The beginnings of a story about Prop F.

Prop F is a local San Francisco Ballot Initiative Question about our water supply and the Hetch Hetchy dam that will appear on the November 2012 ballot.

Which Way For Hetch Hetchy Dam? Photo Credit: Matt Fuller, GRI

While we eventually plan on taking a public position on Prop F, right now we are just trying to wrap our heads around it and understand exactly what the passage of Prop F would accomplish.

So while we do our own research, we wanted to take a moment and ask you what you think about Prop F.

Here are some resources we’ve found about it so far:

Below is the draft title and summary for the fall voter guide (PDF), as presented by the San Francisco City Attorney. See some of the above links for news about a lawsuit over the wording. However, this is what we have to go on for the moment.

Water and Environment Plan

San Francisco owns the Hetch Hetchy Water System (“Water System”), which provides water to about 2.5 million people in San Francisco and neighboring areas. Water System reservoirs collect snowmelt and rainfall from the Tuolumne River and Bay Area watersheds for use throughout the year. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (“PUC”) manages the Water System.

San Francisco’s largest reservoir is in Hetch Hetchy Valley, located in Yosemite National Park. The federal government authorized San Francisco to create the reservoir by building a dam on the Tuolumne River in 1923. Approximately 85% of San Francisco’s water comes from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, which also generates hydroelectric power for City agencies. The remaining water comes from reservoirs in Alameda County and Peninsula watersheds. San Francisco does not filter Hetch Hetchy water but treats it and tests it over 100,000 times annually.

San Francisco is currently undertaking a $4.6 billion project to improve the Water System and develop additional groundwater, conservation, and reclaimed water supplies. Voters specifically authorized water revenue bonds of up to $1.6 billion for these improvements.

San Francisco discharges treated stormwater to the Bay and Ocean under a federal permit.
The proposed ordinance would require the City to prepare a two-phase plan that would identify alternative water sources and evaluate how to end using the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.

The first phase of the plan would identify:
• additional local water sources, including increased groundwater, water recycling, storm water harvesting, gray water systems, conservation measures, and expanded water treatment capacity to accommodate filtration of all drinking water;
• additional water supply options, including storage, purchase, and conservation; and
• alternative renewable energy sources.

The second phase of the plan would evaluate how to:
• improve flows on the lower Tuolumne River;
• decrease stormwater discharge into the Bay and the Ocean; and
• end using Retch Hetchy Valley as a reservoir so it could be restored as part of Yosemite National Park.

The plan would include timelines to implement the first phase by 2025 and the second phase by 2035.

The measure would create a task force to oversee development of the plan (“Task Force”) The Task Force would have five members: the PUC General Manager, the General Manager of the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency, and three experts appointed by the Board of Supervisors. The Task Force would select and manage consultants to develop the plan.

The measure would require the Task Force to complete the plan by November 1, 2015, and require the Board of Supervisors to hold a hearing by January 31, 2016, to consider proposing a Charter Amendment to implement the plan.

The measure would appropriate any available City funds to pay for the Plan, with a maximum appropriation of 0.5% of funds voters previously authorized for the current Water System improvement project (approximately $8 million).

Amazing 1960s Condominium Remodel

An architect from MacCracken Architects sent me an email showcasing a beautiful job they did renovating a 1960’s era condo in San Francisco on Russian Hill. Some real estate shoppers have the ability to envision what a space can become, but most people don’t have that gift. Which is why staging your home helps buyers understand how to use the space. I didn’t represent the buyers of this condo, so I don’t know if they have the rare gift of seeing what can be, or if they had help from professionals while searching. Regardless, I wanted to showcase this beautiful ‘before and after’ condo remodel.

While I could blather for paragraphs about what a beautiful job they did transforming some very ‘meh’ space into something amazing, I think the pictures speak for themselves. Click on any image below to view a larger version and start the slideshow.

From the project team at MacCracken:

This 1,000 square foot 1960s condominium on Russian Hill was a challenge to make efficient use of a small living area and illustrates how well thought out design can transform very limited space. Existing rooms were rearranged and previously partitioned areas were opened to take advantage of the stunning San Francisco Bay views and light. Mahogany corridor cabinet walls define the central circulation and provide storage and shelving for artifacts and art. The monolithic wood corridor walls convey a warm contrast to the white perimeter of the rest of the volume while primary natural light from the view side of the apartment is transferred through vertical translucent glass openings to provide a relative balance of light to spaces with limited natural light.

DESIGN TEAM: Stephen MacCracken (Principal), Daniel Robinson (Principal), Hutch Mouradian (Project Architect)

CONTRACTOR: Derry Casey Construction


PHOTOGRAPHY: Rien Van Rijthoven

Thanks to the folks at MacCracken for providing the before and after images, and allowing me to blog about their phenomenal remodel!

Vote for Kevin Birmingham!

We say: Vote for Kevin Birmingham for the SFAR Board of Directors!

Picture says it all. Source: Kevin Birmingham

That’s it. That’s pretty much all we have to say about the issue.

Oh, you want reasons? Ok, well fine, be like that!

  1. He’s an all-around good guy.
  2. He really cares about what happens at our local association level, and has worked hard over the past several years to make a positive impact on board decisions regarding forms and technology platforms.
  3. Lately, he’s been working hard to find a way for DBI to process 3R reports in a more timely fashion, so that sellers and buyers aren’t put in unfortunate circumstances due to bureaucratic delays and infighting.

So if you’re the kind of voter that needs reasons, we just gave you three really great reasons to vote for Kevin Birmingham in this year’s election of Board of Directors candidates. To vote, you need to be a member in good standing of the San Francisco Association of Realtors (SFAR or SFAOR depending on who you ask and how you abbreviate) – so unless you are a Realtor or a Broker, you can’t vote in this election – but you should still be cheering him on because the good he can do at the board level ultimately impacts all real estate buyers and sellers in San Francisco.

And on that note, back to Tuesday broker’s tour…

San Francisco Property Tax Rate

Property Tax in San Francisco is an ad valorem tax (meaning a tax based on value) imposed on real estate. The tax rate is applied to the net assessed property value as determined by the San Francisco County Assessor, which uses the purchase price as the baseline for determining assessed value.

In California, there are three broad categories of property (real, personal and utility) and three corresponding tax rolls (secured, unsecured and utility or state-assessed). For property taxes, we are referring to the real property tax. The annual property tax rate is made up of two amounts:

  • A maximum base rate of 1% – as established by Proposition 13, which was passed in 1978. The first is the one percent countywide maximum rate set by Proposition 13 in 1978.
  • Any voter-approved overrides (i.e. for bonded indebtedness).

San Francisco’s 2011-12 property tax rate is 1.1718%.

The tax rate varies slightly from year to year. The tax rate in previous years has been:

  • 2010-2011: 1.1640%
  • 2009-2010: 1.1590%
  • 2008-2009: 1.1630%
  • 2007-2008: 1.1410%
  • 2006-2007: 1.1350%

In addition to the ad valorem property tax (the tax based on your purchase price), there are also additional “flat-fee” special assessments that are the same amount for every property holder that will be added to your property taxes. These add-ons are generally unit or parcel-based, and some examples include the Rent Board Fee, the School Facilities Safety Special Tax (a parcel tax), and the Apartment License Fee. San Francisco residents also pay a Mello-Roos fee of about $32/year, a charge that was passed after Loma Prieta to help rebuild schools.

The pie chart below shows the breakdown of the real estate property tax rate for the 2010 – 2011 San Francisco property tax rate:

Source: San Francisco County Office of the Treasurer

Real property tax revenue in San Francisco made up about 22% of the City’s $7.454 billion budget for the 2010-2011 fiscal year. Additional revenue comes from state and federal subventions, other taxes and revenues, and charges for services.

Historical Information
Before Proposition 13 passed in 1978, each local government with powers of taxation (counties, cities, school and special districts, etc.) could levy a property tax on the property located within its boundaries. Within certain restrictions, tax rates were determined independently. Prop 13 changed property taxation by:

  • Setting the maximum countywide tax rate at one percent (1%) –  the statewide average had previously been 2.67 percent.
  • Limiting growth in the assessed value of property to the lesser of inflation or two percent per year, unless ownership of the property changed. Assessed values from the fiscal year 1975-76 serve as the base for real property assessments that haven’t changed ownership.

When property is purchased, newly constructed, or changes ownership, the property tax is re-assessed based on the purchase price.

On July 1, 1983, California State law was changed to require the reassessment of property as of the first day of the month following an ownership change or the completion of new construction. In most cases, this reassessment results in one or possibly two supplemental tax bills being sent to the property owner in addition to the annual property tax bill. Not all changes in ownership of property result in reassessment. The following are some examples that don’t trigger a re-assessment:

  • Interspousal transfers
  • The transfer, sale, or inheritance of property between parents and their children
  • The addition of joint tenants

The information above is based upon information from the City & County of San Francisco Office of the Treasurer.

Housing Inventory in San Francisco Hits Four Year Low

We’ve talked at length this year about how one of the driving trends in the current San Francisco real estate market is low inventory. Since we living an era where the common attitude is “pics or it didn’t happen” (much to Prince Harry’s chagrin) – I thought I’d share with you a chart that visually illustrates how low housing supply is in San Francisco.

MSI stands for Months Supply of Inventory and it is a metric that looks at how many homes are on the market and how quickly they are selling. It answers the following question: If no more homes came on the market and at the current sales rate, how many months would it take to sell all the existing homes on the market? San Francisco has always had an MSI – again, Months Supply of Inventory – that is on the low side compared to many regions in the nation.

San Francisco Housing Inventory Hits Four Year Low, source: Zephyr Real Estate

So, for example, if there are 60 homes currently on the market and the sales rate is 30 homes per month, then the MSI is equal to 2. Which means in two months there would be zero homes for sale. 

Most market watchers consider a MSI of between 4 and 6 a “balanced” market, with anything about 6 indicative of a “buyer’s market” and anything below 4 indicative of a “seller’s market.” As  you can see from the chart above, we peaked at 5.6 months supply of inventory in September of 2010, and are currently down to an incredibly low 1.4 months supply of inventory. Which means that if no new listings came on the market, every home in San Francisco would be sold (under contract) within 6 weeks – roughly October 1 as I write this post.

What does this mean to you? If you are a buyer and are frustrated with the lack of options, you aren’t insane. There just isn’t a lot out supply out there. Economic news has been getting better (slowly) over the past several years and interest rates are at historic lows, which has put an incredible number of buyers in the market (and this is putting aside the Facebook hogwash). Many sellers that couldn’t sell from 2009 – 2011 ended up deciding to put tenants in their properties or otherwise removed them from the sales market, so we’ve got a perfect storm of low supply and high demand.

The end of August is also the height of San Francisco’s summer slump, in which sellers avoid listing in July and August so they can avoid our foggiest weather and/or take vacation. We usually get a nice inventory bump immediately after labor-day and through the end of October, but given the number of buyers in the market right now, even a large bump in inventory will still leave us with a very competitive market.

Happy Friday!


Ocean Ave. Whole Foods Store Tour

Next Wednesday is the grand opening of the newest grocery store in San Francisco – the Ocean Avenue Whole Foods at 1150 Ocean Ave. in the Ingleside neighborhood of San Francisco. It’s on the ground floor of a recently built apartment building, near the recently renovated Ingleside branch library.

Whole Foods has been offering “behind the scenes” grocery store tours, and since we all know that I’m a sucker for Whole Foods, free stuff, and the chance to take a lot of pictures of anything, it was the perfect storm of opportunity. There were about 25 people on my tour today of the Ocean Ave. Whole Foods, which honestly surprised me. I understand that there are a lot of blogs out there and we all need content, but most of these folks actually looked like they lived in the neighborhood and weren’t writing blogs. Oh, wait a second…

The Whole Foods grocery store on Ocean is about 26,000 square feet, which makes it one of the bigger WF grocery stores in San Francisco. Our cruise director (who was not a perky blonde named Jennifer) didn’t know if it would be the Noe Valley or the Haight Ashbury Whole Foods store that wins the claim of smallest Whole Foods in the city, but she thought it was the Noe store. This Whole Foods felt similar in size (to me, at least) to the Potrero Hill location, but with higher ceilings, better light, and cell phone coverage throughout the store!

The layout is pretty much what you’d expect, with all the regular specialty departments including booze, meat, seafood, bakery, cheese, hot bar, sandwhiches, coffee, etc. The Ocean Avenue Whole Foods store is the first one in the city to use LED lighting for accents/spots, so that is kind of cool (in an energy efficient nerd kind of way). They have a pretty good bulk selection, and I learned that when purchasing from their bulk selection you can bring in your own container, have it weighed by any of the checkers (or customer service), and then fill it up with your bulk whatever. Much cooler than the plastic bags, even if the plastic bags are compostable.

No word about bike racks, but there is a garage underneath with parking for about 60 cars. The garage is – by far – the most spacious Whole Foods parking lot in town, with spots so large that they’d likely try and fit three cars into one of them at the Pacific Heights location.

It’s no surprise, but the Whole Foods on Ocean Ave. is an excellent addition to the neighborhood, and I hope the residents of Westwood Park, Ingleside, Ingleside Terraces and Balboa Park enjoy the heck out of it!

Enjoy the photos, click on any for a larger image and to start a slideshow.