Power Station

31 thoughts on “Power Station”

  1. Power-Station and Two Hillsides bring many memories since I grew up in the Bay area. There were continuous reports of ideas to keep the shipbuilding/manufacturing of places like Richmond and Hunters Point going.
    Richard Rothstein has some discussion of Richmond in his book The Color of Law. A good read for those who want to understand some of the why(s) of cities and housing.
    Ford motor company had an assembly plant in Richmond, but moved it in 1953 to Milpitas which was then largely agricultural. African Americans who worked at Ford-Richmond were faced with a dilemma. Since they were prohibited from buying houses in Milpitas they could either drive a 100 mile round trip daily from Richmond or rent in a worse neighborhood in closer San Jose. Or give up their relatively good jobs.
    I expect that workers in Hunters Point and Potrero dealt with similar troubles.
    I get a little cynical when I read that places like Potrero are going to be “cleaned up” to make them suitable for people to live there. What exactly are they going to do? Usually the ground is dug down X feet and the soil trucked away. As a friend of mine noted long ago, “Now you have two places that are polluted.”
    BTW much of San Francisco had manufacturing. Most everywhere south of Market had places where they made radios, clothes, furniture and so on. By the 1970s most of those buildings were warehouses or empty. Later they became apartments, lofts, studios and galleries.

  2. The US still manufactures quite a bit. Look up manufacturing, real output on FRED. Same with steel. You’ll be surprised. It just uses a lot less people. Just like farming.

  3. I’m very skeptical about your “used to make real things” quibble. Cities have from the beginning been in the business of managing and marketing the production of other places. It looks different today, but even in Paul Revere’s time he was just putting some fancy shapes to a pewter pot that could have been made anywhere really. The tin and copper and lead or whatever came from elsewhere, as did almost everything Revere and his customers ate. Then some of their food came from ten miles away; now it comes from a thousand. As you, Johnny, might react: Shrug.

    1. Yes and no.

      Cities are always about taking in raw materials from the hinterland and adding value to them for internal consumption as well as export.

      My concern focuses on the vulnerability of critical supply chains. The more complexity that’s added to the systems – and the more all those attenuated systems rely on each other in hyper convoluted ways – the more likely there’s going to be a disruption with unpleasant consequences that may not be easily remedied.

      By removing power plants, electrical substations, fuel tanks, manufacturing concerns, and port facilities we’re assuming that luxury hotels and nice restaurants will carry us through the future. Perhaps they will. Time will tell.

  4. > The land was given to the developer by the city for “free”

    How did the City acquire the land? Abandoned after the original polluters flew the coop?

  5. I was at this event and found it depressing. The project is thinking only in terms of monetary value and not in terms of cultural richness and resiliency, let alone the 80-20 split you mention above. The Dogpatch neighborhood has historically been something like 40% PDR space (Production/Distribution/Repair, for those who aren’t familiar with SF zoning codes). The new developments will have PDR in the low single digits (it’s folded in with biomedical space in the allocation pie chart for the Power Station) meaning the new neighborhood will obliterate the character of the old, not preserve it by using brick facades and cor-ten steel accents. Small business is productive and resilient, and by destroying the economic landscape that supports it we are making our community very vulnerable to outside forces that are beyond our control.

    1. There’s two sides to this. It’s worrisome to have such a low production space in an area that will be hard to redevelop (high density housing is basically permanent as long as it doesn’t slumify, and sometimes even then). OTOH the Bay Area has been building an enormous excess of commercial and industrial, compared to residential, for decades now, and it desperately needs a huge amount of residential-heavy development to make up for that. So, I think this is OK. I also think if we ever get to the point that we have relatively too much residential space further projects will have a better local balance.

      1. One of the driving factors in the commercial/residential imbalance in the Bay Area involves the ways in which municipalities can and can’t generate revenue. Every new commercial building (hotels, offices, laboratories, shops…) generates cash flow for City Hall. Every residential property is a financial drag that comes with all sorts of long term obligations associated with permanent residents. We could restructure those institutional dynamics, but I see no evidence that the political process is capable of reform. Voters (the existing “stakeholders”) won’t stand for it.

  6. Last week I saw the movie “Last Black Man in SF”. And, if I understand correctly, this project is just north of Hunter’s Point and Bayview, a historically African American neighborhood (?)

  7. Personally, I hate it when they leave some vestigial industrial bits to paper over the lack of character. Pier 70 is a more egregious example of an industrial carcass repurposed for yet more “creative” space. I don’t why it offends me. Maybe like you I’m a bit bothered we don’t make things anymore. But even if we wanted to make things, could we? Manufacturing has changed so much.

  8. The terms polychlorinated biphenyl and highly educated can definitely make one feel unwell, and can be hazzardous when left unchecked. Being existing structures , these buildings arent as likely to sink as another high rise property has.

  9. Yes. I also raised an eyebrow at the dogs in the corporate profile for Associate Capital. I understand the concept. Make the company seem human, playful, warm and fuzzy. The lack of suits on highly educated and capable people running a billion dollar operation is an expression of a specific subculture. Tech workers with the right skill sets assert their status by showing up at the office in flip flops and Black Sabbath T-shirts. It’s a way of demonstrating their importance. They’re saying, “Fuck The Man. I can wear whatever I want. They can’t run this place without me.”

    1. Reminds me of Tom Wolfe’s “Masters of the Universe” from the 80s Gilded Age.

      But they wore power suits, charcoal or navy only.

  10. “Dirty as it may have been, San Francisco used to make real things. It doesn’t anymore. The value added service and tech economy that has concentrated here has the distinct disadvantage of being exceptionally vulnerable.”

    Those industries making real things turned out to be pretty vulnerable too, turns out.

    1. There are two separate but interrelated concepts here.

      One is that cities (and individual people) who work their way up the value added food chain are better off in terms of income and lifestyle. Being a computer coder for Google today is empirically better than being a grunt at a shipyard a century ago.

      On the other hand, the more complex a society becomes the more dependent and vulnerable it is to external forces. For example, I had a conversation with an official in Hong Kong a few years back. The city-state exists to pull in raw materials, capital, and talent from the hinterland and transform it into more valuable products and services. And it’s rich because of that dynamic. I’d much rather live there than a rural hamlet in inland China – today or a century ago.

      But he showed me photos of the territory at the end of Japanese occupation in 1945. After international trade came to a halt the city’s population dropped from 1.6M to 600K in four years. The city simply didn’t have access to water, food, or fuel so it folded in on itself. The Japanese discovered very quickly that Hong Kong’s value wasn’t in material things that could be extracted, but rather a delicate process of global commerce that evaporated instantly when conditions became unfavorable.

      I’ve always advocated for a happy medium. Make your local economy capable of provide 80% of its own necessities and trade the other 20% with high value added with the outside world.

      1. “I’ve always advocated for a happy medium. Make your local economy capable of provide 80% of its own necessities and trade the other 20% with high value added with the outside world.”

        Here, here! Connection with the outside world is important, but you have to have assets to trade, and part of those must be assets which can be shared but not traded way, i.e. skills, culture, things inherent to the local population.

      2. When was the last time a metro area actually achieved this ratio? It has to be pre 20th century right? I’m reading a history of Paris in the 18th century. All food was produced locally in the surrounding countryside. For the majority it was a diet of bread, vegetables and cheese. Water was scarce or polluted so they drank diluted wine. Only the rich ate meat on a regular basis. And so on.

        For say, Northern California, to become even semi self sufficient, it’s possible but would be hard. For one, we don’t produce staple grains at scale. So much for that sourdough bread! There’s thousands of other things that would have to be re-localized, from shoes to hardwood floors to glasses..

        1. San Francisco ate very well a century ago mostly from nearby farmland. There were Italian and Chinese truck farmers inside the city limits. Petaluma supplied poultry, eggs and dairy. San Jose, Sonoma, and Napa all produced a wide variety of fresh fruits and veg as well as beef and pork throughout the year. Fish was everywhere. Grain, including wheat and rice, was in fact grown at scale in parts of the Central Valley.

          Transport was primarily by barge along the Bay and Delta in conjunction with Rail from inland areas. “Extras” like sugar, coffee, and tropical produce arrived by ship from Hawaii and Latin America. That satisfied my ideal 80% / 20% target for resilience.

          This arrangement would be difficult to recreate today since most of the best arable land has been paved over, the rail lines and local small town ports have been dismantled, and there are several million more people to feed than a century ago. It could be done… In the same way it’s theoretically possible to power the entire Bay Area with renewable sources of energy. But that society wouldn’t look like the one we have now.

  11. The proposed buildings are hideous. The function tends to follow the form. The project looks like it will rust before it’s finished. I can’t see the ROI for the people buying these homes other than maybe you get to stare out at the Golden Gate. Why can’t those sections be made back into boatyards, berthing areas, chandleries, or other things of nautical utility? Why not try to make it like Port Townsend, WA?

    1. I’m agnostic about the new buildings. Honestly, the institutional constraints tend to result in the “Ramada Inn” architectural form which is the American version of the Khrushchyovka. These new complexes can be plain Jane or gussied up. But all he new mixed use multi family buildings are mandated to be fireproof boxes with ADA elevators, sprinklers, and double loaded corridors to meet code and be financed by REITs. Everything else is appliqué. Shrug.

      1. —–Khrushchyovka? Hell you make me run to The Google……LOL. Ahh OK. Mid-rise Soviet worker housing of the type we’ve all seen a million times. Even in places like Irkutsk, where land values are roughly zero, as there is nothing but taiga for hundreds of miles in every direction. “In Soviet Union, we build worker housing one way!” As one of my fav authors called it: “Stack-a-prole”. Architecturally? Fine. It’s not hideous. Bento-box. It’s the flavor of the day.

        ——It is amusing to see San Francisco’s uber-tech and the uber-hip look at the old photos of shipyards and heavy-industry marine equipment as if they came from another galaxy, despite the fact their grandfathers worked at such places. The old joke about modern Americans knowing jack about farming is expanding its reach. We now also know jack about anything that might involve a winch or an acetylene welder.

        —-Your second-to-last paragraph may likely prove prescient, sooner or later. “We” – the nation, the State of California, and especially places like San Francisco – have all the eggs in one basket. As Mr HereInVanNuys wrote a couple days ago: “….You will see our kind of company all around Culver City where a uniquely conforming sameness renders each and every place the province of fresh-faced workers who create internet content, produce internet content, monitor internet content, license internet content, promote internet content, trade internet content, sell internet content, translate international internet, and spin off apps for every type of content found online….”

        —-Lastly: The thumbnail bios (link below) Most are straightforward, unlike many I’ve run across recently, but – you are running a billion dollar re-development project – would it hurt to put on a tie? And at bottom: the dogs. Seriously? I guess that appeals to the younger generation, and I’m apparently old-school (though I never thought of myself as such, but…well I AM getting older…LOL). And yeah, I know Faceberg runs around in a hoodie all day. Though I wonder: What do the Chinese and Korean executives – cohorts of similar stature, perhaps engaged in similar large-scale projects – think when they see this? I suspect it’s not very flattering. I doubt if Samsung has many dog-bios on the executive page of its website.


      2. Like you I’ve been wondering for several years how long this RE boom will last.

        When the Developer-in-chief dragged the farm-states and export economy down with his trade war, then jawboned the Fed into halting their interest rate rises (which I believe were at least partly intended to let the air out of RE and financial asset bubbles slowly), he has given his RE buddies a lifeline.

        The result? More mega projects a la Hudson Yards, Potrero, and their ilk. Too much money chasing >5% returns.

  12. At least they are remediating the industrial chemicals before the site disappears beneath the waves? Plenty of other industrial landscapes won’t get that treatment before the floods spread their poisons far and wide.

  13. Well, ‘If you build it, they will come.’ but who….
    So glad I don’t live in the bay area but much further north (not Seattle, but close)

  14. I love the reuse of 19th century style industrial style buildings. So much character and beauty, at least as I behold it. There’s a lot more as you travel through Connecticut on Metro North if you want to invest.

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