Tim Redmond

David Chiu’s flextime


I’m not surprised that the folks at the Chamber of Commerce are all agitated about Sup. David Chiu’s proposal to expand family-friendly scheduling at local businesses. The Chamber’s Jim Lazarus is typically out of control:

“At some point, people are not going to want to create businesses in San Francisco when they have to go up to City Hall for a hearing every time an employee doesn’t like their reason for not agreeing to a shorter workweek,” Lazarus said. “Are we going to close for the month of August like France? Is that the next one?”

For the record, I’m all in favor of the French way of thinking about work. But you already know that.

Here’s the crazy thing, though: The Chiu legislation is actually remarkably mild. All it says is that a worker at a company with more than 10 employees has the right to request a different work schedule. The word here is “request.” The company can deny the request if would “create an undue hardship for the company or organization, including an increase in costs or a detrimental effect on the ability to meet customer or client demands.”

Folks: That’s a huge, broad exemption. If giving an employee the right to work at home sometimes (actually, a good idea for lots of reasons, including climate change) or the right to start or end a shift early or late, costs any money or causes any real disruption in the business, then management is exempt and can deny the request.

All the law would really do is elevate the idea of flextime to something that has to be considered if someone asks for it. And you can’t be fired for asking.

If the Chamber is going to go ballistic about this, it’s way out of step. A lot of businesses in the city already comply with at least the spirit of the Chiu law. I don’t see this as a huge issue for anyone.

The Mission ‘douchebags’


Okay, you have to read this. When a 1990s tech-startup guy who admits he was part of the last generation of gentrification is now so fed up with the new arrival of high-paid techies that he’s ready to leave, it’s pretty serious.

Chris Tacy makes an excellent point: When you move into the Mission, you need to understand that there are already other people living there, some of whom have been there a long time, and that it isn’t just you’re rich-kids playground:

Be considerate. That little old hispanic lady at the bus stop? Help her onto the bus instead of loudly bitching about how she’s going to make you late to your meeting at The Creamery. Be respectful. This neighborhood was here before you and will be here after you leave. It’s not your trashcan, your toilet or your playground. Understand the history and the culture and the people and act in a manner that isn’t stupidly offensive. Be sensitive. The traditional residents of this neighborhood are not rich and never will be. Flaunting your wealth and your opportunities is a douche move.

A guy I knew in college came from a very wealthy family, and his parents set up a trust fund for him. But he wasn’t going to get a penny until he was 30, and most of it would come to him later in life. His dad’s rationale: People who have a lot of money in theirs 20s become assholes. They don’t have enough life experience to handle the sudden riches. Get a job, live like a normal person, find out what life is like.

That’s how riches used to happen — the great industrial fortunes of the previous American generations tended to come to people who had worked for a while first; there weren’t a lot of 20-something millionaires. I think that’s a big change in the current economy. Some people are just too young to be rich.

I know, I’m an old fart who is not rich and never will be. Sometimes I feel like a curmudgeon. But if you’re lucky enough to be rich in your 20s, show some respect.

8 Washington and the Warriors


I won’t be a bit surprised if the Warriors start putting money behind Simon Snellgrove’s efforts to win ballot approval for his 8 Washington condo project. And it won’t be just because of general developer solidarity. And I don’t think the basketball team owners are counting on a lot of fans living just down the Embarcadero — odds are a lot of the people who buy Snellgrove’s ultra-luxury condos won’t live in San Francisco much of the time anyway.

No: What the Warriors realize is that the fate of their arena could be linked to the fate of the height-limit battle on Snellgrove’s lot.

The mayor has called the Warriors Arena his legacy project. The head of the Planning Commission says it’s a done deal. Despite the screwy financing and the serious problems with traffic and transit, this thing is moving forward through official San Francisco on greased skids.

But given the way things work in this city, it’s almost certain that the arena will wind up on the ballot. Either the Warriors will organize an initiative campaign to put it before the voters, or the opponents will. And in this case, both sides will have money — the neighbors who don’t want the project are a relatively well-off bunch.

It’s too late for anything to happen for the Warriors this fall, which means a likely battle in November, 2014. But the voters this fall may very well reject the condo towers, and if they do, it will likely hinge on the notion that San Francisco has historically reduced height limits near the Bay. Polls show most voters don’t want tall buildings on the waterfront. And a strong vote to reinforce that would have impacts for any future projects.

“If 8 Washington goes down,” former Mayor Art Agnos, who opposes both projects, told me, “then the people will have spoken out about big buildings on the waterfront, and the Warriors will be in trouble.”

Remember: The arena is only one piece of the Warriors’ project. There’s also a shopping mall, hotel and highrise housing planned for the area — and without the highrise on Seawall Lot 333, the arena doesn’t pencil out. So you can love the idea of a big ol’ flying saucer thingy on a concrete pad four times the size of Union Square sitting on the edge of the Bay and still not like the idea of (once again) spot-zoning a waterfront lot for high-end condos that will block people’s views.

If I were opposed to the arena, I’d be reaching out to the folks fighting Snellgrove and throwing some cash their way. Because this is the first in a series of battles over the use of waterfront land, and its importance goes far beyond 134 condo units.

A map of SF’s wealth — and poverty


There’s a cool interactive map that gives you a visual picture of wealth and poverty in San Francisco. Check it out here. Just type in “San Francisco, CA” and click “income.”

What you see is a city full of green (wealth), with a few pockets of poverty. The data is at least two years old, so it’s almost certain that, say, the inner Mission no longer has a median income of $36,000 and the median in Noe Valley is above $108,000. The median in Vis Valley is (or was) $17,000. Nobody at that level could buy a house in VV now, not even close.

The fun thing is to imagine the income map overlaid with this map to see where housing costs — and thus median income — is rising fast. Check out, for example, the tiny Duboce Triangle area, with median income of $84, 000 (certainly no more than middle class by San Francisco standards). There were at least 17 buildings in that one census tract cleared of tenants by Ellis Act evictions; I wonder how much the median income has gone up.

It’s interesting to contrast SF to, say, Oakland and Berkeley, or to Los Angeles, where there are plenty of rich people (on the coast and in the hills) but also large swaths of more middle-income middle-class communities.

Just some thoughts for a Monday afternoon.


Democratic Party chair signs on with Realtors


Gee, which is worse: Having the chair of the local Democratic Party working for Pacific Gas and Electric Co., which blows up neighborhoods, or for the San Francisco Board of Realtors, which pushes anti-tenant legislation and whose members profit from gentrification and evictions?

Either way, Mary Jung, the Democratic County Central Committee chair, isn’t exactly a good representative for the city’s progressive Democracts. She just left her job as a lobbyist for PG&E and took a new position running government affairs for the landlords. From the Realtors press release:

Jung stated, “I am excited to have this opportunity to build upon and expand the REALTORS® Association role in the community. I look forward to working collaboratively with our local, state and national elected officials, and with our members, to ensure that the robust housing market continues to grow and our voice is heard effectively at City Hall.”

The “robust housing market.” In other words, displacement central. From the elected chair of the Democratic Party in San Francisco. I can’t think of the last time the chair of the local party was paid to represent corporate interests. Not a good sign.

The Chron’s token conservative on tech hegemony


It’s always fun when things are so screwy in town that the leading conservative writer at the Chron starts to agree (even just a little) with the crazy commie at this blog.

Debra Saunders is unhappy with the way the Apple store is moving into Union Square. Not because she hates Apple; she’s a Republican who loves all business. Not because she wants to save the fountain or thinks the urban design is ugly; she’s all for new development.

The problem she has is the same problem so many of us have with Sean Parker’s wedding: The technoriche don’t have to play by the same rules as everyone else:

But I think some locals object to the plan because Apple gets kid-glove treatment. Small business owners have to jump through many hoops to accommodate the Special City’s sensibilities – or else. There’s an ordinance, for example, that prohibits chain stores in certain neighborhoods. Yet when the high-tech money knocks, the door is wide open.

Yep. Small businesses don’t get special tax breaks out of the Mayor’s Office. Local merchants don’t get these kinds of special exemptions when they want to open or build something. (Try to open a nightclub in this town.)

When hi-tech money knocks, the door is wide open. And even the conservatives are getting sick of it.


Ron Lanza memorial set for June 15


A memorial for Ron Lanza, the queer impresario who founded Valencia Rose Cafe and Josie’s Cabaret and Juice Joint, has been set for Saturday, June 15 at El Rio.

Lanza died of colon cancer April 9.

The memorial starts at 11am and runs to 1pm. It’s an open mic; come tell a story. And expect to hear some crazy ones; he had a long and interesting life.

Security guard strike is “imminent”


At least a hundred SEIU members in purple jackets marched down Bush St. this afternoon (June 5), in preparation for a possible strike. Security guards who are a member of an affiliated union have been working without a contract since 2012; some make so little money that they can’t afford apartments in SF and wind up living in SROs.

The signs said “on strike,” but actually that hasn’t happened yet. I spoke to some of the marchers who said they weren’t a liberty to say when the security officers would walk out, but “it’s imminent.”

And they clearly got the message out, making noise loud enough that I could hear it on the 17th floor and backing up rush-hour traffic just North of Market.

I really don’t think any of the owners of these big commercial office buildings are so hard up right now in this boom market that they can’t afford to pay the people who protect their property and tenants a living wage.

The adulation of the technoriche


It’s hardly news at this point that billionaire tech mogul Sean Parker tore up a public campground to build the sets for his $10 million fantasy wedding in Big Sur. And it’s been widely reported that Parker paid a $2.5 million fine to the Coastal Commission, which he tried to spin as a wonderful environmental gift to improve the state park system.

But I read with interest in the Chron that both Lite Guv Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Kamala Harris were reportedly at the wedding. Both are very smart people; both have the ability to observe the world around them. So I have to wonder:

Didn’t either Newsom or Harris think it was a little bit odd to see all this new development in a protected area? Did it occur to either of them that their richy-rich-rich pal, who has a history of snubbing laws he doesn’t like, might have done the same thing here?

Could the state’s top law-enforcement official and a member of the state Lands Commission really look at artificial ponds and large new structures, which involved bulldozers to create, and not say:

Huh? Aren’t there rules against this sort of thing?

Okay, it was a wedding, and nobody wants to be the one to throw the turd in the punchbowl. The politician guests were there to celebrate with a person who is capable of helping to fund future campaigns (and since both Harris and Newsom are considered possible candidates for governor when Jerry steps down, I bet they had a great time together).

But didn’t either of them feel at least a little weird about it?

I called Newsom’s office and left a message for Dierdre Hussey, his press person. She hasn’t called back. Nick Pacilio in Harris’s office told me someone would get right back to me; hasn’t happened yet. So we don’t know what the two were thinking.
But I do know this: The level of adulation of the technoriche has reached levels we haven’t seen since the Gilded Age.

Technology columnist James Temple puts it this way:

To the outside observer, Parker’s actions look like contempt for the piddling rules that we non-billionaires can’t buy our way around. And they certainly do nothing to alter the increasingly popular local view of the tech class as selfish and aloof, conspicuously relishing their venture capital rounds and IPO winnings, as a growing portion of the Bay Area population struggles to make the skyrocketing rents.

And politicians seem to adore the most selfish and aloof (and clueless) among them.

Take Mayor Ed Lee’s comments about Airbnb. The company is clearly cheating on its taxes. The city treasurer investigated the situation and ruled unequivocally that airbnb needs to collect and remit the Transit Occupancy Tax money that should be charged on its rooms.
When Michael Krasny asked the mayor on Forum about the issue, Lee defended airbnb (which is funded by his buddy Ron Conway), saying that the company is just “making arguments” about whether it owes the tax.

But that’s just false: The arguments are over. The company argued with the tax collector and lost. And it isn’t arguing anywhere anymore — not in court, not in the political sector. It’s just …. not paying. And because it’s a tech company, and Conway is nurturing it, the mayor seems just fine with that.

It appears that big corporations are big corporations. They may claim that they won’t be evil, and they may be headed by people in their 20s who dress like hipsters, and they may make really cool products — but their operating just like the robber barons of old. And the great wealth they’ve created has, to a great extent, also created great arrogance.

Before the trolls accuse me of fomenting class warfare, let me repeat: I didn’t start this war. I didn’t rig the political and tax systems so that the middle class would be wiped out as all of the net new wealth in a generation goes to the top 1 percent. I’d much prefer we all share in the bounty, as the middle class and working class did in the post-War era.

Meanwhile: Does anyone really need a $10 million wedding in a state park?

Go, New Zealand


Imagine if Larry Ellison lost the America’s Cup.

Imagine if the third-richest American — the guy who made the race so expensive that only billionaires (and poor Team New Zealand) could enter — became the man who lost the Cup. Imagine if the next race were held Down Under, with cheaper boats that don’t kill people — and no taxpayer subsidy from San Francisco.

I’m rooting for the upset. Go Kiwis.

Seriously: Ellison is an asshole, he’s refused to pay for his own race party, possibly sticking San Francisco with as much as $20 million in unpaid bills. Yeah, he’s the American in the America’s Cup, but I really don’t care if the trophy stays in this country.

New Zealand’s having trouble coming up the money for all the last-minute equipment changes, but I don’t see that team dropping out. The folks from NZ want this, and they want it bad. New Zealanders probably care more about the Cup than Americans do. Beating Ellison, with his unlimited cash and unlimited arrogance, would be a huge source of national pride.

So I’ll be out there watching the races, but I won’t be cheering the home team. And I’ll go home happy if Larry’s a loser.


The Warriors Arena: Art Agnos v. Gary Radnich


Here’s a fun one: former Mayor Art Agnos debating the Warriors arena with Gary Radnich and Larry Krueger. Radnich has always been my favorite sports guy, ever since his days on KRON TV (although Kruk and Kuip are the best live-action announcers), and Agnos is my favorite ex-mayor. (Lord, I gave him a hard time when he was in office, and he sometimes deserved it, but he’s been great as a former.)

The two go at it — mostly in good spirts, although Agnos can’t avoid getting in a dig about male enhancement.

The sports guys talk about how great it would be for San Francisco to have another tourist attraction (and more customers for the city’s number one industry.) Agnos points out that it’s not just a basketball arena we’re talking about — it’s a huge shopping mall, with more square footage than all the restaurants at Fisherman’s Wharf (wow, that’s what Agnos says, I didn’t realize it was so big), plus a highrise hotel, plus a highrise condo tower.

Radnich likes to compare the new arena to the Giants stadium, which is on the waterfront but not built on the water, on a concrete slab in the Bay, but the Giants didn’t build two highrises and a mall.

It’s not a long debate, but it’s interesting.

Google and Wikileaks: The takedown


By now half the Internet has read the New York Times piece Julian Assange wrote on Google. In theory, it’s sort of an analysis of “The New Digital Age,” a book by Google Chairman Eric Schmidt and former State Department official Jared Cohen, which got a lukewarm review in the Times a month ago. In practice, it’s a total slam at Google and its “don’t be evil” slogan.

Assange isn’t impressed by the Googlers; in fact, he argues that the book is just a manifesto for a new digital age of American imperialism:

 The book proselytizes the role of technology in reshaping the world’s people and nations into likenesses of the world’s dominant superpower, whether they want to be reshaped or not. The prose is terse, the argument confident and the wisdom — banal. But this isn’t a book designed to be read. It is a major declaration designed to foster alliances.

 “The New Digital Age” is, beyond anything else, an attempt by Google to position itself as America’s geopolitical visionary — the one company that can answer the question “Where should America go?” It is not surprising that a respectable cast of the world’s most famous warmongers has been trotted out to give its stamp of approval to this enticement to Western soft power. The acknowledgments give pride of place to Henry Kissinger, who along with Tony Blair and the former C.I.A. director Michael Hayden provided advance praise for the book.


 Google will interpose itself, and hence the United States government, between the communications of every human being not in China (naughty China). Commodities just become more marvelous; young, urban professionals sleep, work and shop with greater ease and comfort; democracy is insidiously subverted by technologies of surveillance, and control is enthusiastically rebranded as “participation”; and our present world order of systematized domination, intimidation and oppression continues, unmentioned, unafflicted or only faintly perturbed.

It’s easy to paint Assange as a crazyman seeing conspiracies everywhere (I’d get that way too if I were cooped up in an embassy and unable to escape.) And that’s how some of the tech journals are playing it.

But let’s get beyond Google Glass and information capture and the scary shit that technology will be doing to us all in a couple of decades. Let’s take Google out of this altogether.

Is it unusual for giant corporations based in the US that control important technology to work closely with the government? Of course not; it’s been going on for more than a century. Standard Oil, J.P. Morgan, General Motors, Lockheed Martin … the list goes on. Corporations that operate on that level are and always have been a part of American foreign policy — and almost always for the worse.

Google doesn’t build missles or spy satellites (although you know they’re working on drones), but what it does is even more powerful — it collects and controls information. And while much of its mission involves making the world’s knowledge available to all, there are other sides to that. And it would be shocking if the State Department/CIA/Industrial Complex DIDN’T involve Google.

At a certain level, if you’re running a big coporation, you have to do more than have a slogan to avoid being evil. Assange’s article is a bit over the top, but I think that’s what he’s trying to say. And it’s absolutely true.




Some wins, some losses in Sacto


The state Assembly and Senate passed the usual flurry of bills on May 31, the last day for initial-house approval, with some unusual drama that temporarily sidelined a medical-marijuana bill by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano.

By the time it was all over, several other Ammiano bills passed, a measure by Assemblymember Phil Ting to ease the way for a Warriors arena on the waterfront won approval, and state Sen. Mark Leno got most of his major legislation through.

The pot bill, AB 473, would have established a state regulatory framework for medical cannabis, something that most advocates and providers support. Still, because the subject is marijuana, it was no easy sell and at first, a lot of members, both Republicans and Democrats, expressed concern that the measure might restrict the ability of local government to ban or limit dispensaries.

Ammiano, in presenting the bill, made it clear that it had no impact on local control, and that was enough to get 38 votes. Typically, when a bill is that close to passage, the chair asks the sponsor if he or she wants to “hold the call” that is, freeze the vote for a few minutes so supporters can make sure all of their allies are actually on the floor and voting and to try, if necessary, to round up a couple of wobblers.

In this case, though, Speaker Pro Tem Nora Campos, of San Jose, simply gaveled the vote to a close while Ammiano was scrambling to get her to hold it. “That’s very unusual, not good behavior,” one Sacramento insider told me.

Ammiano was more respectful toward Campos, simply calling it a “procedural mistake.” He told us he would be looking for other ways to move the bill. “The door is never fully closed up here,” he said.

However that turns out, the veteran Assemblymember, now in his final term, won a resounding victory with the passage of his Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, AB 241. The bill would give domestic workers some of the same labor rights as other employees, including the right to overtime pay and breaks. “These workers, who are mostly women, keep our households running smoothly, care for our children, and enable people with disabilities to live at home and remain engaged in our communities,” Ammiano said. “Why shouldn’t they have overtime protections like the average barista or gas station attendant?”

An Ammiano bill restricting the ability of prosecutors to use condom possession as evidence in prostitution cases also cleared, as did a bill tightening safety rules on firearms.

Ting’s bill, AB 1273, would allow the state Legislature, not the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, to make a key finding on whether the new area is appropriate for the shoreline. Mayor Ed Lee and the Warriors strongly backed the measure, clearly believing it would make the path to development easier. Ammiano voted against it showing that the San Francisco delegation is by no means unanimous on this issue.

Leno had a string of significant victories. A bill called the Disclose Act, which would mandate that all campaign ads reveal, in large, readable type, who is actually paying for them, cleared with the precise two-thirds majority needed and it was a straight party-line vote. Every single Republican was in opposition. “They know that if their ads say “paid for by Chevron and PG&E, the won’t work as well,” Leno told us.

He also won approval for a bill that would ease the way for people wrongfully imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit to receive the modest $100 a day payment the state theoretically owes them. There are 132 people cleared of crimes and released from prison, but the process of applying for the payment is currently so onerous that only 11 have actually gotten a penny. “We victimized these people, and we shouldn’t make them prove their innocence twice,” Leno said.

Bills to better monitor price manipulation by oil companies and to expand the trauma recovery program pioneered by San Francisco General Hospital also cleared the Senate floor.

But Leno had a disappointing loss, too: A bill that would have helped tenants collect on security deposits that landlords wrongfully withheld died with only 12 vote a sign of how powerful the real-estate industry remains in Sacramento.


Dianne Feinstein and 8 Washington: The letters


Here’s a fascinating little bit of history that relates to the 8 Washington project.

In 1984, the owners of Golden Gateway proposed to build a nine-story condo tower on the site, pretty close to where Simon Snellgove wants to build his ultra-luxury condos today. Dianne Feinstein was the mayor of San Francisco, and she didn’t like the idea at all. In fact, she sent a letter to the Redevelopment Agency Commission, which at that time controlled the land, to say that condo development was inappropriate.

(Feinstein was remarkably open about the whole thing; Willie Brown would have made one phone call, gotten his way, and left no paper trail.)

The point she made in the letter (pdf here) was that the existing Golden Gateway project was approved in the first place largely because of the promise of open space and recreation facilities. Those facilities, contrary to what Snellgrove’s team is saying, are in fact open to anyone who pays dues. “To tear up the present tennis courts to crowd a condominium tower on the site would be regrettable,” she said.

Then in 2003, another plan reared its head — developers wanted to build a $39 million condo and health-club facility on the Golden Gateway site. Again, Feinstein — by that point a US senator — weighed in with a letter of opposition. “Development of more residential units would create traffic noise and pollution and disregard the original understanding between City officials and area residents that open space and recreational amenities would be preserved.”

Feinstein’s opposition was notable: She rarely opposed any development of any sort, anywhere in the city. She allowed massive new waves of office construction and — like Ed Lee today — argued that cranes on the skyline were a sign of progress.

But this idea — condos at the 8 Washington site — was so beyond the pale that even the most pro-growth mayor in the city’s history had to oppose it.

Feinstein hasn’t said anything about the latest project. But she clearly doesn’t actively support it; when the measure came up the the Democratic County Central Committee, her representative didn’t vote.







Ed Lee’s “no social service cuts” budget


So Mayor Ed Lee is going to spare social services, and apparently at least part of the Department of Public Heath, from any further budget cuts. That’s good. Lives will be saved.

Lee — like Willie Brown before him — has the luck of serving as mayor during a period of growth, not recession. We don’t know how long the boom is going to last, or what will happen when it ends (as these things always do), but right now, in Sacramento and San Francisco City Hall, there is joy over the fact that revenues are up.

(Lee’s supporters on this blog and elsewhere will say it’s because of the mayor’s “pro-jobs” policies that we have all this new revenue. But remember, he promised tax breaks for Twitter and other tech firms that are moving into mid-Market, so we’re not getting much extra payroll tax revenue there. SF is a disgustingly hot real-estate market right now and more people with more money are moving in, so that’s absolutely a factor. So is the general California recovery.)

Either way, I’m always happy to hear about “no-cuts” budgets. But I have to keep raising the question:

If you’ve already cut about a billion dollars worth of services — which is about what most people on all sides of the political spectrum agree has happened in SF in the past decade — and now you’ve agreed not to cut any more, are you really making progress?

At what point do we need to start planning to restore all the services that are gone?


Guardian event on Plan Bay Area


There’s going to be profound change in San Francisco over the next 25 years. If regional planners have their way, we’re talking 280,000 more people — and massive displacement of existing populations. Is that ok? What should we do about it? Is there any alternative, a better way to plan for growth?

I have no problem with increased density and population in San Francisco — but only if we can first protect vulnerable communities. How does that happen? What tools does the city have, and how can they be used?

These aren’t easy questions. Come help us talk about them and look for answers. The Guardian, along with the Council of Community Housing Organizations and Urban IDEA are holding a forum on Plan Bay Area June 12 at 6pm at the LGBT Center. It’s free and open to all.

Among the panelists:

·        Tim Redmond, San Francisco Bay Guardian

·        Mike Casey, Unite HERE Local 2

·        Cindy Wu, San Francisco Planning Commissioner

·        Maria Zamudio, Causa Justa: Just Cause

·        Antonio Diaz, People Organizing to Defend our Economic Rights (PODER)

·        Bob Allen, Urban Habitat

·        Gen Fujioka, Chinatown Community Development Center

·        Peter Cohen, Council of Community Housing Organizations

·        Rachel Brahinsky, University of San Francisco

More information here.

See you there.

I agree with a three-star General


I don’t find myself in agreement with military leaders that often, but Lt. General Karl Eikenberry and historian David M. Kennedy have a fascinating piece in the New York Times that I have to say makes a lot of sense.

I was in college when Jimmy Carter brought back draft registration, and we all went batshit: We were just a half-step behind the Vietnam Generation, and I had friends and relatives who faced geting drafted (and the very high likelihood of being sent to die in the jungles in an utterly pointless war) and the notion of “the draft” was repugnant. We protested; we formed collectives; we met late into the night and organized. Nobody outside of the college campuses paid much attention.

That’s because it was pretty clear to political leaders that, registration or no, there wasn’t going to be a return to the draft anytime soon. Congress is happy with the all-volunteer Army: It guarantees that most recruits will be poor people, that very few sons and daughters of the wealthy and powerful (or the members of Congress) will ever have to go to war, and that the upper-middle classes will feel no pain whatsoever when other people’s children become cannon fodder.

If every young American risked getting drafted to go to Iraq, that war might never have happened — and certainly wouldn’t have lasted as long. The general notes:

The Congressional Research Service has documented 144 military deployments in the 40 years since adoption of the all-voluntary force in 1973, compared with 19 in the 27-year period of the Selective Service draft following World War II — an increase in reliance on military force traceable in no small part to the distance that has come to separate the civil and military sectors. The modern force presents presidents with a moral hazard, making it easier for them to resort to arms with little concern for the economic consequences or political accountability. Meanwhile, Americans are happy to thank the volunteer soldiers who make it possible for them not to serve, and deem it is somehow unpatriotic to call their armed forces to task when things go awry.

The officer corps is made up, to a significant extent, of sons and daughters of military officers, making war a “family business.” The rest of the nation is insulated — both from the experience of military service and the impacts of deployments.

I’m not (exactly) in favor of mandatory military service for all (although it would have a huge impact on Washington’s desire to use force every time there’s a foreign policy issue), but I like what Eikenberry says, not only about the draft but about the cost of war:

Congress should also insist that wars be paid for in real time. Levying special taxes, rather than borrowing, to finance “special appropriations” would compel the body politic to bear the fiscal burden — and encourage citizens to consider war-making a political choice they were involved in, not a fait accompli they must accept.

A military that operates outside of the civilian world isn’t good for the country. A civilian population that sees war as an abstract problem happening somewhere else in the world involving someone else’s family isn’t good, either.

So yeah, here I am agreeing with a three-star. Enjoy it; that doesn’t happen often.



Planning for displacement: Short takes


Regional planning hits Chinatown

When regional planners at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission funded a study to create a bus-rapid transit system on Van News Avenue, they decided, in the interest of speeding the buses along, to allow only one left turn — onto Broadway.

That would turn Broadway into a much-busier thoroughfare — and have a huge impact on Chinatown, where there’s heavy pedestrian traffic. That, Cindy Wu says, is one of the problems with regional planning — it doesn’t always consider the impacts on existing, fully developed neighborhoods.

Wu is a planner with the Chinatown Community Development Center and a member of San Francisco’s Planning Commission. She’s concerned that Plan Bay Area, with its macro focus, ignores the micro — the people who already live in communities that will feel the pressure.

“Chinatown is performing amazingly,” she told me recently. There’s low car use, high density … all the things ABAG seems to want. And yet, it’s in the Priority Development Area, where new construction could lead to displacement. “It doesn’t get to the neighborhood scale, where people will be forced to control the impacts of growth.”

Gen Fujioka, policy director at CCDC, noted that the plans says people displaced from a San Francisco community like Chinatown can be accommodated elsewhere in the region. “Like that’s an acceptable alternative,” he said.

A (somewhat) better approach

The Draft Environmental Impact Report on Plan Bay Area looked at several alternatives, including doing nothing at all, which everyone pretty much agrees is a bad idea. But interestingly, a proposal put together by community groups, including Public Advocates, Urban Habitat, and TransForm, turned out to do a better job of reaching ABAG’s environmental goals.

In the DEIR models, “Alternative Five,” as it’s described, leads to slightly lower levels of displacement and less car travel. It does that in large part through the imposition of a Vehicle Miles Travelled Tax — a one-cent levy on every mile driven by a private car or light truck in the region.

That, it turns out, does indeed discourage car use. It would also raise more than $600 million a year, most of which would go to public transit and affordable housing. Over 25 years, that’s a lot of cash.

But ABAG planners rejected that proposal, preferring their own alternative.

ABAG and the UN plan for world domination

One of the biggest problems with opposing, or even questioning, ABAG’s Plan Bay Area is that some of the loudest voices against it are, in a word, loony.

Around the Bay Area suburbs, people packing hearings on the plan are talking about the secret United Nations plan to confiscate all private property, burn down suburban homes, and force everyone into tiny cells in teeming cities where our personal freedoms will be systematically destroyed.

You haven’t heard of that? It’s called Agenda 21, and the John Birch Society is convinced that it’s a global plot to destroy America.

Actually, Agenda 21 is a weak, unenforceable document that came out of the UN’s environmental conference in 1992. It suggests — as does SB375, as does just about every sane thinker in civilization — that the world’s growth ought to be planned, sustainable, and energy efficient.

But it’s getting dragged up as grounds to scuttle Plan Bay Area. The black helicopter folks, the Obama Wants To Take My House folks, and a few NIMBYs who just don’t want density in the suburbs, have been wailing about this massive conspiracy in the past few months.

It’s unlikely that the Tea Party types will make common cause with San Francisco progressives on this issue. But there’s a real danger here: If the nut cases get the attention, serious questions about the feasibility of this plan could get lumped in with the ravings of conspiracy kooks.

And as far as the UN taking over California? Hey, at least we’ll get universal health care.

Editor’s notes



EDITORS NOTES I know you’re getting a lot of shit these days, and it’s not entirely fair. You’re not the ones making a killing in overpriced real estate. You came here looking for a job, and the jobs you get pay well enough that landlords and speculators can extract wealth that you ought to be able to save or spend in town, creating more jobs for everyone. I can’t blame you for wanting to live in one of the world’s greatest cities; I came here too, from the East Coast, in 1981, looking for work as a writer but mostly looking to live in San Francisco. So did waves of immigrants before me.

But we all have to remember something: There were people living here when we arrived. It was their city before it was ours. And they had, and have, the right to live here, too.

In fact, the people who have been here for 20 or 30 years, who have worked to build this community, have — in a karmic sense — even more right to be here than you. Trite as it sounds, they were here first.

Americans have a bad record when it comes to moving into established populations. Ask any American Indian. Ask the Mexicans about the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

The hippies who arrived in San Francisco in the 1960s — attracted, among other things, by really cheap rent in the Haight Asbury — weren’t always terribly polite to, or concerned about, the natives who lived there, and had fun teasing the straights and fouling their parks. But they didn’t force anyone else to leave; there was lots of empty space in San Francisco. The city wasn’t kind to them, either — official San Francisco may celebrate the Summer of Love now, but back then, the cops went after the hippies with gusto.

Gay people who arrived in the 1970s — attracted, among other things, by cheap rent in Eureka Valley — faced harassment, discrimination, and brutality.

You, on the other hand, are officially welcomed — the mayor thinks you’re the city’s future. You face no barriers to renting or buying a home, no police crackdowns. The only people unhappy about your presence are the ones who are getting forced out of town to make room for you.

It’s not your fault that the city lacks eviction protections or effective rent control — but it is your fault if you act as if it doesn’t matter. Building community means more than spending money. It means getting involved.

Many of you are tenants. You may be richer than the people who you displaced, but your landlord will cheat you just the same. The Tenants Union needs support. You can be a part of making it stronger. Some of you will have kids at some point; there are great public schools in San Francisco, and I hope you support them.

Meanwhile, you can help keep longtime residents from being forced out. Jeremy Mykaels, a former web designer disabled by AIDS, has set up a site listing all the properties that have been cleared through the eviction of a senior or disabled person (ellishurtsseniors.com). Check it out. Don’t buy those units. If that means you have to live with lesser housing for a while, you can deal. For generations, the rest of us did.

Yeah, we were here first. Show a little humility and a little respect, and perhaps we’ll all get along fine.


Planning for displacement



The intersection of Cesar Chavez and Evans Avenue is a good enough place to start. Face south.

Behind you is Potrero Hill, once a working-class neighborhood (and still home to a public housing project) where homes now sell for way more than a million dollars and rents are out of control. In front, down the hill, is one of the last remaining industrial areas in San Francisco.

Go straight along Evans and you find printing plants, an auto-wrecking yard, and light manufacturing, including a shop that makes flagpoles. Take a right instead on Toland, past the Bonanza restaurant, and you wander through auto-glass repair, lumber yards, plumbing suppliers, warehouses, the city’s produce market — places that the city Planning Department refers to at Production, Distribution, and Repair facilities. Places that still offer blue-collar employment. There aren’t many left anywhere in San Francisco, and it’s amazing that this district has survived.

Cruise around for a while and you’ll see a neighborhood with high home-ownership rates — and high levels of foreclosures. Bayview Hunters Point is home to much of the city’s dwindling African American population, a growing number of Asians, and much higher unemployment rates than the rest of the city.

Now pull up the website of the Association of Bay Area Governments, a well-funded regional planning agency that is working on a state-mandated blueprint for future growth. There’s a map on the site that identifies “priority development area” — in planning lingo, PDAs — places that ABAG, and many believers in so-called smart growth, see as the center of a much-more dense San Francisco, filled with nearly 100,000 more homes and 190,000 new jobs.

Guess what? You’re right in the middle of it.

The southeastern part of the city — along with many of the eastern neighborhoods — is ground zero for massive, radical changes. And it’s not just Bayview Hunters Point; in fact, there’s a great swath of the city, from Chinatown/North Beach to Candlestick Park, where regional planners say there’s space for new apartments and condos, new offices, new communities.

It’s a bold vision, laid out in an airy document called the Plan Bay Area — and it’s about to clash with the facts on the ground. Namely, that there are already people living and working in the path of the new development.

And there’s a high risk that many of them will be displaced; collateral damage in the latest transformation of San Francisco.


The threat of global climate change hasn’t convinced the governor or the state Legislature to raise gas taxes, impose an oil-severance tax, or redirect money from highways to transit. But it’s driven Sacramento to mandate that regional planners find ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in California cities.

The bill that lays this out, SB375, mandates that ABAG, and its equivalents in the Los Angeles Basin, the Central Coast, the Central Valley and other areas, set up “Sustainable Communities Strategies” — land-use plans for now through 2040 intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent.

The main path to that goal: Make sure that most of the 1.1 million people projected to live in the Bay Area by 2040 be housed in already developed areas, near transit and jobs, to avoid the suburban sprawl that leads to long commutes and vast amounts of car exhaust.

The notion of smart growth — also referred to as urban infill — has been around for years, embraced by a certain type of environmentalist, particularly those concerned with protecting open space. But now, it has the force of law.

And while ABAG is not a secret government with black helicopters that can force cities to do its will — land-use planning is still under local jurisdiction in this state — the agency is partnering with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which controls hundreds of millions of dollars in state and federal transportation money. And together, they can offer strong incentives for cities to get in line.

Over in Contra Costa and Marin counties, at hearings on the plan, Tea Party types (yes, they appear to exist in Marin) railed against the notion of elite bureaucrats forcing the wealthy enclaves of single-family homes to accept more density (and, gasp, possibly some affordable housing). In San Francisco, it’s the progressives, the transit activists, and the affordable housing people who are starting to get worried. Because there’s been almost zero media attention to the plan, and what it prescribes for San Francisco is alarming — and strangely nonsensical.

Under the ABAG plan, San Francisco would approve 92,400 more housing units for 280,000 more people. The city would host 190,000 more jobs, many of them in what’s called the “knowledge economy,” which mostly means high tech. Second and third on the list: Health and education, and tourism.

The city currently allows around eight cars for every 10 housing units; as few as five in a few neighborhoods, at least 10 in many others. And there’s nothing in any city or regional plan right now that seeks to change that level of car dependency. In fact, the regional planners think that single-occupancy car travel will be the mode of choice for 48 percent of all trips by 2040 — almost the same as it is today.

And since most of the new housing will be aimed at wealthier people, who are more likely to own cars and avoid catching buses, San Francisco could be looking for ways to fit 73,000 more cars onto streets that are already, in many cases, maxed out. There will be, quite literally, no place to park. And congestion in the region, the planners agree, will get a whole lot worse.

That seems to undermine the main intent of the plan: Transit-oriented development only works if you discourage cars. In a sense, the car-use projections are an admission of failure, undermining the intent of the entire project.

The vast majority of the housing that will be built will be too expensive for much of the existing (and even future) workforce and will do little to relieve the pressure on lower income people. But there is nothing whatsoever in the plan to ensure that there’s money available to build housing that meets the needs of most San Franciscans.

Instead, the planners acknowledge that 36 percent of existing low-income people will be at risk for displacement. That would be a profound change in the demographics of San Francisco.

Of course, adding all those people and jobs will put immense pressure on city services, from Muni to police, fire, and schools — not to mention the sewer system, which already floods and dumps untreated waste into the Bay when there’s heavy rain. Everyone involved acknowledged those costs, which could run into the billions of dollars. There is nothing anywhere in any of the planning documents addressing the question of who will pay for it.


Projecting the future of a region isn’t easy. Job and population growth isn’t a straight line, at best — and when you’re looking at a 25-year window in a boom-and-bust area with everything from earthquakes to sea-level rise factoring in, it’s easy to say that anyone who claims to know what’s going to happen in 2040 is guessing.

But as economist Stephen Levy, who did the regional projections for ABAG, pointed out to us, “You have to be able to plan.” And you can’t plan if you don’t at least think about what you’re planning for.

Levy runs the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy, and he’s been watching trends in this state for years. He agrees that some of his science is, by nature, dismal: “Nobody projects deep recessions,” much less natural disasters. But overall, he told me, it’s possible to get a grip on what planners need to prepare for as they write the next chapter of the Bay Area’s future.

And what they have to plan for is a lot more people.

Levy said he started with the federal government’s projections for population growth in the United States, which include births and deaths, immigration, and out-migration, using historic trends to allocate some of that growth to the Bay Area. There’s what appears at first to be circular logic involved: The feds (and most economists) project that job growth nationally will be driven by population — that is, the more people live in the US, the more jobs there will be.

Population growth in a specific region, on the other hand, is driven by jobs — that is, the more jobs you have in the Bay Area, the more people will move here.

“Jobs in the US depend on how many people are in the labor force,” he said. “Jobs in the Bay Area depend on our share of US jobs and population depends on relative job growth.”

Make sense? No matter — over the years it’s generally worked. And once you project the number of people and jobs expected in the Bay Area, you can start looking at how much housing it’s going to take to keep them all under a roof.

Levy projects that the Bay Area’s share of jobs will be higher than most of the rest of the country. “This is the home of the knowledge industry,” he told me. So he’s concluded that population in the Bay Area will grow from 7.1 million to 9.2 million — an additional 2.14 million people. They’ll be chasing some 1.1 million new jobs, and will need 660,000 new housing units.

Levy stopped there, and left it to the planners at ABAG to allocate that growth to individual cities — and that’s where smart growth comes in.

For decades in the Bay Area, particularly in San Francisco, activists have waged wars against developers, trying to slow down the growth of office buildings, and later, luxury housing units. At the same time, environmentalists argued that spreading the growth around creates serious problems, including sprawl and the destruction of farmland and open space.

Smart growth is supposed to be an alternative: the idea is to direct new growth to already-established urban areas, not by bulldozing over communities (as redevelopment agencies once did) but by the use of “infill” — directing development to areas where there’s usable space, or by building up and not out.

ABAG “focused housing and jobs growth around transit areas, particularly within locally identified Priority Development Areas,” the draft environmental impact report on the plan notes.

The draft EIR is more than 1,300 pages long, and it looks at the ABAG plan and several alternatives. One alternative, proposed by business groups, would lead to more development and higher population gains. Another, proposed by community activist groups including Public Advocates, Urban Habitat, and TransForm, is aimed at reducing displacement and creating affordable housing; that one, it turns out, is the “environmentally preferred alternative.” (See sidebar).

But no matter which alternative you look at, two things leap out: There is nothing effective that ABAG has put forward to prevent large-scale displacement of vulnerable communities. And despite directing growth to transit corridors, the DEIR still envisions a disaster of traffic congestion, parking problems, and car-driven environmental wreckage.


ABAG has gone to some lengths to identify what it calls “communities of concern.” Those are areas, like Bayview Hunters Point, Chinatown, and the Mission, where existing low-income residents and small businesses face potential displacement. In San Francisco, those communities are, to a great extent, the same geographic areas that have been identified as PDAs.

And, the DEIR, notes, some degree of displacement is a significant impact that cannot be mitigated. In other words, the gentrification of San Francisco is just part of the plan.

In fact, the study notes, 36 percent of the communities of concern in high-growth areas will face displacement pressure because of the cost of housing. And that’s region wide; the number in San Francisco will almost certainly be much, much higher.

Miriam Chion, ABAG’s planning and research director, told me that displacement “is the core issue in this whole process.” The agency, she said, is working with other stakeholders to try to address the concern that new development will drive out longtime residents. But she also agreed that there are limited tools available to local government.

The DEIR notes that ABAG and the MTC will seek to “bolster the plan’s investment in the Transit Oriented Affordable Housing Fund and will seek to do a study of displacement. It also states: “In addition, this displacement risk could be mitigated in cities such as San Francisco with rent control and other tenant protections in place.”

There isn’t a tenant activist in this town who can read that sentence with a straight face.

The problem, as affordable housing advocate Peter Cohen puts it, is that “the state has mandated all this growth, but has taken away the tools we could use to mitigate it.”

That’s exactly what’s happened in the past few decades. The state Legislature has outlawed the only effective anti-displacement laws local governments can enact — rent controls on vacant apartments, commercial rent control, and eviction protections that prevent landlords from taking rental units off the market to sell as condos. Oh, and the governor has also shut down redevelopment agencies, which were the only reliable source of affordable housing money in many cities.

Chion told me that the ABAG planners were discussing a list of anti-displacement options, and that changes in state legislation could be on that list. Given the power of the real-estate lobby in the state Capitol, ABAG will have to do more than suggest; there’s no way this plan can work without changing state law.

Otherwise, eastern San Francisco is going to be devastated — particularly since the vast majority of all housing that gets built in the city, and that’s likely to get built in the city, is too expensive for almost anyone in the communities of concern.

“This plan doesn’t require affordable housing,” Cindy Wu, vice-chair of the San Francisco Planning Commission, told me. “It’s left to the private market, which doesn’t build affordable housing or middle-class housing.”

In fact, while there’s plenty of discussion in the plan about where money can come from for transit projects, there’s virtually no discussion of the billions and billions that will be needed to produce the level of affordable housing that everyone agrees will be needed.

Does anyone seriously think that developers can cram 90,000 new units — at least 85 percent of them, under current rules, high-cost apartments and condos that are well beyond the range of most current San Franciscans — into eastern neighborhoods without a real-estate boom that will displace thousands of existing residents?

Let’s remember: Building more housing, even a lot more housing, won’t necessarily bring down prices. The report makes clear that the job growth, and population boom that accompanies it, will fuel plenty of demand for all those new units.

Steve Woo, senior planner with the Chinatown Community Development Center, sees the problem. In a letter to ABAG, he notes: “Plan Bay Area and its DEIR has analyzed the displacement of low-income people and explicitly acknowledges that it will occur. This is unacceptable for San Francisco and for Chinatown, where the pressures of displacement have been a constant over the past 20 years.”

Adds the Council of Community Housing Organizations: “It would be irresponsible for the regional agencies to advance a plan that purports to ‘improve’ the region’s communities as population grows while the plan simultaneously presents great risk and uncertainty for many vulnerable communities.”

Jobs are at stake, too — not tech jobs or office jobs, which ABAG projects will expand, but the kind of industrial jobs that currently exist in the priority development areas.

Calvin Welch, who has been watching urban planning and displacement issues in San Francisco for more than 40 years, puts it bluntly: “It is axiomatic that market-rate housing drives out blue-collar jobs,” he said.

Of course, there’s another potential problem: Nobody really knows where jobs will come from in the next 25 years, whether tech will continue to be the driver or whether the city’s headed for a second dot-com bust. San Francisco doesn’t have a good record of building for projected jobs: In the mid-1980s, for example, the entire South of Market area (then home to printing, light manufacturing, and other blue-collar jobs) was rezoned for open-floor office space because city officials projected a huge need for “back-office” functions like customer service.

“Where are all those jobs today?” Welch asked. “They’re in India.”


For a plan that’s designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by moving residential development closer to work areas, Plan Bay Area is awfully pessimistic about transportation.

According to the projections, there will be more cars on the roads in 2040, with more — and much worse — traffic. The DEIR predicts that a full 48 percent of all trips in 2040 will be made by single-occupant vehicles — just slightly down from current rates. The percentage of trips on transit will only be a little bit higher — and there’s no significant increase in projected bicycle trips.

That alone is pretty crazy, since the number of people commuting to work by bike in San Francisco has risen dramatically in the past 10 years, and the city’s official goal is that 20 percent of all vehicle trips will be by bike in the next decade.

Part of the problem is structural. Not everyone in San Francisco 2040 is going to be a high-paid tech worker. In fact, the most stable areas of employment are health services and government — and hospital workers and Muni drivers can’t possibly afford the housing that’s being built. So those people will — the DEIR acknowledges — be displaced from San Francisco and forced to live elsewhere in the region (if that’s even possible). Which means, of course, they’ll be commuting further to work. Meanwhile, if current trends continue, many of the people moving into the city will work in Silicon Valley.

Chion and Levy both told me that the transit mode projections were based on historical trends for car use, and that it’s really hard to get people to give up their cars. Even higher gas prices and abominable traffic delays won’t drive people off the roads, they said.

If that’s the case — if auto culture, which is a top source of global climate change, doesn’t shift at all — it would seem that all this planning is pointless: the seas will rise dramatically, and San Franciscans ought to be buying boats.

“The projections don’t take into account social change,” Jason Henderson, a geography professor at San Francisco State University and a local transportation expert, told me. “And social change does happen.”

Brad Paul, a longtime housing activist who now works for ABAG, said these projections are just a start, and that the plan will be updated every four years. “I think we’re finding that the number of people who want to drive cars will go down,” he said.

Henderson argues that the land-use policy is flawed. He suggests that it would make more sense to increase density in the Bay Area suburbs along the BART lines. “Elegant development in those areas would work better,” he said. You don’t need expensive high-rises: “Four and five stories is the sweet spot,” he explained.

Most of the transportation projects in the plan are already in the pipeline; there’s no suggestion of any major new public transit programs. There is, however, a suggestion that San Francisco adopt a congestion management fee for downtown driving — something that city officials say is the only way to avoid utter gridlock in the future.


ABAG and the MTC have a fair amount of leverage to implement their plans. MTC controls hundreds of millions of dollars in transit money; ABAG will be handing out millions in grants to communities that adopt its plan. And under state law, cities that allow development in PDAs near transit corridors can gain an exemption from the California Environmental Quality Act.

CEQA is a powerful tool to slow or halt development, and developers (and some public officials) drool at the prospect of getting a fast-track pass to avoid some of the more cumbersome parts of the environmental review process.

Under SB 375 and Plan Bay Area, CEQA exemptions are available to projects that meet the Sustainable Community Strategy standards and are close to transit corridors. And when you look at the map of those areas, it’s pretty striking: All of San Francisco, pretty much every square inch, qualifies.

That means that almost any project almost anywhere in town can make a case that it doesn’t need to accept full CEQA review.

The most profound missing element in this entire discussion is the cost of all this growth.

You can’t cram 210,000 more residents into San Francisco without new schools, parks, and child-care centers. You can’t protect those residents without more police officers and firefighters. You can’t take care of their water and sewer needs without substantial infrastructure upgrades. And even if there’s state and federal money available for new buses and trains, you can’t operate those systems without paying drivers, mechanics, and support workers.

There’s no question that the new development will bring in more tax money. But the type of infrastructure improvements that will be needed to add 25 percent more residents to the city are really expensive — and every study that’s ever been done in San Francisco shows that the tax benefits of new development don’t cover the costs of public services it requires.

When World War II and the post-war boom in the Bay Area brought huge growth to the region, property taxes and federal and state money were adequate to build things like BART, the freeways, and hundreds of new schools, and to staff the public services that the emerging communities needed. But that all changed in 1978, with the passage of Prop. 13, and two years later, with the election of Ronald Reagan as president.

Now, federal money for cities is down to a trickle. Local government has an almost impossible time raising taxes. And instead of hiking fees for new residential and commercial projects, many communities (including San Francisco) are offering tax breaks to encourage job growth.

Put all that in the mix and you have a recipe for overcrowded buses, inadequate schools, overstressed open space (imagine 10,000 new Mission residents heading for Dolores Park on a nice day), and a very unattractive urban experience.

That flies directly in the face of what Plan Bay Area is supposed to be about. If the goal is to cut down on commutes by bringing new residents into developed urban areas, those cities have to be decent places to live. What would it cost to accommodate this level of new development? Five billion dollars? Ten billion? Nobody knows — because nobody has run those numbers. But they’re going to be big.

Because just as tax dollars have been vanishing, the costs of infrastructure keep going up. It costs a billion dollars a mile to build BART track. It’s costing more than a billion to build a short subway to Chinatown. Just upgrading the sewer system to handle current demands is a $4 billion project.

And if the developers and property owners who stand to make vast sums of money off all of this growth aren’t going to pay, who’s left?

The ABAG planners point out, correctly, that there’s a price for doing nothing. If there’s no regional plan, no proposal for smart growth, the population will still increase, and displacement will still happen — but the greenhouse gas emissions will be even worse, the development more haphazard.

But if the region is going to spend all this money and all this time on a plan to make the Bay Area more sustainable, more livable, and more affordable in 25 years, we might as well push all the limits and get it right.

Instead of looking at displacement as inevitable, and traffic as a price of growth, the planners could tell the state Legislature and the governor that it’s not possible to comply with SB375 — not until somebody identifies the big sums of money, multiples of billions of dollars, needed to build affordable housing; not until there are transit options, taxes, and restrictions on driving.

Because continued car use and massive displacement — the package that’s now facing us — just isn’t an acceptable option.

Obamacare works — up to a point


The good news, as supporters of the president have been happy to point out, is that the insurance figures the state has released for the Obamacare benefits plans aren’t really that awful. The naysayers were wrong; the Affordable Care Act almost seems …. affordable. Gee, a 40-year-old single person could get basic insurance for $332 a month.

Which is true, but younger, single people have always had better rates. I went to the calculator to see what I would have to pay to cover myself and my two kids, and it was closer to $1,000 a month. And that’s for a plan that includes a $2,000 deductible, $250 emergency-room co-pays and $45 primary-care co-pays. Not all that “affordable” — unless your kids never, say, get injured playing football or doing gymnastics, and you never break your hand doing martial arts, and you never need surgery. In other words, not so fine for my family (or most families).

And that’s the first year out; rates are going to keep going up. In theory, if the insurers raise rates more than 10 percent a year, they’ll have to justify the increases — but you know that’s not going to be a problem at the federal level. And 10 percent a year for a few years makes even the low-end plans too expensive for most people.

Yes, there are subsidies for low-income people, and that’s the best part of this plan — but either those will have to go up every year to match the rate hikes or everyone’s going to be hurting.

Here’s the problem: The feds have mandated everyone gets insurance — but California doesn’t have the right to regulate rates. And the rates aren’t regulated in Washington.

Remember what happened in California when the state (quite properly) mandated in the early 1980s that everyone with a car buy insurance — but then did nothing to control rates? Insurance companies made a fortune, and consumers got screwed, until Prop. 103 passed.

Now it’s pretty clear that we need the same thing for health insurance. That’s what Consumer Watchdog is pushing for — and once the real sticker shock hits, this initiative’s going to pass, just as Prop. 103 did.


Former planning director explains 8 Washington lies


Nice oped piece in the Examiner by former City Planning Director Allan Jacobs about the lies behind the campaign to save 8 Washington from ignominous ballot-box defeat. Jacobs, who knows what he’s talking about, explains the problem with spot-zoning, which is pretty common now in San Francisco.:

San Francisco’s now-famous urban design plan addressed issues of height and bulk of buildings citywide, very much including the waterfront. Those matters became law. The piecemeal game playing that is central to what we are being asked to approve is a terrible way to make public policy — all the more so because it benefits a few high-end developers.

He also debunks some of the lies in the “Open Up the Waterfront” campaign, which is paid for by Developer Simon Snellgrove and his partners (who stand to make a fortune on this deal). Among the claims that signature-gatherers are making:

The project will create more public parks, a more accessible waterfront, and more jobs or a toxic asphalt parking lot and an obstructing 1,735 foot fence with a “members only” club.

Now: Jacobs argues that the “more public space” will include space that will be public only to the owners of the condos. But I also want to say something about this “members only” club.Yeah: The Golden Gate Swim and Tennis Club is restricted to people who pay dues. The new athletic club that Snellgrove is promising to build will also be “members only.” So, by the way, is the YMCA, just down the street. It’s “public” in the sense that anyone can join, “private” in the sense that only dues-paying members are allowed to use it.Anyone can join the current club on the site, for a price. It’s not cheap, but it’s not over-the-top expensive.

We have no idea what the dues at the new club will be, but we know this: The GGSTC has in its bylaws a requirement that it be open to anyone, not just to people who live at Golden Gateway. There is as of now no such requirement for Snellgrove’s new “private” club, which could be limited to the (very) rich owners of the new condos.It won’t be “public” in the way that city rec centers are public, open on a daily basis to anyone who comes in the door (although sometimes you have to pay a few bucks to swim.” So really, the difference between the existing club and the replacement club isn’t relevant to this discussion.

Every developer-driven campaign comes up with some misinformation and claims that don’t survive serious scrutiny. Glad Allan Jacobs is on the case.