Sex, Politics, and Gold
Or, No Hope for HOPE
The moral of this story is to never forget the gold.
When gold was found in Alaska, the Treasury Department
decided to open an assay office in the state of Washington. Three cities
applied to host the office – Port Angeles, Tacoma, and Seattle. Port
Angeles’ bid pointed out that it was the closest city to Alaska and thus
it could ensure that the gold would be safely sold to the Treasury
Department before it was spent on the miners’ long journey home.
Tacoma’s bid touted its reputation as the “City of Churches.” The miners
could find quiet repose in the many churches that dotted Tacoma’s
Even though Seattle was the same size as Tacoma at the
time, Seattle decided to boost its businesses in its bid. It bragged
that it could help the miners prepare for the journey back to their
After some thought, the Treasury Department choose
Tacoma as the city that would get the assay office. They were impressed
with Tacoma’s willingness to meet the spiritual needs of the miners.
The city fathers of Seattle were extremely disappointed.
They got together to commiserate. After some discussion, they agreed
that most miners, after spending months or even years in the cold Yukon,
would probably not be yearning to pray at religious services. As they
panned for gold in the mighty rivers of Alaska and the cold water cut
through to the core of their being, the miners were probably not
dreaming of the seclusion of a church.
Rather, they probably wanted to slake their thirst with
a cold beer and a good steak. They probably fantasized about hearing
loud and brassy music. But they probably also thought about spending
some time with a warm and soft companion.
So Seattle’s city officials had a meeting with all of
the bar owners. The proprietors agreed to open the saloons for longer
periods of time and take gold in lieu of hard currency. A local company
agreed to gather the gold from the various saloons and businesses and
take it 60 miles south to Tacoma, to change it into hard currency at the
But Seattle’s founding fathers did one more thing to
ensure that miners would come to their fair city. The City of Seattle
decided to advertise for seamtresses. Lots and lots of seamstresses, to
mend the “clothes” of the miners when they returned from the cold camps
of the Yukon. To create a welcome for these seamstresses, the city
created rows and rows of shacks called “cribs.” These shacks had large
front windows where the seamstresses could sit and show off their fine
handiwork by wearing lingerie and other dainty clothing. Because these
cribs were on city land and the city fathers were also concerned about
their tenants' health, they required each seamstress to have a monthly
doctor’s checkup and charged them each a license fee of $5 per month.
Hundreds of seamstresses came to Seattle. Some settled
in the shacks. Others built large homes where many seamstresses worked
in one location.
The miners heard about Seattle’s willingness to provide
these valuable services to its visitors. They heard about Seattle’s
generosity in taking gold for payment, so they wouldn’t have to go all
the way to Tacoma. And it appeared that the miners were interested in a
different, more intimate type of prayer than the one that Tacoma
offered. (Hey, you pray your way and I’ll pray mine.)
So just as the city fathers of Seattle predicted, the
miners came to Seattle – not Tacoma.
Tacoma got the assay office.
But Seattle got the gold.
Our city’s politicians haven’t figure this lesson out. A
case in point is one of the measures on the November ballot –
Proposition R, commonly known as HOPE.
HOPE's supporters boast that the measure will alleviate
the city's housing problem by taking units out of the rental market and
allowing apartment owners to sell their units as condos. The HOPE
supporters miss the obvious– the number of people who can afford to rent
an apartment is much larger than those who can afford to own their own
HOPE advocates also claim that these units will be
affordable to the average homeowner. With all due respect to the authors
of this bill, they must have been sleeping during their Introduction to
Economics class. The law of supply and demand says that if there is a
real or perceived shortage of a product or service, the price for that
product or services goes up. Since the entire premise of their argument
is that there isn’t enough housing stock for new homeowners to purchase,
there must be a real shortage of housing stock. Thus, the price of that
housing stock will go up.
So taking a page from Seattle’s book, why are we not
building affordable housing? Why isn’t the city encouraging investors to
buy midsize homes and convert them into buildings with two or three
units? The buildings don’t have to change in size – but you are doubling
the number of units available for occupancy. Or they could convert
underutilitized commercial space into housing. SOMA appears to have lots
of empty buildings that could be easily converted into housing units.
There are also hotels along Lombard Street that appear to be struggling.
There are all sorts of solutions to solving the housing
problem in San Francisco. Taking units out of the rental market isn’t
one of them.
The goal should be to get the gold – not to get the