“Why are people moving to San Francisco? In some sense, it’s a matter of popular cities continuing to be popular. That means people still find value and jobs there. The Bay Area is culturally rich, with people — and culture and food — from around the world. While tech companies have been cutting back on hiring lately, the area is still the home base to their giant and lucrative businesses, meaning there’s still plenty of opportunity for workers.
There’s reason to believe that people aren’t just moving back to San Francisco because they want to. The move back also represents a solidification of remote work policies, in which many companies have come down on the side of hybrid work, where people are still expected in the office some of the time. In other words, people who may have wanted to move elsewhere permanently have been forced back to the Bay Area, though perhaps in different locations than they had been.
The decision to return to the Bay Area could also come from employees who are hoping to put in face time with their bosses ahead of a potential recession. Studies have shown that bosses view people who work in the offices more favorably and are more likely to consider them for promotion.”
“Humphreys thinks the root of “San Francisco’s drug crisis” is “a libertarian, individualistic culture” that since the 19th century has attracted people who yearn “to be free of traditional constraints back East, to reinvent themselves, to escape the small-mindedness of small towns and to find themselves.” While that culture “underlies the city’s entrepreneurialism, artistic energy and tolerance for diversity in all forms,” he says, it “has a downside when it comes to addiction, which thrives in such a cultural milieu.” San Francisco “has long been one of the booziest cities in the country,” he writes, and “heavy use of substances has always been part of how San Francisco defines freedom and the good life.”
Conflating “heavy use of substances” with libertarianism is more than a little strange. Libertarianism focuses on the proper role of government; it does not tell people how they should conduct their private lives, except insofar as their actions impinge on the rights of others.”
“The actual cause of ever-escalating drug deaths, he avers, is “the libertarian assumption that given freedom and tolerance, everyone will rationally and productively pursue their self-interest,” which “cannot explain why a starving person would, for example, forgo food in exchange for fentanyl or cocaine.”
The assumption that Humphreys describes as “libertarian” is plainly at odds with reality. But libertarianism does not assume that people never make mistakes, never develop bad habits, or never engage in behavior they ultimately regret. It simply argues, for moral and pragmatic reasons, that the possibility of error is not enough to justify using force, which should be reserved for conduct that violates other people’s rights.
Humphreys suggests that decisions regarding psychoactive drugs are a special case because those substances negate the ability to choose. As I explain in Saying Yes, this belief is a tenet of voodoo pharmacology, which posits that drugs take control of people and compel them to act against their own interests.
Survey data, which show that people can and generally do use both legal and illegal drugs without developing life-disrupting habits, contradict that theory. Observational and laboratory research confirms that the way people react to drugs is not pharmacologically determined but highly contingent on the circumstances and incentives they face, as psychologists such as Stanton Peele, Bruce Alexander, and Carl Hart have been pointing out for many years.”
“”Portugal is in no way a libertarian country,” Humphreys writes. “Rather, it’s a cohesive, communal society in which drug use is culturally frowned upon rather than celebrated as a sign of freedom. When drug-addicted people commit crimes in Portugal, they are sent to a ‘dissuasion committee’ that can apply penalties to those who refuse to seek and stay in addiction treatment. Informally, this is backed up by pressure from family and community for addicted individuals to enter recovery.”
Humphreys is right that Portugal’s approach is not libertarian. While “dissuading” drug users is preferable to arresting, prosecuting, and incarcerating them, it shows little respect for individual autonomy. Humphreys is comfortable with that because he thinks individual autonomy is meaningless in the context of drug use. Hence he thinks San Francisco should “use court authority to mandate addiction treatment more broadly than it currently does.””
“Walgreens fills prescriptions. It is not in the business of drug enforcement. If some of the prescriptions filled by Walgreens were written by dirty doctors or went to people who abused them, it is not on individual pharmacists to figure that out.
Expecting pharmacists to be drug cops, too, ensures that more pharmacies will be hesitant to fill legitimate prescriptions, leaving patients in the lurch. It also threatens to worsen America’s pharmacist shortage.
In a number of recent cases, pharmacies and pharmacists have been sued for not filling prescriptions. including opioid prescriptions. It seems we’ve put them in a classic damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation.”
“To sum it up: Walgreens filled prescriptions for a legal substance, but because some people went on to distribute or use the drugs in ways the government has forbidden, the company has to pay the government huge sums of money. Meanwhile, the inability of people to get prescription painkillers has given way to reliance on much more dangerous substances, like fentanyl, from which many more people are dying of overdoses. People keep taking opioids, and the government keeps making it harder for them to do so safely.”
“Getting your business vandalized sounds like punishment enough. For some San Francisco business owners, it’s just the beginning of their troubles.
A steady stream of restaurateurs and retailers have been complaining about the city’s practice of issuing them fines for not being quick enough to remove chronic graffiti being applied to their shopfronts and street cafes.”
“There’s a clear lesson emerging from the first cities that have legalized “missing middle” housing. The more rules you lift on the construction of these two-, three-, and four-unit homes, the more you’ll actually see built.
San Francisco politicians have absorbed this information and are now using it for evil. On Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance theoretically legalizing fourplexes in the city’s lowest density neighborhoods, but only under conditions that will ensure almost none of this housing actually gets built.”
“The median home value in San Francisco in 2022 is above $1.5 million, according to the Zillow Home Value Index, which shows home values rising by more than 10 percent in the past year alone. In nearby San Jose, Redfin reports a median home price of $1.45 million—but home values have risen by a staggering 24 percent in the last year. Today’s Bay Area is simply unaffordable for most people, in part because California regulations hinder new construction and in part because natural geographical constraints reduce the total amount of buildable space; San Francisco has a huge housing supply shortage that shows no signs of being remedied soon.
Pair this with complaints that the city has failed to handle its homelessness problem, leading to open-air drug scenes and massive tent encampments in neighborhoods like the Tenderloin. One in every 100 San Franciscans is homeless, and California is a national outlier in terms of what proportion of the homeless population is actively “unsheltered,” as in, sleeping on the streets or under highway overpasses. In San Francisco, 73 percent of the city’s homeless population is considered unsheltered. That’s not normal, even for a big city: In New York City, the figure is about 3 percent.
And then there was the pandemic, which made many big tech offices obsolete: Twitter, Yelp, and Airbnb attempted to sublease their expensive Bay Area office spaces. Pinterest paid almost $90 million in the third quarter of 2020 to break the lease of their almost 500,000-square-foot office space. For many workers, the value of living in San Francisco dropped. Why pay a premium to live near an office you aren’t going to?
Finally, there was the broader sense, especially among high-value tech workers, that San Francisco and its neighbors were uninterested and unresponsive, focused only on extracting from their most productive citizens in the form of high taxes, which fund poor city services. In the last few years, many have simply grown tired of paying exorbitant taxes for the privilege of living in California—one that now bestows little in return.
Hence the Golden State exodus. In 2021, for the first time ever, California lost a congressional seat. The state didn’t technically lose population, but it didn’t have the same growth rate as the rest of the country.”
“the shift also owes something to responsive governance. Leaders of other cities have actively courted the movers. In December 2020, venture capitalist Delian Asparouhov tweeted “ok guys hear me out, what if we move silicon valley to miami.” Miami Mayor Francis Suarez responded promptly, “How can I help?”
Yet as Bay Area tech workers depart, it remains an open question whether those new pastures will truly be greener. The city of Austin has faced rising housing costs, stemming in part from restrictions on development. Miami has struggled with corruption and policing problems. San Francisco’s urban competitors are cheaper, for now, but there are already worrying signs that the cities luring tech’s highly mobile, highly desirable workers are already poised to repeat many of the same mistakes that drove so many Californians away.”
“In 2012, Austin city officials saw the writing on the wall and proactively tried to remedy these problems by moving toward a zoning code rewrite. The 30-year-old code had outlasted its usefulness, and with massive population growth, city planners needed to allow for much more density.
The city’s newly proposed zoning code was dubbed CodeNEXT, as part of a forward-looking urban revitalization plan, Imagine Austin. The new code aimed to reduce the strict separations between Austin’s residential and commercial corridors, allowing for more mixed-use buildings and more housing overall.
It would’ve scrapped single-family zoning restrictions in many areas, allowing for duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, and apartment buildings to be built in their stead; it would’ve allowed for urban in-fill instead of forcing newcomers to gravitate toward far-flung suburbs; it would’ve reduced or eliminated minimum parking requirements in some places too. It wasn’t exactly an urbanist’s dream—some criticized it for not going far enough with regard to density—but it was a reasonable step toward that ideal.”
“By 2018, the project was dead in the water, having been met with fierce opposition primarily from neighborhood preservationists and homeowners, who had seen their homes double in price over the last five or 10 years.”
“In what might seem like a Christmas miracle come early, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors is considering not one, but two, bills that would legalize lower density “missing middle” housing across the city.
Competing proposals introduced by Supervisors Gordon Mar and Rafael Mandelson would both allow the construction of four-unit homes (or fourplexes) on all residentially zoned land citywide. Combined with state-level reforms from earlier this year that make it easier to divide residential plots in half, both bills could theoretically allow up to eight primary residences where only one was permitted before.”
“Unfortunately, the two proposals also include micromanaging regulations that would lead to less missing middle housing being built than a more hands-off free-market approach would produce.
Mar’s bill would permit up to four units of housing on all current Residential House zones, which currently allow between one and three homes. That sounds like a pretty sweeping reform. But there’s a catch.
Mar’s bill would require the new units to be rented out or sold at rates that are affordable to someone making 100 percent of “area median income.” The San Francisco Chronicle, which first reported on the bill, notes that the current area median income in the city is $106,550 for a couple or $133,200 for a family of four.
Affordable monthly rent for a family making that amount of money would shake out to be $2,664, according to a press release from Mar’s office—$2,000 less than pre-pandemic market-rate rents for a typical two-bedroom apartment.”
“Consider what happened in Austin, Texas. In 2019, the city technically abolished single-family-only zoning when it created the Affordability Unlocked program, which allows developers to build larger projects with more units and fewer parking spaces in exchange for making the new homes affordable to lower-income people. Specifically, it allows the construction of up to eight units of housing in single-family-zoned areas. But to build those extra units, a developer would have to make as much as 75 percent of the new units affordable to people earning below area median income, include a certain number of two-bedroom units, and adopt a host of tenant protections.
As a result, few Affordability Unlocked projects have been built in single-family zones. Those that have required substantial subsidies from the city government.”
“Mandelman’s fourplex legalization bill looks like laissez faire in comparison. It allows the construction of fourplexes citywide, without any of the affordability requirements in Mar’s bill.
Nevertheless, it would require newly legal fourplexes to be built at densities no larger than what the city’s current zoning allows for three-unit homes. (Mar’s proposal has the same density restrictions.) According to Hamilton, that means Mandelman’s bill is more suited for permitting triplexes than the fourplexes it technically allows.”
“Planning documents show that in 2013 the city granted permission for the construction of five buildings—containing 10 units of housing plus office space and ground-floor retail—on lots that were either vacant or featured a shuttered gas station.
The developers instead ended up building 29 total units without any of the offices or open space they had promised. In addition, the final project lacked some of the promised parking spots and had none of the fancy façade features depicted in the original plans. The new units also lack a second means of egress, which is required for fire safety purposes.
The project received its final certificate of occupancy in 2016. According to the Chronicle, problems with the neighbors began even before construction was finished, as it became clear that the façade going up in their neighborhood did not match the plans approved by the city.
“I saw it go up and I thought, ‘This turd is not what we were promised,'” one neighbor told the Chronicle.
The Planning Department’s website shows several complaints dating back to 2017 about the building’s illegal units, lack of below-market-rate rental units, and absence of promised street trees.”
“The question is what will now happen at the currently occupied apartment complex.
The developers’ attorneys have filed applications to legalize the additional, unapproved units and to add fire escapes on the rear of the building. That will require the city to grant variances for the properties, which are collectively zoned for only 14 units. That’s not guaranteed to happen, so some of the current units may end up getting dismantled and their occupants forced to move elsewhere.”
“In newly published research, she looked at youth smoking rates in San Francisco, which banned flavored tobacco products—including flavored cigarettes and flavored vaping liquids—in June 2018. Previous research suggested the ban actually increased cigarette smoking in 18- to 24-year-olds while decreasing overall tobacco product use in 18- to 34-year-olds. Friedman wanted to measure the ban’s effect on high school students under 18.
Using data from the 2011-2019 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS), Friedman was able to look at under-18 cigarette smoking rates in Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco, and Florida’s Broward, Palm Beach, and Orange counties. This allowed her to compare youth smoking in San Francisco with districts that did not ban flavored cigarettes and vaping products.
“Comparing recent smoking rates by wave revealed similar trends in San Francisco vs other districts prior to 2018 but subsequent divergence,” writes Friedman of her findings. “San Francisco’s flavor ban was associated with more than doubled odds of recent smoking among underage high school students relative to concurrent changes in other districts.”
“While the policy applied to all tobacco products, its outcome was likely greater for youths who vaped than those who smoked due to higher rates of flavored tobacco use among those who vaped,” she adds. “This raises concerns that reducing access to flavored electronic nicotine delivery systems may motivate youths who would otherwise vape to substitute smoking. Indeed, analyses of how minimum legal sales ages for electronic nicotine delivery systems are associated with youth smoking also suggest such substitution.””