By some estimates, at least 30,000 extra people have moved into San Francisco since 2010. Where are we putting them all? That's still being worked out, clearly. But in the meantime, we could be looking at 40,000 newbs by the end of this year, and with this extra-giddy rate of population growth comes some definite growing pains. Exhibit A: This Chron piece from the weekend detailing the city's woefully understaffed 911 system. Good luck getting an ambulance to show up before you bleed out in New San Francisco!
But seriously, we are a relatively small American city of (possibly) 835,000 people (805,000 as of the 2010 Census, and let's just say 10,000 people per year since then, with the official Census estimate for 2012 being 825,000), and adding this many new folks in such a short span of time is causing some serious problems that we'll be trying to fix over the next few years. Add to that the 35 percent population growth by 2040 that's been predicted by the Association of Bay Area Governments. It should be noted that about 28,500 people were added to the city's population in the ten years between the two last censuses, 2000-2010, meaning that growth is happening 70 percent faster during the last three years of this boom than in any of the years of the last decade.
So, fasten your seat belts. And let's walk through the various ways the town is having some trouble handling all these new bodies, with all their new needs, starting with the most obvious one.
The Housing Crisis
I'm not going to beat this dead horse, and we've already been mocked in the national press for dealing the housing shortage by passing laws to limit development. We need more density. Half of the city is practically a suburb of single-family homes if you hadn't noticed, so S.F. is not going to look like Manhattan or even Brooklyn anytime soon. (New York grew at a far faster pace well over a century ago.) We can, however, embrace greater density in neighborhoods like the Mission, the Marina, and yes, SoMa, where a ton of new construction is already taking place. In the space of two years, a half dozen vacant lots became mid-rise residential developments in the Castro, and there hasn't been an uproar over that, so that's good. But none of this is going to solve the problem of supply and demand that's driving rents and home prices sky high as the Examiner noted in this earlier series about the population boom, the median price for a home in San Francisco is more than double what it was in 2000, and we're likely going to be seeing a lot more condos like this one and this one hitting the market with record-breaking per-square-foot prices north of $1,300. What does that number mean? It means you no longer get more for your money in San Francisco compared to New York as we close in on New York City's average per-square-foot price of $1,371.
Meanwhile, Mayor Lee and Supervisor Jane Kim are duking it out to see whose proposal for dealing with the housing crisis wins with Kim's emphasizing affordability, and Lee's emphasizing growth above all. We don't want to be just a city for the rich and the very poor, right? Because that is what's happening. Nobody who makes a Joe-Average income of $70K or even $100K can afford to buy a home here right now, forget about schoolteachers, chefs, and journalists who make less than that.
Overloaded Emergency Response System
The Chron piece reported that 911 calls have spiked 22 percent since 2007, and Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White says, "There's an additional strain [on the system] I have noticed in the last six, nine, 18 months." Also, the city is falling short of the state-mandated threshold of responding to at least 80 percent of all ambulance calls (two private companies handle the rest), and people are frequently waiting more than 30 or 40 minutes for ambulances to arrive. The Fire Department has a goal of responding within 10 minutes to ambulance calls, but it took a full 13 minutes for them to come to the aid of that toddler who had that statue fall on him near Fisherman's Wharf last month. The boy later died at the hospital from internal bleeding. And then there's the ongoing problem of maintenance of existing ambulances. In the case of that mass shooting at the Gift Center last July, one of the ambulances arriving at the scene had to be taken out of service because its back doors wouldn't open. Not good.
Muni and BART are More Stupidly Crowded Than Before
Muni ridership was up 4 percent in each of the last two years, as Muni reported in January. This explains why rush hours are more intolerable than usual, and why the frustration will continue to grow with all the jerks who won't step into the center of the car when there's plenty of room in there. And, despite the BART strike, ridership on BART last year was higher than ever in its history, and as the Examiner reports, ridership in January was 9.5 percent higher than the previous January, with 1.3 million trips. The problem with Muni ridership going up, of course, is that Muni was hardly able to cope with the ridership they had before the population boom systemwide rush-hour meltdowns seem to be less frequent, but they still happen so lord knows the meltdowns to come could only get more epic. As SFMTA director Ed Reiskin was careful to say, in regard to the ridership spike, "While this is encouraging news, we have to continue the work to improve Muni efficiencies, while simultaneously planning for its future growth.” Supervisor Scott Wiener has proposed a $23 million stop-gap measure to boost funding to Muni, as SFStreetsBlog reports, and it's up for approval at the Board of Supes next week.
You Will Never Find Parking, Ever
The advent of apps like MonkeyParking are symptomatic of this becoming a city where drivers will do anything, and pay anything, just to find a parking spot sometimes. As SF Streetsblog earlier noted, drivers in the northeast Mission spend an average of 27 minutes circling for parking, polluting the environment and clogging up traffic in the process. Plans to institute more residential parking permits for local residents probably won't help matters, and when much of the new residential construction is "transit-oriented" and doesn't come with deeded parking spaces, expect the city's parking woes just to get worse and worse until new residents without parking throw in the towel and sell their cars.
Traffic Is Worse Than Ever Before
Anyone remember the glory days after the dot-com bust when you barely had to wait five minutes to get through the Bay Bridge toll plaza? Those days are long gone. Bay Bridge traffic is way up despite peak-hour toll pricing, and a recent report by a Dutch firm on U.S. traffic levels found that S.F. is now second only to L.A. in terms of traffic congestion on our city streets, at 32 percent overall. Thankfully, everything is a lot closer together here, as opposed to everything being a 40-minute drive without traffic like it is in L.A.
You Will Have a Harder Time Getting a Reservation Anywhere
A ton of new restaurants have arrived on the local food scene in the last five years (I earlier wrote about the most notable 10 of them for 7x7), certainly outpacing restaurant closures, but that doesn't mean it's any easier to get a table at Nopa or Frances on short notice. (Forget about State Bird Provisions. For real. Just get in that walk-in line.) OpenTable reports a 6.5 percent increase in the number of seated diners between 2011 and 2013, bumping from 31 million to 33 million in two years, despite using the same estimate for the number of reservation-taking restaurants for both years (2,575 for the greater Bay Area). And if you wanted to get a table for two at Nopa on a Friday anytime in the next two months, good luck you're probably going to have to pay for one via a terrible website that sells reservations for profit. Yes. That is happening.
Regular Taxis Are Even Harder to Find
It is no wonder that Uber and Lyft are flourishing in San Francisco according to one UberX driver I recently had, the East Bay has been a little slower to catch up, and more people have cars over there anyway. As we learned recently, some 20 to 25 percent of SF's regular medallioned taxis aren't being driven because cab drivers are fleeing in droves, and/or taking jobs as Uber drivers. Uber meanwhile is helping prospective drivers buy brand new Priuses, and cars continue to be in abundance, even at prime times though you'll probably have to pay two to three times the going rate under surge pricing. The head of DeSoto cab made the ominous prediction that the regular taxi industry is about 18 months away from total collapse, but the city likely wouldn't let that happen. Still, in these ever populous times, you'd better start adding at least 10 minutes to your ETAs, at all times.
Property Crimes On the Rise
Possibly because of the influx of new residents, and possibly due to a host of factors, petty crime has majorly spiked recently. There were 55,000 total crimes in 2013, a 20 percent increase over 2012, and we were just talking about the spike in car thefts and car break-ins in neighborhoods like Ingleside, North Beach, and Russian Hill. A spike in larcenies last year is attributable, maybe, to the huge presence of easily-grabbable cell phones on public transportation and in the streets. Thankfully, Police Chief Greg Suhr knows that hiring is a top priority, as the Ex has reported, and he's aiming to have a staff of 2,300 to 2,500 officers. There are currently 2,095 officers on the force.
Sewage. Lots More Sewage.
Let's just start by acknowledging that parts of San Francisco's existing sewer system date back to the Gold Rush, so that's scary in and of itself. More people means more poop, and more poop could lead to greater dumping of raw sewage into the Pacific off the S.F. coast. In case you didn't know, our stormwater drains share effluent pipes with wastewater, and when there's an overflow in the system, say, during El Niño-season storms, the excess gets sent out to sea.
Also, the Power Grid Could Collapse
Does everyone remember the California electricity crisis of 2000-2001 and all those fun rolling blackouts? Though the situation then was more complicated and the causes far broader-reaching than a mere spike in population in S.F., there is bound to be a strain put on the existing system especially if climate change starts making the city hotter on more days of the year. Energy consumption for San Francisco County went up 4 percent between 2009 and 2012 (more recent figures weren't available). For their part, and in the wake of the San Bruno disaster, PG&E has pledged $1.5 billion to upgrade transmission lines and replace aging natural gas pipelines with plastic, in order to better prepare for the next earthquake.
So, in summation, things are crowded, life is a bit more inconvenient, and there are more people to compete with for pretty much everything. But, in the good-news column, an earthquake or another major financial collapse could bring rents down for a little while, and calm things down. Always look on the bright side, right?