Fight to save San Francisco’s character, diversity, soul and uniqueness

San Francisco has a legacy of financial wealth, art, architecture, culture, diversity, nonconforming subcultures, counter-cultures, crazies…. Today’s imbalance of a money tsunami is atypical, threatening to destroy the things that everyone loves about the City. The overemphasis on the monetization of land values ignores seminal investments in cultural amalgamation, eccentric creativity and diverse entrepreneurship that underlie our unique primordial melting pot. The City shouldn’t be homogenized to resemble “anyplace” found anywhere else. Intense urban battles are happening around the world—to save traditions and values from gentrification. We can learn from other cities, especially when San Francisco is much better equipped to solve a cultural and social crisis.

PUBLIC POLICY CHOICES: Determinants of San Francisco’s future.

Wise public policy choices can cultivate the next great innovation, social movement, creative spark and crazy cultural cross-pollination—integral to San Francisco’s urban genetic code. Today’s tech-movement follows in the footsteps of significant social movements, non-traditional thinking, entrepreneurial spirit, wild ideas, nonconformity… A new partnership is possible. There can be a natural evolution of San Francisco’s economic primordial pot, blending the diversity of innovators, immigrants, artists, cultures, entrepreneurs, rich and poor—all who call the City home.

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
―Apple “Think Different” Ad

REINFORCING THE CITY’S SOUL: Beauty, Character, Diversity, History and Imagination

Architecture, city planning, public policy and urban design should reinforce San Francisco’s Mediterranean-imagery, laissez-faire social milieu and rich cultural diversity. San Francisco should be surprising and unconventional—building on its unique topography, social nonconformity, aesthetic sensibilities and architectural distinctiveness. Gentrification and homogeneity are confluent partners threatening San Francisco’s economic and social creativity.



San Francisco’s annual budget exceeds the budgets of ten U.S. states and many small countries.
San Francisco’s population of 852,469 resides in an area of 46.9 square miles. With 18,187 people per square mile, San Francisco is the most densely populated large city in California and the second densest major city in the United States (after New York City).
Current public policy advocates more density—but overstresses monetization of land values at the expense of overall livability. With more development, density has increased without proportional increases in public transit, utilities, parks, open space, schools, cultural/ social facilities…. Homelessness, dirty streets, crumbling infrastructure, displacement and gentrification persist—in the midst of a growing oligarchy of wealth and power.

2015-2016 $8,938,774,083
2014-2015 $8,581,831,912
2013-2014 $7,908,801,656
2012-2013 $7,354,371,247
2010-2011 $6,562,658,343
2008-2009 $6,531,467,931
2006-2007 $5,749,169,447
2004-2005 $5,623,303,395
2002-2003 $4,977,818,648
2000-2001 $4,493,814,996
1998-1999 $3,881,118,608

Block By Block: 5 Cleaning Strategies from 5 of the Cleanest Cities in the World

Undistributed wealth is not the ingredient for a successful city.

If tax breaks and political favors go to elite companies, in the hundreds of millions of dollars, why not tax breaks and favors for artists, nurses, taxi drivers, teachers and the underprivileged of society?

Happiest People in the World

UN World Happiness Report: The report aims to provide policymakers around the world with new metrics that place a higher emphasis on subjective well-being. While income appeared to play a significant role in boosting happiness—the GDP per capita is 25 times higher in the 10 happiest countries than in the 10 least happy—it was far from the only factor. Life expectancy, social connections, personal freedom, generosity and corruption levels also helped explain the happiness scores, according to the report.

“It’s not by money alone, but also by fairness, honesty, trust, and good health.”

Healthiest People in the World

“It’s hard to pinpoint one thing that makes certain countries healthier,” said Joshua Salomon, a professor at Harvard School of Public Health and one of the lead investigators on the study. “It’s likely a combination of factors, a combination of genetics and of healthy behaviors, including diet.”

“I was surprised to see that over the last 20 years we have given up more healthy life years. That’s true for countries with high life expectancy and countries with low life expectancy,” said Salomon. “This is not a problem of only rich countries or only poor countries. It’s a problem of all countries around the world.”

VIDEO: “Bye Bye Barcelona” (applicable to San Francisco)

UC BERKELEY NEWS: “More gentrification, displacement in Bay Area forecast”

The San Francisco Bay Area’s transformation into a sprawling, exclusive and high-income community with less and less room for its low-income residents is just beginning, according to UC Berkeley researchers who literally have it all mapped out.

The interactive Urban Displacement Project map, released today by a Berkeley team, indicates the displacement crisis is not yet half over, as rising housing prices and pressure on low-income residents to relocate to the outer suburbs accelerate.

Bay Area Urban Displacement Map:

UC Berkeley analyzed regional data on housing, income and other demographics to better understand and predict where gentrification and displacement is happening and will likely occur in the future. This analysis, which is summarized in the interactive maps, will allow communities to better characterize their experience and risk of displacement and to stimulate action.

· In 2013, 48 percent of census tracts and more than 53 percent of low-income households lived in neighborhoods at risk of or already experiencing displacement and gentrification pressures.

· Neighborhoods with rail stations, historic housing stock, an abundance of market rate developments and rising housing prices are especially at risk of losing low-income households.

· Low income neighborhoods are not the only ones experiencing displacement pressures – many higher income neighborhoods that still house low income households are also rapidly losing low income population.

· The number of tracts at risk of displacement are 123% higher than the numbers already experiencing them, indicating that the transformation of the Bay Area will continue to accelerate.

SF EVICTIONS MAP (Anti-Eviction Mapping Project)

SAN FRANCISCO MAGAZINE: The Battle Over San Francisco’s Skyline Is a Battle Over Its Soul

The urban-design issues raised by the dizzying proliferation of new structures are tangled up with questions of social justice and quality of life—the housing crisis, displacement, racial and ethnic homogenization, strained public transportation, congested streets, crowded parks, loss of legacy businesses, and so on. It’s hard to see a building clearly when you’re judging it not only on its cornice lines, massing, and fenestration, but also on whether it’s helping to save or destroy San Francisco’s soul.

Jacobs [Alan Jacobs,
Former Planning Director] does not like what is growing in San Francisco today. Inappropriate buildings are springing up all over the place, he says, a disaster for which he blames the city’s promiscuous granting of individual exceptions to its Planning Code. “More and more things are being done by discretion rather than by what the zoning laws say,” he explains. “That is always a mistake because when you do that, the party with the most power always wins. And that party is never the city planner.”

Those qualities are priceless, not something to be bartered away to the highest bidder. If we allow today’s tidal wave of money to deluge our beautiful urban sand castle, we won’t just lose our San Francisco—we’ll gain somebody else’s Houston.

SOCIETAL IMBALANCE is like cellular imbalance in organisms—unhealthy and malignant.

San Francisco ranks second highest for income inequality among America’s 50 biggest cities, behind only Atlanta. Its top households earned a staggering $423,171 – by far the highest income of any city and 17 times the lower income group’s $24,815. Hi-Tech workers’ annual wages rose to $156,000 in 2013. San Francisco’s income inequality is on par with underdeveloped nations like Rwanda. The wealth gap is growing—along with unbalanced political power and money. But even tech leaders are conflicted about their industry’s impacts on social inequality—posing a possible shared responsibility to shape San Francisco’s diversity and heritage.

VALLEYWAG VIDEO: “Ron Conway Flips Out Over Call for SF Mayor Ed Lee to Resign”

Palihapitiya, an early employee of Facebook and investor in Yammer, attempted to have a conversation with Conway over housing policy. But Conway continued ranting, slamming Palihapitiya’s apparent calls to levy a 1% equity tax on San Francisco startups to help fund affordable housing.

So it’s unsurprising that Conway’s blind faith in the Mayor wasn’t enough to sway Palihapitiya. “All I’m saying is you can provide economic frameworks to solve these problems. You can say for all these companies that want to be [in
San Francisco], you could [create] another kind of tax that says ‘this is a subsidized housing tax’ and we want a piece of your equity. And a company can choose not to be there. But imagine how many more units they could build? 300,000. A million!”

CNN: Sean Parker—Wealth Gap

Billionaire tech entrepreneur Sean Parker is giving away $600 million and says everyone needs to spend “more time” thinking about the wealth gap in America.

There’s a lot of people who are left out of this hyper-growth that’s occurring in technology, finance and elsewhere.

There are places in the country, where cost of living is incredibly high, where you have extremely well-paid technology workers, for instance, living in places like San Francisco, where you have a working poor pushed out of the City by rising real estate prices. Something needs to be done about that….

For a place to be so homogenously wealthy, you’re jeopardizing your own existence and you’re pushing people into a position that’s unsustainable and difficult.


Analysis From the Council of Community Housing Organizations:

This report shows that our affordable housing situation is only getting worse – the citywide housing balance of net new affordable housing from 2005-2015 dropped to a new low of 15.2%, down from the previous July report of 16%! Across the City there is a great need to correct an imbalance of low and moderate income housing compared to the rate of market rate housing.

And the future looks even worse, based on the entitlement “pipeline” of projects, the city is slated to produce only 13% affordable housing moving forward. We are far behind the goal of minimum 33% affordable housing for low and moderate income San Franciscans set by the voters in Proposition K last year, and unfortunately only getting worse.

“There are a lot of numbers thrown around these days about housing goals and aspirations of an affordable city for all, but as it is said, ‘torture numbers and they’ll tell you anything,’” commented Peter Cohen, co-director of the Council of Community Housing Organizations. Cohen added, “Here in this Housing Balance Report authored by the Planning Department we have the real story. This is from the City’s own building permit data, and the City’s own planning pipeline data, and the City’s own rent board data. It doesn’t get more truthful than this. 15.2% affordable and dropping! We as a city have a long way to go to climb out of this hole.”

The problem is not just about production – these Housing Balance Report numbers make clear how the loss of protected rental units completely undermines the City’s efforts to build more affordable housing. The calculated affordable housing balance is actually negative in 8 out of the 11 supervisorial districts! Sara Shortt, the director of Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco reacted to the Report saying: “I don’t think there’s any more compelling evidence than this that makes clear the siege of gentrification in San Francisco.”

New global “industries”: The overarching problem is the loss of the historical stream of social consciousness, traditions, housing and diverse neighborhoods.

USA TODAY: Europe cracks down on Airbnb, other room-sharing sites

While popular tourist destinations like London and Amsterdam have embraced room-sharing, other European cities like Paris and Berlin are moving to stop out-of-towners from overrunning neighborhoods and displacing local residents.

“If Parisians want to rent out their home when they go on holiday, that is not really a problem,” said Ian Brossat, Paris’ deputy mayor in charge of housing. “What concerns us is when someone purchases one or more properties with the aim to turn them into tourist rentals. We don’t have enough properties to house Parisians.”

ROAD WARRIOR VOICES: Paris officials go on door-to-door raid of illegal Airbnb rentals

Similar to officials’ claims that Airbnb cuts into the rental market in San Francisco, Paris officials estimate between 25,000 to 30,000 units have vanished from the city’s rental market during the past five years.

BUSINESS INSIDER: Barcelona just declared war on Airbnb

However, this money has come at a price, as the documentary film Bye Bye Barcelona documents.

As many local Barcelona residents are all too fond of complaining, Barcelona is fast becoming a theme-parked city that is reaching the very limits of its physical capacity. Rents in many neighborhoods are surging as real estate owners and developers focus their attentions almost exclusively on meeting the much more profitable needs of short-term visitors.

Another downside of Barcelona’s tourist boom has been the widespread closure of traditional, often family-run shops as decades of rent controls came to an abrupt end last year. As a consequence, the city is fast losing its distinctive character – the same character that attracted tourists in the first place – in the face of homogenization that accompanies the arrival of multinational chain stores.

The Big Shakedown

In a press conference last week Barcelona’s deputy Mayor Geraldo Pisarello Pin launched a new pilot scheme. People caught running unlicensed apartments through websites will be offered the chance to have 80% of their fine canceled if they allow the city council to use the apartment as social accommodation for three years.

In other words, the city council gets to pocket a much-reduced rent for three years while providing accommodation to local residents who are currently priced out of the renting market.

REUTERS: Barcelona mayor’s tourism crackdown puts Airbnb in firing line

Barcelona’s new mayor is picking a fight with home rental websites as she tries to crack down on uncontrolled tourism that she fears could drive out poor residents and spoil the Catalan capital’s charm.

“The tourist flats are making the area much more expensive. Flats that could perfectly well be rented for 300 or 400 euros (a month) are being rented for 600 or 700,” said Oriol Casabella, spokesman for a La Barceloneta neighborhood group.

“If this doesn’t stop, a time will come when they will throw us out because there are many people who can’t afford these flats,” he told Reuters.

NEW YORK POST: Airbnb feeling effects of Big Apple’s illegal rent crackdown

The crackdown could slow Airbnb’s growth in New York — and potentially other big cities that see the online room-rental company as a threat to affordable housing and the hotel industry.

But public sentiment appears to be shifting with city officials focusing on the number of affordable housing units lost to the industry, along with residents who are irritated by neighbors renting out their apartments to noisy tourists.

PUBLIC POLICY CHOICES: If elected officials falter, citizens and voters must guide public policy choices—to secure the societal equity and dynamic melting pot that is San Francisco.


NEXT Village SF: Helping Seniors Stay In Their Own Homes

Comedian Will Durst: “BoomerRaging: From LSD to OMG”

Saturday, October 31, 2015, 7pm at SF Art Institute, 800 Chestnut Street (at Jones),


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