A Planning Department report says there is a huge disparity between higher wage workers in San Francisco with office jobs, like those in the tech sector and lower-income workers. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

SF looks to combat gentrification amid ongoing economic boom

As San Francisco’s economy continues to flourish, concerns of gentrification in distinct and beloved neighborhoods like the Mission and Tenderloin remain at the forefront of political debates.

For the past six years, San Francisco has experienced a huge boom in jobs and construction and the opening of new businesses. But amid all the economic growth, there remains a charged debate over displacement of long-standing residents that continues to boil over into intense political discourse, even as recently as last week.

Much of the concerns center on building homes for higher income residents, whose spending power is attractive for new higher-end businesses to move in nearby.

A new report released by the Planning Department quantifies the performance of the local economy last year compared to previous years. Job and wage data, for example, illustrates the income disparity in San Francisco between higher wage earners with office jobs, like those in the tech sector and lower-income workers in jobs like retail.

The average wage of a San Francisco worker last year was $97,040, a 3 percent increase from the average wage in 2014. Wages totaled $65.5 billion last year, an 8 percent increase since 2014 and a 39 percent increase since 2005. Of the total wages, 62 percent comprise salaries for office workers, who account for 42 percent of the total 674,500 jobs in San Francisco last year.

In 2015, office workers earned the highest average wage at $145,400, followed by those in production, distribution and repair workers at $101,060. Workers in cultural, institutional and educational jobs, along with hotel and retail jobs, “earn less than the citywide average, at $63,170, $48,070, and $37,830, respec­tively, while private household workers average a wage of $55,870,” the report reads.

Looking overall at job growth in San Francisco, the report found that “office jobs grew the fastest, both over the last year and past decade. Employment in all land uses grew over the decade except for hotel jobs, which declined 10 percent.” With the growing demand, 5.5 million square feet of office space was built during the past decade.

San Francisco’s elected officials have had their share of challenges in addressing the impacts of the economic boom as communities and their advocates have rallied for redress.

Such a mobilization occurred last week, for example, over an appeal of a 159-unit development at 1515 S. Van Ness Ave. in the Mission by Lennar Multifamily Communities. Thirty-nine of the units would be affordable. The Mission is seen as ground zero for the impacts of the recent tech boom.

A group of Mission advocates appealed the development, arguing the environmental review was inadequate in that it failed to address impacts of gentrification. Those arguments have failed in the past, but not this time, in part because the project was located in the four-block Calle 24 Latino Cultural District, which was adopted by the board in 2014.

But there was another factor. Specifically, comments related to President-elect Donald Trump in part prompted the board to oppose the development.

First there was the argument, put forward by tenant advocate attorney Scott Weaver, arguing the appeal on behalf of Calle 24 Latino Cultural District Executive Director Erick Arguello.

Weaver pointed to the impacts of development in other areas of the Mission, which attracted higher wage earners.

“On Valencia Street you can get your $6 croissant or you can have a meal for $50 to $100 per person. You can buy fancy clothes. You can spend $350 for a handbag,” Weaver said. “These are not the types of businesses that belong in the Latino Cultural District. The gentrification we’ve seen on Valencia and on Mission Street is the beginning. What is to come is an overwhelming economic force that will change the face of the Mission and of the Calle 24 Latino Cultural District.”

Then came the Trump-related comments from supporter of the project Sonja Trauss, founder of pro-development group San Francisco Bay Area Renters’ Federation, who likened the Mission advocates’ opposition to the project to the politics of Trump.

“I’ve always been disturbed by nativism in San Francisco,” Trauss said. “And when you come here to the Board of Supervisors and say that you don’t want new, different people in your neighborhood you’re exactly the same as Americans all over the country that don’t want immigrants. It is exactly the same attitude.”

Campos said it was Trauss’ comment — which apparently backfired — among others that helped change his mind on the appeal. He motioned to support the appeal and said the review needs “further analysis of displacement and gentrification on this community specifically the Latino cultural district.”

That motion was unanimously approved by the board.

Prior to the vote, Supervisor Malia Cohen remarked on the repetitive nature of the displacement debate related to development. “We really do need to have a sea change. Development should not be about displacing people. Development should be widening the tent and … welcoming people into San Francisco,” Cohen said.

Others noted how other neighborhoods are facing similar pressures that will intensify.

Last week, for example, the public policy think tank SPUR hosted a lunchtime talk to discuss gentrification concerns in the Tenderloin neighborhood — a diverse and largely low-income community — as restaurant owners and retailers are eying the neighborhood as an attractive location for it’s comparatively cheaper rents.

Amid the tensions, San Francisco’s economy has shown no signs of slowing down since it took off on a tech boom.

In 2015, the total number of jobs grew by 5 percent from 2014 for a total of 674,460, according to the newly released San Francisco Commerce and Industry Inventory report by the Planning Department.

The unemployment rate was 3.6 percent, down from 4.4 percent in 2014. Building permits jumped 6 percent in 2015 compared to 2014 for a total of 29,810 issued and construction spending totaled $5.7 billion, a 15 percent increase from 2014.

The Planning Commission is scheduled to hold a Dec. 1 public hearing on the report.

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