7-Jun-2015 (Sun) Wherein there goes the neighborhood.

Here's a render of what is to be our new neighbor to the West. That itty-bitty building cowering and shivering in the lower left corner is CW.

As expected, this latest batch of condos are another hideous, soulless cubic monstrosity, a Lego set from Hell. It looks like a mall. It looks like Cold War Brutalism with a splash of pastel. Why do they keep making these condos so ugly? I suppose the answer must be, "That's what you get when spending the absolute minimum on construction materials is your top and only priority."

There will be 114 condos, but hey, a whopping fourteen of them will be "below market rate", which you qualify for if you make less than $81,000/year.

Their render shows ground-floor commercial, and they have optimistically sketched a cafe in there. Which I have seen actually happen in these kinds of developments approximately never. The ground floor "commercial" space in buildings like this seems to pretty much sit 100% empty for a few years, then it's an art gallery for 6 months until someone's trust fund runs out and/or the money is sufficiently laundered, then it sits empty again. E.g., the very similar looking condo development on 4th and Bryant: I think the whole ground floor of that block has been vacant for more than a decade. The whole of King Street is barely any better: all the condos conceded to "ground floor commercial" instead of putting in the parking lots they actually thought they could sell, but those turned into dozens of empty storefronts, where the only ones that are actually occupied are national fast-food chains.


26 Responses:

  1. Well. That's a lot of glass for target practice.

  2. Phil says:

    Bracing for complaints about the nightclub next door from brittle, new money condo owners starting in 3, 2, 1...

    See if you can get a sheet of paperwork added to the stack of closing documents for these new condo owners saying, "you live near nightclub, expect drunks and miscreants." At least you can show that they signed that when you have to answer their complaints.

    • Jim says:

      We are the second owner of the house we live in. We found out that the original owners who bought the new house had some sort of declaration to sign acknowledging that they lived under a flight path. We did not see this at our closing. As the airport is several miles away this has never been a problem. I point this out because I wonder if this sort of closing document is worth any further paperwork on JWZ's part. Presumably, by the time the condo is built, the DNA Pizza establishment will be visible to all concerned.

    • jwz says:

      That goes with the territory. Over the years, we've gotten pretty good at this fight, you know! Part of the reason the CW timing is good is that the apartments across the street aren't fully occupied yet, so we get to (re-) establish the beach-head first.

      Though there's been a bar/club on this spot since at least the eighties, the Qi folks were hardly ever open during the five years they were here, and possibly not at all in the last year or two. I'm not sure.

      The recently-passed legislation to protect nightlife from condos is all about this situation. I suspect the legislation itself is largely symbolic, but it's good and probably helpful symbolism.

      • Mark Lyon says:

        My landlord was actually pretty good about this. After getting complaints about the nightclub across from one side of our building (noise complaints, yes, but the prime complaints were the shootings, stabbings and riot lights the police decided needed to be installed and running each weekend) they added a "City Living Addendum" to all leases. If you don't sign, they won't renew.

        The undersigned agree that this addendum is incorporated in and made a part of the Lease Agreement at [] between [], Lessor, and [], Lessee(s), dated [], and that it shall be renewed and shall expire under the same terms and conditions of the Lease Agreement.

        Lessee understands that [] (the “Apartments”) is located in an urban setting, with various retail and other businesses in close proximity to the Apartments (i.e., [grocery store], local restaurants, etc.). Due to the urban location of the Apartments, Lessee understands that there will times when external light and noise levels are elevated and when certain odors from city restaurants, grocery stores, etc. will permeate in the area.

        Lessee hereby acknowledges and agrees that he/she has been made aware of the possibility of increased noises and odors at the Apartments, and Lessee enters into the Lease with a full understanding of these conditions.

        Ultimately, the value of the addendum is dubious, but it appears to have worked wonders in making people shut up about deciding to live downtown and then regret the decision.

    • J. Peterson says:

      I recall an episode where you hung a prominant "DNA Lounge: Music & Dancing All Night Long" banner prominently on your club when dwellings were set to go on sale nearby (I'd just post a "Previously" link, but either Google or my memory fails me).

  3. Jered says:

    I share your concern, but... what's your desired alternative that creates the massive amount of additional housing that SF so desperately needs?

    Ground-floor commercial is apparently a failure because either nobody shops in retail anymore or the rents are obscenely high. Parking is no better. More housing units at the ground floor? Open community spaces? Human meat processing centers?

    • James says:

      You can change parameters in RevIt to improve the superficial aspects, but they were optimized for quick sales to middle class, not median class, mean class condo buyers. If you tried to set it for median class you would get a taller building with more patios and fewer greenhouse observation windows.

    • jwz says:

      SF has a housing shortage, but when the only housing that you build is at the very high end, that's all you get. This should be tautologically obvious, but there are people -- people who are actually being listened to -- who claim that if you build at the high end, the middle and low end will magically appear. That's called "trickle-down economics", and it doesn't work! "Does anyone know what Vice President Bush called this in 1980? Anyone? Something dee oh oh economics. Voo doo economics."

      Campos's recently-failed proposed moratorium in the Mission was an attempt to delay the land-grab speculation on high end condo construction to give the City time to raise funds to acquire land to build more affordable housing on it. Sometimes governments do things for reasons other than short-term financial gain. Corporations never do. Certainly international real-estate speculators never do.

      The folks over at 48 Hills have been doing some great research on what's actually going on with all this new high-end housing:

      But rather than satisfy some demand for housing at the top of the market and alleviating the city’s affordability crisis, San Francisco’s luxury condos instead are being purchased by wealthy buyers who have a virtually bottomless appetite for super-exclusive real estate. Many of these buyers don’t live in San Francisco; their city condos are second, or third homes, a 48 hills analysis of property records shows.

      We reviewed Assessor’s Office records for 5,212 condos in 23 buildings, most built after the year 2000, all of them market-rate residences. We found that absentee owners control approximately 2,034 of these condos – about 39 percent of the total. (We identified absentee owners as having a listed address that is different than the condo residence.)

      In some buildings, the number of absentee owners is above 60 percent. [...]

      We did find some units from the buildings we examined listed on Airbnb and VRBO – for as much as $6,000 a night. Which doesn’t do a whole lot for the city’s affordable housing crisis.


      SPUR used census data and American Community Survey data to conclude that there are roughly 9,000 units of housing in the city that are occupied only as occasional pieds a terre. Another 9,000 units are held off the market for other reasons, the report says.

      And let's not forget that a big part of the reason that San Francisco has a housing crisis is because the South Bay municipalities are not doing their part. Stop being bullied: Let’s sue Mountain View:

      Local governments dump housing problems onto the places that do build, mostly San Francisco and Oakland. For example, late last year, Mountain View approved plans to add 3.4 million square feet of office space around the Google and LinkedIn fortresses, adding 20,000 jobs. No new housing. Supposedly the newly elected City Council eventually will vote to allow 1,500 to 5,000 units in the area, but the other 15,000 are San Francisco's problem by default.

      Sunnyvale, Milpitas, Palo Alto, Santa Clara and all these tedious South Bay hamlets debase themselves to offer tech titans expansion upon expansion to corporate campuses without any new housing. One UC Davis study suggested those cities have a combined below-market-rate housing deficit of 20,000 units. Mayor Ed Lee, I found locations for the 30,000 units you want to build. They're in the 408.

      I kind of like the Narrow Streets proposal. It's crackpot mad science that will never happen in a million years, but I like it.

      • Jered says:

        OK, thanks. I agree with most of that -- and I get that your concern isn't condos, but rather "luxury" condos.

        I'm not sure that I trust the city to build affordable housing, but I certainly believe the city should create massive incentives for affordable housing to exist, and work to eliminate the infinity of regulatory obstacles to such projects. Sadly, I have very low expectations on any of that ever occurring.

        I'm in Boston, and we have a smaller version of the same problem. I strongly believe that the way out of a housing crisis is to build a fuck-ton of housing fairly rapidly. People who ask just for rent control are playing the "I got mine, you get stuffed" game that I find so vile.

        I was recently visiting a friend in Shanghai, which is currently a city of 24 to 34 million, depending on how you count. Anecdata sucks, but he told me you can get a 1 bedroom apartment on public transit for under $1k/month, and if you're willing to split an apartment you can manage even more cheaply... because there are cookie-cutter enormous skyscrapers interspersed with all the luxury developments. They're not particularly attractive, and I'm sure they're not luxury, but they let people who want (or need) to live in the city do so.

        I imagine that bare-bones housing is also less likely to be used as an investment vehicle or a pied-a-terre, but that's purely speculation on my part.

        I don't know how Shanghai got there and there's probably some skull-crushing top-down despair, but we could use some of that going on in our big cities.

        • jwz says:

          That description of rent control is Libertarian propaganda. Rent control is a brake: it slows down the economic cycle from the speed at which The Market would choose to churn things, forcing short-term investments to be longer-term investments instead. The idea behind this is the belief that the interests of society are often not best served by an economic system that values this quarter's return to the absolute exclusion of everything else. Cut-throat capitalism certainly has its success stories, but urban planning tends not to be one of them.

          Not that rent control is always the right lever to wield, or that it's always implemented properly, but if the only alternative is letting builders throw up shitboxes that they immediately flip to people who won't live there but just need a piece of real estate in which to park their money...

          • ix says:

            I'm all for some rent control, but if it's chronically behind market rates you do get what the GP describes. The issue here is not the rents, the issue is the lack of housing being built.

  4. Meeks Baker says:

    man. this era in architecture is going to be looked back on with sneers and pointing and laughing.

  5. 1.1 million so everyone can watch you sit on your sofa and scratch your balls.

  6. Ducksauz says:

    Up here in Seattle, we have the same problem with ground floor retail. They generally sit vacant until some well funded, usually national or regional chain moves in. The owners of these building would rather let the space sit vacant rather than take a chance on someone starting a new business. All the quirky retail exists in older buildings where the landlords seem to be significantly less risk averse.

    • James says:

      The specific risks to which you refer stem from labor force lack of access to universal health care, sufficient public education, and an unemployment safety net capable of supporting life. Also, do you know your banks' actuaries, and have you talked to them about this?

    • nooj says:

      Ground-floor retail fills up here. In downtown, it's instantly full of upscale clotheries, restaurants, and bars. And double parking. Can't forget that.

      Further out, the lots will stay empty for a while--longer the further away you get from downtown--but they eventually fill up. It helps if there's one really successful business for a few years. Corner bars do the best, of course. The empty lots in the middle tend to host fad gyms for a lease, then empty out again while you barely noticed.

      In the mean time, there's a lot of turnover, but then there's a lot of turnover everywhere. There's always some new spot trying to get its fifteen minutes of fame.

      None of the new ground-floor malls ever sport a coffee shop. The only one I can think of is really a postage-stamp-sized bar that happens to have a commercial drip coffee maker run by a guy who thinks iced coffee is when you pour hot coffee into a styrofoam soda cup and add a scoop of ice. That place also has a couple of pinball machines in the corner, a dart board, and a juke box next to the stage. It's cute when the 30-year-old dive does this, but in this case it comes off as an identity crisis.

      I feel like a grocery should do well in those areas, and they sometimes do in some cities, but not often. The only one I can think of in my city went under after two years and became a de facto homeless shelter through neglect. Now it's an AT&T store.

      All that said, I love it. The new buildings always take a while to settle in, maybe it takes a bankruptcy or two before becoming stable. And when it does, fuck is there so much to offer!

    • Andy says:

      As counterexamples, the ground-floor retail in the condos along Valencia St is all getting occupied; and even elsewhere in SoMa like Mission/9th (Moya ethiopian) and Townsend/Division has a lively sidewalk trade of mostly local businesses.

      Many of the central SoMa retail sites do sit empty for years, and I suspect it's due to the awful streets they're on. Folsom and Harrison and Bryant, 9th/7th are grim places to be a pedestrian, and drivers never stop at a street-level retail establishment. Put the streets on a road diet, slow down the bridge-bound cars, and improve transit connectivity; then I suspect the retail will be viable.

  7. Brian B says:

    The ground-floor retail problem is also happening in the West Village in NYC and other high-income areas: Storefronts are staying vacant because no one can afford the rent anymore -- even Starbucks is getting priced out of some neighborhoods. Pricing out all possible tenants in new construction from the beginning is a novel wrinkle, but everything happens faster these days.

  8. Fun fact about ground floor retail (and other commercial real estate): the spaces are taxed based on the actual revenue they receive (at least in NYC). So, if they sit vacant, the costs are negligible. I say average the total tax per n-acre area, divide by total available square feet, and charge that. Let the market sort it out, instead of using taxes to (unintentionally?) actively jack up rents beyond the breaking point.

  9. Anthony says:

    Any new housing in San Francisco will bring in more high-income people. Even 100% low-income housing will, because those low-income people will be low-income people who already live in San Francisco, and once they vacate their current units, they'll be rented out to higher-income people. This will be true until you start building on the order of 100,000 new units.

    Which San Francisco could do. Paris has the same physical area as San Francisco, but SF has 40% of the population. And with the massive increase in property tax revenue (and payroll tax and sales tax, though those haven't increased as much) over the past 15 years, San Francisco has built enough additional public transit capacity to handle that many more people. Oh, wait.

    Another aspect of the problem is that now that the software business has become part of the advertising business, the young hotshots getting lots of money for work of dubious value want to have a social life when they come from BF, Alabama to work in Silicon Valley. So they move to San Francisco instead of a condo plunked down in the middle of the 'burbs. And even if you pack in a whole bunch of new condos in Mountain View and Sunnyvale and Redwood City, they're not going to be more interesting places to live for probably at least a decade.

    • mattyj says:

      I would posit that the 'burbs in the Bay Area will never, ever be more interesting places to live than the city.


    • Exactly. I expect that if you could add 100k units that were a match for the top 5% of what's out there now, you'd see an impact all the way down to the cheapest housing (not much at that end, but I bet it would show up statistically).

      But the SF market is way oversold. If you doubled the inventory, I bet it would be filled within two years, heck, I'd move back, I love living in an interesting and walkable area.

      • jwz says:

        If you can afford a million dollar condo, there is no housing shortage.

        "Gosh, I wanted to drop $1M on my studio apartment, but I just couldn't find one in the City, so I bought one in Atherton instead", said no one ever.

  10. joe luser says:

    the upside is chinese owners + airbnb = far less complaints than in a regular neighborhood.

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