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.