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LGBT real estate values dip, riding Muni for fun, and more

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Four things to know today

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Welcome to Curbed Cuts, a tri-weekly digest connecting the dots between shelter, structure, parks, transportation, and more.

Hopping a bus to nowhere

The other day, this correspondent overheard someone saying that “Uber will never go away, because senior citizens need to use it.” A silly remark indeed. But if one was the kind of person who interrupts conversations being held by other people, one might point out this weekend’s “Native Son” column in the San Francisco Chronicle, in which reporter Carl Nolte hops on an unfamiliar Muni line for laughs.

Of course, it’s hard to believe that there’s any Muni line unfamiliar to Nolte, a fourth-generation San Franciscan who’s been writing for the Chronicle since 1961. (He turned 80 in 2013, you do the math.) But who cares, the man can spin what most of us see as a chore into column gold.

Hopping on the 8-Bayshore, Nolte writes, “I could be an urban adventurer, all for the price of a high-class cup of coffee.” As the bus hits the freeway, it “rattled and banged its way down the highway, like an old horse escaped from the barn.”

“The city’s elites—the men and women who set the tone for San Francisco—almost never ride public transit,” writes Nolte. “They drive, or take a taxi or other ride-hailing service, or ride bikes. But the rest are jammed into the 38-Geary bus, or the 14-Mission, or maybe packed inside one of the subway trains at rush hour. That’s real life in the city.”

Longtime SF residents already know that Nolte is one of our city’s greatest treasures, and this column is one of the reasons why. When you’re done, check out the rest of his archives here.

Self-driving car regulations go federal

The Bay Area’s been ground zero for the development of self-driving cars, which means we’ve also been ground zero for their collisions and other issues. Currently, California’s DMV calls the shots when it comes to their testing on local roads, but that could soon be out of their hands if some heavily-lobbied federal lawmakers have their way.

In a 45-page draft of 14 federal bills proposed by U.S. House Republicans, the auto-autos would instead be governed by a blanket set of regulations under the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Reuters reports. Local shops Tesla and Google-owned Waymo are “largely in favor” of the draft rules, which, among other things, “would no longer require automakers to publicly disclose crashes involving autonomous cars,” the SF Business Times reports. Instead, the collision data would be considered “confidential business information.”

This proposed distant regulation of the devices was echoed at a panel discussion at the Cannes Lions festival this weekend, where actresses Laura Dern and Grace Helbig pitched driverless car marketing campaigns focused on those who are, shall we say, out of the loop.

“It’s called ‘Backseat Driver,’” said Helbig. “Backseat drivers where people that usually—backseat drivers are people that sit in the back of the car that tell you how to drive the car but this time this car can drive itself. So we have a lovable, adorable, charming, relatable host and they sit in the backseat with a person who is of interest and do a celebrity-type interview in some way, shape or form. It’s like Carpool Karaoke but in the back, without music and maybe James Corden.”

“I think we have to work together on this because I have the exact same idea almost,” said Dern. “[It’s] a series of a personality doing different vignettes. So the idea is that it’s me as backseat driver, I’m sitting in the backseat and I can’t help myself, I’m like, ‘No, no I think you should go left here.’ Periodically the computer says, ‘We are supposed to make a right turn,’ and gets more and more frustrated with me.”

How about one where a Washington DC-based regulator sits in the back seat of state government and tells them how to oversee the vehicles on their roads? Anyone?

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SF’s gayest neighborhood loses “value”

The truism that to find the next still-affordable but rapidly emerging neighborhood one should look to the gay community is becoming less of one, a joint study performed by Trulia and OKCupid reports.

Referring to area with high-concentrations of LGBTQ residents as “pride neighborhoods,” the survey determined that “[d]uring the last five years, the premium to live in neighborhoods with the largest gay populations has grown substantially” as since the national housing market’s lowest point in 2012, “America’s gay neighborhoods have recovered at a faster rate than non-gay neighborhoods.”

Never one to follow the rules, however, the reports claims that San Francisco’s LGBTQ areas are one of the few places that recovery is not the case—in fact, demand to live in San Francisco’s gayest neighborhoods has dropped by 5.7 percentage points. And how did they determine our gayest neighborhoods, which they describe as those with the top “Neighborhood Pride Score”? Glad you asked.

To calculate the Neighborhood Pride Score, we added the percent of OkCupid’s users in each ZIP code that are searching for same sex partners (gay singles) to the percent of households that are same-sex couples using 2015 5-year American Community Survey (ACS). For example, if a ZIP code had 30% of its OkCupid users searching for same-sex partners and 15% of its ACS households are same-sex couples, we assigned that ZIP code a Neighborhood Price Score of 0.45. We then calculated the median value per square foot of homes for sale in each ZIP code as of April 1, 2017 and compared it to April 1, 2012 to find out how prices have changed over time and relative to their metropolitan area.

That means 94114 (aka the Castro) received America’s #2 Neighborhood Pride Score, second only to West Hollywood and just above the Uptown neighborhood of Dallas. So, although 94114’s average home value per square foot was $537 in 2012 and $925 in 2017, the “Gay Neighborhood Home Value Premium” in 2012 was 17 percent, and dropped to 12 percent by 2017.

The takeaway is unclear, Trulia admits.

Do these results suggest that the presence of gay households in a neighborhood cause home values to increase? Maybe, but the evidence isn’t conclusive. Since gay individuals and couples tend to have fewer children and higher incomes, they may seek to live in neighborhoods with more desirable amenities (which might help such neighborhoods appreciate at higher rates), or alternatively, their higher disposable incomes may attract such amenities after they move in. From an analytical standpoint, this is a tough chicken-or-egg problem. As a result, teasing out correlation from causation is a particularly difficult task, so we hesitate to make definitive conclusions from these data. That said, we can be certain that homeowners in many gay neighborhoods have much to celebrate this June, including the growing equity they’re gaining in their homes.

Bountiful SF backyard farm

Here’s one SF family that doesn’t fear that spike in backyard chicken-related Salmonella: The Chan-Herrera has turned two San Francisco backyards into a remarkable urban oasis, with fowl, beehives, “vibrant wildflowers, potatoes, a small apple tree, leeks, climbing vines and much more,” reports the Chron. There are also two kids, two cats, and a baby corgi roaming the space, which is regularly opened to the community.

The human adults that oversee the garden, Jamie Chan and Blas Herrera, are “natives of San Francisco” who grew up “among concrete and row houses only fueled their love of the outdoors,” they write in their Garden For The Environment bio. You can watch a video on their backyard oasis here, and follow them on Instagram at @fogcitygardner.