San Francisco, open your Golden Gate…

San Francisco prides itself on being a progressive city, but not so progressive that poor people should be able to have housing.

In the long fight to keep California’s wealthy, homogeneous, exclusive suburbs just the way they are, Palo Alto and Beverly Hills have an ally they might not have expected: San Francisco.

The city’s Board of Supervisors — thanks to its purportedly progressive faction, no less — is poised to reiterate its reactionary resistance to legislation that would legalize higher-density residential development near mass transit amid a crushing housing shortage.

Despite San Francisco’s obvious differences from the suburbs that surround it and other California cities, the supervisors’ latest act of housing-crisis denial isn’t particularly surprising. Many of the cities’ neighborhoods are like Palo Alto and Beverly Hills insofar as they outlaw apartments and remain resolutely out of reach to most Californians. The supervisors, progressive pretensions aside, are representing this reality — and doing their best to perpetuate it.

San Francisco exists in a perpetual housing crisis. Money has flowed into the city, real estate values have skyrocketed, and people who can’t afford it get pushed out. This is nothing new. While I’ve never lived in San Francisco, I’ve been visiting pretty regularly for nearly over 30 years, and I’ve watched the changes. My most recent visit felt like dropping into a futuristic dystopia of people staring at their screens while stepping over the homeless.

While San Francisco is pretty dense (18,000 people per square mile), there’s plenty of room for more if the right housing is built. (Manhattan, for comparison, is north of 60,000 people per square mile.)

Some will argue (especially among the technorati of northern California) that we should just let the market sort it out (which means future San Francisco is basically the Upper East Side of Manhattan with more hills). That’s nonsense; the market is an efficient mechanism for allocating goods and services, not a mystical force deserving of unquestioning obedience. San Franciscans have it in their power to get higher density housing at various costs levels built in their city, and in doing so they’d add back some of the life that seems to be draining from it. If they’re progressive enough to do it.


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