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Housing in the Bay Area (samaltman.com)
406 points by dwaxe on May 26, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 387 comments



People should actually call in! Over at the SFBARF, we have a thread of people reporting on how long it took to call their representatives: https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/sfbarentersfed/7G4Kr....

I managed to talk to someone at both of my representatives' offices within a minute, without any sort of delay. It's very easy, please do call in if you support this measure!

Also, when you do call in, post here afterwards with how long it took you. A lot of people don't bother because they think it'll be a hassle, but it's about a 100 times easier than calling to book a restaurant reservation.


Thank you for this post. I am now very encouraged to contact my state legislators. I might even muster up the courage to call my federal representatives!


http://tryvoices.com/ - great app for calling representatives


My call to my assembly rep's office lasted 22 seconds; my call to my state senator took just 17.


Nice!


This is one of the top factors preventing me from moving back to the Bay Area. It's good to know there's at least SOME serious attempt at a solution (even if folks around here are mostly pessimistic.)

It still surprises me that an industry that's all about connecting the world through the internet and allowing anyone to work with anyone else on anything says "yeah but you need to work in this small area of the country to do it."

The armchair economist in me says that high housing prices in the Bay Area will cause a market "correction" of sorts with other cities exploding as tech sectors -- see NY, Boston, Chicago, Austin, Las Vegas -- as those cities can get away with much better housing for cheap, even if the opportunities aren't as plentiful (yet.)

<conspiracy theory> The cynic in me likes to think that VC's and other wealthy tech execs are trying to keep housing prices high by artificially creating this in-elasticity ("you can have my funding if you live in SF" or "we don't allow remote workers"), as they all probably own houses in the area; the incentives for them would be to have housing prices keep rising, NOT fall, as they would lose significant real-estate equity. </conspiracy theory>


I think NYC is already there. It's so easy to find a tech job in NYC. Maybe it's even easier in SV, but I've never missed not being in SV. There's such a variety here. Plenty of startups, all the tech giants, and plenty of tech/IT jobs at "regular" companies, consulting opportunities, etc... And it's not _just_ tech -- plenty of other industries are headquartered in NYC. By contrast I can't think of any other industries that SV is the flagship metro-area of besides tech... If software is going to eat the world, it helps to have some of those industries you're going to disrupt nearby already.

I'd love to see NYC co-opt SV as the world capital of the tech industry, and I think it could totally happen. The only thing SV has going is historical inertia, and it's eroding. This housing problem in SV is going to make it erode faster.

Honestly I don't understand SV at all. They say NYC has a housing cost problem, and it sure does, but it's nothing compared to SV -- in SV you have people paying Manhattan prices so they can live in SF... yet somehow still commuting an hour to the suburbs where the offices are! At least here you can either pay Manhattan prices and get a 10 minute commute for it -- or take an hour-long commute and at least get a much cheaper and/or larger place in exchange. And your commute won't require you to drive, unless you want that.

NB: I've never lived in the SV area so maybe I have some misconceptions that need correcting? :-)


so I've lived in both.

The size of the campuses in Silicon Valley literally cannot fit in NYC. No comparison.

Its fantastic that Google bought a block of Manhattan for 1 billion dollars, but Google's Mountain View campus is ALL of Mountain View. These are sprawling districts that cannot fit inside of a skyscraper.

The next fundamental difference is the variety of VCs. NYC cannot replicate this, and there is nothing eroding about it. NYC has one or two VCs looking at the same industry trends. Silicon Valley has many VCs interested in completely different things, different portfolio niches.

NYC has variety of industries and conveniences.

Silicon Valley doesn't even know how backwards its infrastructure is, while trying to change a world that functions better than it does already.

San Francisco masquerades as Silicon Valley and an international city but it is neither. New York, London and Hong Kong are international cities, SF struggles to keep up with the tech bubbles that it remains on the periphery of and only recently gained relevance for.

There is more tech focused stuff in SF and Silicon Valley, but New York has enough satellite offices to keep you occupied.


"These are sprawling districts that cannot fit inside of a skyscraper."

Is that a definite? I mean, most of Mountain View and its tech campuses are sprawling suburbia (e.g. vast fields of asphalt and grass with a building sprinkled here and there). It's amazing what can fit in a well-designed commercial district.


That got me curious and I think you might be onto something:

Google employs 19,000 people in Mountain View currently

The Twin Towers in NYC each held 25,000 people on a daily basis.

Two buildings in NYC could accommodate the populations of two tech giants that sprawl across entire south bay towns. So several of NYC's average sized and planned skyscrapers could do a fine job. And there is room every direction away from Midtown Manhattan to replicate new robust building clusters.


To be honest I am always amazed how many homeless folks and dirty the place is. You hear billion dollar raises all the time but the city seems very fragmented. Vancouver on the other hand is insanely expensive but very well put together.


NYC is far far far way from overtaking SV as the capital of tech industry. The combined value of just Google, Apple, and Facebook is $1.3 trillion dollars. To reach that scale will take many many years and some incredible companies. Honestly, places that can put in a serious competition to SV are in Asia - China and India. Chinese tech companies are raising massive rounds, with multiple billion dollar investments in 2016. Also, most successful hubs are often one industry towns. Think Detroit and Houston. That's how clusters are formed and they have a self full-filing effect. But it is also a mistake to think SV is just a "tech" hub. Is Tesla a tech company ? Or is Sunrun a tech company ? Are Impossible Foods or Bolt Threads tech companies ? Technology is now integral to any industry. And increasingly we are seeing R&D shops being set-up in the valley to stay ahead of the game


Thank you, great comment!

> The combined value of just Google, Apple, and Facebook is $1.3 trillion dollars.

Well, to the extent that those three companies have employees in other cities, I'd count their market caps proportionally towards those cities. I'm not sure offhand about Apple or FB but Google has a huge office in NYC. But that still leaves the vast majority in SV.

> Also, most successful hubs are often one industry towns. Think Detroit and Houston.

Ominous and timely comparisons. One-industry towns are also way more vulnerable in the long run. NYC is actually a counterexample -- it is the industry hub for at least three industries (finance, fashion, advertising) and leads or has a strong presence in many others, and it's been that way for a long time.

> But it is also a mistake to think SV is just a "tech" hub.

If being close to other members of the industry you are "disrupting" with tech is useful, then that is a huge advantage for a city like NYC with a wide variety of industry. But maybe that's not that necessary -- maybe Tesla would not get much advantage out of being in Detroit near other automakers. If that's the case then a city like NYC does not have any special advantage there.


Yeah true that Google, Apple, FB have NY offices, but all of these companies are very HQ focused. Especially Apple and Alphabet, with most of Alphabet's based are based in SV (Calico, Verily, YouTube etc.). Apple is also notoriously Cupertino centric.


I believe all three named companies (Google, Apple and Facebook) have significantly large offices in NYC.

Then you'd have to count Wall Street, which for a great part are big software companies as well.


Yea so the problem is you can't think of tech as one industry. Every company that's being created right now has to involve software one way or the other. That's why companies like Tesla (auto), Netlfix (entertainment), Solarcity (energy), Sofi (finance), airbnb (tourism), uber (logistics), tons of biomedical companies that I don't know the names of (medicine) all headquartered in the bay area.


> The cynic in me likes to think that VC's and other wealthy tech execs are trying to keep housing prices high by artificially creating this in-elasticity

I think the benefits of more people meeting, networking, and starting new things in the area vastly outweighs their interest in their homes. It's not like this really affects the pricing of mansions much anyway, and if they aren't living in a mansion, it's probably such a small amount of their overall wealth that it's inconsequential.


It's a good theory but I think the investors are pretty straight-up about wanting their companies on a short leash.

The key will be those other cities/hubs having their own successes, bringing in the capital and expertise to nurture new talent. It's likely that the number of successful hubs that can be supported is pretty low. I happen to believe that the amount of (awful word) synergy needed to flip a few percent of startups from fail/borderline to success is pretty high. In other words, all those know-a-guy-who-can-help connections have to have a high concentration before it starts to pay off.

But then mine is just a theory as well and has a high chance of being wrong.


Its true but its not limited to SF/Bay Area. I had the impression the other day that city-specific industries are much like Universities; so you see that MIT, Berkeley etc. that had CS dept's early on now have the best programs in CS. So it is with cities: the tech industry was born in Silicon Valley so of course there are a lot of Software/EE engineers out there.


Somehow the city with the highest average salary/cost of living usually goes unmentioned... Seattle has two huge tech companies, a lot of mid sized tech companies, and a growing startup scene... and it's not that far away from the bay.


It rains too much, like 14 months per year is just rain. And the Seattle freeze...ya, people in Seattle don't like to talk to other people, it is like Northern Europe. /s

We've always made up crazy lies just to keep the Californians away, but ultimately it isn't working. Seattle is a nice place to live/work, and has plenty of jobs for techies.


My experience with people in the bay is most are superficial and make their identity around either their careers or that they live in San Francisco. Pretty insufferable group compared to the "freeze" in Seattle. Also, believe it or not, some people actually like when it rains all the time, especially people who came from very sunny (and drought-y) climes. It's nice not having to worry about water rationing. Frankly, constant sunshine drives me batty.

I split the difference and ended up in Portland.


Living in Beijing now, I would die for more rain. Ok, just having more clean air would be a nice start.

I was born in Portland when it was bigger than Seattle (after the early 70s Boeing bust, and when Intel/Tektronix was picking up). How times have changed...


San Francisco is not the whole bay.


As a Bostonian none of this rain or cold stuff bothers me. Visiting Seattle for the first time next month for DockerCon and I'm super excited!


It's not very cold at all --it might snow a couple of times a year --it drizzles 6 months out of the year, but it's okay. OP was putting a front hence the "/s"


I'm calling BS. Where's your source that Seattle has the highest average salary to cost of living?


Good instinct. The housing prices, while still pretty good, are going up fast, and unless you work for MS or Amamzon, I'm not sure the salaries are really that amazing.


Seattle isn't in the top ten on any list in either of these categories. Doesn't mean it isn't great there but that's not what your saying.


I LOVE Seattle! Though research and folks I talk to say it's expensive to live there. Maybe I'm getting the wrong info!


All depends on where you live. If you're trying to raise a family, you definitely have to live in the burbs and commute in.

I pay $1850 a month for a 496 sq ft "Open" one bedroom. It's basically a studio with a wall that segments off my bedroom.

Which is more than fine for me :D Get to live downtown, get to walk to work, walk to bars, etc. But if you wanted an average 3br/2ba apartment, you're probably looking in the $3500+/mo. And buying is so competitive right now it's insane.


I live in Queen Anne in a 1000 sq ft 2br for $1850 a month. It's really not that bad. Even in the core of Capitol Hill when I was looking a few months ago I saw places for 1650/mo for 700 sqft non-studio.


All of the Big 4 are there :)

I just hope housing there is affordable without a roommate by the time I can graduate.


Seattle is not that cheap. Decent houses in good suburbs easily approach a million dollars.


You cannot buy a decent house in a good suburb on the SF peninsula for a million dollars.


Shhh, we're trying to keep it a secret. :)


On top of the weather, which is a big deal to a lot of people, the problem is exactly in what you said: there are two huge tech companies. And that's it.

Basically, if you move to Seattle, you are pretty much restricted to working for Microsoft or Amazon and that's it. Period. Nothing else.

It's a huge career limiting move, make sure you're okay with it.


Microsoft and Amazon only you say? Don't know where you'd get that data from.

Google has a big campus here in Fremont and Kirkland, and they're building a huge new complex in South Lake Union (Amazon's stomping grounds).

Facebook just opened their brand new office in SLU.

Samsung is here. Adobe is here. Atlassian is here. Uber is here. DocuSign is here.

Expand the metro area to Bellevue (since we included Microsoft above) add companies like Redfin, Zillow, Expedia, FICO, Disney.

Edit: Oh yeah, forgot Intel and EMC as well.

I'm sure there's many I missed but there's WAY more than just Microsoft and Amazon.

... Just don't tell anyone. Go to Portland instead. I hear they want you ;)


There are a couple of other companies here that didn't make your list... not including the pretty active startup scene. Sure it's not any near as vibrant as around San Francisco but to say there are only two tech companies hiring people is pretty ludicrous.


I'm not from Seattle nor do I live in Seattle, but I'm pretty sure this is not the case.

There ARE other cities with a lot of quality, diverse tech jobs outside of the Bay Area. I live in one of them and I don't consider it a 'career limiting move'.


VCs can make millions from owning houses.

They can make billions from funding startups.


The keyword is "can". What's the expected value of investing in a startup versus real estate?


Why not both?


By increasing the most substantial cost that startups face, VCs end up owning larger portions of each startup.


Is this anything like my plan to invest in McDonalds franchises and then kill off a huge proportion of the world's cattle to "own larger portions" of each?


There is so much pressure, career-wise, to move to either the Bay Area, the West Coast in general, or a major urban hub.

I honestly like living in a semi-rural part of the Midwest. I like seeing fields and forests while driving to work. If I want to get out to some wilderness, I can do so in 15-30 minutes. I travel in a car that, I feel, offers me freedom. To boot, I have a nice, reserved spot in the garage below my apartment. I live downtown and I still feel great freedom/"space". I cant imagine being able to do anything like this in a place like SF or even Chicago.

My cost of living is very cheap. My commute is 15 minutes. I live close to my family. Why should I want to leave?


With you all the way.

I have 11 acres, horses, a goat, cats, a dog, and I live 15 minutes from downtown and 17 minutes from work. This is in a mid-sized midwest city (Grand Rapids, MI). While I realize that I could achieve a substantial pay raise on one of the coasts, a similarly sized plot there would cost millions. I paid under 200k 5 years ago with a 1500sf house on it, and it's still probably only worth the mid 200k range after we improved it (cleared 6 acres of trees, planted and fenced a bunch of pasture, made significant improvements to the house). I could not achieve a similar lifestyle on an engineer's salary near a major urban center on a coast ... and I have no desire to move to one :).

Plus, I get to make avionics, which is on my short list of the best jobs ever.


I think this endorsement should be qualified. While it's true there is more space here in GR, there is a reason for that: people leave as soon as they can (for various reasons; the lack of sun (http://www1.ncdc.noaa.gov/pub/data/ccd-data/pctposrank.txt), lack of opportunity or even this vaguely defined yet very strong pressure to conform to an invisible fence of ideology. Change and outside ideas are slow to take root, to put it mildly.

I have worked in tech here for over 10 years and there are very few jobs. I've already used up Plans A, B and C. My next move will probably be somewhere else (if I'm still competitive). This is where you go to retire, not to advance your career.


That's an awesome setup and cost of living. If most of family and friends didnt have deep roots here I'd totally consider saying screw this place. Actually, I still may, but gonna ride it out a bit longer.


I know I found a Rails shop there in a search years ago, but generally speaking is there a tech career scene in GR? If so, are there any trends as far as the tech that companies are using that you can tell? I've got 3 acres with dogs and chickens here in NJ, but we have no family for a 10 hour radius and my wife's family is in Livingston county (don't want to be too close).

Thanks in advance.


> generally speaking is there a tech career scene in GR?

Not really.

There's plenty of tech work in GR, if your just looking for a job you probably won't have any problems. And there's plenty of social / networking events. GR definitely punches above it's weight for the region -- but not enough to compare to a real market.

Grand Rapids is closer to a small town than a major city, so despite our best efforts, there isn't really a scene that's comparable to anything like what I've seen in Minneapolis or Portland or Austin or even Milwaukee.

Of course, those places are larger and cost more. Low cost of living is great, (cheap housing even with good schools, lots of space, easy commutes, no crime, silly amounts of lawn and garden) but it has its own drawbacks (very low wages, worthless public transit, everything's suburban, greatly reduced career opportunities, etc)

I would personally prefer an urban lifestyle, and that's impossible to have in Michigan, which is frustrating to me. But if you want a suburban lifestyle in a ranch house with a huge yard, Grand Rapids is perfect for that. There's tons of those properties around for about $200k.


Switch is putting a large portion of its company into Grand Rapids in the near future. So we may be seeing more tech coming in.


I'm seriously looking this place up on Wikipedia.org. =)


No chickens??


L3 by chance?


The cost of living is definitely infinitely higher than living in the midwest but you certainly can find fields and forests (and actual mountains!) in the SF area. For example, the minute you cross the Golden Gate bridge, you are in Marin County, a county with a rich agricultural history, amazing natural places like Muir Woods (the setting for the ape's home in the latest Planet of the Apes), and 85.5% of it's land protected from development forever. Here's a photo from the Headlands (http://www.robertcampbellphotography.com/Images/Marin/Marin-...), you can see SF just in the background, it's about 10 miles away from Downtown to the place in the photo. If you live in Marin, you can also choose to take the Ferry which drops you off in Downtown SF as well.

If you go South-West of SF, you will hit Pacifica and Half Moon Bay which are quaint coastal towns that will make you forget that you're only 20 miles away from San Francisco.

Go East, past the hills of Berkeley and you hit more rural spread out developments near Orinda, Diablo, etc.

I'm glad you found balance with the things that are important to you which is what really matters. Me personally, I'm drawn to the coast and the great expanse of the Pacific Ocean. The SF area has it's fair share of urban problems, but then you also have amazing restaurants, a close-to-world-class arts scene, some of the best schools and hospitals in the country, the most impactful technology companies in the world, and the fair share of folks who have come West looking to make their mark on the world in Gold Rush 2.0.

P.S. I've spent a fair share of time in Detroit/Michigan and the area and as much as I love being able to buy a city block there, I can't live in a place that calls soy sauce on rice "Fried Rice".


^ this is true. I was born and raised in south bay area and went to school in Berkeley. The Bay Area is an ecological treasure trove.

But over the years I've seen the hills dotted with houses, untouched swamp land (great for the local wildlife) turned into generic commercial offices, and roads developed deeper into the outskirts. Noise and air pollution is getting worse. Parking and congestion is a nightmare anywhere there are new offices or apartments in old neighborhoods (SF/PA/MV). Public transportation takes hours to get you anywhere (though I'm optimistic about Bart expansions).

I haven't heard anyone in favor of housing development talk about these problems, problems that are bound to get worse if more units are built unless equally aggressive solutions are implemented.

Like others here have said, the Bay Area pressures career-oriented individuals to move here. Although I love the diversity of backgrounds, it is clear that the vast majority of my friends who moved here haven't developed the affinity or interest in non-career-related aspects of the culture/geography. They are not emotionally invested in everything else the bay area has to offer (I theorize that this is because their families and their childhood memories are elsewhere).

I'm not saying new housing shouldn't be built (affording housing for lower-income families/individuals need to be built ASAP). I can't afford rent here either and commit social suicide by choosing to live with my parents despite being in my mid 20s (fortunate enough to have this option). But I can't in good conscience support development in the Bay Area until it comes bundled with discussions on environmental protection, transportation expansion, tax changes (who is going to pay for the extra firefighters/police offers needed if population increases), infrastructure projects (pumping water into the bay, electricity, etc). As of right now, it is so singly-focused on lowering rent that these other issues don't seem to matter in comparison.

I appreciate sama's attempt to get us to call our representatives. As an active voter and lifelong bay area resident, I will do so too.


The point of building infill development in our cities is to not pave over greenfield land on the urban fringe.


The people who have generally opposed dense new housing in the bay seem not to realize that their actions destroy open space and wildlife. It's not like people who can't afford to live in Mountain View are going to kill themselves. They'll just live farther, and farther, and farther out, in hideously damaging single family homes with lawns that gulp water and houses that guzzle electricity to stay cool.


Sadly, Marin County is "the boss-level kingdom of California NIMBYs":

https://twitter.com/kimmaicutler/status/735561614368202752


I support development but I'm kind of okay with not too much in Marin because there's no viable and fast public transit from there to SF so adding a bunch of people there doesn't make as much sense (I could also be rationalizing a bias towards keeping Marin green and "country" since I want to eventually settle down there..)

I really support development along established rail corridors along CalTrain and BART lines. There should be ridiculously tall housing towers in cheap places like Hayward and open places like Walnut Creek and Pleasanton, if only the BART was not so damn slow and so freakishly expensive.


Of course theres no BART in Marin due to racist local NIMBYs so there's a bit of a paradox involved.


This is not historically accurate. Marin voted in favor of BART, but after San Mateo country bailed, the costs were shifted North. It was the increased costs that prevented BART from going across the Golden Gate.


Didn't know that, thanks for filling in that gap....I had always thought it was just Marin elitism


Development along the existing CalTrain and BART lines makes a lot of sense. Though it would be great if there were good public transit options in Marin, the reality is that neither CalTrain nor BART will ever go there. The development is just too expensive at this point.

Prediction: the gentrification currently happening in Oakland will soon spread to Richmond and Vallejo. Vallejo, it's crime problems aside, actually makes a lot of sense. There's a ferry there and cheap housing.


I find it a little misleading to point out that there is no CalTrain to Marin while omitting to note that there is regularly-scheduled ferry service to Marin.

The ferries are just as fast and definitely more pleasant than CalTrain. (BART though is faster, I'm pretty sure.)


The ferries are not a similar option to CalTrain or BART. I live in Marin and could recite you from memory the Larkspur ferry schedule without blinking. When I worked in SF my commute was tightly coupled to the ferry schedule. In addition, the ferry only stops at the ferry building. Once you're off the boat, you still have to walk/MUNI/Bart to your final destination.

Also, if you are in San Francisco after 10pm, no more ferry for you. BART, CalTrain, and Muni are all much more flexible options.


I agree completely with keeping parks and other green space, but disagree with so little density in the actual built up areas.


"Sadly, Marin County is "the boss-level kingdom of California NIMBYs"

Cross the bridge, take a left, and drive out to the national seashore. Have lunch in Pt. Reyes. Drive back out to the 101 through the Nicasio horse country.

Thank you, thank you, Marin County NIMBYs. Thank you.


I don't think most housing advocates want to pave over parks and things like that, but want to add some options where there is already a town.

Also, as kind of an aside, Marin NIMBY's pretty much killed mountain biking in its birthplace, which I also find sad.


Ironically the NIMBY's actions do result in massive loss of wild land, but in someone else's backyard.


>P.S. I've spent a fair share of time in Detroit/Michigan and the area and as much as I love being able to buy a city block there, I can't live in a place that calls soy sauce on rice "Fried Rice".

While Detroit doesnt have a huge asian population, and thus doesnt have great asian food - it does have huge middle eastern and mexican populations. You can get some of the best mexican, greek, and middle eastern food you'll ever have right in Detroit, as well as Detroit specialty foods like Coney Dogs, Detroit style pizza, and Hani.

Detroit is well regarded for its food, so its surprising for me to see someone disliking that part of the city.


If you're ever back in Michigan, you should visit the west side ... and also check out lake Michigan. Grand Rapids isn't as big as Detroit, but our economy is growing at a healthy clip and there's a lot of interesting things going on here.


Actually, I was at ArtPrize this past year. The western coast is beautiful, I got a chance to go to Sleeping Bear and up into the U.P. as well. I'm definitely going to head back there to do some biking.


Muir Woods (the setting for the ape's home in the latest Planet of the Apes)

A Planet of The Apes remake? That's the first anchor you reach for?

Muir Woods is the planet Endor!


> Muir Woods is the planet Endor!

True, but in the Planet of the Apes, it's actually supposed to be Muir Woods, so they don't dress it up to look different.


> amazing restaurants

I prefer having friends over and cooking. Restaurants are too impersonal. It is often hard to hear, and they can't be that intimate in nature as you are out in public. There is nothing like eating the meal of a friend or cooking for a friend.


> My cost of living is very cheap. My commute is 15 minutes. I live close to my family. Why should I want to leave?

You shouldn't. If you have a good job in such a location and are happy with the opportunities available, enjoy!

The problem is that markets naturally congregate in distinct locations so anyone who is looking to advance their career needs to make their way to a hub.


I am enjoying my time here. :) I just am a bit anxious because my speciality means there is just one player in the area. Outside of that speciality, there are other attractive, but not my calling, opportunities.

This also complicates my conundrum about whether to continue to rent vs purchasing some property to start some real roots.


Why not work remotely?


I'm hesitant because I have never worked remotely nor studied how to effectively do so. The biggest names in tech (which are interested in my specialty) also seem uninterested in remote workers, even after positive interviews.


Forgive my ignorance but are there biggest names in tech near your place? You should pitch remote work against your local market not the best companies in the world. That said, remote work can be hit or miss. I started working remotely for a company I worked before when my SO had to move for a PhD. We switched countries and I can't wait when we come back, I just miss home. 6 more months and I'm back. I had better and worse periods, overall I'm quite happy I did it but glad to be back in the office soon. In a regular company, when you're one of the few remote workers, you're always THAT remote guy. I guess its much better in companies with robust, mainstream remote culture.


I live in Michigan and work remotely for a company in the bay area. I highly recommend it.


why do we keep clinging to this idea that creative work is somehow "market captureable". Theres almost 0 friction to work for a company in new york or san francisco but somehow being on-prem is this career enhancing move. Why. What does it get you?

Some of the best engineers I know work remote and visit occasionally. Maybe theyre outliers, but we really need to kill this narrative where to be the best you need to live in the valley.


Unfortunately, you don't really move up by being a good engineer. Or, at least, it's very difficult. Some people might pull it off, as specialist contractors or some sort of lucky remote working for remote pay situation. But typically, you have to start force-multiplying -- to borrow military jargon. And that's much harder to do remotely.


If you're a developer, like many here, you can work remotely.

Of course you will have less opportunities that if you're willing to move to Bay Area or NYC, but that's a choice to make. Do you prefer to prioritize on your career completely or are you will to compromise on that for a better living environment for you and your family?

Nobody said it's a obvious choice to live in a smaller city, but it's important to know that (if you're a developer) you have that choice. You can opt out of the rat race and make less, or work on less exciting projects, but still make a decent living.


> If you're a web developer, like many here, you can work remotely.

FTFY, unless there is a trove of non-web remote jobs I have been missing.


For me people trumps nature. I like living in a big international city with a lot of culture, getting to meet a lot of new people all the time. At least not being closed off to those possibilities.

It doesn't have to be SF. It's not just that rent is expensive, it's that for the price you pay you most likely aren't even living in a nice neighborhood (most parts of Mission, parts of Soma, Market, parts of Haight, Divis, most of Western Addition, Lower Nob Hill, etc. - these aren't nice places at all for $3500/ month, which would put you in the very best areas of pretty much any other city in the world).


The beauty with SF is that some of the most beautiful hills and scenery are just a short drive away.


I've been spreading the gospel brother! It's a sad thing that I too often meet folks who have been here for several years (unfortunately many engineers) who look puzzled when I mention Point Reyes or Big Sur. They don't venture too far out of the confines of the city and enjoyed the real reason we pay so much to live here!


Indeed. I recently went to the South Island of New Zealand for some backpacking. It was so beautiful but often I was reminded of marine county, except they don't have alpine parrots in the bay area :p keep up the good work with getting people outside!


However, in those cities you likely wouldn't make the money to afford that $3500/month rent.


$3500/mo will buy you a penthouse in some cities.


I agree.

I think we would make our industry better not by trying to fix Bay Area housing, but by decentralizing it.

That typically means companies should stop forcing their new hires to move to SF/Bay Area, and VC should stop forcing companies they fund to move there too. Same goes with London/Paris for Europe.

I used to live in SV but now I'm in a medium-to-big French city. I'm 20 minutes bike/light rail from downtown but I still live in a house with a garden. I'm also at 5 minutes bike from the forest or shops.


Unfortunately, 7B people who think they are entitled to midwestern living is ecologically disastrous. The responsible ecological future is in density. General misanthropy (or targetted misanthropy, see: white flight) leading to sprawl is a privilege of Americana (hopefully a temporary one). Dense living still means you can get to forests and fields within 20-30 minutes (instead of 10-15 minutes).

Not to mention the economical benefits of dense living when ideas are forced to live next to each other to create new ideas through osmosis [1].

[1]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XzgMRvQLdXI


You're right, you can't have anything like that in SF. (Well, there are some pretty nice forests nearby.)

You also can't have any of the culture and city life that a major city like SF has. You see easily 10x as many people in a day in SF than you see all week in a semi-rural town in the Midwest. There's 10 cafes within a 10 minute walk. The nightlife is extensive and amazing. The restaurant scene, world class.

And that's fine if it has no value to you. But clearly for many there is more to consider than just cost of living and space. There is a reason startup hubs happen in major cities.


I don't think the nightlife is extensive and amazing in san francisco. Everything closes @9pm and there is nowhere to go!


Um, bars close at 2am? I am hard pressed to think of anywhere, even a restaurant that closes at 9pm.

Certainly "extensive and amazing" is open to debate (can't hold a candle to NYC for example)... but objectively there are vastly more options than a small midwestern city.


I'd like to do this. Unfortunately tech sells itself as remote-friendly when very little of it is.


I have intelligence and programming ability, and a desire to further my career. I want a good high paying job in the epicenter of my chosen industry.

I do not want to move to a city where I can't afford to buy a good home within walking distance of my workplace.

The world should provide this for me.


If others can make a profit providing this for you, why shouldn't they be allowed to?

Maybe there are good answers to that question, but that should be the default.


I really hope you're being sarcastic.


Well put. You forgot to add that you'd also like a pony and an unlimited supply of Häagen-Dazs.


Seconded. Quality of life is second to none.

Pros: * I live the heart of downtown in a major Canadian city * Rent is $1025/mo, plus $100 for underground heated parkin. (Hey it's Canada) * Work is across the street (it's not abused) * Wilderness is only 15-20 minutes away * Montreal/Boston are only 12 hours away

Cons: * I'm a "devops lead" and making $70k/yr

I've come to the realization it'll take six figures plus to get me to move away.


That seems like a very low salary for any technical lead position. Are the wages in Canada generally that low? Most lead positions in the US regardless of geographic area start in the low six figures.


> That seems like a very low salary for any technical lead position. Are the wages in Canada generally that low? Most lead positions in the US regardless of geographic area start in the low six figures.

In the non-coastal, non-major-city US, it's rare for a salary to hit "low six figures".

Wages aren't quite as low as listed for Canada, but most leads here are in the $80-90k range.


Agreed, I was making $70k as new-grad at RIM in Waterloo in 2012. Though when the grandparent says Montreal is 12 hours away, do they mean driving? That would imply they are somewhere like Windsor or Charlottetown.

That said, it could be Vancouver, I remember getting an offer from Arista in 2013 for about $78k + some stock.


Starting salaries for new graduates in SF are north of $100k. Those "six figures plus" are certainly on the table.


Certainly good points, but one of the unique things about the Bay Area,especially compared to the east coast megalopolis, is that you can also be in the wilderness in 15-30 minutes.


Yes, but many young people like myself do not. Ok, I'm not so young now, I am 30. Still, I could not wait to leave my mid-size sunburn hell of hole of a city. In my mid twenties I did move to a west coast tech hub. Best decision I ever made.

If you like where you are, then you should definitely stay there.


Sounds like life here in Bend, Oregon (where we have some nice mountains, to boot). The same housing situation as SF is playing out though: it's becoming prohibitively expensive for middle class people like teachers and firefighters because not enough housing is being built.


Usually you don't have a lot of career opportunity in these kind of places. Opportunities are in the cities.


Yup, thus part of the angst about relocating or not!


I like it, too, and built a valley-style VC-backed startup here. Really, the only people who can understand why Midwesterners like it here are Midwesterners, and in that category even it's people with family/homeowners/etc.

I used to take it personally when people would look down on any other non-SF locales, especially the Midwest. Now I realize that they just don't know what they're talking about, and that's okay, they don't need to. I've already used the advantages of our location to compete on hiring with talent that does get it, and I'm happy to keep doing that!


I think it's more likely that many of the people know what they are talking about (plenty of the people I've seen talk down about the Midwest are in the group you say understand it -- people who were homeowners and/or has families in the Midwest) and just don't share your preferences.

Why is it so hard for people to accept that not everyone wants the same thing, so that any disagreement offer preferences must be grounded in someone's ignorance?


The only reason I live in an apartment in an urban area is because I have to. The minute I get the financial ability to do so, I am moving. I like privacy, nature, real communities, space, etc. None of these things are available where I live.


This is a contentious issue and in case you are not from SF and wondering why Y Combinator is taking a stand on it, it has to do with the politics of the tech boom.

The plain truth is that the housing crisis is a combination of too much sudden demand fueled by the tech boom and too little supply. The tech community likes to deflect criticism of their sudden influx of relatively high-income workers and say "don't blame us, it's a supply problem."

This bill focuses mainly on juicing supply by removing restrictions on builders. But part of that is weakening the affordable housing restrictions on them.[1] The problem with that is, increasing market-rate housing alone may not make an appreciable difference in prices where it matters most from a macroeconomic perspective: for low-to-mid income residents.

Cities need teachers, service industry workers, artists, etc. Already the restaurant industry is facing a major worker shortage.[2] Let's not even get into the cultural effects of long-term residents getting displaced en masse. So if market-rate supply alone can't solve this, then you need affordable housing regulations to set aside spots.

Sam has offered a rather simplistic statement on the law of supply and demand on this. But that masks the real question: whether weakening affordable housing demands as this bill does is a smart move. Will juicing mostly market-rate housing be enough?

[1] http://48hills.org/2016/05/22/a-terrible-housing-bill-looms-...

[2] http://www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/print-edition/2016/0...


I don't live in SF, but having spent most of the past 15 years in Europe, which is dense: it's almost completely a supply problem. SF is not really very dense at all for a place with such a high demand for housing.

Random place in SF: https://www.google.com/maps/@37.7718267,-122.4388549,3a,75y,...

Near where I lived in Padova, which is way smaller than SF, and way, way less well off:

https://www.google.com/maps/@45.3850829,11.8706466,3a,75y,18...

They look fairly similar, despite a 3 bedroom, 2 bath house in that area of the suburbs in Padova going for under 200K euro.

Here's what Milan looks like, which does have a decent economy, for Italy: https://www.google.com/maps/@45.4582853,9.2105922,3a,90y,219...

None of this 2/3 story crap, even if it's fairly far out from the city center. They've built up.


Apples to oranges. SF has always been more of a boomtown. Neither of the cities you mention have experienced the sudden, massive surge in demand that SF has in recent memory.

When you have sudden surges in demand you can't just pin it on supply. You have to think about macroeconomic objectives for the city (i.e. preserving low and mid income housing) as well as how to plan for the long term, like when the boom turns to bust and lots of those new residents leave.


    > Neither of the cities you mention have experienced
    > the sudden, massive surge in demand that SF has
    > in recent memory.
They haven't? According to what? I just looked this up for Milan real quick:

SF had 350k people in 1900, and 800k in 2010[1], a growth of ~2.3x. Milan had 550k people in 1900 and 1.3 million in 2010[2], a growth of ~2.35x.

I don't understand how you think SF is the exception in this example. Both of these cities have had similar population growth, Milan slightly more actually. It seems the difference is that Milan decided to build up.

1. http://www.sfgenealogy.com/sf/history/hgpop.htm

2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_Milan


First, you are looking at the wrong time scale. Second, population growth is not the same as demand. In just a few years SF has experienced a massive surge in demand, i.e. the price new residents are willing to pay for housing.


Well of course population growth isn't the same as demand, that's the point!

What davidw was observing was that there's plenty of cities that do better at satisfying the demand for housing than San Francisco does.

You can have a growing population in the same area while demand goes down, if you're building enough new housing to offset the demand. The examples davidw and I have been citing here show cities that have faced similar population growth that have built up rather than succumbing to SF's housing problems.

I think your claim that it's apples to oranges is invalid. Yes SF has been a boomtown, but plenty of cities all over the world have been boomtowns without the same issues.

The issue is that SF has been a boomtown AND hasn't gotten its act together when it comes to building up density. That's what makes it a special case, and that's why both the demand for housing housing prices are ridiculous there.


> cities that have faced similar population growth

You've simply ignored my point about the rate of growth in demand. That introduces a new factor, which is the need to control displacement of lower-income people and maintain healthy economic diversity.

Also, the issue here is not that SF is opposed to density. SF has many high-density neighborhoods and virtually all new construction is higher density. The issue is how hard the city should negotiate with developers to set aside price-controlled units to maintain economic diversity.


> the issue here is not that SF is opposed to density.

Sure it is. Otherwise, given the prices you could get for building higher buildings, someone would have done it. It'd be like printing money.


When was the last time SF had too much housing? Obviously prices have gone down at times in the past but it's hard to argue there's ever been an oversupply....


Nobody claimed there's an oversupply of housing. The question is how much affordable vs. market-rate housing the city should negotiate for.


Parent said that SF has to "plan for the long term, like when the boom turns to bust and lots of those new residents leave."

I don't think that's something that needs to be planned for. Even in a worst case scenario there will be plenty of demand to fill up any the new housing that's coming up in SF.


It's even worse in the suburbs. Everything is incredibly sprawled out. Every major city I've been to has apartment towers. It's just a more economical way to use land. Given how much demand for housing there is, there are obviously regulations in place keeping anything very tall from being built. The bay area doesn't want to grow.


> Random place in SF: https://www.google.com/maps/@37.7718267,-122.4388549,3a,75y,...

What is that really narrow, darkly painted building? Is that a house? Whatever it is, it sure looks peculiar (but I like it!)


It's actually a really nice house. I've been in it.


That's awesome! What is the interior like? Is it two rooms stacked on top of each other, or does the house go further back?

EDIT: I actually just noticed the street view image cuts off part of the house, making it seem tinier than it actually is. Originally, I thought it was a "micro-house" or something.



Thanks for posting! That is a very interesting interior haha


While the cost of housing in the bay area gets a lot of press the entire infrastructure of the bay is getting stretched by the current tech boom. The traffic is already the second worst in the nation [1], and existing public transportation like bart[2] and caltrain[3] are already overloaded.

While I'm generally in favor of development I think that this simplistic approach of just going around local planning departments is just going to lead to more problems. I think it would be better to cut state and local funding of counties if they don't match growth targets that region commits to. This way we incentivize communities to embrace growth while letting the residents still have a strong say in how and where their community grows. Letting developers call the pace hasn't made for good urban planning in other parts of the country and there is no reason to expect it to do a lot better here. Let's incentivize these parties to work together rather than giving one all the power to drive the process.

[1] http://www.tomtom.com/en_gb/trafficindex/list [2] http://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/BART-gets-candid-... [3] http://www.caltrain.com/Page3882.aspx


With the right projects like, the transbay terminal and I-280 city can actually allow development and create funds for transit at the same time.

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

http://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Transit-plan-to-r...


the transbay terminal is not another transbay tube, nor is it an expansion of the capacity of major bart stations.

at rush hour, at many stations, there isn't only no space on the trains, there's nowhere to fucking stand and wait for them.


If they end up implementing all their plans its a major capacity expansion for cal train, and part of a sister plan that would connect oakland to downtown SF via second transbay tube.


> The tech community likes to deflect criticism of their sudden influx of relatively high-income workers and say "don't blame us, it's a supply problem."

Well duh, ostensibly high-paying jobs are good, remember? Like, the tech sector is one of the few remaining industries with lots of jobs that pay well, and now we gotta demonize them too? Would it be preferable for everyone to be equally poor?

And it obviously is a supply problem. The California Legislative Analyst Office was pretty clear on that:

> While many factors have a role in driving California's high housing costs, the most important is the significant shortage of housing in the state's highly coveted coastal communities. We advise the Legislature to address this housing shortfall by changing policies to facilitate significantly more private home and apartment building in California's coastal urban communities.

http://www.lao.ca.gov/Publications/Detail/3214


It's important to understand the other factors alluded to by the California Legislative Analyst Office, among others. Specific to SF is a sudden influx of wealthier residents. With such a huge gap between their income levels and say service industry or blue collar folks, they are going to throw the market rate for housing way high. Increasing the supply of market-rate housing alone may not bring things down enough, at least, not without much greater developer concessions than have been suggested.


"Well duh, ostensibly high-paying jobs are good, remember?"

To whom, exactly? If those jobs are going to people who are moving here from somewhere else, then who benefits? There was a thriving city here long before tech startups came along.

The cruel irony of this kind of job growth is that it doesn't benefit the people who are being displaced. I personally think we need a more balanced approach: we need to build more housing, but we also need to start implementing some disincentives for companies to locate offices in San Francisco. It makes no sense, for example, that we're giving tech companies tax breaks to move their employees here.


> The cruel irony of this kind of job growth is that it doesn't benefit the people who are being displaced

That's because they're being displaced. Because there is not enough housing.

There are a lot of benefits to being in a wealthy area even for those who are not the ones with the highest paying jobs, as Enrico Moretti explains in "The New Geography of Jobs".

And if you want to see what an actual bad economy does for people.... check out Greece, or even Italy (which isn't nearly as bad off). It's not pretty.


"That's because they're being displaced. Because there is not enough housing."

Nor will there be at any point in the near future, no matter how much housing gets built. But that's a red herring. If the question is "should we favor policies that encourage the tech industry, or discourage it?", you have to do better than arguing that the tech industry is a net good in some ideal world that doesn't currently exist.

SF had a pretty strong economy before tech came along. Saying "tech...or the Greek economy" is clearly absurd.


I agree with you completely that 'special tax breaks' are BS.

I think there could certainly be enough housing to help a bunch of people at the margins, especially if density were allowed in a lot of the greater bay area.


Articles by Tim Redmond are usually full of misinformation, and that one (link #1) is no exception. I could go on forever, but eg., he says:

"The problem is that the building and real-estate industries have a huge lock on California politics."

San Francisco is the #1 most development-hostile major city in the world. According to World Bank data, even in places like Ethiopia and Zimbabwe, it's still much easier to get planning permits than it is in SF. Blaming the power of the real estate industry for San Francisco's rents is like blaming the Chinese famines on capitalist saboteurs.


Which is why this is a state bill. That would be consistent with Redmond's claim.


[deleted]


A 2% chance today, right? Increasing the supply of affordable housing should improve those odds.

What's at stake here is how much affordable housing the city for negotiate for with developers. Critics argue this state bill undercuts the city's negotiating position.


Doesn't the bill only apply to developments with at least 10% onsite affordable housing? Is the city really going to negotiate a higher amount than that?


It allows for as little as 5%. Some in the city are fighting for more. For example Jane Kim, the SF supervisor who Bernie Sanders just endorsed for state senate, is fighting for 25% (down from 30%).[1]

Basically this state bill is a developer move to undercut SF's negotiating position, as they have more political influence at the state level.

[1] http://www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/blog/real-estate/201...


> increasing market-rate housing alone may not make an appreciable difference in prices where it matters most from a macroeconomic perspective: for low-to-mid income residents.

This may well be possible to argue, but you're going to need a source for a claim that goes against the basic concept of supply-and-demand.


It doesn't go against it. The question is how elastic is the demand curve. If it's not elastic enough to make SF affordable for low-to-mid income residents then we may face bad macroeconomic and cultural effects. That's where price controls come in.


I don't think the tech community is deflecting criticism. As a minority voting group, what are they supposed to do about the problem?

The limited supply is not their fault. The refusal to bid in the market would be a meaningless self-sacrifice. The lack of healthy leverage and organization by workers in other industries have nothing to do with tech workers, who, again, are a minority power in politics.


Your premise that the tech community is not a major player in local politics because of their relatively small body count does not hold water. Money plays a large influence in local politics. Ron Conway is a perfect example of this: he dines with the mayor and provides major funding to local campaigns and initiatives, which usually win.


So you're saying that tech has been a major political player with respect to housing laws? If anything, restrictions on housing supply hurt tech companies who wish to import workers to their area. Restrictions on housing supply hurts everyone who isn't a landowner.

If you're saying that a few tech elites are players in politics, fine, but that has nothing to do with the rest of the world who aren't elites. It's almost not worth mentioning that elites everywhere are players in politics. The rest of the tech world are not creating organized vehicles to channel money or votes (unlike teachers or firemen, who do organize). They're just people participating in the housing market. And whatever tech elites are doing, they don't look like they're winning the battle to up supply on housing so they can import more employees.

What's the reason that money from employees of one industry are displacing workers from another industry? Because workers in that other industry lack the leverage to demand more wages that keep up with other industries, because housing supply is limited, and because population is growing.


> restrictions on housing supply hurt tech companies who wish to import workers

That may be true, but a city needs more than just tech workers to function. The goal is balanced growth.

> Restrictions on housing supply hurts everyone who isn't a landowner.

Objectively false. Affordable housing requirements help lower income people.

> whatever tech elites are doing, they don't look like they're winning the battle to up supply on housing

You mean up the supply of market-rate housing. Most critics are not anti-growth, they just want more affordable housing.

And as for displacing workers from other industries who can't afford market rate, it's not us vs. them. The "industries" you're talking about are intertwined: tech, restaurants, cafes, schools, police, nursing, art, and so on. If a city doesn't grow in a balanced way and pushes all those other people out it could make it an undesirable place to live. Already we are seeing big increases in restaurant prices due to cost of living.


> want more affordable housing

Then they should support as-of-right construction. Mandating affordable housing doesn't actually increase its availability if a developer's plans to build affordable housing keep getting shot down.


Nor would building merely 5% affordable make much of a dent, probably, which is what this bill allows as-of-right.


How does the bill weaken affordable housing demands? And doesn't building more "luxury" condo open more affordable housing stock.

This is such a confusing issue, everyone seems to be making sense.


My understanding is the bill has weaker requirements (as little as 5%) on affordable housing than alternatives. Think of cities and negotiating with developers over affordability, and this is a more developer-friendly offer.


I think that is meant to be left to local requirements. Municipality could jack it up to 20% AFAIK.


That's the key question. The article I cited details many limitations on local governments that would seem to limit their ability to demand affordable housing.[1]

Bottom line, this bill is massively supported by developers, so take that as a gauge of how much power it gives municipalities.

[1] http://48hills.org/2016/05/22/a-terrible-housing-bill-looms-...


You are confused; the 48hills article is referring to a different bill[1] (affordable housing bonus) than the Governor’s budget trailer bill that Sam Altman is referring to[2]. The Governor’s bill requires that localities deterministically and expediently approve projects near transit that provide some low-income housing and comply with local zoning laws.

But speaking of the affordable housing bonus, Tim Redmond’s specific concerns seem to be that height limits, setbacks, and backyard requirements may be waived, not that there would be any reduction in affordable housing. But I agree that the affordable housing bonus law is somewhat open-ended so who knows what concession a developer might request.

[1]: https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtm...

[2]: http://web1a.esd.dof.ca.gov/Documents/bcp/1617/FY1617_ORG224...


I guess, thanks, but it looks like exactly the same problem: It sets affordability requirements as low as 5%. See: 65913.3(b)(4)


The Governor’s budget trailer bill says that if a developer sets aside a certain fraction of the units for inclusionary housing and the proposal complies with the local zoning code, then the locality must approve it deterministically and quickly. This does not prevent a local government from setting a higher inclusionary requirement in their zoning code; it would remain 12% in San Francisco (or higher if Proposition C of June 2016 passes). The inclusionary fraction in the bill is just the threshold at which the other provisions begin to apply.

By the way, the Legislative Analyst’s Office has released an endorsement[1] of the bill which provides background, justification, and proposed improvements.

[1]: http://www.lao.ca.gov/Publications/Detail/3470


But bear in mind this just brings California in line with a bunch of places that managed to build their way out of a housing crisis. $1T in war spending dumped on DC in the last decade, led to cranes everywhere, not massive rent increase.


Uh, DC has had significant rent (and home price) increases in the past decade. Not as bad as here, but it's definitely not correct to claim that they've built their way out of a housing crisis.

In fact, when you look around, you see similar trends nationwide. A lot of this is just the predictable consequence of our near-zero interest rate policy since 2009.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/local/wp/2015/03/12/medi...

https://www.rentjungle.com/average-rent-in-washington-rent-t...


I don't see how worker shortages in the service industry could possibly be seen as a bad thing. Service industry workers will be required regardless of cost of living. If supply is constrained because of cost of living, these workers will simply be paid more. Rather than trying to legislate our way to $15/hr, how is it not better to achieve the same thing with less government intervention? 'affordable housing', as required by the government, is not necessary at all.


I highly doubt this bill would pass without severe modifications. The problem is that we have two groups in population: One who own houses and other who don't. First group don't want new houses and dilute value of their property. Politicans very well knows that making this group unhappy will end their careers. The second group is often in minority outside large cities. This is why its very hard to pass laws that would allow build new houses. It's great that SamA is taking interest in this. If enough valley billionaires can pay for lobbing then politicians can finally ignore their majority constituents and do the "right thing" :).


Around 65% of the population in SF are renters. If it were simply homeowners vs renters, renters would win in a landslide.

Who do you think was pushing for proposition I (an 18 month development moratorium in the mission) to pass? It wasn't homeowners, that's for sure. It was renters living in the Mission who were (not incorrectly) terrified that new development means they will get evicted and displaced.

Why did 60% of SF voters (keeping in mind only 30% are homeowners) vote for Proposition B, requiring a city wide up-or-down vote on all new waterfront development over 40-80 feet? A measure that was also endorsed by multiple major newspapers? Because people are afraid of everything changing too quickly and the nice beautiful waterfront turning into midtown Manhattan.

It's complicated. This isn't homeowners giving the middle finger to everybody else. The situation is more akin to existing residents fighting against future residents. Though whatever the situation is, pointing fingers at individual constituencies instead of trying to understand the problem holistically is not helping anything.


"It was renters living in the Mission who were (not incorrectly) terrified that new development means they will get evicted and displaced."

New development as the cause of displacement is just outright misinformation. There has been very little development in the Mission:

https://rationalconspiracy.com/2015/05/25/new-york-times-mak...

There is an extremely strong negative correlation between development and housing prices across cities:

http://www.spur.org/sites/default/files/wysiwyg/asking.price...

This is an excellent writeup by Jason Furman, chief economic adviser to President Obama, which explains in detail how land use restrictions make cities expensive (and cause other problems besides):

https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/page/files/20...


People presumably think it is. As a visitor there now a lot of SF looks quite low density low rise, but a lot of the buildings are very pretty and the low rise wooden houses are part of the charm. Not sure how much less dense than Tokyo it is but maybe 4x? As a Brit I love the history, but there are probably parts that could be rebuilt. But there is a high risk that they won't be built as high density, the fact that the proposal includes affordable is because the builders will infill high end mostly. You need to allow rebuild of low density at eg 10x at scale to get a fall in prices. Builders don't want that.


Are you sure that only 30% of SF voters are homeowners? Maybe in presidential elections (with 70% turnout), but in all the other elections where turnout ranges from 30-50% I wouldn't be surprised if homeowners make up more than half of actual voters.


> It was renters living in the Mission who were (not incorrectly) terrified that new development means they will get evicted and displaced.

This is such a bizarre idea.

How exactly do renters get displaced by adding more housing?


Because new housing doesn't magically appear around existing tenants and their furniture. Existing tenants get told to leave, then there is construction for x months, then a new building is there with more units available, and (especially if the old building was under rent control) each new unit costs more than each old unit in the building that used to be there. And its possible none of the tenants who used to live in that building can afford to live in the replacement units - tada, displacement by adding more apartments.


Because the actual building they live in gets demolished to build another building. Or because the new building next door is filled with 'luxury' $5000/mo rents, which might drive the rent up in their building.


If someone is living in the mission there are only 3 options; 1) They own their house 2) They are renting but their unit is rent controlled 3) They are rich or have high paying jobs (and building more actually helps them)

"Because the actual building they live in gets demolished to build another building"

This happens very rarely, people will literally revolt before a rent controlled unit gets demolished in the mission

So someone opposing more building in the mission falls into the first two categories and they are extremely selfish


This happens all the time (#2), it's literally happening to me right now. Look at the map of Ellis and Owner Move-In evictions in SF. Thousands of people are being displaced.


154 Ellis Act evictions last year. I know its sucks but I wouldn't say it happens all the time

http://sfist.com/2016/03/29/report_evictions_continue_to_inc...


And combined with owner-move in evictions you get to 2 evictions every day. Which some would qualify as 'all the time'.


> because the new building next door is filled with 'luxury' $5000/mo rents, which might drive the rent up in their building.

This is such a stupid myth. On par with "vaccinations cause autism" or Bigfoot.

Science has studied how price depends on supply and demand very thoroughly. Increased supply always leads to lower prices.


"Increased supply always leads to lower prices"

Not in real estate economics. Housing isn't a commodity market. There are firm price tiers, different methods of construction, different fixed costs for those methods, and drastically different markets for individual neighborhoods. Real estate isn't fungible and it's isn't particularly liquid. Basically none of the requirements of Econ-101-style supply and demand are met in the world of real estate. Building skyscrapers is nothing like creating an assembly line for widgets.

So yes, "construction" has some small aggregate effect on the price of a rental in the city, but that effect is meaningless to you if your affordable building was knocked down to make room for a luxury skyscraper.

Moreover, if you do happen to overbuild housing in a market, the price sags. Developers then almost immediately stop building, because the costs of new construction don't decline with scale. Thus, price controls enabled by construction happen on the order of decades, not years. Neighborhoods gentrify much more quickly.

In practice, a low-density neighborhood gentrifies, land values go up, and developers start to replace cheaper, low-density construction with expensive, high-density construction that can only be justified because of the higher land values. Existing residents are displaced. Ideally, those residents then move to a cheaper neighborhood. If no such neighborhood exists (because, say, you're in a small land-locked city with more millionaires per capita than anywhere on earth, and no remaining "undesirable" land), then those residents are, indeed, completely displaced. The fact that luxury apartments are theoretically $30 a month cheaper in some other neighborhood is thin gruel.


> Not in real estate economics.

Increased supply leading to higher prices would be something that Economist would crawl over each other to study, if true.

So where are these studies?

Who are the professional economists who support this view?


Pretty much all of them. Nothing I've said is controversial -- the gains are long-term, but the short-term effect is often just displacement:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/02/12/the-p...

"None of this dismisses the fact that displacement from specific homes happens when low-income housing is literally knocked down to build high-end towers. A good amount of new supply in cities, though, can rise on under-utilized land (former industrial plots, surface parking lots, abandoned properties, etc.). And the cumulative effect of all that new supply can hold down rents across neighborhoods and cities, including for the poor."

Nobody thinks that new housing is bad - in the long term. Where economists start to disagree is how to prioritize low-income housing and market-rate construction in the near-term:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/02/19/how-t...

"To be sure, more supply is needed, but unless it is targeted to those who need it most, it will only help wealthier residents."

"'Filtering,' where older housing units trickle down to lower-income families as they age, can happen in the broader metropolitan context. But it can take decades for filtering do deliver truly affordable units to lower-income households. As apartments age, the rent of a typical unit – not in a hot area - declines an average of 0.31 percent per year so even after 30 years, the rent will have fallen by only 9 percent."

"In gentrifying neighborhoods, filtering does not work at all, because land values and rents rise as the neighborhoods become more desirable and developers bid up land values. So lower-income households must look in other neighborhoods where services and schools are likely to be much weaker. Hence the gentrification process can reconstruct economic segregation."


The first article, headlined The poor are better off when we build more housing for the rich literally makes my argument.

The second article lets various people give their reaction to the first one. The non professionals say what they usually say. But the Berkeley professor of economics answers my question very clearly:

Economic research on this topic is unanimous. There is no question that on net, adding more units tends to lower rents. All existing peer-reviewed academic studies — including work done at Harvard University, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and by me at UC Berkeley — find that more housing supply results in lower rents and house prices, everything else being constant.


If you're simply replacing cheap housing with an equal number of expensive units, yeah, that's not doing much good. The idea is to add to the total number of units.

Filtering does work, but as you point out, it takes time: https://oregoneconomicanalysis.com/2016/05/25/housing-does-f...

But just because the best time to build more was 30 years ago doesn't mean now isn't a good time to start.

Also: if you are adding expensive housing it takes some pressure off of the cheaper housing that would otherwise be the 2nd choice of those going into the expensive housing.


Ok....there is clearly more housing in San Francisco today than there was 50 years ago. Why does housing in San Francisco cost more today than it did 50 years ago?


Because price depends on supply and demand.

Supply has gone up, but demand has gone up even more.


Congratulations on recognising that your glib generalization above was wrong! Now see if you can imagine any way in which development of a neighbourhood can ever increase demand. An idea to get you started: there exist people who would like to live in a nice apartment but who would not be interested in an old rooming house. There exist people who only want to live somewhere that already has residents at their (higher) income level. There exist services that are only offered in areas that have people with x disposable income. And there exist people that will only move somewhere that said services exist.


Here a scenario that can illuminate the unavoidable fact of supply and demand.

- A building owner doubles his rents from $3000/month to $6000/month. What happens? Everyone moves out. The high price eliminated Demand for that building.

ANALYSIS: When the owner tried to jack up his rents too high, it created an excess supply of $6000/month units and not enough demand. What will happen to that owner? ANSWER: go out of business or increase Demand by lowering his asking rent. CRUX: owners only have 'pricing power' matching the strength of demand, they cannot just start 'greedily' raising rents.

Now assume Zynga opens up shop in the neighborhood. Does demand increase for apartments? YES. There are hundreds of new renters.

Building owners see they get 20 applications now for a vacancy instead of 5. They raise their asking rents to $3100 and people pay it due to lack of Supply of units.

The owners cannot raise the rent unless Demand increases. But in San Francisco, which has become much more of a Tech hub over the past 20 years, Demand for apartments has increased. Supply hasn't kept up.

INCREASE IN DEMAND = more applications for a vacant unit = HIGHER RENT because lack of supply means renters have few choices.

Okay, now assume Zynga goes out of business.

Does demand DEcrease for apartments in the neighborhood? YES. There are hundreds of fewer renters.

Building owners see they get 5 applications now for a vacancy instead of 20. If they keep the rents at $3100 there is now an excess supply of expensive units. They must lower their asking rents or wait longer to fill a vacancy and lose money on an unrented unit.

I own/operate rental properties. Supply and Demand is alive and well in the apartments realm on the Peninsula.

During the worst parts of the recsssion we had 20% vacancy (normally it's between 3% to 5%).

Demand for apartments dropped precipitously. Did we lower our rents? We had to. We entered a 'race to the bottom' competition with other rental property owners.

THERE WAS AN EXCESS SUPPLY OF APARTMENTS in the 2008-09 recession. Rents dropped.

Right now there is a lack of supply of units because Demand rose as the job market got healthy.

Rents are higher.

When Demand drops in the next few years in the next recession (due to layoffs, tech firms folding, etc.), will my firm have to lower our asking rents?

OH BABY. Yes indeed. It hurts too.

The argument 'Supply and Demand don't apply to housing' is patently false.

During a recession, there's lower Demand for units (fewer people working; living in parent's basement or leave the area). RENTS DROP.

During a healthy job market, there's higher demand for apartments (more people working -- move out of parent's basement; and new people get hired locally and move to the area). RENTS INCREASE.

The argument that 'everyone must have an apartment in San Francisco, regardless, if they want one' is BOGUS. If you cannot afford to live there, that's YOUR FAULT. Not the city's fault. Not Zynga's fault. YOUR FAULT.


Perhaps Zynga is not an optimal example here.


> Around 65% of the population in SF are renters.

We don't in practice have "1 person, 1 vote". Because of the influence of money in politics, the effective reality is somewhere in between "1 person, 1 vote" and "1 dollar, 1 vote". There are far more dollars on the property owning side.


> Around 65% of the population in SF are renters. If it were simply homeowners vs renters, renters would win in a landslide.

Yes, but many renters are covered by rent control, and thus immune to increasing market rents.


You've described why it's almost impossible to do anything about housing policy at the local level. That's why state-level action such as this bill is so important. The state legislature represents a much broader constituency, including lots of people who would like to live in SF but can't currently afford to.


This is exactly what is happening. Those who own homes don't care what the consequences of preventing new housing nearby are. The consequence is income segregation, especially in areas zoned for single family homes. Single family zoning is inherently segregationist—you can only live in those neighborhoods if you can afford the most expensive type of housing. Our homeowner-run local governments feign concern about housing costs while it's literally illegal to build cheaper homes on less land in so many neighborhoods.

To repeal segregation laws that are supported by the public, you're going to need a desegregation movement. Here's one: https://www.facebook.com/DesegregateATX/


This is a big argument going on in Austin too. Housing prices are going through the roof, yet home owners don't want multi family units in their neighborhood.

I can't say I blame them, either. It's nice having some quiet - four families in the lot next door means 4x more noise, cars, dogs, parties, etc.

Difference here is that you can live insanely cheap in the suburbs, so most end up doing that, but with no reasonable public transport and no current ridesharing, it's a mess that will continue to grow.


"Just move to the suburbs" is a solution that sounds fine, but it's really not. Wealthier folks feel entitled to central living because a market economy distributes scarce goods to the wealthiest. But the middle class is perfectly capable of outbidding the rich for housing: they do it by buying cheaper homes on less land. Four middle class families in a fourplex spend more on housing than most Central Austin families, but those are illegal to build. Every single family homeowner got a leg up in the housing market because it was illegal for the middle class to bid against them.

Our affordability crisis is a charade. It was manufactured by selfish people looking out for their own interests without caring about the consequences. They have segregated our cities by income, and pushed people away from jobs and communities that would've improved their lives. Our cities must be desegregated. This injustice must end.


Would it really affect homeowners outside major cities that much? Nobody is going to rush out to the middle of nowhere to build apartment buildings.


I'm a lowly wage slave homeowner, but I support this.


Ditto. If only we could next rationalize and overhaul our property tax system / prop-13[1] of 1978. Then we might have a fighting chance of [ more ] affordable housing.

Maybe instead of paying linear tax based on purchase price, we could implement a reverse logarithmic scale for property tax % based on state / national / something average sales prices / sqft that would be re-assessed yearly. And then either apply that to all new home purchases, and when enacted, allow existing home owners to opt-in ( recent buyers ), or opt-out.

[1] http://www.californiataxdata.com/pdf/Prop13.pdf


There is a third group - landlords. Those are the ones that have the means to scoop up multiple properties and collect the rents. I believe this to be the main problem in the build more housing plan...


> First group don't want new houses and dilute value of their property

Increasing as-of-right development opportunities can potentially actually increase land values. Definitely bad for condo owners though.


> Definitely bad for condo owners though.

Why? I would assume, as the area gets denser, more popular, more shops, more restaurants, that also condos go up in price?


It increases land values, but more new development decreases the value of older improvements on land.


I own a house in Silicon Valley. And I'm all for building more.


If you are passionate about the housing crisis in The Bay Area, you should check out The San Francisco Bay Area Rentors Federation.

They are one of the groups doing the most activism on this issue.


Yup! If you're interested in a low-effort way to influence the local market, please consider voting by June 7th: http://www.sfyimby.org.

Fun fact: some of you may have seen us canvassing at tech bus stops in SF.


This is one of the worst piece of advice, IMHO. Here's why.

1) You can't add housing without adding proper infrastructure (transportation, sewage, power, etc). Adding infrastructure is expensive and takes a very long time. There will be no budget for proper infrastructure increase if the population keeps rising - remember that hundreds of thousands of people work for companies that offshore their taxes.

2) Most people need financial advice on what real estate investment means. If there's another bubble burst, a lot of average income people will have their life ruined. They would have bought an apartment for, say, $1M, with 200k down, only to see its value decrease by 30-35%, essentially wiping out their savings and forcing them into unsustainable debt.

3) I wish there was an easy way to fix the housing problem in SF. There isn't. Let's be realistic about it.

Please don't downvote me just because you disagree with me. Instead, tell me why.


> Please don't downvote me just because you disagree with me. Instead, tell me why.

I'll do both, because you are acting like an informed person but wrong about very basic things.

> 1) You can't add housing without adding proper infrastructure (transportation, sewage, power, etc). Adding infrastructure is expensive and takes a very long time. There will be no budget for proper infrastructure increase if the population keeps rising - remember that hundreds of thousands of people work for companies that offshore their taxes.

One, you don't "offshore taxes", you offshore profits. Two, corporations don't pay local taxes based on profits, so I'm not sure what you're on about. Tech workers? They pay quite a lot in local taxes.

> 2) Most people need financial advice on what real estate investment means. If there's another bubble burst, a lot of average income people will have their life ruined. They would have bought an apartment for, say, $1M, with 200k down, only to see its value decrease by 30-35%, essentially wiping out their savings and forcing them into unsustainable debt.

It is not the purpose of an economy to coddle wealthy people with artificial market restrictions, so I don't have any sympathy here. Also, mortgage debt isn't like college debt or credit card debt; it's secured by your house alone. Banks can't go after you for it. All they can do is give you a bad credit score for seven years. Which is bad, but I'm sure people who can afford million-dollar homes can afford to face the consequences of their actions.

> 3) I wish there was an easy way to fix the housing problem in SF. There isn't. Let's be realistic about it.

This isn't saying anything.


Even if this bill passes and substantially more multi-family housing starts getting built, do not be surprised if house prices remain extremely high.

Vancouver doesn't have the same anti-development issues that SF has, and has been building multi-unit condos and apartments all over the region for decades. Multi-unit housing starts are about at its highest level ever. The average price of a detached house however is C$1.3 million (~US$998k thanks to the weak Canadian dollar) and rising. Low interest rates, "fear of missing out," incredible amounts of real estate speculation and a dash of foreign investment can go a long way.

It's likely that the strongest benefits to increased supply in SF will manifest itself in lower rents and/or lower rate of rent increases.


Vancouver is a bit of an anomaly, and much of the housing pricing there is being driven by foreign investment rather than occupation rates.

I moved out of the sea-to-sky about 6 years ago (I'm from Whistler) but I seem to recall huge amounts of apartment vacancy in Yaletown and even Coal Harbour areas. From what I've been reading in Canadian news, it seems that many of these properties remain empty and are not in the rental pool as the act as a shell game for foreigners to move money our of other contries (mostly China, but others too I'm sure).

SF is a very small city, even compared to Vancouver, and from what I understand, vacancies are almost nil.


The official vacancy rate is low but the unofficial vacancy rate is much higher. Many empty units are kept off the rental market due to how tilted the rights are in favor of tenants. 39 percent of the landlords surveyed in 2003 said they kept vacant apartments off the market because of regulations. [1]

http://missionlocal.org/2015/06/a-closer-look-at-airbnbs-inn...


Nobody's expecting housing prices to drop by half overnight. It's just the best thing we can do to limit future growth and make it SOMEWHAT affordable.

(and, frankly, as a homeowner, I don't WANT my housing prices to drop in half overnight, but I DO what the region to be affordable to more people, and hence I support this even though it's against my own personal interest).


Detached homes will not fall in price, pretty well ever. Since San Francisco is pretty well "out of space," when it comes to developing land, building up is the only option and will come to the detriment of detached housing.

This sort of development however should, as you say, assuage high rents and perhaps expand the condo market in SF.


A one bedroom condo in downtown Vancouver is very affordable compared to San Francisco.


I think what you mean to say is cheaper, not affordable.

a software engineer makes over 80K if he is lucky, you would be considered an exception if you make anything over 100K. also pretty much everything else costs more in Canada than it does in US which leaves even less money for housing,

so cheaper yes, but definitely less affordable.


http://www.vancouver-downtown-condo.ca/details.php?id=31618&...

$300k (USD) 1 bd room apartment in Yaletown, equivalent of this in SF is at least $750k. Plus property taxes in SF are around %1.15 for a $750k condo that comes down to 10k a year, just on property taxes. Not sure about the rules in Vancouver but the link I posted above claims $1,008 in property taxes. So yea I think Vancouver is affordable.


It would be pretty much impossible to buy that unit at that price. The new normal is that you list your property at below market rate and a get nice silent auction going.

for example a friend of mine just bought a condo in vancouver last week, List price was around 500K, he put an offer of $530, got a counter of $550 and it finally sold for $580.

http://bc.ctvnews.ca/fierce-bidding-wars-a-new-reality-in-lo...


San Francisco homes typically go over asking too. I've seen 900k listings sold for 1.3 million.


I'm in favor of how "building in the Bay Area is approved by discretion", I call it having some power over what gets built. "Democracy" y'know?

I'm from SF. I grew up here. I'm also a computer nerd.

To me, the tech "industry" has been ruining the city I love since the Dot-Com boom. To me, they are an invading army culturally speaking. In a very real sense my home is being destroyed.

The saddest part is, this city kinda sucks. It's not even a good place to locate a business. The city gov is soft-corrupt. The weather NEVER gets better. We're on a damned peninsula. If I were starting a company I'd go to Davis CA! People aren't coming here because it makes sense. This is just where the game is being played. They are drawn here like aspiring actors are drawn to Hollywood, but the prospects are just as glamorous and illusory. A few will strike gold, the rest will toil and vanish.

This is a town for freaks and weirdos. If you don't believe me, visit Civic Center. ;-) It is said "The people who are too strange for the rest of the country move to California, and the people to weird for California move to San Francisco." (If you are still too weird you go to Berkeley.)

What concerns me the most is that the newcomers might lack the environmental commitment, and tip the scales from valuing conservation to valuing rampant development. San Francisco is the largist metropolitan area with the most wilderness/open space around it in the world. The last thing we need is more lux condos and freeways.

I'm going to be calling those numbers, you can bet, but it will be to urge "con" on this abrogation of the weirdo-freaks ability to stonewall development. This is a good thing.

Y'all "young gods" will just have to figure out some other place to hatch the singularity. Move away. Build a floating "Seastead". Just please stop trying to cram a million more people into the Bay Area. It's not actually a good idea!

Also, I hear Portland is nice.


> To me, they are an invading army culturally speaking. In a very real sense my home is being destroyed.

This is xenophobia in another skin. There are a lot of people who don't want brown people coming into the country and changing the "feel" of their home too.

Anyways, as long as we severely restrict housing, techies will continue to outbid the locals on what remains. Passing this legislation might give the weirdo-freaks a chance to remain in the city.


Xenophobia is defined (by one source) as "intense or irrational dislike or fear of people from other countries."

Maybe comparing this commenter to "a lot of people who don't want brown people" is ham fisted and inaccurate.

The commenter seems more interested in the culture, the freakiness or weirdness, of the people who come in, and not so much which country they came from. I do not see where the commenter mentioned race or skin color.


> The commenter seems more interested in the culture, the freakiness or weirdness, of the people who come in, and not so much which country they came from

Go to a Trump rally and ask if they actually hate minorities for the color of the skin. They'll say no.

Xenophobes and racists always insist it's about "culture" and an invading army which is somehow destroying that "culture" and ruining their way of life with an outside culture.

I fail to see how this attitude is acceptable when it comes from privileged urban hippies, but unacceptable when it comes from poor rural workers.


There are plenty of xenophobes and racists who actually do insist that they're concerned about race itself.

Anyway, it seems that what you want to establish is not that xenophobes and racists "insist it's about culture", but that anyone who "insists it's about culture" is a xenophobe or racist.


> Anyway, it seems that what you want to establish is not that xenophobes and racists "insist it's about culture", but that anyone who "insists it's about culture" is a xenophobe or racist.

Yes, I do think that everyone who insists that culture is a valid reason for opposing the ability of people to migrate into their area is an xenophobe.


I guess you use "xenophobic" more broadly than I do.

For example, if a large influx of patriotic, Budweiser-drinking gun-owners from Texas occurred in Berkeley and a long-time Berkeley resident complained about it because they didn't want a "culture of watery-beer, flag-waving gun ownership" to expand in their neighborhood, I would not call that xenophobic. But it seems like you would.

Or, maybe you wouldn't. Can you clarify this a bit more?


Yes, I would consider it xenophobic. From my viewpoint, it's hard to see how any attitude which discriminates against people not like you isn't prejudices and backwards.

An example closer to home for me is that Vermonters constantly complain of "flatlanders" from NYC are moving in and ruining the culture. I consider this attitude xenophobic and ignorant of the fact that culture is never static.

Why should the national border make a difference? Why is it not xenophobic if Californians oppose Texans moving to town, but xenophobic when Texans oppose Mexicans moving a few miles north?


Thanks for clarifying.

FWIW, personally, I would refrain from using the word "xenophobic" so readily, especially because of its deeply negative connotations.

In my Berkeley/Texas example, imagine a scenario where the Texas transplants destroyed all their guns, recycled all of their cans of Budweiser, started buying Chimay Ales from the Berkeley Bowl and put Bernie Sanders bumper stickers on their cars. If some long-time Berkeley resident _still_ rejected these erstwhile Texans as outsiders, then I would trot out the label "xenophobe." But probably not before that.


As an outsider I have a hard time seeing how the people living in and the people wanting to live in the bay area are of different cultures for any meaningful sense of the world. This is largely a political issue over priorities and not a fear of the unknown.


It's a fine line.


I'll bite:

Is it ever ok for a person to argue against policies that increase population in the city where they reside?

If so, what are some ethical reasons for resisting and/or advocating against population growth in a city?


San Francisco, and several other American cities, were places for freaks and weirdos in the mid-20th century because of a historical anomaly in which the US federal government deliberately subsidized white, middle-class families into leaving for nearly-created suburbs. This trend began reversing in the 1980s and now land-values in the urban core reflect what is seen in cities all over the rest of the world -- that central areas have higher land and housing costs than the periphery.

It was a great, interesting, trippy twenty to thirty-year period, but it doesn't exist anymore and its loss in the Bay Area was probably accelerated in part because California has such an unusually politicized and unpredictable land-use and development process that has led it to consistently underproduce housing for the last 40 years.

http://www.lao.ca.gov/reports/2015/finance/housing-costs/hou...

The "young Gods" you speak of tend to have higher incomes not just because of the tech industry. They have higher costs because the elder babyboomer Californians rigged and created a system that is so constricted that only the wealthiest millennials can afford to participate in it.

Look at the differences in housing cost burdens based on year of birth here: http://www.lao.ca.gov/LAOEconTax/Article/Detail/120


This is absolutely democracy. It's just democracy on the state level, rather than the local level. In this case, the state level is appropriate, because San Francisco's policies have an effect on all the surrounding cities, and all the other Americans who might want to live in SF. Would it be "undemocratic" to say that San Francisco can't unilaterally vote to stop paying federal income taxes?

In any case, cities will still have huge influence over what gets built, since every building under this law still has to comply with local zoning. All this law says is that cities can't pretend to allow development, and then arbitrarily block individual developers for no reason (or because they didn't pay enough bribes).


> San Francisco's policies have an effect on all the surrounding cities, and all the other Americans who might want to live in SF.

You could make that case for all regions of the world. Nobody is completely isolated. We breath the same air and everyone deals with the effects of pollution.

It's not a reason to prevent changing existing law.


It's a difference of degree. The effect of most local policies on the region, nation, or world is negligible. The effect of San Francisco's is very large.

See this magazine article on how NIMBYs pushed suburban sprawl on surrounding areas:

https://web.archive.org/web/20001001083046/http://www.sfweek...

See this article, on how restrictive urban land use is estimated to lower America's entire national GDP by 5-15%:

http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21647614-poor-land-use...



There are plenty of things that lower GDP. Environmental policies, for one. That's not reason enough alone.

I suspect the impact of restrictions on SF growth at this point are large because as the parent notes, growth has been large there in the digital age. Tech businesses have had it good there for awhile. Maybe time for some change, no? At least get rid of Feinstein..

Edit: please explain down votes, thanks!!


> This is a town for freaks and weirdos.

Those are all the people currently getting forced out by the lack of housing supply. Opposing this legislation won't magically make the rich leave, instead the city will continue to be less accessible to the middle class.

I hope that some day everyone who wants to live in San Francisco can live here. It seems like the only way for that to happen is to increase the housing supply.


> Also, I hear Portland is nice.

As someone who grew up in Portland [1], I could write a post just like yours, and I'm sympathetic to the frustration...

But I still side with the pro-housing crowd. What are people who seek to move up in life (i.e., take that dream job and build a career), but who happen to have been born in the middle of nowhere, supposed to do? Is it fair to say "hey, my home, don't come here" when a large fraction of the industry is in one place and the individual software engineer has very little power to change that? Yes, long term, we should spread out and build clusters of industry elsewhere, but that doesn't help the fresh college grad today who gets an offer in the Bay Area but can barely afford rent.

[1] and I want to move back someday so please don't ruin it!


Too late, I'm afraid.


This town won't be for the freaks and weirdos for long: they're being priced out. You can rage against the techies all you want, but unless we can build more housing, the techies will be the only ones who can afford to live here.

It seems bizarre to me that those most fervently opposed to the influx of tech in SF are doing the most to harm the existing residents. If you make it hard to build in San Francisco, there won't be enough houses. If there aren't enough houses, who do you think gets the few that remain? It's not the freaks and the weirdos– it's the wealthy. The freaks and the weirdos have to leave because of your shortsighted policies.


I think they're hoping that eventually, investors will get tired of paying the high salaries needed to locate their engineers in the Bay Area (or salaries won't increase commensurate to cost of living, and they will stop finding engineers willing to move there).

Whether the city's culture or the tech community's attachment to the region will break first is, of course, an open question.


SF used to be beautiful. With tons more development, it will just look like Hong Kong/Singapore/Chicago/Manhattan, etc. and that beauty will be lost


That's a common sentiment, and I think there are a few points against it:

1. SF could double it's current housing density tomorrow and still have less than half of manhatten's density. That's not a serious concern.

2. Even if it were, we're faced with a tough choice: preserve SF's low-density housing, or preserve it's people. Which is better: a city with 20% taller buildings, or a city where the only the rich can afford to live, secure in their $10m victorians and $5k/mo NEMA towers?

3. Many would argue that SF's uniqueness is its population, its freespirited attitude, and its rich history of art and culture. The buildings themselves are only a small part of that. Losing them would be a bummer, but far worse than losing the real soul of the city.


I'm not disagreeing with anything that you said. I'm just lamenting the fact that SF will look just like every other skyscraper style skyline. You won't even know where you are


<SF could double it's current housing density tomorrow and still have less than half of manhatten's density. That's not a serious concern.>

Count how many bridges and tubes connect Manhattan to the mainland vs. how many bridges and freeways connect SF to the rest of the world, and revisit that concept again.


You could cut housing prices in half by building 111,000 new units. You could do that by converting 6% of the city's single-family homes into six-story apartment buildings, leaving the other 94% untouched, and not building a single structure taller than that.


I'm not arguing against development. I'm just saying that the iconic look and feel of SF will be lost. Maybe that's inevitable, but it saddens many people


Tokyo and Mexico City have very, very few buildings over five stories and still have double the density of SF. Paris and Barcelona have almost none over seven stories and have four times the density of SF.

So it doesn't have to be high rises and skyscrapers. SF can look like SF and build enough to make living affordable.

Of course, the real problem is the peninsula cities that insist on densities much lower than one third of SF. 80% of buildable land on the peninsula is tied up there being wasted.


When is the point of peak beauty? 1900? 1850?

Also, Hong Kong is a rather beautiful city.


Singapore looks like a giant shopping mall. It's nice in its own right, sure but I don't think I want every city in the world to look like it


don't worry. they won't. take LA for instance. most parts of it look like a giant traffic jam. looking like a nice shopping mall would be a welcome upgrade. LA will never look as nice as Singapore. Singapore has a huge amount of surplus investment cash. LA's budget is constantly at a breaking point.


"To me, the tech "industry" has been ruining the city I love since the Dot-Com boom. To me, they are an invading army culturally speaking. In a very real sense my home is being destroyed."

Isn't this just what natives say about every group of immigrants? The West Coast, in particular, has seen this before:

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-DXu9eKM4kJI/T_D5ucc8SPI/AAAAAAAABK...


Not sure you can equate the Chinese race with computer geeks.


> San Francisco is the largist metropolitan area with the most wilderness/open space around it in the world.

It's high on the list, but it's not the one with the most:

  Vienna 51% 
  Singapore 47% 
  Sydney 46% 
  Hong Kong 40% 70% is the total green space 40% is protected
  Rio De Janeiro 40%
  London 38.40% Almost 40%!
  Stockholm 30%
  Johannesburg-Gauteng 24%
  New York City 19.7 % or 14% Park Score/World Culture Report
  San Francisco 17.9%
http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=1660203


Where on earth did they get Singapore's 47% from? Here's a land-use map: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-C3jx_8qnyo0/UQvXDH4ksdI/AAAAAAAABL...

The light green bits are barely a quarter, and a good chunk of that is agricultural (mostly greenhouses), not "wilderness/open space".


Believable (17.9%) if you are measuring only within the S.F. city limits. San Mateo and Marin counties and the East Bay have huge tracts of open space for metropolitan areas.


That is the unspoken thing, the "third rail" of SF Bay area housing is the fact we have a huge Green Belt surrounding the bay.

Yes, we pride ourselves on our parks and reserves and natural beauty. But meanwhile Marin County's population hasn't really changed in 30 years, while commuters from Stockton have grown three or four orders of magnitude. There's a real bay incumbent insiders versus valley outsiders thing going on.


Same can be said for the surrounding areas of some of the other cities on the list.


Not Singapore or Hong Kong of course, but those are special cases.


I'm always amazed at how much open, undeveloped space one can see looking eastish when up in Tilden Park out here in the East Bay. It's fantastic.


I'm surprised Seattle doesn't make the list. Maybe thats based on parkland within the city. To the east you have immense tracks of wilderness in the cascade mountains and to the west the olympic peninsula.


>What is Considered Green Space?

>City proper is used as metropolitan boundaries are harder to determine. Will make a note if the data is for metropolitan area. Green spaces that are planned are used in the statistics. S For the most part the higher percentage of green space the most accessible to more people, however Hong Kong green spaces are usually not with many being in hills. Tree lined streets don't count as green spaces. Instead open green areas park, gardens, and squares? I'm not sure if squares are counted? Tree lined streets percent of tree canopy is not counted. This data is for open spaces."


This ranking only counts San Francisco city/county. I think the OP was referring to the San Francisco Bay Area [1]. It is comprised of nine Bay Area counties and has quite a bit of open space, as well as federal, state, county, and city parks.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Francisco_Bay_Area


As a life-long immigrant, I hear this everywhere I go. "My <geographical location> is the best. Go Away Hordes of invaders!". Hearing this from a progressive immigrant sanctuary city is especially disconcerting.


"San Francisco is the largist metropolitan area with the most wilderness/open space around it in the world."

This bill specifically applies to development in urban areas only. More development in areas that are already urban will reduce pressure for cities to expand outward, into pristine wilderness. That's why environmentalist organizations like the Sierra Club support infill development: it's a low-water-use, low-greenhouse-gas alternative to suburban sprawl.


> That's why environmentalist organizations like the Sierra Club support infill development

Except the Sierra Club in SF, which strongly opposes dense housing.


The modern Sierra Club's motives are political, not environmental. That's why they'll have rallies in SF against oil development in the Dakotas while remaining completely silent on groundwater poisoning right here in CA and the fact that (unlike the red oil states), CA has no oil extraction tax.


> I'm in favor of how "building in the Bay Area is approved by discretion", I call it having some power over what gets built. "Democracy" y'know?

That's what zoning laws are for, which the proposed legislation doesn't affect. The kind of thing Governor Brown wants to get rid of is Nosy Neighbor Syndrome being able to block or stall reasonable development that follows code.

I grew up in the bay area, and it sickens me how many people here are more interested in making sure homes have a front lawn than making sure homes can be affordable to people outside the upper class.


Those desires are not orthogonal.

Most homes with a front lawn were middle-class when they were built and for many years thereafter. Upper class types wouldn't live in tract neighborhoods, for the most part.


Sounds like you want to live in the past. Unfortunately this is not how life works. The more you try to keep something from happening that is inevitable the less effective your attempts will become until you lose.

NYC experienced this yesterday. SF is experiencing this today. Many cities will be experiencing this tomorrow. As population density grows this same scenario will repeat everywhere over the next century. There is no escaping it.


His point though was that SF isn't particularly suitable as a city for startups; there's no magical "tech gold" that you can't get elsewhere, like West Virginian coal - people go there just to be in the game, because that's where the VCs chose to be. Historical and geographical factors in fact make it a particularly unsuitable place for a bootstrapped startup to exist.

The difference perhaps is that although Hollywood is the place to make deals and host awards ceremonies, the actual work of filming is done around the world, from New Zealand to Ireland to Vancouver.


> His point though was that SF isn't particularly suitable as a city for startups; there's no magical "tech gold" that you can't get elsewhere, like West Virginian coal - people go there just to be in the game, because that's where the VCs chose to be. Historical and geographical factors in fact make it a particularly unsuitable place for a bootstrapped startup to exist.

While I agree with that I don't see any of that in the parent's post. It's actually pretty frustrating so many VCs insist that companies need to be in SV as there really isn't a real need to be and I know start-ups that would be much happier if they could get VC funding but not be in SV.


Except at the end of the day it does not really matter. "I was here first" has usually been a strong economic force, but has never been overriding or absolute. SF has spent decades doing its damned hardest to resist growth and development, and has failed to stop it so far, and it has only caused pain for everyone involved by gentrifying unevenly and having its present housing crisis.

In the same line of thinking about democracy - the entire established population of SF might not want to attract the tech industry, but the tech industry - many times more people, in effect, than SF - chose SF. The greatest flaw in democracy is being out of the majority opinion, and if "build up SF" were not so it would not even be on the radar as a question.


You do have some power over what gets built. It's called the zoning process, which allows us to decide ahead of time which types of things we will allow or not, so that people can plan and proceed accordingly. It's why we have laws that people can read, rather than just bringing everything before a jury to decide after it happens whether or not it was illegal.

Deciding what housing can be built should not be like a game of Scattergories, where we all just argue about whether or not something is okay after the fact.

Because the way it stands, only projects with high rate of return will be built--ie luxury housing. A 10% rate of return on investment might be okay for a project that takes one year, but if it drags on to 4 years, that's barely beating inflation. Time is money, and our process makes our housing more expensive.


>Y'all "young gods" will just have to figure out some other place to hatch the singularity. Move away.

Tech employees are hated everywhere. Portland, Seattle, etc. want us gone just as much as everyone else. Why is your hatred special?


My first day in SF after coming from London for a tech job I accidentally walked into a protest. I asked one of the protestors who they were protesting and he told me it was foreign tech people. So for fun I pretended to be a banker. Apparently bankers are ok.


> Y'all "young gods" will just have to figure out some other place to hatch the singularity. Move away. Build a floating "Seastead". Just please stop trying to cram a million more people into the Bay Area.

Money talks, whereas "just go away" is not an effective argument. Rather than be angry about the things you have no ability to change, consider how you might work with this "invading army" to find mutually agreeable circumstances. After all, tech nerds are their own kind of freak and weirdo.


You talk as if culture is some constant. Culture has throughout history been shaped by change. So why should SF somehow try to hold on to the good old times, whatever that is? Why shouldn't SF change to accommodate a revolution that will likely rival the industrial revolution in its impact.

You are right in that we need to make sure development is respectful of the environment but your attitude of "they are ruining it" is not helpful. Given that attitude of yours I do sincerely hope you are the one who leaves SF instead of discouraging the new comers. I hear Portland is nice.


scarcity has never brought the price of anything down. your idea only works if the freaks could still live here, which they can't (mostly due to prices). why not support a bill that allows everyone a space?


Portland is ok, but I'd rather price you out of the market.


Honest question, are your local friends mostly software engineers or do they work in other positions?

Edit: cool I see the down votes. Is this an unfriendly question? Just wondering what the diversity is like in SF and if people care


> What concerns me the most is that the newcomers might lack the environmental commitment, and tip the scales from valuing conservation to valuing rampant development.

Actually, if you care about the environment, dense development is the best option.


I hear what you're saying, but, maybe a "brick wall" of resistance is not the only possibility.

I'd like to suggest an alternative: a companion bill that requires local and regional governments to provide adequate service and infrastructure expansion once the inevitable building surge happens.

Access to government services and infrastructure really ought to be maintained at current levels for everyone.

And if that can't be guaranteed, then cramming more people into a given city or area should be recognized for what it is: a transfer of wealth. And _of course_ there will be resistance to government mandated transfers of wealth. We should expect such resistance as a fair and rational response to these kinds of laws.

The real question becomes: how do we make this as fair as possible for both the newcomers and the existing residents?


>The saddest part is, this city kinda sucks. It's not even a good place to locate a business.

San Francisco is the second-densest city in the country, and is one of only a few cities (and the only city in the West) that had a large urban core designed in the pre-car era, which means that its infrastructure is already designed to accomodate dense urban development moreso than any other American city west of Chicago.

Contrary to popular belief, making money in the Bay Area isn't that difficult or unlikely. I think the comparison to a gold rush is more of a meme than a representation of what's actually occurring (>95% of new arrivals are not entrepreneurs).

The good news is that tens of thousands of people from impoverished countries have been able to move here, become US citizens, and live a first-world life they might not have had access to otherwise. The sad part is, they're not cool -- or "weird" -- enough, so they have to live 90 minutes away.


"is one of only a few cities (and the only city in the West) that had a large urban core designed in the pre-car era, which means that its infrastructure is already designed to accomodate dense urban development moreso than any other American city west of Chicago"

.... Yea, maybe. But muni's average speed is 8 mph. For a city that is 7 miles across that's pretty sad.

(Slightly dated article:http://m.sfweekly.com/sanfrancisco/the-muni-death-spiral/Con... )


Opposing the construction of more housing will just maintain/accelerate the rate at which residents of SF will be driven out.


> Also, I hear Portland is nice.

It's precisely because of the bullshit NIMBY attitudes in SF that Portland is getting a huge influx of tech people, who, in turn end up, through no fault of their own, forcing out other people, because Portland isn't building quite fast enough either.


> Y'all "young gods" will just have to figure out some other place to hatch the singularity.

Lol. I've always found it amazing how many people run towards SV. Software is cool because you can do it from anywhere. To each his own, I guess.


Your statement is not false, but if you're into software engineering it's awesome know so many people who are world-class engineers. I've heard from multiple people that they've grown more in a year of being in SV than the 5 years before. Why? Because a lot of their friends are engineers (Kinda sucks too but...), you casually meet a lot of people working in cool stuff, you go to a lot of really really good meetups, and what you're doing at work is probably only a handful of companies in the world are tackling (at least me and most of my friends are working on stuff like that).

Yeah, you can do software from anywhere! But SF/SV is probably one of the best places in the world to do for it.


I can see that. I'm just optimistic that more and more regions will grow to have local VC capital, startup experience, and engineer-dense environments.

I've situated myself in southern Taiwan. I may be the only foreign coder in the city, haha, and the startup scene is almost entirely up north around Taipei, but I hope that changes =)


> To me, the tech "industry" has been ruining the city I love since the Dot-Com boom. To me, they are an invading army culturally speaking.

I assume you're also planning to vote for Drumpf this fall?

After all, the rights of "natives" to enjoy a nice place without any cultural changes is far more important than allowing others to seek new opportunities for themselves. Where you were born is the most important determinant of where you should be allowed to live.


>To me, they are an invading army culturally speaking. In a very real sense my home is being destroyed.

California has a long history of newcomers coming in and destroying the local culture. LA 4 generations ago had roughly the same population as Sunnyvale.


>"This is a town for freaks and weirdos"

Because you say so? Because that's how you were taught when you grew up? I don't live in SF but that seems like a flimsy case to be made.


Funny isn't it, how some people only have one idea, which is, whenever there's a problem, the culprit is always "too much local oversight." "Too much interference in the free market." Let the forces of supply & demand straighten everything out as they always do, right?

Except how did it get this way in the first place? How did SF come to be? How did it become as it is now and get to have the problems it has now? Supply & demand, baby. The free market. Oh sure, the community having the audacity to block certain developments might've slowed it a little -- like shoveling seawater against an oncoming tide. And now the city that's overcrowded because of free market forces, will have all its problems solved by even freer markets? Good luck with that. I'm not saying a centrally-planned city would work out any better, but don't be surprised if this initiative produces more than a few unintended consequences.

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