Regional planners want to put 280,000 more people into San Francisco — and they admit that many current residents will have to leave
Steve Woo, senior planner with the Chinatown Community Development Center, sees the problem. In a letter to ABAG, he notes: "Plan Bay Area and its DEIR has analyzed the displacement of low-income people and explicitly acknowledges that it will occur. This is unacceptable for San Francisco and for Chinatown, where the pressures of displacement have been a constant over the past 20 years."
Adds the Council of Community Housing Organizations: "It would be irresponsible for the regional agencies to advance a plan that purports to 'improve' the region's communities as population grows while the plan simultaneously presents great risk and uncertainty for many vulnerable communities."
Jobs are at stake, too — not tech jobs or office jobs, which ABAG projects will expand, but the kind of industrial jobs that currently exist in the priority development areas.
Calvin Welch, who has been watching urban planning and displacement issues in San Francisco for more than 40 years, puts it bluntly: "It is axiomatic that market-rate housing drives out blue-collar jobs," he said.
Of course, there's another potential problem: Nobody really knows where jobs will come from in the next 25 years, whether tech will continue to be the driver or whether the city's headed for a second dot-com bust. San Francisco doesn't have a good record of building for projected jobs: In the mid-1980s, for example, the entire South of Market area (then home to printing, light manufacturing, and other blue-collar jobs) was rezoned for open-floor office space because city officials projected a huge need for "back-office" functions like customer service.
"Where are all those jobs today?" Welch asked. "They're in India."
TOO MANY CARS
For a plan that's designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by moving residential development closer to work areas, Plan Bay Area is awfully pessimistic about transportation.
According to the projections, there will be more cars on the roads in 2040, with more — and much worse — traffic. The DEIR predicts that a full 48 percent of all trips in 2040 will be made by single-occupant vehicles — just slightly down from current rates. The percentage of trips on transit will only be a little bit higher — and there's no significant increase in projected bicycle trips.
That alone is pretty crazy, since the number of people commuting to work by bike in San Francisco has risen dramatically in the past 10 years, and the city's official goal is that 20 percent of all vehicle trips will be by bike in the next decade.
Part of the problem is structural. Not everyone in San Francisco 2040 is going to be a high-paid tech worker. In fact, the most stable areas of employment are health services and government — and hospital workers and Muni drivers can't possibly afford the housing that's being built. So those people will — the DEIR acknowledges — be displaced from San Francisco and forced to live elsewhere in the region (if that's even possible). Which means, of course, they'll be commuting further to work. Meanwhile, if current trends continue, many of the people moving into the city will work in Silicon Valley.
Chion and Levy both told me that the transit mode projections were based on historical trends for car use, and that it's really hard to get people to give up their cars. Even higher gas prices and abominable traffic delays won't drive people off the roads, they said.
If that's the case — if auto culture, which is a top source of global climate change, doesn't shift at all — it would seem that all this planning is pointless: the seas will rise dramatically, and San Franciscans ought to be buying boats.
"The projections don't take into account social change," Jason Henderson, a geography professor at San Francisco State University and a local transportation expert, told me. "And social change does happen."