll kill the ability to have apartment buildings (or, at most, one per owner). More single dwellings and less apartment buildings doesn't sound like the path to "more affordable housing".


You can own an apartment. It's called a condo.


Have you ever bought a house? I have. I do not want to go through that process every time I move. Plus, while I have purchased a house before, it ended up being foreclosed on and I certainly couldn't get a mortgage now (and I shouldn't... I can't afford a mortgage). I would be pretty SOL if owning a house was a prerequisite for not being homeless.

How is commercial property treated?

What prevents a company building a huge apartment building, "selling" it to an apartment manager (in the form of a very expensive mortgage) and then having the apartment manager rent out "rooms" in his very large "house" to cover his mortgage?

In short, the longer I think about the idea, the less practical it becomes.


I've bought a few houses, the process has generally been simple and painless (other than the physical moving of stuff part, which is the same for own vs. rent).

My last few vehicles purchases have involved significantly more paperwork and signatures than my most recent property purchases.

What is it about the process that you've had issues with?


Our experiences differ vastly. Granted I've only bought one house and it was 8 years ago. Maybe things have gotten better in the intervening years?

My experience buying cars has involved signing maybe a dozen pages, while my experience buying a house involved signing form after form after form (most of which I didn't really know the purpose of) for literally hours. I'm certain I spent more time just signing paperwork to buy my house than I've ever spent on the entire car buying process from the time I walked into the sales guy's office after the test drive to the time I drove off the lot.


I have bought a house. I think one reason it's so painful is that it is a relatively rare occurrence which usually represents a huge transfer of wealth. If, on the other hand, home sales were more common and (presumably) for less money per transaction, you could imagine that this process would be simpler.

I'm not super-interested in debating the implementational details of what's obviously a thought experiment - mostly what I'm interested in getting input on is: would home prices go down? would monthly mortgage rates go above or below current rental rates? would there be more or less pressure to build new units?


[What prevents a company building a huge apartment building, "selling" it to an apartment manager (in the form of a very expensive mortgage) and then having the apartment manager rent out "rooms" in his very large "house" to cover his mortgage?]

The law. (Zoning)


"would lift U.S. gross domestic product by 9.5 percent"? Really? Over what period of time? If it's one year it's unbelievable. If it's over 50 years, who cares?


I believe the calculation is for when the system approached its new steady state. And why shouldn't one care about the world of fifty years from now? I intend to still be alive, and so will a lot of the people I care about.

Plus it's not like we'd see no improvement whatsoever for 49 years and then WHAM. We'd see gradual returns on this investment every year.


Most recent US GDP: $17.914 trillion.

9.5% of that would yield an additional $1.7 trillion of net goods and services produced by our economy.

For comparison, we spend ~$0.85 trillion on Social Security and ~$0.6 trillion on defense a year.


People who want to move here (for opportunities or work) by definition do not have an established life here, are not part of our community, do not have family and friends they have known for years based here, and have not worked to contribute to making San Francisco what it is. I am not overly concerned about how hard it may be for them to arrive.




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