Essays by John McNellis

WeWorked for a while

The swallows abandoned San Juan Capistrano in the 1990’s. Their home—the historic mission—underwent a renovation, the birds lost their ancestral nests and, despite every effort to lure them back, they have yet to return in meaningful numbers. No less flighty, workers abandoned their office buildings…

Commercial Properties: Time to Hold ‘Em?

Years ago—beset by the Great Recession—one of Tennessee’s finest developers shook his head at his financial statement and drawled, “My net worth’s gone down by half, but my cash flow’s the same.” He wasn’t alone. Commercial real estate nationwide lost around forty percent of its value during those trying…

Real Estate's Early Autumn

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that April’s commercial property sales were down 16 percent compared to April 2021. In detailing the market’s loss of velocity, the newspaper stated that the hotel, senior housing, office buildings and industrial sectors were particularly hard hit, while retail…

Time to Stop Hammering?

"Thus far this year, we’ve dropped three projects because of breathtaking cost estimates.” A big-time San Francisco contractor told me the other night that he half-wished for another recession. Why? Because his subcontractors—the guys who actually do the work—are so inundated with jobs that they’ve…

Inflating Commercial Real Estate?

The Urban Land Institute is arguably real estate’s most prestigious international organization. There to advise, the learned pundits at its spring meeting in San Diego seemingly predicted every possible economic outcome for next year. Some seers contended that we are back to 1981, and that our soaring…

Drug Wars: “Pharmacies in the Crosshairs”

A couple months ago, I called my doctor to renew a prescription at Walgreen’s. She suggested trying NowRx, a Silicon Valley pharmaceutical start-up offering home delivery. It turned out that with no insurance required, NowRx would deliver 90 days’ worth of a generic heartburn medication* for $14.50.…

Is our Approach to the Drought all wet?

Drought: (noun) 1. A prolonged period of abnormally low rainfall, leading to a shortage of water Despite our spectacular rainy season thus far, California fits within the first half of the definition of a drought: We are in a prolonged period of abnormally low rainfall. But what about our shortage of…

On Crime, Punishment and Justice

Two striking events happened 2200 miles apart the weekend of November 19th. Organized gangs crushed retailers across the Bay Area with cinematic smash-and-grabs hours after Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted of murder charges in Wisconsin. The teenager’s jury decided he’d acted in self-defense when he killed…

Murder on the Housing Express

Housing experts insist that California is three million residences short of a full load and that the state is falling behind by another 100,000 dwellings every year, producing 80,000 new residences when twice that is needed to keep pace with population growth. Like the national debt, our housing shortage…

Stealing the Golden Gate

According to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention, one in eleven shoppers steals, costing American retailers almost $50 billion a year. The director of global security for a nationwide retailer says that 80 to 90 percent of theft is done opportunistically, by individuals sticking, say,…


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