Loose Lips

San Francisco Plays Mayoral Race Villain


No thanks.

Every District election needs a cautionary tale. Usually, that role is filled by warning that voting for a certain candidate will mean a return to the bad old days of high murder rates and open-air drug markets—see Adrian Fenty's 2010 attempts to paint Vince Gray as another round of Marion Barry. This time around, though, candidates in the mayor's race have looked all the way across the country for their cautionary tale, settling on the city of San Francisco.

With its kid tech barons and Silicon Valley bus wars, the city by the bay has become the example of what D.C.'s mayoral candidates say the District doesn't want to become in terms of inequality. At a Georgetown Advisory Neighborhood Commission meeting in December, Gray warned that San Francisco was what the District could look like in a few years, a fate that could only be averted with an increase in affordable housing (and, presumably, Gray's re-election).

Gray picked up San Francisco again last week at another ANC meeting, this time in Congress Heights.

“San Francisco, actually, is rapidly becoming unaffordable because the land space is gone," Gray warned.

Last Saturday, actor Danny Glover, stumping on behalf of mayoral hopeful Andy Shallal, said that watching his San Francisco neighborhood's transformation made him empathize with Shallal's own discomfort with his affluence.

A few days earlier, candidate Tommy Wells had warned that the District could go the way of San Francisco's gentrifying Mission District. At a debate in Georgetown, Wells worried that D.C. was only a few step away from full Friscoization.

"We're going to soon be like San Francisco and other places that lost their middle and lower middle class," Wells said.

But has San Francisco's moment already passed? Wells tells LL that San Francisco's in a bad situation, sure, but there's another city that District residents should be even more worried about turning into: similarly unaffordable Vancouver.

San Francisco photo by Shutterstock

  • NE John

    I look forward to the completion of DC Friscoization

  • Really?

    The NYT did an excellent article outlining the issues SF and its new and old residents are facing.

    Similarities between DC and SF go far beyond just affordable housing. A few notable quotes:

    "Resentment simmers, at the fleets of Google buses that ferry workers to the company’s headquarters in Mountain View and back; the code jockeys who crowd elite coffeehouses, heads buried in their laptops; and the sleek black Uber cars that whisk hipsters from bar to bar"

    "For critics, such sights are symbols of a city in danger of losing its diversity — one that artists, families and middle-class workers can no longer afford."

    " And they grumble about less tangible things: an insensitivity in interactions in stores and on the street, or a seeming disregard for neighborhood traditions."

    " They are not only expelling the homeless and the gangbangers,” said Guillermo Gómez-Peña, a performance artist. “They are also expelling the performance artists, the poets, the muralists, the activists, the working-class families — all these wonderful urban tribes that made this neighborhood a very special neighborhood for decades.”

    "There has to be some kind of public support to make sure you don’t just have a city of the very wealthy, but people to make the city run,” said Kevin Starr, professor of history and policy, planning and development at the University of Southern California.

    “You can’t have a city of just rich people,” he said. “A city needs restaurant workers, a city needs schoolteachers, a city needs taxi drivers.”

  • Ward One Resident

    You know what San Francisco also has that D.C. doesn't want is instant runoff voting!

  • SEis4ME

    Interesting that Gray and Wells have issues w/SFO but apparently don't seem to get that they are indeed catering to the SFO crowd here in DC. Those who shun cars, are dogmatic about bikes, streetcars, want relaxed height limits etc. Yeah, that crowd.

    Well wtvr.

  • Mario

    This is truly hilarious. Having lived in both cities for extensive amounts of time, I can give you a way better take than some corrupt DC pols.
    First off, SF became unaffordable in about 1997 as the first dot com bubble was about to burst. That is when both rentals and property skyrocketed in value. A ton of public housing was torn down and much of the city's poor moved to the East Bay (Richmond and Vallejo). And even during the recession, prices in SF didn't drop much at all. Rentals came down a tiny bit, but single family homes held their value quite well, especially in the fashionable hoods--just like DC, you'll no doubt recall.
    Second, DC is ALREADY unaffordable! Groceries in DC are ridiculously expensive--at least 15% higher than SF--and living anywhere close to downtown means either a huge rent or a very, very tiny apartment.
    Third, the poor and middle class have not left SF. Just like DC they've simply becoming more scarse. DC has Marshall Heights and Deanwood, while SF has Sunnydale and the Excelsior--areas all heavily populated by lower and middle income folks.
    I don't usually mind Tommy Wells, but on this one he is way off the mark. It's just a way for these East Coast/DC pols to make themselves sound like they care. Had they really cared, they would've taken steps to keep low and middle income folks in the city 10 years ago. Not give it lip service when they're trying to get a vote in 2014.
    Bottom line: these are two incredibly wealthy cities that have already become unaffordable. Trying to point out differences between them is a futile exercise. Mark my word, in 10-20 years there will be way more Republicans in both cities—sorry, rich folks just usually vote for the GOP. I'm not saying a majority, but they will have way more influence than they have now. And that is what Dems like Gray and Wells really fear.

  • Brandolon

    @Mario. I just relocated here from San Francisco and question your numbers. Groceries are in no way cheaper in any part of the Bay Area. Neither are drinks and entertainment. CPI data backs this up. And don't get started on housing costs. You can get an apartment on capital hill for a bit more than the cost of a soulless san Francisco suburb. I hope DC doesn't go this route. I'll move.

  • BearRep

    San Francisco didn't just run out of land. The city/county is less than 50sq miles, the it filled in almost 20 years ago. Among the variety of policy problems , the most significant might be its very conservative and slow-moving permitting process for new developments that stalled the city from building up and increasing density in desirable neighborhoods.

    I used to live in, and work for the city. I fully believe that public input and transparency and comprehensive environmental/economic impact reviews are essential, and smart. But when it takes 6 years to approve a permit for new residential space, and the original plans get arbitrarily gutted anyway, you're bound to be behind the curve for adequate (and affordable) housing

    Does anybody feel like DC's permitting process for new developments is quick and objective? I'd love to see a serious plan from this mayor's office about HOW to balance DC's highly-anticipated growth with livability.

  • noodlez




  • Son of Washington

    I find it funny that our so called elected officals don't want to be the Bay Area but have been adopting their legislative policies lock and step for the last decade. Most of the crazy and super liberal policies which have continued to fuck up our city take root in San Francisco, Oakland or Berkerly. Funny how now the politicians don't want to be San Francisco.

    Does anyone remember the Wal-Mart bill of last year. Almost all of the Union folks testified about how it works in San Francisco as well as the stupid ass politicians who were supporting it. That includes Tommy Hells. Funny how Gray doesn't want to be San Francisco but supports ultra liberal union only construction (which he demanded for on the new soccer stadium that no one wants). That again is directly from what is going on in California.

    You all are jokes and so is this so called pitiful joke for LooseLips. Between you and that jaded ass Silverman you all have done this great position and legacy a diservice.

  • JimA

    The candidates sometimes amaze me with the stupidity of their comments. There are economic forces at play that contributes to income inequality and to rising land prices in certain urban centers.

  • Typical DC BS

    Waiting for someone to comment that the poor have a right to be subsidized to stay in the city. No mention of why this is necessary.

    Rent control is just a form of socialist idiocy that has reduced the supply of housing greatly in DC. Just like in NYC.