Info Gluttony

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.


Look Over Here

Posted in thinking about cities by echan on October 11, 2011

Here’s my first post for a little blog on urbanism that grew out of my summer program. Check out the other writers too.

A Very Rare Mad Men Post

Posted in history, teevee, thinking about cities by echan on September 13, 2010

Even though this blog does not reflect it, for thirteen lucky weeks out of the year, I am obsessed with Mad Men.  This season, we’ve seen the very sloppy decline (and the beginnings of the possible recovery) of Don Draper, but I’ve been fixated by what’s happening to New York City in the background.  Way back at the end of Season 2, Matthew Weiner provided the road map for the Big Apple’s downward trajectory, in an interview with Alan Sepinwall, “I made it grayer and darker in New York, part of the point of the 60s is the focus is going to change from New York, and by 1972, New York is going to be a disaster. At this point, it’s on its way down and California is on its way up.”

In Season 4, I feel the idea of New York’s gradual decay is being hit home hard as the series skips through 1965.  In S4E4, the normally proud, native New Yorker, Pete Campbell, complains about “some client yammering about how dirty the City is.” In episode 7, we get vermin, a mouse scurrying around Don Draper’s office and a large cockroach at a Greek diner that Peggy mistakes for a dog in the Parthenon painting.  In yesterday’s episode, a politician tries to recruit Betty’s second husband onto the John Lindsey bandwagon, the same Lindsey who’ll go on to become NYC’s mayor in 1966, and a man who later took most of the blame for New York’s transition to urban disaster in the 1970’s.  Even though the show’s flawed hero, Don Draper welcomes in summer to Mick Jagger crooning (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, at his feet are piles of litter:

While I don’t know where Weiner will take Don, he’s showing us that New York is heading the way of Sally’s reading material.

A Clean Well-Lighted Place

Posted in books, thinking about cities, urban planning by echan on February 24, 2010

I’ve come across a couple of things today that have emphasized the importance of public libraries as a space for the homeless to seek shelter, knowledge, and entertainment.  From my loving mother, here’s a link to an AP piece* about how the main branch of the SFPL is the first library in the country to hire a full-time social worker to counsel its homeless visitors.  The NY Times also recently published an informal chat of sorts with a homeless man who splits his time between the NYPL for the Performing Arts and nearby movie theatres (link via Kottke).  This brings me back to Bradbury’s vision of the library as the ultimate refuge:

“Libraries raised me,” Mr. Bradbury said. “I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.”

*The title of the AP piece features the term “San Fran.”  I don’t find this offensive, but I’m puzzled as to how “San Fran” found it’s way into the AP Stylebook.

Repurposing Space

Posted in fud, It's the Economy, politics, thinking about cities, urban planning by echan on May 15, 2009

The unsurprising announcements from Chrysler and GM that they plan to collectively shutter (or rather cut off the supply of cars) to around 2,000 dealerships has lodged this question in my head, “What can we do with this space?”

When I picture a car dealership, I picture a giant lot, sitting next to a noisy freeway (usually on an ugly strip of multiple dealerships called “Auto Row”).  While it’s a substantial amount of space, it’s location doesn’t make it prime residential development, but these are still relatively big tracks of land.

Along with foreclosed McMansions, these dealerships represent ugly bits of space and are a legacy of our decade-long credit binge.  They force me to wonder, “How can we prettify the land? How can we make these plots/showrooms useful?”

Perhaps like another 1990’s failed business model, the Metreon*, they can be turned into suburban farmers’ markets?  Imagine if each dealership could somehow be turned into slow food show rooms in communities all across America (my memory from the Michael Pollan talk is hazy — did he propose this at his talk? My notes show that he referred to “Farmers markets as the new public square.”).  If we can turn parking spaces into parks, this could be a possibility, no?

Just a thought.

Disaster Capitalism Comes to Your Neighborhood

Posted in Disaster Capitalism, thinking about cities, urban planning by echan on April 21, 2009

Wow, in stealing a page out of the “let’s hire Blackwater, so we can have less troops in Iraq” playbook, municipalities, including our very own, near and dear, Oakland, are starting to outsource the Po Po and hire third party contractors to serve as security guards on the street.  The rationale is that cops are too expensive, and given the economy, the city’s got no money.

Ms. Naomi Klein was right –> financial shock = less resources for public services = diversion of public funds to private contractors.  Blech, right in our backyard.

The iPhone Killed the Newspaper Star

Posted in media, thinking about cities by echan on March 31, 2009

Leave it to The New York Times to list off the various reasons why the San Francisco Chronicle is part of the great newspaper die off (It’s interesting that they omit that the Chronicle is a crappy paper).  One detail I like is the Dottie’s Media Index:

On any sunny weekend, the long brunch lines outside Dottie’s True Blue Cafe in the Tenderloin district illustrate the printed paper’s shrinking place in city life. People who, a few years ago, would have leafed through The Chronicle while waiting for tables are instead tapping on iPhones and laptops.

“People eat through their whole meals texting, e-mailing, where they used to read papers,” said Kurt Abney, owner of Dottie’s. “At the end of the day, we used to have a huge pile of newspapers by the front door that people left behind, but now it’s only a few.”

Free Markets & Gentrification

Posted in politics, thinking about cities, urban planning by echan on March 23, 2009

<Friedman Rant>

If you grew up in San Francisco, or watched the PBS documentary, or caught Gotanda’s After the War, or decided to read up on Justin Herman’s ambitions, then you are familiar with the story of how urban “revitalization” killed the Fillmore.

Ever since, the City has been trying to atone for Mr. Herman’s mistakes, and its planners have thrown dollar after city tax dollar, at creating a historic jazz district in the Fillmore.

It’s clearly not working, however, and it has grabbed my ire.  Yoshi’s SF, has already received $5.7 million in loans from the City, to be the anchor jazz club, and its proprietors are seeking another $1.5 million loan. That’s $7.2 million for one business, and it’ll probably fold.  Why does the City continue to prop up failing business models that have no historic value?  Rather than try to create a modern version of a neighborhood that doesn’t exist anymore, why doesn’t the the City go with what’s clearly working on this stretch of Fillmore?  The Asian bites at TapEx, Jubilee, and Woon Mi (3 a.m. in the morning Korean grub) already bring life to this block.  Right across Geary, Dosa’s doing the same with Indian food.  And Harputs brings both sneakerheads and fashionistas together for a little bit of shopping.  None of these have much to do with live jazz (live jazz, as a past time, seems to be something found on Stuff White People Like), but they bring in foot traffic to this stretch of Fillmore, all without relying on a City handout.

Really, if crime is under control, businesses in SF tend to do just fine on their own, unless there are zoning issues or NIMBY’s preventing them from opening in the first place.  The market does just fine.

</Friedman Rant>

Feeling Sentimental about Unviable Business Models

Posted in media, personal, thinking about cities by echan on January 7, 2009

I should add a new tag to some of my posts, “The Slow Decline of Independent Bookstores.”

Sometimes I feel that this weblog exists for the sole purpose of documenting my reaction to announcements that a Bay Area bookstore is closing its doors. Bye bye A Clean Well Lighted Place (though, thankfully, they put a Books Inc. there).  Bye bye Cody’s (I vaguely remember a longer Cody’s obit on another blog, but alas, I’m having trouble locating that post). And now, in 2009, bye bye Stacey’s.

With every bookstore that closes, I lose an old (though sickly) friend.

Following Up on a Couple of Loose Ends

Posted in personal, politics, thinking about cities by echan on December 3, 2008

In my preceding discussion of Gus Van Sant’s Milk, I forgot to include blast from the past moments that  I had while watching the film:

  • I didn’t realize that Milk ran against Art Agnos for State Assembly.  When Agnos was featured, I couldn’t explain why, but I had strong memories from my childhood that he was an awful awful mayor.
  • I watched a lot of KTVU and KGO news with my grandmother as a little kid (KTVU was our prime source).  I remember being frightened while watching coverage of the White Night Riots.  I later remember watching the news story of Dan White’s suicide.
  • Funny to think that my grandparents’ grocery store was on Eureka, just a few blocks away from where the events in Milk took place.  Most of their customers in the 50s and 60s were Irish.


With Obama’s selection of Hillary Rodham Clinton as our next Secretary of State, my fantasy of Colin Powell, Secretary of State 2.0 will not happen.  The Freakanomics blog points out why I wanted him to have a second chance.