Monthly Archives: October 2013

The taming of Pier 70’s ghosts

IMG_0357detailTwice I’ve had the thrill of crossing the Spanish-French border under European Union law. Once at Hendaye, once at Portbou. There are no border guards now. No papers to show. You just go on through. If you’ve read and heard about the history of border crossings there, it’s like undercounting stair steps in the dark: you reach out a toe, feeling for that one more step down, and instead you find bizarrely solid ground.

Without meaning to suggest equivalence, I had a distant echo of that feeling today at the gate shown here. It was, until recently, the gate to San Francisco’s main city car impound yard. For the last ten years it was run by the Auto Return company. Before then it was run by the legendary City Tow. Continue reading


Ghosts and cats of Pier 70

There are feral kitty pictures at the end of this post. You can scroll on down there now if you like. But before I join you there, I’m going to tell some ghost stories about Pier 70.Dogpatch Ghost ship

First, a generic ghost story for the vehicular dead:

One day years ago I got chatting on the phone with a City Tow dispatcher. It seemed worth asking how she dealt with sexism from the drivers. Not difficult, she said. She had control of the jobs. If a guy gave her trouble she sent him out on a tough job, like an awkward dolly tow. Or an ugly job, like one with a dead body.

A dead body? Well, yes, she said. There are car crashes, and sometimes foul play, and sometimes people just die and get found long after it happens.

Words to that effect, I mean. It has been a long time since the actual conversation. The point is, it was an introduction to the knowledge that tow yards are fateful places. Continue reading

OK, here’s a chart of San Francisco rent rate estimates.

[Update: here’s a direct link to the chart if you want to skip the explanation.]

Everybody knows San Francisco rents are rising — right? So, OK, then, how high are they now, when did they start climbing so fiercely, and how much have they risen per year?

I thought it would be easy to answer those questions until I tried to make a point about them in an argument on Twitter. Then, in looking for statistics, I found to my surprise that we have a shortage of reliable, publicly posted figures organized to show year-over-year increases in San Francisco citywide average rents.

My easy, incomplete first step was to scrape and post HUD’s problematically low “Fair Market Rent” estimates for the San Francisco area, which includes Marin and San Mateo Counties. Then I found a 2000-2013 chart from a private source, — but Mark Hogan, who I was arguing with when this started, noted fairly enough that the sample sizes for that chart are awfully small.

So I put together a more serious attempt at charting a lot of different Web sites’ answers. I’ll be maintaining it for some time to come on my weblog. At this link, also permanently linked above at “SF Rent History Chart,” is a table containing claims about San Francisco citywide average rents. Many of the sources linked here also give figures by neighborhood but that’s too much detail to keep track of in a chart.

For figures on evictions, the canonical source is the San Francisco Rent Board. Except even these figures aren’t conclusive. The Rent Board only reports eviction notices, not completed move-outs. And as Hogan noted, a lot of unchosen tenant turnover happens through privately negotiated buyouts that don’t appear on formal court records.

I’ll be updating the chart from time to time and welcome any suggestions on format, accuracy, data sources, or anything else about the chart. Hope this effort is helpful.

San Francisco HUD FMR history since 2000

At the bottom of this post is a list of HUD “Fair Market Rents” (FMRs) for two-bedroom apartments in a three-county region centered on San Francisco for the years 2000 through 2014. Provided as a public service because I was having trouble finding an online chart of San Francisco rent rates over the past ten years.

I still can’t find a chart of San Francisco apartment asking prices year over year, so if anyone knows of one could you kindly provide a link? Not wanted for any specific project, so please don’t anyone put yourself out, but it sure would be great to have as a reference.

[UPDATE late Oct. 14, 2013: Here’s a chart of average rental rates, presumably at or near market rate, for 2000-2013 from Trends are slightly different for 1BR and 2BR units. Average SF city rents range from just under $1600 for a 1BR at the lowest (surprisingly to me, that’s shown as being in 2004) and leaping to over $3000 for a 2BR as of 2012. Which, if you compare it with the list at the bottom of this post, goes to show why tenants with Section 8 vouchers have such a terribly difficult time finding a San Francisco landlord willing to accept Section 8 compensation at FMR rates. Also, last month CurbedSF reported figures from the Zumper service showing average San Francisco rents of $2713 for a 1BR and $4075 (!!) for a 2BR.]

FMRs are a problematic measure of actual San Francisco rents for a ton of reasons, including that the San Francisco FMR area includes San Mateo and Marin Counties and that there have been bureaucratic changes over the years in the formulas used. For example, the drop from 2004 to 2005 seems to have been a result of “rebenchmarking” rather than actual economic change. Also, the FMR is based in large part on actual rents people are paying, which because of San Francisco rent control is hugely different from current asking rents for new tenancies.

[Added 2/14/14: See my rent chart page for notes from Daniel Pelletiere saying FMRs are not, however, an average of current rents.]

But I was looking for at least some quick measure of rent changes year by year, and the list below is better than nothing.

See, this morning on Twitter I got in one of these inconclusive San Francisco arguments about whether massive market-rate apartment construction would reduce San Francisco rents. Most of the thread is here.

It started with an Atlantic Cities op-ed in which SPUR director Gabriel Metcalf argued San Francisco needs a program of 5000 new units per year. To which I retorted basically that all units aren’t alike and the ravenous high-end demand for San Francisco apartments doesn’t look satiable enough to leave enough affordable units for everyone else. Which, I ended up admitting, is pretty fatalistic although reality-based.

So the smart woman who posts as @EC wrote this:

— EC (@EC) October 14, 2013

And I wanted to answer her by looking at the trend in rents as opposed to house prices in the San Francisco area for that 2008-2009 post-bubble period. And I thought that would be easy to find with a simple Google search, and, weirdly, it wasn’t easy at all.

So as a partial and inadequate substitute, here’s a list of year-by-year San Francisco FMRs since 2000 as scraped from the HUD data portal. For what it’s worth, it shows no rent rate decrease across the years 2008 and 2009, but I kind of doubt that settles the question.

HUD “Fair Market Rents”,
San Francisco Metro FMR Area (SF, Marin, San Mateo Counties)

All compressed links below are to HUD FMR database subpages for the San Francisco metro area.

2014 FMR two-bedroom: $1,956
Source: (Search for San Francisco FMR in drop-down menu)

2013 FMR two-bedroom: $1,795

2012 FMR two-bedroom:  $1,905

2011 FMR two-bedroom: $1,833

2010 FMR two-bedroom: $1,760

2009 FMR two-bedroom:  $1,658

2008 FMR two-bedroom: $1,592

2007 FMR two-bedroom:  $1,551

2006 FMR two-bedroom: $1,536

2005 FMR two-bedroom: $1,539

2004 FMR two-bedroom: $1,775

2003 FMR two-bedroom: $1,940

2002 FMR two-bedroom: $1,747

2001 FMR two-bedroom: $1,459

2000 FMR two-bedroom: $1,362

Mission District Transition: every-flavor beans, one by one?

Erie Alley looked good from under the freeway yesterday. Seems like a lot of the paintings are visible. The storage yard in front might have been more cleared out than usual.


Same day, this is how the front wall looked in the Mission Dispatch food truck court on Bryant St:
IMG_0146scaledThe Mission Dispatch self-description says:

“It’s about the people, it’s about community. It’s a place where artists, designers, and others converge in a nice, sheltered, outdoor space under the sun, to meet new people, try new food, share ideas, and collaborate.”IMG_0146detail

There’s an homage on the site to the former city sign shop where the food trucks stand now. Plenty of respect expressed there for continuity from the past. Plenty of respect for street-made aesthetics too — it’s a food truck garage, after all. Plenty of respect, certainly, for creativity within the frame that the host space provides.

But on the wall outside is one of the more firmly phrased anti-graffiti signs out there. And that wall remains painted one color, unbroken.

It is of course a property owner’s right not to give in to graffiti.

Except, every property owner who diligently paints over tags doesn’t put up a sign like that. A point is being made about staking out a private property’s public face. Why?

So, OK, I don’t know if there is some particular graffiti conflict going on involving that block. If so, my own outsider’s ignorance is showing.

But I’m going to guess something else is going on there. I think it’s an aspect of the prevailing newer aesthetic to see one thing at a time: one food truck at a time, one news story, one blog post, one tweet. Pick one thing at a time out of the jumble, set it off in a frame, guard its integrity against encroachment, appreciate it with undivided if possibly brief attention.

On or off the Web, no matter how big or small a thing is, each thing gets its own capsule. Whether it’s Twitter or a food-truck court or a magazine or a clothing shop or a restaurant menu, a mix of things is a selection of discrete items offered to a consumer in a framing context that’s like a bowl of every-flavor jellybeans, each with its own separately encapsulated flavor — not like a “melting pot”, nor a stew, nor a patchwork, nor a garden.

Maybe because attention to one single thing is terribly valuable amid the firehose spray of data? Because, online, the effects of jumble can feel more like nuisance than serendipity?

How much does it matter that money is involved in setting things off one by one, away from jumble?

Are unplanned, unchosen kinds of synthesis important for creativity? In what proportion to the whole?