Why are a bunch of pro-housing, tower-loving, millennials staging a hostile takeover of the Sierra Club? I mean, what’s wrong with these obnoxious kids?
Well, let me tell you. Like most people in San Francisco, we’re frustrated over the cost of housing.
How much ink has been spilled about the astronomical rent and its horrific impact on low-income San Franciscans? How much ink has been spilled over stunted millennials and their perpetual strugglefests? How much ink has been spilled over the endless evictions and displacement, as minority, low- and middle-income people are pushed further and further away from this great engine of opportunity, San Francisco?
If, like me, you believe that the root cause of this spike in rents is a housing shortage, then you may agree that the local Sierra Club chapter has been a locus for anti-housing nonsense and is in dire need of fresh, green blood.
Luxury Real Estate interests already control the local Sierra Club. They are wealthy homeowners who prioritize their own sense of beauty over everything else. These homeowners live in “luxury housing” — and, thanks to 1978’s Proposition 13, pay disproportionately less toward local services than newcomers, including their own children.
The local Sierra Club leadership has been working very hard to oppose density in this city for decades. They argue they are protecting pretty communities, that development is bad for the environment, and that building housing directly causes displacement. I don’t agree.
What does the National Sierra Club have to say about building housing in cities like San Francisco? In their Growth Management Guidelines, they say “The Club will not support local growth initiatives that discourage infill and affordable housing. For example, the Club will not support initiative efforts by community groups that seek to stop or overturn multi-family (e.g., apartment) development projects, or subject affordable housing projects to public vote or onerous conditions.”
The local chapter of the Sierra Club in San Francisco opposed Mission Rock, a 40% affordable housing project that will turn a vast parking lot into a mixed use community with about 1,400 new homes. They opposed a project at Parkmerced, with 5,679 new homes and transit improvements. The chapter’s leadership often decides that a sliver of shadow on a public park is more of an environmental danger than the displacement of hundreds. This cannot continue.
The economic literature is clear: if we don’t build enough homes in San Francisco, housing prices will rise and displacement will continue. By not building in our transit-rich suburbs and neighborhoods, we encourage suburban sprawl and migration to less environmentally-friendly regions. People who live in denser cities use less water, drive less, and consume less electricity. Urbanization is green. Suburbanization is not. One or the other will happen.
This doesn’t mean we pave over our beautiful parks. It means we take old warehouses, parking lots and single-story retail spots and build apartment buildings with vibrant businesses on the ground floor. It means we allow more housing in our single-family home only neighborhoods. It means we build more of the city we love.
We are members of the Sierra Club. We had a volunteer design a cute mailer. We publicized the fact that we think the current Sierra Club chapter is on the wrong track and needs new leadership. The Yes In My Back Yard (YIMBY) Party is staging an intervention, and, as expected, it has not received a very warm reception.
But the Sierra Club needs to be a strong voice for the future of our cities. We need to fundamentally retrofit San Francisco and the Bay Area with dramatically more housing and public transportation. Housing needs to be built in every neighborhood in San Francisco, so that every neighborhood gets both the costs and the benefits of more people.
Win or lose, we intend to do this again next year. We will run a slate every year until our local Sierra Club gets back on track. Because the interconnected issues of global warming and urban housing aren’t going anywhere. And neither are we.
Unless we, too, get displaced. …
Laura Foote Clark is the executive director of the smart growth advocacy group Grow San Francisco (GrowSF).