Real Estate

The changing of the guard

What will San Francisco look like in 10 years? City planning officials spend a great deal of time and expertise trying to get a grip on that, local politicians spend a great deal of time trying to look like they’re shaping it, and the average person spends almost no time thinking about it. Change is inevitable, even in a city with NIMBY forces on steroids, so it is worth spending even a short time pondering the ways in which our city is going to look different in the near future.

Many things will change. As you read last month in Supervisor Mark Farrell’s Marina Times column, long-neglected Lombard Street is becoming a focus of revitalization; news of one improvement was not long in coming. The Lombard Business Merchants Association shared with us the news that a mixed-use building with 21 housing units and 2,700-square-feet of commercial space was just approved by the city for a spot between Scott and Pierce on Lombard.

Expect more of that on Lombard. But construction, new neighbors, new shops, and revitalized parks will continue to alter the face of the city’s many streets. By January 2015, KB Home plans to complete an 81-unit condo development at 2655 Bush Street in Lower Pacific Heights, according to San Francisco Business Times reporter Blanca Torres. Google is taking up new digs on Alabama Street in the Mission (so, yes, employees can walk or skateboard to work rather than take buses or ferries or flying carpets or whatever the kids are riding these days). Online storage services firm Dropbox is expanding, leasing an entire building a stone’s throw from AT&T Park. Anyone driving toward Castro on Market Street sees new residential and commercial buildings on numerous street corners. And meanwhile the major redo of the Van Ness corridor as part of the Van Ness Avenue Bus Rapid Transit Project continues to move forward, with the Federal Transit Administration issuing a determination that it meets National Environmental Policy Act requirements. Full speed ahead. Van Ness, like Polk alongside it, will not look or feel the same in a decade.

San Francisco is going through a cultural and generational change as much as it is going through an economic one. In the 1970s, the old guard was angry at the baby boomers of the new liberal vanguard who were trying to drag the city into the late 20th century. Many of that new generation would surely recoil at being called conservatives, but the people who fought those political battles in support of a new city largely won their battles and naturally became the new old guard, for today they are the ones who are in many cases resistant to the changes in their city. People whose politics were shaped by the 1960s and 1970s in turn shaped the city’s politics and policies for the next few decades, and many of them have lived their lives here, started businesses, found love, poured their energies into getting that local playground built or setting the tone for a tolerant neighborhood, and they have in many cases been in homes that have appreciated in value fantastically since the 1990s, 1980s, or even the 1970s.

They are justifiably proud of the city they shaped. It is a city rich in politically engaged people, thriving businesses (including world-class restaurants and world-beating tech companies), intellectual curiosity, tolerance of people who are outside the society’s mainstream, and a beautiful parks system.

They are also optimistic. Fifty percent of the city’s residents believe San Francisco is headed in the right direction, and 38 percent of them believe the city’s parks are getting even better, according to a new Dignity Health CityBeat Poll of San Francisco voters. That might sound like a side issue in an era of complaining about shared rides for Google and Apple employees, but it’s not. “San Francisco needs to retain more families and ensure a diverse workforce if we are to sustain a vibrant economy for years to come,” said Bob Linscheid, president & CEO of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. “Clean and safe parks are one factor helping to attract families and improve the quality of life for all those who live in our city.”

That same poll found that 34 percent of San Franciscans listed the “cost of owning a home” as the major issue facing the city, closely followed by homelessness and problems associated with it, and in third place was “cost of rents/affordability.”

The heated debate continues over to what degree rising housing costs are due to new tech workers flooding into the city or due to the old guard resisting the building of enough new housing to keep people of all income levels happily and affordably housed. That won’t be solved anytime soon, and resisting the influx of well-paid and talented tech workers from helping to create the city of tomorrow isn’t going to keep the city like it is today — no more than old-time families who tried to keep the baby boomers from altering their beloved city succeeded. Change continues to happen, and besides, babies do get born; perhaps unexpectedly, actually lists San Francisco as the number-one city in the country for having a baby. Yes, the city with more dogs than children is number one. Apparently, we rank very high for prenatal support, a pregnancy-friendly environment (whatever that means), and health care for new mothers and babies. The survey figured that such things as air pollution and proximity to Superfund hazardous waste sites were negatives (San Francisco ranked low in those categories) and walkability, the number of baby-supply stores, YMCAs, and farmers markets were positives (and we ranked high in those).

Build a great city and people want to live in it. And when they do, they’ll build the next level of a great city.

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John Zipperer is a former senior editor at Affordable Housing Finance and Apartment Finance Today magazines, as well as a former editor at the CCIM Institute. E-mail: [email protected]