Sunday, April 28, 2013

Building Boom in San Francisco

SF's building boom brings change to city.”  This is the title of the front-page article from today’s San Francisco Chronicle. They also have a nice map of all the construction projects underway. 

The article asked an interesting question. "What spurred this frenzied burst of activity in a notoriously antidevelopment city?"  Here were the answers they provided:

Much of the current flurry is catch-up after a long dormancy. New construction almost ground to a halt during the economic downturn...Last year, as the tech-fueled local economy rebounded and the national picture brightened, the money spigot turned back on. "Shovel ready" projects broke ground virtually overnight...And San Francisco's housing fundamentals - surging demand along with soaring rents and home prices - are stronger than ever.

Surely these factors were important.  But a bigger-picture factor at play that the article hardly mentioned, but that I think is critical, is changing attitudes towards building, both among the planning community and the general public. 

I have some limited evidence to support my claim.  In the 1970s, San Franciscians voted on three ballot measures that aimed to restrict building height and supply more generally.  All three were unsuccessful, but in 1986, Prop M passed and this imposed restrictions that are still in effect.  This coincides with the rose of anti-high rise development sentiments.

In 2000, voters rejected Prop L which would have further restricted building.   One way to interpret this is that 1986 was the peak of anti-high rise preferences.

Thus I believe that changing preferences towards high-rise construction have a lot to do with all the new projects we're seeing today.  In the weeks ahead, Kevin Chiu and I will release a working paper that deals precisely with these issues.  Stay tuned!