Blogging Bayport Alameda

April 27, 2016

Building blocked

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:04 am

If you have followed any sort of housing policy discussions in the Bay Area no doubt you’ve heard of SFBARF.  Equally admired/reviled I know that the founder of the group has been accused of everything from being a shill to group being some fakey astroturf operation. But you have to hand it to Sonia Trauss, few people could deal with the seething hate that gets directed her way by anyone that she tosses a “NIMBY” at.

It’s not surprising though when I started this blog 10 years ago my “rah rah” housing standpoint was side-eyed and I regularly accused of working for a “developer.”  Fairly sure that some people who figured I would go away after one or two years (because of the whole working for a developer theory) still expect me to pack it up one day when my shill work is done.

Anyway, if you haven’t read the great piece on SF BARF and the state of housing in general in San Francisco, and really the region in general, it is worth your time.


Ms. Trauss is a self-described anarchist and the head of the SF Bay Area Renters’ Federation, an upstart political group that is pushing for more development. Its platform is simple: Members want San Francisco and its suburbs to build more of every kind of housing. More subsidized affordable housing, more market-rate rentals, more high-end condominiums.

Ms. Trauss supports all of it so long as it is built tall, and soon. “You have to support building, even when it’s a type of building you hate,” she said. “Is it ugly? Get over yourself. Is it low-income housing? Get over yourself. Is it luxury housing? Get over yourself. We really need everything right now.”

The group’s build-more platform may be politically contentious, but economically speaking, it is anything but controversial. The Bay Area was expensive even before the tech boom. And the supply of new projects, while increasing, remains decades behind population growth.

But BARF members are so single-minded about housing that they can be hard to label politically. They view San Francisco progressives as, in fact, fundamentally conservative. That is because, to the group members at least, progressive positions on housing seem less about building the city and more about keeping people like them out.

The tech boom takes much of the blame for soaring housing prices. But the pro-development movement has less to do with tech as an industry, and everything to do with newcomers as a class.

“There’s that book, ‘What’s the Matter With Kansas?’” said Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of SPUR, an urban policy research organization. “What’s the matter with San Francisco? Why is it that in a city that’s two-thirds renters we have adopted a housing policy that is horrible for renters?”

Even initiatives like the rent control ballot initiative that is in the signature collecting phase is designed to only help current renters and when you have members of that effort encouraging  a halt on residential development in order to preserve easy parking for a job, well, therein lies the problem and the point of the Gabriel Metcalf quote.  We don’t really do much to help ease the burden of renters and the housing policy we have locally is all about preserving the quality of life for existing residents, but only those that own their homes and have a certain level of stability.  For the most vulnerable, their quality of life is not important.


  1. housing policy we have locally is all about preserving the quality of life for existing residents, but only those that own their homes


    Renters appreciate and benefit from our low traffic, low key pace of life & architectural charm. We have a small town feel within sight of one of the world’s foremost cities. Not only is that very much worth preserving, it’s also why a large number of renters chose to live here, just as homeowners did. Both groups want to preserve their quality of life.

    Comment by dave — April 27, 2016 @ 7:18 am

    • That’s a fine opinion, but you must surely admit that it affects prices and therefore affordability (in the non-trivial sense). There is no intellectual purity in this discussion. You like some restrictions on markets (e.g., zoning) which others may not; others like different ones that you dislike (tenant protections). No one is a true libertarian in this, so far as I can see. The politics of this is about what restrictions apply, who benefits and who loses. That’s the nature of these things, and it’s messy. But let’s drop the notion that, because a price is observed at a single point in time, it necessarily reflects an ahistorical optimum.

      Comment by BC — April 27, 2016 @ 8:03 am

      • How much does zoning (Measure A of course being the most salient) affect affordability?

        It’s easy to say that because it reduces supply it causes prices to rise, that’s Econ 101, first day of class.

        But Alameda is cheaper than a lot of nearby areas. It’s cheaper than comparable parts of Oakland (and a better value, price aside). It’s cheaper than Berkeley. On a price/square ft basis it’s cheaper than Albany, but Albany’s generally small houses can have similar price tags. And it’s considerably cheaper than already-dense SF.

        It’s not particularly controversial to say that our zoning increases prices. Cadillacs do cost more than Chevys, after all. But when local prices are compared with surrounding cities, it really calls into question just how significant this effect is.

        Comment by dave — April 27, 2016 @ 8:28 am

  2. What is funny is people blame the “Tech Boom”, but jobs in other industries have thrived and moved into the Bay Area also which has contributed to the lack of housing. When Uber announced that it was taking the old Sears building which only impacts 450 jobs, the huge impact of prices in commercial and other real estate in Oakland was due to the “tech boom” hitting Oakland. There is also Biotech, Kaiser, financial, and numerous other industries which have an effected the Bay Area and Oakland, Alameda and SF. Before the economy rebounded, there was already a lack of housing on all levels. and with the forecasted population increases in the State over the next 20 years we are always going to be working with a deficient.

    Comment by joelsf — April 27, 2016 @ 7:52 am

  3. It is an interesting strategy: Destroy the reasons people want to move here by building housing monstrosities. Lots more housing, lots of people moving out of the charmless hellhole, rents plummet. Housing problem solved!

    Comment by Jack Mingo — April 27, 2016 @ 8:21 am

    • The reason people are moving to Alameda has changed. Like the rest of the East Bay – proximity to one of the largest job centers in the country, close to transit, bike and pedestrian friendly neighborhoods, are just some of the reasons – times have changed!

      Comment by Karen Bey — April 27, 2016 @ 1:04 pm

      • Times may have changed, but few if any new arrivals wish to Manhattanize the town. I have yet to hear anyone say their commute is too short or their neighborhood too pleasant. Our blogmistress excepted, people typically move to a place they like, not a place they want to dismantle.

        Comment by dave — April 27, 2016 @ 2:21 pm

  4. Overpopulation. Too many poorly educated, much by choice. Too many babies growing up in unstable homes with crummy role models. Too many people who like to get high. This produces people who are self serving, lack compassion, anger, and just do not care.

    Comment by Hugo — April 27, 2016 @ 8:40 am

    • Democrats in other word

      Comment by jack — April 28, 2016 @ 9:35 am

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