Info Gluttony

Best Shows of 2014

Posted in concert, culture, music, personal, san francisco by echan on January 1, 2015

As I predicted in my 2013 round-up, my show going would fall precariously in 2014. As the year came, to a close, I felt sort of “meh” about this year’s show-going experiences. Something about this snippet from the Atlantic piece on the mid-life malaise, “Jeste also notes that the brain circuits linked to rewards lose some sensitivity with age,” made me think that maybe I just wasn’t feeling the same euphoria that I used to feel from a really good show.

But with certain gripes (which I will note below) aside, 2014 was actually a pretty solid and enjoyable concert year. My hope for the years to come is that we can somehow maintain at the 10-12 show per year frequency, but we’ll see. In 2014, we did learn to enjoy the comfort the assigned seating, instead of fighting in the scrum of standing GA tickets, so maybe this will prolong our concert going.

I’m going to start with a run down of this year in live music, and end with my “top 3.”

  • Kraftwerk at the Fox in 3D. This was my first 3D show, and probably one of my most heavily anticipated shows going into 2014. Yay, for the grandfathers of electronic music!
  • Pantha Du Prince at Mezzanine. This is the show that taught us that we’re too old for shows at Mezzanine. We always knew it was a late venue, and arrived at 10:30. The door guy told us no “ins and outs” and that PDP would come on at 12:45. So, we went to eat, came back at 12:45 and felt like death because PDP didn’t come on until 1-ish. We stayed about 45 minutes before we headed to the land of nod.
  • Beck at the grand re-opening of the Masonic. He put in a solid set, and it was nice to be in a newly re-done venue, however, the HVAC system was not up to par. They ripped out the seats on the first floor of the Masonic to make it GA and didn’t up the AC / ventilation for the increased crowd size, so I had to go out to concessions for air constantly because I felt that I was going to faint.
  • The Cure (and TV on the Radio at the Bottlerock Festival). I have seen our future, and our future may be festivals like this. I had not seen the Cure since high school and J and had never seen them, so we went up to Napa for this festival. It was mellow, uncrowded, offered $25 glasses of cabernet sauvignon, snacks from Morimoto’s, and plenty of 50-year-olds in Robert Smith outfits. And they of course pulled the plug on Robert Smith because he played too long for them (but not too long for us).
  • Jeff Tweedy and family at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. HSB remains one of my favorite SF events, even though I battle heatstroke at it every year. Mr. Hellman, God bless your soul. And friends, you should really try to go with me to HSB in 2015. It’s free and baby friendly, so you have no excuse.
  • Com Truise (and Tycho at the Fox). We were initially going to waste these tickets, but I pointed out to J that Com Truise was the opener, so we went. This was a case of the opener definitely outshining the main act.

And for my top 3 (in no particular order):

  1. David Gray at the Paramount. Go ahead, and make fun of me all your want, but David Gray is one of my favorite performers and I’ve never seen him perform live before. I found out a friend was a mutual fan, and had company to finally see him live. I walked away thinking this was my favorite show of 2014, and this was the show that I felt the most acutely, in terms of my emotions.
  2. Slowdive at the Warfield. J said that this was his favorite show of his entire life, and he is a superfan who had waited forever for their reunion. I actually knew very little about the band going into the show, but appreciated that it was a great performance.
  3. Flaming Lips and Friends NYE Extravaganza. This is how we chose to close out the year, folks. This was not as great as last year’s Halloween show, but it hit my brain’s pleasure receptors with Beatles’ covers, confetti cannons, Wayne Coyne’s unabashed glee, and balloons. I could think of no better way to cap off 2014.Flaming Lips NYE

Happy 2015 to all! May the world have a geopolitically more stable year and may justice prevail in the U.S. of A.

P.S. – These were the other shows that I went to in 2014, but did not describe above: F**k Buttons at the Independent, The Knife at the Fox, and the War on Drugs at the Fillmore.

Why is the Rent So Damn High?

Posted in san francisco, thinking about cities, urban planning by echan on October 16, 2013

Today I went to SPUR’s brown bag discussion on “Understanding the Bay Area Housing Market,” featuring presentations from Jon Haveman, Enrico Moretti, and Tim Cornwell. The tl;dr version of the talk is that both the market to rent and the market to buy residential housing are expensive due to: 1. runaway job growth (fueling the demand side) and 2. a regulatory (hello, CEQA!) and permitting process that drives up the price of developing new housing (constricting the supply side).

Professor Moretti of UC Berkeley had some good data points for why prices are rising insanely at the moment. First, even though 20,000 new jobs were created in SF last year, there were only 2,548 new housing permits issued (and this housing hasn’t come on the market yet). The western part of the Bay Area (San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara Counties) are now all above peak employment, so for every new job created, there is new demand for housing. He also explained the multiplier effect of tech jobs, where for every tech job added, 5 additional jobs are created, since they create the demand for local services which employ teachers, nurses, lawyers, taxi drivers, waitress, sales clerk, etc.

Tim Cornwall, who does a lot of real estate modelling, explained where we might be in 5 years. The current 5-year pipeline for Bay Area housing has 70,000 new units to rent (9% of the existing inventory) and 56,000 new units for sale (6% of the existing inventory). He put up a chart of the 5-year forecast of supply and demand, and the SF supply seemed to be just a smidge below the demand line. However, there were huge gaps between available supply 5 years down the road in San Mateo, Santa Clara, and the urbanized East Bay. The gap for San Mateo and Santa Clara counties was particularly striking to me, because in my head that translates to more shuttles between San Francisco and the South Bay, as more people are pushed up to San Francisco. As someone else blogged (I want to give him/her credit, but I can’t remember who), Google, Facebook, and Apple have no choice but to run shuttles up to SF because Mountain View, Palo Alto, Cupertino, and the entire Peninsula have restrictive planning policies that prevent adequately dense housing for their workers down there.

In terms the East Bay, it has lagged in terms of job creation, but the prices are being run up with the housing spillover from San Francisco. Cornwall has looked at the BART station boarding / exiting data and the run up in East Bay rental prices near BART stops correlates with SF job growth. Right now, Berkeley rentals are about the same as the bottom of the SF market.

Finally, on the issue of demand side prognostication, Cornwall pointed to where Gen Y is in their life stage. Between 2006 and 2013, San Francisco has seen its share of Gen Y’ers and Boomers* go up, whereas those around age 35 leave the city. Right now, Gen Y is perfectly happy in their 20’s renting and having mobility, but as they get married and have children in the next decade, housing demand will change.

*The topic of Boomers wasn’t really discussed today, but I’m thinking these are mildly affluent, empty nester boomers, who are trading in their suburban homes for the convenience and cultural attractions of the city.

A Starbucks in Every Hood

Posted in fud, san francisco, thinking about cities, Uncategorized, urban planning by echan on June 4, 2012

Even though I concur that Starbucks coffee tastes burnt, I’ve never been as down on Starbucks as other coffee snobs are wont to do. But my jaw drop 15 minutes ago when I learned that Starbucks is about to purchase the local La Boulange empire for $100 million. Part of me worries that Starbucks will mess with it, the same way it shuttered Torrefazione Italia, which used to make a pretty good latte. But the huge thing that jumped out at me was what this means for Starbucks’ real estate holdings in SF.

The La Boulange web is everywhere in the City, from the Crocker Galleria Farmer’s Market to the original location on Pine St.  Starbucks will now own all of these. For some locations, such as Pac Heights, or the FiDi, or Laurel Village, this won’t matter much, because Starbucks already has a presence in the neighborhood.  But there are bunch of locations, including Hayes Valley, Cole Valley, and the Lower Haight, that have fought a little bit harder to preserve their neighborhood character and to keep Starbucks out.  In one stroke, Starbucks now has a toe-hold in these ‘hoods. I must admit that this is a huge coup for Starbucks, but it’s akin to Amazon buying out Amoeba records.

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Addendum: Business people used to always cite La Boulange / Bay Bread as an example of a local business hurt by San Francisco’s anti-chain ordinance. This purchase shows how attractive a local chain can be to a major national corporation, looking to make their way into SF. There’s nothing stopping McDonald’s from purchasing the SF Soup Company.

Addendum 2: I completely forgot to list North Beach on the list above of anti-Starbucks neighborhoods, but a comment on this InsideScoop piece reminded me of this notable omission.

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Siri, Remind Me Later

Posted in personal, san francisco, Uncategorized by echan on March 9, 2012

In the spirit of this brief, earlier post, I want to memorialize the winter of 2011-2012 that’s about to end (even though it feels like that it’s already over).

This was the winter where San Francisco had an L.A. winter. There were a few, scattered cold days, but there were far too many sunny days, even in the Outer Sunset, where the fog usually reigns. This was the winter when I did not bother to go up to Tahoe even once, since there was no snow. This was the beautiful, warm, dry winter that will lead us to ration water later this year, or next. This is the winter when it did not rain on my birthday, even though it always rains on my birthday.

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A Leap Day Funeral for Redevelopment Agencies in California

Posted in san francisco, thinking about cities, Uncategorized, urban planning by echan on March 1, 2012

Today, I attended SPUR’s fantastic lunchtime forum on the Death of Redevelopment (agencies) in California. By way of background, last year, Governor Brown pushed through the legislature, AB 26, a bill that abolished the 400-plus redevelopment agencies in California to free up money for the state budget. Municipalities challenged AB 26 in the courts, but the State Supreme Court ruled in favor of the State, and the redevelopment agencies in California were abolished on February 1, 2012.

The panel focused on how San Francisco and Oakland had different approaches to dealing with the end of the redevelopment agencies, which provided a powerful funding tool for affordable housing and economic development projects through tax increment financing (where proceeds from property tax increases are funneled to a specific geographic area).  Tiffany Bohee, the ED for the successor agency to the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, and Fred Blackwell, the Assistant City Administrator for the City of Oakland spoke on the panel.  A summary of their talk is organized below into 3 sections: 1. San Francisco’s approach, 2. Oakland’s approach, and 3. interesting bits on redevelopment in California as a whole.

San Francisco:

After the abolition of SF’s Redevelopment Agency (SFRA), the Mayor’s Office of Housing absorbed all of the housing units in the SFRA’s purview, including the existing pipeline. All of the SFRA staff was transferred to the City Administrator’s office. San Francisco got the lone carve out to AB 26, a 7-person oversight board, where the Mayor’s office has 4 appointees, and the taxing entities have 3 appointees. This oversight board has 2 roles, a fiduciary role to oversee the wind down of the SFRA and a land-use authority role.

In terms of on-going projects, it will be more difficult to do the mid-Market revitalization, with loans to small businesses. For instance, the type of redevelopment agency loan that allowed Pearl’s Burgers to open on 6th and Market is no longer available.

Ms. Bohee was unsure what the future affordable housing mechanism would be, but commented that it would likely be decided at the ballot box. Funding options include bonds, transfer taxes, lease revenues, and certificates of preference and participation.

For economic development, multiple levels of financing are required. New market tax credits will provide $40 million in federal financing for distressed projects. Special tax districts and infrastructure financing districts, such as the ones used for Mission Bay and Transbay, were other financing options.

Oakland:

The structure of Oakland’s Redevelopment Agency (ORA) was radically different from the SFRA. In Oakland, there was no firewall between the ORA and the City, the ORA staff was integrated into the city staff, and Oakland used ORA money to fund part of the mayor’s salary and the police. When AB 26 passed, Oakland scrambled to reorganize the city financing structure in 2-3 weeks to make up for the lost funds.

Projects such as the Oakland Army base redevelopment project and affordable housing already in the pipeline will continue to go forward. Other development projects, such as facade improvement on commercial corridors in Oakland’s flatlands would go away, due to lack of funding.

Oakland also transferred $800 million in property from the ORA to the city during the short 2-3 week reorganization period. This led to speculation about the liabilities Oakland assumed along with this property.

The state redevelopment agency laws also provided a legislative framework for affordable housing in Oakland, and this framework is no longer in place. While San Francisco has inclusionary zoning for affordable housing, Oakland relied on the state laws that required 20% of the tax increment financing money to go towards affordable housing.

Before the abolition of the ORA, Oakland’s Community and Economic Development Agency had very little power. Now, the City Administrator’s office has the general fund and the Economic Development Agency is within its control. Mr. Blackwell stated that now that redevelopment money is no longer earmarked for poor areas, there may be more class and geographic in-fighting within Oakland for these general funds.

Miscellaneous Thoughts on Redevelopment Agencies in California:

  • The moderator (whose full name I did not catch) introduced the talk by comparing the abolition of redevelopment agencies to the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978; city budgets were restructured overnight.
  • Without redevelopment offices, city planning offices need to step up, but the moderator pointed out that “Planners plan, and redevelopment agencies do.” The entrepreneurial spirit of redevelopment agencies may be lost, but the Mayor’s economic development office may fill the role of the redevelopment agencies.
  • With the abolition of the redevelopment agencies, an entire industry has gone away. “People didn’t just lose jobs, they’ve lost careers.”
  • In the Q&A, Mr. Blackwell offered this 5 reason post-mortem for why California got rid of its redevelopment agencies:
    1. There were too many redevelopment agencies; over 400 in the state, and LA County alone had 70!
    2. Redevelopment agencies were created to eliminate “blight,” which in and of itself is a loaded and political term.
    3. There were some abuses within redevelopment agencies.
    4. This was a $2 billion fiscal issue for the state, where the state had to make up the shortfall to funding schools, when property taxes were allocated to redevelopment districts. (Personally, I believe this was the bullet that killed off the redevelopment agencies).
    5. We’ve never been able to answer the question, “Would redevelopment have happened without the redevelopment agency?” This is the “but for” causation question.

November 2010

Posted in personal, san francisco by echan on November 5, 2010

We’re only 5 days into this month, but very momentous things have happened already.

November 1, 2010 shall henceforth be known as a very big day in my life as a San Franciscan because of two things. First, after 18 years of intermittent Fast Pass use, I used a Clipper Card for the first time. Second, the Giants won the World Series.  Before the Giants’ victory, I underestimated the gross local happiness that a World Series trophy could bring to the City.

On November 2, 2010 was election day. I could elaborate about my disappointment about Senator Russ Feingold’s loss, or my surprised relief over Sharon “You Latinos look Asian” Angle’s failed bid, but the civil libertarian in me is stuck on Prop. L‘s passing in San Francisco. Prop. L criminalizes the act of merely sitting or lying on a public sidewalk between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 11:00 p.m. and is targeted towards the homeless in San Francisco.  I think it’s funny that the same San Franciscans who voted overwhelmingly in favor of legalizing pot were the same people who voted to criminalize not having a place to go. To my fellow smug San Franciscans, you are not as liberal as you think.

But November 3, 2010, Giants Day in San Francisco washed away any sins with a sea of orange streamers.  Seeing the two Willies (McCovey and Mays) in the parade once again highlighted the meaning of the win.  I am just so happy that the Giants achieved this victory while these two legends were still around to enjoy the victory. I wish that my grandfather could have seen it too.

To top it off, before this morning’s fog, the November weather had been uncommonly warm.  The unexpected warm nights after a chilly summer and wet October seemed to add one extra blessing to San Francisco this week.  It almost makes up for that feeling of loss that accompanies the shorter days.

But the jubilation and sun are already slipping away from us.  The City pulled down the orange, black, and white balloon bouquets along market and replaced them with snowflake lights.