Golden Gates

Golden Gates by Conor Dougherty

This book seemed like targeted clickbait. San Francisco. Housing. Journalist. I willingly fell for it, and I made the right decision.

1) SF BAAR changed its name to SF BARF.

Throughout this book, I was shocked by how I’ve been completely oblivious to local politics.

2) During WWII, the US and Mexico struck a deal to create the bracero temporary work program.

Mexicans were brought over to work on American farms. This program was even extended after the war.

3) In 1947, Levitt & Sons built one of the first large scale suburbs near New York City.

Weirdly this is two books in a row that have mentioned Levittown. It was very transparently for whites only.

4) The Embarcadero Freeway would have been built right next to the Ferry Building.

Pat Brown is known as the governor who built California. It’s shocking to see where this highway would have been. The Embarcadero is an amazing piece of prime real estate that we don’t deserve.

5) House prices started skyrocketing in the 1970s as inflation raised prices everywhere.

I had never thought of fixed-rate mortgages as hedges against inflation – probably because we’ve had super low inflation for the last 10 years.

6) In 1978, Prop 13 reset property taxes to 1976 levels and capped increases at 2% a year.

Despite constantly hearing about Prop 13, I actually didn’t really know what it was until now. Ignorance is bliss.

7) Contract cities typically outsource everything except for planning.

The incentive to become a city is to be able to control who can come in. Lakewood, the Levittown of Los Angeles, became the first contract city.

8) The pro-build contingent is split into two broad factions: the “trickle-down” build-market-rate-housing group and the affordable housing group.

Like the book mentioned, it’s tough to map these groups to local SF politics because everyone is “progressive.” We also have a reality in which NIMBYs and affordable housing supporters team up against the YIMBYs.

9) New efficient ways of building housing are susceptible to downturns due to the need for capital investments.

People always ask why construction is still so inefficient, and I had never considered this angle before. Using contractors has the benefit of flexibility and lower risk.

10) Scott Wiener is an ex-SF supervisor who is now a CA state senator and introduced SB 827 (and subsequently SB 50).

I’ll hold myself accountable to stop being an uninformed voter.

This book really captures the zeitgeist of 2020 SF. I learned a ton about the history and the current happenings of housing. Yes, SF is a uniquely beautiful city with stunning views, especially once you get out of SOMA. But as a renter, it’s hard not to consider building more housing a no-brainer, and I really don’t understand the vitriol against tall buildings. That said, if you ask me whether we should build market rate or affordable housing, I’m not sure. The cop-out answer is why not both. I can’t be NIMBY or YIMBY if I don’t have a backyard. #galaxybrain

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