Today’s Headlines

  • Transportation Costs Mean Living in Suburbs Can Be More Expensive Than SF (SFGate)
  • SFGo Signs Ready to Be Installed on Gough and Franklin Streets (SF Examiner)
  • San Franciscoize Checks Out Progress On JFK Bikeway Construction, Two Other Projects
  • Driver Critically Injures Man in Terra Linda (Marin IJ)
  • Mission Street Repaving, Other Transit Disruptions This Weekend (SF Appeal)
  • Doyle Drive Rebuild is Dragging Along (SF Examiner)
  • Pedal the Fromage Frontier On the SFBC’s Tasty Bike Ride (SF Examiner)
  • San Francisco Wins Zipcar’s Future Metropolis Award (SFGate)
  • Dolores Park Redesign Plan Unveiled (HuffPo)
  • Driver Crashes Into Utility Pole in Hayward, Knocks Out Power For Hundreds (KTVU)

More headlines at Streetsblog Capitol Hill

  • mikesonn

    Re: Suburbs. Best quote showing what is wrong with our planning for the last 80 years.

    “You think you’re buying a cheap house 30 miles out,” he said, “but it’s 10 o’clock at night, and you need a gallon of milk. You have to get in your car, drive out of your subdivision down a two-lane road, get on the freeway and drive 10 miles. You just spent a gallon of gas to get a gallon of milk.”

  • CamBam

    While I agree with the sentiment of the article are: the costs of living in the ‘burbs, they miss a few major factors, making the article is almost pointless (also, the milk example is grossly exaggerated as there are corner markets everywhere).

    Here is my perspective as a suburbanite who wishes we could afford to live in SF. 

    So, here are the aspects the study overlooks:
    1. Cash flow/Home Loans –  The total cost (NPV) is irrelevant as it comes down to what home buyers can finance. Yes, over 10-30 years, the additional transpo costs may (probably do) out weigh the difference in the cost of housing, but the transpo costs are paid monthly, where as a house purchase in SF is paid for up front via a mortgage.  People cannot afford (and do not qualify) for loans in SF due to the higher housing costs, regardless of future transpo savings. And who knows… the interest costs on a higher purchase probably more than off-set the transpo savings (admittedly speculation as I haven’t done the math). 

    2. Size of home – People have minimum size requirements.  For example, my family of 4 needs at least a 3 BR home and kids require a certain amount of storage as we hold hand-me-down clothes from one child to the next, etc. I cannot afford the minimum space my family requires in SF (nor do we want an apartment at this stage of our lives with young kids).  3. Quality of Schools – SF public schools are in bad shape and private schools are outrageously expensive. Suburban schools *generally* have a better public schools. For our family this was a major reason to move out of SF. 

    And it doesn’t help that Muni is painfully slow.  I commute by ferry/bike from northern Marin and the time it takes me to commute is comparable to the time it takes my coworkers to take the N-Judah from the Sunset.  Time is valuable, so it is a shame that commuting within SF can take an hour plus!

  • Anonymous

    Cam – your first argument is based on home ownership, the school of thought on that topic is under a lot of review these days. And while Mill Valley may have a lot of corner markets, I have been out of water on bike rides in Livermore where there were houses everywhere but I may as well gave been in the desert.

    The school situation may be impacted as well. Transportation cost are increasing and have a higher impact on the suburbs. That will end up coming out of school budgets one way, or the other.

  • CamBam

    Mike – My points are based on home ownership, because that is what the article is talking about (“You think you’re *buying* a cheap house 30 miles out…”). While there is some talk on whether the goal in America should be home ownership or not, let’s be honest, that isn’t going to change (for better or worse).  Home ownership is too closely tied to the American psyche; it is the American Dream.

    If you want to talk rentals, the article’s argument falls apart as the spread between urban and suburban rental prices will typically reflect among other things, the cost savings of transpo (one of many reasons why it costs significantly more to rent in SF vs. a ‘burb (apples-to-apples on neighborhood quality). Plus, without ownership there is no asset appreciation and you never stop payments (i.e. with ownership in the city, once the mortgage is paid, transpo costs are minimal, while ownership in the ‘burbs once the mortgage is paid off, transpo costs stay high; so long term is it is just low transpo costs vs. high transpo costs). 

    As for education, it is paid for by local property taxes (affluent areas generally have high special parcel taxes for schools). Increased transpo costs aren’t going to impact this. Our public education system is far too complicated to get into the details, but suffice to say middle-to-upper class suburbs will generally (always?) have better public schools than inner-city public schools in California. 

    As for corner markets, I doubt there are any suburban areas in Livermore, Dublin, Pleasanton, etc. that are more than 10 min from a corner market. Every time I am out that way, a new store has popped up and it seems like every suburban exit has at least 1 mini-mart. And certainly, there are no communities that are separated by freeway from a market!  Yes, they might be a 5 min drive, on a two lane street, but it isn’t like the have to get get on the highway. And more importantly, just because they are in suburban doesn’t mean they have to drive! People in the ‘burbs can bike to the store to get a gallon of milk (not that many actually do!).  

    Btw, a quick Yelp search turned up 33 grocery related results in the Livermore area:,37.6150472880173,-121.64199829101561,37.75144384252929  

  • CamBam

    Bummer, I had a long reply typed out, but it didn’t stick on the site for some reason. 

    Anyhow, the article is about home ownership, which I why I commented on that. The rental market doesn’t compare. Urban vs. suburban rental markets account for commute costs & quality of life (among other things), which is why it is cheaper to rent in the ‘burbs vs. SF (apples-to-apples on neighborhood quality). 

    And right or wrong, I don’t think the American dream of owning a home is going to change substantially in the next 30 years. Just one person’s opinion. 

    School budgets are supported by local property taxes and affluent suburbs have plenty of parcel taxes to support the schools; maybe I am naive, but transpo costs aren’t going to impact that (and not only do suburban public schools have more funding, they typically have lower costs). There are too many factors in school funding to take into account, but suffice to say suburban public schools are generally (always?) better than inner-city public schools. True or not, this perception will continue to push many young families out of the cities (like I said, I wish we could still afford to live in SF). 

    As for Livermore, just about every exit on 580 from Hayward to Livermore has a mini-mart. It seems like every time I am out that way, there is new a retail center thrown up.  A quick look on Yelp shows 33 grocery related results in around every new home development area in Livermore/Pleastanton/Dublin.  No one is driving 10 min, let alone getting on the freeway for milk in a suburb. And besides, the article fails to mention that even a suburbanite can ride their bike to the store to get milk… living in suburbia doesn’t prohibit bike usage.  Not a big deal, but the comment grossly overstates the truth, which just gives the naysayers more reason to not listen to the message (which mostly is a good message).  

  • Peapod mom

    “People have minimum size requirements.  For example, my family of 4 needs at least a 3 BR home…”

    This is getting a bit OT for Streetsblog, but dude, get a grip. So your point is, what, that you personally disagree with the article and you need to get on the bloggernets to register your grievances (and SFGate comments are a complete waste of time for anyone with >2 brain cells)?

    Have you heard of this city called New York? I hear it’s nice. I hear that a lot of families sacrifice space for walkability in their 3rd-floor walkup flats. Some families send their kids to the public schools, which are diverse. Some opt for private schools and get financial aid or make it work with their budgets, somehow (possibly with the money saved by not owning a car?)

    Anyway, we out here in la-la-land California are also finally realizing that the American dream of the suburban house with lawn, dog, etc. ain’t so much. It’s really more like a ball and chain of carbon dragging us down to financial ruin.

    You seem to be content to make a case against an article via armchair observations. Trust me, there are plenty of Bay Area communities where you have to drive absurdly far to get milk, or really anything of value. Muni is pretty damn exasperating, but depending on transit in the ‘burbs…are you kidding? And again, too OT for Streetsblog, but you clearly don’t have any substantive evidence of SF’s schools being “in bad shape,” do you?

  • Best quote by a commenter on why the article is a non-story:
    “Transportation boosts cost of living in suburbs” In other news, the sun will rise in the east and set in the west tomorrow.Read more:

  • “School budgets are supported by local property taxes” – I am typing this while sitting in a home that has had it’s property assessment lowered by 40% from the purchase price. Increases in transportation costs pinch the budget and lower the amounts of money people can pay for homes, and lower property taxes. QED.

    And besides, the article fails to mention that even a suburbanite can ride their bike to the store to get milk…

    My brother in law lives in a development in Naperville Illinois. We can see a “Super-Target” from his back deck. 400 yards. To walk there is 2.7 miles, minimum – there is a barricade. And requires 150 yards on a 6 lane road with a 55 MPH speed limit.

  • CamBam

    Peapod – Funny, you mention NYC.  I am NY transplant and am hardly an armchair QB as I am living the decisions we are talking about.  Regardless, this is not about me or my decisions. This is about an argument that fails to include some fundamental issues on the decision to buy in a city vs. a suburb, which is the cost of the mortgage vs. the cost of transpo and the quality of public education.  And because you commented, I posted on SB vs. SFGate as I thought quality of the discourse would be better on SB.  

    So, why did I comment? Because I think articles that lack sound logic, such as this,  do a dis-service to many strong arguments for public transpo and alternative transportation (such as bike commuting).  When studies fail to consider basic reasons, it simply gives the naysayers, such as Rob Anderson, more reason to ignore positive developments in transportation. And funny you think selling a car covers the cost of private school.  Ha! Maybe 1 year of school. For example, SI is $16k/year and University is $32k/year. As for SF public schools, you are kidding that you need proof? It is called test scores. Ironically, for a big city, SF does well, but not as well as suburban schools (and there is no guarantee that your kid will be assigned to a good school). I don’t pretend to know all reasons why, but inner-city schools *generally* aren’t as good as suburban schools.

    Murph – Yep, I believe that. 40% lower assessment is happening to both urban and suburban school districts, so while there is lower funding overall, there is no relative change between the two, leaving the status quo of better suburban schools  (also, I wonder, in Cali, how prop 13 affects urban vs. suburban? My guess is that there is more lost tax revenue as a result of prop 13 in urban areas that suburban areas, as families hold houses longer… just conjecture… has anyone looked at that?). 

    As I mentioned above, getting into what & why with public schools is a whole different can of worms.  I am simply stating that in general, nationwide, suburban schools tend to be better than inner city schools and that was overlooked to live in the city vs suburbia. Or perhaps, I should phrase it like this, if we could find a why to improve the quality of our urban schools, that would likely help continue to the trend of re-urbanization. 

    Like I said in my original post, I am all for more live-able cities and hope that someday I can relocate my family back into SF. For now, it is just too expensive, regardless of transpo costs. 

  • peternatural

    A few clarifications:

    Selling a car won’t pay for much private school, but skipping the yearly expense of a car will help. (E.g., it can save you $5000-8000 per year, which might be a third to a half of private school tuition for one kid).

    Schools in SF are mixed. E.g., Lowell H.S. is one of the best in the state (by test scores, anyway). The trick is getting your kid admitted (they need sufficient grades and test scores). But there are plenty of other good schools, too. You can get your kids into them. It just helps to be proactive and to try, try again (when needed). As opposed to give up and move to the suburbs at the first sign of difficulty.

    My own experience of SF is that I have two kids in (2 different) excellent public schools. I’ve never paid higher rent in my life. My 5-person household has lots of bikes and 0 cars. My wife and I are saving money at an insane rate because (1) we have good jobs in the city, and (2) we’re frugal with everything (besides rent, which is low compared to our incomes). And even though we don’t spend much money, our quality of life has never been better.

  • Cam –

    “I believe that. 40% lower assessment is happening to both urban and
    suburban school districts, so while there is lower funding overall,
    there is no relative change between the two, leaving the status quo of
    better suburban schools”.

    This is what you believe. Facts are more important. San Francisco County has held property values better than any of the other Bay Area Counties through the bubble. True in many other urban areas.

    “As for SF public schools, you are kidding that you need proof? It is called test scores.”

    Is it the test scores that cause people who are the most driven to assure their children’s education to flee SF public schools, or are the test scores higher where people who are the most driven are sending their kids? Palo Alto does not have students who are truant because their parents cannot afford a MUNI pass. Those students lower the mean test score, but this does not imply that the school is “bad”.