“The demolition of an 1861 building on Russian Hill is an example of what San Francisco officials say is a serious problem: Hundreds of owners are letting residential properties deteriorate or remain vacant, posing safety hazards, harming historic resources and spurring a drive for new legal powers to force corrections….Although the decay often occurs in plain sight, city officials have little power to intercede. Now [Debra] Walker is pushing to amend the city’s anti-blight ordinance to require owners of houses vacant more than 90 days and commercial properties vacant more than one year to register them with the city, pay an annual fee, and keep the properties clean and secure.”
S.F. cottage’s demise spurs calls for new rules [SFGate]
1268 Lombard Losing Its Battle Against The Granite Wrecking Crew [SocketSite]

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Comments from “Plugged-In” Readers

  1. Posted by EH

    Sounds like a DMV non-operational registration. This doesn’t seem like it should be very controversial.

  2. Posted by 45yo hipster

    it’s frickin’ retarded!
    owners already are required to keep their properties in non delapidated condition- they can be fined by dpw.
    classic over regulation…and from my post on this subject dated march 16: “something only a completely asinine city gov would contemplate. (come to think of it, this would be perfect for SF local politics.)”
    guess i didn’t speak a moment too soon.

  3. Posted by Mystery Realtor

    Ms. Walker has decided to grab this “issue” and try to make it her ticket to the Board of Supes.
    M.R.

  4. Posted by badlydrawnbear

    Of course SF officials come up with the exact wrong answer to the problem.
    The more time I spend in SF the less I understand why anyone would pay the insane prices for homes here. I understand why people love the bay area and living in Northern California and willing to pay a premium to live in the area, but it is clear, to me, that the city of San Francisco itself is not worth that premium.

  5. Posted by flaneur

    I trust you’ll enjoy Fremont.

  6. Posted by Dede

    Agree with 45yoH, and with BDB in part. I for one am glad to see it demolished. Now the property can be put to use. You create a stupid rule and all you do is provide incentive for people to work around it. That will always be the case.

  7. Posted by unearthly

    > I trust you’ll enjoy Fremont.
    Some people pay a premium to live in Fremont…

  8. Posted by anon

    If there were another desirable city in the Bay Area with prices significantly lower (prices per unit, not per square foot – I know we pay a premium for that here), I might consider it, but there’s not. Plus, SF is the only decently urban place in the US with a desirable climate (IMO). Some other cities have either/or, but both? Not so much.
    I don’t see the big deal with this one – seems like the first commenter nailed it.

  9. Posted by Auden

    Let me see if I am reading this correctly. A house that is left vacant in San Francisco for more than 90 days must be registered with the city and pay an annual fee! If you applied this rule universally and indiscriminatorily, everyone who has bought a second home in San Francisco and does not rent it out, and, does not use it during a 3 month interval is subject to an annual fee. That is insane. You can’t write stupid code like this; it can easily be abused (by vindictive neighbors who have DBI’s tip line on speed dial) and it will.

  10. Posted by Jimmy (No Longer Bitter)

    The proposal will fail, just like many other compleely insane proposals that our supes bring to the table every year. Land of fruits, nuts and flakes …

  11. Posted by Eoral

    Don’t like the city, move to the east bay. Plenty of people do think the living in The City is worth the extra coin. The question being answered now and for the next year or so is, how much extra coin…

  12. Posted by badlydrawnbear

    I am sorry if my post wasn’t exactly clear, at the heart of it I see a city that makes owning so painful I do not really see the upside.
    Obviously there is the investment aspect of ownership but at the end of the day I am looking for a home and not necessarily an investment.
    Taking into consideration the long term outlook for RE, that it will return to historic trends and we are unlikely to the kinds of rapid appreciation of the last 10 years, the investment aspect becomes even less of a factor.
    If San Francisco returns to more it’s more historic price points, which I believe it will, and the city enacts more thoughtful policies I would definitely want to own here.
    From my perspective seeing what my friends go through with the properties they have purchased in the last few years and how these homes consume virtually all of their free time and every spare dollar they have I don’t see the big advantage to ownership here in SF. Certainly there are places around the bay area, but outside SF, that provide a lot of the pluses of living in the bay area without the headaches of dealing with the city of San Francisco and it’s, sometimes, bizarre regulations and policies.

  13. Posted by Jimmy (No Longer Bitter)

    Why do we have to move to the East Bay? I’m thinking of moving to Atherton, myself. I like the idea of having an “Atherton” address, and I’m willing to pay at least an extra $1000/mo to get it.

  14. Posted by Mole Man

    Prop. 13 is the biggest factor related to this and is well outside the reach of even the most super of SF Supervisors.

  15. Posted by EH

    Auden: Why is it insane (as I noted, the DMV already does this), and how will it be abused?

  16. Posted by unearthly

    I like the idea of having an “Atherton” address, and I’m willing to pay at least an extra $1000/mo to get it.
    Careful you might bring down the average; the average Adjusted Gross Income in Atherton is in excess of $700k :-)

  17. Posted by badlydrawnbear

    @EH 12:44
    Because there is something wrong, IMO, with a city when property owners see allowing housing stock to stand vacant, rot, and collapse as more productive then attempting to rent/remodel/revitalize these same properties. The only other expamples I can think of when this has happened before is NYC in the early 80’s at the height of the crack epidemic and Detroit.
    If the city doesn’t find a way to encourage occupation and revitalization of it’s housing stock it is going to have big big problems to contend with down the line.

  18. Posted by Jimmy (No Longer Bitter)

    $700k/year? Really? Wow.
    Well at least I’d have something to aspire to… It’s a step up from San Bruno where the median is probably $80k.
    Decent 5BR homes there rent for $5k/month. I have no idea what they’d sell for but I bet its over $2M.
    Not to hijack this thread but its definitely worth looking at what $5k gets you out of the city (in Atherton).

  19. Posted by lolcat_94123

    Atherton isn’t that great, I’ve lived there. There is nothing to do near by.
    I think it’s time to face the facts that SF isn’t this elite international city on par with NYC, Paris, LA, Tokyo, etc. We’re a second class city; and that’s ok. But I think we’re closer to becoming a boutique vacation home town ala Monte Carlo than becoming one of the legit cities I just listed.

  20. Posted by viewlover

    The City governs too much already. You have to pay quite a bit to own property and once you own it you are subject to too much regulation. It would be one thing if it were productive, but really, its driven by a bunch of idealist who are not contributing to the welfare of the City either financially or socially. The end result is the mob mentality that does not allow any thing to change in this City just to keep the drama going.

  21. Posted by Eoral

    Homes cost money no matter where you own them. A roofs a roof, in SF, Oakland, or Tracey. It boils down to the kind of life you want to live, and while you may not see an upside, more people do than don’t. Until those numbers reverse, SF will command a premium.
    To be frank, it is exactly the insane city policies that people bitch about that in actuality make the city desirable. If you want vanilla, you can get it in Daly City. But enough people prefer the city lifestyle, and I see nothing out of the ordinary that will change that desire, so that is that.

  22. Posted by badlydrawnbear

    @eoral
    I am talking about the policies that seem to encourage property owners to leave storefronts vacant and let housing stock rot instead of encouraging revitalization and renewal.

  23. Posted by Jimmy (No Longer Bitter)

    @bdb – the vacant homes you describe are not “blight”, they provide “character.” Just ask Eeyoral. People pay extra to have that in their neighborhood.

  24. Posted by Jeremy R

    “Of course SF officials come up with the exact wrong answer to the problem.
    The more time I spend in SF the less I understand why anyone would pay the insane prices for homes here. I understand why people love the bay area and living in Northern California and willing to pay a premium to live in the area, but it is clear, to me, that the city of San Francisco itself is not worth that premium.”
    Without SF, Northern CA would be about as desirable as central Texas. You think San Mateo and Fremont would really be worth 1 million without the city?! They would be no different than San Antonio aside from decent weather. Do you think Marin county would be any different from Arnold CA without the city?! Knock the prices all you want, but don’t knock the city!
    Its the last thing the Bay has going for it.

  25. Posted by Jeremy R

    Jimmy, I hope you are kidding. Atherton and SF have NOTHING in common. Why would you compare the two?
    Atherton is a place where snooty rich people move to just to prove they’re rich. SF is a place people move to just to prove they are hip and urban (just kidding actually). Atherton is a concentration of republicans in a region full of democrats. It is an area of homogeneity in a sea of diversity. It is an eco disaster where the energy consumption of one house equals the energy consumption of a 10 unit TIC in SF. It is quiet, removed, and reserved where SF is a interconnected and vibrant. SF is walkable, funky, and ever changing, while Athernton is stale where people drive everywhere.
    Large swaths of LA are FAAAAAAR more similar to SF than Atherton is. Add Fremont, San Jose, Novato, and other Bay Area cities to that category as well.
    No cities in the bay area are even remotely similar to SF except maybe parts of Oakland/Berkeley. If you are a city person, stay in SF, if you love removed listless suburbs like San Ramon, then move there. But please do not compare the two cities.

  26. Posted by Brutus

    Property taxes would do exactly what the city is looking for here – except prop 13 prevents it. This “messing around” with things by the city has been forced by bad policy put into place by state voters.

  27. Posted by derrysf

    Perhaps the most interesting thing one can say about Atherton is that, although it has the highest average home sale prices in the state, bar none north or south, barely 1/2 of these stratospherically priced homes are occupied more than a few months per year.

  28. Posted by Jimmy (No Longer Bitter)

    I think of Atherton as being similar to San Marino down in SoCal. Since I lived in Pasadena and really liked it (and San Marino is the next step up down there) … it makes sense to move to Atherton.

  29. Posted by Morgan

    Wouldn’t getting rid of Prop. 13 get rid of this problem? We have been down this road before on this site. A friend of mine keeps half the units in a rental building he owns in Cow Hollow vacant to help “increase the buildings value”. In the Marina, where I own, there are many homes that always seem empty, while elderly owners who bought them decades ago have moved on to live in care facilities, and their children come by now and then to collect the mail. I know someone on Prado who pays only $1000 a year in Property taxes and keeps the home empty while they live down in Rancho Mirage.

  30. Posted by gowiththeflow

    If we lost Prop 13 and Obama reduces the amount of interest one can deduct on props I think it would be fair to say that you would lose a huge pool of owners/buyers causing a further reduction in prop value. Good for some, not for all.

  31. Posted by Be Right

    Vacant for 90 days…hmmm…maybe they can call it the Ed Jew rule

  32. Posted by Conifer

    Posted by: lolcat_94123 at March 17, 2009 1:23 PM
    I think it’s time to face the facts that SF isn’t this elite international city on par with NYC, Paris, LA, Tokyo, etc. We’re a second class city; and that’s ok. But I think we’re closer to becoming a boutique vacation home town ala Monte Carlo than becoming one of the legit cities I just listed.
    LOLCAT, we have had this discussion before. SF is not London, Paris, NYC, Amsterdam, Madrid, Rome, Barcelona, or even Lisbon.
    It is a smaller, comfortable city, very liveable. People who want the benefit of those other cities, and can afford it, spend time there. That is what we do, and it is a reasonable compromise.
    That SF has a government only slightly on this side of Trotsky is an unfortunate situation for moderate people. I think it will change as many thousands of new residents move in south of Market, given their right to vote. In the meantime, we will have to suffer the wannabe dictators who know what we all need.
    SF is a beautiful and delightful city, even if it never will be a cultural world capital.

  33. Posted by anon

    Let’s face it, this is just another way to collect money for the city.
    There are also many nice areas around the Bay Area on the peninsula: Millbrae, Burlingame, Foster City, … just to name a few. They are about 20mins away from the city.

  34. Posted by jessep

    Honestly, I think the only way Californians would stand for Prop 13 to be eliminated was if we zeroed the property tax for everyone.
    Then, stealthily, increased consumption taxes, income taxes, porn taxes, crime taxes, phone taxes, and boxed-chocolate taxes.

  35. Posted by head4thehills

    Porn Taxes! I can imagine the huge angry mob with pitchforks marching down Market Street in revolt over THAT.

  36. Posted by Dave

    There are a LOT of empty housing units – more than 10,000 by estimates I’ve read – in SF which are held off the market because the owners are tired of the yoke of rent control. I personally think the rent control laws contribute more to neighborhood blight than anything else.
    There’s little incentive to sink money into major refurbishment or more than bare-bones maintenance when you’re forced to accept a fraction of market rent. Often the tenants make far, far more money than their landlords, yet the landlords are forced to subsidize the tenants (there’s no needs testing.)
    At some point, the deferred maintenance gets to a point that the tenants finally leave, but at that point, the renovations required are so extensive that the owner can’t afford to take them on, and so the property languishes (or gets sold to an opportunist who allows it to languish even further until an emergency demolition becomes possible.)
    Further burdening property owners with legislation by adding additional taxes to vacant units or buildings will make things worse, not better… and might not even be constitutional if the result is to make it impractical or impossible to have an empty property.
    I think this will become an increasing problem for SF, but this isn’t the right way to solve it. They need to go after the cause of the problem and not try to fix it with a punitive solution.

  37. Posted by amused_in_soma

    At first I thought this was just another stupid proposal from our political class. But once people framed it as a response to the situation created by Prop 13, I began to like it.
    Society has an interest in property being “productive”. Usually, this is achieved by property taxes (which force productivity to rise with value). In California, we get things like this.

  38. Posted by Kathleen

    A developer and his broker buy a house and let it rot to the ground. No mystery here. I love modern architecture,never seen the Cassady’s build anything worth buying. Let’s hope that changes.

  39. Posted by Conifer

    DAVE WROTE:
    the rent control laws contribute more to neighborhood blight than anything else.
    …. Often the tenants make far, far more money than their landlords, yet the landlords are forced to subsidize the tenants (there’s no needs testing.)
    DAVE is right. Means testing is a sensible answer. NYC did that: $160,000 per year (many years ago) income, and your rent control was lifted. They also had a rent maximum for control, perhaps $2000/month (same years ago). This forced a lot of rich (and not so rich) people to buy apartments instead of renting. We need to do the same thing here. It would be just a little help, but at least it would save mom-and-pop from subsidizing a trust-fund recipient, as now is often the case.

  40. Posted by Conifer

    Further:
    Under the rules of high income, a friend lost his rent controlled apartment on Fifth Avenue (facing Central Park), and bought an apartment on an equally iconic street. Then he bought the one next to it, and merged them. In NYC you can merge whatever apartments (or even buildings) that you own, as Mayor Bloomberg himself is doing. In SF, the Comrades do not generally approve “dwelling unit mergers” even if the units themselves are condos and priced seven figures each.

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