10. Cities

I read this thread today by Michelle Tandler, expressing a lot of frustration that San Franciscans feel.

It says a lot of things which make sense: she’s expressing anger and discontentment with our leaders, disappointment in our inability to solve the problem, an exasperation as to the reasons why.

I don’t live in San Francisco, but I do live in the Bay. I don’t want to live in San Francisco, partially because of the horror stories that have been coming from here recently. This isn’t what I’d like to think. I care a lot about building and encouraging beautiful places to live, about building enough housing for everyone, and about making the best cities in the world. It’s really important we figure out why we have these issues

Specific points that Michelle makes:

  • SF has a $13B budget and 8000 homeless
  • Supposedly this is what progressives are trying to tackle, right? What’s the give
  • Progressives are more concerned with word policing than actual solutions
  • Progressives have absolute power
  • Progressives blame republicans for anything, but there arent’ any here so what’s the deal
  • https://sf.curbed.com/2018/10/26/18028576/united-nations-rapporteur-homeless-farha-human-rights-violantion
  • Listened to a board meeting where countless called in to say ‘defund the police’
  • San Franciscans believe they are righteous because they pledge allegiance to the righteous tribe of Democrats
  • Overfocused on policing wrongthink rather than actually fixing things
  • Overfocused on gerrymandering rather than actually fixing things
  • “Why have I never learned about the case for gun rights? Or about the values of Islam?”

A lot of her claims seem right to me: What gives, why isn’t SF able to be the shining city on the hill?

A lot of the replies basically say: Republicans would fix this.

Some of her claims are clearly just irrelevant–if you want to learn about gun rights or islam just read about it online, that has nothing to do with SF politics.. Or are you saying we should teach that in school? Isn’t this the same conversation the Right loves to have about CRT and whether we should teach slavery in schools? This is all off-topic, but it does give away her kind of red-pilled tendencies.

Some thoughts:

  • We need to look to successful cities to see what our cities can do better. The claims that republicans would fix this are hard to verify, because there are no dense cities in the country run by Republicans.
  • Most european governments we’d look to as having good cities are examples of more left-leaning governments, especially who have constructed more public housing and offer more social services than ours.
  • Republicans would fix this… how, exactly? Genuine question. By not focusing on lanugage policing? Sure. By throwing offenders and homeless in jail? Uhhh. And then what. Has that ever worked in the past? We know jailing huge swaths of the population leads to more broken families, more community decline, continuation of cycles of criminality (you get out of jail, don’t have anything in this world, and then do another crime because it’s what you know), more state expenditure on prisons (or regulatory capture of prison and judicial systems by private prison complexes)… is this what we want? Maybe we should just take all the homeless and shoot ’em? Is that what’s being proposed? Obviously not. Real problems demand real answers, not simply ‘the other guy would fix it’
  • Gerrymandering and voter suppression are not sexy issues but they are important. Especially at the national and state level, minority populations have outsized power and rulership because of sclerotic structures such as the senate. This isn’t democratic. It allows a few people in Wyoming to dictate the lives of millions living in NYC. It’s absurd.
  • It’s very possible that just threat of competition would lead the democrats or progressives to improve their game, so to speak. This I could believe. But the question would still come back to: improve their game how? Do what, exactly.
  • There are a lot of problems, with California and with the US, and it’s important to get to the heart of these problems rather than simply asking “why is nobody fixing it”.
  • Some of these problems are restrictive zoning laws, restrictive building construction regulations, homeowner-dominated politics, stagnant and regressive tax structures.
  • Another more fundamental problem is the precarious position of the working class. If your car breaks down, and you don’t have $2000 for repairs, you can’t get to work the next day, you lose your job, you can’t pay rent, you’re homeless. If you have surprise medical bills, you can’t afford them, you can’t stay home sick, you lose your job, you end up homeless. This is really what happens. Most homeless people are living in tents in the same zip code they were born. This is an inherently unstable game, if you deviate from the steady path, you immediately spiral into chaos. That’s untentable for a society. The role of a social safety net is to avoid situations like this.
    • Medical/medicaid and a single-payer system seek to eliminate the medical bills case
    • Worker rights and unions seek reasonable employee leave and wages
    • Public transit investments seek to eliminate the individual car-ownership mandate that we’ve constructed. Car ownership is often not a freedom but a curse.
  • Homelessness is about housing, and housing is about supply and demand. If you don’t build more houses, you don’t get to house people. Supply and demand problems are best solved by well-regulated markets. Why has the market failed?
  • In the past and outside the US, governments engage in public housing projects to supplement these numbers. These were largely successful in NYC and still account for a large percentage of the housed low income population.
  • In California, Prop 13 halts any market influence on homeownership, because if you ‘got while the getting was good’, your taxes never change to reflect the changing value of the land.
    • Prop 15, which would’ve tried to impose market conditions on land ownership
    • The “not a Republican in sight” claim runs exactly counter to this situation, prop 15 was clearly opposed by republicans and large corporate interests. We live in a state which does have a surprising amount of Republican power.
  • San Francisco zoning is also a function of homeownership: People don’t want to see their property values go down, so they oppose any kind of upzoning which would allow for increased density.
  • People want to move to SF, but we make it impossible for them to do so… or we make it impossible for those who’ve been there to continue to live there and also afford rent
  • I think a big reason people are nimbies is aesthetic, rather than home-value-concerned. People want to live in beautiful places, and so far even in my opininon, most of the higher-density balloon frame construction is pretty ugly and soulless. Why is this? How do we fix this?

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