Tensions over private commuter shuttles in SF
February 17, 2016 10:22 AM   Subscribe

The SFMTA is weighing an appeal that would dismantle the private commuter shuttle program, after the program was approved last November. Yesterday the board approved changes that would keep the program going for another year. posted by j.r (132 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
The claim that the shuttles are ruining the transit system by blocking bike lanes / Muni buses is absurd; they don't do so any more than other cars / taxis / trucks / bikes / random city traffic. The fight over tech shuttles is 100% a proxy fight over inequality and gentrification. The shuttles themselves are almost certainly a net good, in that they take private cars off the road and thus reduce emissions and congestion.

As a San Franciscan I'm increasingly fed up with the city's own inability to build or maintain anything like functioning mass transit as population, land values, and ultimately the city's tax receipts go through the roof. I'm all for a big government socialist paradise of dense cities and amazing, cheap, subsidized mass transit, but in SF it seems we get all of the taxes with none of the benefits.
posted by bbuda at 10:40 AM on February 17, 2016 [43 favorites]


Fuck this and fuck Santa Clara county. Build more fucking housing and get used to living in denser, more built up areas.

What's that? Santa Clara county is boring-as-fuck w/ nothing going on and who wants to live there? Boy, doesn't that suck.

But fuck these corps and their "We don't need to obey the law that the little people who ride public transport obey. We've got money; We'll just "disrupt" shit and whatch how everything is made better."

Santa Clara county wants the google money but doesn't want to lose it's suburban open spaces or allow high-density housing?

Fuck y'all. Choose.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 10:41 AM on February 17, 2016 [21 favorites]


I can only speak about what I see on the way to Cupertino, but there are literally thousands of people taking the bus to work. I'm sure Google/FB have similar numbers. What do you think will happen if SF bans the busses? That thousands of people trade their 1.25 hour easy coach ride for a 3+ hour MUNI/CalTrain/whatever hell commute? No, they'll sell some of their RSUs for a Tesla and just drive down the 101/280 into work.

If they are actually worried about the impact of the common man's MUNI experience, what's going to happen when they get 1000's of cars onto the SF streets every morning/evening?
posted by sideshow at 10:48 AM on February 17, 2016 [16 favorites]



The escalators in the Bosston MBTA stations are not contaminated with human feces.
Developers are constantly finding places to build up all over the area.
And housing activists actually agitate about housing issues, without starting proxy fights.

Still want to live in SF?
posted by ocschwar at 10:48 AM on February 17, 2016 [8 favorites]


It's quite odd that the US is simultaneously a country that is devoted to facilitating and restricting personal liberty.
posted by My Dad at 10:48 AM on February 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


It's funny, I work at a techy company and just often have to bit my tongue listening to people talk about Muni, Chariot and all the other options that are out there in the city. There's such a hostility that some people have towards Muni, it seems mainly cause they hate poor people and don't think that they should be sharing the same space as them? I'm not certain, but this continue to go hand in hand with all the other issues the city is experiencing.
posted by Carillon at 10:51 AM on February 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


The claim that the shuttles are ruining the transit system by blocking bike lanes / Muni buses is absurd; they don't do so any more than other cars / taxis / trucks / bikes / random city traffic.

Well, it's certainly unfair to say they're "ruining" a system that was a hot fucking mess to begin with, and I don't disagree that it's a proxy fight, but getting to use Muni stops without being fined is a privilege that those other vehicles don't get. (I think we are charging them now, although according to one of the links above Ed Lee wants to end that. But it's still a different set of rules.)
posted by sunset in snow country at 10:53 AM on February 17, 2016 [4 favorites]


So given all that animosity towards public transit I'm not surprised people would rather take 1.25 hours on a private bus than a similar amount of time on Caltrain. Don't like private busses acting as free riders? Too bad!
posted by Carillon at 10:55 AM on February 17, 2016


As was pointed out, there are already sufficient legal options and stops for buses to operate without using Muni stops, thus allowing the buses to use Muni stops is the only leverage the city has with which to have any voice or input into how the buses are operated. Banning them from using Muni stops just shoots SF residents in the foot in more ways than the obvious.

But of course opposing buses was never about reason or thoughtfulness. It's about resentment (and sometimes spite).
posted by anonymisc at 10:57 AM on February 17, 2016 [4 favorites]


here's such a hostility that some people have towards Muni, it seems mainly cause they hate poor people and don't think that they should be sharing the same space as them?

No it's mostly because riding MUNI is such a piss poor experience. It's often late, slow, and dirty. It has little to do with not wanting to mingle with poor people. If MUNI was on time, reasonably clean, and didn't take an hour to go from one side of the 7x7 mile city to another, it would be much more popular.
posted by gyc at 10:59 AM on February 17, 2016 [15 favorites]


Vilifiers of tech shuttles are taking us for a ride:
Yeah, well, we can prove that the buses are causing gentrification and displacement: Nonsense. The buses don’t create housing demand any more than a rooster crowing causes the sun to rise.

For starters there are only 8,000 to 9,000 riders. The real story is that the city is gaining 10,000 new residents a year — many with well-paying jobs — which creates intense pressure on the housing market. Explain to residents in the Sunset, where there are few tech buses, why the shuttles are causing their home prices to go through the roof.
The problem is not shuttles and has never been shuttles. The problem is 10K net new residents in Sf every year and a housing policy that builds a tiny fraction of what's required to house those people.
posted by GuyZero at 10:59 AM on February 17, 2016 [32 favorites]


There's such a hostility that some people have towards Muni, it seems mainly cause they hate poor people and don't think that they should be sharing the same space as them?

I ride Muni all the time, and the hostility is justified for other reasons. It's not as bad a system as some may fear, and it's far better than public transit in the vast majority of the country, but Muni is run by incompetent nincompoops who have absolutely no interest in reliability or performance. Periodically, some of the heaviest traffic in the city is inside the subway tunnel. Breakdowns are common, as are missed runs because of unscheduled "unexcused absences."

To some extent, they've improved in recent years, but they still have no interest in basic operational competence.

But to be clear, this discussion has nothing to do with transit or tech buses; it's about housing, and advocates have single-mindedly seized on a mostly irrelevant symbol because that's easier than talking about a much larger problem.
posted by zachlipton at 11:01 AM on February 17, 2016 [10 favorites]


I'm not surprised people would rather take 1.25 hours on a private bus than a similar amount of time on Caltrain.

The trouble is that the SF Caltrain station is nowhere near where most people live and the BART interchanges are super-awkward AND the last mile to your job in the 'burbs in a PITA so most people don't bother taking it.
posted by GuyZero at 11:01 AM on February 17, 2016 [13 favorites]


@ocschwar: Uhhh, the MBTA is still infamously dirty and shitty. It is constantly overcrowded and its equipment is decades out of date, meaning that there are delays every single day. The whole system shut down for days last winter during the big blizzards.

Also, there's still nowhere near as much housing as is needed in Boston. Rents are the most expensive outside of SF and NYC. The details are different, sure, but there are very similar general trends happening in both San Francisco and Boston.
posted by ColdOfTheIsleOfMan at 11:04 AM on February 17, 2016 [5 favorites]


The one universal reason why public transit sucks almost everywhere is that no government -- local, state, or federal -- wants to spend the money required to maintain a good public transit system. They barely want to spend the money maintaining decent roads. It won't get better until the American people come around to the idea that some things are public goods that are worth spending tax dollars on. In other words, never.
posted by tobascodagama at 11:04 AM on February 17, 2016 [29 favorites]


Of course it is a proxy fight, and here's some anecdotal evidence: The anti-gentrification protesters up in Seattle tried, a couple of times, to link Microsoft's employee shuttles to gentrification in neighborhoods like Capitol Hill. They claimed they were "following in San Francisco's lead." It has all of the same hallmarks and there's no sugarcoating it up here. The banners the protesters deployed straight-up said, "gentrification stops here." Want people to quit spending bazillions of dollars on scarce housing? Build more of it, QED.

(Microsoft, like in this article, pays King County Metro and the City of Seattle for the use of a handful of bus stops. It also uses the 3-minute passenger load zones that the city has sprinkled around town. Overlake Transit Center, which should by all rights be called "Microsoft TC," was donated by Microsoft to Sound Transit in exchange for shuttle loading rights at the facility. I don't know whether Google does this or not, but anyone who has a MS badge is entitled to a complimentary, use-it-to-goanywhere regional transit card.)
posted by fireoyster at 11:05 AM on February 17, 2016 [7 favorites]


We don't need to obey the law that the little people who ride public transport obey.

From the same article I linked to, the SF Board of Supervisors has no legal control over shuttles and the MTA can only fine shuttles for improper bus stop usage. It's not illegal to use roads and the alternatives to using MTA stops are probably worse, like creating new bus hubs in the city.

Now, it's fair to say that all the cities in the valley have housing policies that are just as fucked up a SF's, but it's not like San Francisco is without any blame here.
posted by GuyZero at 11:07 AM on February 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


no government -- local, state, or federal -- wants to spend the money required to maintain a good public transit system

The NY MTA gets about $5.4B of a $11.6B quarterly budget from non-operating income - taxes, grants, etc. (quarter ending Sept 20, 2015) If you ever wonder why New York has such a great public transit system.
posted by GuyZero at 11:12 AM on February 17, 2016 [10 favorites]


> If MUNI was on time, reasonably clean, and didn't take an hour to go from one side of the 7x7 mile city to another, it would be much more popular.

This doesn't happen by magic. It happens by city residents going to City Hall for MUNI-related hearings. It happens by city residents volunteering for committees and working groups to gather data and make recommendations about route changes. It happens by city residents calling their Supervisors to find out how they can help.

Ask what you can do for your city.
posted by rtha at 11:18 AM on February 17, 2016 [17 favorites]



@ocschwar: Uhhh, the MBTA is still infamously dirty and shitty. It is constantly overcrowded and its equipment is decades out of date, meaning that there are delays every single day. The whole system shut down for days last winter during the big blizzards.


But neither the escalators nor the elevators function as latrines for the mentally ill. You can see the escalator maintenance teams at work (all the time, because escalators..) without needing hazmat precautions.


Also, there's still nowhere near as much housing as is needed in Boston. Rents are the most expensive outside of SF and NYC. The details are different, sure, but there are very similar general trends happening in both San Francisco and Boston.


But the housing's being built. And people want it built. As opposed to San Francisco, where the anti-gentrification activists don't want new housing. They just want the newcomers to stop coming and go away.
posted by ocschwar at 11:18 AM on February 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


Similar amount of time on Caltrain? The whole point of the shuttles is that they pick you up in the Mission or Castro or Financial District and drop you off at work. Taking the same route with Caltrain involves 1. taking a bus to caltrain 2. taking caltrain 3. taking a shuttle from the station to work. The people who are complaining their commute will be 3 hours aren't saying that because they don't like poor people, they're saying that because they've done it and its true.

I'm all for a conversation about the ethics of private shuttles, but when you start that conversation by accusing the people on the other side of you of lying its hard for a productive discussion to take place.
posted by hermanubis at 11:20 AM on February 17, 2016 [13 favorites]


If the Bay Area were one municipality the size of NYC, things would be a lot different. Instead, the Bay Area worships micro-municipalities. This means than any regional transit system has to cross county line after city line city line, with each local govt having it's say.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 11:21 AM on February 17, 2016 [7 favorites]


Caltrain is very unreliable due to the whole thing being at ground level with roads going across it, unlike a properly constructed commuter railway which runs under or over the traffic (or makes traffic use bridges over it). As it stands there are frequent collisions with vehicles on the track and it's a suicide magnet due to the easy access. Every incident screws up the schedule for hours.
It's also slow, and there is no Wi-Fi making it hard to work on the train.
Plus it doesn't go to the right locations for tech workers - Mountain View Station is not very near Google, there's no Cupertino Caltrain station for Apple, etc. The companies would have to run short distance shuttles anyway.

Each commuter bus takes dozens of cars off the road, and the buses spend most of their time outside the city. They make room on Caltrain for people whose jobs don't provide buses. It's an obvious public good.

Personally though I opted to live here in the valley, get a yard for my kid to play in, and drive 10 minutes to work.
posted by w0mbat at 11:22 AM on February 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


The discussion of Caltrain is kind of a non-starter anyway since it's basically full, at least during peak commute times when people want to ride it. And for various practical reasons, it has little ability to accommodate a substantial increase in the number of riders. If you banned tech shuttles tomorrow and everyone took the train, the system would collapse.
posted by zachlipton at 11:25 AM on February 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


As someone who has never been to SF, I find it utterly confounding. Everyone in the world seems to want to live there, and everyone who lives there seems to despise it right down to the roots of their being.
posted by selfnoise at 11:26 AM on February 17, 2016 [24 favorites]


As it stands there are frequent collisions with vehicles on the track

There are infrequent collisions although when they happen it does basically take the whole system offline. It is not graceful degradation.

Instead, the Bay Area worships micro-municipalities.

This. So much this. The VTA is a terrible bus system but part of that is because it has to go beg for funding from dozens of tiny cities all of whom just say "go get it from someone else." Same with Caltrain.

Also could someone also please just make San Jose not suck ass somehow? It should be a perfectly viable city yet somehow it ends of being about as much fun as a visit to North Korea.
posted by GuyZero at 11:27 AM on February 17, 2016 [14 favorites]


If you banned tech shuttles tomorrow and everyone took the train, the system would collapse.

They lose money on every passenger. But as the joke goes, I guess they make it up on volume.
posted by GuyZero at 11:28 AM on February 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


> Santa Clara county wants the google money but doesn't want to lose it's suburban open spaces or allow high-density housing?

> Fuck y'all. Choose.


So I think this is a situation where straight up follow-the-money class analysis is actually super useful. The governments of the Santa Clara/San Mateo county towns are responsible to the electorates of those towns. The electorates of those towns are for the most part homeowners. Tech firm growth in any given peninsula/valley town economically benefits homeowners in those towns, because it makes property in those towns more attractive to the people who can muster great whopping heaps of effective demand. On the other hand, building more housing in those towns drives down the value of individual pieces of property on the peninsula/in SV, not because it "ruins the single-family character of the towns" or because it attracts the poors or whatever. It drives down the value of individual pieces of property in those towns simply because it increases supply.

I mean, right? it's right there on the surface. The only problem with this analysis is that it doesn't present any immediately apparent solutions — it's always going to be in the interest of property owners to restrict housing supply.

We need to — but never will — take planning out of the hands of local authorities and put it into the hands of regional authorities beholden to a broader electorate, because elected officials beholden to the voters of Palo Alto and Mountain View and whatever will never, ever upzone, because the voters of Palo Alto and Mountain View and whatever are making a killing off of refusing to upzone.

It's not about preferring a suburban built form. It's not about disdain for apartment-dwellers. It's not even about parking, though good lord those people enjoy whining about parking. Instead, it's about how the suburban built form is an absolute gold mine for the people lucky enough to own houses down there.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:31 AM on February 17, 2016 [50 favorites]


They lose money on every passenger. But as the joke goes, I guess they make it up on volume.


This will be a valid criticism when every single road is a toll road.
posted by Space Coyote at 11:34 AM on February 17, 2016 [3 favorites]



We need to — but never will — take planning out of the hands of local authorities and put it into the hands of regional authorities beholden to a broader electorate,


Or follow Massachusetts's lead. Micro-towns? We have them. But our towns have the right to sue if the next town over is doing something that has a "beggar thy neighbor" intent or effect.
posted by ocschwar at 11:39 AM on February 17, 2016 [7 favorites]


It's not about preferring a suburban built form. It's not about disdain for apartment-dwellers. It's not even about parking, though good lord those people enjoy whining about parking. Instead, it's about how the suburban built form is an absolute gold mine for the people lucky enough to own houses down there.

Well, yes and no. I agree that it is mostly about money. But it is also a little bit about the 'suburban form' - for example, Palo Alto wants to ban two-story homes. Which is insane, because it's not even densifying the neighbourhoods, it's just people trying to get more than 1500 sq ft of living space in their $3M property. But nope, someone might look into someone else's backyard and that can not happen and would be terrible.

Now, having lived in a semi-detached house in central Toronto, hey, I get that the lack of privacy can be a drag at times, but seriously people. These cities have some grade-A complainers.
posted by GuyZero at 11:41 AM on February 17, 2016 [15 favorites]


But the housing's being built. And people [in Boston] want it built. As opposed to San Francisco, where the anti-gentrification activists don't want new housing. They just want the newcomers to stop coming and go away.

Boston's NIMBYs are just as vocal and unreasonable as San Francisco's NIMBYs. (I'll share the email I just got from my neighborhood's listserv about the proposed zoning changes on the large, main street that intersects mine, if you want. It's, uh, really something to behold) The difference in Boston is that the city is really sparsely built up as soon as you get outside of a minuscule downtown core, even along major transit lines. It's completely insane that the Orange and Red Line corridors aren't built up to 20 stories, but even the political will to build more than 3 stories tall is less than five years old. "Anti-gentrification activists" materialize out of the woodwork the moment someone wants to put in something that doesn't "fit the character of the neighborhood," and up until the most recent housing market recovery began, they'd been consistently winning for decades.
posted by Mayor West at 11:42 AM on February 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


This is a big, complicated topic. It involves state law (how much MTA can charge private coaches to use public bus stops), Prop 13, the Bay Area's lack of regional governance structures, and much more. I highly recommend the reporting by Kim-Mai Cutler as a starting point for anyone interested in this subject.
posted by twsf at 11:43 AM on February 17, 2016 [7 favorites]


> The discussion of Caltrain is kind of a non-starter anyway since it's basically full, at least during peak commute times when people want to ride it. And for various practical reasons, it has little ability to accommodate a substantial increase in the number of riders. If you banned tech shuttles tomorrow and everyone took the train, the system would collapse.
posted by zachlipton at 11:25 AM on February 17 [+] [!]


So here's why transit is better than freeways. The more people take a given freeway, the worse that freeway becomes — it gets super crowded and everyone ends up getting stuck in traffic. However, transit gets better when more people use it.

"what? what?" you're saying, "I hate riding crowded trains and buses! you're a crazy person!"

Okay, to be fair, I am a crazy person. However, the deal with transit is that the more people use it, the more (economic) sense it makes to offer more frequent service. And a transit system becomes more useful the more frequent the service is. If you're on a freeway that's underutilized, you're happy, because you've got the road to yourself. But if you're on a rail line that's underutilized, you're unhappy, because the transit agency can't offer frequent service and you end up having to rearrange your life around making your (infrequent) train — and you have to wait on the platform for like an hour if you miss it.

Caltrain is nowhere near capacity. How do you know? Look at the schedule. Even during peak times, the trains are relatively infrequent. Given the number of people making that commute, Caltrain should be at least as frequent as BART is. Instead, for most of the day it's one train an hour, and even during peak times you're stuck waiting for 20 minutes if you miss your train.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:43 AM on February 17, 2016 [27 favorites]


So given all that animosity towards public transit I'm not surprised people would rather take 1.25 hours on a private bus than a similar amount of time on Caltrain

Even if both transport options took the same amount of time, that time is a big chunk of the day wasted on a multi-leg trip (Caltrain) vs time enjoyed productively on a door-to-door service (in this case a private system). Even just a single transfer means you have to stay awake so you don't miss it, regardless of whether you wanted to spend that time catching up with sleep. Or it means you can't set up to do some work because you only get a little done before you have to start packing everything up again, then exiting, then waiting, then catching another vehicle, then start setting up for work again - you just don't get anything substantial done.

As a practical matter, a single-purpose dedicated route (if one exists) is always a better experience for a rider than a multi-leg trip through a transport network, no matter who is providing the shuttle/train(s).
posted by anonymisc at 11:43 AM on February 17, 2016 [5 favorites]


The anger over this specific set of "changes" seems totally out of place. Unless I'm misreading this, the "changes" are: extending the program for 1 year, reviewing it in 6 months, looking into a hub model as a possibly better solution, and commissioning a study of the shuttles’ impact on housing costs.

Wiener's stance amounts to anti-intellectualism, a desire to not even examine the system as it's been implemented. Blech.
posted by wemayfreeze at 11:45 AM on February 17, 2016


(and, yes, it doesn't make sense for Caltrain to buy a bunch of new diesel engines right now when they're in the middle of an electrification push. but once Caltrain is electrified — welcome to the 20th century, SF Peninsula! — they're going to be adding a ton of service.)
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:45 AM on February 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


But the housing's being built.

High-end housing, yes. Anyone who doesn't happen to win the lottery for the paltry affordable units in those projects can go hang. The AMI in Boston is $68,950. The median rent's around $2100 for a one-bedroom (depending on who you ask, it may be higher). That's 36% of your gross income.

The end of rent control in Boston/Brookline/Cambridge in 1995 was supposed to lead to a big expanse in the housing supply and a moderation of prices. Funny how that didn't quite happen.
posted by praemunire at 11:46 AM on February 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


but once Caltrain is electrified — welcome to the 20th century, SF Peninsula! — they're going to be adding a ton of service.

Hopefully. Very hopefully.
posted by GuyZero at 11:47 AM on February 17, 2016


Growing up in the Bay Area, it still astounds me how little care there is to the roads and public transit infrastructure and housing, while still condensing all of the money and wealth into this region. I'm still bothered by how little the amount of affordable housing is being built for the areas near the new BART stations, which is like maybe 1% or 2% of the total amount of units, and half of those are allocated for seniors.

But money talks, and people are clamoring for trying to get ahead and have opportunities. Suburban density housing is so fucked, we can't even have mixed-style here in the South Bay, so there's tons of usable land that is devoted to strip malls. SO MUCH WASTE.
posted by yueliang at 11:47 AM on February 17, 2016 [5 favorites]


I ride public transit every work day and used to ride Muni every work day for close to a year and a half, it's really not that bad.
posted by Carillon at 11:51 AM on February 17, 2016 [4 favorites]



But the housing's being built.

High-end housing, yes. Anyone who doesn't happen to win the lottery for the paltry affordable units in those projects can go hang.


Every single high end apartment in the new high rises is one less yuppie (or one less DINK unit) bidding up the rent in existing units. And since the older stock is the only source of what the city really needs (family-sized apartments, that is), that is very much a good thing.
posted by ocschwar at 11:52 AM on February 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


Unless I'm misreading this...
...Wiener's stance amounts to anti-intellectualism, a desire to not even examine the system as it's been implemented. Blech.


I think you probably are misreading it. You described the surface (the proposed changes) and he is looking at the games of intrigue underneath the surface that created the surface. He may or may not be correct in his assessment, but he's looking deeper.
posted by anonymisc at 11:52 AM on February 17, 2016


The only problem with this analysis is that it doesn't present any immediately apparent solutions — it's always going to be in the interest of property owners to restrict housing supply.

Bingo - I chaired a local planning committee for a while and, time and time again, there were local homeowners at public hearings on new developments saying two things:

1) Densification hurts my quality of life - more people wanting to park everywhere, loss of views, more traffic on roads, more noise, etc.

2) Reduced property values as a result of the development. You would have people in neighborhoods whose housing value doubled in 10 years complaining about future returns.

The meetings would follow a similar form - two dozen locals from the neighborhood would get up in arms about anything except what was previously there being built, and only the project proponent got up and talked about increased demand for local shops, new transit, and often more affordable housing options.

Every single regional plan I know of has affordable housing and increased transit usage as a desired outcome - unfortunately for them, the politicians and their existing electorate often has housing value and/or heritage they're aiming to protect. They want to protect what is today. Affordable housing is for an abstract, future population that may or may not even relate their future house to you. So the politicians usually side with NIMBY and thus everyone with a cap on what they can borrow for a mortgage must move further and further out.

I think it's a nasty side effect of our democratic institutions that elect a local representative to represent a local electorate - ultimately, if you believe you represent your voters, then you're going to end up protecting their perceived tangible losses against abstract gains for people who don't even live in your district yet.

I like at-large elections at local levels where this kind of planning is done, for the sole reason those people can at least elevate and push the kind of tangible, one-off development decisions and planning that actually lets the abstract get realized.
posted by scrittore at 11:55 AM on February 17, 2016 [11 favorites]


Caltrain is nowhere near capacity. How do you know? Look at the schedule. Even during peak times, the trains are relatively infrequent. Given the number of people making that commute, Caltrain should be at least as frequent as BART is. Instead, for most of the day it's one train an hour, and even during peak times you're stuck waiting for 20 minutes if you miss your train.

I actually disagree. Caltrain is definitely at capacity, but only because they have two tracks (northbound and southbound) with very few spurs, and there's also the ground-level issue, which necessitates slower speeds than a train could/should run at. Getting an express (baby bullet, ugh) train through at peak times is already a huge balancing act. If you put more trains on the tracks, you'd end up slowing everyone down significantly.
posted by TypographicalError at 11:55 AM on February 17, 2016 [4 favorites]


The big problem with building high density housing in the valley is that the highly rated schools are already full, and developers only want to build new housing in the good school districts because that's where parents want to live. That's why residents tend to object to new blocks of apartments going up in their school district.
posted by w0mbat at 11:55 AM on February 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


the deal with transit is that the more people use it, the more (economic) sense it makes to offer more frequent service.

You Can't Tip A Buick, I'm going to take this moment to publicly declare my love for you for making me not feel like I'm taking crazy pills in Bay Area threads.

Although I fear that others in this thread are correct about the will and ability (i.e. none) of Muni and other Bay Area public transit to get their shit together, that's essentially the argument I was looking for. I feel more and more alone in this, but for me, this debate is very much about transit (I've all but given up on the housing situation). I'm really not so sure that not having those shuttles would mean that every single rider would be out on the road in a car. Some would, obviously, but the people I've known who have worked for tech companies without their own shuttles took Caltrain, or Bart/Caltrain, and lived to tell the tale. Millennials are famously the car-free generation, and so few of these people have kids, and so few San Francisco apartments come with parking. If the shuttles weren't available, if more of San Francisco's wealthy white residents were choosing public transit, might we actually have the political will to improve those transit systems? I genuinely don't know, but I'm frustrated and saddened that from the start we've created this two-tier system to sidestep the issue entirely.
posted by sunset in snow country at 11:56 AM on February 17, 2016 [12 favorites]


If the shuttles weren't available, if more of San Francisco's wealthy white residents were choosing public transit, might we actually have the political will to improve those transit systems?

The thing is the needed improvements are down in Silly Valley, not in SF proper, and the electeds who have to approve these things are not accountable to the SF-resident shuttle riders.
posted by ocschwar at 12:00 PM on February 17, 2016


> Every single high end apartment in the new high rises is one less yuppie (or one less DINK unit) bidding up the rent in existing units. And since the older stock is the only source of what the city really needs (family-sized apartments, that is), that is very much a good thing.

However:
  • high-end apartments have large floor plans that result in fewer units per building than normal-people apartments
  • high-end apartments typically have a ton of parking. Parking is expensive and takes up a lot of space.
  • (the combination of these two effects are why a new six-story building can contain less actual housing than an older three or four story building.)
  • Moreover, the housing crisis is severe; we need hundreds of thousands of new units, as soon as possible, as densely constructed as possible, and so wasting scarce land on luxury units on the whole sets us back.
  • Moreover moreover, when housing even comes close to matching real demand, housing development slows down dramatically. This is because developers are competing in a global market for lending, and lenders will tend to only give money to the absolutely most profitable projects. As housing supply approaches housing demand, profitability falls. Lenders go elsewhere long, long before demand is actually met.
My unreasonable position is that we need a massive public housing push, right now. The market is no good at providing housing in high-demand environments, just like it's no good at providing transportation infrastructure, education, or health care. It's simply the wrong tool for the job. The only way having the market in housing can be tolerable at all is if there's a robust, viable public option to moderate the housing market's tendency toward systematic undersupply.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:00 PM on February 17, 2016 [27 favorites]


It won't get better until the American people come around to the idea that some things are public goods that are worth spending tax dollars on. In other words, never.
  • The American people aren't getting paid well enough currently to support the funding necessary for such an investment in infrastructure, and even if they were it'd immediately be sunk into the current infrastructure which supports day-to-day needs (cars, road funding, etc)
  • Theoretically, businesses could get together and decide to pitch in a portion of their profits to make such an investment in infrastructure...
  • ... but, regardless if business or the general public could pull it off, it'd require (I fear, and please tell me I'm wrong) a stop to the American economy, or significant portions of it, to essentially reset to a new way of life (near city condos/apartments, rails to commerce and back, etc.)
$0.02
posted by JoeXIII007 at 12:03 PM on February 17, 2016


I always wonder how different the Bay Area would be if it was one or two counties instead of the 9ish it is now.
posted by Carillon at 12:04 PM on February 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


It's not about preferring a suburban built form. It's not about disdain for apartment-dwellers. It's not even about parking, though good lord those people enjoy whining about parking. Instead, it's about how the suburban built form is an absolute gold mine for the people lucky enough to own houses down there.

Dude. PLEASE. I live in very expensive suburbs (not the Bay Area because I can't stand it there, but similarly expensive, with increasing housing prices). I can't speak for anyone but myself, but it has absolutely nothing to do with it being "a gold mine." It's about things like:
  1. When I go to the grocery store, I can actually find a spot to park. (I know only losers drive to the grocery store, but I personally don't want to haul a watermelon, a bottle of milk, and a loaf of bread eight blocks on foot).
  2. When I get home with my groceries, I can get them into my kitchen without schlepping up three flights of stairs or waiting for the oversubscribed elevator.
  3. When I want to read, I can do it quietly, even outside in the sunshine, without being bothered.
  4. At night when I sleep, it's completely silent.
  5. When friends and family visit, they actually have a bedroom with its own closing door.
  6. I have a separate room to work in, so I can effectively separate home life from work life.
It goes on and on. I get that some people prefer to live in the city, and I totally respect that. I lived in cities for several years and I fully understand the appeal. But I resent the implication that because I don't choose to live in the city its for some nefarious reason. Is it really that hard to imagine that different people like different living environments? And is it impossible to respect that instead of assigning ill motives?
posted by primethyme at 12:04 PM on February 17, 2016 [13 favorites]


high-end apartments have large floor plans that result in fewer units per building than normal-people apartments


So far as I've seen that is really not the case. The new stock has top-of-the-line appliances and trimmings (granite this, alabaster that) to distract from the very, very small size.

What's preventing the existence of large low-end apartments is that towns won't allow it. The math is simple. If you build 4 room apartments in a building, there's a high likelihood that they will be just perfectly priced for lower-working class families. (If not initially, then a few years down the road.) And those families, if they have apartments with space for kids, are going to breed those kids and enroll them into the school. From a financial point of view, it makes sense to push those people to the next town over. That's why buildings with large apartments have not been approved in the area for a long time.

high-end apartments typically have a ton of parking. Parking is expensive and takes up a lot of space.

Only if they're required to. Developers LOVE being allowed to forgo parking.

My unreasonable position is that we need a massive public housing push, right now — because the market is no good at providing housing in high-demand environments, just like it's no good at providing transportation infrastructure, education, or health care.

My retort is that if you can't get the tax money together for a public housing push, ("if"?) you have nothing to lose from just legalizing the kind of housing stock you want built. If the private sector steps forward and does it, great. If it doesn't, you haven't gained ground but you haven't lost any.
posted by ocschwar at 12:09 PM on February 17, 2016 [5 favorites]


Is it really that hard to imagine that different people like different living environments? And is it impossible to respect that instead of assigning ill motives?

I totally respect the preference, but nearly every piece of research on planning in the last decade says you are almost assuredly not paying the full infrastructure cost required to build out there. From sewers, to roads, to parks, fire, police - those are subsidized for new developments by the general pool of tax that could be going to things like better transit.

There are development fees and taxes and I'm sure you pay a ton of them, but they're nearly always a fraction of what it costs to provide service to a wider and wider radius. Lots of us live in the core of cities not because we love noise or neighbors, but because we see it as the only economically, ecologically, and environmentally responsible choice to make if we can afford it.
posted by scrittore at 12:11 PM on February 17, 2016 [21 favorites]


(I know only losers drive to the grocery store, but I personally don't want to haul a watermelon, a bottle of milk, and a loaf of bread eight blocks on foot).

How often do you buy watermelons??!?
posted by Automocar at 12:11 PM on February 17, 2016 [7 favorites]


Before I moved here I heard about this whole bus thing but I didn't understand it. Now I do. The problem is that the Silicon Valley area looks like it's near San Francisco but in real life it is not nearby at all, and there truly is no easy way to get there. I think the busses are a great idea but they should be run by a municipality; if your employer doesn't offer them you're SOL. There's also a lot of people in the East Bay who are locked out of good jobs because it's too hard to get to where they are.
posted by bleep at 12:12 PM on February 17, 2016


The thing is that while the suburbs on the peninsula can't stomach more residential density because of reasons, they are more than happy to green-light the most insanely dense corporate campuses imaginable. Apple is building this new headquarters for 13,000 people in Cupertino - where's the housing to go along with that?
posted by gyusan at 12:20 PM on February 17, 2016 [4 favorites]


I feel more and more alone in this, but for me, this debate is very much about transit (I've all but given up on the housing situation).

For me, it's more about infrastructure in general than just transit. There are increasingly serious proposals to majorly upzone some of the less dense parts of San Francisco (like the Affordable Housing Bonus Program), especially around transit corridors. More housing is definitely needed, but nobody seems to care about fact that the city's population keeps growing and our infrastructure isn't remotely keeping pace. We can't magically put thousands of new people in, say, the Richmond without more police, more firefighters, more ambulances, more schools (hah!), bigger water and sewer pipes, and yes, more transit.

We spend a ton of money on city services (the city budget is $8.96 billion, or about $10K/resident), but we're not maintaining or expanding our infrastructure with it.
posted by zachlipton at 12:22 PM on February 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


>> high-end apartments typically have a ton of parking. Parking is expensive and takes up a lot of space.

> Only if they're required to. Developers LOVE being allowed to forgo parking.


Correct — the interests of developers and the interest of homeowners do not align in this case, as they so frequently don't align. And neither homeowner nor developer interests align with the interests of the people as a whole.

> My retort is that if you can't get the tax money together for a public housing push, ("if"?) you have nothing to lose from just legalizing the kind of housing stock you want built. If the private sector steps forward and does it, great. If it doesn't, you haven't gained ground but you haven't lost any.

Correct. I am in favor of upzoning — massive upzoning. I just don't have any faith whatsoever that market allocation actually can provide sufficient housing.

> What's preventing the existence of large low-end apartments is that towns won't allow it. The math is simple. If you build 4 room apartments in a building, there's a high likelihood that they will be just perfectly priced for lower-working class families. (If not initially, then a few years down the road.) And those families, if they have apartments with space for kids, are going to breed those kids and enroll them into the school. From a financial point of view, it makes sense to push those people to the next town over. That's why buildings with large apartments have not been approved in the area for a long time.

Correct. And this is another reason why zoning needs to be taken out of the hands of local governments and put into the hands of regional and state governments.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:22 PM on February 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


also using the word "breed" in the context of people having children and raising families is at the very least awkward. Language that positions people raising families as vermin or livestock is, well, unfortunate, and doesn't tend to win people to your side.

But yes: there are financial incentives beyond simply rising housing prices for suburban homeowners to push for exclusionary zoning. I apologize for oversimplifying, especially since the more realistic picture further indicates why municipalities absolutely cannot be trusted with control over zoning regulations.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:33 PM on February 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


How often do you buy watermelons??!?

A lot more often now that I don't have to walk home with my groceries :)
posted by primethyme at 12:36 PM on February 17, 2016 [7 favorites]


It goes on and on. I get that some people prefer to live in the city, and I totally respect that. I lived in cities for several years and I fully understand the appeal. But I resent the implication that because I don't choose to live in the city its for some nefarious reason. Is it really that hard to imagine that different people like different living environments? And is it impossible to respect that instead of assigning ill motives?

First off, let me admit that I am one of these people that prefers to live in the city. Just putting my bias upfront. (And FWIW, my parents, who are immigrants to this coutnry and grew up in dense urban areas, have exactly the opposite opinion to me and are die-hard suburbanites! Plus ça change, I guess)

But I think that this response is an uncharitable and not really on-point interpretation of the first comment. I read Buick's original comment as just pointing out that suburban homeowners are economically rational in opposing the construction of new housing, even though this is to the detriment of the housing market as a whole. I know that Metafilter as a whole definitely skews pro-urban, but I found that comment to really not be the "suburbs are soulless and a waste of space" that you seemed to have perceived it to be.

While you might not think of your house as a gold mine, you cannot possibly disagree with the fact that we view owner-occupied housing in this country as a way to build wealth. Witness all the rhetoric and common wisdom about how renters are "throwing money away"; and the fact that nearly every time densification is proposed for a suburb, "property values" are the words that are used to battle back. In this country we've got a lot vested in home equity and it only makes sense that people want to protect their investment -- it's only logical for them to oppose new housing if it brings their individual property values down, is what Buick was pointing out.
posted by andrewesque at 12:37 PM on February 17, 2016 [11 favorites]


Suburban living is the most American of all living arrangements, because it is the most fuck-you-I've-got-mine of all living arrangements.

It's been demonstrated that it is environmentally and economically unsustainable, but people still believe it's their god-given right to live that way because Reasons.
posted by entropicamericana at 12:41 PM on February 17, 2016 [10 favorites]



When I go to the grocery store, I can actually find a spot to park. (I know only losers drive to the grocery store, but I personally don't want to haul a watermelon, a bottle of milk, and a loaf of bread eight blocks on foot).
When I get home with my groceries, I can get them into my kitchen without schlepping up three flights of stairs or waiting for the oversubscribed elevator.
When I want to read, I can do it quietly, even outside in the sunshine, without being bothered.
At night when I sleep, it's completely silent.
When friends and family visit, they actually have a bedroom with its own closing door.
I have a separate room to work in, so I can effectively separate home life from work life.

It goes on and on. I get that some people prefer to live in the city, and I totally respect that. I lived in cities for several years and I fully understand the appeal. But I resent the implication that because I don't choose to live in the city its for some nefarious reason. Is it really that hard to imagine that different people like different living environments? And is it impossible to respect that instead of assigning ill motives?


Outside of the "it's completely silent" requirement, I'm not sure how any of those other reasons which I read as a preference for having a house would somehow lead a homeowner to oppose a higher density development, which is what I read Buick's post to be about.
posted by Karaage at 12:41 PM on February 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


Suburban living is the most American of all living arrangements, because it is the most fuck-you-I've-got-mine of all living arrangements.

Well, yes and no - you know that there are housing areas that are essentially suburban in the UK, Australia, even countries like Germany and France, right? It's not like everyone in France lives in the 4th Arrondissement.
posted by GuyZero at 12:45 PM on February 17, 2016 [5 favorites]


Suburban living is the most American of all living arrangements, because it is the most fuck-you-I've-got-mine of all living arrangements.

Yup, all of those homeowners in Flint are sure sitting pretty.
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:49 PM on February 17, 2016 [4 favorites]


Suburban living is a huge cultural force though. It seems that pretty much every TV show not featuring young folks trying to make it in New York City features a single family home in the suburbs. That doesn't make it evil or make people bad people for wanting all the advantages it brings, but it does have something to do with what people expect and want.

In any case, you can't talk about this without also talking about schools, which are the other reason people in the Bay Area want to live in certain places.
posted by zachlipton at 12:55 PM on February 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


The only problem with this analysis is that it doesn't present any immediately apparent solutions — it's always going to be in the interest of property owners to restrict housing supply.

Create a land value tax. Georgism strikes back, bitches!
posted by Apocryphon at 12:58 PM on February 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


Ahh, the term "high-end" apartment. Or "luxury" development. That's invariably the casus belli that all the protests against development use. That it needs to be stopped because it's homes for rich people, and not poor people. (Even if it's set to be 30% BMR units.)

Do you know what makes an apartment "high-end"? It has nothing to do with cost of materials, or amenities, or literally any decision the developer made. Not in SF. An apartment is "high-end" when someone is willing to pay $1400+/sq ft. And the reason why someone is willing to do that is because there are far more people who want to be in SF than there is space for them.
posted by danny the boy at 12:59 PM on February 17, 2016 [7 favorites]


It sure would be great if all of these disruptive hulking corporate monoliths would put in the effort to allocate some of their lobbying budget towards local governments to build more housing and transit infrastructure
posted by Apocryphon at 1:00 PM on February 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yup, all of those homeowners in Flint are sure sitting pretty.

You mean the Flint, Michigan that was gutted by white flight? That Flint, Michigan?

You can't talk about the suburbs without talking about racism and white flight, either.
posted by entropicamericana at 1:01 PM on February 17, 2016 [10 favorites]


As someone who has never been to SF, I find it utterly confounding. Everyone in the world seems to want to live there, and everyone who lives there seems to despise it right down to the roots of their being.

The greatest trick that New York ever pulled was convincing that it was the best city to ever exist, and that all big cities are like it.
posted by Apocryphon at 1:09 PM on February 17, 2016


You can't talk about the suburbs without talking about racism and white flight, either.

Would this be a good time to mention how San Francisco's black population has plummeted?
posted by zachlipton at 1:10 PM on February 17, 2016 [9 favorites]


High-end housing, yes. Anyone who doesn't happen to win the lottery for the paltry affordable units in those projects can go hang. The AMI in Boston is $68,950. The median rent's around $2100 for a one-bedroom (depending on who you ask, it may be higher). That's 36% of your gross income.

There are lots of housing developments going up in Boston - apparently, the big thing is "transit oriented" if you believe curbed.com. There doesn't appear to be a lot of lower-priced housing going up (aside from the obligatory few percent of "affordable" units in every new luxury building).

So a handful of people win the lottery and get a $3000/mo apartment for $1000/mo, and the others who can afford $1000/mo are left to look for aging housing stock as formerly grungy neighborhoods get gentrified and rents rise. The usual situation, or so it seems.
posted by theorique at 1:10 PM on February 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Perhaps this is very cynical, but I think in these kinds of threads it's very easy to see who rides the shuttles and who doesn't.
posted by crazy with stars at 1:14 PM on February 17, 2016 [7 favorites]


As someone who has never been to SF, I find it utterly confounding. Everyone in the world seems to want to live there, and everyone who lives there seems to despise it right down to the roots of their being.

The greatest trick that New York ever pulled was convincing that it was the best city to ever exist, and that all big cities are like it.


New York has good bagels, though.
posted by selfnoise at 1:16 PM on February 17, 2016


A lot more often now that I don't have to walk home with my groceries :)

I'm glad we don't have high gas taxes, carbon taxes and congestion pricing to make you pay for that 8-block drive to the grocery store, then. :)
posted by Automocar at 1:23 PM on February 17, 2016 [5 favorites]


The claim that the shuttles are ruining the transit system by blocking bike lanes / Muni buses is absurd; they don't do so any more than other cars / taxis / trucks / bikes / random city traffic. The fight over tech shuttles is 100% a proxy fight over inequality and gentrification.

Less than a year ago, I sat on the 24-Divisadero riding through Bernal Heights, Glen Park, and the Castro on my way to a doctor's appointment at CPMC. As had happened many times before, we got right behind a shuttle, as luck would have it. Only this time, the shuttle stopped at every. single. stop. At each one, it would idle for a few minutes, the driver would pop out to help people get bikes and bags from underneath, and then it would continue, letting our bus pull in to the stop.

At the point where it turned from Noe onto 29th, it got stuck. It was too long to make the full turn without scraping cars on both sides. In trying to navigate the tight turn, it got itself wedged right up against a car. Stuck. We're right behind it, in a bus. Behind us are about eight cars now, cars that can't pass because the stuck shuttle is blocking Noe. So, as time passes, our bus driver sighs, gets out, and walks eight cars back to tell the drivers to back up, one by one.

Eventually, he gets back in the bus, backs up a few hilly feet, then gets out again to direct the shuttle driver. After maybe ten minutes of inching and delicate negotiation, the shuttle clears the corner in reverse, straightens out, then drivers on down Noe. Our bus carries on the usual path, and as we round the next corner.... we are again behind the same shuttle.

That ride is normally about 25 minutes for me. This day, it was a little over an hour. But yes, tell me again how this is all a proxy for gentrification. I never tire of hearing it.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 1:24 PM on February 17, 2016 [13 favorites]


I'm not sure white flight matters much in the context of Bay Area housing since housing prices are going up pretty much everywhere, cities and suburbs alike. I mean, yes it set the stage for the current shit-show, but it's not really an active thing today, although perhaps someone will correct me on that. Apropos of that, the legacy of redlining comes up every time some clever white new university graduate suggests they're going to buy a house in East Palo Alto because, wow, it seems so cheap and then I'm never sure who is and isn't racists when they suggest that might not be a great idea. Although it doesn't matter in the end because large commercial developments will probably eat EPA before gentrifiers do.

Anyway, I think there is a legitimate issue about asking where low-income families are going to live and who exactly is going to do the minimum wage jobs in a city where they can't afford to live - not to mention things like teachers being unable to afford to live near where they teach. But white flight seems less than current.
posted by GuyZero at 1:24 PM on February 17, 2016


That ride is normally about 25 minutes for me. This day, it was a little over an hour. But yes, tell me again how this is all a proxy for gentrification. I never tire of hearing it.

The alternative is not no shuttles, it's being in a bus behind 30 cars.
posted by GuyZero at 1:25 PM on February 17, 2016 [12 favorites]


It sure would be great if all of these disruptive hulking corporate monoliths would put in the effort to allocate some of their lobbying budget towards local governments to build more housing and transit infrastructure

I disagree. That would give them too much control and absolve the government of its responsibility. Corporations exist to make money, that isn't going to change. It is neither realistic nor desirable for them to start solving the housing crunch.

The government needs to address income inequality and permit density so that enough housing can be built. It hasn't, so our anger should be directed there. And at the scores of NIMBYs who insist on single family zoning as a way to "preserve the community" or whatever. And at the willfully ignorant idealists who refuse to acknowledge the connection between lack of supply and housing prices.
posted by andrewpcone at 1:27 PM on February 17, 2016


It sure would be great if all of these disruptive hulking corporate monoliths would put in the effort to allocate some of their lobbying budget towards local governments to build more housing and transit infrastructure

Funny enough Google has lobbied for housing developments repeatedly near its corporate campus and they have never gotten anything approved:
Mountain View City Council has repeatedly challenged Google's ambitions. They've opposed Google proposals to build housing, to erect a hotel, and more recently to start any new construction whatsoever in the North Bayshore area. Transportation is one of the council’s concerns, but the environment also ranks high on the agenda: some are worried about impact to the native burrowing owl and other species in North Bayshore’s wildlife refuge.
posted by GuyZero at 1:30 PM on February 17, 2016 [14 favorites]


some are worried about impact to the native burrowing owl

So that's what NIMBY stands for!
posted by grumpybear69 at 1:33 PM on February 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


late afternoon dreaming hotel: You're not wrong. There are certainly some issues with the shuttles, as there are with double-parked delivery trucks, taxis making crazy illegal turns, Uber and Lyft drivers who can't name a single street in the city, Critical Mass, broken Muni buses, lost tourists in rental cars, tour and convention buses loading in the middle of the street, random people without full control of their actions wandering in traffic, and all the other nonsense that comes with trying to get from one place to another in this city.

I know the SFMTA has been using this program to work with the shuttle operators to try to ensure that shuttles are operating on appropriate streets (i.e. ones where they fit) and are doing their best not to impede traffic. Nobody wants a shuttle to be stuck on a small street; that doesn't help the tech company, the shuttle operator, or the shuttle riders either.

As I've said before: Getting around San Francisco is a hate-based operation.
posted by zachlipton at 1:34 PM on February 17, 2016 [4 favorites]


As I've said before: Getting around San Francisco is a hate-based operation.

Yep.
posted by GuyZero at 1:35 PM on February 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


It sure would be great if all of these disruptive hulking corporate monoliths would put in the effort to allocate some of their lobbying budget towards local governments to build more housing and transit infrastructure

Google was offering millions upon millions of dollars in transit upgrades to get their proposed North Bayshore expansion approved. They wanted to put in bike lines, improve intersections, add pedestrian bridges, all kinds of things. They didn't get their expansion, so the area lost out on the order of $200 million in assorted improvements (transit and otherwise).

So IMHO your statement might be better phrased as: it sure would be great if all of these dysfunctional city governments and state tax structures would put in the effort to allow these disruptive hulking corporate monoliths to build more housing and transit infrastructure.
posted by aramaic at 1:35 PM on February 17, 2016 [13 favorites]


I always wonder how different the Bay Area would be if it was one or two counties instead of the 9ish it is now.

Well, for one thing, BART would have been built to run from Marin to San Jose, making the transit experience substantially better.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 1:36 PM on February 17, 2016 [8 favorites]


Oh, also asking why Apple gets to add 12,000 workers to Cupertino without anyone adding new housing - it's because Apple is the vast majority of Cupertino's business property tax base. They basically get whatever they want. Also, the new building is where a different corporate campus used to be so it's not really that many net new workers although it is more than what HP had I believe.
posted by GuyZero at 1:41 PM on February 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Apple's new campus is not without its (rightful) critics.
posted by entropicamericana at 1:48 PM on February 17, 2016


You can't talk about the suburbs without talking about racism and white flight, either.

That's really not relevant to the valley, which is one big sprawling peninsula suburb not encircling a city. It's a very diverse place though, very asian, very indian, very hispanic and yeah white people from all over the USA and all over the world.
posted by w0mbat at 1:50 PM on February 17, 2016


Well, historically the existence of places like Redwood City and Mountain View and to a lesser extent Palo Alto (which has always been a small city due to Stanford) are all the products of white flight. It very much applies to the Valley, but primarily in a historical context. And as I mentioned, East Palo Alto is very, very, VERY much the product of redlining.
posted by GuyZero at 1:58 PM on February 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


Apple's new campus is not without its (rightful) critics.

Fair points all, but the previous campus was not some exemplar of good urban design either. I live a whopping two miles from the new campus and the main thing people talk about is a) when does the 20' tall construction wall come down and b) man it's going to do great things for local house prices.
posted by GuyZero at 2:01 PM on February 17, 2016


Ugh. After a certain point, which may be coming soon, I'll have to relocate to SV if I want to progress in my career. The very idea of it makes me feel exhausted, and right now it's purely theoretical. Blech.
posted by aramaic at 2:03 PM on February 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


Why not Seattle or Austin? The greatest trick that Silicon Valley ever pulled was convincing the world that no other tech hubs exist.
posted by Apocryphon at 2:11 PM on February 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


Every single high end apartment in the new high rises is one less yuppie (or one less DINK unit) bidding up the rent in existing units.

This is only the case if demand is static. It's not. Instead, you get people who would otherwise live elsewhere moving into the $3500/mo. one-bedroom, and the original yuppie/DINK unit still bidding up the rent elsewhere. Further, the ever-increasing median rent emboldens landlords to charge more. Since it's difficult to forego housing and lead a normal life, the market power of the landlord is extreme.

I don't understand why people keep making this argument when all the construction in NYC has done nothing to reduce rents.
posted by praemunire at 2:11 PM on February 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


white flight

And now, to a certain extent, the opposite effect of reurbanization may be contributing at least somewhat to the housing woes and rapid gentrification of cities like San Francisco.
posted by gyc at 2:12 PM on February 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


This is only the case if demand is static. It's not. Instead, you get people who would otherwise live elsewhere moving into the $3500/mo. one-bedroom, and the original yuppie/DINK unit still bidding up the rent elsewhere.

I really doubt that. If someone in the 90th income percentile or above wants to live in a particular neighborhood, he's going to live in that neighborhood, whether it means a refurbished older apartment or a brand new one with steel countertops and granite fridge doors. Meanwhile, the rest of us take what we can get, even if it means a two hour commute from Malden or Chelmsford or Far Rockaway or Alameda County.
posted by ocschwar at 2:21 PM on February 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


man it's going to do great things for local house prices.

Except that in this context, 'local' extends all the way up to San Francisco, where the mirror-image apartment across the hall from us rents for over triple what it did in 2006, and is dependably advertised as "steps from commuter bus routes."
posted by gyusan at 2:24 PM on February 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'll have to relocate to SV if I want to progress in my career. The very idea of it makes me feel exhausted, and right now it's purely theoretical. Blech.

Just try to hold out for the next crash. Should only be a couple of years.
posted by GuyZero at 2:27 PM on February 17, 2016


The one universal reason why public transit sucks almost everywhere is that no government -- local, state, or federal -- wants to spend the money required to maintain a good public transit system. They barely want to spend the money maintaining decent roads. It won't get better until the American people come around to the idea that some things are public goods that are worth spending tax dollars on. In other words, never.

That, and the Federal government penalizes metro areas that want to invest in and / or increase the subsidies for public transportation. A set percentage of the cost of public transport systems needs to be recovered at the fare box or a system will lose it's federal matching funds.

Cities cannot invest in improving their systems without either driving fares up or losing federal funds. The rot, in this case, begins at the top.
posted by kanewai at 2:33 PM on February 17, 2016 [5 favorites]


I'll have to relocate to SV if I want to progress in my career. The very idea of it makes me feel exhausted, and right now it's purely theoretical. Blech.

It's exhausting being here now, and I'm considering leaving. I've thought about riding it out until the next crash, but will things really get any better? I'm thinking no.
posted by zsazsa at 2:37 PM on February 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


>I don't understand why people keep making this argument when all the construction in NYC has done nothing to reduce rents.

The arguments that I've heard go something like "whatever restrictions on land use exist, those restrictions are preventing the magic of the market from providing adequate supply to meet need."

And like on the one hand I want to agree with these people, because zoning is too tight in a lot of ways — for example, up in Seattle something like 80% of all residential land is zoned for separated, single-family homes. However, the thing that the people making this argument tend to miss is that the market is optimized to stop providing housing long before need is actually met, because of the tendency for the profitability of developments to fall as supply approaches demand. Even if all state/city restrictions on land use are removed, the market won't ever build enough, because it's simply not in market interests to build enough.

(proposed solutions: increase in public housing, creation of municipal/state-level banks tasked with lending to affordable housing developments. though likely any measure to get the market out of housing will help at least a little to improve the situation.)
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:53 PM on February 17, 2016 [4 favorites]


> I really doubt that. If someone in the 90th income percentile or above wants to live in a particular neighborhood, he's going to live in that neighborhood, whether it means a refurbished older apartment or a brand new one with steel countertops and granite fridge doors. Meanwhile, the rest of us take what we can get, even if it means a two hour commute from Malden or Chelmsford or Far Rockaway or Alameda County.

Okay, but now step back a bit and ask what makes a given rich person want to move to a neighborhood. Specifically, consider that rich people for various reasons like to live near other rich people. Their friends and colleagues tend to be rich, and so they'll want to live near them, and they tend to like places with certain amenities (restaurants, shops, high-end grocery stores and so forth) that other rich people like, so they want to live near those amenities, and they like to live in places that for whatever reason feel safe to rich people, and the presence of rich people in a neighborhood is a sign that those rich people, at least, find the neighborhood safe, and so forth and so forth.

This is why it makes sense, if you're a renter, to try to keep, for example, high-end grocery stores out of your neighborhood. On the one hand, you can't afford them, on the other hand, even if you could afford them you don't want them near you. This is because they serve as a signaling device indicating that the area around the store is a good place for rich people to cluster, thus potentially driving up your rents.

This is also why it makes sense, if you're a renter, to militate against tech industry bus stops in your neighborhood — it's an amenity that you can't use that signals, in a very practical way, that the neighborhood is a good place for tech industry people to live, thus potentially driving up your rents.

Nearby new luxury buildings in a neighborhood, likewise, are a signal indicating that that neighborhood is safe and good for rich people — if you're in a poor neighborhood, that means you do not want them near you, despite whatever marginal pressure they may take off the market by soaking up a bit of the demand for housing. Although they may in regional terms fractionally reduce rents, in local terms they more often drive rents up by generating extra demand, through their function as a signal that the neighborhood is good for rich people.

These incentives are flipped around for homeowners; if you own your house, you'll have more wealth the wealthier the neighborhood around you is, and so you want as many "come live here rich people" signaling devices as possible in the neighborhood.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 3:13 PM on February 17, 2016 [16 favorites]


This is also why it makes sense, if you're a renter, to militate against tech industry bus stops in your neighborhood — it's an amenity that you can't use that signals, in a very practical way, that the neighborhood is a good place for tech industry people to live, thus potentially driving up your rents.

This only makes sense if there's a way to stop people from moving around - as I pull-quoted at the top of the thread: "Explain to residents in the Sunset, where there are few tech buses, why the shuttles are causing their home prices to go through the roof."

One person above said that the new apple campus drives up everyone's housing prices even up to the city, not just within a few miles. So why should it matter if a bus stops one one place or another? If demand goes up, demand goes up, it goes up everywhere. Housing demand is up in Oakland for heaven's sake, which is nowhere near where the big tech companies are. It's like water pressure - you don't just get higher pressure at one end of the hose. Pressure goes up through the system.

The fundamental issue is that the region is drawing people in and there's simply nowhere to put them.
posted by GuyZero at 3:51 PM on February 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


To rephrase it: fighting Whole Foods, shuttle busses, fancy coffee shops and such is a waste of time. What you are ultimately fighting is other people. All that other stuff is just a side-effect.
posted by GuyZero at 3:56 PM on February 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


That ride is normally about 25 minutes for me. This day, it was a little over an hour. But yes, tell me again how this is all a proxy for gentrification. I never tire of hearing it.

The alternative is not no shuttles, it's being in a bus behind 30 cars.


How could that be? Would all 30 cars drive single file down the 24-Divisadero's route? WOuld all those cars be too large to fit down narrow, tightly angled streets? Come now.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 4:12 PM on February 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


How could that be? Would all 30 cars drive single file down the 24-Divisadero's route? WOuld all those cars be too large to fit down narrow, tightly angled streets? Come now.

It doesn't take a very large percentage of transit riders deciding to switch to single-occupancy vehicles to cause an alarmingly high rise in traffic congestion.
posted by Automocar at 4:38 PM on February 17, 2016 [7 favorites]


Still want to live in SF?

Boston freezes
posted by Going To Maine at 4:39 PM on February 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


Okay - so I was under the impression that one of the less ideological reasons for opposition to the current shuttle bus issue is that the companies using them (not all tech - there have been Academy of Art buses and UCSF shuttles years before the Google buses) were getting to use them for a STEAL. Is this wrong?

It seems like the City has bent over backwards for tech/big business in the Ed Lee era and yet challenging anything (thank god for Supervisor Peskin rejoining the Board and here's hoping for Dean Preston's election) from the shuttles to the Super Bowl is met with complete incredulousness. As if any other way of imagining the City is complete craziness. Contrary to Thatcher - there are alternatives.

My frustration, however, is that as much as I identify as being a SF progressive, I've got to say that, overall, there has been little to NO alternatives given. I am adamantly pro-rent control, was a counselor at the SF Tenants Union, etc. Yet, it seems like progressives either believe Rent Control is the end-all-be-all of saving the City OR they spend energy on what to me seems like theatrics such as the Mission moratorium on building (as if the Mission is the only neighborhood w/no-fault evictions ) or weak compromises such as below market rate mandates in new condos or apartments which only a narrow band of incomes are eligible for. There are some pushes to expand Rent Control by either getting around or changing Costa Hawkins. But there HAS to be other solutions that I rarely-to-never hear progressives advocating for. What about land trusts to take real estate out of the housing equation? What about adequately funding and expanding old-school SF Housing Authority housing projects? What about looking at other cities that have large percentages of long-term/life-time renters and seeing how things work there (isn't Berlin famous for this?). Also, what about actually admitting that there are downsides to rent control (such as dilapidated housing stock, renters afraid of ever ever moving yet waiting for the eviction hammer to come down at any moment, etc)?
posted by the lake is above, the water below at 4:43 PM on February 17, 2016 [7 favorites]


Okay, but now step back a bit and ask what makes a given rich person want to move to a neighborhood. Specifically, consider that rich people for various reasons like to live near other rich people.

I don't have to. I'm a software engineer. I am the problem. And so are many of my friends. Sorry, but no. People making this move are not just doing it out of some affectation for particular consumer preferences. It's because making a living in this line of work requires some attention to the logistics of daily life.

In Boston, it's because we need to live within easy commuting distance NOT just to our own employer but to as many others as possible.

In SF, it's because as sucky as the Silly Valley commute is from SF, you're still living an easy walk to SEVERAL shuttles carrying you to SEVERAL employers. That's something you don't get if you buy a house in Mountain View or Cupertino.

20 years ago, I was still a kid, living in a shitty neighborhood in Chicago, and was handed a leaflet telling me that I should not participate in neighborhood cleanup events because those would draw the yuppies who would price my family out of there. Well, the pricing out did happen, but it was not because I picked up litter. And the same applies in Boston and SF. They're not gentrifying the area in order to enjoy their ill gotten gains. They're doing it to ill-get the ill-gotten gains.
posted by ocschwar at 5:22 PM on February 17, 2016 [5 favorites]


if you own your house, you'll have more wealth the wealthier the neighborhood around you is, and so you want as many "come live here rich people" signaling devices as possible

Only if your house is a mere financial instrument and you have no particular love for your neighborhood. The possible advantage of needing money and being able to move to earn it is offset by the definite disadvantage of being surrounded by opportunists. Its not the worst outcome by a long shot, maybe second best, but the casino thinkers sure don't make city budget and infrastructure planning reasonable in either the booms or the busts.
posted by clew at 5:25 PM on February 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


The "for a steal" thing is the same tax policy insanity that Prop 13 is for property taxes: Proposition 218 says that CA governments can't impose new taxes, only charge fees to cover the cost of administering a program, but no more. This is why residential parking permits are also dirt cheap.
posted by enf at 5:28 PM on February 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


Okay - so I was under the impression that one of the less ideological reasons for opposition to the current shuttle bus issue is that the companies using them (not all tech - there have been Academy of Art buses and UCSF shuttles years before the Google buses) were getting to use them for a STEAL. Is this wrong?

I think that's wrong. Ostensibly, yes, that's what happened; that argument was widely made, though it always seemed kind of obvious to me that even though many of the people making the argument believed it, their grievance was wider and this objection was mostly just rationalization - an argument that happened to be at hand, a concrete symbol that could be pointed to. If this was the case (that it was a rationalization driven by other frustrations), then even granting the solution being asked for (charging the buses for use of the stops) would not sooth the grievance.
So the objectors were given what they asked for (the bus companies entered a contract where they would be charged for the use of the stops), and naturally this did not sooth the grievance, because for most people it was never really about bus stops, the buses were a proxy symbol for a "Them". Paying for stops did nothing to address the sources of frustration. Many objectors felt angry because they "got their way" and nothing changed.
So demands shifted to companies contributing more in other ways, but again, contributing more would not and could not address the underlying grievances.
So the companies contributed more, and no-one really noticed because the underlying grievances remained.

Much of the bus rhetoric was about class issues and discrimination (buses are felt to be a form of public transport, but now there are nice buses for rich people and we regular people are not allowed to soil them with our poorness).
The anger existed both before people found out the stops weren't being paid for, and persists after the stops are being paid for. The buses using the stops for a steal was an additional aggravating factor, but really wasn't at all what the whole thing is about.
posted by anonymisc at 5:28 PM on February 17, 2016


Also could someone also please just make San Jose not suck ass somehow? It should be a perfectly viable city yet somehow it ends of being about as much fun as a visit to North Korea.

Gee. *crestfallen* I kind of like living here. Admittedly, it's a PITA to get around without a car (VTA is indeed a hot mess) and we have a lot of depressing-ass strip malls, but there's still stuff to do. I mean, we have First Fridays and the Museum of Quilts and Textiles and SLG Art Boutiki and decent hiking on Silver Creek Valley Trail and at least three Ethiopian restaurants and...okay, I might be reaching. But North Korea? Really?

(Okay, I will grant that the death of San Jose Rep brought a measure of suck to SJ, and it hasn't bounced back yet.)
posted by bakerina at 5:43 PM on February 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Okay - so I was under the impression that one of the less ideological reasons for opposition to the current shuttle bus issue is that the companies using them (not all tech - there have been Academy of Art buses and UCSF shuttles years before the Google buses) were getting to use them for a STEAL. Is this wrong?

I think that's wrong. Ostensibly, yes, that's what happened; that argument was widely made, though it always seemed kind of obvious to me that even though many of the people making the argument believed it, their grievance was wider and this objection was mostly just rationalization


Well bless your condescending little heart. In fact, that is one of the reasons I'VE been opposed to the current shuttle bus agreement all along. In a thread from when we were discussing this a couple of years ago, rtha commented about an reading that the Academy of Art buses were paying $35 per stop and were limited to stopping at certain stops and possibly at certain times a day. (By contrast, the deal with the tech company buses charges them $1 a day.) I wish I could find the article, which I also remember seeing on facebook around that time, because that was one of the reasons I was so upset - at the government, not the techies.

I was annoyed at the companies for unilaterally deciding to ignore traffic laws and indifferent to the employees of those companies because if I lived in the City and worked in the peninsula and had an option to ride one of those buses I would. But I was angry at the City for (a) just ignoring the whole situation until someone forced their hand, then (b) striking an agreement for such a fucking bargain relative to other existing bus operators who weren't caught breaking the law, considering that the companies running these buses have been raking in cash hand over fist and could absolutely afford to pay at least as much as a goddamn local art school. It just seemed symptomatic of Ed Lee's tendency to bend over backwards not to do anything that might offend any huge corporation, even if it were to just attempt to raise funds to reimburse the city for the accelerated degradation of the bus stop concrete pads from their increased illegal use.
posted by cobra_high_tigers at 6:00 PM on February 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


I do think there's a broader issue, which the Super Bowl brought very much to the fore, that the City appears to be for sale to whatever corporate bidder wants something:

The Mayor made a handshake deal with the NFL to completely disrupt downtown (when the actual Super Bowl was being player 40 miles south) with no written contract and no agreement to reimburse the city for millions in costs, which included massive police overtime and reroutes to dozens of bus lines. Oracle and Salesforce get to create two weeks worth of traffic jams and commotion because they'd like to throw a party in the middle of Howard St. (when the publicly-owned convention center already has a publicly-built passageway under said street). The mayor literally proposed putting illuminated ads on the side of City Hall. Twitter gets a tax break (which there were some valid arguments for, but it doesn't look good). Developers are building high-rises left and right while homeowners have to go through permit hell to replace their rotting deck. Uber and Airbnb allowed to ignore any kind of regulation (again, there are valid arguments for reforming the rules, but the city has been determined to facilitate these new business models without much regard for the consequences). A variety of corruption allegations that haven't ensnared the Mayor, but have gotten several of his fundraisers indicted.

And that's off the top of my head. Tech shuttles using public bus stops for private purposes does fit into this narrative, and it is something that upsets people. I do think it's a bit different from most of these other situations and it's not something I get worked up about, but it's hard to argue with those who see it as another sign of the city selling out.
posted by zachlipton at 6:00 PM on February 17, 2016 [18 favorites]


Exactly, zachlipton.
posted by cobra_high_tigers at 6:02 PM on February 17, 2016


(b) striking an agreement for such a fucking bargain relative to other existing bus operators who weren't caught breaking the law, considering that the companies running these buses have been raking in cash hand over fist and could absolutely afford to pay at least as much as a goddamn local art school.

See here about Prop 218 comes into play with the fee. There were some noises at the time that the companies would have paid more, but the fee can't exceed the cost of the program, and the only real cost for the program is SFMTA staff time to manage it, approve appropriate bus stops, and handle comments and complaints.

As for your "goddamn local art school," it's very much the the most crooked thing mentioned in this thread.
posted by zachlipton at 6:05 PM on February 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Also could someone also please just make San Jose not suck ass somehow? It should be a perfectly viable city yet somehow it ends of being about as much fun as a visit to North Korea.

Gee. *crestfallen* I kind of like living here


Me too. Pay no attention to the haters (like Sunnyvale is some great bastion of culture, c'mon).
posted by jamaro at 6:15 PM on February 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


Sunnyvale is an entirely new dimension of banal but I don't think anyone expects anything more from it. San Jose is a rich city of a million people where the downtown is pretty run down. Santana Row is Disney-esque with worse parking. San Jose should be, could be so much more than it is. I don't want to be a hater but the city just doesn't bring all the pieces together somehow. I am more disappointed than hating.
posted by GuyZero at 6:35 PM on February 17, 2016 [5 favorites]


zachlipton, I'm no fan of the Academy of Art - I know they're a racket. I just couldn't understand why they were being asked to pay 35x more for the same privilege. Any idea why Prop 218 would apply to the tech bus agreement but not to them? Or were the costs of the program calculated differently? You mention only administrative costs, but at the time of the original debate a lot of people were talking about the infrastructure costs of the increased use (and strain) on the reinforced bus pads at the stops, which seems like it should also be included in the calculation.

In terms of our frustration with the government's treatment of corporations, I think we agree.
posted by cobra_high_tigers at 6:43 PM on February 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


I just couldn't understand why they were being asked to pay 35x more for the same privilege. Any idea why Prop 218 would apply to the tech bus agreement but not to them?

$35 per stop may be cheaper than $1 per stop per day. It's hard to know from hearsay (I couldn't find the info either)
Regardless, the academy using fewer stops would mean that identical fees are a higher fee per-stop. (This is apparently a reason why the per-stop fees are going up for tech shuttles - fewer stops are being used than thought)

But I was angry at the City for (a) just ignoring the whole situation until someone forced their hand, then (b) striking an agreement for such a fucking bargain relative to other existing bus operators

It sounds like (b) might be a misunderstanding, so regarding (a), the city saw it as the city allowing/encouraging the desirable outcome of private bus lines reducing traffic congestion and pollution. From their perspective it was win-win, not some situation being ignored. But you interpreted their action or motive so differently that it angered you. (It sounds something along the lines of you didn't like private operators using bus stops for their buses when you would be penalized if you used them for non-mass-transit purposes, so it felt like uneven enforcement, and even enforcement was more important. If so, while I don't agree with that, I can understand it)

Regardless, do you think the buses are paying their fair share now? (Are they a non-issue now?)
posted by anonymisc at 7:00 PM on February 17, 2016


Also could someone also please just make San Jose not suck ass somehow? It should be a perfectly viable city yet somehow it ends of being about as much fun as a visit to North Korea.

I was in San Jose for the first time over Christmas and was impressed at how many people were downtown and hanging out on a weekend. It does sort of look like the whole city was built about twelve years ago though, I'm not sure that I could get used to that.
posted by octothorpe at 7:15 PM on February 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


SJ is very wide spread, we have plenty to see and do here, it's just not centralized in a way that makes it easy for casual visitors to find. If you're looking for something, feel free to memail me for recommendations.

To re-rail this vaguely back in the direction of the topic: SJ is building an amazing amount of high density housing along the future BART extension. I have no idea where all those families are going to send their kids or shop for groceries though, there doesn't seem to be much retail going in and existing schools are packed.
posted by jamaro at 7:57 PM on February 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


double-parked delivery trucks

Everyone likes to talk about how there's no parking in SF, but there's actually tons, you just need to believe! And also to put on your four-ways.
posted by en forme de poire at 8:01 PM on February 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


Seeing San Francisco turn into the South Bay under Ed Lee's leadership is so awful. I already can't believe that so much prime land in California is used for the most banal of reasons. Living here is so much example of wasted potential.
posted by yueliang at 10:10 PM on February 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


in SF, it's because as sucky as the Silly Valley commute is from SF, you're still living an easy walk to SEVERAL shuttles carrying you to SEVERAL employers. That's something you don't get if you buy a house in Mountain View or Cupertino. -- ocschwar

The buses go to where people live. They go to the East Bay too, and beyond. I've seen buses from San Francisco stop to pick people up in Mountain View before going on to Google. Knowing Google, they probably have some algorithm to plan the routes to get the most employees to work with the most efficient routes.
posted by eye of newt at 10:41 PM on February 17, 2016


So I think this is a situation where straight up follow-the-money class analysis is actually super useful... Instead, it's about how the suburban built form is an absolute gold mine for the people lucky enough to own houses down there.

ed glaeser on home economics :P
Unlike that of most other housing economists, Glaeser's recent work on real estate addresses the issues of supply rather than of demand. He is far more interested in the forces shaping land development and residential building in the United States than in the forces shaping buyers' motivations and actions. He views supply as crucial to appreciating what has happened to the U.S. real-estate market over the past 30 years. A few months ago, he traveled from his Harvard office to the Massachusetts State House, near Boston Common, to discuss with the leaders of the State Legislature a research project he had just completed on the local housing market. Between 1980 and 2000, four of the five cities in the U.S. with the fastest-growing housing prices were in Boston's metropolitan area: Cambridge, Somerville, Newton and Boston itself. (Palo Alto had the second-fastest-rising prices over that time.) Glaeser and several colleagues considered two explanations. First, the possibility that builders in the metro area were running out of land and that home prices reflected that scarcity. The second hypothesis was that building permits were scarce, not land. Had the 187 townships in the metro area created a web of regulations that hindered building to such a degree that demand far outstripped supply, driving prices up?

Almost as a rule, Glaeser is skeptical of the lack-of-land argument. He has previously noted (with a collaborator, Matthew Kahn) that 95 percent of the United States remains undeveloped and that if every American were given a house on a quarter acre, so that every family of four had a full acre, that distribution would not use up half the land in Texas. Most of Boston's metro area, he concluded, wasn't particularly dense, and even in places where it was, like the centers of Boston and Cambridge, there was ample opportunity to construct higher buildings with more housing units.

So, after sorting through a mountain of data, Glaeser decided that the housing crisis was man-made. The region's zoning regulations — which were enacted by locales in the first half of the 20th century to separate residential land from commercial and industrial land and which generally promoted the orderly growth of suburbs — had become so various and complex in the second half of the 20th century that they were limiting growth. Land-use rules of the 1920's were meant to assure homeowners that their neighbors wouldn't raise hogs in their backyards, throw up a shack on a sliver of land nearby or build a factory next door, but the zoning rules of the 1970's and 1980's were different in nature and effect. Regulations in Glaeser's new hometown of Weston, for instance, made extremely large lot sizes mandatory in some neighborhoods and placed high environmental hurdles (some reasonable, others not, in Glaeser's view) in front of developers. Other towns passed ordinances governing sidewalks, street widths, the shape of lots, septic lines and so on — all with the result, in Glaeser's analysis, of curtailing the supply of housing. The same phenomenon, he says, has inflated prices in metro areas all along the East and West Coasts.
oh and re: kim-mai cutler, henry george and LVTs!

Nothing Like This Has Ever Happened Before
San Francisco Bay Area poverty rates in all nine counties have increased in the last economic cycle, even with the Facebook and Twitter IPOs and private tech boom. The main transfer mechanism is land and housing costs, as rising rents and evictions push service and other low-wage workers to the brink.

George’s solution was a single land tax that would replace all other government revenue sources. If an owner wanted to develop their property to make it more useful or productive, George argued that they should have the right to keep the value from those efforts. But increases in the value of underlying land were created by — and ultimately belonged to — the public at large.

Because no one could create land, it would be impossible to tax it out of existence. In contrast, property taxes disincentivize people from using land more productively, since re-developing land leads to higher re-assessments. A century later, Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz would prove out a Henry George theorem, showing that in certain cases increased investment in public goods boosted land rents by at least that much. This suggests that land taxes alone could be enough to sustain public or government expenditures. Milton Friedman would call them the “least bad tax,” while Karl Marx called George’s ideas “capitalist’s last ditch” with a hint of friendly contempt.

George would publish these ideas in his seminal work “Progress and Poverty,” which would go on to sell several million copies and kick off the Progressive Era.

“Progress and Poverty” captured the zeitgeist of the times. The parallels between the late 19th century Gilded Age, named after a Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner novel about a speculative land deal gone awry, and the modern era are striking.
also btw...

A Long Game: "a new generational land cartel has emerged with Californian Baby Boomers protecting entitlements and higher property values for themselves in the form of land-use restrictions and Proposition 13. Global capital has been subverting and taking advantage of these favorable legal and taxation protections on real estate in a extremely low interest-rate world. All of this has come at the cost of the state’s working and middle class and its future workforce."

Happiness Tip of the Day: Ditch the Commute - "behavioral economics tells us that we quickly get used to big houses but we never get used to commuting. So when you have a choice, go for the smaller house closer to work... People view the time they waste in a traffic jam as equal, in dollar value, to half their hourly wage. For example, if you make $50,000 per year, that's $25 per hour. That means you'll pay $3.12 each way per day to cut 15 minutes off your commute. That's about $125 per month, which scales to about $30,000 in the price of a house. That sounds low to me—in Southern California that's a rounding error in the price of a home—but it's at least a good starting point. If you can buy a house 15 minutes closer to work for $30,000 more, grab it."
posted by kliuless at 11:11 PM on February 17, 2016 [14 favorites]


Instead, it's about how the suburban built form is an absolute gold mine for the people lucky enough to own houses down there.
---
But I resent the implication that because I don't choose to live in the city its for some nefarious reason. Is it really that hard to imagine that different people like different living environments? And is it impossible to respect that instead of assigning ill motives?

This is fascinating. One commenter correctly and succinctly points out the many ways home ownership is subsidized and privileged via economic systems in the US, and others react harshly to the clear "nefarious reason" and "ill motives."

It's shit like this that makes me think the Marxists were right.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:54 PM on February 18, 2016 [4 favorites]


I have a lot more I'd like say about this topic at large, but this ties into as the larger topic of cities being noisy to live in vs suburbs - "high-end construction" has a specific connotation with regards to city living for me.

As a result of using using more expensive materials, like concrete and soundproofing for walls, high-end apartments don't have the same noise issues commonly associated with cities, as they're better sound insulated. By not using tissue paper to build walls, if my neighbor wants to come home and blast the best of Slayer at 2 am on a Tuesday night, I can't hear it, so I don't care.

As far as company shuttles go, if they were somehow prohibited, those 10,000 extra cars aren't all going to find parking spaces, so they'll have to park illegally, but a $40 ticket every other day is less than some people currently pay for parking every month.

How about the solution the city of London implemented: a congestion charge for all motorized vehicles inside city limits.
posted by fragmede at 6:15 PM on February 18, 2016 [5 favorites]


there absolutely positively in a sane world would be congestion charges inside SF city limits. extremely high ones, with the money going to either Muni expansion or affordable housing developments or both.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:08 PM on February 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


Roads are free and a god-given right passed from Jesus to the constitutionally-protected citizens of the USA - why do you people hate America?
posted by GuyZero at 9:58 PM on February 18, 2016


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