Tuesday, April 19, 2016
The endless stream of articles about housing pressures in the Bay Area may have reached a zenith in this Sunday's NY Times' article, "In Cramped and Costly Bay Area, Cries to Build, Baby, Build." Sadly, the story focuses on a self-described "anarchist" who now fights NIMBYs and who (sigh) seems to think that the City of San Francisco--a tiny 7 x 7 mile enclave in the larger Bay Area--can somehow resolve the housing crisis for the region.
But it got me thinking, again, about the Bay Area. One thing that people seldom mention in any of these stories about housing there is how underbuilt the areas around BART stations are. In far too many locations, the BART station is built right next to a superstore parking lot, or some other land use that does not take advantage of BART's immensely expensive transit infrastructure. So here is my "modest proposal" for the Bay Area: build 5,000 units of housing around each BART station at a higher density of your choice...say, Paris or even downtown San Francisco. By my count, there are approximately 30 stations where dense, transit villages could be built. With 5,000 units at 30 stations, we would be talking 150,000 units, sufficient to house approximately 380,000 persons by current household size (2.54 persons) standards--that would be connected by rail to the entire Bay Area.
Like most western cities, the Bay Area is far underbuilt for the number of people that want to move west. That's not the Bay Area's fault, but not properly utilizing the space around the BART stations does fall at the feet of the Bay Area's local governments.
Of course, here is why this is a "modest proposal" in the Swiftian sense; this proposal would almost certainly require the use of eminent domain, the "third rail" of land use policy. As such, a proposal like this is probably politically dead before it could ever really get going: the libertarians would call in PLF and talk about how it was tantamount to shredding the Constitution; the NIMBYs would hire someone to challenge the CEQA review; and it would be one enormous, litigious mess.
Or would it? If you were going to house 380,000 people in the Bay Area with one simple plan, where else would you put them? Is land use law in the U.S. so broken that a proposal that is so intuitively obvious never is mentioned, and instead the coverage of the issue resorts to an anarchist whose group goes by the acronym "BARF"?