Wednesday, August 24, 2016

It Looks Like the Soda Tax Paid Off in Berkeley (NOT!)

"Gee,  I wish the "Smart People" made all the decisions for everybody"

Editor's Note:  Did the Marin Soda tax ever pass?   These politicians and activists piss me off.  Don't they have something better to do with their lives?  I don't believe this report in the least.  I'll bet people just buy their soda in a neighboring town.  Idiots! ( and I don't even like soda) 

It Looks Like the Soda Tax Paid Off in Berkeley

Consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks dipped 21 percent after a tax was enacted, a new study finds.

AP Photo/David Goldman

Consumption of sugary drinks has slid by 21 percent in Berkeley since a one-cent-per-ounce tariff was imposed on sweetened beverages, according to a study published today in the American Journal of Public Health.
The tax sailed through in a landslide vote in November 2014 and went into effect the following March. Proponents pointed to sugar as a culprit in chronic conditions such as obesity and diabetes. Intervening to curb consumption, they argued, would lead to a public health windfall.
This new study, the authors write, is the first to evaluate whether or not folks did shun sugary drinks. To gauge residents’ drinking patterns, researchers from UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco conducted two rounds of in-person surveys of approximately 2,500 people aged between ages 18 and 94. The first surveys were performed between April and July 2014, when the tax was still a proposal. 
Follow-up surveys were conducted between April and August 2015, after taxation began.Since poor, minority populations are most acutely impacted by grocery taxes, researchers positioned themselves to intercept foot traffic in low-income areas with high proportions of black and Hispanic residents, based on 2010 census tract data. Participants were asked to describe what sorts of drinks they consumed, and in what quantities.After the tax was imposed, soda intake decreased by 26 percent, and consumption of sports drinks dipped by 36 percent, the researchers found.
And when they rebuffed sugar-sweetened sodas and juices, Berkeley residents turned to the tap; the researchers reported a 63 percent increase in water consumption. “Not only was the drop in sugary drink consumption in Berkeley greater than we expected, the apparent shift to less harmful products like water is a very good sign,” Kristine Madsen, a study author and associate professor of public health at UC Berkeley said in a statement.

The study measured how often participants drank sugar-sweetened beverages and water both before and after the beverage tax went into effect in Berkeley, as well as comparison cities of Oakland and San Francisco, which don’t tax sweetened drinks. (American Journal of Public Health)
The authors couch their findings with a number of caveats. It’s unclear, for instance, whether the tax itself was the main deterrent for consumers who changed their buying habits; it’s possible that the awareness about the health benefits of avoiding sugary drinks actually propelled that choice. Still, it’s worth noting that the nearby cities of San Francisco and Oakland—which voted against similar taxes—saw a 4 percent uptick in consumption over the same period.
While the tax is collected from distributors, the researchers noted in previous work that store owners passed that price hike on to consumers. By November 2015, the cost of soda in Berkeley had crept up by 0.69 cents per ounce, compared to the price in Oakland and San Francisco. Sometimes, as I’ve previously reported, grocery taxes spur residents to take their business elsewhere, to places where the taxes are lower. In this new study, the researchers controlled for that variable, and found that only 2 percent of Berkeley residents surveyed shirked the tax by buying soda in neighboring areas that didn’t levy one.
The authors note that this is one case study, and there’s no guarantee that the results would hold steady elsewhere—though they do echo the downward trends also noted in cities that enacted similar measures in Mexico and France.
The research also offers a road map for future work that adopts a wider lens, especially as other cities continue to eye similar policies. Philadelphia, for instance, imposed a tax on sweetened drinks back in June—not as a way to chip away at the obesity epidemic, but primarily as a way to pad the city’s coffers for public programs. Oakland will put a beverage tax to a vote again this fall.
Berkeley’s tax is projected to net $1.5 million each year; the funds will be allotted to school nutrition programs and public health grants. “While Berkeley is just one small city, this is an important first step in identifying tools that can move the needle on population health,” Madsen said.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Fewer fires, so why are there far more firefighters?

Fewer fires, so why are there far more firefighters?

As fires have declined in the U.S., the number of paid firefighters has soared. (Micah Young/Getty Images)
By Fred S. McChesney September 4

Fred S. McChesney is a professor of law and economics at the University of Miami who studies the intersection of economics and public institutions.

If you want to chat with a firefighter or see a fire truck up close, you can go down to the local firehouse at any time of day. The crew will probably be there, lifting weights or washing down the already gleaming red engines. Career firefighters usually live at the firehouse for a day or two, then take as many as three days off. Between eating and sleeping at the station, they mop floors, clean toilets and landscape the yard — with a few hours set aside daily for training and drills. Mid-morning, you’ll find several of them at the local supermarket doing the day’s grocery shopping.

In other words, being a firefighter these days doesn’t involve a lot of fighting fire.

Rapid improvements in fire safety have caused a dramatic drop in the number of blazes, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Buildings are constructed with fire-resistant materials; clothing and curtains are made of flame-retardant fabrics; and municipal laws mandate sprinkler systems and smoke detectors. The striking results: On highways, vehicle fires declined 64 percent from 1980 to 2013. Building fires fell 54 percent during that time. When they break out, sprinkler systems almost always extinguish the flames before firefighters can turn on a hose.

But oddly, as the number of fires has dropped, the ranks of firefighters have continued to grow — significantly. There are half as many fires as there were 30 years ago, but about 50 percent more people are paid to fight them.

This is no secret. Across the country, cities and towns have been trying to bring firefighting operations in line with the plummeting demand for their services. Many solutions have been attempted: reducing the length of firefighters’ shifts; merging services with neighboring towns; and instituting brownouts, which temporarily take an engine out of service. But often, these efforts have failed against obstinate unions and haven’t reversed the national increase in fire department payrolls.
Instead of addressing this municipal waste with patchwork plans to cut overtime and shrink staffs, many cities and towns should consider throwing out the very concept of the career firefighter and return to the tradition of volunteers.

Volunteer companies have always been the primary model for firefighting in the United States. Many of the American revolutionary patriots were volunteers, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Paul Revere. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that cities began establishing fire departments with full-time staffs, as the cost of firefighting grew and more training was needed to operate new steam engines. The size and complexity of structure fires during the era also demanded more professionalism. Almost all of the nation’s deadliest fires occurred between 1850 and 1950.

But the era of massive fires that claim hundreds of lives is over. Large-scale disasters, such as the 1942 Cocoanut Grove inferno in Boston that killed 492 people, and the 1903 Iroquois Theatre conflagration in Chicago, which killed 602, are largely forgotten. As recently as the early 1980s, it wasn’t unusual to have a couple of home fires a year that resulted in 10 or more deaths each,according to the National Fire Protection Association. Today, that kind of fire-related tragedy is almost unheard of. There wasn’t a single one between 2008 and 2013 (the most recent year recorded).

For fire departments, building blazes — catastrophic or not — have become infrequent. Firefighters responded to 487,500 structure fires across the United States in 2013, which means each of the nation’s 30,000 fire departments saw just one every 22 days, on average. And yet, taxpayers are paying more people to staff these departments 24-7. As a result, the amount of money shelled out for local fire services more than doubled from 1987 to 2011, to $44.8 billion, accounting for inflation.

To be fair, fire departments have shouldered additional responsibility since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and are expected to have the training and equipment necessary to respond to various types of terrorism, including biological and chemical attacks. Still, in a November report, the National Fire Protection Association blamed the surge in fire department funding on ballooning staffs, overtime pay and retirement and health benefits — things that have nothing to do with the threat of terrorism.

Local firefighter unions have fought hard to grow their ranks as fires decline. Although private-sector unions have been diminishing, representation of government employees has remained strong, and firefighters have been among the beneficiaries. Labor contracts have allowed them to maintain healthy incomes: Firefighters earned a median salary of $45,250 in 2012,according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, but overtime can more than double that. In Los Angeles, for example, the average firefighter was paid more than $142,000 in 2013, including overtime and bonuses, the Los Angeles Times reported. Exorbitant overtime costs are fueled by union-negotiated minimum-staffing levels that often mandate four firefighters per engine be on duty at all times, regardless of the cost or workload.

At the national level, the International Association of Fire Fighters has an annual budget of nearly $60 million, most of it derived from its 278,000 members. IAFF calls itself “one of the most active lobbying organizations in Washington,” advocating for pension, safety and overtime laws. Its political action committee, FIREPAC, spent nearly $6.4 million in 2014, according to The union’s constitution forbids members from serving as volunteer firefighters, under penalty of fines or expulsion.

Union leaders and fire department chiefs have found new ways to justify their growing budgets and payrolls. In a February 2001 report, the Wall Street Journal noted that 90 percent of firehouse calls in Los Angeles, Chicago and certain other cities were to accompany ambulances to medical emergencies. “Elsewhere, to keep their employees busy, fire departments have expanded into neighborhood beautification, gang intervention, substitute-teaching and other downtime pursuits,” the newspaper added.

Not much has changed. Today, fewer than 4 percent of fire department calls are for fires. Meanwhile, requests for medical aid more than quadrupled between 1980 and 2013, to more than 21 million, according to the National Fire Prevention Association. In other words, for every structure fire a fire department responds to, it receives 44 medical calls, on average.

So “fire” department has become a misnomer. In practice, these agencies have become emergency medical responders. The problem with that? Most communities already have ambulance services, whose staffs are less expensive and more highly trained in medical aid. Many cities mandate that their firefighters be certified EMTs, which requires about 120 to 150 hours of training in basic emergency medical care. That’s far less than the up to 1,800 hours of training for the paramedics who staff emergency medical services. Yet paramedics are cheaper than firefighters, earning a median of $31,020 in 2012.

Still, you’ll often see a large ladder truck respond to medical calls along with an ambulance, resulting in multiple uniformed cadres when just one person needs attention. To justify this, firefighters have touted themselves as “first responders” who can answer a medical emergency faster than paramedics in an ambulance. But when they arrive without the training and equipment to deal with severe medical emergencies, they are of little use.

Recognizing the overlap, some cities have merged their fire and EMS services,over union objections. Some require that all members of the newly combined agency be certified to respond to both types of crisis, which improves efficiency and lowers costs. But other cities have struggled to merge the cultures and operations of the departments.

Municipalities that have stuck with the volunteer model got it right — and that is most of them. About 69 percent of all firefighters in the country are volunteers. It is mainly larger cities and towns that have been burdened by union staffing and salary demands that are incompatible with their declining firefighting needs. The number of volunteer firefighters fell by 3 percent in the time paid firefighters grew by nearly 50 percent.

Protecting a sizable city with a volunteer force is possible. Since 1930, the city of Pasadena, Tex., has used 200 active and 50 semi-active volunteer firefighters to protect its now more than 150,000 residents. If all towns up to that size moved to all-volunteer forces, the national payroll of career firefighters would be reduced by more than half. Using the median firefighter salary, municipalities would save more than $8.8 billion a year in base pay.

This is not to say that our largest cities could operate with volunteer firefighters alone. Sheer population size may necessitate a core group of full-timers. But payrolls certainly shouldn’t be growing as fires are decreasing.

Nor is this to say that professional firefighters are not heroic. They are and have repeatedly proved as much, most notably during the Sept. 11 attacks. But volunteers also are capable of such bravery. When we entrusted them with protecting our largest cities from blazes, they showed up and courageously put their lives on the line. In 1835, New York’s volunteer firefighters faced freezing conditions to battle the conflagration that destroyed Lower Manhattan but killed just two people.

Today, heroism isn’t what our firefighting services need most. As the risk of massive infernos declines, what we really need is to rethink our entire firefighting model — and how much we should be paying for it.

Radical Affordable Housing Law working its way through Sacramento will impact EVERY taxpayer in California.

Radical Affordable Housing Law working its way through Sacramento will impact EVERY taxpayer in California.

New affordable housing law 1069 working its way through Sacramento requires the public post a BOND for attorneys fees to fight affordable housing. How can this be fair to the taxpayer? We are the ones stuck with the community costs for taxpayer subsidized housing! 
The non profits typically will not pay local sales taxes or mitigation fees. WE the neighbors are stuck with the carrying costs of the project. This is just another way to screw us.
Both of our representatives, Mike McGuire (D) and Marc Levine(D) voted FOR this bill.
From the Bill:
The Legislature finds and declares that it has provided reforms and incentives to facilitate and expedite the construction of affordable housing. Those reforms and incentives can be found in the following provisions:
(a) Housing element law (Article 10.6 (commencing with Section 65580) of Chapter 3).
(b) Extension of statute of limitations in actions challenging the housing element and brought in support of affordable housing (subdivision (d) of Section 65009).
(c) Restrictions on disapproval of housing developments (Section 65589.5).
(d) Priority for affordable housing in the allocation of water and sewer hookups (Section 65589.7).
(e) Least cost zoning law (Section 65913.1).
(f) Density bonus law (Section 65915).
(g) Second Accessory  dwelling units (Sections 65852.150 and 65852.2).
(h) By-right housing, in which certain multifamily housing are designated a permitted use (Section 65589.4).
(i) No-net-loss-in zoning density law limiting downzonings and density reductions (Section 65863).
(j) Requiring persons who sue to halt affordable housing to pay attorney fees (Section 65914) or post a bond (Section 529.2 of the Code of Civil Procedure).
(k) Reduced time for action on affordable housing applications under the approval of development permits process (Article 5 (commencing with Section 65950) of Chapter 4.5).
(l) Limiting moratoriums on multifamily housing (Section 65858).
(m) Prohibiting discrimination against affordable housing (Section 65008).
(n) California Fair Employment and Housing Act (Part 2.8 (commencing with Section 12900) of Division 3).
(o) Community redevelopment law (Part 1 (commencing with Section 33000) of Division 24 of the Health and Safety Code, and in particular Sections 33334.2 and 33413).

San Rafael property sale kills deal for homeless center annex

San Rafael property sale kills deal for homeless center annex

A vacant building at 67 Mark Drive in northeast San Rafael was discussed as a possible service center and shelter for the homeless. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)
A vacant building at 67 Mark Drive in northeast San Rafael was discussed as a possible service center and shelter for the homeless. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal) 
A potential new site for Ritter Center and Marin’s rotating emergency shelter program in North San Rafael has fallen through, officials said.
The 19,000-square-foot building at 67 Mark Drive in an industrial area south of Smith Ranch Road was discussed in June as a possible Ritter Center annex and year-round location for the volunteer-run shelter program known as REST, which provides a meal and a place for homeless to sleep during cold months.
“By the time we got around to talking about an offer, the property was already in very close discussions to be sold to somebody else,” said Cia Byrnes, Ritter’s executive director. “It’s too bad that happened.”
Initially, a friend of the center had offered to buy 67 Mark Drive on Ritter’s behalf and lease it to the center at a reasonable rate, Byrnes said. With that in mind, the county, Ritter, REST and others discussed locating a multiservice center for the homeless there.
Supporters of the proposed new site made a presentation at the City Council’s June 6 meeting, though the council did not take up the matter because it wasn’t on the agenda.
Also, 67 Mark Drive was discussed in a June meeting between city and county officials, Mayor Gary Phillips confirmed at the time.  Read the full story HERE

Editor's Note:  While we can be grateful that we did not have to fight the 67 Mark Dr. relocation,  we still need to be mindful that downtown San Rafael still has many issues with the Ritter Center that need to be solved. Please support our neighbors.  A special thanks to Mayor Phillips for his leadership

Monday, August 22, 2016

Kelo V. City of New London (Important Video if you live within 1/2 mile of the 101 Freeway)

AB2, SB628,  are redevelopment laws that have received Governor Brown's signature.  It allows eminent domain for " inefficient development" i.e. single family homes for Multi-Family homes. This will force the urbanization of Marin.

If you live within 1/2 mile of the 101 corridor  or within the "urban boundary" your home is under threat of being taken by eminent domain so that new multi-family developments can be built. Planners call this "densification" of the urban footprint. In England, where this has been practiced since the 1990s they call it "cramming".

The Kelo decision is a serious misreading of the Constitution and affects EVERYONE.

Eminent domain means your home can be their castle

John Revelli snapped this photograph of his tire shop in ruins on the day it was demolished. Revelli returned to the site of his former tire business in downtown Oakland, Calif. on Friday, June 23, 2006. The Oakland Redevelopment Agency took his business, which his family had owned since 1949, through eminent domain proceedings so a developer could construct a huge apartment complex. PHOTO: COURTESY OF JOHN REVELLI **John Revelli

As mayor of Oakland in the 2000s, Jerry Brown supported redevelopment. Then he returned to the governor’s office in 2011 and inherited a $25 billion budget shortfall. Feeling the squeeze, Brown saw an opportunity to make $1.7 billion by eliminating redevelopment agencies and shifted. He liked redevelopment as mayor, he explained to the League of California Cities, but also: “I didn’t quite understand it. It seemed kind of magical. It was the money that you could spend on stuff that they wouldn’t otherwise let you spend.”

In Sacramento, fiscal restraint can only last so long. The urge to “spend on stuff” is back. Last year, the Legislature passed a measure with bipartisan support to restore redevelopment. The governor signed the bill, which took effect this year. Already the Legislature is working to expand rules to allow local officials to green-light pet projects more likely to enrich powerful interests than benefit the communities the policy is supposed to serve.

Small businesses, beware. In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “economic development” constituted “public use” in its infamous Kelo decision, which allowed governments to seize private property for private development. (The state or local government derives its power to take private property for public use in return for just compensation from the right of eminent domain.) The Kelo ruling emboldened cities like Oakland to seize private property at bargain prices to accommodate tony private development. The targeted property didn’t even have to be blighted — the traditional rationale for urban renewal projects. It just had to be in the way.

In her blistering dissent of Kelo, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor warned, “The specter of condemnation hangs over all property. Nothing is to prevent the state from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory.” Oakland proved O’Connor right by seizing two properties — Revelli Tires and Autohouse — to make way for private development. “There is a greater good here,” Brown told me at the time, even as he admitted the businesses were not blighted.

Ravelli Tires and Autohouse had a form of blight — their owners didn’t have the political clout to fight back. They were like the tire and brake repair shop owned by the parents of Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Larry Salzman. Two decades ago, the City of La Mesa (San Diego County) took his parents’ shop to make way for a Costco. “The ‘just compensation’ offered to them by the city was laughably inadequate,” Salzman wrote in the San Diego Union-Tribune, and years of litigation drove them into bankruptcy. That’s your “greater good.”

AB2492 seeks to expand redevelopment in the worst way. A legislative analysis explains that the bill’s purpose is to address “unanswered questions about the data sources” that can be used to determine blight. In effect, AB2492 would allow officials to find that an area is blighted if, for example, the median income there is less than 80 percent of the median income either “statewide, countywide or citywide.” Take your pick.

The “or” part, says Marko Mlikotin of the California Alliance to Protect Private Property Rights, would allow local officials to “cherry-pick the data,” and let affluent communities parade as needy.

If the bill makes it to the governor’s desk as expected, will Brown sign it? When redevelopment shuttered in 2011, I liked to think that Brown realized that redevelopment represented a corrupt bargain, even though he never said as much. Now I suspect Mlikotin is right when he posits Brown’s move on redevelopment “really was about money, not some new found religion in private property rights.”

“Follow the money,” Salzman wrote in an email. “There was little money to be made by people who would abuse eminent domain during the economic (downturn) that followed Kelo and the financial crisis, but in the past few years there is again economic incentive for government and politically favored developers to collude to grab land they can’t get in a free market.” It’s “the worst kind of cronyism.”

The older guy who built up his tire shop and the immigrant who started a car repair business don’t stand a chance.

Debra J. Saunders is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @DebraJSaunders

See Story HERE

Kelo was here

The Fifth Amendment states, “Nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” That’s known as the “Takings Clause.” In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5-4 ruling written by Justice John Paul Stevens in the Kelo vs. New London, Conn., case that interpreted the phrase “public use” to include private “economic development.” As a result, the New London Development Corp. was able to seize the waterfront home of Susette Kelo to accommodate a project meant to serve the employees of Pfizer Corp.

After developers took the land under Kelo’s little pink cottage, the redevelopment project fell through. The cottage was moved, however, and now serves as a monument to all those who fight eminent domain abuses. As the Institute of Justice, which represented Kelo pro bono, wrote, “Although Kelo and her neighbors endured a tragic loss of their neighborhood, they can take comfort in the fact that they have left a legacy of real change and inspiration for millions of other property owners throughout the nation.”

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Happy Monday. Fare thee Well


A WILD BOAR was sharpening his tusks busily against the stump of a tree, when a Fox happened by. Now the Fox was always looking for a chance to make fun of his neighbors. So he made a great show of looking anxiously about, as if in fear of some hidden enemy. But the Boar kept right on with his work.

"Why are you doing that?" asked the Fox at last with a grin. "There isn't any danger that I can see.

"True enough," replied the Boar, "but when danger does come there will not be time for such work as this. My weapons will have to be ready for use then, or I shall suffer for it."

Preparedness for war is the best guarantee of peace.

Tyranny of the Urban Majority

Tyranny of the Urban Majority

by Richard Carson

I recently attended a public meeting where an elected official asked a group of planners the rhetorical question, "What is sprawl?" One planner's response was that sprawl occurred when the rural area was divided into large-acreage lots in order to build "McMansions." The official's response was, "Would you be happier if people located low-income trailers there instead?"

This dialogue troubled me. For the advocates of recent planning trends—such as smart growth and New Urbanism—to attract financial supporters and sympathetic voters, they use pejorative labels like sprawl, big-box, and McMansion. In order to demonize sprawl you need a demon. Rural farmers and foresters can't be vilified because planners are supposedly conserving resource lands for their use. And it's politically incorrect to malign lower-income families living in trailers. So who do special-interest groups scapegoat? Rich people and McDonald's are easy targets—thus: Rich people + McDonald's = McMansion.

This Orwellian doublespeak has been used by proponents to subliminally sell a political agenda that attacks a longstanding American institution: the land-settlement patterns of a culture dominated by automobiles and low-cost postwar subdivision housing. Their social agenda exploits fear and classism to advance their cause—at the expense of someone else's socioeconomic beliefs and well-being.

Schizophrenic prejudice

In America, terms like sprawl and McMansion resonate with us at least in part because of our schizophrenic personal prejudices: We want to be rich but can't be because we can't stop buying stuff; we smoke and drink and eat junk food, but we know it's bad for us. We feel guilty about our shameless, obsessive consumerism. We feel helpless and used by the fat cats on Wall Street and Madison Avenue. And we feel like we've sold our souls (and our freedom) to the highest bidder.

Conversely, we suspect that there are people who have not sold their souls, and that bothers us, too. Among them are independent farmers and foresters who are living off the land. And city-dwellers subconsciously resent their apparent freedom.

In fact, this lack of empathy has led to a new "tyranny of the majority" by nonrural interests. And our constitutional checks and balances have failed to protect the rural landowner. Initiatives related to smart growth have drawn urban-growth boundaries and then downzoned rural properties. These measures are meant to contain sprawl, we've been told, but they also help create urban "reservations" that keep dense populations from destroying the natural environment.

Gluttony and reparations

When urbanites—no, urbanists—clash with rural landowners, the outcome is always the same: The country folks lose. Back at home, the urbanists want their espresso bars, boutiques, and drive-throughs, but they want rural areas to remain a pastoral land museum, preserved for their visits by SUV.

The fact is that urbanists are implicated in the killing of many more species than their rural counterparts through their gluttony. Since 80 percent of Americans live in metropolitan areas, aren't they at least 80 percent guilty? Shouldn't urbanists make this economic injustice right, and pay for it in dollars? Yes, because others—specifically, rural landowners, developers, and big businesses—must pay for their unconscionable urban appetites.

If we truly are seeking to improve livability for both humanity and animals, then let us do so by being intellectually honest about the social costs to all citizens—not by using some biased, urbanist propaganda against a minority of our citizens. It's time for the urban majority to pay its fair share—or at least talk about how to make economic reparations to rural America.

Richard Carson, a land-use planner and journalist, lives near Portland, Oregon, on 21 acres in a "forest" zoning district.

Death of a Revolutionary: Margret Thatcher