Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Great Conservative Suicide Pact

The Great Conservative Suicide Pact

Free markets only work when their benefits are broadly distributed. You wouldn’t know that from the kind of proposals that conservative idea factories are pushing out these days.

Joel Kotkin

Updated 07.14.19 11:30AM ET Published 07.12.19 11:07PM ET

Republicans have been celebrating their good fortune as Democrats vying for the presidential nomination propose free medical care for undocumented people and the elimination of private health insurance, and open borders, not to mention reparations for slavery and the near-term elimination of fossil fuels. Add it up, and it may be enough to keep Doctor Demento in the White House for four more years.

Those same Republicans, though, have said little about free-market policies that undermine their own middle-class base while bolstering the very forces that are arrayed to wipe the GOP off the political map.

Call it a conservative suicide pact and you won’t be far off. Conservative free-market fundamentalists with disproportionate influence on GOP policy are advancing plans that would divorce capitalism from the small property owners whose pieces of property secure the system’s popular support.

Start with the suburban middle class families who make up GOPs historic base, and remain its bulwark. The expansion of homeownership, from 44 percent in 1940 to 63 percent in the 1960s, keyed the GOP’s post-New Deal resurgence as ethnic groups who had always voted Democratic now had something to protect, albeit sometimes with a racial agenda, thanks to an economic system that had helped them reach their aspirations.

Yet many free-market conservatives in places as diverse as Minneapolis and Oregon are now embracing efforts to eliminate single-family zoning, as conservative analyst Randall O’Toole has noted.

That includes California State Senator Scott Wiener’s effort to force high-density on residential areas by allowing fourplexes on virtually any parcel, which produced one of the strangest alliances in recent political history. Free market advocates—many of them funded by the Koch brothers—linked arms with left-wing and green activists reprising the arguments made in the Soviet Bloc against middle-class single-family neighborhoods. Victoria Fierce, one of the leaders of the YIMBY pro-density lobby in California, has even argued that density is better since it promotes a “collectivism”—as beloved by Bolshevik town-planners.

The bill failed, at least this year, due to popular opposition from the grassroots in both Republican and Democratic-controlled areas.

A few free-market activists, notably Market Urbanism’s Scott Beyer, admit the inconsistency of backing bans on single-family zoning while the construction of such housing in the suburban periphery is prohibited. To be sure over-restrictive local zoning plays a role in raising prices, but the chief culprits have been “urban growth boundaries” and other measures that tend to increase land prices throughout an urban area. Wherever such policies are in place, housing costs tend to be considerably higher.

For the left, the assault on single-family homes at least makes political sense. The decline of homeownership among millennials could create a permanent renter class, with little stake in capitalism. They would logically back the progressive left in their quest for government housing subsidies and rent control.

All the right gets is more money to a few big-money funders, who hope that by devastating ownership they could create a Wall Street-dominated “rentership society.” This vision, widely shared by some tech firms, would see people remaining renters for life, enjoying their video games or houseplants when not coding or doing “gig” jobs. Eventually this whole generation will curse conservatives, rightly, for undermining their bourgeois aspirations while pimping for those of the investor class.

This isn’t the only place where the free-market right has embraced the tech oligarchs. When Senators Jeff Hawley (R-MO) and Mark Warner (D-VA) proposed legislation to curb the oligarchs’ control and sale of our personal information, a virtual chorus line of right-wing groups—R Street, AEI, Heritage, Cato, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute—rose to Big Tech’s defense.

Most of these think tanks, not surprisingly, now get funding from the likes of Google and Facebook. Conservatives like Hawley, as well as many progressives, understand the threat posed by ceding control of the internet to a handful of quasi-monopolies—but many libertarians don’t see anything wrong with a few ultra-rich people controlling the internet, just like they don’t see anything wrong with them owning most property.

This principled inanity is even more remarkable given that the five tech giants—now the world’s five wealthiest companies—have been “de-platforming” conservatives and others who offend their ideological sympathies. Google, as a new article in American Affairs suggests, is rigging the algorithms that control search to favor not just their commercial interests but also their ideological predilections.

By backing the oligarchs, free-market ideologues are needlessly serving as what Lenin called “useful idiots”.

Rather than try to appeal to investors and tech moguls, the GOP’s best hope lies in rebuilding its identity as the party of middle-class homeowners—a group that tends to vote far more heavily than renters. Libertarian positions on issues like open borders, housing and the internet may sound great in think tanks or college campuses, but they are not popular among middle-income people who care about their businesses and communities.

Rebuilding that identity will require changes not only for the free-market right, but also many Trumpettes. By every measurement the GOP is losing support among demographically ascendant millennials and minorities; eventually the party will run out of old white people. Voters will only continue to reject the socialist alternative if they feel a stake in the capitalist system. Traditional right-wing social policies, such as the extreme anti-abortion laws in Alabama, do not play well with socially moderate voters in the burgeoning Sunbelt and Midwestern suburbs.

The good news for Republicans is that the Democratic Party seems hopelessly committed to an expanding state, open borders, the promotion of dense rental housing and ever more lavish subsidization of ever larger segments of the population. To win, the GOP must appeal to an increasingly diverse base of middle-class taxpayers who, after all, will be forced to pay for the generosity of “free” college, cancelled student debt and the absurdly expensive Green New Deal.

Rather than speak about abstract concepts of “liberty” or the beauties of Austrian economics, the salvation of capitalism and conservative politics lies with addressing the specific class interests of those who either possess their own property or have a reasonable hope that they or their offspring may do so in the future. The current strategy of seeking to undermine the daily life of suburban homeowners, as well as supporting those committed to silencing conservative thought, represents an exercise not only in futility but, ultimately, self-destructionThe Great Conservative Suicide Pact

Free markets only work when their benefits are broadly distributed. You wouldn’t know that from the kind of proposals that conservative idea factories are pushing out these days.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

How to Sell Upzoning

How to Sell Forced Densification to Libertarians

When cities pass zoning rules (as Missoula, Portland, and many Portland suburbs have done) mandating minimum-density zoning — so that people are forced to either build high-density housing in existing low-density neighborhoods or build nothing at all — libertarians lead the charge against such rules. But urban planners have managed to achieve the same result, and gain the support of some who consider themselves libertarian, by:
  1. Drawing an urban-growth boundary or passing similar policies forbidding development outside the existing urban footprint;
  2. Waiting a few years for the resulting supply shorting to push up housing prices;
  3. Blaming high housing prices on residents of single-family neighborhoods who object to densification of their neighborhoods;
  4. Proposing a law or ordinance that effectively eliminates zoning in those single-family neighborhoods.
Thus, we have a writer for Reason magazine supporting a law that would eliminate much of the zoning in San Francisco and other unaffordable California cities. Another Reason writer endorses a new zoning ordinance in Minneapolis that allows multifamily housing in single-family neighborhoods. The Mercatus Center blames high housing prices on single-family zoning as does a report from the Cato Institute.
Yet the reality is that every major American city except Houston has single-family zoning, but only a few are unaffordable — and those few all use urban-growth boundaries or otherwise restrict development of rural lands outside the existing urban areas. Yes, regions with such restrictions also have single-family zoning, but blaming high housing prices on single-family zoning is like saying that, because people would get sick eating rat poison and smoking marijuana, therefore marijuana smoking should be illegal.
The self-described free-market advocates who support densification have apparently forgotten that the housing markets in unaffordable regions are completely distorted by the urban-growth restrictions. I’ve heard one of the leading free-market advocates of densification claim that the San Francisco Bay Area has run out of land for development and therefore has to densify, when in fact only 17 percent of the land in the nine-county area has been urbanized — a number that isn’t going to change thanks to California’s immovable growth boundaries. 
One-third of homes built in the United States today are multifamily, up from one-fifth ten years ago. This isn’t a response to market demand: The vast majority of Americans, including Millennials, still aspire to live in single-family homes. Instead, the growth of multifamily is a response to various growth restrictions that have made it nearly impossible to build single-family homes in many urban areas. 
One of the historic objections to the suburbs is that all of the homes looked alike (which was really true only in the first Levittown). Ironically, people have begun to notice that the Jane-Jacobs-inspired multifamily housing being built to day all tends to look alike: “bland, boxy apartment” buildings that some have labeled “McUrbanism.” Such buildings cost considerably more per square foot than single-family homes, so are only “affordable” because each housing unit is much smaller.
This the America urban planners want to build in the future: bland little apartments and condos that in many cities will be more expensive than a large, single-family home would be in the absence of growth restrictions. It is sad that some libertarians have fallen for this scheme.
Portland is now proposing to weaken or eliminate zoning in single-family neighborhoods throughout the city to make housing “more affordable.” Fortunately, free-market advocates in the Portland area still remember that housing there is only really expensive because of the growth boundary, not because of zoning within the boundary.

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How to Become a Dangerous Person

How do you become “dangerous”? Writer and Portland-based podcaster Nancy Rommelmann would have thought she was the last person to answer that question — until she publicly dared to raise some questions about the #MeToo movement. Then her life suddenly changed and she became public enemy number one. She tells her astonishing story — what happened and why — in this compelling video

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Golden Swan

The Golden Swan

Once upon a time, there was a swan / goose that had striking golden feathers. This swan lived in a pond. There was a house near this pond, where a poor woman lived with her two daughters. The people were really poor and were leading a tough life. The swan found that the poor mother was passing a hard time with her daughters.

The swan thought, “If I give them one after another my golden feathers, the mother can sell them. She and her daughters can live in comfort with the money raised from it”. After thinking this, the swan flew away to the poor woman’s house. On seeing the swan inside the house, the woman said,” Why have you come here? We have nothing to offer you”.

The Swan replied, “I have not come to take anything, but I have something to give you. I know your condition. I will give my golden feathers one by one and you can sell them. With the money raised through it, you people can easily live in comfort”. After saying this, the swan shed one of her feathers and then flew away. This became a regular feature and from time to time, the swan came back and every time left another feather.

Like this, the mother and her daughters were happily leading their life by selling the feathers of the golden swan. Each golden feather got them enough money to keep them in comfort. But the mother became greedy to get all the feathers as soon as possible. One day, she said to her daughters, “Now, we will not trust this swan, possibly she may fly away and never come back. If this would happen, we will be poor again. We will take all of her feathers, when she will come the next time”.

The innocent daughters replied, “Mother, this will hurt the swan. We will not cause any pain to her”. But the mother was determined to catch hold the swan the very next time she comes. Next time, when the swan came, the mother caught her and pulled out all of her feathers. Now, the golden feathers of the swan changed into some strange feathers. The mother was shocked to see such feathers.

The Golden Swan said, “Poor Mother, I wanted to help you, but you wanted to kill me instead. As per my wish, I used to give you the golden feather. Now, I think there is no need to help you. Now, my feathers are nothing more than chicken feathers for you. I am going from this place and will never come back”. The mother felt sorry and apologized for the mistake committed by her. The Golden Swan said, “Never be greedy” and flew away.

Moral: Excess greed brings nothing.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Marin County waives permit fees on Junior Accessory Units

The Granny Flat War … From Someone Who’s Been In It

The Granny Flat War … From Someone Who’s Been In It


UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL--On August 31, 2016, the LA City Council could make a huge mistake that will have lasting impacts on our community.

Once upon a time, the city of Los Angeles created regulations that protected the characteristics of single family home zones.

In essence, some of these regulations prevented homeowners from building big second homes on a single family home property. Makes sense, right? Because that’s what “single family home zone” means.

So, in LA, a wide variety of different neighborhoods are zoned R-01. And these R-01 neighborhoods are really a great place to live, partly because our city’s zoning regulations have helped to keep them that way.

These regulations did allow homeowners in those zones to build another detached home on the property. But that structure had to be small, low profile, and it couldn’t have a separate address. According to LA’s regulations, homeowners were free to build “granny flats” for their relatives to live in. And remember, they are always free to add an addition to their home. That was never in question.

This worked, for the most part, to protect the character of the neighborhood. It guarded against overdevelopment.

But one day, in 2010, the Planning Department made a mistake, based on incorrect legal advice, instructing officials to ignore the City’s standards, and instead, to follow the state standards, which are much more lenient. For the next six years, the City issued about 75 permits each year for second units in these single family home neighborhoods. Almost all of the permits were for structures that exceeded the City’s adopted standards.

Earlier this year, a judge determined that the Planning Department’s “ZA Memo 120” was not legal. Since then, permitting for these structures (even the small ones that would have met the city’s regulations) has been halted.

But instead of amending the City’s regulations, City Council is now considering throwing out the regulations entirely and defaulting to the considerably more lenient state’s standards. In essence, this would mean returning to ZA Memo 120, which a Judge has already revoked.

Why does LA have different zoning standards than the state of California? Because LA has specific needs. Just like every other major metropolitan city in this country, our city has adopted regulations to protect against overdevelopment and against negative impacts on the environment, infrastructure, and the character of neighborhoods.

All of this may seem silly to Angelenos who live on larger parcels of land or in apartment buildings. They might say, what’s the point? If it is your land, you should be allowed to use it any way you want. Right?

I can see why some may think that. But imagine if you lived in my neighborhood:

Welcome to the quintessential San Fernando Valley single family neighborhood. Our houses are very close together. In my cute, quiet little neighborhood known as “Kester Ridge” in Van Nuys, our mostly small houses sit on mostly small lots. Our fences (which cannot exceed eight feet in our backyard) create the barriers which afford us some visual, if not acoustic, privacy.

Our backyards aren’t huge, but they offer a great place to relax; most of them are big enough to accommodate a small pool or a nice little garden. Most of the lots are approximately 50 feet wide and average about 6,000 square feet. Almost every house in the neighborhood is only one story high.

So imagine you've just bought your dream home, right here in this cute little neighborhood. It took every penny you had. But you've worked hard, you turned it into a beautiful home, and you’ve promised yourself that you are finally going to relax and lay out by the pool in your lovely backyard.

A few months later, the property right behind you goes up for sale. And the guy who buys it is a developer. He tells you that he doesn’t have any intention of actually moving to your little neighborhood. His car, an Aston Martin, gives you an idea of where he calls home.

He’s going use the property to generate rental income. His plan is to rent out the main property, and, thanks to ZA Memo 120, he's also going to rent out a second house which he plans to build in the backyard! It’s going to be two stories high with just as much square footage as the main house.

The backyard isn’t very big, so he’s going to have to build as close to your back fence as the law allows. He tells you that he's got properties like this all over LA.

This developer has started an LLC for the property, and between the two homes on a single lot, he will be generating $6,000 a month in rental income. He doesn’t care one bit about the fact that your ability to enjoy your yard (to say nothing of your property value) just went down as a result of his actions.

He says: “This isn’t my first rodeo.”

So, you take a moment. You try to process this: A large, two-story tall, very visible structure in the small backyard -- even though the very concept of a single family neighborhood means that this sort of thing isn't supposed to happen.

But he gets the permit. And no one in the City even notifies you that this was happening. You live right next to the property, well within the 500-foot range. How is this possible? If there had been a particular time to voice your opinion on the matter, no one in the government told you when it was.

You try to talk to your political representative in City Council. They keep calling it a “granny flat.” But it’s not a granny flat. It's huge. It’s a fully functioning second home, with its own house number, mailbox, and soon, a whole bunch of tenants.

You do some research online. Even California’s Legislative Analyst has determined that this type of “urban infill” in single family home zones is not going to solve the affordable housing crisis. In fact, this type of new structure isn’t even going to make a dent in the affordable housing crisis, because there is no requirement to price it affordably. They’ll be renting at market rates. But the politicians keep throwing around the term “affordable housing” when they discuss this issue. Strange, isn't it?

So this developer builds -- full steam ahead. The framing goes up. It’s big. And tall. And man, it’s close! You think, well, maybe we’ll get used to it. And then one day you come home to see the framing for the second story window: it looks right down onto your pool, your yard and into your bedroom!

The building is so close to its own property line that the people living in it won’t be able to see their own yard from the window. But yours? Well, they’ll be thrilled that you've given them such a lovely view. Too bad that you can’t say the same about your new view. (See photo above.)

This is how it happens. And because this unfair and previously illegal thing has happened to you, you decide to sell your dream home. And the winning bidder? Well, wouldn’t you know it -- a developer. If this process continues ad infinitum, say goodbye to the very notion of a single-family neighborhood.

Wealthy developers will have a huge opportunity to make a lot of money for themselves if the SDU ordinance is repealed. They will be able to outbid the average homebuyer and will overdevelop every property they can get their hands on.

I have read a few misinformed articles that frame this issue differently. The politicians who are in favor of the repeal of the SDU Ordinance are likely in the pockets of wealthy developers whose projects have been put on hold. These smart politicians are smart to hold actual, legitimate granny flats hostage: they know all too well that if you create a crisis that arouses public sympathy, you can exploit it.

This is all about greed. It opens the door to rampant overdevelopment…not granny.

Here’s what I’m hoping my City Councilmembers will do:

Investigate the environmental impacts of any possible changes to zoning laws before they make those changes. For instance, more “urban infill” means more concrete, therefore less groundwater is absorbed, making both the drought and the flooding, due to the lack of storm drains in my neighborhood, even worse.

Discuss this issue with the public, and do it in a way that is intellectually honest. Don’t tie this repeal to the creation of affordable housing. And that includes you, Mr. Mayor! California’s Legislative Analyst's Office has determined that urban infill will not solve the affordable housing shortage in Los Angeles. In fact, the LAO has determined that this repeal won't even offer a small supply of "affordable" housing for anothertwenty-five years. Our politicians need to stop spinning this issue. It's unethical to confuse constituents into submission. We deserve better.

Remember, this isn't about granny flats. While I strongly oppose the repeal, I support the public’s right to build granny flats that are appropriate for the size of one’s immediate community. We just need our politicians to create the right laws -- or common-sense amendments to existing regs -- to make that happen.

Our politicians have a number of potential solutions that don’t involve repealing the Second Dwelling Unit Ordinance, leaving us vulnerable to overdevelopment. They should do their due diligence and behave with integrity. If revisions to the Second Dwelling Unit ordinance are necessary, at the very least they must be considered with adequate public outreach. It is not in LA's best interest to discard our protective local standards.

I repeat: the politicians have several options at their disposal. Those options should not include throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Please contact your LA City Councilmember before Wednesday, August 31 about this important issue. We need a lot more support because the developers have been lobbying the City Council hard for the past six months.

(Dannielle Langlois is film and television actress who lives in Van Nuys, next door to the above “second unit dwelling.”) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Editor's Note: Something to consider when approving granny flat ordinances. Would you like a tall structure staring down into your backyard everyday?

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Marinwood CSD will install Story Poles for the Maintenance Shed

Friends of Marinwood Park gathered over 200 signatures in 2018 to object to the Maintenance Shed.  When people saw the huge size of the facility that will be imposed directly on our walkpath, they became outraged.

The Marinwood CSD called us liars.  We asked for "official story poles" and were denied.  Finally the Marin County Community Planning department insisted on them in April 2019.  The CSD appears finally ready to install the poles in July 2019.

The story poles will show the massive size of the facility that is THREE TIMES the size of a similar McInnis Park facility. McInnis Park employs double the staff and manages 26 times the acreage yet Marinwood Park "needs" a maintenace building THREE TIMES the size?!!

Friends of Marinwood Park support a facility in scale of our tiny park and staff needs.  They do NOT support the current Marinwood Park design.

The Marinwood CSD REF?USES to accept 200 petitions to have a hearing on the Marinwood CSD Maintenance Facility

Architect Bill Hansell, a former Marinwood CSD politician claims that story poles don't tell the truth.

How not to be ignorant about the world | Hans and Ola Rosling

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Marinwood CSD meeting July 9, 2019

LAFCO  presents initial study of Marinwood and CSA 13 and makes recommendations for increased Capital Asset planning and possible full merger of Marinwood with adjoining departments. Wildfire Safety report by Marin Grand Jury discussed .  Discussion from public regarding the lack of transparency of fire commission, that holds few meetings, no detailed meeting notes or recordings of any kind. Eric Driekosen presents plan for storm drain replacement in park and the park maintenance facility. Board reminded that the Architect, former Marinwood CSD Director Bill hansell is well over 300%  over budget and has not produced a  drawing that conforms with Marin County building codes.  The plan is unworkable since it fails to take account for space needs for vehicles and loading operations.  Eric Dreikosen did not respond.