“San Francisco is changing so rapidly some say the San Franciscans of 2007 won’t recognize the place in five years.
It’s part of a trend that began after the city picked itself up after the dot-com bust of a few years ago. There are plans for more condos, bigger high-rises, so many fine restaurants that more San Franciscans will recognize the name of a celebrity chef than the quarterback of the 49ers.
“Some people say change is bad,” said Meagan Levitan, a real estate broker who is also on the Recreation and Park Commission. “I want my old city, but at the same time, change is exciting.”
But change is also sobering – some experts worry that a new San Francisco of high-rises and fine living will be a city of the very rich and very poor, a boutique city and not a real one.”
High-rises are a sign of the times in changing San Francisco [SFGate]

59 thoughts on “JustQuotes: The Fast Changing Façade (and Faces) Of San Francisco”
  1. Most conservative place on earth… Dont build anything, dont change anything… You’re building too much, you’re not building enough..
    Everybody has an opinion that matters.
    The BOS is the biggest problem that SF faces today.

  2. NY is a city of the very rich and very poor. Hardly a boutique city. Some people in SF have a knee jerk negative reaction to any change.

  3. “NY is a city of the very rich and very poor.”
    With all respect, that’s a bunch of nonsense. I grew up there, lived there for more than 30 years of my life, have plenty of family there. NYC, like EVERY city in America, has a very wide dispersion of peoples. talents, wealth, etc. Don’t confuse the insane r.e. prices (set at the margin by a relatively few people) over the last 10 years as indicative of anything.

  4. I think as the city becomes more of a boutique city it becomes safer. We eliminate the trouble and the trash. As the cost of living increases the gangs and people that cause trouble move to the suburbs and take the trouble with them.

  5. That is the indisputable truth, however politically incorrect. Much of LA’s striking drop in crime of recent years has been due to the rapid gentrification of previously run-down areas including Hollywood, downtown, Venice, and Echo Park. Gentrification may be a dirty word in poverty-first San Francisco, but the reality is that it makes a city safer.

  6. Gentrification is the way to go if we want to continue to see property values increase and crime rates drop!

  7. total agreement here, hence my statement on the 3rd street development saying i can’t wait for gentrification along the entire t-third line. nobody will miss the thugs, trust me.

  8. Satchel,
    I think there’s a difference between the existing middle class who have lived here for decades and the mobile middle class. I lived for two years in Manhattan before I arrived in SF. I think one of the current defining characteristics of both towns is the extreme barrier to entry for newcomers. My co-worker here is an academic post-doc but she can afford to live in the inner Sunset and settle down because her family has been in SF for two generations. They own several properties in town that were bought decades ago. There was a thread a few weeks ago about the working class folks who live in the Marina; the common thread was that they’ve been there for a long time. I have a fine job and a sizable down payment, but there’s no way for me to make monthly payments on a $600,000 mortgage. I think that the demographic trends in town bear me out; when my baby is old enough to go to school, I’m going to have to leave.

  9. NYC does not consist solely of Manhattan (although Manhattanites think so). NYC’s middle class is to be found in Queens, Bronx, Brooklyn, & S.I.
    Manhattanites and SF’s do share a somewhat childlike quality with respect to understanding what it actually takes to make a city run.

  10. that’s a great post guest. for the sake of comparing our two cities however, i think you have to exclude the boroughs of nyc since we don’t have any here.

  11. Having spent a lot of time in NYC in the 1980’s, it is astonishing to see the degree of gentrification has taken place there over the years. The East Village, the LES, the Meatpacking district, Williamsburg, 42nd St., Hell’s Kitchen, Chelsea, among many other areas, are unrecognizable compared to 25 years ago. The change has been much more radical than in SF.
    Families leaving cities for the suburbs has been happening for at least 60 years– that is not news. Highly educated, mostly white young people have been coming to SF for decades. The biggest demographic change has been the large number of Asian families that have moved to SF, replacing white and black families that have moved to the suburbs. (The number of Latinos in SF has been fairly stable, while the percentage of the city that is white and espcially that is black has fallen.)

  12. this is what I was saying before too (and again I agree with David Q). To “glad to see change” and others who are excited to see the trash leaving because property value goes higher an higer, I say you can’t survive without a middle class, and the trash includes teachers and cops and other public servants I would think you might hesitate to call trash. Of course, I would hope you would hesitate to call ANYONE trash, but I know that’s too much to ask for.

  13. Spencer:
    If you’re using real estate prices (as opposed to diversity) as a means of defining “boroughness”, then I don’t think the Richmond, sunset or Daly City qualify. I haven’t found any $300,000 homes or two bedroom condos in those areas, though perhaps I haven’t looked hard enough.
    I personally had a Manhattan-centric viewpoint because that’s where my wife and I worked. By the time you get to the parts of Brooklyn or Queens that haven’t been priced out of reach (forget Brooklyn Heights, Astoria, Williamsburg, Park Slope, etc) you’re talking about a hell of a commute on the D or the 7. My classmate in NYC lived in Flushing and commuted to 116th St; his ride was two hours each way. As a time commitment, living in the affordable parts of the boroughs and commuting into Manhattan is not terribly different from living in Tracy and commuting to downtown SF.

  14. If gentrification is making San Francisco safer, why is the murder rate the highest in 10 years? In 2007, there were 97 homicides in San Francisco. The last time it was that high was in 1995 when it was 104.

  15. “Keep them thar high rises east of Van Ness.”
    Kathleen, I am all for preserving nice older neighborhoods as well. However, this seems a bit short sighted when there are several corridors west of Van Ness where it would make absolute sense to construct more highrises (Geary Blvd, Lombard Street, Park Merced, etc). We really need to continue to push for smart growth in MULTIPLE parts of the city.

  16. Rio is a good example of what happens when there is no more middle class, when people lose hope of ever making it they stop caring about the laws they have no hope for a future anyways so why should they follow the laws that benefit only the rich.
    The “trash” in SF won’t just disappear overnight because housing prices are going up. I am in favor of all the condos for 2 reason.
    1. more of the “trash” will have a reason to live in the city and make it more interesting/better.
    2. I personally don’t think SF has that much character to begin with so adding a few high rises won’t change it that much.

  17. I’m not convinced the loss of San Francisco’s middle class is entirely related to housing costs. After all, many of the surrounding suburbs have housing costs that are every bit as high or higher than the city. I think that SF’s middle-class flight has far more to do with the fact that SF has become increasingly unnattractive for families: run-down parks, needles in sandboxes, homeless, crime, dirty streets, crummy schools, etc. etc. Even if housing costs were to drop significantly there would still be overwhelming reasons for families to leave.

  18. i agree with zzzzzzz. it’s not just housing prices that are driving families out, but the double whammy of schools that really hit families hard. the majority of sfusd is lousy and if you don’t place at one of the decent schools, you end up paying for private school. for most parents i know, that’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back and drives you to the suburbs.
    also, if there’s a big increase in the number of families that want to stay in sf, people will start combining some of the condos / apartments into bigger single units, just like they do in nyc.

  19. I’ll advertise the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, January 8th at 2pm as a good one to attend if setting aside about $2.7 billion of San Francisco’s general fund for affordable housing over the next 15 years (and I don’t believe there’s any language to make sure the affordable housing goes to our police, firefighters, and public health workers who will be helping in the next big earthquake to mitigate human suffering – nor does it give preference to our underpaid public school teachers who can get an associates degree in the healthcare field after 2 years of community college and find better paying work).
    I sincerely believe in the idea that young people move to the area where they can find gainful employment. What jobs are plentiful in San Francisco and the surrounding area? I think about technology, finance, and science-related jobs. While affordable housing for our police, firefighters, public health workers, public teachers, and others who contribute to make San Francisco better for ALL San Franciscans is an easy thing to support, I believe we’re doing an injustice by creating affordable housing for folks who still do not have the skills that are in demand in the City so that they can become gainfully employed …. and to short change the basic services of the City in the name of providing affordable housing seems a bit misguided. Is affordable housing all that good if you’re a prisoner in your own home due to fears of being shot or mugged?
    I view the changes as a natural progression … I view the pricing of San Francisco real estate as the result of bad governing and attempts to control the market.

  20. amd back to real issues such as the spiralling violent crime rate… we sucessfully matched our highest murder rate in 12 yrs.
    In San Francisco, a man was shot and killed about 4:50 a.m. Tuesday on the 300 block of Ninth Street in the South of Market neighborhood. No arrests have been made. Two people were stabbed in a separate incident about 2 a.m. Tuesday in Washington Square in the North Beach neighborhood, and two people were arrested after a fight broke out along the Embarcadero during the fireworks display, said Sgt. Steve Mannina.
    Police arrested 27 people for being drunk in public and eight people wanted on warrants, Mannina said. A road-rage incident in the Mission District led to a firearms arrest, police said.

  21. The reason we have a soaring murder rate is because the ghetto is in the projects, and those folks aren’t leaving. They are also getting more socially and economically isolated, and the working class job market has not kept up with inflation. That latter is in part the influence of illegal immigrants. So we get gangs, and gang murders.
    The blacks in SF may be poor but they have been here longer than most. I think if the city was more realistic about supporting working class employment (which would mean cracking down on illegals) that community would not be in such desperate straits.
    As a parent with a kid in the public schools, I think they are in bad shape. I consider myself progressive but I despise the lefties who have hijacked the school board.

  22. dissent,
    have you spoken to hydra or carlos yet about how you feel? i’d be curious to hear what they say. i’m very optimistic that the two of them can turn things around in time.

  23. The sooner that ORH, Infinity, and other SOMA/SOBE buidlings are built and occupied, the better for SF.
    Anyone who hasn’t seen a night and day improvement in the quality of SoBe, for example, over the last 20 years is out of their mind. What used to be a crime and drug-infested area is now becoming one of the best parts of the city.

  24. It has been pointed out repeatedly that SF’s crime stats are far higher than what would be predicted based on its demographics. I can only conclude that reflects, in part, our “revolving door” criminal justice system where people who commit serious crimes (not just nuisance offenses)are repeatedly arrested then released to the streets with a slap on the wrist. The word is out: crime pays in San Francisco.

  25. Spencer,
    Your crime stats are from New Year’s Eve and not representative. I don’t think people believe crime is spiralling out of control.

  26. “Spencer,
    Your crime stats are from New Year’s Eve and not representative. I don’t think people believe crime is spiralling out of control.”
    I’m not sure which “people” you are talking to, but the ones I talk to do beleive that crime is spiralling out of control. The murder rate is the highest in 12 years and otehr violent crime is on the rise. Our per capita violent crime rate is now higher than NYC, LA and Chicago. There are people shooting up, defecating, and harassing innicaent people on the streets of SF in broad daylight with no threat of arrest.
    If you don’t think it’s out of control, then you don’t get out too much.

  27. On another note, the Chronicle article makes reference to the neighborhood around UCSF being one of the next to undergo major changes. Does this refer to Mission Bay, or Parnassus? I wasn’t aware that the Inner Sunset changing in any dramatic way.

  28. “Our per capita violent crime rate is now higher than NYC, LA and Chicago.”
    Spencer, do you have a link to support that statement?
    I haven’t seen a comparison for 2007, but in the past, Chicago has had more violent crimes per capita than SF.
    As you can see, for 2003, SF’s crime rate is lower than many other large cities:

  29. I sat on an SF jury in October that convicted a small-time crack dealer for trying to sell a rock to an undercover cop near a school bus stop. The panel was amazingly diverse in age, race, and gender, and in SF neighborhood of residence. Citizens of this town, despite what I’d heard for years, will enforce public-nuisance laws when given an opportunity to do so.

  30. Yes, the author meant Mission Bay.
    UCSF is not allowed to add square footage to Parnassus, by agreement with the City. That’s why they had to expand to Mission Bay.

  31. I don’t know about overall violent crime, but Chicago’s murder rate is at 40 year lows (much like New York’s.) It’s taken much effort by the police to crack down on the gang violence. Installing cameras on numerous street corners and putting massive police presence in suspect neighborhoods has also helped.

  32. I’m to lazy to look it up but they are referring to San Francisco being one of the most violent big city when controlled for demographics (income, race)
    Basically there are a relatively small poor minority and vagrant population that commit a huge number of crimes. The percentage or African Americans in SF county jail is pretty shocking

  33. it’s best to accept the reality that this is a small city in a huge region and that region has grown so much it has changed this city forever (it could be worse-we could be in the Detroit model of inner city abandonment). All things considered SF has come out of its industrial past pretty well I’d say
    With that in mind the best we can do is try to increase density where appropriate in San Francisco but also look to greatly densify near by suburbs, make better land use decisions as to where jobs go and improve mass transit. This could really improve opportunities for the poor, immigrants and middle classes. Immigrants don’t move to the Mission because it is cool. They move there because it is cheap and accessible. Lots more Latinos now live in the outer Mission and Daly City because it is cheaper. We just need to invest and zone correctly (which we aren’t) and let the market take came of a lot of this.

  34. Subsidized housing invites scams.
    Consider this example:
    I live in a relatively new condo in South Beach that has several BMR (Below Market Rate) units.
    These subsidized units should go to poorer folks who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford to live in San Francisco right?
    Wrong – one of the most coveted units (3bedroom 2 bath over 2000sqft in SF!) went to a family of 4 (2 kids/2 adults) that has a maid, the wife doesn’t work, and the husband drives a Lexus.
    How is this possible you ask? Well to qualify for a BMR unit – the family just needed to show one year of lower income – then after they got the place they could earn as much as possible.
    So – the dumb couple goes out with both taking jobs that are highly taxed – and paying higher rates for condos that require 17% BMR subsidies.
    And the smart couple in San Francisco – are incented to take a 1 year honeymoon lower their income to the applicable rate – then join the housing lottery.
    If your name is called – you’ve hit a jackpot – with a ridiculously subsedized mortgage – that San Francisco even helps you qualify for.
    And for those of you thinking – well at least they don’t get to participate in the appreciation of their 3 bedroom unit. . .
    I say – who cares – by paying around $1200 a month in mortage for their 3 bedroom 2 bath South Beach pad – they can pocket $4-5k a month and generate a guaranteed risk-free $50-60k a year in “appreciation” excluding compounding interest.
    PLUS they get to do this while parked in a massive extremely desirable – hard to find – let alone afford 3 bedroom condo.
    Did I mention they also got 2 parking spots?

  35. Not too many relatively new 3 br 2 ba 2000+ sf condos with on-site BMRs in South Beach.
    I think if you hold the BMR for 10 years you can sell it at the market price.

  36. Great example DealoMeal of where the road paved with good intentions leads. The SF govt needs to focus on crime and public safety and stop trying to legislate the market place.

  37. Hi dan,
    2006 crime stats we are almos double the rate of crime as NYC in all categories, considerably higher than LA in most categories (except rape and murder). But you are right about chicago. It is higher in most categories. however, 2007 was a particularly bad year for SF and a particularly good one for chicago (according to media reports), so am wondering how these will change when 2007 is reported.

  38. In addition, our murder rate, robbery rate and auto theft rate are all triple the national average, per capita.
    PS. They don’t calculate defecating and shooting up on the street rates, but am sure we would be 1,000,000X national average

  39. I’d like to see the BMR program shift into more of a subsedized rental situation.
    Provide housing units that the city rents out to qualified candidates at a reduced rate.
    Have developers pay for the infrastructure – and let the city manage the properities using the rent as income.
    Each year the city looks at your tax statements and if necessary adjusts your rent up or down. If you win the lottery – guess what – you’re paying market rate – if not – you get a break.
    If you are a teacher, policeman, librarian or city employee – you get a break or an even bigger break. But guess what – the city might now also cut some of your other benefits since you’re getting something else.
    What good does giving someone ownership of a condo with no oversight for life? IT just ties up a housing unit – that might otherwise generate revenue for the city – and be mroe avialble to people in need because it turns over more than a resident owned unit might.
    Lastly, if the city can’t do it – set up a trust like Stuyvesant town in New York (recently sold). To qualify there – you had to have a certain income – and you had to get on a wait list and show you were really committed to living in NYC long term. IF you hung around long enough you got a great apartment that was well maintained by a private foundation. THey had thousands of apartments and were well set-up to deliver on the deal.
    We should look to do something like that – take it out of the government where political games could be played i.e. ROTC or Garbage Contract cancelation.

  40. Yes, what New York has done in reducing crime is amazing– it’s now one of the safest cities in the US. The NY Times reported that in the first 1/2 of 2007, there were only a handful of murders in the whole city of New York in which the killer and the victim were not acquainted– suggesting that the murder rate was approaching a baseline of domestic violence killings and other known-perpetrator murders for which policing is less effective in preventing.
    The murder rate in LA is way down, too.

  41. “I think if you hold the BMR for 10 years you can sell it at the market price.”
    If this is the case then the BMR lottery truly is a giveaway of grand proportions. On top of 10 years of subsidies in the form of lower mortgage and tax, you get to keep the “capital gains” as the price adjusts to market rate. I rough guess is that winning the lottery and holding for 10 years is worth 50K/year in reduced tax and mortgage plus $800K difference between the BMR and market rates = a $1.3M gain. I’m not even counting the real legitimate appreciation in value that would surely accumulate in 10 years, just the difference between BMR and market.
    Who wants a free $1,300,000 ? I’d guess that many of us would gladly give up our $200K annual salaries for a year for a chance to qualify for a BMR. Once in and if you can hold for 10 years its like getting a free $130K per year.
    This just doesn’t seem right. The fair thing to do would be to allow the BMR owner to take BMR adjusted capital gains when selling. If the city allows the property to float to market rate and sell at market, then the difference between the new BMR adjusted rate and the real market sales price should go back into the city’s housing fund, not the lottery winner’s pocket.

  42. Wow, there’s some really depressing reading for me in this thread.
    I’m looking to move up to the city from San Jose, one of the safest (if not THE safest) big cities in the US. All this talk of crime is really beginning to deter me…but I’m damn sick of the 1+ hour commute. Thing is, I personally don’t care about the gangbangers, homeless, shooters, etc… I’ve often parked in the Western Addition to go the Fillmore for concerts. I’ve walked through the ‘loin many times to reach Shalimar, and it’s never once bothered me (I guess living in San Jose builds up the tolerance 😛 … I keed, I keed, I love SJ). Problem is, I’ve got kids now, and well, some parents know how your pysche completely changes when you’re holding a 8-month old girl in your arms.
    Anyways, to all you wise SF residents: Is there ANY part of the city where a family can still afford a house and feel “safe” (relative term, I know)? The article makes it sound like the only thing people like me can afford are condos.

  43. “In addition, our murder rate, robbery rate and auto theft rate are all triple the national average, per capita.”
    SF’s murder rate isn’t triple the national average– from the link you posted, the SF rate is 11.5, versus 7 nationally. The other rates aren’t triple, either.
    Crime is lower in SF than in many other US cities– put in Tulsa, OK or Phoenix into your link, and you’ll see. The national crime rates are much lower than urban rates– yes, crime rates are lower in the suburbs.

  44. I’m sure folks will pounce me for saying this, but I believe the per capita murder rates and so on seem so high in part because San Francisco is the destination for folks from the entire northern California mega-region. Thankfully, it is a destination for a lot of good folks – but it is also the destination for criminals (drug dealers and such). Yes, there are criminals here … but I seem to read about a lot more East Bay residents shooting folks downtown than I do San Francisco residents doing the shooting.

  45. dan, sorry i was looking at the bars which appear to be triple as high. Ok, now i seee that we are only double the national rate.
    Dan aid
    “The national crime rates are much lower than urban rates– yes, crime rates are lower in the suburbs”
    These are per capita rates, so what you’re saying is not really fair. The stats state that we have higher crime rates per capita than most other places in US.

  46. Hi Dan – Thanks for the BMR reversion to market rate facts. This seems like a lot more fair then allowing a 10 year resident to reap the artificial capital gains.
    Still that 50 year expiration seems to be setting somebody up in the near future to reap a windfall profit. But who knows what the RE climate will be in 50 years. Maybe by then BMR will have been phased out.

  47. 50 year BMR limit is still a great deal – any of us would take in a heartbeat.
    Look at it this way.
    Take my real world Lexus driving family of 4 that got into the 3 bedroom BMR and pay $1,200 in mortgage payments.
    They not only get the benefit of saving an extra $50-60k a year that compounds with interest – but now they also have a retirement gold mine waiting for them at the end of their City sponsored rainbow.
    All they have to do is live to their late 80s – and they can then cash out of the place at full market rate – passing on the then huge financial windfall to their kids.
    Meanwhile they have fully paid off their loan some 20 years ago – and their property taxes are minisculely low given the already low value that was set back in the early 21st century.
    It’s so unfair and sad – but this is what happens when the government starts handing out freebies – you get a mix of people who deserve them and many more who don’t but know when the goodies are being given out and which line to stand in and what you need to say.
    If anything – all of this BMR stuff is simply going to foster a culture of BMR knowledgable families – who will pass on the way to play the system knowledge.
    Say for example if I was viewing this from a how can I take full advantage – I’d get my kids to sign up for the lottery while they were in college living at home – and showing ridiculous incomes that were below average.
    If either of them hit the lottery jackpot – I’d encourage them to take full advantage – if they then got married – I’d push them to keep their finances low which wouldn’t be a problem – even if they had to do something crazy like take 3 months off and lower their income etc. . . While they would wait for the lottery prize for both of them as in a new bigger condo – they’d have the original smaller one. Once they got the bigger unit – they would then basically use that as their retirement 50 year market rate payoff strategy.
    Even if the unit was empty for years or they opted to keep it as a second home etc. . . the fact that it would be free and clear when they retire – would prove a better retirement plan for them than putting the same mortgage money into a 401k account.
    This is madness – or city sponsored madness.

  48. There are alot of assumptions going on there DealoMeal. One never knows if the lexus is leased and required for his job, how old is it, pre-owned? Do you know how much he earns now or is likely to? The fact that the wife does not work means that there is only one income and lots of mouths to feed, so it better be good but what if it isn’t. Maybe the “maid” is a relative. Lots of questions in my mind and ultimately, its possible that the $1,200 is all they really can afford to pay when you add taxes. The number of persons in the household would indicate to me that this family partially qualifies for the program at worst. Unless you really know that all of the other factors weigh against them, (by this I mean that you know their business, like income,etc) I don’t think you can assume that this guy is pocketing $60K a year at our expense. I’m just sayin…

  49. All my assumptions are safe – or backed by facts.
    1. The maid is not a family member.
    2. The Lexus is not required for work. . . its a sporty model. . . pure vanity/luxury.
    These folks are taking clear advantage – and used the advantage of being self-employed to report lower income than most dual income families who don’t make the cut.
    My beef with the system – is that it’s easy as this couple has proven to legally or illegally take advantage of the system.
    There are no post purchase checks – so someone could win the lottery and no longer need the government subsedized mortgage etc. . . yet they get to keep it for 50 years.
    Also – the rules that the govern the process really favor people who are on the subsidy bandwagon – or who have family in San Francisco. For that reason people who live here could live with parents and keep their income low to qualify – then move out when they win the lottery. You can’t pull that trick if you moved here from out of state with no parents in the City or even a working knowledge of the whole BMR gravy train.

  50. I don’t disagree that people use the system to an advantage, but that is afterall, Capitalism. Yet we try to be socialist in SF when it comes to housing. It is a complex issue, and I don’t disagree that this system does not work. I just don’t know that the savings are there for the couple since I still don’t know their income level.
    I had seen in one of the postings here some time ago that Daly bought a BMR when the sup. salaries were lower. Then shortly thereafter, the sups. got a raise and on the new pay, he would not have qualified for a BMR residence. Not sure if it’s true but read it on Socket Site. Regardless, if true, I’m sure he did not sell it to make room for someone that truly qualifies.

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