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May 14, 2020


Bruce Dickinson

Joe, maybe it's age or maybe accumulated wisdom that we've accrued over a lifetime of success, but its so funny you write this post as Bruce Dickinson was thinking about some of the exact same themes!

First off, to get this out of the way, let's not let the real estate folks talk up their books too much! It wasn't that long ago during the 2008 recession, that Burlingame real estate prices lagged the recession and really bottomed out more in 2010. Ask me how I know? Because that's when Burlingame became a little more famous when yours truly moved to the area and bought my Burlingame Park residence! The effects of unemployment and lower small business spending will ripple throughout the economy and while tech, medical, law, media, and finance professionals can continue working without interruption during COVID and may be bidding up real estate now, those effects won't likely last. So to those looking to buy their first property, be patient!

Now it's really too bad that something like COVID results in "I told you so" moments, and this is not to belittle the severity of this disease, especially to the elderly such as myself and Joe (wink ;). But the secular trends that were already occurring pre-COVID are only going to be accelerated. Unfortunately those trends were completely missed by most politicians, who can only see as far as the next election cycle and stick to strict formulaic, party-friendly talking points that keep them in good standing with their enablers in Sacramento. So lets tackle these issues one at a time:

Public Transportation: "Everyone will be taking public transportation due to its environmental friendliness and it will reduce traffic and improve our lives". Wrong! The future is about autonomous self-driven electric vehicles that will take individuals and small groups of people to point to point destinations in a managed, traffic-less networked system where you can read, eat, sleep in your vehicle to your heart's content. By the time HSR will get built, it will already be obsolete!

High Density Housing: "We must build high density housing so that people can live close to their work". Wrong! The trend of working virtually enabled by technology means that businesses don't need to invest in all this expensive real estate infrastructure to house employees. Now you're seeing one company after another begin to re-evaluate their real estate portfolios now the they know that things can function pretty well while working from home through technology.

Zoning for the "Public Good": "We must build mixed-use development, create public spaces to share and enjoy, but at the expense of single-family residential housing, which is so 20th century and uses up too much land". Wrong! What better sanctuary is there than a Burlingame backyard, which strikes the perfect balance by being close to neighbors, convenient to restaurant/stores/airport but also containing beautiful trees and allowing residents to enjoy the fresh air from the mountains and the bay. It was already pretty much perfect to begin with. Politicians were selling a solution in search of a problem!

You see the whole high-density, zoning for the public good, developing better public transportation all failed to take into account the underlying trends that technology would not only transform the workplace, but also where we work and how we travel to different places. The astute observers will notice that we've been talking about all this for YEARS! What COVID did was rapidly accelerate all these trends, forcing us into a new reality with unprecedented speed. Now people will start to appreciate the benefits of other non-politician-prescipted lifestyles, where having your own car and your own house and yard can make a big difference in ways we could have not previously imagined. By the way, how many of these politicians actually live in high density mixed use housing with no garage space and take public transportation everyday?

So there you have it folks, from Burlingame's own futurists! Sometimes it takes someone who has seen (and made) history to be able to observe and point out what was under our very own noses....right, Joe?

Fugit All

A single family home cannot be bought in Burlingame or San Mateo and certainly not Hillsborugh for less than seven figures. It's a lovely place for all the folks who meet that income or inheritance threshold. Where do you propose that people who have deep connections to these communities or who work essential jobs, or both, who fall short of that bar live? Will you make the tired suggestion that they leave here move to more affordable places no matter how many decades they or their families have called this place home?

What's the logical extrapolation of your idea?

Less dense, affordable housing/ more single family, expensive properties ---> Fewer dwellings for teachers, hourly workers, low wage/low-skill (essential) workers ---> Longer commutes, disconnection from work/home environments for those workers ---> Ghettoization/ loss of community feeling so prized here ---> Widening gap between the economically blessed and the economically stressed

What a dream.

Bruce Dickinson

What you described is a nightmare and is solely your extrapolation! Where did Bruce Dickinson say that multi-family housing should be replaced by single-family homes with yards? Where did I say there was no room for essential service workers in Burlingame?

Fact of the matter is, and anyone who has read my numerous scribes on this site, is that Burlingame is unique (as opposed to Hillsborough) is that if affords numerous housing options, some of which for the Bay Area, are quite reasonable rental wise. Yes, they're expensive vs other parts of the state and country but such is the bay area overall. Burlingame isn't all that unique in that regard; it might be more here vs San Bruno, but fact of the mater is there all will be gradations of price set by supply and demand, at least in the near-term.

Building housing for the wrong reasons (transportation, closer to work for jobs I mentioned, usurping zoning concepts) is different from building housing for different income levels. Unfortunately, with COVID the very trends I mentioned about technology will continue to displace retail and restaurant jobs at an accelerated rate, and the Bay Area may no longer have the same "housing problem" in either single or multi-family.

Eventually technology and automation will likely lead to much greater re-distribution of wealth that I think will actually narrow and not widen income gaps. It almost has to as even the most skilled workers jobs will eventually be replaced by technology/automation! That's where concepts like taxes on production/automation, universal income will become a stronger part of the conversation. And guess what, those other concepts will have also been accelerated by the advent of COVID.

Trust me on this one, Bruce Dickinson has thought about it all! Joe's post brought up some interesting things that proved our prescience on some very specific issues...no more and no less than that!

Sign Me Up

Whenever someone calls your idea or suggestion or point of view tired you get to immediately declare victory and go home.

Fugit All

As someone who has lived here more than three decades longer than you, Bruce Dickerson, I can tell you my extrapolation is based on a trend I have personally witnessed and experienced. Unless people here make the hard choice to include their low-wage, low-skill, non-tech ,hourly earning neighbors into their concept of community, beginning with basic needs like housing and transportation, the future will be ghettoization and a yawning income gap. I would include gentrification, but that happened a long time ago.

Automation will not replace house cleaners, nannies, nursing assistants, elder care workers, or lots and lots of folks we've both encountered in the last two months including cooks, food delivery folks, and grocery store clerks... automation will not replace them all of them in your lifetime and probably not in mine. Why do we expect robots to take better care of others than we do already when we're the ones building them?

In the meantime, I'd love to see Joe take on the topic of universal income that you mentioned. I'm sure the comment section will be a virtual hug box.

As an aside, what in the world makes you say that building housing close to jobs is a "wrong reason" for doing so? Or is Bruce Dickerson a fan of hours long commutes and all its impacts?

Fugit All

Sign Me Up, you win. Bye!

Bruce Dickinson

Guys, when Bruce Dickinson writes things, and I know there's a lot of content to digest, every word is there for a reason!

"Building housing for the wrong reasons (transportation, closer to work for jobs I mentioned, usurping zoning concepts) "

The "jobs I mentioned" and associated housing are for the lawyers, tech people, finance etc who NO LONGER NEED to be close to urban areas.

This is the problem when your emotions get so charged that they overwhelm reason and logic. Read every word, it's there for a purpose!

Paloma Ave

Outside of San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose, the rest of the Bay Area is suburban. If you want to live in an urban setting you have an opportunity to do so.

I specifically chose to live in Burlingame because I want to live in a suburban area.

I resent people who have chosen to move here and then want to change the area.

Are you listening Mike Dunham? Are you listening Scott Weiner? We don't want or need high-density housing.

How about directing your efforts to getting employers to not or relocate to other areas, instead of ruining our area.

Barking Dog

Joe, Bruce and Paloma...well said. Thank you.


@Fugit All, I would agree with you that many of the jobs you list will not be overtaken by automation. They may be made much more efficient (fewer in person doc visits for example meaning less overall shift hours for elder care) but will continue. I am continually reminded of the long-running estimate that B'game is 55% rentals--and it's probably increasing as all of the new density comes on-line. None of that means my original assertions are wrong or uncaring. Maybe you aren't saying the latter but it does feel that way sometimes.

I'll take on universal income if B'game decides to dip its toe in that water. Let's let bankrupt Stockton run with its small trial first...LOL.

I note that no one has jumped in to answer my last question: Anyone care to guess whether or not rents would be coming down now if we had rent control in place?

Looks like the rent controllers are looking the other way as their position gets disproved as helping anyone.

Joanne Bennett

During this pandemic I have been so grateful to have been able to live in my single family home with a yard that I could garden in and grow my own vegetables. Have also told my adult daughters, one who lives near West Portal in San Francisco and another who lives in Petaluma that they are also very fortunate to have homes with yards. With small children and parks closed they would have both gone off the deep end!

Barking Dog

Gavin likes 8 acre spreads gifted to him and tax free



This is from the SacBee service:

It started with a Sunday Wall Street Journal editorial from President Donald Trump and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, titled “We’ll protect America’s suburbs.”

“For the past three years, the state senator who represents Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco has led a push to abolish single-family zoning in California,” they wrote in part.

They would be speaking of Sen. Scott Wiener, who has championed affordable housing bills in the State Senate.
Wiener responded in tweet, calling the op-ed racist.

“’Protecting America’s suburbs’ = dog whistle for race segregation,” Wiener wrote, adding, “Damn right I’m doing this work. I won’t give up.”

Let's be clear, there's a racist in that conversation--it just not Trump or Ben Carson.

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