Thursday, February 21, 2019

Lesson in Free Speech (attention Marinwood CSD)

Could this new bill help solve California’s housing crisis? New study suggests otherwise

Could this new bill help solve California’s housing crisis? New study suggests otherwise


FEBRUARY 20, 2019 12:02 AM,

These are some of the issues behind California’s housing crisis
California's housing crisis is due in large part to a lack of supply, particularly when it comes to affordable housing, and it is hitting low-income individuals the hardest.
By Michelle Inez Simon

California's housing crisis is due in large part to a lack of supply, particularly when it comes to affordable housing, and it is hitting low-income individuals the hardest.
By Michelle Inez Simon

It’s often held up as a key strategy for solving California’s housing crisis: increase the supply of cheaper housing by encouraging more dense construction near transit centers.

New research, however, suggests that the approach known as “upzoning” isn’t necessarily a magic bullet.

A study published in Urban Affairs Review last month found that such zoning policy changes in Chicago over a five-year period led to higher housing prices and no increase in housing supply in the affected areas.

Yonah Freemark, the study’s author and a doctoral candidate at MIT, found “no evidence for short- or medium-term increases in housing-unit construction.”

Over a five-year period, housing prices in the affected areas went up, but the number of housing units constructed did not.

In California, Sen. Scott Wiener has proposed SB 50, also known as the More HOMES Act, which would let developers bypass certain zoning restrictions when building multi-family housing in “transit-rich” and “job-rich” areas, putting more units than typically allowed on those parcels.

SB 50 is co-sponsored by California YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard) and the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California (NPH) and has earned praise from San Francisco Mayor London Breed, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, the California Apartment Association, and the State Building and Construction Trades Council, among others.

Wiener said he doubts the study can lend many insights to the conversation around his bill given that the research concerns zoning changes in Chicago.

“I appreciate the study, but you also have to take it for what is,” he says. “Chicago is not a good comparison for California.” He pointed to the city’s declining population and struggling real estate market as two reasons why the research isn’t easily applicable to California.

Wiener also said he’s not surprised Freemark didn’t find an increase in housing units given the study’s time frame. The research focused on a five-year period, looking at the impacts of zoning changes that occurred in 2013 and 2015.

“It takes a lot more time to build the housing, and that’s frustrating for us who wanted to see housing built yesterday,” Wiener said.

Brian Hanlon, president and CEO of California YIMBY, acknowledged that California might not see new housing construction immediately if SB 50 were to pass. However, he said the bill is still a key component of the solution to California’s housing crisis in the long term.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has pledged to build 3.5 million new housing units by 2025.

“What’s the bill that’s really going to enable Governor Newsom to hit his 3.5 million target? It’s going to be SB 50,” Hanlon said.

Freemark, the study’s author, acknowledged that his findings might not be replicable in California but also cautioned that upzoning is only effective when used in concert with other policies.

“We have a housing crisis in much of the U.S., and that crisis needs to be addressed by providing funding for construction of more units and subsidies for people to afford those units,” Freemark said.

At a hearing last year for SB 827, an earlier version of Wiener’s bill with fewer tenant protections, many advocates expressed concerns about the effects zoning changes can have on vulnerable communities when not accompanied by the proper protections.

“We’re very concerned that state planning mandates, if not carefully crafted, can have significant impacts on existing low-income communities.” said Anya Lawler, policy advocate for Western Center on Law and Poverty. “We know that the gentrifying effects of increased densities can trigger displacement. We’ve seen this play out over and over again, and we shouldn’t continue to repeat the same mistakes.”

Wiener appears to have heeded those concerns, reworking SB 827 to include additional protections for people who might be displaced by new development prompted by upzoning.

In the latest version, communities deemed “sensitive” to displacement and gentrification by the Department of Housing and Community Development and community organizations would be able to delay the application of the standards for five years, giving them time to plan for ways reduce displacement.

The bill also prohibits developers from seeking to take advantage of the new policies by demolishing buildings in the affected areas that are currently or were recently occupied by renters.

Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy at UCLA, says it’s difficult to tell how SB 50 might actually affect housing in California based on the limited scholarship that exists around zoning changes.

“It’s important to view a study like this as a part in maybe, modestly, a small part, of a larger body of research that is really early,” he said.

“We need to hear from tenants. We need to hear from and listen to developers as to what they say would be a reaction to policies like this,” he said. “We need to read carefully the text of these bills that outline various protections that are pretty robust in terms of communities vulnerable to gentrification and displacement.”

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Making It In San Diego: Neighbors protest high density housing plan

Editor's Note: This is a story from 2018 but it demonstrates the danger of housing laws like SB50. Housing must be approved by law no matter the impacts to the community or capacity of the infrastructure. This is the nightmare scenario that we want to avoid.

Making It In San Diego: Neighbors protest high density housing plan

Posted: 11:29 PM, Jun 19, 2018
Updated: 11:32 PM, Jun 19, 2018

By: Rachel Bianco

ENCINITAS, Calif. (KGTV) -- Wednesday night, the city council is expected to vote on its proposed high density housing list; roughly 20 parcels of land that the City wants rezoned for higher density.

People living on Lake and Birmingham Drives in Cardiff by the Sea are hoping to keep a vacant lot in their neighborhood off that list.

Allison Wylot lives across the street from the five acre lot.

"This is a very small street, it's a dead end, it's all residential going south, there's no mixed use here, it's just homes, single family homes," said Wylot.

According to Wylot, when Encinitas based Zephyr initially purchased the property, the company had plans to build 4 custom homes. Then, a permit sign went up notifying residents that the plan is to build nine homes. Now, the company wants to be added to the high density housing list. If that happens, the zoning change would allow for the possibility of 30 dwellings per acre - or 150 units.

No one from Zephyr was available after hours on Tuesday night to comment.

"We just don't think this property is suitable for that," said Wylot.

Councilman Tony Kranz said the residents' concerns may be premature.

"I don't know that there is an appetite to add anything to the list," said Councilman Kranz.

The final list of lots would have to be approved by voters in November. A similar housing initiative was rejected in 2016. Multiple lawsuits have been filed against Encinitas over its lack of affordable housing. State law requires the city to provide more than a thousand low income units.

"The reality is we're in a housing crisis here in the state, and it's in part because people are not too excited about having the impacts of higher density and more people," said Kranz.

Wylot said she understands the need for more housing, but she thinks it should be built in an area closer the freeway or public transit.

"Everyone is feeding into Santa Fe and Birmingham to get to the freeway. It just can't handle it, it's one way in and one way out," said Wylot.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Awful Multifamily Boxes could spring up everywhere in Marin if SB50 passes.

In Seattle, multifamily living done right

An architect couple creates a home in a newly developed trio of townhouses in Squire Park

By Samantha Weiss Hills Feb 18, 2019, 9:00am PST
Photography by Eirik Johnson

Three years ago, architects and life partners Kailin Gregga and Steven Lazen were scouring Seattle for opportunities to buy a home—or a lot on which they could make their mark.

“We were drawn to the idea of having a hand in making our own space,” says Gregga. “[But] in [Seattle’s] crazy real estate market it’s a little bit inconceivable to say [we’re] going to buy some land and build [our] own house.”

Owners of all three units pose outside with Mojo the dog.

To make the couple’s dream a reality, Gregga, who is a part of Best Practice Architecture & Design, linked up with Rob Humble, founding partner and design principal for Hybrid Architecture. Humble happened to be developing a set of townhouses in Squire Park, a neighborhood of the Central District, and the collaboration would mean Gregga and Lazen could cut costs and do some customization with a new-build home. For Humble, it would also mean that one of the townhouses would already be occupied when the rest went on the market.

Big Mouth House—so dubbed because one of Gregga and Lazen’s friends photoshopped teeth onto a photo of the main window, giving it the look of an open maw—is situated at the front of the three-townhouse series. Each is clad in vertical panels of black metal. While the two townhouses behind Gregga and Lazen’s, units B and A, are accented by splashes of pink, thanks to their house numbers, Big Mouth puts color front and center, using it to frame a cantilevered floor-to-ceiling window, line the front entrance, and highlight the roof deck railing.
In the Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) at Big Mouth House, two of Gregga and Lazen’s bikes hang in front of a wall decal from FAB. The couple’s cat, Novi, sits atop a wood pedestal hand cut by a friend from a giant fallen fir tree. The shelving unit is two-stories-tall, and runs into the second-level living room.

Each unit has a roof deck that, to the west, overlooks Seattle’s skyline and the Central District. A gabion retaining wall stands in front of Big Mouth, while landscaped walkways mark the way to the additional homes.

At 1,850 square feet, with three bedrooms and three bathrooms, Big Mouth is a little larger than its two counterparts, with an additional bathroom and a configuration that, unlike the others, puts the main living area on the second floor rather than the third.

Gregga calls it a “genius” move on the part of the developer, because if “the middle unit and back unit had kept the same layout that we had, they would essentially not have any views from their living spaces. The site is actually [on a] a little slope, so by flipping the units and taking advantage of that, all the living spaces actually [have] great views.”

EDITORS NOTE: Life in the suburbs with sunshine and nature or in an Ikea inspired tin can dystopia?   i feel so sorry for the people next door to this new townhome complex in Seattle.  This fawning YIMBY inspired article turns my stomach.  This is exactly the type of debasement of my neighborhood that I fear from high density housing.  Where once there was a neighborhood and sunshine, now will be tin can Ikea shacks. No gardens. No community.  Just bland boxes everywhere.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Marinwood CSD will arrest Citizens who offend them

Marinwood CSD board president, Leah Green threatens the public with arrest if they violate her interpretation of "public decorum".  A Marin County Sheriff was posted ready to arrest members of the public at the February 12, 2019 meeting.  Her interpretation of "public decorum" is so broad as to include speech that is clearly protected under the Constitution.  Language, tone and content of speech are "off limits".  Later during the public time, she repeatedly interrupts to speakers with whom she disagrees with their point of view.  Such arrogance of power must not be tolerated.  Our democracy requires both public participation and debate.  The "right to redress the government" is explicitly spelled out in the Constitution.  The meeting became tense as Green repeatedly provoked and argued with public speakers.  Though the Marin Sheriff did not respond as she hoped, it was clear that she was trying to set up a response so she could ban the attendance of me and other speakers, thus making their government meetings effectively secret.  

Marin County must intervene  to educate the Marinwood CSD to protect the rights of the citizens.

From the First Amendment to the Constitution:

The right to petition government for redress of grievances is the right to make a complaint to, or seek the assistance of, one's government, without fear of punishment or reprisals, ensured by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution (1791).

Inside China's High-Tech Dystopia

Ghost of Stephen Foster

California's Redevelopment Agencies: The Bad Idea That Won't Die

California's Redevelopment Agencies: The Bad Idea That Won't Die

Assemblymember David Chiu, D-San Francisco, has pushed bills to bring back California's infamous Redevelopment Agencies. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)ASSOCIATED PRESS

California’s redevelopment agency idea just won’t go away.

In 2011, the state’s 400 agencies (RDA) were shuttered by then-Governor Jerry Brown following negative press and budgetary shortfalls caused by the recession. But as public coffers refilled again due to California’s economic boom, legislators have explored ways to bring RDAs back. Assemblymember David Chiu, who represents the eastern half of San Francisco, has proposed multiple bills that would allow an alternative version of RDAs. And in his latest proposed budget, newly-elected governor Gavin Newsom called to expand Enhanced Infrastructure Financing Districts (EIFD), which are a close cousin. If these alternative RDAs gain traction, it is important that they avoid the mistakes of previous ones, which were riddled with waste and eminent domain abuse.

California’s RDAs were first founded in 1945 as an effort to combat urban blight. They functioned through tax increment financing: after designating a certain area as blighted, the agency issued debt and gave that money to developers to build within the area. As property-tax revenues rose, the RDAs got that increase – aka the “increment” – to pay off the bonds. The idea behind the program was that, because the redevelopment generated more property tax receipts, it deserved this increment. Meanwhile, the rates designated for core services would remain frozen.

After decades of operation, this funding model proved to be a pipedream, as projects under-performed and these agencies wound up consuming 12% of property taxes statewide.

One of the main failings was with affordable housing, which consumed one-fifth of RDAs’ budgets. Like many affordable housing programs, this money wound up getting spent inefficiently. According to a 2010 Los Angeles Times report, at least 120 municipalities combined to spend $700 million in housing funds without producing a single unit, as many instead spent 6-figure sums on “planning and administration.” In other cases, cities spent over $800,000 per affordable unit. The Times found that "many projects face inexplicable delays…Land ostensibly set aside for affordable housing was in some cases turned over to commercial developers, raising questions about whether cities ever intended to build the housing in the first place.”

The RDAs’ commercial development side had similar problems. Money was often spent for projects that were slow to develop, and made little sense anyway: $17 million to refurbish a municipal golf course in Palm Desert; $2 million on land confiscation for a museum on Catalina Island; $5.4 million to renovate part of a restaurant and bar complex in Sacramento.

But the worst thing about RDAs was the eminent domain. Using the blight designation, which could be determined seemingly at whim, RDAs used “extraordinary powers”, in the words of a state senate committee, to confiscate property. The practice got further legal justification in 2005, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Kelo v. City of New London that private property could, in fact, be seized and transferred for private uses.

Thanks to California’s RDAs, there was plenty of money for this. For example, the city of Cypress took property owned by the Cottonwood Christian Center to use for retail development. After a prolonged legal battle, both the church and retail were allowed to coexist on the property. In Lancaster, Costco threatened to leave if the city didn’t condemn the 99 Cents Only store that competed with it in the same shopping center. Following a lawsuit, the city finally gave Costco land in a public park.

And other eminent domain examples abounded. Writing in City Journal, Steven Greenhut noted the irony of how the policy was used for housing, in particular. To build affordable housing, existing homes were often demolished. But because the construction process was so slow, this new housing wasn’t built, creating an even worse shortage than before.

“The RDAs’ diverted funds and failed promises are reason enough to get rid of them,” wrote Greenhut. “But their abuses of property rights are the last straw.”

In 2011, state controller John Chiang concurred after auditing 18 RDAs. He found that the agencies had stripped $40 billion from public education, causing a bailout from the state's general fund; that every RDA audited was found to have reporting deficiencies; and that some weren't appropriately tracking their debt.

For these reasons, Governor Brown ended them in 2011 – a decision that proved to be half-hearted. In 2014, he signed legislation to allow EIFDs, the entities that Governor Newsom wishes to increase funding for. The policy allows cities to continue issuing tax increment financing for projects, although it is more focused on core infrastructure than RDAs were.

The policies promoted by Chiu, however, are more like a Redevelopment Agency 2.0 effort. The assemblymember has jumped on California’s affordable housing crisis as a reason to bring them back, designating more of the revenue for affordable units. Early last year, he proposed a bill that died in committee. After Newsom’s election, he’s proposed a new bill – AB 11 – that, according to the fact sheet, “allows cities and counties to create affordable housing, and infrastructure agencies to fund affordable housing and infrastructure projects using tax increment financing.” To avoid the previous problems, the bill would mandate stronger oversight. As Chiu wrote by email:

The past abuses of redevelopment were substantial, but AB 11 is not a replica of the former redevelopment agencies. Our bill requires that affordable housing funds be spent in a timely manner and has robust reporting requirements. This new financing tool focuses on building sustainable, affordable communities and has safeguards in place to prevent fraud, abuse, and displacement.

Chiu's optimism seems unfounded. The governments of California, at city and state level, remain riddled with waste and abuse. If the examples from the RDAs aren't convincing enough, just consider two recent trends - the state has been unable to solve its pension crisis, despite these costs having driven several cities into bankruptcy; and it was unable to build high-speed rail (which itself spurred the condemnation of 300 homes) because of cost overruns resulting form poor oversight of contractors.

The state's governing culture has been eroded by special interests, and the RDAs, said Greenhut, were no exception, fielding an army of lawyers, consultants and politically-connected developers. A new crop of RDAs that require additional oversight will - whether Chiu intends this or not - be a sop to the bureaucracy that performs the work.

Perhaps even worse is the notion that RDAs are needed to produce affordable housing in California. As housing analysts - including myself - have mentioned exhaustively by now, high home prices there result from a chronic, government-created housing shortage. Thanks to zoning, environmental review, and other regulations, there's a limit on how much housing can be built, and significant expenses added to each new unit. The answer is not to redirect scarce property tax revenue into politicized agencies that require vast oversight just to perform their work. It's to let developers build - including the state's many affordable housing developers, who already have a variety of state and federal subsidies they can leverage.

No, the new RDAs appear to be a slightly less bad version of the old RDAs. They're an idea that needs to remain just that.

Scott Beyer owns a media company called The Market Urbanism Report, and is traveling the U.S. to write a book on reviving cities. His Twitter handle is @sbcrosscountry.

Scott BeyerContributor

Sunday, February 17, 2019

The Legend of the Gordian Knot

Alexander Cuts the Gordian Knot

The god Zeus had declared that when it came time for the people of ancient Phrygia to select a king, they must choose the first person to ride up to the temple of Zeus in a wagon. 

The peasant Gordius innocently fulfilled the oracle, was made king, and ruled very successfully.  In his gratitude Gordius dedicated his wagon to Zeus by tying it to a pole near the temple with an intricate knot of bark.

Another oracle declared that anyone who succeeded in untying the knot would be the ruler of all Asia. The knot stayed firmly tied, confounding all attempts to loosen it, until the arrival of Alexander the Great. 

Even Alexander’s conventional attempts to untie the knot were unsuccessful, until he cut the knot open with his sword. Zeus honored Alexander’s initiative by making the prophecy come true, and Alexander conquered all of Asia and more.

The “Gordian knot” has come to represent a difficult and intractable problem, while Alexander’s simple solution focused on the outcome rather than the problem.

for more on the gordian knot

Amazon’s HQ2 Fiasco Will Cost the Company More Than It Costs New York

Mark Lennihan/AP

Amazon’s HQ2 Fiasco Will Cost the Company More Than It Costs New York

The mega-company has bucked dealing reasonably with New York City, Seattle, and any community that asks them to pay for its freight.

In an economic development Valentine’s Day from hell, Amazon broke up with New York City today. As Amazon dropped Long Island City, Queens, as part of its second headquarters, the company showed its true colors.
Despite being a trillion-dollar enterprise, Amazon has refused to pay for its freight in communities, including Seattle. Instead of reacting reasonably to opposition to the HQ2 deal from state Senator Michael Gianaris, city council members, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and neighborhood activists, Amazon decided it only wants to play its game on its own terms.
But how big companies enter communities shouldn’t be handled like a ploy directed at gaming the system and extracting maximum incentives from cities. Amazon should not treat cities with tactics of exploitation and abuse.
The right thing for Amazon to do would have been to be a true partner for New York City: stay, make it work, and hire people in support of New Yorkers. Instead, Amazon has decided to leave New York City behind in favor of other regions it considers to be more hospitable. (Amazon has announced that it will not re-open the search process and will proceed only with northern Virginia and Nashville.)

As I have written before and will say again, it’s past time for city leaders across the country to stand up to Amazon, demand much-needed tax revenues instead shying away from taxing big businesses, and show support for the people in their neighborhoods. In New York, this movement has started in earnest. In a new proposal this week, state lawmakers are asking their fellow states to join them in an interstate compact to oppose incentives races like the one for Amazon. I would add to that call an ask for the mayors and former mayors considering running for president to stand up against incentives.
For such an analytically-minded company, which did such an extensive selection process, Amazon should have been able to predict that the incentives would generate a backlash. Even during the selection process, the signs of resistance movements across the U.S. were evident, from new legislative proposals, to protests and rallies. New York City in particular, a region with an already-robust economy, was well positioned to resist Amazon. And yet, the company turned a blind eye. New York Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio drank the Kool-Aid they sold to Amazon. The Amazon HQ2 process has created a PR fiasco that has damaged the potential for cities and tech companies to work together effectively and to communities’ benefit. It will almost certainly hurt Amazon more than losing the HQ2 will hurt New York.
And that PR fiasco may just be getting started. To assume that everything is rosy in Crystal City, Arlington, and nothing like “activist NYC” is flawed. The mega-company shouldn’t expect zero backlash from the greater D.C. area. In fact, Amazon’s departure from New York City might embolden activists in the D.C. area, which has a large activist community as well. It would be perfectly reasonable to anticipate backlash left to come, especially after the news of an Amazon exit from New York City.
This is far from over.
CityLab editorial fellow Nicole Javorsky contributed research and editorial assistance to this article.

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