Between bacon donuts, $4 toast and average monthly rents of how-dare-you?, 2014 has swiftly become the year of San Francisco. Despite the recent (and hugely covered) anti-tech protests, both techies and Mayor Ed Lee remain pretty popular among the City’s voters, at least according to recent polling. However, that poll also revealed that a cool 20 percent of San Francisco voters really, really dislike both the Mayor and their new tech neighbors. This sentiment seems most concentrated in the Mission District, where techies have recently displaced the hipsters who displaced the Latinos who displaced the Irish who displaced the Poles who displaced the ranchers who displaced the Mexicans who revolted against the Spanish who displaced the Ohlone. So, for your viewing pleasure, here is a collection of pictures I’ve taken from my own wonderings around the best neighborhood in the best city in America.
Here’s my op-ed in today’s San Francisco Chronicle: http://www.sfgate.com/opinion/openforum/article/Bay-Area-tech-boom-not-cause-of-region-s-problems-5080195.php
We’ve been here before. New arrivals pour into a great American city as cautious locals grapple with the impact of a new and foreign presence.
Some say their customs are too different – that they socialize only with each other and speak an odd language. They are accused of displacing longtime residents and squeezing public infrastructure.
Others argue that the newcomers bring unique talents and perspectives. Their arrival is not a burden to be shouldered, but an opportunity to be seized.
Today, this familiar debate is playing out across the Bay Area, but with an interesting twist: The newcomers aren’t poor immigrant families, but young, educated tech workers who’ve come from every corner of the earth in pursuit of their own California dream.
When they first began arriving several years ago, the mood was welcoming. Deep into the Great Recession, companies such as Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and Twitter were providing well-paying jobs and creating some of the most iconic products in popular culture.
What’s more, research from the Bay Area Council Economic Institute showed that each of these tech jobs had an astounding effect of creating an additional 4.3 jobs in the local economy. Due in part to this dizzying statistic, tech has elevated the Bay Area to the forefront of America’s economic recovery, plunging San Francisco’s unemployment rate to among the lowest in the developed world.
Yet this success has left some people anxious, and a darker mood has emerged. According to the Census Bureau, 2013 rents in San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose shot up 21, 15 and 13 percent respectively. Evictions have increased. Somehow, it is suspected, the newcomers are to blame. Last week, protesters in San Francisco’s Mission District surrounded a tech commuter bus and chanted antieviction slogans.
It’s true: The persistent gap between the Bay Area’s housing supply and demand has drastically inflated the rental market. But blaming the tech – or any other – sector is a pointless game that solves nothing.
The hard truth is that the Bay Area’s housing and transit systems are bursting at the seams. According to the San Francisco Apartment Association, last year the city added 28,800 new jobs and just 120 new housing units. Silicon Valley’s rental vacancy rates are even lower than the city’s.
Between San Francisco and Silicon Valley, Caltrain operates at capacity while both Highways 101 and 280 are mired in gridlock. This congestion has ripple effects beyond the Peninsula, with huge impacts for a region where 50 percent of all employees cross at least one county line to get to work.
Against this backdrop, tech’s shuttles are a godsend, eliminating 327,000 cars and 8,600 tons of carbon every year at no cost to the taxpayer. For antieviction advocates to focus on shuttles, rather than building more transit-oriented housing, is a tragic waste of energy.
The frustration we are witnessing on the streets, train platforms, social media sites and coffee shops is the product of a generation of under-investing in housing and transportation. It is having a detrimental impact on the quality of life of everyone lucky enough to call this region home. Bay Area voters should demand a visionary expansion of affordable housing and an aggressive capital reinvestment in our public transportation systems, and be wary of activists and politicians who vilify the newcomers.
From today’s San Francisco Chronicle, this is literally my opinion the subject.
San Franciscans have noticed increasing numbers of employee shuttle buses around the city over the past year. The organic growth of this innovative transit network has occurred alongside California’s efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions, and is a great example of the shift to the kind of activities that policymakers hoped would occur.
Even positive change, however, can bring challenges and this is no exception. There have been concerns expressed about shuttle impacts and calls from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to regulate the shuttles. If regulation is deemed necessary, then it is crucial that it be very carefully crafted in a manner that recognizes both the economic and environmental benefits of the shuttles.
On the economic front, the Bay Area is experiencing some of the strongest growth in the developed world. Driving this growth is San Francisco’s booming tech sector, whose high wages and expanding employment have been shown to create dramatic economic gains across all demographics and throughout entire communities.
The Bay Area Council Economic Institute estimates that every job created in the high-tech sector eventually creates about 4.3 jobs in the local goods and services economy. That’s everything from day-care providers to waiters and day laborers, and helps explain why the city and region have the lowest unemployment rates in California.
It also explains why the employee shuttles aren’t simply about tech. Hospitals, universities and retailers, among others, also operate their own shuttles. In other words, the shuttles service the region’s economic backbone.
Which brings us to climate change.
By law, California must reduce its carbon-dioxide emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, and to 60 percent of those levels by 2050. Because 38 percent of California’s greenhouse-gas emissions are directly attributable to transportation, mostly single-occupant automobiles, the employee shuttles have emerged as a valuable tool to meet environmental, economic and transit challenges.
According to a San Francisco County Transportation Authority report, the shuttles remove 20 million vehicle miles from Bay Area roads and freeways each year, while 28 percent of shuttle riders have forgone car ownership completely. The result has been a net reduction of the Bay Area’s carbon footprint by an impressive 9,000 tons, and the removal of 327,000 single passenger trips from the region’s roadways each year. The shuttle trend is good for business, residents, traffic and the environment, and is in clear alignment with the city’s long-standing, transit-first policy.
Recognizing these benefits, the City of San Francisco has already begun the process to approve dedicated shuttle stops to avoid possible conflicts with its own Muni buses. We hope this positive trend continues and the city resists calls from some quarters for restrictive regulation that could stifle shuttle service and push thousands of San Francisco residents out of the city or into their cars, or both. The city transportation authority report found that 62 percent of shuttle riders say that their decision to live in San Francisco was influenced by the convenience provided by their employee shuttle service.
It is very important that any proposed regulation continues to allow the shuttles the flexibility necessary to serve the thousands of San Franciscan workers who depend on them. Doing so would best serve the residents, the environment, and San Francisco’s standing as a world-class smart city.
Following a half-century of economic, social, and moral decay, the American city is back. The food is better, the streets are cleaner, and the bars are packed like it’s August 1929. New York City is wrapping up it’s safest year since 1960, while San Francisco’s skyline is cluttered with cranes and i-beams as a wave of building highlights a new era of confidence. Even in poor Detroit, perhaps the most abused urban landscape in America, an artisan class is taking advantage of near-free real estate and forging new communities from the abyss.
Why this is happening and where it’s going, this new era of urban renewal, is something Pacificvs intends to focus on in 2013. What I can say now is that I consider the urban migration a positive trend which should be encouraged through public policy.
From where I stand, the force, or forces, driving the urban renewal appear to be almost entirely generational. Following victory over fascism and depression, the Greatest Generation disrupted what had been a massive multi-century migration into cities by settling in sprawling newly constructed suburbs. Their children, the Baby Boomers, already born into a world where the American City was in decline, embraced car-centric lifestyles that largely kept them in the suburbs they were born. Today, their children, the millennial generation, evinces a gargantuan need for a level of social interaction that the suburbs not only cannot provide, but is completely anathema to suburban principles of space.
To be sure, this urban renewal is occurring unevenly and amidst overall economic hardship. Whereas the effect in places like New York and San Francisco have been dramatic, the old rust belt continues to struggle. Unemployment remains high. Chicago just had a record year for homicides. Perhaps nothing threatens the urban spring than the continuing poor performance of the nation’s system of public schools; the creative class flooding into cities will ultimately settle down in places that can educate their children, not places where they can get fancy cocktails and use public transit.
Looking forward to a great 2013!