Each stab at legislative reform may seem limited, but builders of affordable housing are tapping new rules to save time and money. That means more homes, faster.

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One nonprofit housing developer says “the environment [for building] in SF right now is the best it’s ever been.” (Photo: Travis Wise via Flickr/CC)

At the close of the previous decade, San Francisco’s housing crisis seemed poised to go on forever. Dozens of proposals to spur cities to allow more housing were thwarted by the state legislature in 2019, including the sweeping SB 50. The 2020 session, which had been dubbed “the year of housing production” in Sacramento, also ended in failure, even though it looked like the pro-housing advocates had the momentum to pass several measures.

Setting aside the finger-pointing and pleas for patience from lawmakers, though, there has been a shift among some San Francisco housing developers — particularly those in the…


The city has fought for decades over housing with virtually no data. A new rental registry plan will fill some gaps. Can it point the way to more enlightened policy?

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Is there anybody renting here? (Photo: Lilibeth Bustos Linares on Unsplash)

Our San Francisco is a place of renters, where an estimated 65 percent of households rent homes. Yet the city itself has no solid grasp of how many homes are actually for rent in SF, nor how many people are really living in them.

At City Hall, lawmakers who craft housing policy fight over density and affordability, the Rent Board enforces the rules, and the public spends hours making comments, but no one has up-to-date information on basic matters such as how many rental units citywide are vacant or occupied, or how much the average renter pays every month.


Downtown’s a ghost town. Advocates are eager to convert high rises to homes, but this won’t solve the city’s housing crisis.

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Today cubicles … tomorrow bedrooms with bay views? Office high rises aren’t likely to become homes, but smaller offices, especially with more human-scale interiors, could be redevelopment candidates. (Photo: Alex Lash)

The white-collar office is dead, killed by COVID-19 and America’s new normal of working from home. In its wake, cities like San Francisco can reclaim huge swaths of prime real estate and transform both downtown living and urban planning.

Or at least, that’s the dream of certain urban futurist types in 2020, who look at floor upon floor of expensive office space rendered tomb-like since March and imagine the potential to create — what else? — new housing.

“You could take a couple million feet of space and convert [it] to 200 square-foot mini-apartments to house every homeless person in…


It’s a pandemic nightmare: The Plant Cafe Organic is stuck in a storefront it can’t use. The landlord is suing for rent the owners say they can’t pay.

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The Plant Cafe once had five locations, including one in the Marina where the landlord is suing over unpaid rent. Earlier this week, co-owner Matthew Guelke sat outside the chain’s last open shop, on Third Street. (Photo: Alex Lash)

San Francisco restaurateur Matthew Guelke can’t get evicted in this town — and at this point he’d prefer it.

Getting the boot would be better, Guelke says, than the current predicament. He and his business partner are trapped in an expensive lease on Steiner Street in the Marina district, for a cafe shuttered by COVID that they can neither reopen, legally abandon, nor even be kicked out of. And now, because of hundreds of thousands of dollars in rent debts, their longtime landlord has slapped them with a lawsuit.

It’s a baffling set of circumstances that could only have happened…


ELECTION 2020

With Bay transit in crisis, Measure RR would throw the commuter rail a lifeline. But politicians who say they represent a pro-transit, climate-first San Francisco are sending mixed messages.

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Engines that could at the 4th and King terminal. Caltrain ridership has plunged 95% during COVID. (Pawel Biernacki/Creative Commons)

Bay Area mass transit is staring into the abyss.

On the November 3 ballot, San Franciscans will consider a one-eighth percent sales tax to fund Caltrain, appropriately titled Measure RR, that backers frame as a desperation bid to save the commuter rail from extinction. The coronavirus pandemic has wiped out ridership, Caltrain’s main source of funding.

To pass, RR must gain a combined two-thirds approval from San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties. (SF’s sales tax would rise from 8.5% to 8.625%.) …


ELECTION 2020

After failing in 2016, backers of November’s Prop G say young people energized by the Trump years deserve a political voice.

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The June 3 protest in San Francisco in the wake of George Floyd’s murder was organized by high school students. (Mark Sebastian/Creative Commons)

In 2016, San Francisco lawmakers had a splashy plan to enfranchise young voters, increase election turnout, and perhaps create a new voting bloc for themselves, all by lowering the voting age to 16.

But voters rejected the bid to change the city’s voting age by 52% to 48%, apparently unmoved by the symmetry of a 16 in ’16 campaign.

The plan seems to be forever young, however, as it’s up for a vote yet again in a few weeks, this time dubbed Prop G. Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee, soon to retire, and the SF Youth Commission resurrected the…


ELECTION 2020

A new tax this November would fund up to 10,000 public homes. It could also fuel grander ambitions to move SF away from market-rate development.

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The recently completed building at 222 Taylor in the Tenderloin has 113 affordable apartments. It took 11 years to complete. (Photo: Bruce Damonte)

BBefore COVID-19, San Francisco already faced a once-in-a-century crisis: a deficit of tens of thousands of new homes needed to make it an affordable, livable city once again.

Now the pandemic has blown a billion-dollar hole in the city budget and scuttled development plans. If SF couldn’t build enough housing before, it now seems almost like a pipe dream.

But in the upcoming election, voters have a chance to approve thousands of units of public housing, financed by perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars in new taxes. …


“If you hate what the last 10 years have done to the San Francisco economy, you’ll hate this more,” the city’s economist says.

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Have you seen the future? It probably does not look like this, a tech office in San Francisco. (Photo: Sylvain Kalache/Creative Commons)

Editor’s note: This is the second part of our coverage on what comes after the pandemic. Read Part I here.

The most prominent companies in and out of Silicon Valley are on something of a spree this year. Facebook has spent billions acquiring and investing in new companies, including $400 million to, why not, buy the GIF portal Giphy. Apple has bought four firms so far this year. Google, for its part, just spent $180 million on a Canadian company that makes $1,000 “smart glasses.” …


If only technology can make it in our post-pandemic city, the aftermath for the rest of SF is uncertain, unequal, and probably ugly.

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A Tesla, an icon of the tech economy, sits on the sloped streets of SF. (Photo: Ken Lund/Creative Commons)

Editor’s note: This is the first part of our coverage on what comes after the pandemic. Read Part II here.

The multitrillion-dollar technology industry has taken some hits in 2020. We’re talking consolidation, layoffs, and ongoing reputational fiascos from Facebook. But its giants — your Apple, your Google, and yes, Facebook too, among others— are not only enduring, they’re showing signs of growing stronger at a time when almost every other industry is anemic or near dead.

At first glance, that should make the average San Franciscan optimistic. …

Adam Brinklow

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