The Abstract episode 24: San Francisco Redevelopment Tyranny

By Peter A. Kirby

The modern battle for the soul of San Francisco has always been, at its core, about redevelopment. The government of San Francisco has corruptly allowed large corporations to assume unfair advantages and displace the political grassroots. In other words, San Francisco redevelopment has been the source of a tyranny that has wrecked this once beautiful city.

This article is one in a series leading up to the publication of the author’s forthcoming book “The Fall of San Francisco.” Please stay tuned!

Land use is the fount from which your local society flows. It is literally the fountain in the town square. What types of buildings are built and how they are used is the single most fundamental factor in local individuals’ daily activities and experience of life – a touchstone if you will.

Vast mountains of cash are poured into land use everywhere because control of land use amounts to control of local and regional societies. Modern urban land use requires massive financial and political power.

In the 47 square miles of San Francisco there is little to no land that remains unused. If land is to be used in a new way, then pre-existing structures almost always need to be remodeled or torn down and new structures built. This is what is known as ‘redevelopment.’ Therefore, in San Francisco at least, land use is more accurately described as redevelopment.

As we will see, the first and prime mover here has been a group of large corporations known as the Bay Area Council. They have gone on to inspire a whole network of organizations that enact their will. In this process, the Bay Area Council has even managed to imbue some of their proxies with the force of government. Please allow me to explain.

The great San Francisco redevelopment scam

San Francisco has seen a lot of massive redevelopment projects over the years: the Fillmore, the Embarcadero, Yerba Buena Center/South of Market, Mission Bay, the Transbay Terminal and now Treasure Island to name the biggest. Since shortly after WWII, redevelopment in San Francisco has been a ginormous gravy train for the wealthy and powerful: the biggest game in town. We’re talking about something that has involved hundreds of billions of dollars over the years. There have been armies of lawyers, consultants, bond brokers and land developers behind it.

Chemtrails Exposed: A New Manhattan Project: second edition

Believe it or not, redevelopment has been a rigged game. It’s been rigged in favor of the big money and power interests such as large corporations. We have been funding them with our tax dollars. It has been this way throughout California and San Francisco is no exception. In fact, San Francisco is a great example of how redevelopment sucks the life out of society rather than bringing it up.

The main purpose of government redevelopment agencies is to get their locality into debt in order to attract big business. They have rich histories of severely abusing their powers as they have gone about causing the taxpayer to subsidize large, corporate redevelopment projects that most often result in car dealerships, hotels, big-box retailers and the like. They say that what they do is a good thing because they are attracting retail businesses to the area and thus increasing local tax revenues. But history has shown that the fiscal and societal costs of redevelopment greatly outweigh the benefits. That’s why redevelopment agencies in California were abolished in 2012.

Known as a ‘superagency,’ the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency was established in 1948 as a government agency designed to empower big business and ram redevelopment down San Francisco’s throat. With all the most powerful connections and loads of federal funding, it operated as a combination of public and private powers. This kind of crony capitalism should not exist in America and yet, there it is.

The San Francisco Redevelopment Agency (SFRA) needed to be powerful in order to overcome pesky citizens. You see, these big redevelopment projects required the demolition of pre-existing buildings – buildings where people lived and worked. The people who lived and/or worked in the buildings slated for destruction were often understandably not happy about being forcibly removed.

The San Francisco Redevelopment Agency alone put the average citizen fighting redevelopment at a tremendous disadvantage, but the SFRA was not alone. Other powerful groups, usually comprised of big business interests and with a primary focus on redevelopment, grew up around the SFRA. The most powerful have been: the Blyth-Zellerbach Committee, the San Francisco Planning and Urban Renewal Association (SPUR), the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC). Among these groups, interlocking directors were common and there was a revolving door between government and industry. Throw in submissive S.F. Supervisors and cheerleading Mayors and against this constellation of organized power, the average citizen being displaced by redevelopment’s corporate wrecking ball never stood a chance. Countless thousands were railroaded out of San Francisco.

The Bay Area Council

The single most powerful organization in all of this has been a group of large corporations known as the Bay Area Council (BAC). The Bay Area Council’s origins predate the SFRA’s as they are found in something called the Metropolitan Defense Committee.

The federally funded Metropolitan Defense Committee (MDC) operated during WWII in order to facilitate regional fire prevention, law enforcement, health care, public safety and transportation. The MDC also decided the location of new industrial facilities and made decisions about workers’ housing. The MDC was comprised mainly of influential businessmen along with some political appointees: just like the SFRA: a combination of big business and government. This soft fascism ostensibly smoothed over the disruptions to domestic life resulting from the ongoing war effort. But disagreements among localities proved the MDC unworkable and by 1944 (one year before the war ended), the MDC’s federal funding had been cut off.

The eventual Bay Area Council learned a lot from the MDC though. The MDC served as a prototype. In the same year that the MDC collapsed (1944), the idea of it was reborn in something called the Bay Regional Council. The Bay Regional Council didn’t last long as it was renamed the Bay Area Council with the end of the war in 1945.

In the Bay Area Council, the spirit of the MDC lives on as it was originally comprised of the most powerful corporations of the American west. Bank of America, American Trust Company, Standard Oil of California, Pacific Gas & Electric, U.S. Steel and the Bechtel Corporation all originally pledged $10K annually to bootstrap the fledgeling Bay Area Council (BAC). The BAC’s first board of directors was comprised of top brass from the corporations providing the initial funding as well as executives from Southern Pacific Railroad, Foremost-McKesson and the Central Bank of Oakland. Subsequent BAC members included the Bank of California, Crocker Bank, Del Monte, Fireman’s Fund Insurance and Wells Fargo Bank.

The publicly stated purpose of the BAC has always been to organize corporate power in order to influence regional governments. The newly formed BAC advocated for the development of airports, freeways and bridges as they started publishing their ‘master plans’ for regional development – master plans indeed. In the ensuing years, the BAC began focusing on redevelopment in San Francisco. The corporations of the BAC held large tracts of prime City real estate and they were motivated by the rising land values and residual income that redevelopment brings.

As of today, one simply needs to peruse the BAC website in order to see that just about every major corporation operating in the Bay Area is now a BAC member. Hundreds of them are listed. Amazon, Apple, AT&T, the Bank of China, Bayer, BlackRock, Blue Shield, Cargill, Chevron, Comcast, Delta Dental, Dolby Laboratories, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, the Forty Niners Football Company, the GAP, Genentech, Gilead, the Golden State Warriors, Google, Hitachi, Hyatt, IBM, Intel, JPMorgan Chase, Kaiser Permanente, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., Linkedin, Lyft, McDonald’s, Meta, Microsoft, Oracle, PayPal, Perkins Coie, Salesforce, the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Francisco Giants, Stanford University, Sutter Health, Tesla, Clorox, Coca-Cola, Uber, Union Pacific, United Airlines, Verizon, Visa and many more are currently corporate members of the BAC.

All sorts of entities with public funding are also listed as current BAC members. These include AC Transit, the Bay Area Rapid Transit District, California State Universities, Caltrain, the Contra Costa Water District, the East Bay Municipal Utility District, the Golden Gate Bridge/Highway & Transportation District, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the Port of Oakland, the Port of Redwood City, the Port of San Francisco, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, the San Mateo County Transit District, Sandia National Laboratories, and the University of California.

The Association of Bay Area Governments

One of the BAC’s subordinate groups, the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) is a particularly nasty creature. Although they were created by a joint powers agreement and not by CA statute, they falsely present themselves as government as they set mandatory minimum requirements for… guess what… REDEVELOPMENT. Amidst a mass exodus from California, if localities do not comply with ABAG’s ‘low-cost housing’ mandates (read: housing project construction) as they are required to do by a raft of applicable State laws, then localities are subject to lawsuits, loss of permitting authority, financial penalties, a forced fast-track approval process and/or court receivership and the redevelopment will be done. ABAG’s job is to use available tools in order to force compliance among local governments.

San Francisco redevelopment today

Today San Francisco redevelopment is apparently in a holding pattern. As of February 2012 the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency was dissolved by State law AB 26 along with the rest of the 400 redevelopment agencies statewide. AB 26 also established the SFRA’s successor organization known as the Commission on Community Investment and Infrastructure (CCII). The CCII is currently administering to San Francisco redevelopment projects approved prior to this reorganization.


Redevelopment in general has been proven to be bad policy. Many local grassroots activists can tell you all about it, yet its evils go largely unknown. Most people don’t know about it due to its complexity and the fact that the mainstream media never covers it properly. Hopefully this article has simplified things and will enlighten more people.

The fundamental evil of crony capitalist redevelopment is that it empowers corporations and government to run roughshod over the rights of the citizenry. Despite arguments to the contrary made by people who believe in big business, this is not the American way and it is not the way it should be. When the rights of individuals and small businesses are not respected, individuals become politically and financially disempowered and the fabric of society begins to unravel.

All the redevelopment conducted in San Francisco has served as a means to greatly disempower the general public and destabilize society. When governments co-operate in the destabilization of society, they defeat their own purpose as the most fundamental reason for government is to create and ensure social stability.

If wealthy and powerful interests want to knock down existing structures and build new ones, then they should be subject to a process that greatly respects the rights of the impacted individuals. If redevelopers want to do their thing, then they should be subject to the true fiscal and societal costs of their endeavor. What is destroyed and/or built anywhere should be the result of amicable agreements rather than brute force government intervention in the free market.

The City of San Francisco should cut off all formal relations with groups like ABAG and not allow the Bay Area Council to exert any further undue influence.


Redevelopment: The Unknown Government a booklet by Chris Norby et al, published by Municipal Officials for Redevelopment Reform, 2004

City for Sale: The Transformation of San Francisco a book by Chester Hartman, published by the University of California Press 2002

Power in the City: Decision Making in San Francisco a book by Frederick M. Wirt, published by the University of California Press 1974

Left Coast City: Progressive Politics in San Francisco, 1975-1991 a book by Richard Edward DeLeon, published by the University Press of Kansas 1992

“Growing list of penalties for local governments failing to meet housing law” a PDF by the Association of Bay Area Governments, published by the Association of Bay Area Governments, June 2021

Peter A. Kirby is a San Rafael, CA researcher, author, and activist. Please buy his book Chemtrails Exposed: A New Manhattan Project available now exclusively at Amazon. Also please follow his TruthSocial feed or join his email list at his website

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