Photo by Daniel Mondragón

Developments in Development is a weekly column recapping real estate, business, planning, zoning and construction news.

For all the hubbub about how everyone wants to live here and the influx of newcomers, San Francisco got a pretty underwhelming ranking in the US News & World Report’s ranking of cities. As Curbed reports, San Francisco’s high crime rates, lower scoring schools, and crappy commutes have added up to push it down to 16th place nationwide, which wouldn’t be so bad except for the part where San Jose is in third. Ouch.

While everyone is of course entitled to their own opinion about which city is the best, I have to say that the housing and development items that crossed my radar this week are absurd to a 16th-place-worthy degree.

Take, for example, the fact that while SocketSite reports that San Francisco asking rents for apartments have come back down to 2014 levels, that’s still a weighted average of $4,100 a month (remember these estimates vary from study to study so if you remember something closer to $3,000 a month that might have been calculated differently).

Or this bizarrely miniscule studio condo on 26th street that is being marketed for about half a million dollars. Yes, space is expensive. Yes, it makes sense I guess to have micro-units for sale as well as for rent. And sure, I guess if I’m going to sleep with my head basically in the kitchen, I’d rather wake up to the sparkle of stainless steel appliances and marble countertops than a formica cockroach farm. But did this thing really need a fireplace? That almost feels insulting. There’s even a painting of Charlie Chaplin hanging above it. They know this is a joke.

You know what’s not a joke? Frogs moving into the Mission and 22nd fire site, now a sad pit filled with rainwater. That’s really happening, if aural evidence submitted to Uptown Almanac by a tipster is to be believed. I admit to a guffaw about that, but the sobering, bizarre reality is that 60something people lost their home or business in that fire and are now stuck in limbo while the place is empty and full of frogs.  

That limbo does not show any signs of letting up, because as SocketSite reports, the lot is being marketed again. We’ve been waiting to see for a while whether this site will get sold, but it seems like it wasn’t necessarily actively seeking a buyer for a while. Now it is, with the caveat that new development is “subject to community participation.” That means quite a bit: Tenants technically have the right to return once units are rebuilt, and at more or less their same rent (perhaps with passthroughs of major reconstruction costs). Anything other than a rebuild is likely to be met with serious pushback.

“Reconstruction?” you might ask, “there is nothing to re-construct, it’s a hole in the ground!” Maybe, but the city’s demolition order only goes to the ground level, which makes it technically an “alteration” order. That means that whatever gets built there is theoretically the same building, which gives the tenants the right to return. There are ways to get around this, including simply waiting for the tenants to give up and move on. But the city and nonprofits are watching what happens there very carefully – including MEDA, which is still interested in buying the property.

Meanwhile, on the streets outside the amphibian enclave, robot cars glide through the streets of the Mission, a human in the driver’s seat with hands gently upturned under the steering wheel, as if invoking the self-driving gods to not let this thing run any red lights. If you read Elizabeth Creely’s observations of these cars being tested and were curious what goes on inside them, well, here’s your chance to go for a virtual ride.

Let’s conclude with a break from the bizarre: I’d like to recommend that anyone who reads this column also read this Medium piece from Erin Reeves, who works with the Council of Community Housing Organizations (CCHO, affectionately pronounced “choo-choo”). It’s a meditation on the NIMBY-vs.-YIMBY divide that seems to dominate the conversation around housing, in which Reeves claims to be neither. I would hazard a guess that a lot of people align themselves with neither “build everything and build it faster!” zeal nor with “don’t block my view” obstructionism.  This essay doesn’t necessarily cover all the bases. But it’s an interesting starting point. Have a look.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *