High Speed Rail and California’s Mega-Commuters

Mar 5th, 2013 | Posted by

New data from the US Census Bureau has found that Northern California has the largest proportion of “mega-commuters” in the country – defined as morning commutes of at least 50 miles and 90 minutes. The numbers aren’t huge – 2% of workers in the Bay Area core are mega-commuters – but it is a clear sign that something is not working in Northern California.

580 and I80 Traffic Jam

Since the 1970s, and especially since the mid-1980s, it has been extremely difficult to build housing near the region’s job centers. Housing demand has not kept up, and the result has been a serious affordability crisis. Workers who are getting well-paid in the tech industry could afford to rent or buy in a new building in San Francisco or Oakland or Berkeley, but it’s difficult to get approval to build them. So these workers wind up having to compete with people making less money for housing. Landlords naturally want to make more money, so they’ll happily evict someone paying a lower rate in order to rent to someone who can afford a higher rate. Similarly, a property owner will gladly sell at a higher price if they can get a buyer rather than at a lower, more affordable price.

Because housing supply has been choked off in the Bay Area core, people have had to “drive until they qualify,” going further and further inland in order to find housing they could afford. Until the late 2000’s this model seemed financially sustainable, if personally frustrating – the commute was long but with low gas prices and low housing prices in places like Stockton, it made financial sense. And while the Bay Area had built out the BART system in the 1970s to what was then the “mega-commute” areas of the East Bay and Contra Costa County, there wasn’t enough funding to extend this to all the areas in need of rail.

In 2006 gas prices broke the $3/gallon barrier and this proved to be too much for most commuters. Family budgets were overstretched and homeowners began falling behind on mortgage payments. It’s no coincidence that places like Stockton were hit hardest by the foreclosure crisis. But even after the devastation of the Great Recession, people are still making the mega-commute because the housing prices are so affordable:

Then there are the people who don’t want to break the bank to live here, like Trung Nghiem, who grew up in San Jose and works as a software project manager in Santa Clara. But he moved his family to Manteca largely because he could find a bigger house for cheaper there.

“On weekdays you get home, and the day’s already done. It can take a toll — I’ll be honest,” said Nghiem, 41, who spends about three hours a day commuting. “But I sacrifice it for my kids; I put them first. You got to do what you got to do to make ends meet.”

Some would argue these mega-commuters are making a bad decision. Surely the cost of gas wipes out the savings on housing. And the physical and mental toll of the commute, along with the lost time, has value too and that should be added to the overall total. We know from metrics like the Center for Neighborhood Technology’s H + T Affordability Index that affordable housing far from an urban center is not actually affordable when you add in the cost of transportation.

And yet for many people, the Bay Area has stopped offering real choices in where to live. The finite and supply of housing, especially affordable housing, near existing transit and job centers means that prices will merely keep rising there unless and until more supply is built to help absorb demand. If that doesn’t happen, people are still going to drive further and further out to find affordable places to live, even if rising gas prices will undercut that affordability.

Northern California needs not just more housing close to transit and jobs, but more transit overall, especially passenger rail. One of the few new passenger rail routes inaugurated in recent decades was the Altamont Corridor Express. And sure enough, it is seeing big ridership gains:

ACE’s spokesperson said the number of riders increased 24 percent compared to last year.

Thomas Reeves with the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission, the entity that runs ACE, said that there has been an increase in jobs in Santa Clara and Alameda counties.

Reeves said most of the commuters are heading to work in those two counties, specifically.

ACE is certainly helping more people afford their basic daily life. And ACE’s success is an indication that high speed rail can attract commuters to its route, especially as it will dramatically reduce commute times. One clear result is that new areas of the Central Valley will become available for Bay Area workers, including Merced and Fresno. While some worry that will produce sprawl, the future adoption of good land use policies as well as high prices for gas and credit as well as transit-oriented development in the centers of those cities should combine to prevent sprawl from taking place.

I was almost a mega-commuter myself. In 2008 I was offered a job near San Francisco, on the Peninsula, that would have paid very well and would have been a great career move. But my wife was happy at her job at a public library on the Monterey Peninsula, and wasn’t interested in moving. So I would have had to become a “mega-commuter” of exactly 100 miles in each direction. With traffic that’d have been 2-3 hours each way. I could have driven to Gilroy or San José Diridon and taken Caltrain, which would have helped, but the commute would still have been really long. I decided against taking the job because the commute would have been a soul-crusher.

The Bay Area is going to be a major center for jobs for some time to come. But until more housing and more transit is built around the bay itself, more people will struggle to afford a place to live and get to work. I don’t think pushing everyone to the Central Valley is an ideal solution, but people are already there, and the fact is that housing will always be cheaper there than the Bay Area core (and I don’t mean that as a criticism of the Valley). California as a whole needs a lot more passenger rail, whether it’s streetcars in Oakland, a second BART tube crossing the Bay, extensions out to eastern Alameda and Contra Costa Counties (and maybe even Solano County someday?), or commuter and high speed rail to the Central Valley and the Salinas Valley.

  1. missiondweller
    Mar 5th, 2013 at 22:04

    The e-BART is a smart idea which will extend rail from BART’s end in Pittsburg/Baypoint to several miles east. But a link through farmland all the way to Stockton would link high paying jobs with affordable housing. It would be a huge benefit to Stockton’s declining tax base and put Bay Area families in nice homes.

    Wish we could do it tomorrow.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    It’s like extending the Philadelphia subway to Times Square. Well more like extending the Philadelphia subway to Atlanti… nah Atlantic City is closer to Philadelphia than Stockton is to San Francisco. Extending the Philadelphia subway to White Marsh Maryland. Or to York PA. Or the Chicago El to Milwaukee. Boston subway to Portland or the Washington Metro to Richmond.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    “Or the Chicago El to Milwaukee.”

    There used to be something very much like that–the Chicago, North Shore & Milwaukee:


    Don’t you wish it was still around? I do. . .

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Also stumbled onto this–material on the South Shore:


    Not related at all, but included for its rarity–the New York, Ontario & Western, abandoned in 1957 (and a railroad that some would suggest should never have been built in the first place):




    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    More on the NYO&W:


    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    It didn’t stop at every station on the North Side.

    blankslate Reply:

    BART has stop spacing around 3-5 miles once you get out of the SF-Oakland-Berkeley core. There are plenty of commuter rail lines that have a similar stop spacing on lines up to 100 miles long.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    what does the stop spacing in suburbia have to do with stopping every mile in Oakland?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Where are those 100-mile commuter lines?

    The longest lines outside the US I know of are actually quite fast. For example, the Tokaido Main Line, whose JR East-owned portion extends 105 km out of Tokyo, is a fast commuter line, with average speeds of about 60 km/h and very long interstations in the urban core. Ditto the 160-km long Utsunomiya Line.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The Montauk or Port Jervis lines are long. But not a whole lot of people use them. And the trains don’t stop at every station. There are rush hour trains that skip Jamaica. The Bay Area is very roughly like Philadelphia. No one is suggesting that running the Broad Street Line to Allentown is a good idea. Though Allentown is closer to Philadelphia than Stockton is to San Francisco. Or running it to Stroudsburg. Wouldn’t that be great people could take the subway to Stroudsburg and change to the PATH train that goes to Scranton. PATCO to Binghamton! Imagine the possibilities going all the way to Atlantic City without changing trains!

    JBaloun Reply:

    These east coast comparisons stretch the limits of comparability to even call them ‘roughly’ or ‘approximately’ or ‘like’.

    For Philadelphia to compare to the Bay Area then Atlanta could simulate the distant effect of LA but you have to erase the effect of NYC, DC, Baltimore, Chicago, and many more. It is more than just the physical distance.

    And if they are comparable then so is the reverse. The Bay Area is roughly comparable to Philadelphia. For a clearer understanding, erase *all* the east coast transportation infrastructure and replace it with *all* the west coast infrastructure and then run the comparison. You get a few Amtraks, a dozen Caltrains, The Munis, the Sacto light rail, VTA, AC and Golden Gate Transit buses, all of it. It is not enough to move the east coast population.

    Now give us the east coast equipment and we will be drowning in mass transit.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Yes California is exceptional and should run 100 mile long subway lines even though no one else in the world does it.

    James in PA Reply:

    Stockton would be White Marsh if, of say Tracy were Baltimore. It doesn’t work that way.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    White Marsh is 90 miles from Philadelphia whether or not Baltimore is Baltimore or Baltimore slides into the Chesapeke and floats off to Texas.

    Jon Reply:

    Extending eBART to Stockton is a terrible idea, commuters from Stockton would have to stop at every BART station on the way to SF as well as transfer trains. Even with regular BART you’d be looking at 90-120 minute commutes. A better plan is to upgrade the ACE line, restore the Dumbarton bridge and run regional trains from Stockton to SF with a travel time of less than 60 mins.

    Bottom line is, very few people are willing to travel more than 60 mins to get to work, so expanding BART much past it’s current endpoints will provide diminishing returns. Either BART needs to build express tracks before expanding further, or a regional rail system running on separate tracks needs to be created to get people from further afield places to downtown SF in a reasonable time.

    joe Reply:


    60 min is arbitrary and not that hard to do now in the bay area.

    If you can give me time with space with wifi and can do a lot on that ride into work. It is productive.

    Commute in to the office and tag-up, meet, & etc. work. On the way home finish my day. Write up my actions and a plan.

    Even if it is dead time, reading and music, no laptop space, it can be useful time.

    Jon Reply:

    It’s not arbitrary, it’s empirical. Every study on commute time shows a large drop in number after 60 minutes.

    joe Reply:

    So it’s completely random that the number is a rounded 60 minutes.

    Well that’s an atypical commute even for google employees who use a free shuttle. Look at the Caltrain schedule and see what limits you put on the SF to Microsoft campus commute.

    -Get to Caltrain (22nd st station, 4th King, Bayshore or Milbrae) from say Noe Valley where I used to live.
    -Wait for train
    -Ride train
    -Get on Shuttle
    -Ride shuttle to MS campus
    -Get to office.

    Not going to happen in 60 minutes.
    Do that in 60 minutes. I can’t.

    If not then you’re saying a comute we see now is not doable – so I say that’s an

    Alon Levy Reply:

    “Large drop” != 0.

    There are people who commute for >90 minutes. For example, tons of people in Tokyo. They do not like these commutes, and whenever it’s possible to commute in less time, they pick that option.

    Eric Reply:

    Doesn’t sound like fun. And Japan is supposed to have good public transportation. Is it even possible for an urban area the size of Tokyo to have reasonable transportation from one part to another? I am asking technically, politically, and economically.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    It does have good transit. But the population density in Tokyo proper isn’t that high (every single ward is less dense than Manhattan and Paris), and the city’s so big someone has to live far.

    Jon Reply:

    Actually, what you’re describing is the reason why the shuttle buses are so popular compared to Caltrain in neighborhoods such as Noe Valley. It reduces a commute over an hour via Caltrain to a commute of less than an hour.

    60 minutes is obviously not a hard cut off. It is however a good rule of thumb for the maximum commute time most people will put up with.

    Take a look at table 1 in this document and you’ll see that 92.5% of US workers have a travel time of less than 60 minutes. The bay area is above average for commute times, but not among the highest (see NYC, DC, Chicago).

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    and when you get on the BART train at Embarcadero you will be able to get a seat…..

    H ST LL Reply:

    Not everyone who rides BART is going to SF.

    blankslate Reply:

    A better plan is to upgrade the ACE line, restore the Dumbarton bridge and run regional trains from Stockton to SF with a travel time of less than 60 mins.

    The current ACE schedule from Stockton to Fremont is 1:35, Redwood City to SF on the Baby Bullet is 30 minutes, and Fremont to RWC would be another 20 minutes or so. That’s 2:25, quite a ways off from a 60 minute trip from Stockton to SF. Are we expecting ACE upgrades that will increase travel speeds by 150% in the foreseeable future?

    Bottom line is, very few people are willing to travel more than 60 mins to get to work, so expanding BART much past it’s current endpoints will provide diminishing returns. Either BART needs to build express tracks before expanding further, or a regional rail system running on separate tracks needs to be created to get people from further afield places to downtown SF in a reasonable time.

    You are assuming that every job in the Bay Area is located in downtown SF, and everyone using the line will be coming from Stockton. A lot of Bay Area jobs are closer to Stockton than that. And a lot of people board ACE at stations closer in (Manteca, Tracy, Livermore).

    I agree in principle that upgrading ACE is a better solution than extending BART over the Altamont. The furthest east BART ever needs to go is Vasco Road in east Livermore, where there will hopefully be an easy transfer between the two systems (consider Millbrae an example of what NOT to do).

    blankslate Reply:

    Also, we have to remember that the train travel time itself is not the whole trip. You also have to get from home to station and then from station to job. Realistically, if we want people sitting at their desks less than 60 minutes after they walk out their front doors, the actual train trip needs to be no more than 45-50 minutes.

    Jon Reply:

    I guess I should have said, a new medium-high speed alignment roughly following the existing ACE line. Better than than would a new standard gauge Transbay tube, which would open up plenty of other alignments. My point is that at the sort of distances we’re talking about we need to be thinking about regional rail rather than extending metro rail.

    swing hanger Reply:

    Good point. Realm of fantasy, I know, but imagine run-through operations between suburban networks in the east bay/CV and the peninsula/south bay, via a standard gauged BART or parallel tunnel. Well, it is done where I live.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Standard gauge Transbay Tube, linking “Capitol Corridor” (and perhaps ACE/Altamont line) to Caltrain route. Frequent commuter service — and high speed service continuing to LA and Sacramento.

    Very much the best option. Requires only one platform / two tracks at SF and only one platform / two tracks at Oakland.

    Joey Reply:

    In that case it’s not “Capitol Corridor,” it’s an entirely new, dedicated alignment, because you’re never, ever going to be able to run non-compliant trains, or for that matter compliant trains at reasonable service levels, on UP’s tracks.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    It has to be a realllllllly wide platform so the people who show up early for the once an hour train to Stockton have someplace to wait.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Right on, Nathanael, but apparently the BART Empire covets this second tube and would likely insist on holiest of holies Indian broad gauge.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    One of the challenges the Bay Area will face over the next 50 years is building out a rail network that can provide the services of a Metro (lots of stops on shorter routes focused on urban cores) and of a regional rail system (with more widely spaced stops on longer routes focused on bringing people to the urban cores). BART is asked to do both, but eventually it will need to evolve and provide different kinds of service instead of one-size-fits-all.

    missiondweller Reply:

    Jon, You don’t sound as though you’re familiar with BART. You can get around the Bay Area fairly easily on it. BART goes in different directions so, no, you don’t have to stop at every stop. Many people already commute to Pittsburg/Baypoint then take the BART to their destination in the Bay Area. So the ridership is already there.

    From what I understand eBART WILL be extended to Stockton at some point, like it or not.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    From what I understand eBART WILL be extended to Stockton at some point, like it or not.

    Well, in that case, I guess you could extend it to Merced, link to the HSR station there and and have yourself a blended system!

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Someday there will a be an HSR station in Stockton. It will probably just far enough away from the BART station that only masochists will transfer between the two.

    Jon Reply:

    I’ve lived here for three years, I know perfectly well how BART works.

    Surely you understand that when I said ‘you have to stop at every station’ I meant that the train you are on stops at every station between you origin and destination. In other words, there is no skip-stop or express service, and there won’t be unless they start adding passing tracks.

    The latest eBART phase 2 plans show an extension down the median of Hwy 4 to Byron. That’s not the quickest route if your end destination is Stockton.


    Ted Judah Reply:

    The problem for BART is that it needs to invest in expensive capacity upgrades in Oakland to handle more spurs in the hinterlands, whether it’s Larkspur, Santa Clara, Vallejo, Stockton, Gilroy, Patterson, Davis, Turlock, Yuba City, Porterville, Red Bluff, Barstow, Arcata, Temecula…well you get the idea.

    Because the BART Directors are geographically allocated, it’s very hard to get consensus to enhance service where it already exists because there are *gasp* areas in the Bay Area that have been paying the BART property tax levy for generations that still never get within earshot of the space age train.

    Peter Baldo Reply:

    If manufacturing returns to Northern California (and I think it will to some extent), it’ll happen in Stockton. Land is available, infrastructure is built, it’s still accessible from the Bay Area, and blue-collar people can afford to live there. Stockton will bounce back; commuters will be going TO Stockton, from places like Walnut Creek.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Why would people want to commute from Walnut Creek to Stockton when they can commute from Stockton to Stockton?

    joe Reply:

    Because marriage often results in a two-body problem. Two adults need to work in two different localities. It can be that one finds work in Stockton (given the factory hypothetical) and the other in Walnut creek or SF.

    Robert’s dilemma was finding a place to live for two adults, work for two careers and quality of life.

    jimsf Reply:

    Also, with multiple career changes as the norm now, if a family has a home, the kids are in a school, and the parents go through 2 or 3 job changes as the economy changes, people will drive to where they can get the job just like they will drive to where they can get the house.

    In southern california, you have so many job centers that the commute goes in all directions at all times now.

    in the bay area, the highway 4, 680 and 24 are mostly one way, but the 280 the 101 and the nimitz are all-directional. Even you live near the physical center of the bay area, a couple coule easily have jobs 100 miles apart from each other.

    Joey Reply:

    a couple coule easily have jobs 100 miles apart from each other.

    Which is very far from ideal if you have kids, particularly young kids, as you may need to get home quickly for certain emergencies.

    joe Reply:

    Yeah – one can use daycare at or near work. That’s what we parents do. And you have a list of people to call or act autonomously if there’s an EQ.

    JimSF is pointing to a reason the SV is so robust. One can lose a job or move around and keep a home and have a two career family.

    We’re working 45-50 miles from home but in the same locality. It could easily be opposite directions if I had a CSU job in Monterey.

    Colleague has a spouse at UC Davis so they live in SF. A faculty member at Stanford’s spouse is tenured at UC B so that person commutes to BART and rides to work. They use faculty housing.

    HSR enables a family to expand their range of possible work environments and housing.

    Joey Reply:

    Yeah – one can use daycare at or near work. That’s what we parents do.

    What happens when your children are beyond daycare age? Do send them to school near work, tying them to your commuting patterns, and potentially forcing them to change schools if you change jobs, or near home, putting them out of easy access in the event of an emergency?

    Jon Reply:

    …or you could just work reasonably close to where you live, and send your kids to a school reasonably close to both. Problem solved.

    jimsf Reply:

    The future of california will look like this. A statewide high speed core system. With regions and cities strung along the hsr lines, nodes, each with its own local and regional transit connections. This will allow business to locate anywhere in the state, and allow people to live anywhere in the state, with fast easy access to all all other cities/regions/job centers. it will create more economic equalibrium for california, take some of the pressure off the urban cores, and spread the wealth to previously deprived communities. This is the whole point behind building the system.

    Joey Reply:

    Existing HSR systems have had the effect of bringing smaller regions into the economic spheres of larger regions. This has both positive and negative consequences.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    Either that, or a barren scrub-choked wasteland.

  2. Derek
    Mar 5th, 2013 at 23:37

    Want to quickly, cheaply, and permanently reduce commuting times? Convert existing freeway lanes to express lanes.

    Eric Reply:

    Or BRT.

    Derek Reply:

    BRT would be helpful in increasing transportation capacity, but it won’t permanently reduce traffic congestion:

    So if somebody stays home, or if you add capacity to the road, there’s somebody there waiting to use that space. Well you should expect the same thing to happen if somebody gets out of their car and gets on the bus, it’s bringing up a little bit more room on the roads, and there’s somebody out there waiting to use it.

    blankslate Reply:

    I thought you were talking about reducing commuting times. That’s quite distinct from reducing congestion.

    joe Reply:

    Following up on blankslate: Reducing congestion for what purpose?

    Maybe permanently reduce congestion has become a end goal itself – why? Why isn’t adding capacity via BUS good. It isn’t permanent.

    It seems analogous to a management edict that engineers will reduce Lines of Code (or SLOC) on projects. Cost is estimated by SLOC so they think the goal constricts software costs.

    Charge $100 a mile to use a road – that will reduce both congestion and housing costs.

    Derek Reply:

    Charging $100 a mile to use a road will only temporarily reduce congestion. Eventually enough people will be able to afford it that the road will get congested again.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    You’re parodying yourself.

    joe Reply:

    Well if 100 a mile isn’t going to work then I guess we have to start killing people when there’s congestion. If the fear of death doesn’t work then by continually murdering drivers, we’ll de facto reduce congestion.

    Oh and my anti-congestion plan includes tow trucks since a car with a dead driver also causes congestion.

    Problem solved.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Tow trucks are too expensive and too slow. I say, run those cars over with a tank, Lithuania-style.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Leaves too much debris on the road that then causes congestion because of the rubbernecking.

    Mike Jones Reply:

    BRT “should” take a mixed flow lane away and replace it with a high capacity bus lane.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Converting general-purpose lanes to bus lanes *is* worthwhile.

    Pouring new concrete for bus lanes… well, you get a better bang for your buck by laying rail.

    Eric Reply:


    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Yep, taking lanes for rail is definitely a good idea – at least when it comes to connecting towns and suburbs. Within the suburbs, though, you do want to deviate and serve downtowns.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    A technological dead end, but interesting anyway:


    From a shortline road in Tennessee:


    Off topic, but perhaps of interest–Seattle and a change from trolleys to electric trolley buses:


    Stumbled across this, too–labeled as San Francisco in the 1920s, but some of the cars look a good deal newer, I would say the date is closer to the late 1930s:


  3. alfred
    Mar 5th, 2013 at 23:41

    No need to go all the way to SF – Walnut Creek has lots of jobs.

  4. John Burrows
    Mar 5th, 2013 at 23:59

    I usually associate mega-commuters with high-tech. But here is another example which interestingly is intertwined with some of the Apple facilities along Homestead Road in Santa Clara—The Santa Clara Kaiser Permanente Medical Center.

    Kaiser Santa Clara and its satellites have 4,800 employees with a median income of around $78,000 per year, an income which by itself would be marginal when it comes to buying a place to live in this area. But if I am reading Zillow right, this median Kaiser employee could buy a fairly nice place in Merced or in Fresno.

    My wife works for Kaiser and she has mentioned other employees who have tried commuting from the San Joaquin Valley but have had to give it up because the commute was just too brutal.

    If High Speed Rail were in operation and if ticket prices can be kept low enough, it would become much more feasible to live in Merced or in Fresno and work at Kaiser— According to the CaHSR Interactive Map, the trip time from either Merced or Fresno to San Jose is less than one hour. A Kaiser employee who lived within 15 minutes of one of these stations could arrive in San Jose roughly an hour and 15 minutes after leaving home, climb aboard the Kaiser van and be at work in just over an hour and a half.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    The distances aren’t quite as great, but the MARC suburban services between Washington, DC and Martinsburg, W.Va. take about two hours’ time one way for a trip of about 75 miles. Interestingly, overall patronage is continuing to grow on the segment from Washington to Brunswick (and there is talk of having severe capacity problems on that section of the route, almost enough to justify new line capacity), but has declined slightly on the extension from Brunswick to Martinsburg, which includes stops in Harpers Ferry and Duffields in West Virginia.

    Jo Reply:

    A monthly pass should work to make it more affordable.

    Jo Reply:

    I often think that that Los Banos should also have a HSR station, or another type of rail service could use the HSR tracks to provide service to Los Banos from Santa Clara?

    joe Reply:

    SPRAWL. It was intentionally taken off the HSR to protect near by wetlands.

    Presently there is ample room in S Santa Clara – limited service and it’s only 1 way service. Before going to the CV via 152, I propose they infill Santa Clara Co and improve VTA service.

    Also CA can enforce housing reqs. that go along with job/corproate growth. Many Bay Area cities violate these rules yet still encourage job growth. Menlo Park violated the law for 20 years until lawsuits by 3rd parties in 2012 forced MP to settle least they lose the expanded FaceBook campus. That’s 1000 homes, some affordable, for the most congested, high rent cities.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    It’s not strictly high-tech. Because it’s so hard to build housing, and because there isn’t enough subsidized housing, a lot of the service workers find they have to move further out in order to find anything resembling affordable rent. A place to live is the first thing to find, and then the commute can be figured out, but for most people, the choices are limited and the costs of the commute keep rising.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    Housing is not the problem, as it’s usually the cheapest both in terms of labor and material cost to build. The real issue is that in counties that have incorporated cities, there is a economic disadvantage for the cities to provide enough housing for their workforce given that Prop 13 caps property tax levies and Bradley-Burns guarantees a city point-of-sale- sales tax revenue. Amend Bradley-Burns and raise the amount of impact fees cities can charge and watch the state’s housing shortage disappear overnight. Your local strip mall will get bulldozed faster than you can say “eminent domain”.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Robert, there’s not enough housing of any kind, subsidized or not. It’s illegal to build a 20-floor market-rate condo in San Francisco, too, unless you bribe people. Think of mega-commuters as overflow: these are people who want to live in San Francisco but can’t because there’s not enough housing, and then market pricing means that the people who draw the short straw are the poor. Subsidizing housing without building more just changes who gets the short straw; it doesn’t eliminate mega-commuting.

  5. John Burrows
    Mar 6th, 2013 at 00:58

    To be technical—Kaiser Hospital is in Santa Clara but borders on Cupertino—Apple is next door but is in Cupertino. Kaiser has a satellite campus in Cupertino, intertwined with Apple.

  6. Jerry
    Mar 6th, 2013 at 01:10

    The internet article from the San Jose Mercury News by Mike Rosenberg includes the 31 page US Census based analysis. On page 9 of that report it states that nationwide, 11.3 per cent of all of the mega-commuters use public transportation to get to work. The rest drive alone (68.3%), car pool (14.3%), and the remaining (6.1%) use other means.
    The definition of mega-commuting combines the definition of time and distance:
    Extreme Commuting – Traveling 90 or more minutes to work.
    Long Distance Commuting – Traveling 50 or more miles to work.

  7. joe
    Mar 6th, 2013 at 04:33

    Since the 1970s, and especially since the mid-1980s, it has been extremely difficult to build housing near the region’s job centers. Housing demand has not kept up, and the result has been a serious affordability crisis.

    Here’s why. Some Bay Area cities encourage jobs but discourage housing to preserve their way of life. Hypocritical.

    City of Menlo Park Settles Housing Lawsuit

    Project: Housing Element Enforcement and Advocacy Peninsula Interfaith Action et al. v. City of Menlo Park and Menlo Park City Council
    Date: May 23, 2012

    Agreement Will Allow Facebook Project to Proceed, Affordable Housing to be Built
    MENLO PARK, CA—The Menlo Park City Council last night unanimously approved a settlement with a coalition of community groups and affordable housing advocates to meet the City’s share of the region’s housing needs. The settlement opens the door for future development of roughly 1,000 homes affordable to very-low, low and moderate income families. (In San Mateo County, a very-low income family of four is one with household income up to $55,500.)
    “This is a great victory,” said Diana Reddy, a leader with Peninsula Interfaith Action (PIA). “Rents in San Mateo County rose 17 percent in the past year alone. This settlement means that teachers, city workers and others who work in Menlo Park will soon be able to spend less time driving and more time with their families.”
    While Menlo Park is a particularly egregious example with its long history of failing to comply with this set of laws, it is not alone. Neighboring Palo Alto also has not yet submitted a draft housing element for the current planning period along with four other cities in the nine-county Bay Area region: Albany, Fairfax, Mill Valley and Novato.

    Menlo Park approved Facebook and 6,000+ new jobs but for 20 years has not complied with State housing guidelines. They were sued for noncompliance and it put Facebook campus at risk. Now the CIty has to find room for 1,000 homes by May 2013.

    Palo ALto is not in compliance but they are put upon and what the law changed.

    Like many cities up and down the Peninsula, Palo Alto is struggling to find the best strategy for standing up to the unreasonable targets for new housing construction imposed by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG).

    The regional agency, empowered by state legislation, is charged with determining how much new housing each city should be required to build between 2014 and 2022 based on growth estimates and the jobs-housing imbalance in that city.

    In the case of Palo Alto, ABAG has determined the city must plan for 2,079 new housing units, a number city leaders and virtually everyone else say is unreasonable and not attainable. The goal would require the city to find sites for nearly 260 new homes a year or 21 every month over the eight-year period.

    And while some communities, like job-rich Mountain View, have approved large new housing developments in order to meet the targets, most Palo Alto residents are not eager to see higher-density, in-fill housing.

    One encouraging development is the initiative by Assemblyman Rich Gordon to convene a meeting of city representatives early next month to hear their concerns and explore possible legislative remedies that might improve the current system. Gordon said he expects a dozen representatives from local jurisdictions to join him on a new committee he has formed to review the state’s housing laws.

    Some cities want the growth and jobs but not the housing to accommodate the growth. Again, it’s time to ask their representative to change the law.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Yep, that’s exactly right. Cities like Palo Alto need to be building out a LOT more housing.

  8. Amanda in the South Bay
    Mar 6th, 2013 at 07:12

    The way you all are describing it, its as if Santa Clara County is full of depopulated ghost towns. Lots of people live (and work!) here, but you make it seem as if having a 3-4 bedroom ranch house with lawns is a god given right that people *must have*. All this talk about commuting from the Central Valley is just genuflecting before the gods of suburbia, just with a train (rather than car) veneer.

    jimsf Reply:

    If you have three kids, you might actually enjoy having a house with a backyard and 3 bedrooms. Of course for the price you can put the 3 kids and the dog in the one bedroom apt in santa clara. Sure you might have to sleep in the kitchen but just think of it as an adventure.

    swing hanger Reply:

    Not everyone wants to live in a sprawling 4 bedroom mcmansion with a front and backyard that requires maintenance and gobbles up water. Even with a family of 4 or 5, a large condominium or townhouse/duplex with a small backyard is comfortable, and there are things called neighborhood parks where children can play- this is how many people in other developed nations live, and is far more sustainable than the American gawd given right to live in a Beaver Cleaver home.

    jimsf Reply:

    SOme people may, however those people also have to pay 400,000 for a condo large enough for a family of 4 or 5 versus the 150k for the house in the valley. The people who have the 150k homes in the valley, can’t afford 400k in the bay.

    Im a single person who can live comfortable in a 350 sf condo, but cant even afford that in the city.

    At this time there are still some condos under 200k in the very crime ridden parts of concord and pittsburg, but living out there you may as well be in the valley.

    The problem is cost of living. And until there is housing that is affordable, only people who can afford to live in the inner bay area will live there.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    One way to look at it is that the rent is too high. Another way to look at it is that the pay is too low.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:


    Ted Judah Reply:

    It’s a death spiral courtesy of Prop 13 and the Bradley-Burns Act that allows cities to take a cut of sales tax revenue from the point of sale location. Thus, retail always wins out in both displacing more housing units and providing low wage jobs. Break that stranglehold and things will change.

    jimsf Reply:

    And you can’t lump everyone into the mcmansion category. many people live in very modest homes in the valley.

    The bottom line is people will live in the best place they can find for the money they can afford that meets their needs and preferences. And that is what’s happened all over california. I left the bay area because its too crowded and discovered the central coast paradise – so much so that I commute 2 hours each way to visit my partner.

    What really needs to happen is that the valley cities need to change their planning and building patterns to allow for a more urban core but the people who live in those towns and vote, vote against doing that. what can you do?

    And no one is building family sized houses or condos for under 200k in san francisco. Oh I wish they were and so do millions of other people. But it will never happen.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Nice little house, with proper interior work could be a jewel. It would be better without that attached garage right in front, though; takes up a good part of the footprint, and doesn’t look so good, at least to a traditionalist like me.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The vestigial porch is disappointing. How can you watch the world go by on the sidewalk if you can’t lounge on the porch. One does need sidewalks for that…

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Well, I don’t mean to imply Santa Clara County is full of depopulated ghost towns, far from it. And I’m definitely not one to argue that suburbia is some sort of god-given right. I’ve spent a lot of time arguing for urban density as the way to revive the California Dream.

    But I don’t think these people are strictly motivated by the desire for a suburban lifestyle. The problem is that there is not enough housing supply period in the Bay Area core, near job centers and existing transit. So increasingly, if you want a place to live that you can afford, you have to drive further and further out. If someone could find a 3BR unit in Santa Clara County for the same price they can find it in San Joaquin County, then I think most would take it, even if the 3BR unit were a rowhouse or in an apartment complex. Those types of family housing don’t often get built, unfortunately, and they’re desperately needed.

    Give households more affordable choices and I am sure that the majority will choose to live in the Bay Area core.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    But wait…many of the large footprint job centers in Santa Clara County, Orange County, etc were put there because the housing and land was cheaper than in the existing urban cores. Now that those communities are built out, demand for housing becomes strongest in the urban core, which then attracts large footprint job centers… wait a minute…

  9. Brian_FL
    Mar 6th, 2013 at 07:44

    Found an interesting item on a blog regarding the CAHSRA not yet obtaining or applying for a STB exemption or STB approval of the CA project. Here in Florida, All Aboard Florida was recently granted exemption from STB oversight because it will not cross state lines and did not connect with any interstate carriers (Amtrak). Of course CAHSRA is completely different – they will link with Amtrak during the initial phase of operations in the central section. Could this result in delays? How will this impact the federal funding if the STB review takes a long time and they do not grant an exemption? It was noted in the blog that DesertExpress took several years to get an exemption ruling. The STB has jurisdiction over any new railroad being constructed in the US, so I do not see how CAHSRA can construct a rail line without obtaining a ruling from the board first.

    Here is the link: http://www.libusters.com/blog/archives/10485

    Brian_FL Reply:

    Latest: in Politico.com today, House Railroads Chairman Jeff Denham met with CHSRA chairman

    In the Golden State: Denham sat down with CHSRA Chairman Dan Richard on Tuesday — and he came out confident the authority will soon apply for STB construction approval, something it has not done. “It is our understanding that it is very clear in the law that they have to file. And we anticipate that they are prepared to do so in the next couple weeks,” Denham told MT. Will seeking that approval throw a wrench into the authority’s plans to break ground this summer? Denham said it’s up to STB — and a source familiar with the agency’s workings said the board will try to accommodate the Golden State’s time crunch. “The board doesn’t want to be a barrier,” the source said. Still, knowing how huge the California project is and all that is at stake, the source added: “It’s going to be tight.” Burgess, for Pros: http://politico.pro/Yv2HrS

    here is the link http://www.politico.com/morningtransportation/0313/morningtransportation10162.html

    My question is why has the CHSRA not applied for STB exemption yet? Why did they wait so long to do this basic step? Seeing that it could introduce a delay into the project, I wonder if the staff at CHSRA are really that competent in rail related matters?

    Brian_FL Reply:

    here are the letters that Chairman Jeff Denham wrote to the FRA and CHSRA:



    Nathanael Reply:

    Denham’s talking out his ass. First of all, the STB position is that CHSRA does not have to file for approval. Second, the STB is going to approve.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Brian: The STB did not merely grant an exemption to Florida East Coast. They ruled that Florida East Coast DID NOT HAVE TO CONSULT THE STB and that the STB DID NOT HAVE JURISDICTION. That’s not what I expected the STB to do, but that’s what they did.

    CHSRA can rely on that precedent. Therefore this isn’t going to delay anything.

    Brian_FL Reply:

    Nathanael, under 49 CFR Part 1150 (certificate to construct, acquire, or operate a rail line) it is required that STB approval is needed in order to construct a new rail line. All Aboard Florida petitioned the STB for an exemption at the same time they requested the STB to rule on whether their project would fall under STB oversight. AAF is not part of the interstate rail network. It does not connect with Amtrak either physically or by through ticketing. CA HSR rail line will be used by Amtrak as part of their interstate network. At least the initial operating segment will. As CHSRA is not a common carrier, Part 1150 basically requires them to petition the board for an exemption and if not granted, then a decision on obtaining a certificate from the STB to construct the line. This may involve completed environmental assessment reports (such as what AAF had to go through). The fact that AAF was granted an exemption does not mean that the CHSRA can ignore the STB completely. That would violate federal law under 49 CFR Part 1150. But my main concern is that the CHSRA either thought they didn’t have to petition the STB or they were ignorant of the law. I am pro HSR but when I see stuff like this, it makes me wonder how competent the staff at CHSRA really is. Here is a link to the section of the CFR:


    Go to page 184 for the beginning of Part 1150.

  10. D. P. Lubic
    Mar 6th, 2013 at 09:36

    Came across this on Railway Preservation News of all places–and thought it might be of very high interest here.


  11. jimsf
    Mar 6th, 2013 at 09:38

    Everyone seems concerned with people making 70 thousand a year. But no ever talks about where the people who make 20-40k are suppose to live. They are often megas commuters of a different kind, stringing together combinations of walking, buses transfers and rail, usually at unconventional hours when transit service is sparse. When I first started at amtrak, 12 an hour, renting a cheap room from a friend in concord, with a half hour walk at 4am to the bart station, a anoth 35 minutes on the train, then another 20 minute walk from west oakland bart to the rail yards, a 20 hour shift, then the whole thing over again getting home at 2 am. Crazy. Or before that another commute was from hilltop green in richmond, on the bus, to el cerrito, to montgomery st. sf. – over an hour, to a 5 dollar an hour job.
    Then in the suburbs you also have people with low wage jobs who can’t afford cars who live in places with sparse transit whose commutes take a ridiculous amount of time to get to those low wage jobs. Often in suburbs and small towns transit doesn’t operate after 6p or on weekends, when most of these people work.

    I used transit all over northern californa from marysville in the north to santa rose to sf to the city, a multitude of east bay cities, up and down the pen, and in the southbay. I did this for 22 years from 1980 to 2002, when I finally could afford a car thanks to a union wage.

    It can be done, but it is burden for all those who make meager wages. And low wage jobs aren’t just for teenagers on summer break anymore. Families are living on those wages.

    90 minutes on the freeway in the comfort in a climate controlled vehicle with music personal space is dream commute comparably.

    VBobier Reply:

    Not to mention those with incomes below $20,000 a year…

    Derek Reply:

    But no ever talks about where the people who make 20-40k are suppose to live.

    If we subsidize housing close to work for those people, it’s really a subsidy to their employers who then don’t have to pay their workers a living wage.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    works that way with EITC and food stamps too.

  12. jimsf
    Mar 6th, 2013 at 10:12

    This is why people moved to the valley 167k brand new. I’m tempted myself.

  13. blankslate
    Mar 6th, 2013 at 10:39

    I was almost a mega-commuter myself. In 2008 I was offered a job near San Francisco, on the Peninsula, that would have paid very well and would have been a great career move. But my wife was happy at her job at a public library on the Monterey Peninsula, and wasn’t interested in moving. So I would have had to become a “mega-commuter” of exactly 100 miles in each direction. With traffic that’d have been 2-3 hours each way. I could have driven to Gilroy or San José Diridon and taken Caltrain, which would have helped, but the commute would still have been really long. I decided against taking the job because the commute would have been a soul-crusher.

    It’s interesting to me that most of your post discusses housing costs as the cause Mega-Commutes in the Bay Area, but in your own personal story housing costs play no role. Given that Mega-Commuters are such a small proportion of total commuters (2%), I suspect that the story is more complicated than “drive till you qualify” in a large number of these cases. Anecdotally, everyone I know who has found themselves in this situation had a complication, such as spouses with good jobs in two separate locations, roots in one location (family, friends) and job in another, an unexpected job change but they haven’t moved yet, or simply a strong preference for one location over another. For example, there are a non-trivial number of employees in my San Jose office who commute from San Francisco (just under the 50 mile threshold, but certainly a bear of a commute) for no other reason than that they PREFER living in a stimulating urban environment over the suburbia available near the office. These people directly contradict “drive till you qualify” – they are paying more money, for less space, than they would for housing near their jobs.

    Granted, we should continue to push for less restrictive zoning and better trains in California, but we shouldn’t fool ourselves that this will eliminate mega-commutes. Build HSR, and I’m sure there will be some people for whom it will make sense to live in Bakersfield and work in the Bay Area.

  14. Peter
    Mar 6th, 2013 at 10:45

    OT, but the Authority’s attorneys have filed a detailed, step-by-step take-down of the arguments raised in the remaining lawsuit against the Merced-Fresno EIR. Go to https://services.saccourt.ca.gov/publicdms/search.aspx/, select “2012”, and enter 80001165 as the case number.

  15. Reality Check
    Mar 6th, 2013 at 11:07

    Caltrain electrification churns high-speed rail controversy

    High-speed rail plan opponents view the plan as politically motivated. “There were a whole variety of rules in 1A to entice voters to vote for it,” Palo Alto City Rail Committee Chair Larry Klein said in an interview, citing the 2 hour, 40 minute trip time limit and its prohibition of state subsidies.


    Klein is skeptical about the environmental benefits of Caltrain electrification, arguing that the heavy construction necessary to build a high-speed rail line would itself produce a large amount of greenhouse gases. Moreover, overestimated ridership could mean that people would only continue driving exhaust-producing cars.

    Since 2008, Menlo Park and Atherton have repeatedly sued the California High Speed Rail Authority charging that its environmental impact report was inadequate. In end, the rail authority “keeps billing the people of California for this low quality work,” Grindley said. In his ruling last month, Judge Kenny said that the high-speed rail authority had “reasonably and in good faith” revised its plans to meet all the legal concerns the Peninsula cities have raised over the years and no longer stood in violation of any California environmental laws.

    Although Palo Alto hasn’t taken any official position on Caltrain electrification, Klein cited concerns over whether installation of electrical lines would require that some trees be eliminated. Trees densely line several stretches of the Caltrain corridor.

    Klein also said Palo Alto residents worry about the possibility of having to add grade crossings, or the intersection of multiple railways, to accommodate the increased number of trains that would run. Although the electrified train would run primarily on two tracks, some parts of the corridor would include a separate track for the existing diesel-run Caltrains.

    Klein also said Palo Alto residents worry about the possibility of having to add grade crossings, or the intersection of multiple railways, to accommodate the increased number of trains that would run. Although the electrified train would run primarily on two tracks, some parts of the corridor would include a separate track for the existing diesel-run Caltrains.

    Joey Reply:

    Klein also said Palo Alto residents worry about the possibility of having to add grade crossings, or the intersection of multiple railways, to accommodate the increased number of trains that would run. Although the electrified train would run primarily on two tracks, some parts of the corridor would include a separate track for the existing diesel-run Caltrains.

    None of that makes any sense…

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Same interpretation here. I wonder what Klein’s background is, and in particular what his age is.

    How could electrification be a bad thing for a commuter railroad? Why would there be additional grade crossings? Sheesh!!

    Maybe we need to make the Peninsula that heritage road with steam. . .

    Nathanael Reply:

    Indeed, Klein is talking absolute nonsense. Who the hell let him be “Palo Alto City Rail Committee Chair”?

    Nathanael Reply:

    FWIW, Caltrain could chop down all the trees which are overhanging or right next to the rail line right now, no questions asked. Lineside vegetation clearance is a legal right of railroads for safety reasons.

    Andrew Reply:

    There is always room to build more condominiums in the Bay Area. The idea that people should commute to the Central Valley is ridiculous, and HSR doesn’t do much good for people who work in the spread out job centres of Silicon Valley. Families need to get used to living in apartments like other big cities (NYC, Los Angeles, Toronto, Vancouver).

    jimsf Reply:

    two problems. Families don’t want to live in condos, and two, no matter how many condos you build in the bay area, they will not be affordable enough for people who are buying homes with yards in the valley for 150k

    When someone builds condos, single family homes, or apartments in the bay area, with enough room for a family, for a monthly rent or mortgage under 1000, then people will move there.

    Rents and prices will never be that low because there is an unlimited demand, and limited space.

    Nathanael Reply:

    I don’t think there is actually an unlimited demand. But it’s true that, for example, each and every one of the Silicon Valley “tech campuses” would have to build hundreds of three-bedroom condos located on their “tech campus” — some would have to build thousands — in order to even start to exceed demand.

    joe Reply:

    Thousands it is. 1,000 new units need placement in Menlo Park by May 2013. The price of the Facebook expansion.

    SF is experimenting with 220 sq ft residences. Expected rent is 1,200 to 1,500 a month.

    jimsf Reply:

    a family of four cant live in 250sf.

    Joey Reply:

    Not all housing in SF is 250 sq ft. And not all housing in the inner Bay Area is in San Francisco.

    joe Reply:

    Yes Jim.

    220 sq ft is for 1 person and paying $1,200-$1,500 is nuts. I left SF.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    SF has hysterical NIMBYs who won’t allow additional construction, so instead the city is subdividing apartments into smaller pieces. Generation Greed rears its head again. Not to worry, the NIMBYs are trying to make small apartments illegal, too.

    jimsf Reply:

    San Franciscans have fought against manhattanization for decades and continue to do so as they tend to be quite passionate about preserving their city’s history, architecture, lifestyle. Unlike la, where nothing is preserved, and new york, which has global financial power ruling it, ( I understand from my new york friends that new york has been sanitized to a disneyesque level making manhattan about as interesting as the glendale galleria) Sf has managed do to its open political structure, to keep that process as bay for as long as possible. Of course, the one percent will continued to chip away, but the people of the city will continue to fight to save it

    Eric Reply:

    People who can afford houses in San Francisco ARE the one percent.

    jimsf Reply:

    but its not just homeowners who fight in sf, its the hundreds of thousands of renters too. so you have a weird coalition trying to preserve the city.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    It’s mostly homeowners and people on rent control who populate the community meetings, at least in New York.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Okay, so here’s what actually happened in New York. In the 1980s, Times Square was a seedy place, like the Tenderloin in SF. It got cleaned up, partly by Koch, completely by Giuliani. It is now a sterile tourist ghetto. Old-timers who are under the impression that the crime rates and disinvestment of the 1970s weren’t a big deal clamor to go back to the old days, when the city was so gritty people didn’t want to live in it. Now that the city’s cleaner and people do want to live in it, prices are going through the roof. Places that were never Disneyfied are also undergoing the same process once people realized New York isn’t scary: Harlem is expensive, the inner third or so of Brooklyn is Manhattan-south-of-Harlem expensive, inner Queens is getting gentrified. Ironically the richest inner-urban neighborhood, the Upper East Side, is one of the cheapest because the hipsters perceive it as boring.

    In both cities, the people who talk about preserving the history and what not are fighting against any and all upzoning. They make you jump through hoops to replace a shitty postwar one-story building with a building built in late Victorian style. It’s a bunch of greedy homeowners who realize that if they create an artificial shortage of housing, their housing values will go up. It’s the housing equivalent of OPEC.

    jimsf Reply:

    they aren’t doing to keep there home values up. home values in nyc and Sf will always go up no matter what. they are doing to preserve the quality character and lifestyle. I have a long family history in Sf and lived there over the last three decades. It is always the number one topic. “my god whats happening to the city”
    Its a passion for the place. not about protecting home values. No one in san francisco who owns a home has to worry about it value dropping.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    People have been saying “my gawd what is happening” since the first mission was built. I’m sure the residents thought it was just awful the way the character of the city was being changed so radically when you great grandparents got off the boat.

    jimsf Reply:

    I think they arrived by train actually, after the earthquake, and my great grandfather, being a mason, built some of the change that took place. of course in that era they were kind of starting from scratch. Neverthless, I heard them all lament the changes from the prewar era, when the city was a “magical place” and again after the 60s when the changes drove them to the suburbs.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    “home values in nyc and Sf will always go up no matter what.”

    There’s a reason for that. It’s that more and more people want to move in, but it’s illegal to build housing for most of them. There’s no divine law that says density has to be expensive. In Vancouver, the high-rise Downtown is surprisingly affordable, while the strictly zoned single-family neighborhoods near the university are insanely expensive for how crappy the buildings are. In a city where building housing is unrestricted, prices rise roughly in proportion to population growth and income growth. But with restrictions they can rise much faster.

    Amanda in the South Bay Reply:

    The problem is that you are fixed to an unsustainable mid-20th century, peculiarly American way of living.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Families don’t want to live in condos

    Funny, I grew up in cities where that’s exactly where families want to live.

    jimsf Reply:

    Alon, what cities where those?
    I understand how you wish things were but your wishes are not based in reality.

    Here is a list of current family suitable condos for sale in a ten mile radius from san francisco. Not only are they prices beyond the reach of working class families ( doctors and lawyers can afford them) But on top of the prices, typical hoa dues run from 500 to over 1000 a month on top of the payment. Please show me the ones that are affordable to a family of 4 with a combined annual income of 80-100k

    And here is a list of condos within a ten mile radius of silicon valley

    again show me the one.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Tel Aviv. Singapore. Monaco. Vancouver’s partly like this, too.

    When you build condos for the middle class, the middle class will live in them. When you don’t, they won’t. Make it legal to build and people will build.

    jimsf Reply:

    yeh, well those don’t exist in places like SF.

    And define middle class?

    I define it as people making 20-60 k

    some people define 150k as middle class.

    Im talking about the people who move to the valley who can afford the 15ok home.

    Are we going to see homes in the bay core for 150k if yes let me know and Ill move back right away.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    It’s all a matter of what’s legal to build. Tel Aviv built tons of middle- and upper-middle-income apartments in the 1930s, which started to filter down to middle- and lower-middle before the neighborhoods in question started gentrifying again. In Singapore pretty much nobody lives in single-family anything. American cities don’t have that as much, because they spent the first two thirds of the 20th century figuring out how to take the middle class out of the cities.

    To me middle class in the US is about 30-90, maybe a bit higher in expensive, high-income areas like SF. Below that is working class.

    Construction costs for a mid- to high-rise apartment in Brooklyn are about 250k for a bit less than a thousand square feet, and I don’t think SF is more expensive. It’s not 150k, but even an unzoned San Francisco would be a safer investment than the Central Valley, so you should be able to get a cheaper mortgage, or pay less rent for the same housing prices.

    jimsf Reply:

    well I have a union job. and aside from maybe a dump in hunters point, I can not buy a studio, let alone a place big enough for a family.

    So let me know when that changes. I can afford 1100 a month tops, including HOA with a 30 year fixed.

    So Ill wait patiently for that fantasy to materialize.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Complain to the hysterics in San Francisco and the Peninsula who, like medieval guilds or OPEC, create shortages to inflate the values of their nest eggs. Don’t complain to those of us who want people to have the right to build more housing. At construction costs, you can afford a large 2-bedroom in San Francisco. At construction costs + bribery to NIMBYs in the form of community amenities and affordable housing mandates + windfall profits for the developers who survive the process, none of us can. All of this is by design. The Boomer set doesn’t really like long-term saving. Instead of having saved money in their working years, they preferred to take control of local government and use the law to inflate the value of property they already owned, extracting money from people your age and below and from recent migrants of any age.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Prop 13 wasn’t passed and Ronald Reagan wasn’t elected by the Boomers. The Boomers, not having defined benefit pensions, have saved more for retirement than any one before them. But then Boomers can expect to retire. The generations before them could expect to be dead by 65.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Reagan was elected by Boomers among others. In the 1980s, young voters (i.e. Boomers and early Xers) voted GOP by large margins. Today’s young voters vote Democratic.

    Previous generations could totally expect to retire if they were old enough to be leading political movements. Life expectancy at 65 has gone up by about 4 years since the 1940s, if memory serves.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Wikepedia disagrees. The oldest boomer was 34 in 1980, some of them were still too young to vote. 44 percent for Carter, 43 percent for Reagan among 18-21 year olds, 43 to 43 among 22-29 year olds. 11 percent for Anderson who was proposing, along with a lot of other things, a 50 cent a gallon tax on motor fuels to be phased in. I have a feeling that the people who voted for Anderson in 1980 weren’t showing up at Sarah Palin rallies with Drill Baby Drill t-shirts. If for any other reason they are too young to be retired and have to be in work. ( the first baby boomers hit 65 in 2011 ) It was old rich straight white men voting for Republcans then and it’s old rich straight white guys voting for Republicans now. It’s just that they are a smaller percentage of the population. Death’s a bitch.

    To get to 70 you have to get to 65. The pool of 65 year olds, just by the virtue of making it to 65 are a much healthier group than the ones who died at 55. A 55 year old in 1940 had a much lower chance of making it to 65 than today’s 55 year old. And either of them have better chance of making it to 80 compared to the person who dies at 52. Just like 79 year olds have a better chance of making it 80 than the ones who died at 78.

    jimsf Reply:

    Alon Levy Reply:March 8th, 2013 at 2:28 am
    Complain to the hysterics in San Francisco

    I support their efforts to preserve sfs character. The answer is not to ruin cities by overpopualting them, but to bring a better way of life to the other cities such as those in the valley, to make them more desirable, more economically healthy, gradually reshaping them.

    I watched a doc. last night that coavered just that issue. It was about peak oil and that cities such as nyc not being sustainable. The real answer is make improvements to suburban areas. To transform them.

    Most of thepop gorwth in cali is going to be in the inaland empire and central valley. The foxus should be on reshpaing places like riverside, and fresno. Some of that is already happening with higher density projects, and downtown revitilization.
    While not everyone wants to live in an urban environment, for those that do, they should have options other than sf and la. They should be able to have a good job and a more affordable lifestyle in cities like riverside and fresno. Lots of people hate bay area weather, some people actually like the central valley weather, and slower pace. No reason we can’t have nice downtowns and big businesses locating in our second and third tier cities allowing people to live iwth a nice amenities in a pleasant environment. HSR can help with this as it makes it easier to live outside sf and la, and still have fast easy access.

    I would pass a law that would cap sfs pop at 1m. and increase fresnos density to that of sfs.

    One example I have seen over the last 35 years is sacramento. Back in 1980 it was still a sleepy cow town, with but a couple of mid rise buildings and downtown that was abandoned by 5pm and on weekends. Hot and dusty. like the san jose of yesteryear.
    I watched from close proximity over the last 3o years as sac has become very dynamic, downtown especially in area of nightlife and good dining. It has benefited from it proximity to the bay and tried very hard to emulate those things that are good about the bay. Im quite blown away by todays sac. actually. And more is on the way – halted mainly by the crash, but to resume shortly. And sac has jobs and and an affordable cost of living.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    If 10 million people want to live in the Bay Area and there’s only space for 7 million, how do you choose who the 7 million are? Capitalism has an answer: whoever can pay the most, hence the ever-rising rents (since higher incomes translate to more ability to pay rent). What’s your answer?

    As for sustainability, anyone who says big cities are unsustainable in the face of peak oil should be ignored. Kunstler and his ilk say that not realizing, or not caring, that food transportation requires very little energy. Big cities are in fact much less energy-intensive than anything else, even HSR suburbs. Apartments are more energy-efficient than single-family detached houses for the same size. Apartments can also be smaller without loss of comfort because there’s no garage, the washing machines can be shared, the kitchen can be smaller because you can take guests out to eat affordably, etc. Transit is always more energy-efficient than driving. And living 10 km from where you work is more energy-efficient than living 100 km away even if you take HSR for those 100 km. The most peak oil-resistant place in the US is Manhattan, and the most resistant place in California is SF proper.

    jimsf Reply:

    you could also make sf housing more affordable by reducing developer profit.
    And you can also increase the pop and density of the very underutilized cities such as modesto, stickton , fresno, livermore, bakersfield etc, as I said, making them more efficient, building denser housing, transit, and vibrant downtowns. That way more people have more choices. for eveyone who wants to live in the bay area, there is someone who doesnt.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Israel has been trying to do that – disperse the population away from Tel Aviv and its inner suburbs – since independence. It built cities from scratch in the desert, and it built water mains and roads for them while deliberately underinvesting in Tel Aviv. But people still want to live in the center, so prices in and around Tel Aviv are going up like rockets and people who are not old-time owners are priced out. Nowadays almost anywhere that you can commute to Tel Aviv efficiently from is expensive, and to find affordable housing you need to go to unsafe cities like Lod. Only to get to this situation the government’s spent billions more than it would’ve cost to upzone Tel Aviv, Ramat Gan, Bnei Brak, and other already dense cities.

    Japan has a similar story. It’s been trying to disperse Tokyo for a few decades now. Some things have worked – there’s office space in secondary centers that are still transit-oriented and not just in Central Tokyo. Some haven’t – the rents are still very high, and trip times are very long because there’s not enough housing in the city itself.

    There are many people who don’t want to live in the Bay Area, but there are more people who do than people who already live in it. That’s the problem; that’s the only problem. Try to imagine that you couldn’t open a new grocery store without getting approval from the other groceries in the neighborhood. They’d hike prices – as they already do in places where they get away with it, like tourist ghettos – and you’d have to pay more for food.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    he answer is not to ruin cities by overpopualting them, but to bring a better way of life to the other cities such as those in the valley

    Some people like even denser than what it is in San Francisco. Why is their choice for denser not as good as your choice to freeze it in amber, so that it was like when you were going through puberty, forever and ever? Why is the choice of the people in the Central Valley ( not that they had much of a choice looking at their zoning ) not as good as your choice for something as sprawl-y as San Francisco. ( from the viewpoint of a Manhattanite most of San Francisco is positively suburban. Single family houses with parking and yard. All ya need is a kid named Wally and his younger brother Beaver )

    you could also make sf housing more affordable by reducing developer profit.

    The developers aren’t in it because they love building things. Otherwise they would be building things in West Oakland where it’s lots cheaper to build things. Reduce the profit, there will be less of them willing to go out and build things. Make it zero and see how many of them volunteer to do it.

    jimsf Reply:

    Oakland and daly city have plenty of room. The City will be built out once they finish the southeast corner/mission bay/ 3rd st corridor. AFter that there’s no more room without taking the open space. There’s quite a bit of room in South City too.

    Sf is not houston. Houston is an ugly god awful clusterfuck that you can’t damage know matter what you do to it. As are many of america’s nondescript cities. Sf is not like that.

    Anyway, no one in sf cares that outsiders can’t get in. they don’t want ’em there anyway and I don’t blame ’em.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Well, the developers are making windfall profits; those profits could be slashed and they’d still build. Just like how people build in the Houston suburbs, where prices are very close to construction costs. The issue is that if you cap prices, you’re in a situation with 10 people who want 8 apartments, and then you have to figure out who gets left out. Usually it boils down to very bad likability issues.

    jimsf Reply:

    Some people like even denser than what it is in San Francisco.
    yes, we call those people “new yorkers” and them coming west to destroy the california lifestyle has been an ongoing problem. If they like denser so much, then they should have stayed in nyc and minded their own business.

    I would ban them.

    jimsf Reply:

    anyway now I live here it looks just like SF but without all the damn people everywhere so its pretty close to being paradise. Its an easy 3.5 drive to SF an easy 3.5 hour drive to LA, an easy 2 hour drive to my partner’s in visalia. And the weather is absolutely perfect.
    don’t tell anyone though cuz people here like to keep it a secret. People have been aghast when I have suggested making it look just a tiny bit more like sf by place rows of little square houses up and down the blank hillsides.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Wait 20 years and all the people in SLO are going to call you a San Franciscan and propose to ban you from living there and tell you to go back to SF, where you can’t afford housing. Kind of like how because there are 50 million people who want to live in or near New York and housing for only 20 million, those New Yorkers can’t afford New York.

    jimsf Reply:

    well, ill be retired in palm springs by then. so they can say whatever they want.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    alon, he still hasn’t told us why San Francisco, as it was when he first got laid, is the epitome of urban living. Looks outrageously suburban to me but that because I spent 45 years living in suburbs that are denser than San Francisco. I think it needs to have those single family houses within a block of the trolley line torn down and replaced by ten story condos with retail on the ground floor. And no parking. Sorta like the less dense parts of the Upper West Side. Or the Concourse, Queens Blvd or Bay Parkway or Michigan Avenue or….. Ya know the center of a ten million person metro not the center of a 3 million person metro.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Ewwww Palm Springs. nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there. Gotta drive everywhere and everything is a long drive away. Phoenix with better landscaping. Ewww.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Excuse me, but the center of a 2.5 million person metro can look like this, too.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    “I think it needs to have those single family houses within a block of the trolley line torn down and replaced by ten story condos with retail on the ground floor. And no parking.”

    No, no, leave those jewels of Victorians and Bungalows alone (if that’s what we’re talking about); rather, let’s bring in some corner stores (some of which may still be there), and expand the trolley system, including going back across the bay to Oakland, a la the Key System (maybe it’s not too late to stop construction on the new bridge and revise it for rail cars again, or else bring back the ferries). Really expand the trolley system to what it used to be and more, and you won’t need to tear things down, you’ll have good air, and you won’t need the parking, either, at least not in the immediate vicinity of your house or apartment, and you’ll have an expanded and NICER San Francisco. . .

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Thought this might be of interest, from the Chicago area:


    The thread this was from; you may find it interesting in points:


    Joey Reply:

    No, no, leave those jewels of Victorians and Bungalows alone

    Some of SF is like that. A lot of it is blocks and blocks of ugly 2 story houses built from the same floorplan with the exterior slightly modified. I don’t see much value in keeping those.

    And it’s worth noting that not everyone in SF feels the way jimsf does, though the ones who do seem to have political power for the time being. I, for one, spent most of my life in SF, and don’t see higher density as the end of the world. But maybe that’s because I give a fuck about environmentalism and don’t have a property value I’m trying to artificially inflate.

    jimsf Reply:

    And ive been to vancouver bc and looked at real estate there and there is no condo there that an average working person such as myself could afford. none.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Vancouver’s overpriced relative to rents. The rents here are lower than in the Bay Area.

    Andrew Reply:

    There is plenty of room in the Bay Area to build new condominiums. By “family sized” condominiums I mean 1000sq ft which is common in Toronto (outside the downtown core) and big cities in Europe and Asia. Height restrictions need to be relaxed because restrictions which artificially limit the supply of apartments (forcing people to live with roommates or subdivided units) are extremely harmful.

    We should not be encouraging people to commute from SF to Gilroy, or from Los Angeles to Palmdale by high speed rail. HSR is a replacement for short haul air travel between SF and LA, not a commuter train. We do not want to encourage even more urban sprawl.

    jimsf Reply:


    HSR is not a replacement for sf=la trips. never was intended to be.
    Its actually designed to do serveral things.

    one, in local markets such as palmdale is can be used for commuting.
    two, it can provide an alternative to nor-cal socal flights
    and three
    it links the regions together enable all the regions to be connected economically.
    job centers can locate anywhere
    people can live anywhere.
    everyone gets fast convenient access to everyone else.
    it eliminates the need to cram everyone into just 3 major job centers.

    with high speed internet and high speed rail. the whole state can share a more balanced economy. more wealth can spread to deprived areas, and pressure can be taken of existing core areas.
    and everyone gets more choice and access to the climate, price and lifestyle of their liking.

    its a beautiful thing.

    joe Reply:

    I’ve heard this before.

    High-speed rail plan opponents view the plan as politically motivated. “There were a whole variety of rules in 1A to entice voters to vote for it,” Palo Alto City Rail Committee Chair Larry Klein said in an interview, citing the 2 hour, 40 minute trip time limit and its prohibition of state subsidies.

    It sounds like this.

    Mitt Romney told his top donors Wednesday that his loss to President Obama was a disappointing result that neither he or his top aides had expected, but said he believed his team ran a “superb” campaign with “no drama,” and attributed his rival’s victory to “the gifts” the administration had given to blacks, Hispanics and young voters during Obama’s first term.

    J Baloun Reply:


    Obama got out the defibrillator paddles and jump-started the heartbeat of the economy that Bush left in intensive care. That was his ‘gift’.

    swing hanger Reply:

    Reading that= palm in face

  16. Reality Check
    Mar 6th, 2013 at 12:02

    Dan Walters: California bullet train faces new challenges

    [Rep. Jeff Denham, a San Joaquin Valley Republican who chairs the House subcommittee on railroads] questioned why California had not sought approval of the project from the federal Surface Transportation Board, a successor to the old Interstate Commerce Commission, as apparently required by federal law.

    With the CHSRA hoping to break ground within a few months, the failure to clear the project through the federal board, or get an exemption from it, could become a new weapon in the arsenal of groups that oppose the bullet train.

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    Its not interstate for one thing

    Nathanael Reply:


    There’s now precedent on this, by the way. Florida East Coast just got STB declaration of “no jurisdiction” for a passenger service to be located entirely inside Florida, *even though* it will share track with freight and quite likely have run-through service from Amtrak.

    The result is that CAHSR will most certainly be declared to be not under STB jurisdiction. Denham is talking out his ass.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    Just a guess, but probably Desert Xpress will be up an running first, and thus, when the CA HSR operator acquires it, so will the operator acquire STB jurisdiction.

    Peter Reply:

    And how long did that approval take? Two months?

    J. Wong Reply:

    I wonder if they ever get the sense that they’re losing…

    synonymouse Reply:

    Clearly they did not anticipate they would have to actually make any case whatever. Just the usual wave of the hand Jedi mind trick It is good for the citizens of California Denham is there to force PB to earn a bit of its fees.

    “the model assumes that the train could “operate safely at 220 mph on sustained steep grades” in the Tehachapi Mountains between Bakersfield and Los Angeles”

    Anybody know where the internal quotes are from? Clem, if you are out there, please comment on the 220mph over, under and around the Loop?

  17. Reality Check
    Mar 6th, 2013 at 12:32

    Another lawsuit: Atherton donates $10K to high-speed rail litigation

    Hoping to set an example for other local communities that will be impacted by construction of the high-speed rail project, the town of Atherton is kicking in $10,000 to support a lawsuit that challenges the spending of project funds in the Central Valley.

    The lawsuit is pending in Sacramento County Superior Court, and concerns work authorized by the California High-Speed Rail Authority on the Fresno-to-Bakersfield segment of the planned rail project. Mike Brady, a Menlo Park attorney, is representing the plaintiffs: Kings County, a Hanford-area farmer, and a Hanford resident.


    Councilmen Jerry Carlson and Bill Widmer brought the question before the council, a request reflected in a letter from the Community Coalition on High-Speed Rail, which is headed by Atherton resident [and former mayor] Jim Janz.

    “There is an excellent chance that the litigation filed by Kings County and the individual plaintiffs can stop this project,” according to the coalition’s letter. “However, while this is a strong case on the merits, it is also a ‘David and Goliath’ effort. Attorney Mike Brady is handling the case on a pro bono basis, but is facing the state of California and the attorney general’s office, with literally hundreds of attorneys and unlimited resources.”

    synonymouse Reply:

    Of course the litigation does not stand a chance but they cannot roll over and play dead with PB’s thugs. Possum does not work with them; they will just run you over.

    But Villa is out and it appear that Antonovich is in a feuding fit.

    But catch Craig Ferguson’s fabulous indictment of LA sleaze the other nite apropos the mayoral election.

    Starts out with:

    “LA is bankrupt – – – – morally”

    And just gets better.

    Nathanael Reply:

    I don’t suppose that residents of Kings County and Atherton can sue their governments for wasting taxpayers’ money. At least they can vote out these yahoos at the next election.

  18. Loren Petrich
    Mar 6th, 2013 at 19:10

    Instead of building outward, why not build upward? Why don’t they build apartment and condo towers?

    Nathanael Reply:

    ZONING. The worst regulatory problem in the US.

    Eric Reply:

    Otherwise known as socialism. You own the land. The government tells you how you are allowed to build on it.

  19. Nathanael
    Mar 6th, 2013 at 19:41

    FWIW, you do NOT need a second BART tube under the Bay, you need a STANDARD GAUGE RAIL tube under the Bay.

    This, incidentally, also solves most of the problems with the Transbay Terminal. Run trains straight through: Peninsula – SF underground – Oakland underground – surface. Then you just need one platform and two tracks at each underground station.

    Joey Reply:

    FWIW, you do NOT need a second BART tube under the Bay, you need a STANDARD GAUGE RAIL tube under the Bay.

    BART already has capacity problems and it’s difficult to push additional East Bay demand to standard gauge rail when BART already serves most of the areas you’d want to serve. Not that I’m advocating another BART tube, mind you, but I don’t think there’s an easy answer to the problem.

    If you’re only running HSR through a new Transbay tube, you haven’t solve any of BART’s capacity problems. If you’re running regional trains too (from where?), then you’re probably going to need more than two platform tracks, which is a problem since the TBT trainbox is inaccessible from the East.

    And if you’re sending HSR through a transbay tube, why not just go via Altamont and Oakland, saving 7 minutes on SF-LA?

    joe Reply:

    The answer proposed is to expand the busy Embarcadero station to allow train doors to open on both sides.

    Joey Reply:

    Source? Expanding the station box would be a massive undertaking, given the buildings on either side of the street and the structural importance of the current walls.

    Peter Reply:

    They’re already going to experience at least some improvement when they start running the new trains with three doors per car per side, instead of two.

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    In their Capital Projects (Phase 2 Medium Term) they plan on Express services and downtown San Francisco and Oakland platform expansions.
    I think the Express services comes after they have built some new turnbacks around the system.

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