Housing Costs Stretch Bay Area’s Geographic Footprint

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Altamont Pass as seen from the San Joaquin Valley.

MORE THAN 600,000 LONG-DISTANCE COMMUTERS POUR INTO THE BAY AREA EACH DAY
The Bay Area’s roaring job market is attracting workers from all over Northern California, but an increasing number of them don’t live within the traditional nine-county region, largely due to housing-affordability issues.

Citing research from the Bay Area Council, The Mercury News reports that, on average, 602,000 vehicles enter and leave the nine-county region each weekday from what is called the “Northern California Megaregion.” Not including the Bay Area, this region includes six counties in the Sacramento area, three in the Northern San Joaquin Valley, and three in Monterey.

A quick look at housing costs and price growth goes a long way to explaining why so many workers endure such brutal daily commutes. The Bay Area’s 2015 median home value of $750,000 is three times more expensive than in San Joaquin, Stanislaus, and Merced counties combined. And while home values in San Francisco Countyhave increased 49.1 percent over the last 10 years, they decreased by 48.4 percent in Merced County over that same time period.

So what can be done to keep more of these workers off the road and ease Northern California’s worsening gridlock? The Bay Area Council recommends investing in public transportation, streamlining the housing-permit process in urban job centers, and growing employment in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valley regions.

Source: Pacific Union blog

(Photo: Flickr/Michael Patrick)

California Unemployment Rate Falls to Half of Recession Peak

The Golden State’s unemployment rate dropped in August, reaching half of the level recorded during the depths of the recession five years ago. Bay Area jobless claims followed suit, falling from the previous month in all nine counties.goldenbearflag

According to the latest numbers from the California Employment Development Department, the state’s unemployment rate declined to 6.1 percent in August on a seasonally adjusted basis, down from a high of 12.2 percent in 2010. California added more than 36,000 jobs in August, 470,000 over the past year, and 2.06 million since the beginning of the economic recovery in February 2010.

Commenting on the data, Palo Alto-based Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy says that those jobs represent 14.3 percent growth over the past five-and-a-half years compared with the nationwide rate of 9.7 percent. The organization notes that most of August’s job growth was due to gains in the government sector, while the professional- and business-services sectors saw losses. Both trends may be seasonal, due to an earlier beginning to the school year and companies transitioning from contract to permanent employees.

Jobless claims fell in each of the Bay Area’s nine counties from July to August, bucking the previous month’s pattern of across-the-board increases. San Mateo County continues to have the state’s most robust job market, with an unemployment rate of 3.3 percent on a nonseasonally adjusted basis, followed by Marin (3.5 percent), San Francisco (3.6 percent), Santa Clara (4.0 percent), Napa (4.2 percent), and Sonoma (4.3 percent) counties.

The Bay Area has demonstrated remarkable improvement in job growth since unemployment levels peaked, which according to EDD historical data was generally in 2010. Santa Clara, Napa, and Sonoma counties offer excellent examples of this trend, as all three saw unemployment rates peak at more than 11 percent during the recession’s darkest days.

In fact, CCSCE says that Bay Area job levels are now 10.6 percent higher than their prerecession peaks, by far the most in the state and up from 10.2 percent in July.

(Photo: Flickr/eyeliam)

San Francisco’s Zynga and Mid Market start-ups hire homeless cooks

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Grilled flank steak, lemon sesame asparagus and gruyere potato gratin were on the menu this week at the Episcopal Community Services of San Francisco — a decades-old Mid Market nonprofit — where a group of talented, homeless culinary students hoping for a shot in the food industry prepared the perfectly cooked, beautifully plated dish.

The students are part of ECS’s culinary program known as CHEFS, or Conquering Homelessness through Employment in Food Service, which helps homeless people learn to work in a kitchen and eventually find permanent employment.

Now in its 17th year, the program works with notable restaurants, nonprofits and, most recently, nearby tech startups to help train its students.

As a result, students have padded their resumes and — in some cases — taken jobs at restaurants such as Nopa, Kuleto’s and 1300 on Fillmore, and also at nonprofits like Project Open Hand and St. Anthony’s. Some are even moving on to work for tech companies like Zynga(NASDAQ: ZNGA), which recently hired three CHEFS program graduates to staff its kitchen.

Now with support from other nearby tech companies — including Zendesk andYammer — as well as a recent $100,000 grant from the city’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, the program is set to grow larger by accepting more candidates and opening up even more opportunities.

“We see a lot of talented people come through our kitchen, and this program gives them a chance to show themselves and others what they’re capable of,” said Al Leddy, one of three full-time chef instructors at the program. “It’s amazing to see what they can create.”

CHEFS is now gearing up to graduate its 50th class — a couple dozen homeless students of all ages, abilities and backgrounds, who will be searching for jobs in kitchens across the city.

They include Doobe Gomez, a mother of three living in a nearby shelter who dreams of one day opening up a restaurant of her own, and Tony Pierorazo, a former professional server from New York who has a full-time job awaiting him at La Marais Bakery in the Marina after graduation.

Pierorazo, who found himself homeless after a turn of bad luck in Los Angeles, said the program helped him get his life back on track. “It’s the best thing that ever happed to me,” he said. “It helped me get my confidence back.”

His success story is one of many, as the program has helped hundreds of people gain employment through culinary careers and escape homelessness. Since it started in 1997, the program has graduated about 1,000 people. Of those who graduate, roughly 75 percent have found jobs, while 80 percent have obtained housing.

“This is such a food-oriented community and there’s always need for personnel, so this is a great program,” said Kenneth Reggio, ECS’s executive director.

Reggio said the nonprofit is now set to grow the program to accept about 100 candidates annually — up from 70 last year — and expand to provide more opportunities for students, such as providing catering services to startups in the area, as well as help with the organization’s feeding program, which serves about 800 meals a day to the needy.

Nearby tech startups Zoosk, Zendesk, Zynga and One Kings Lane have all started hiring the students to cater events and meetings, praising the food that CHEFS provides and agreeing to use the program even more.

“They rave about the food the students make and it’s such a positive experience for them,” said chef Leddy, adding that the participating students get paid in a $50 certificate for their work.

Through the catering gig and other opportunities the program is seeking — such as internships and talks with home chefs and butchers — Leddy said ECS’s culinary students will graduate with a broad knowledge of opportunities available in the industry.

“We want to expose them to as much of the food community as we can,” he said. “If they know what’s out there, they have a better chance to succeed.”

Source: San Francisco Business Times, by Renee Frojo
Photo: San Francisco Business Times