Saturday, March 28, 2015

Ernie White warns of Regional Government and the loss of our rights (In southern California)

Roseanne talks to the Politician at the Door about Taxes, Corporate Welfare and Jobs.

Supervisor Steve Kinsey can learn from this little clip. Special tax breaks for affordable housing, mass transit and special favors for special interests hurt the "little people" the most.  No, Steve, these are not "investments".  They are giveaways to political insiders that the community must pay for.

Friday, March 27, 2015


Steve Kinsey on Growing Marin's Economy

Who would have guessed that 

Steve Kinsey 

is an expert on 

Economic Growth and Jobs?

Kinsey: "One possibility, he said, is pursuing a homeless facility on San Rafael’s St. Vincent’s tract."

Civic Center officials, reflecting on the job of governing Marin County, say they want to nurture a dynamic, creative county workforce, focus on Marin’s environmental heritage, maintain fiscal discipline while proceeding with civic improvements, and work on key issues ranging from climate change to homelessness and social inequity.
County supervisors, convening off site and off camera Tuesday with a handful of administrators for an unusual retreat at the Throckmorton Fire Station to discuss “major trends, organizational business plan and potential focus areas,” agreed informally that the board’s collegial nature is a ticket for success.
“Even when we do disagree, there are no grudges,” Supervisor Damon Connolly said of the board’s five progressive Democrats. “We live to fight another day,” added Connolly, the board’s newest member, who most notably cast a dissenting vote on payments from what he calls the county board’s community “slush fund.”
This week’s session was lead by County Administrator Matthew Hymel, who was joined by two top aides and personnel chief Joanne Peterson. Hymel said it was important “to make sure we’re on the same page going forward ... make sure we’re adopting the best way possible.” In short, he added, “we’re a good team, but how can we get better?”
Although county coffers are filling as property tax revenues rise 5.8 percent, or about 1.8 percent more than expected, expenses are escalating as well, with costs including replacing the Civic Center roof, a job that could range anywhere from $8 million to $20 million. “Should we issue a bond to meet some of these needs?” Hymel wondered. He also noted a need to plug staffing gaps, including county communications activities where “we need to do a better job ... with social media.”
Other expenses include worker’s compensation, which hit an estimated $8.7 million this year, or $2.7 million more than expected, “primarily because of public safety” claims, Hymel said. Retired safety employees generate most costs in light of state law allowing them to claim compensation for ailments years after they leave the workforce. Twenty-three sheriff’s deputies are now on disability leave allowing them to collect full benefits while taking up to a year off.
“Under the rules we have, we are doing the best we can,” Hymel said.
Supervisors raised a number of pressing issues, including homelessness. “We got to do more,” Supervisor Steve Kinsey said, calling for a “meaningful discussion” during county budget deliberations.

One possibility, he said, is pursuing a homeless facility on San Rafael’s St. Vincent’s tract. San Rafael area Supervisor Connolly later said he was “open to all” proposals.
Connolly reported “really making progress” on Marinwood Plaza, with “a number of bidders potentially coming forward” to buy the entire site. He called for a “stronger relationship with our schools” but offered no specifics, and said department heads need to focus on how to execute and “how to succeed” rather than merely “share information” at their weekly meetings.nt

Kinsey raised a shopping list of issues, saying the county needs to push for “equal justice for all,” figure out how “we can really value diversity and build it into our business,” consider how to transform Marin City into a better community, review the budget for curbing pension liability and take action to speed permit approvals.
Supervisor Judy Arnold said shepherding the SMART train program is a key issue, but added preservation of Marin’s rural heritage looms large as well, with critics of housing along the freeway threatening Marin’s fundamental eastern “corridor” development philosophy. “Do we want to see more development in Nicasio?” she asked with an inflection indicating the answer was no way. Connolly said did not think the county housing debate would lead to rural development. “This board isn’t for a moment thinking about abandoning A-60 zoning,” added Supervisor Katie Rice.
“Potholes,” Arnold said at another point. “We really have to stay on top of that,” she added. ”Our roads are in really bad shape.”
Rice urged a “realistic look at what our resources are” and develop creative ways to get things done without depleting the budget. She called attention to the county’s prescription drug abuse epidemic and added she will “stay focused ... on the Ross Valley flood control.”
Supervisor Kate Sears cited climate change as a concern shared by many, praised the board’s ability to work together as a team and said officials have to figure out a sea level rise “partnership that works well” across the county.
Officials expressed support for social equity, with several noting a “strong start” ballot issue campaign is in the works to fund preschool, healthy and child-care programs. All seemed to agree the county workforce needs more training, recognition and opportunities for advancement while developing a “creative problem-solving culture.”
“It’s good to understand where your colleagues are coming from,” Hymel noted. “There are so many areas of common interest” he observed. ”Some boards don’t have that.”
And yet despite consensus, change doesn’t come easily, Kinsey noted, citing a lack of “throughput” on a county pledge to speed permit processing. “Why is it so hard ... to change?” he asked.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Liberal Policies vs. Affordable Housing

Bridge Housing in downtown San Rafael, CA

Liberal Policies vs. Affordable Housing

The chronic shortage of inexpensive housing is really a blaring signal for government to get out of the way.

In theory, that is not impossible. But in practice, it seldom works out well. In medicine, the term "iatrogenic" refers to diseases that are caused by doctors or medications. The housing problems that governments decry are often problems that governments create. Liberals devise remedies for ills that are most prevalent where liberals hold power.
Among Castro's priorities is the "affordable housing crisis." He laments that 7.7 million low-income Americans who get no government help either spend more than half their income on rent or occupy substandard housing. One of his curatives is a federal program that "allows public housing agencies to leverage public and private debt and equity in order to reinvest in the public housing stock."
Maybe that will do some good. But when it comes to fostering a larger supply of less expensive housing, as Ronald Reagan would have put it, government is not the solution. Government is the problem.
This is especially true at the local level. One reason red states attract so many migrants from blue states is that they have an abundant supply of relatively inexpensive residential buildings.
You can get a lot more house for your money in Houston or Phoenix than in San Francisco or Boston. A big reason is that it's a lot easier to construct homes and subdivisions in states that engage in less regulation of development—which, being less enamored of regulation, tend to vote Republican.
This pattern is not a matter of speculation. Economist Jed Kolko sorted dozens of cities by how they voted for president in 2012 and found that "none of the 10 reddest markets had a median asking price per square foot above $130 in September of 2014. But nine of the bluest markets did."
The peculiarity is not hard to explain. Residents of liberal places, almost by definition, are more inclined to support tight curbs on development.
Last year, San Franciscans approved a ballot measure requiring voter approval of any new building on a 7-mile stretch of waterfront if it exceeds current (and generally low) height limits—which is a perfect way to block an expansion of residential housing in a large chunk of the city.
They confirmed the observation of Matt Yglesias, who wrote in Slate in 2013 that since the city lacks vacant land, "you either build up or you just don't build. And the preference, apparently, is to not build." That's why San Francisco has the highest housing costs in America. New York is almost as bad, and for similar reasons.
But they are hardly unique. Research by economists Edward Glaeser of Harvard and Joseph Gyourko of the University of Pennsylvania indicated that "homes are expensive in high-cost areas primarily because of government regulation" that imposes "artificial limits on construction."
Not that big cities teeming with Democrats are the only sinners. In many suburbs in red states, Gyourko told me, zoning rules make it easy to build single-family detached houses on small lots. What's not easy is to put up townhouses and apartment buildings—whose construction costs, on a per-dwelling basis, are much lower. Blocking high-density units serves, deliberately or not, to keep out lower-income people by making these areas unaffordable.
The feds are also partly to blame. The biggest federal housing "program" is the tax deductibility of mortgage interest, which effectively has the perverse effect of pushing up home prices in the places that are most expensive already. Ending that subsidy would lower real estate costs in affluent cities, to the advantage of those who have been squeezed out.
The chronic shortage of inexpensive housing is taken by Castro and other liberals to mean that government bodies have to do more. It's really a blaring signal for them to get out of the way.

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A Rebuttal to "Forceful solutions to Regionalism"

A Rebuttal to the San Francisco Gate Opinion piece. 

A need for Regional Thinking

Editor's Note: A reader sent me the following rebuttal to the opinion piece published in the the SF GATE HERE.   The commentary is published in bold type and the original article in italics.

"A giant tunneling machine dubbed Elizabeth is burrowing under London, part
of a $25 billion regional train line scheduled to open in 2018. The finished
product is intended to alleviate suffocating traffic, ease pressure on housing
costs and share growth across a booming urban center, not just the inner core."

London has a vast network of surveillance cameras equipped with facial recognition software, voice recognition,  cellular and digital surveillance.  Do we want to imitate London?
What works for London, doesn't necessarily work for us.

"Those problems, if not the solution, should get the Bay Area thinking. Our
locale shares London’s anxiety about the future and the next steps to improve

I have no anxiety about London's problems.
"Costly housing and inadequate transit are concerns that occupy Bay Area
residents nearly every day, topics taken on in The Chronicle’s “City on the
Edge” editorial series. As the expansive London plan shows, these
shortcomings can’t be isolated to the big-city center. They’re regional
concerns, taking in dozens of communities."

Anyone who understands regionalism sees it for what it is, an end run around
our representative government and our democratic process. Never a good thing
even if you think you're solving a problem.

"Other areas — notably the vast region surrounding New York that includes
New Jersey and Pennsylvania — are moving in the same direction as London.
It’s time there, as well as here, for serious improvements that move beyond
the normal boundaries and levels of planning."

This language appears to be an attempt to create a reality that does not exist. I
hope your readers don't fall for it.

"An emphasis on commuter lines that reach deep into the areas surrounding
city centers is one element."

Who asked we the people if this is what we want?

"Another is regional government that oversees and enforces policies on a
broad scale." 

Regional government is unrepresentative and is a shadow government to our
own. A very dangerous thing as those who have studied history know.

"Portland, Ore., has a wide-angle lens on development over an area taking in
the city and its suburbs."

Please look at the problems with this Portland plan before extolling its virtues.
It sets limits and directs growth, breaking down barriers between small
towns that ring the larger urban center.  (See article HERE )

This regionalism is about breaking political jurisdictions which take away the
political power of we the people to determine for ourselves how we want to live.
This is nothing less than Soviet Russian planning which didn't work there and
won't work here. This is the United States of America, land of the free, home of
the brave.
Ugly stucco "big box" apartments replace quiet neighborhoods.

"After years of public battling, Seattle overcame misgivings about in-fill
projects and pushed ahead with new buildings in older neighborhoods where
NIMBY wars often raged."

At whose expense?

"The Bay Area has all the elements of these solutions in place. BART handles
400,000 riders daily, its highest passenger counts ever, and has proven so
popular that it needs bigger stations, more rail cars and possibly a second

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Marinwood Plaza, Toxic Waste and Cancer

Marinwood Plaza, Toxic Waste and Cancer

Marinwood Plaza at 100 Marinwood Ave, San Rafael, CA  has been the site of a toxic waste hotspot for at least a decade (maybe much further back). It is alleged that it was a dumping spot of PCE from the Prosperity Cleaners.  Instead of promptly ordering a cleanup, authorities allowed the toxic plume to spread. During this time, Marin County Supervisor, Susan Adams with ambitions for US Congress worked furiously to get a housing development on this site.  Several candidates were identified but for various reasons withdrew.  Could it have been because of the toxic waste liability?

The owner of the property let the property fall into disrepair.  Tenants moved away and it attracted vandalism, illegal dumping and graffiti.  Some speculate that during this time additional "bandit" dumping of toxic waste may have occurred.   A cancer "hotspot" emerged at Casa Marinwood, across the street. Part of Casa Marinwood is located down gradient towards Miller Creek watershed as is clear in the first video.   In addition to PCE,  unhealthy amounts of Benzene, a class one carcinogen was found at the Savemore convenience store. 

Despite claims by former Supervisor Susan Adams in her 2013 Marin Voice column that the Toxic Plume had be remediated  ,  the toxic plumb remained in the ground despite modest efforts to show that clean up was occuring.

On February 12, 2014, the RWQCB issued an immediate order for toxic waste cleanup but Marinwood Plaza LLC objected.  Their attorney, reminded the commissioners that "powerful people" were watching, referring to Congressperson Marc Levine and Supervisor Adams who had called regulators on the eve of the hearing.  

The original staff member who presented on February 12, 2014 suddenly was retired after this hearing and a new team was assigned to the case.  It appears that Marinwood Plaza LLC is still delaying the cleanup for financial reasons.  The community and Ms. Silveira, representative of the Silveira dairy ranch are still waiting for an earnest clean up to begin.

Only the experts from the Regional Water Quality Control Board stand between the Cleanup and the Toxic Waste from causing further harm to the community. We pray they do their job well.

Zoning: A Response to the Critics that Call us NIMBYS for defending our Community from Unwanted Development

Zoning: A Response to the Critics



Copyright © 1994 Journal of Land Use; Environmental Law

In November 1993 voters in Houston narrowly rejected a referendum to establish zoning in that city.[1] This was the third time in a half-century that Houston voters had rejected zoning. Thus Houston remains the only major city in the United States without zoning.

To zoning's supporters, Houston represents an unenlightened backwater that has stubbornly resisted the tide of twentieth century land use regulation. To zoning's critics, Houston stands as a lonely beacon of economic rationality, or at least a living laboratory in which alternatives to zoning can be fairly tested.[2]

Extensive academic literature critical of zoning has accumulated in the last twenty years, beginning with Bernard Siegan's landmark 1970 study lauding Houston's non-zoning approach,[3] and followed shortly thereafter by Robert Ellickson's broader theoretical critique of zoning.

[4] Subsequent academic literature has been almost as uniformly critical of zoning[5] as public policy has been uniformly in favor of it. Although few academic defenders of zoning have stepped forward, governmental decision-makers have proceeded with zoning apace, apparently untroubled by the academic on slaught. By some estimates, 9,000 municipalities, large and small, in every region of the country and representing at least 90% of the nation's population, have zoning schemes in place.[6]The closeness of last November's vote, and Houston's status as the only major holdout against zoning, can give little cheer to zoning's critics. No trend toward abolishing zoning appears on the horizon, and indeed, non-zoning in Houston hangs by a thread.

Why is this? How do we account for the fact that this nearly universal feature of local government enjoys such disrepute in academia? Are local governments simply in the grip of irrationality? Have local officials hoodwinked the public on a massive scale? Or have the academic critics somehow missed the mark?

This article argues that the academic critiques of zoning, though based on insights that have some validity, are often overstated. They simply prove less than their authors think they prove. In particular, this article argues that in some circumstances, such as in mature neighborhoods in large urban centers, zoning can be a rational and justifiable public policy response to very real problems and can be made to work at least as well as any of the alternatives the critics propose.[7] The analysis of this article is descriptive in part, illustrating zoning at its best, in rather limited circumstances.[8] Yet principally this article is normative, discussing zoning as it might be made to work, in a way that is justifiable and that meets many of the objections offered by its critics. Therefore, the purpose of this article is not to offer a general defense of zoning. Its task is the more modest one of showing that many of the critiques, despite the broad claims of their authors, should not be taken as general indictments of zoning, but rather as indicators of particular dysfunctions that must be addressed if zoning is to work effectively.

Initially, the question of why we even have zoning must be addressed. Zoning's proponents traditionally have offered two rationales, neither of which stands up to close scrutiny. First, zoning advocates suggest that zoning is necessary to protect or enhance property values,[9] particularly the values of residential properties (and especially single-family homes).[10] On this analysis, zoning serves principally to protect property owners from the negative externalities of new developments. Without zoning (or some compa rable system of land use regulation), residential property owners would face plummeting property values if a development with significant negative externalities—a junkyard or brick factory, for example—moved in next door. Moreover, the mere prospect that such a development could move in would tend to depress the value of residential property. The solution is to divide the municipality into zones so that industries are sited near other industries, commercial enterprises near other commercial enterprises, and residential properties with other residential properties.[11] This rationale has some intuitive appeal, based on the real or imagined horrors of entirely unregulated development.

A significant problem with the property values rationale for zoning, however, is that such a rationale

Facial Recognition from China and the Brave New World

Face++ shows more evidence of innovation from China (aside from that moon landing)

If you’re ever looking for evidence of Chinese startups being able to innovate at the same pace as their US counterparts – apart from, you know, the country’s recent successful soft moon landing – you could do worse than check out Face++, a Beijing-based facial recognition company that appears to making a push for attention in the West.
By the same token, if you’re ever looking for evidence that the future is going to be freaky, you could do worse than check out Face++.
The startup – co-founded by a PhD candidate on leave from Columbia University, a former Microsoft engineer, and someone from Beijing’s Tsinghua University – analyzes 83 points on the human face to help it detect, analyze, and search distinguishing features, emotions, and people you creepily took a photo of in a bar.
It offers free APIs, so developers can embed the face recognition technology into their apps and websites. In one early application of the tech, a Chinese university professor used to Face++ in his research on depression, which included monitoring changes in patients’ facial expressions over time. The tech, for instance, can measure how wide a smile is.
Face++ is also being used by one of China’s leading dating sites, Jiayuan, in the sort of application that would likely never fly in the US. The gist is that you can upload to the site a photo of someone you think is beautiful, and then Jiayuan will try to find a potential date who has a similar face. If you are the type to seek replicas of the partner who just dumped you, then you might find this useful. If you are the type, however, to find such objectification morally objectionable and shallow, you should never visit China.
More prosaically, the startup envisages the technology being used for identity verification, and in fact it already offers and Android app that will let you unlock your smartphone with just your pretty face. But the company apparently also wants to be “the Google of face search,” a vision that would entail letting you take a photo of someone and then hitting “search” to find out who they are. Given that discrete wearable tech such as Google Glass and smartwatches are going to be more common in the years ahead, I think you can quietly start freaking out now. Or at least scrub all your embarassing photos from the Internet.
Face++, of course, is not the only startup playing in this space, but it does appear to be a leading player from China, where it found investment from Kaifu Lee’s Innovation Works and Lenovo. In the US, it competes with KairosCube26, and Snapizzi, among others. So far, the most significant exit for a facial recognition company to date is, which in 2012 was acquired by Facebook for about $60 million.
I’ve argued at length in my ebook “Beta China,” (which you can buy here or read online here), that China is entering a new generation of innovation, especially in mobile tech. Face++ is just another example of that emergent phenomenon.
And, just for the hell of it, below is a video of that moon landing, just to remind you that shit is getting real in China.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Anti-surveillance mask lets you pass as someone else

Anti-surveillance mask lets you pass as someone else

Uncomfortable with surveillance cameras? "Identity replacement tech" in the form of the Personal Surveillance Identity Prosthetic gives you a whole new face.


They're like Guy Fawkes masks that look like real people: A group wears the paper URME masks. URME Surveillance

If the world starts looking like a scene from "Matrix 3" where everyone has Agent Smith's face, you can thank Leo Selvaggio.
His rubber mask aimed at foiling surveillance cameras features his visage, and if he has his way, plenty of people will be sporting the Personal Surveillance Identity Prosthetic in public. It's one of three products made by the Chicago-based artist's URME Surveillance, a venture dedicated to "protecting the public from surveillance and creating a safe space to explore our digital identities."

Leo Selvaggio's face could be yours. URME Surveillance

"Our world is becoming increasingly surveilled. For example, Chicago has over 25,000 cameras networked to a single facial recognition hub," reads the URME (pronounced U R Me) site. "We don't believe you should be tracked just because you want to walk outside and you shouldn't have to hide either. Instead, use one of our products to present an alternative identity when in public."
The 3D-printed resin mask, made from a 3D scan of Selvaggio's face and manufactured by, renders his features and skin tone with surprising realism, though the eyes peeping out from the eye holes do lend a certain creepiness to the look.
Creepiness is, of course, part of the point here, as the interdisciplinary artist takes a his-face-in-everyone's-face approach to exploring the impact of an increasingly networked world on personal identity.

"When you wear these devices the cameras will track me instead of you and your actions in public space will be attributed as mine because it will be me the cameras see," the artist, who's working toward his MFA at Chicago's Columbia College, says on a recently launched Indiegogo page for the products. "All URME devices have been tested for facial recognition and each properly identifies the wearer of me on Facebook, which has some of the most sophisticated facial recognition software around."

It turns out some states have anti-mask laws. And Selvaggio -- whose earlier project You Are Me let others use his social-media profiles -- says he's considered the possibility that anyone wearing his face in public could engage in illegal activity.

Related stories        
"I would of course like to believe that others will use these devices responsibly and I can't be clearer that I do not condone criminal activity," he told Crave. "However it is possible, and I have weighed out the possibility that a crime may become associated with me. That being said, I have come to the conclusion that it is worth the risk if it creates public discourse around surveillance practices and how it affects us all."

URME's Indiegogo campaign has so far raised a little over $500 of its $1,000 goal, with 36 days left. Products include a $1 paper mask for those unable to afford the $200 prosthetic, as well as community development hacktivist kits of 12-24 paper masks meant to be worn by groups, presumably of protesters (or anyone into clone armies).

Open-source facial-encryption software that replaces faces in video with Selvaggio's is currently in the prototype stage and will most likely go through several iterations, Selvaggio says, before eventually becoming available as a free download from the URME website.

URME insists all products will be sold at cost, with no profit made and all proceeds going to sustain URME's efforts to keep surveillance in the public discourse.

"To be clear, I am not anti-surveillance," the artist told Crave. "What I am pushing for is increasing the amount of public discourse about surveillance and how it affects our behavior in public space. When we are watched we are fundamentally changed. We perform rather than be."

URME">">URME SURVEILLANCE: Indiegogo Campaign
from Leo">">Leo Selvaggio on Vimeo.">Vimeo.>

Sunday, March 22, 2015


A BEETLE once begged the Eagle to spare a Hare which had run to her for protection. But the Eagle pounced upon her prey, the sweep of her great wings tumbling the Beetle a dozen feet away. Furious at the disrespect shown her, the Beetle flew, to the Eagle's nest and rolled out the eggs. Not one did she spare. The Eagle's grief and anger knew no bounds, but who had done the cruel deed she did not know.

Next year the Eagle built her nest far up on a mountain crag; but the Beetle found it and again destroyed the eggs. In despair the Eagle now implored great Jupiter to let her place her eggs in his lap. There none would dare harm them. But the Beetle buzzed about Jupiter's head, and made him rise to drive her away; and the eggs rolled from his lap.



Now the Beetle told the reason for her action, and Jupiter had to acknowledge the justice of her cause. And they say that ever after, while the Eagle's eggs lie in the nest in spring, the Beetle still sleeps in the ground. For so Jupiter commanded.

Even the weakest may find means to avenge a wrong.