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The San Francisco activists who say please build in my backyard

Job growth in the San Francisco Bay Area has exploded in recent years and many people are being priced out. Blame the NIMBYS, including progressives fighting to protect their quaint neighborhoods by blocking any new construction. Activists battling income equality are fighting to change this with the new Yes-In-My-Back-Yard movement. Special correspondent Duarte Geraldino reports.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    The fight to build more housing in an area where prices are through the roof.

    Special correspondent Duarte Geraldino reports from the San Francisco Bay Area.

    It's part of our weekly Making Sense series, which airs every Thursday on the "NewsHour."

  • MAN:

    Whose house?

  • AUDIENCE:

    Our house!

  • DUARTE GERALDINO:

    In the San Francisco Bay Area, it seems any small group of voices can derail a proposed housing development.

  • PROTESTERS:

    Ed lee, can't you see we don't need no luxury?

  • DUARTE GERALDINO:

    Some urban liberals wage war on so-called luxury housing. Around here, the going price for a two-bedroom is over four grand a month.

  • PROTESTERS:

    No one Bay Area.

  • DUARTE GERALDINO:

    Meanwhile, some suburban conservatives fight against subsidized housing.

  • WOMAN:

    Stand up for your property rights before they get taken away. They want to take away your decision of where you're going to live and how you're going to live.

  • DUARTE GERALDINO:

    But there is a new and growing group protesting what it sees as the not in my backyard, or NIMBY, attitudes of both the left and the right. This group calls itself YIMBY, Yes In My Backyard.

  • WOMAN:

    Welcome, everybody, to the rally for housing.

  • DUARTE GERALDINO:

    Sonja Trauss, hobbled by a broken foot, is hopping mad about the lack of new construction, which she says is inflating housing prices throughout the Bay Area.

  • SONJA TRAUSS, Bay Area Renters’ Federation:

    It's caused by zoning, but it's also caused by super local control. That's really what it is.

  • DUARTE GERALDINO:

    And you're trying to disrupt that?

  • SONJA TRAUSS:

    Yes.

  • DUARTE GERALDINO:

    YIMBY groups are fighting to ease local development requirements originally meant to maximize community input, but that today effectively delay new projects for years, meaning newcomers have to outbid existing residents for a place to live.

  • SONJA TRAUSS:

    It's one-for-one replacement. Everybody that comes in, basically, someone has to leave.

  • DUARTE GERALDINO:

    And yet more people are coming in.

  • SONJA TRAUSS:

    Exactly. There's more people that want to live here than we have space for. And step one is, make more space.

  • DUARTE GERALDINO:

    A good rule of thumb is that, on average, two new jobs are enough to justify a new housing unit. But that hasn't been the case in San Francisco. In fact, since 2011, more than a half-million jobs have been added to the Bay Area economy, but only 100,000 new housing units built, one for every five new jobs.

  • SONJA TRAUSS:

    Getting into the Bay Area is like getting into a country club. You either have to have a lot of money right off the bat or you have got to know someone.

  • DUARTE GERALDINO:

    Now even Governor Jerry Brown seems to be siding with the YIMBYs against the NIMBYs. He's just introduced legislation to simplify the approval process for new projects that include at least some affordable housing.

    GOV. JERRY BROWN (D), California: You're going to have to reduce some of the regulatory burdens.

  • DUARTE GERALDINO:

    But the YIMBYs say the governor's proposal doesn't go far enough. They would fast-track new construction at all levels, even new luxury housing, betting more overall supply will reduce prices across the board.

  • SONJA TRAUSS:

    The goal ultimately is to have more housing.

  • DUARTE GERALDINO:

    Just more housing?

  • SONJA TRAUSS:

    Just more, yes, yes.

  • DUARTE GERALDINO:

    Anything more?

  • SONJA TRAUSS:

    Yes.

  • NOAH SMITH, Columnist, Bloomberg View:

    I'm a gentrifier.

  • DUARTE GERALDINO:

    Noah Smith knows some people consider him part of the problem.

  • NOAH SMITH:

    The city shouldn't just be a theme park for young upper-middle-class people like me.

  • DUARTE GERALDINO:

    Smith is an economist who writes for the financial media firm Bloomberg. He is also part of the new creative class flocking to the Bay Area.

  • NOAH SMITH:

    And I am sure that there is someone who has it just a little bit harder to find housing because I occupy this place that I am overpaying for.

  • DUARTE GERALDINO:

    Folks like Smith have pushed median rent for a one-bedroom in San Francisco above $3,600 a month, making this city, with all its charm and grit, the most expensive rental market in the nation.

  • JEN PASSETTI, Co-Owner, Elmira Rosticceria:

    A studio in the Tenderloin, which is filled with drug addicts and homeless people, will go for about $2,200 to $2,800.

  • DUARTE GERALDINO:

    In 2013, Jen Passetti and her husband opened a mom-and-pop restaurant in the Tenderloin district, an area that's since been transformed.

  • JEN PASSETTI:

    It's insane. The way the rents are jumping, I will have to leave. I can't afford to stay in San Francisco at the prices that are present.

  • DUARTE GERALDINO:

    So you're going to run a local business, but live way out, outside?

  • JEN PASSETTI:

    I mean, what — what choice do you have?

  • DUARTE GERALDINO:

    A major inconvenience for Passetti, who could soon have a much longer commute, but a true hardship for her kitchen staff and other blue-collar workers.

  • NOAH SMITH:

    Lower-income people are involved in the service economy, and they prepare food, they clean houses, they work on construction and things like that. And these require you to be close to a lot of customers.

  • DUARTE GERALDINO:

    So they're necessarily local.

  • NOAH SMITH:

    They're necessarily local. That's right.

  • DUARTE GERALDINO:

    Smith reasons, when lower-income workers are forced further away from employment, travel costs eat away at their income, adding to inequality.

  • GARY MCCOY, Candidate, SF Democratic Council Central Committee:

    I think it's important to have housing at all levels.

  • DUARTE GERALDINO:

    YIMBY is supporting Gary McCoy's run for a seat on the Democratic Council Central Committee. McCoy believes YIMBY's pro- growth strategy could reduce homelessness.

  • GARY MCCOY:

    I was homeless for somewhere around three or four years. The hardest thing for me still is very rainy days, rainy, wet days, because it brings back, you know, trying to find where to go out of the elements and having wet socks.

  • WOMAN:

    More people are fighting over fewer units.

  • DUARTE GERALDINO:

    So YIMBY wants to change San Francisco's political structure, but it's not stopping at the city's borders.

  • SONJA TRAUSS:

    The state spent a lot of money on highways, on the BART, and everywhere that's on transit that has good access to jobs really needs to be built up.

  • DUARTE GERALDINO:

    Trauss is talking about affluent nearby suburbs like Lafayette, California, population 25,000, median home price, $1.5 million, and just 20 minutes away from downtown San Francisco on BART, the Bay Area rapid transit system.

    In December, Trauss sued Lafayette, after it took a parcel that had been set aside for 315 affordable apartments and rezoned it for 44 single-family homes.

  • STEVEN FALK, City Manager, Lafayette, California:

    The parcel that Sonja is talking about is located a mile-and-a-half from the BART station. So for those people who are least able to afford a car, this would be the worst place for them to live. But still Sonja has filed that lawsuit.

  • DUARTE GERALDINO:

    Lafayette City Manager Steven Falk points out that more than 500 apartments and townhouses are being built, many of them within a half-mile, walking distance, from public transportation.

  • STEVEN FALK:

    I think it's an unfair criticism to say that Lafayette is not doing its fair share.

  • DUARTE GERALDINO:

    Her belief is, by in any way restricting development so that more units are not thrown into the market, you are by default contributing to prices raising. You don't believe that's the case?

  • STEVEN FALK:

    Coming out of that so-called great recession, there were thousands of homes in my county, not hundreds, thousands of homes that could not find a renter or a buyer. Are we willing to despoil our natural and wild places for what we know is a temporary economic phenomenon? I think the answer should be no.

  • MICHAEL GRIFFITHS, Founding President, Save Lafayette:

    This will be a tract development right up to the road.

  • DUARTE GERALDINO:

    Michael Griffiths agrees with Steven Falk about not disturbing nature, but he is a little more extreme. That's why he and a group of Lafayette homeowners are also suing the city to block the 44-home compromise development.

  • MICHAEL GRIFFITHS:

    Best use is open space for all, recreational use, enjoy the view of the magical Mount Diablo.

  • DUARTE GERALDINO:

    Are you opposed to development?

  • MICHAEL GRIFFITHS:

    No. But we feel it's critical and fundamental that voters who pay taxes and live here have the right to vote on this important issue.

  • DUARTE GERALDINO:

    But Trauss doesn't believe anyone should have the right to vote on and thereby stall development that could ease the housing shortage.

  • SONJA TRAUSS:

    We need housing everywhere, and we can't allow cities to just turn down perfectly good apartment projects just because they want empty fields or single-family homes. So we might do lawsuits anywhere in the U.S.

  • DUARTE GERALDINO:

    Those lawsuits could put a new development a short walk away from your backyard.

    In San Francisco, Duarte Geraldino for the "PBS NewsHour."

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