Of the record 67,800 residential units in the current pipeline of development across San Francisco, roughly 10,000 of the units, or 15 percent, fall within the boundaries of the city’s Greater Downtown, which now includes most of the burgeoning Transbay District but only a sliver of Central SoMa.

At the same time, according to the latest Monitoring Report for Downtown San Francisco, which will be presented to the City’s Planning Commission this week, the number of people working within the boundaries of the city’s old-school Downtown, the classic C-3 District as mapped above, increased 3 percent in 2017 to 288,000, which is up 23 percent since the end of 2011 (233,500) and now represents 40 percent of the total 711,000 jobs in San Francisco.

As a related aside, while a quick query of the report or underlying job data would suggest that the number of people working in Downtown offices has actually declined 3.5 percent over the past year to 179,690, while the number of people employed in Production, Distribution and Repair (PDR) has rocketed by 72 percent to 32,535, “a closer look at the raw data provided by the California Employment Development Department reveals that several large downtown firms were reclassified from office uses to PDR uses between 2016 and 2017.” And while said large firms are engaged in activities “that may be considered PDR uses, the actual nature of work happening at their locations…are likely office uses.”

37 thoughts on “The Growth of San Francisco’s Downtown”
  1. “number of people working within the boundaries of the city’s old-school Downtown…which is up 23 percent since the end of 2011”

    That’s a startling figure since it doesn’t seem to be matched by a corresponding increase in office space (either a decrease in vacancies and/or new construction).

    On a related note: assuming – purely hypothetically of course! – that a lot of these tech firms eventually crash and burn, and the city if left with a glut of office space, I wonder if there will be a rush to convert older office space into residential; some of these older (1920’s) buildings like the Russ and Shell are probably still Class A, but I wonder if a surfeit of much newer space might change that.

    1. the successful tech firm’s demand for office space is far outpacing those who are going belly up. Your hypothesis works for 2001, but not 2018-2019…there are firms seeking so much space right now that we have tracked about 5 million square feet of tenants seeking new office space, which is more space than we have vacant in the downtown core. Jobs are here to stay, a new mark has been set. Even if we have a 10% correction, which is huge, the formerly $45 rents, which are now $80, would only come down to $72 – still almost double what they were before.

      1. I was thinking more of 10-20 years out, and more of functional obsolescence: some of these properties will be a century old by that point and as the focus of activity – or at least the focus of Socketsite (et al) stories – moves South, I’m curious if they will still maintain their attractiveness.

        I worked in the Mills Building years ago – coincidentally right around its centenary – and tho it had been remodeled periodically, its layout, HVAC, etc was still outdated. But it could still maintain decent rents – IIRC it was $18/sf – because it was still the center of activity (the options exchange was still in the building)…that’s not so much the case anymore, and I would think the problem will grow worse with time.

  2. One factor in the increasing employee population downtown is that square footage per employee is decreasing dramatically, as work styles change and rents rise.

    The national average in 2017 was 151 sq ft per employee, down from 176 in 2012 and 225 in 2006. Open space workstations, very popular in SF, can be as small as 60 sq ft per employee.

    Even law firms that used to have 200-400 sq ft offices are downsizing. Law libraries are a thing of the past, or at a maximum, shelves along a corridor wall.

    1. Yup. It’s rare to see cubicles these days. Most tech offices look like modern day sweatshops with monitors replacing sewing machines.

    2. Sad. I wonder how long SF will remain a sought after place to work if people find the only space they have at work is in the elevator (and tho I don’t doubt this is a nationwide trend, your comment about “rents rise” makes me think it’s worse there).

      1. I’m in open space and it is a net negative for me but not that bad. They design nice lounge areas, quiet rooms and open seating.

        I enjoy watching stressed VPs trying to use gChat to find people.

        1. Wait until those nice lounge areas and quiet rooms are converted to office space to make room for new hires.

  3. At the same time major residential developments within this boundary are being abandoned (One Oak, 1270 Mission, 524 Howard) and new residential proposals have all but evaporated in 2018. Hardly any significant new office projects have been proposed in a while. It’s best to take that 67,800 pipeline figure with some skepticism.

    1. Residential projects are being abandoned because the city’s progressive politics bleed them dry with BMRs and other requirements. They no longer pencil.

      1. That is part of it to be sure but major residential projects are not being abandoned in LA (around Union Station) and throughout Seattle. Both cities have many more such projects at this time than SF. Both cities have BMR requirements and are progressive. There is more to it than BMR requirements and SF being progressive.

  4. San Francisco is suffocating under immense congestion and gridlock. Gettin in and out of S.F. is a complete nightmare. Drove to S.F. from the East Bay on a weekday after 6:00 PM and after Treasure Island the drive was a stop and go nightmare all the way to Fremont Street and beyond. On the way back it took 30 minutes to drive 4 blocks down Battery Street to get to the Bay Bridge. Horrible stress and congestion in downtown SF. Not a pleasant experience. Something needs to be done.

    1. One benefit of putting these people downtown, where they work, is that they don’t need to drive or BART.

      1. Unless of course they don’t live in SF. But, no, there’s nowhere in SF where they’d be better placed; so perhaps EG has some other city in mind….

        1. Downtown area is not pleasant to drive to – you can make it up the peninsula to the airport or on the 1 to Golden Gate Park, but beyond that it’s better to plan for another mode of transportation.

        2. The point of the article is that 10,000 new units are going in downtown. That means people will live there.

          1. There were any number of potential points: and one of them was that the recent increase in jobs in C-3 (“downtown”) – ~50K since 2011 – far exceeds the amount of housing being built there.

            Admittedly it’s difficult to compare a multi-year trend (jobs) with a point of time (housing pipeline), and some (or much or even most) of the housing may be close enough to the jobs that people can just walk, but that’s not self-evident from the numbers.

          2. Yes, it is hard to imagine anybody choosing to live downtown if they don’t work there, but it can still generate more traffic. In my household we are 4 adults – one commutes 25 minutes north, another 15 min north (night shift), one 5 minutes south and the last 25 minutes east (and all go by car). In SF most households are smaller, but it isn’t uncommon that at least one person in the household working elsewhere.

      2. They might not need to drive every day, but if you think the more mature wealthy people who can afford to live downtown will completely abandon their automobiles like Russian Hill 20-somethings, you are mistaken. Good luck getting onto the Bay Bridge to leave town.

        1. So what’s the problem? Even if they keep their cars (which is unclear–have you ever been to New York? Plenty of carless wealthy people), they can walk to work. This doesn’t load BART or MUNI or any bridges. What’s the problem?

          1. In fact (versus conjecture), the absolute number of cars and per capita ownership of vehicles in San Francisco is higher now than in the year 2000 and has been on the rise over the past decade despite policies to limit parking.

          2. Not sure if that’s responding to me or to Sabbie, but I still don’t see the problem. So what?

        2. I’ll admit that I have a car, but walk to work. I might hop on Muni if there’s a line that’s convenient. If I’m in a hurry, I’ll get a JUMP bike, or if with wife, she’ll insist on Lyft.

          Car is 12 year old Lexus that we use for weekends. She’ll sometimes drive to a client site on Peninsula. I’d never consider driving across Bay Bridge in rush hour unless we’re going away for the weekend. Much better to hop on BART and then Lyft the last mile. But clearly, many people prefer sitting in traffic, and that’s ok.

    2. Traffic has worsened. But San Francisco is not suffocating, as the downtown growth clearly displays.

    3. What’s being done is giving people more options to cross the bridge. For example, BART has new cars with more doors that will load/unload faster. Transbay Terminal buses have a dedicated ramp to reach the bridge faster. New ferry piers are built to handle more ferry routes.

      As much as you say it’s a nightmare, it’s clearly not that bad, otherwise people wouldn’t be driving. Bay bridge has had same 5 lanes in each direction for the last 60 years when Key System was removed. In the future, we need to use space more efficiently to encourage car drivers like you and others into a more efficient mode.

      1. ‘Course the old Transbay Terminal had a dedicated ramp from 1939 – 2005? (or whenever they had the bright idea to truncate it rather than strengthen it). At least inbound; outbound had one until the end, I believe.

        1. The new TTT has a dedicated ramp for both inbound and outbound buses. That is the whole idea why the buses are 3 stories up.

        2. old transbay had 2 one-way ramps which were left over from when rail (key system) used to run on lower deck of bay bridge, and they were in use for buses until 2010 when they closed the old terminal.

          they eliminated the ramp near beale street and sold off the land underneath, then rebuilt the essex ramp with the fancy bridge over howard (which also spans the future path for DTX).

          1. Thanks, although I believe the middle portion of the inbound ramp was demolished, and buses had to come down to street level and then reenter (hence the c. 2005 date…I don’t remember precisely) Not a huge loss in time, but still an obvious inefficiency.

            And while we’re in “way back” mode: those who bother to follow the link will note the current ridership for AC Transbay is given as 13,500 (~3.5M/yr); the SP + Key System were carrying about 40M/yr in the mid 1920’s, and even in the dark days of plunging ridership – that caused the former system to shut down – the figure was still multiples of what it is today. Obviously BART has taken over most of this role, but the same terminal that was serving those tens-of-millions – and was designed for many more – was what was torn down…it was hardly overtaxed.

    4. Oh yeah, because 880 is a total picnic and the BART trains running south/west through Lake Merritt, 12th St, and 19th St Stations aren’t packed to the gills in the morning. Oh wait…

    5. Driving in and out of SF from SOMA has been a problem for years. There are just too many cars, plain and simple.

  5. It’ll be nice when The East Cut gets more of the retail needed to support the growing residential population. Coming along, but pretty slowly.

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