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Declaring war on Brisbane

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Brisbane residents want commercial development with no housing at the site of the Brisbane Baylands because they want to preserve their “small-town feel.” (Courtesy photo)


On a recent visit to Los Angeles for some fancy show business stuff — a.k.a. eating at Cantor’s — a friend explained L.A. politics as consisting of neighborhood groups, developers and progressives, in shifting alliances of two against the third.

On the other hand, in San Francisco, anyone who opposes any project for any reason is derided as a NIMBY. This rhetorical trick allows supporters of development to dodge debate over possible shortcomings of specific projects, and makes opponents into caricatures, like anti-vaxxers and 9/11 truthers.

The “anyone who disagrees with me is a NIMBY” perspective belies a defiant incuriousity about actual politics. A millennial Yahooing academic papers is not comparable to painstakingly building consensus around policy. The term “NIMBY” originally described people who didn’t want to live near objectively unpleasant stuff, like sewage plants. It came to characterize middle-class people who opposed housing for minorities because they didn’t want their property values to go down. Today, in San Francisco, it’s used against minorities who oppose housing for rich people because they don’t want to be displaced when property values rise.

Lumping together constituencies with opposite political motivations is both analytically lazy and obscures the fact that one group is transactional while the other is ideological.

Speaking for 100 percent of progressives, as I do, progressives are transactional. The statewide gamechangers progressives really want — repealing Costa-Hawkins so we can extend rent control, closing the commercial real estate loophole in Prop. 13, amending the Ellis Act, using transit funding to pressure small towns to add housing as fast as they add jobs, sustainable funding for affordable housing — are currently off the table.

Instead, progressives negotiate individual projects. We want to drive the hardest bargains possible with developers, which means occasionally killing bad projects. “One hundred percent affordable” and “don’t displace us” are negotiating positions intended to result in community benefit agreements that allow good projects to proceed.

One good project is the proposal to build nine stories of nonprofit affordable housing for seniors on Cesar Chavez and Shotwell streets. Some North Bernal residents are angry that it would block their view, because they believe owning land in Bernal includes air rights above the Mission. They don’t want one nine-story building on Cesar Chavez to impede their view of taller buildings two miles away downtown. The view used to be blocked by Bernal Dwellings anyway. And Cesar Chavez is no residential area. It’s practically a parking lot for Google buses. Opponents are also worried about precedents, and it would indeed create an awful precedent that we tolerate low-income seniors living amongst us — as if they were human.

As a lifelong resident of North Bernal, everyone has permission to block my view with affordable housing.

A worse example is the Brisbane Baylands. That stretch of Highway 101 south of Candlestick used to be the dump and a rail line. There is a proposal to build 7 million square feet of commercial real estate and 4,500 units of housing, all walking distance to the CalTrain stop. The people of Brisbane want commercial development with no housing, because they want to preserve their “small-town feel.”

That’s an ideological stance. There is no compromise with “small-town feel.” Regardless of your stance on market-rate housing in San Francisco, everyone can agree that 4,500 units of housing is a good use of the desolate pile of dirt that’s there now. Rather than bloodying each other over 50 dumb condos in San Francisco, supply-side enthusiasts should be declaring war on Brisbane, where there’s a big project worth fighting for.

Lawsuits! Eminent domain! Make them pay a toll! Finally, this is Week 2 of my appeal to keep San Francisco’s comedy scene alive. If you have a venue where you’d be willing to have a free or cheap comedy show on a regular basis, let me know. There are a lot of comics looking for places to put on shows.

Nato Green is a San Francisco-based comedian and writer. If you have a venue for shows, holler via Twitter @natogreen or via natogreen.com.

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  • mark069

    4500 units of housing would more than double the population of Brisbane. I doubt the city can afford that kind of impact on infrastructure.

  • Ron Davis

    You should do a little more research. Many Brisbane residents don’t want housing there because the land is toxic. The town is working to fill housing requirements elsewhere in Brisbane. The process is not over.

  • dologom

    YES! Mr Green, you didn’t do your homework! Who would want to raise a family on toxic land?? How about MORE cars to create such havoc we won’t be able to travel to work. How about more people being cramped and piled into an already crowded area? We are NOT sardines!!

  • Linda Montenegro Dettmer

    I agree with these responses to your article, which is in face just an editorial of your opinion. Have your spent a month reading the Environmental Impact Report? Housing on the Baylands would create another potential Love Canal. You would have to be crazy to want to live there or work there without COMPLETE remediation of the formerly called “Superfund site”. “Brown-fields”, sound so much nicer but does not begin to describe the toxic nightmare under ground in the Baylands. Global warming and rising tides may create a toxic soup of death for everything it touches. Please read Dr. Lee’s report on the Baylands. You sir are misinformed and that is dangerous. It is obvious you do not know what you are talking about. Take your “progressives” back to the drawing board!

  • Y.

    4,500 units of housing won’t do much when tech companies are projecting hiring ten times as much people in the next few years. Right now the choice is between 1. high prices and preserving Brisbane’s quality of life, or 2. high prices and not preserving Brisbane’s QoL. So why not choose the first option?
    The only effective thing to do right now is to pressure high tech companies to stop bringing people to the area who can outbid everyone else. Otherwise we are just quibbling about how many buckets to put under the leak in the roof, without fixing the leak itself.

  • MirrorTheObvious

    Whenever these anti-housing sentiments pop-up, yes there may be some good reasons justifications.
    But a big unsaid reason & ulterior motive may be to strict the supply of housing in order to maximize the current landowners’ property values. The very restricted lack of housing supply (as well as speculation) driving up the cost of living has been driving up the big economic divide between the haves and have-nots.

  • mossy buddha

    these excuses are self serving and ignore the fact that housing would result in a much more stringent cleanup. in fact, by refusing housing the self styled defenders of public health and the environment not only ensure the land is left dirtier but also help to jack up global warming and screw lower income neighbors who’ll have to find a new place to live once all the office workers there decide they want to live close to work and SF.

    i don’t dismiss concerns about these toxins but they’re not obstacles to doing something right. if you’re going to develop that old nasty industrial site, you should do it as intensely as possible to get the biggest cleanup and transit bang for the development buck. push for the highest levels you can get and then some. on net you’ll end up in a far better place than what a commercial only project can do.

    as for the concern about 4500 new households…well this would likely be over 20 years and be paid for by the development itself. the sewage system can either pay the hookup fee to connect to SF’s wastewater system (where brisbane’s sewage goes now) or build an on-site treatment facility to ramp up its water-use efficiency. everything else is pretty well self contained.

  • mossy buddha

    or just allow enough housing to be built.

  • De Blo

    To understand why we must completely abolish rent control in the City and ban it completely in the entire state, let me quote Nobel Prize-winning liberal economist Paul Krugman: “The analysis of rent control is among the best-understood issues in all
    of economics, and — among economists, anyway — one of the least
    controversial. In 1992 a poll of the American Economic Association found
    93 percent of its members agreeing that ”a ceiling on rents reduces
    the quality and quantity of housing.” Almost every freshman-level
    textbook contains a case study on rent control, using its known adverse
    side effects to illustrate the principles of supply and demand. Sky-high
    rents on uncontrolled apartments, because desperate renters have
    nowhere to go — and the absence of new apartment construction, despite
    those high rents, because landlords fear that controls will be extended?”

  • njudah

    the land rush in the bay area is so great right now you can literally sell shit on a toxic dump and PEOPLE WILL PAY BIG BUCKS FOR IT so cash in, yo!

  • Victoria Fierce

    > Today, in San Francisco, it’s used against minorities who oppose housing for rich people because they don’t want to be displaced when property values rise.

    Nato, I’d really suggest you do a bit of understanding to see that its a lot more than just minorities opposing housing for rich people. Included in that set are trump supporters, white nationalists, and juicebox anarchists that just want to see the world burn.

    Opposing housing the rich is really just another way of stating “The rich can afford to live wherever, so I guess we’ll just encourage them to displace occupied units.” The absolute fastest way to achieve displacement is to build nothing at all. Negotiating on every project is a waste of everyone’s time, and California is the last place in the country that still handles the production of housing that way.

    Housing is a community benefit. It is the biggest benefit that can possibly come out of building new housing. To argue otherwise is to argue that putting people in homes is somehow a problem in and of itself.

  • Victoria Fierce

    Guess we’ll have to use the tax revenue from the people moving in to invest in transit!

  • Victoria Fierce

    The land can’t be toxic forever. To ignore it and leave it as unusable is to meekly accept defeat in the face of climate change. We put friggin humans on the moon. We can clean it up.

  • Victoria Fierce

    4,500 units of housing means that we can fit 4,500 more people in the bay area without having those 4,500 people move into 4,500 occupied units and displace 4,500 families.

    If you want to preserve Brisbane’s quality of life, lets talk about preserving their housing by adding more.

  • mossy buddha

    actually, with HH size of 1.5-2.5 we’re talking room for 6750-11,250 people!

  • Elena Schott

    4500 units of housing in a town with 2000 units of housing? Sure, we’ll just allow ourselves to be completely wiped off the voting rolls by becoming an instant minority in our own town. NOT!

    I’d be fine with 500 units, and in a few years 500 more etc. But regardless of what the plans “promise”, the developers will rush the construction of anything saleable. So I’ll be voting no.

  • dologom

    Anyone here think about water? We are conserving now, but drought could continue. Hmmm, maybe water could be trucked in?? Besides more traffic, etc., water is truly a great concern.

  • David

    This development site has more in relation to San Francisco than Brisbane. It just so happens that the city limit lines are where they are.

  • mark069

    Infrastructure is gas, water, electrical and sewer lines. They don’t exist for 4600 extra houses right now and the city will not pay for these before the people move in. Also, property tax revenue (as compared to commercial tax revenue) is miniscule and generally is only enough to fund local schools and upkeep of existing infrastructure.

  • mossy buddha

    is the problem that the land is toxic, or that they don’t want housing. because if its toxic (which it is…) then every effort should be put into cleaning it up to the highest possible unrestricted residential use. i just don’t see where brisbane can fit that much housing otherwise while keeping its most charming areas whole.

  • mossy buddha

    that’s silly. san francisco’s sewer system is already there and can easily handle the growth. bayshore and geneva are wide roads and the project will build internal circulation. electricity is not a problem – especially with the addition of rooftop solar and/or small wind. as for the rest of it…well that’s what impact fees are for.

  • mossy buddha

    don’t be stupid and go away. san francisco’s rent stabilization has nothing, absolutely nothing to do with this.

  • mossy buddha

    you rely on the SFPUC, which has enough water.

  • mossy buddha

    this thing will take a very long time to build out those 500…perhaps the developer can talk about their phasing. it’d be financially insane to build out all the units at once.

  • mossy buddha

    and use that cash to clean that dump!

  • mark069

    If you say so. Do you live there? I don’t so it won’t impact me but I would not want to live there to test out the flexibility and robustness of the existing infrastructure.

  • mossy buddha

    yes, i live in san francisco and am quite informed on its wastewater system. its not a concern.

  • Victoria Fierce

    This is why things such as impact fees exist. Developer pays that up front.

  • mark069

    San Francisco is not Brisbane. I live close to Brisbane in a similar size city and our wastewater system gets overloaded every time there is a bad storm.

  • mossy buddha

    No its not SF. But Brisbane users Sam Francisco’s sewer system. As far as stormwater, that is a real concern but that can be easily dealt with by building a separate rather than combined system.