Friday, March 9, 2018

Counter Argument to SB827 that will radically change zoning for millions of homes and businesses.


I received a very polite call from a gentleman about my arguments herein. I will try to do justice to his argument by summarizing it as follows:
In his view, it is unfair of those who have lived in a neighborhood for a long time to take away from others the opportunity to move there.
Here is my counter to that argument.
  • I certainly don’t believe anyone should be prevented from choosing to live wherever they want!
  • On the contrary: My argument is about long-term planning for major game-changing construction and who gets to do it.
  • I don’t know what a just — in the sense of being fair — solution is if everyone wants to live in the same place. We’ve selected basic capitalism as our guideline for the last few hundred years – you rent or buy where you can afford to – but maybe there’s a better answer. My personal preference is to pay more to the people who make our community work, so they can live here if they want; and raise taxes (including mine) to do it. But let’s have that discussion.
  • If we have that discussion and decide that there should be no zoning, and that citizens don’t get to express a preference about what types of construction goes on in their neighborhood, then fine – we can go full Houston on this, and let anyone build anything anywhere. That’s a perfectly valid position to take, it’s just not one we’ve taken before, nor one that should be taken lightly. By contrast, if we do want to have some form of zoning, I think height and density are reasonable things to zone on as they directly impact the character of where you live.
  • If the goal is to help people who are already here but priced out – as I think it should be: that, to me, is the real problem we are trying to solve – then we should ask ourselves how much market-rate housing it would take to solve that problem. Real estate prices doubled in some locations in the last twenty years. Is the answer to double the housing stock in those neighborhoods? The math may seem like it would work, but it doesn’t. Instead, three things happen:
1. The people who buy the new homes aren’t the ones who got priced out.
2. You forever change the neighborhood.
3. The more housing stock you build, the more people come from other cities, states, and countries. That’s great! We love new neighbors, we have them all the time. But the prices go right back up. That’s because the land in the areas where people are willing to pay the most to live is constrained by the water (we are, after all, California). There isn’t any more land near the water. But there are a lot more people who have money.
If you define the problem as pushing current residents out, then we aren’t going to fix the problem just by building higher. It doesn’t get you to a stable equilibrium.
My view is we haven’t thought this through. If the sponsors of this bill have, they haven’t made that case effectively.
That’s my point.
I hope that helps and I appreciate hearing from the caller.


My name is Carey White and I live in the Richmond district of San Francisco. I took the time to write this, and to promote it with links, because I want to do something to speak out and I don’t know any other way. I can’t afford a full-page ad in the Chronicle, so I’m left with Google AdWords. I have not taken any money from anyone on this issue. I’m a homeowner here for 15 years and plan to live out the rest of my days here. The future of the state matters to me. I hope it does to you, too.

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