Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Government's War on Cameras!

My take on Marinwood Village Development by Pete Stout

I'm not opposed to redevelopment at Marinwood Plaza, it is indeed long overdue. Nor am I opposed to a housing element (could actually help lower the propensity for nighttime crime at the currently desolate sight). Nor do I think time should stand still. Nor do I think that we should not consider our part in helping with Marin's housing needs for a longterm future.


Redeveloping Marinwood Plaza with the ONLY developer willing to consider the project at the rock bottom of the real estate market seems a bad idea from a 10-, 25-, or 50-year perspective. Also, make no mistake: this project primarily benefits Bridge Housing—which, as with so many non-profits, has motives beyond social good (read: salaries). Next up, it benefits politicians and other communities in Marin. In a distant fourth is a relatively small number of people needing low-cost housing (which is needed in Marin). Meanwhile, local taxpayers will take on the full burden as the new residents will not contribute to the schools, fire, etc. And local taxpayers get to find out if Bridge Housing's impact projections prove accurate or wildly optimistic.

Several issues need to be evaluated carefully:

-Impact of 85 new homes on the ADJACENT Miller Creek watershed

-Impact to schools (not rosy guesstimates of 0.8 child/house)

-Impact to traffic and parking (development will likely need 2-3 cars parking per unit and does not have it)

Bridge Housing has ignored requests to consider senior housing, which would significantly lessen parking problems and completely remove the schools problem. Bridge has also worked with the county and, sadly, the CSD to actively exclude the community from the discussion this time around. I know, because I was personally present at a "community meeting" of chosen "community representatives" (I was serving as VP for my HOA at the time, and our president could not go so I was asked to be there). At that meeting, the group was specifically asked not to go talking about everything lest we upset "certain elements." I probably fall in the middle on this issue, leaning toward the skeptical, but that's flat wrong.

The imminent project is now very, very far from the last real community meeting Marinwood-Lucas Valley had, back in 2008 or so, where residents made clear what they felt was acceptable at the Marinwood Plaza site: 70 units, with 50 of them at market rate and 20 as affordable housing—all for sale to new homeowners. Bridge Housing's plan calls for 85 units of 100% affordable housing and 100% permanent rentals, and two months away from the county making a decision.

The state wants this.

The county wants this.

The developer wants this.

A few in Marinwood who have worked for years to get better stores (!) here want this.

 But...does the majority really want this? And at this cost?

CSD members tell us that if Bridge goes away, they fear a redevelopment won't happen for a while again. Given current real estate values—and the fact that Bridge's numbers are predicated on rock-bottom values in a market that is now on the rise—is that a bad thing?

Or, is it time that Marinwood considers a modified version of what its neighbors did years ago with Open Space: Buy the property to preserve the way of life so many chose here? A woman from Mount Marin at the meeting said she happily paid $75/year to buy up the open space we all enjoy today. I'd happily pay a parcel tax to buy up Marinwood Plaza for the purposes of developing it as the community sees fit. Some retail, 20-40 units of housing, and a park are an interesting alternative to Bridge's plan. After all, I'll be paying more in taxes either way—and by the look of it, Bridge Housing's plan will stick me with more than an outright purchase might. Perhaps, if we leased the land on the cheap to a developer, we might mitigate those costs—and create a revenue source for our schools and firefighters.

Pie in the sky? Perhaps, but I'd be curious to hear what others in the community think.

I'd also be curious to hear what the Sierra Club and the EPA might say about this project next to Miller Creek.

Whatever happens, even if it is indeed the Bridge Housing development, this project should not be rubber-stamped or hurried—and it should NOT be allowed to happen without more opportunity for input from the families who will live with the impact for many decades to come.

Pete Stout

Friday, October 4, 2013

Movie Recommendation: The Pruitt Igoe Myth

The Pruitt Igoe Myth is a great movie that is worth watching. Available for streaming on Netflix.

Milton Freidman discusses public housing in 1978

Our House

Our House, Crosby Stills Nash and Young.
 Talking Heads - Burning Down The House


Watch out

You might get what youre after
Cool babies
Strange but not a stranger
Im an ordinary guy
Burning down the house

Hold tight wait till the partys over

Hold tight were in for nasty weather
There has got to be a way
Burning down the house

Heres your ticket pack your bag: time for jumpin overboard

The transportation is here
Close enough but not too far, maybe you know where you are
Fightin fire with fire

All wet

Hey you might need a raincoat
Dreams walking in broad daylight
Three hun-dred six-ty five de-grees
Burning down the house

It was once upon a place sometimes I listen to myself

Gonna come in first place
People on their way to work baby what did you except
Gonna burst into flame

My house

Sout of the ordinary
Thats might
Dont want to hurt nobody
Some things sure can sweep me off my feet
Burning down the house

No visible means of support and you have not seen nuthin yet

Everythings stuck together
I dont know what you expect starring into the tv set
Fighting fire with fire

Rights belong to their owners

Pop Hit from 1982 by Thomas Dolby

Nanny of the Month: Social Media Monitoring

Nanny of the Month: Anti Photoshopping Law

A Real World Look at Bridge Housing Development in Napa

Bridge Housing got into some legal hot water in Napa.
Editor's Note:  The judge ruled in the plaintiff's favor as of March 1, 2013. This case could have significance for Marinwood-Lucas Valley.

Full Story in the Napa County Register: Neighbors file suit over apartment project

June 24, 2012 8:54 pm  •  CHANTAL M. LOVELL

The Napa City Council has approved three affordable-housing developments in the past year, and as of last week, neighbors have sued over two of them.

Three residents who live near the site of the recently approved Napa Creekside Apartments filed a lawsuit June 15 alleging the city erred in approving the 57-unit development. The San Francisco–based Bridge Housing Corporation, developer of the fully affordable project in the 3700 block of Valle Verde Drive, is also being sued.

Neighbors allege the city violated environmental laws when it approved the project. They contend the development will negatively impact traffic, on-street parking and noise levels, as well as increase area pollution and littering. Such impacts, and the project’s proximity to Salvador Creek, should have triggered a full environmental impact review, neighbors assert.

On May 15, the Napa City Council unanimously approved the project, which had the endorsement of the city’s Planning Commission. The vacated Sunrise Assisted Living facility will be remodeled into apartments and two three-story apartment buildings will be added.

To guarantee that rents would be affordable to low-income families, the city had previously committed $2.3 million in development impact fees and redevelopment housing funds to subsidize Napa Creekside. Napa County pledged $2.9 million.

Based on an initial environmental evaluation, the city said the project would not have a significant impact on the environment.

During the May council hearing, about 20 residents voiced concerns over the developer’s plans.
According to the neighbors’ attorney, Walnut Creek–based Daniel Muller, Napa failed to acknowledge the environmental resources of the area, particularly those found in Salvador Creek.
Plaintiffs Ann Rosen, William McGuire and Monty Preiser say the project lies too close to the waterway, which they claim contains salmon, steelhead and trout. The banks are home to a riparian habitat that would be ruined by children and teenagers from the future apartments making their way through a fence to play in Salvador Creek, the suit alleges.

The complaint also claims the city wrongfully abandoned a portion of Valle Verde Drive that runs into the project. This abandonment amounts to a misuse of public funds, the suit asserts.
The majority of the site is zoned for multi-family development with between 18.5 and 25 units per acre. The density of the project is 19.8 units per acre, according to the city.

All of the one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments will be rented at rates affordable to low- and very-low-income families. In Napa, a family of four making $51,660 annually or less is considered low-income. One making less than $43,050 is considered very low-income.

Kathleen Dreessen, executive director of Napa Valley Community Housing, said lawsuits over affordable housing projects are becoming increasingly more common, adding yet another hurdle to what can already be a five-year process of approval and development.

Last summer, the City Council approved the development of the partially affordable Alexander Crossing project on Silverado Trail. Neighbors promptly responded with a lawsuit that caused the developer to fund an environmental impact report and apply to have a portion of the property rezoned to accommodate apartments.

The Planning Commission narrowly reversed its support of Alexander Crossing earlier this month. The project is set to be considered again by the council during a special meeting on Tuesday.
Dreessen said the new trend of lawsuits is “discouraging” given the “great need” that exists in Napa for housing affordable to those who work in hospitality and other service-oriented industries. Community Housing has more than 250 people on its waitlist who qualify for affordable housing.
“I think it’s thinly veiled NIMBYism,” she said of the suits, referring to the phrase “not in my backyard.”

The lawsuit says the neighbors support affordable housing and if the developer had reduced the size of the project, something residents requested during the hearings, the case would have been avoided. Muller said he is working with the neighbors to find what size development they would support.
Bridge Housing President and CEO Cynthia Parker said the group had just received the lawsuit and is in the process of reviewing it.

“Bridge Housing is committed to this project and the community, and we will continue to work with the neighbors and the community to ensure that this much-needed development moves forward in a timely fashion,” she said via email.

11) Comments
  1. Refuse2follow
    Report Abuse
    Refuse2follow - June 24, 2012 11:56 pm
    If the project was not low income housing this wouldn't be an issue.
    "Noise, litter "? Give me a break. Those who already live in the designed area are no different. Other than their (most likely) "white privileged" mentality. Cities are growing larger everyday in this world. For example, the area that those 20 people live on was once a undeveloped block. If they want to have cute quiet living quarters than move to the country side. Napa is growing. Get used it or move to Lake Berryessa .
  2. random name here
    Report Abuse
    random name here - June 25, 2012 1:05 am
    Well, Refuse2follow, your statement of "white privileged" is very racist, but the NVR let it get through. Are you saying that Caucasian people believe they are entitled to special treatment because they were ( most likely) born a U.S. citizen and speak American English clearly and properly? Do you mean that Caucasian people (most likely) work hard in school and avoid gangs so they can earn good grades and attend preferred Universities? Is it because Caucasians (most likely) obtain degrees and find great jobs and work hard so they can buy nice houses in the best neighborhoods? You know, people of every race and nationality do all those things, so stop playing the color card.
  3. Crosscountrykid
    Report Abuse
    Crosscountrykid - June 25, 2012 5:43 am
    Being a "veteran" of what I call the "infill wars" my take focuses on a planning process that notifies local residents only at the very last moment about major planned changes to their neighborhood. Not to say NIMBY-ism could be avoided, but if developers and such would include all stakeholders much earlier in the decision-making process, they might avoid legal action or other attempts to alter their plans. Put the time and resources in at the outset, or toward the end; either way, impacted residents want a say in what affects their lives.
    1. Fairminded
      Report Abuse
      Fairminded - June 25, 2012 9:33 am
      Totally agree with you Crosscountrykid
    2. Fairminded
      Report Abuse
      Fairminded - June 25, 2012 9:35 am

WSJ: A U.N. report can't explain the hiatus in global warming.

see WSJ article: Climate of Uncertainty

A U.N. report can't explain the hiatus in global warming.
"If you don't like the weather in San Francisco, just wait a few minutes"-attributed to Mark Twain

 Between 1998 and 2012 the global economy more than doubled in size—to some $71 trillion in GDP from $30 trillion. That's the good news. Over the same period the world pumped more than 100 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. That is supposedly the bad news. Yet global surface temperatures have remained essentially flat. That's the mystery: If emitting CO2 into the atmosphere causes global warming, why hasn't the globe been warming?

That's the question we would have liked to see answered by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which Friday published the summary of its fifth report on what co-chairman Thomas Stocker calls "the greatest challenge of our times." It would have also been nice to see some humility from the IPCC, which since its last report in 2007 has seen some of its leading scientists exposed as bullies, and some of its most eye-catching predictions debunked. (Remember the vanishing Himalayan glaciers?)

No such luck. "Warming of the climate system is unequivocal," insists the report in its first bold-face conclusion, followed by the claim that "each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth's surface than any preceding decade since 1850." What follows are warnings of shrinking ice sheets, rapidly rising sea levels and other scary events.

So what about the warming that hasn't been happening since 1998? Here's the key paragraph, buried on page 10: "The observed reduction in surface warming trend over the period 1998-2012 as compared to the period 1951-2012, is due in roughly equal measure to a reduced trend in radiative forcing and a cooling contribution from internal variability, which includes a possible redistribution of heat within the ocean."

After noting that scientists have only low or medium confidence in various theories for this reduced warming trend, the report adds that "there may also be a contribution from forcing inadequacies and, in some models, an overestimate of the response to increasing greenhouse gas and other anthropogenic forcing." (Our emphasis.)

Translation: Temperatures have been flat for 15 years, nobody can properly explain it (though there are some theories), and the IPCC doesn't want to spend much time doing so because it is politically inconvenient and shows that the computer models on which all climate-change predictions depend remain unreliable.

Though the IPCC doesn't admit it, the real lesson of its report is uncertainty. Droughts and hurricanes? Contrary to Al Gore's hype, the report acknowledges there's little evidence to suggest that climate change caused by man has had much to do with the duration of droughts or the intensity of hurricanes, although it might in the far future.

Unbearable heat? The IPCC predicts that temperatures are "likely" to rise by somewhat more than 1.5 degrees Celsius throughout the rest of the century. But in 2007 the IPCC said they were "likely" to increase by more than 2 degrees, and "very unlikely" to increase by less than 1.5 degrees.

It's also hard to take any of this as gospel when the IPCC's climate models haven't been able to predict past warming. As Canadian economist and longtime climate student Ross McKitrick points out, IPCC models based on CO2 emissions predicted that temperatures should have risen between 0.2 and 0.9 degrees Celsius since 1990. Instead they have increased by about 0.1 degrees.
One lesson of the IPCC report is that now is the time for policy caution. Let's see if the nonwarming trend continues, in which case the climate models will need remodeling. But that's far less costly than trying to undo grand global redistribution schemes like carbon cap and trade.
The other lesson is that amid such uncertainty the best insurance against adverse climate risks is robust economic growth. The wealthier the world is in 50 or 100 years, the more resources and technology it will have to cope if the worst predictions come true. But that requires free-market, pro-growth policies that are the opposite of the statist fixes pushed by the climate alarmists.
They use the flimsy intellectual scaffolding of the IPCC report to justify killing the U.S. coal industry and the Keystone XL pipeline, banning natural gas drilling, imposing costly efficiency requirements for automobiles, light bulbs, washing machines and refrigerators, and using scarce resources to subsidize technologies that even after decades can't compete on their own in the marketplace.

All of these involve giving more economic control to political actors whose interventions make the world poorer than it would otherwise be. When even the climate-change lobbyists at the IPCC concede that the world is warming at a slower pace than they once thought, it's no time for panicky rearranging of the global economy.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Dick Spotswood: Does transit-oriented housing really work?

The project is yards away from the 101 Freeway and neighboring commercial buildings.

Looking North to Mt. Tam.

Three Views of the 180 unit WinCup project in Corte Madera.  

See Marin IJ Dick Spotswood: Does transit-oriented housing really work?

MUCH OF THE DEBATE about the Association of Bay Area Governments' Plan Bay Area centered around one core principle. That's the contention that building high-density housing adjacent to transit lines will cause higher transit usage, in turn curbing global warming-causing carbon emissions.

It's a grand theory that's encouraged altruistic support for large apartment blocks clustered in transit-accessible areas. If this "new urbanism" concept truly works, Plan Bay Area makes sense.
If it's hype and not backed by statistics, then it's just greenwashing lucrative large-scale real estate development.

Other than the oft-heard "everyone knows" that high-density housing and transit usage are linked, proof is in short supply. It does work in big-city New York and some regional central cities including San Francisco. The dilemma is that there's little data confirming that the claimed housing-transit nexus makes sense in suburbia or smaller cities.

If transit-oriented development can thrive in any of the less-dense metro areas, it would be in Portland. New urbanism and transit-oriented "smart growth" guide the Oregon city's planning.

Portlanders have invested heavily in their excellent TriMet transit system.

The results are disappointing. In 1989, only 2.1 percent of Portland residents used transit. Twenty years later after creation of dense housing near bus and rail stops, that increased to only 2.8 percent.
As the pioneering Genevieve Giuliano-UC Berkeley study reported, "a large proportion of all commuting cannot be explained by job access considerations, housing preferences or other such factors."
While frustrating to planners, proximity to transit is a minor factor when making job and housing decisions.

Read more in the Marin IJ

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

John Adams on Private Property

The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the law of God … anarchy and tyranny commence. (John Adams, “A Defence of the Constitution of the Government of the United States,” 1797)

Coming Soon...The Private Surveillance State in your Neigborhood

Does this technology improve our safety, or increase fear and isolation? 

Will we be better neighbors when we are being constantly being monitored by the government and private parties? 

Will we become a vigilante surveillance state? 

What is happening to our freedoms? 

Technology is rapidly eroding our privacy. Though we all want to deter crime and terrorism, is the cost to a free society too great?

Technology is a two way street. See what happened to Miss Teen Usa this year.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Thomas Jefferson on Tyranny

“All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent”
— Thomas Jefferson

Did Marin lose out on BART?

See Marin IJ: Did Marin lose out on BART?

Mark Prado
Posted:   08/07/2010 09:26:57 PM PDT

As the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit agency struggles to establish service in Marin, some think the county already should have had a commute train: BART.

Bay Area Rapid Transit trains zooming across a lower deck of the Golden Gate Bridge delivering thousands of workers to and from San Francisco and points beyond almost was a reality, but it was undone by what some believe was last-minute politics almost 50 years ago.

BART backers still bemoan the loss of the rapid transit system in Marin, saying the county lost out on being a part of a vibrant regional transportation network.

"Marin really missed out on something tremendous," said San Francisco State University anthropology professor Niccolo Caldararo, a former Fairfax councilman

who still would like to see BART in the county. "Can you imagine how easy it would have been to get to San Francisco? The idea that it would have spurred growth is a red herring. It would have been controlled."

Not so, says Supervisor Steve Kinsey. He believes BART would have led to unprecedented growth that would have transformed Marin into an East Bay-like suburb.
Supervisor Kinsey is currently the leading advocate for urbanizing Marinwood-Lucas Valley. Ironic that just a short time ago he was defending Marin from unwanted urbanization.

"It would have been a bad thing because we did not have the land protections in place in the early 1960s when BART was being discussed," said Kinsey, Marin's point person on key regional transportation issues. "BART is a great system, but it is meant for high-density urban communities. We would have seen sprawl development."

Marin never got to find out.

Marin - along with San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa and San Mateo counties - was part of the planned service area as BART studies were launched in the 1950s. Marin even spent $225,000 on planning - a fortune by today's standards.

Maps were drawn for BART in Marin showing stations in Sausalito, Mill Valley, Corte Madera, Santa Venetia with a possible extension to Ignacio. A 1956 poll found 87.7 percent of Marin residents wanted BART in the county.

A 1955 study by the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit Commission found that the Golden Gate Bridge was capable of handing BART trains on a lower deck, and a second study in 1961 affirmed the conclusion.

But behind the scenes, plans for BART over the Golden Gate Bridge didn't sit well with some, said Louise Nelson Dyble, author of "Paying the Toll: Local Power, Regional Politics, and the Golden Gate Bridge." Bridge district officials didn't like the idea of having BART on its span, potentially cutting into its toll base. It shopped around for an engineer who would say trains on the span would not work, she said.

"Those who led the board were very much opposed to having BART cross the bridge," said Dyble, an assistant professor of history at Michigan Technological University.

They hired Clifford Paine, one of bridge designer Joseph Strauss' engineers, to assess the feasibility of BART on the span. He concluded it would not work, saying the added weight would stress cables and cause the span to sag enough to be in violation of Navy clearance regulations.

Later, an engineering board of review was commissioned to review all the studies and it also announced rail was not feasible, but Dyble noted the bridge district paid for the panel's expenses and fees.

Dreams of BART in Marin took another hit when San Mateo County pulled out of the plan, saying costs were too high. Additionally, San Mateo County had Southern Pacific commuter trains - which later morphed into Caltrain - to meet local demands.

With San Mateo out, the tax base to support the BART plan was significantly weakened. Marin's small population would not provide much tax base to support the project with San Mateo County no longer in the plan.
BART officials also worried that Marin voters - faced with conflicting bridge studies - might vote against the plan believing they might never see service.

"There was a big concern that Marin might vote it down and if that happened that could have killed the entire proposal," Dyble said, noting votes from all the BART counties were tallied as one.
With those concerns, BART directors asked the Marin County Board of Supervisors to vote the county out of the system.

"There is one significant difference - (San Mateo) withdrew voluntarily," Supervisor Peter Behr said at the time Marin withdrew in May 1962. "We are withdrawing involuntarily and upon request."
After that vote, Marin tried to get back in before the November election, but BART officials rejected the idea and the county was locked out of the system, Dyble said.

Without BART, the bridge district later started bus and ferry service to serve Marin commuters.
After talk again arose about BART in Marin, a 1990 study concurred with the first studies in the 1950s that the bridge could handle trains, although by then a change in the span's roadway had made the span lighter.

By 1990, a BART extension to Marin was estimated cost $3 billion and the plan was shelved - likely forever.

In 2008, Marin and Sonoma voters approved a sales tax increase to establish commuter rail service between Larkspur and Cloverdale. Some SMART service is expected to start in 2014, but the agency has a $155 million deficit and it is unclear when the 70-mile route will be completed.
That system has been criticized as a "train to nowhere" because it doesn't reach San Francisco, something BART would have done.

"People didn't realize what a momentous opportunity it was," said Greg Minor, who grew up in Greenbrae and has written about BART in Marin as he studies city planning at the University of California at Berkeley. "We may have seen more people get out of their cars to commute, more affordable housing around these stations and a more vibrant cultural environment. Marin missed out."

Thinking Outside the Rails on Transit

Maybe the SMART train isn't such a good idea after all.

Thinking Outside the Rails on Transit

 a-  A+ 

To many in the transit business – that is, people who seek to profit from the development and growth of buses, trains and streetcars – Southern California is often seen as a paradise lost, a former bastion of streetcar lines that crossed the region and sparked much of its early development. Today, billions are being spent to revive the region’s transit legacy.

Like many old ideas that attract fashionable support, this idea, on its surface, is appealing. Yet, in reality, the focus on mass transit, however fashionable, represents part of an expensive, largely misguided and likely doomed attempt to re-engineer the region away from its long-established dispersed, multipolar and auto-dependent form.

Traditional transit works best when a large number of commuters work in a central district easily accessible by trains or buses. New York and Washington, D.C., where up to 20 percent of the regional workforces labor downtown (the central business district), are ideal for transit. Even in those metropolitan areas, however, the auto is king.

In contrast, less than 3 percent of Southern Californians work in downtown Los Angeles. Overall, despite all the money sunk into new rail lines around the country, Americans’ transit commuting is overwhelmingly concentrated in a few older “legacy” cities. Altogether, 55 percent of transit work trips are to six core cities: New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Boston and Washington, and 60 percent of those commutes are to downtown.

In contrast, in the Los Angeles-Orange County region, barely 6 percent of workers take transit, one-fifth the rate in New York. Yet we’re a bunch of committed strap-hangers compared with Phoenix, Atlanta, Charlotte, N.C., and Dallas-Fort Worth, where, despite surfeits of new trains and streetcars, 2 percent or less of commuters use public transit. Even in Portland, Ore., widely proclaimed the exemplar of new urbanism and transit investment, the percentage of commuters taking transit is less today than in 1980. Portland is now contemplating cutbacks that could eventually eliminate up to 70 percent of its transit service.
Imposing Past on Future

This miserable record reflects how trains, a largely 19th century technology, have limited utility in a contemporary setting. Indeed, the only way to make it work, planners insist, is if the population is moved from their low-density neighborhoods to high-density “pack and stack” areas near transit stops, while suburban businesses are dragooned to denser downtown locations. This is the essence of the recently approved Bay Area Plan.

Although these kinds of strategies have never materially reduced automobile use – the Bay Area Plan itself says automobile use will still increase by 18 percent over 30 years – the bureaucratic logic here is almost Stalinesque in the scope of its social-engineering ambitions. As Bay Area journalist and plan advocate John Wildermuth puts it, people know they should take transit but don’t because it’s very inconvenient. But by forcing three quarters of new residents into dense housing, some with no parking, he reasons, it then will be “easier for them to either give up their cars or, at least, use them a lot less.”

Yet getting people to change their way of life, as many central planners have discovered, is not as easy as it seems. The highly dispersed San Jose-Silicon Valley area, the economic epicenter of the Bay Area and worldwide information technology, has a commute trip market share barely a third of major metropolitan area average… . Building “one of the longest” light rail systems in the United States in 50 years has barely moved the percentage of transit commuters over the past three decades.

What the Bay Area Plan will probably accomplish is to boost housing prices ever further out of reach, both in urban areas and in the suburbs. With new single-family development effectively all but banned, prices of homes in the Bay Area already are again rising far faster than the national average and now are approaching two and half times higher, based on income, than in competitor regions such as Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin, Tex., Houston or Raleigh, N.C.

Environmental Imperative?

Greens and their allies in the high-density housing lobby long have suggested that “peak oil” and rising prices will inevitably drive suburbanites out their cars. But, clearly, recent advances in U.S. oil and natural gas production may have already made this moot. Transit activists increasingly have focused on climate change to justify massive spending on expanding transit and forcing recalcitrant suburbanites from their cars.

This logic is largely based on the notion that suburbanites must travel greater distances to work. Yet, a study by McKinsey & Co. and the Conference Board found that – largely because of the impact of higher energy standards for cars forecast by the Department of Energy – sufficient greenhouse gas emission reductions can be achieved without reducing driving or necessitate “a shift to denser urban housing.”

The fundamental limitations of transit in dispersed cities further weakens environmentalists’ claim. Ridership on some transit systems is so sparse that cars are more energy efficient. Then, there’s the oft-mistaken assumption that higher-density housing will reduce congestion and travel. But in multipolar areas like Southern California, traffic congestion and resultant pollution generally becomes worse with higher density.
There may be other, more technologically savvy ways to reduce emissions and energy use. People have cut automobile use the past three years but their reduced travel is not showing up so much in transit usage, but, rather, is driven by other factors such as unemployment and the high price of gasoline.

But, arguably the biggest reduction can be traced to the rise of telecommuting. Over the past decade, the country added some 1.7 million telecommuters, almost twice the much-ballyhooed increase of 900,000 transit riders. In Southern California, the number of home-based workers grew 35 percent, three times the increase for transit usage. By 2020, according to projections from demographer Wendell Cox, telecommuting should pass transit, both nationally and in this region, in total numbers.

What About the Poor?

Perhaps the most compelling argument for transit stems from serving those populations – the poor, students, minorities – who often lack access to a private car. Yet, for workers in newer cities, public transit often is not an effective alternative. Brookings Institution research indicates that less than 5 percent of the jobs in the Los Angeles and Riverside-San Bernardino areas are within reach of the average employee within 45 minutes, using transit. The figure is less than 10 percent in the San Jose metropolitan area, the same percentage as for cities nationwide. Moreover, 36 percent of entry-level jobs are completely inaccessible by public transit.
Not surprisingly, roughly three in four poorer workers use cars to get to work. Recent work by University of Southern California researcher Jeff Khau finds that car ownership is positively correlated with job opportunities; no such relationship can be proven with access to transit.

At the same time, we should look at more-flexible systems, notably, expanded bus and bus rapid transit, which work better in dispersed areas and are less costly. Most rail systems tend to cannibalize most of their riders from existing bus lines, which explains the small net increases in total transit ridership.

Transit too expensive

Costs matter, and will become more important as cities and counties face the looming threat of fiscal defaults. In this respect, rail systems essentially steal from other transit – notably, the buses used mostly by the poor – and from hard-pressed city and county general-fund budgets. Gov. Jerry Brown’s outrageously expensive high-speed rail, which will principally serve the affluent, takes this unfairness to an extreme.

Instead, we should push far more cost-effective ways to provide transportation options, including those from the private sector, such as the successful Megabus, which provides efficient, quicker and far-less expensive transport between cities than either existing rail or short-haul airline flights. USC’s Khau suggests the private sector also could enhance solutions for lower-income commuters through car loans and car-sharing services such as ZipCar and and Lyft, a mobile app that links riders with drivers.

As we attempt to figure out ways to improve both the environment and people’s economic prospects, innovative 21st century solutions – from telecommuting to car-sharing – may prove more effective than relying on the 19th century technology of rail. We should not blindly follow transit ideology but focus on how to improve people’s mobility in ways other than the overpriced, inefficient and often far-less-equitable solutions being bandied about today.

(Joel Kotkin is executive editor of and Distinguished Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. Originally published on Fox and Hounds.)

Man hit by a train

Monday, September 30, 2013

Bill Gates: ‘It would be great if our education stuff worked but…’

Bill Gates (Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images)
Bill Gates (Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images)
“It would be great if our education stuff worked, but that we won’t know for probably a decade.”
That’s what Bill Gates said on Sept. 21 (see video below) about the billions of dollars his foundation has plowed into education reform during a nearly hour-long interview he gave at Harvard University. He repeated the “we don’t know if it will work” refrain about his reform efforts a few days later during a panel discussion at the Clinton Global Initiative.
Hmmm. Teachers around the country are saddled every single year with teacher evaluation systems that his foundation has funded, based on no record of success and highly questionable “research.” And now Gates says he won’t know if the reforms he is funding will work for another decade. But teachers can lose their jobs now because of reforms he is funding.
In the past he sounded  pretty sure of what he was doing.   In this 2011 oped in The Washington Post, he wrote:
What should policymakers do? One approach is to get more students in front of top teachers by identifying the top 25 percent of teachers and asking them to take on four or five more students.

Actually, that’s not an approach any educator I know would think is a good idea, but Gates had decided that class size doesn’t really matter. Earlier, he had put some $2 billion into forming small schools out of large high schools, on the theory that small schools would better serve students. When the initiative didn’t work out as he hoped, he moved on by spending hundreds of millions of dollars on teacher evaluation systems that in part linked teacher assessments to student standardized test scores, an approach that many assessment experts have warned against.
Now he says that the success of his experiments on public education won’t be known for a decade, but we already know that evaluating teachers by student test scores is a bad idea.
Education reform should not be driven by private philanthropists with their own agendas, however well-intentioned.
Here’s the video of Gates at Harvard, where he was questioned by David Rubenstein, the billionaire co-founder and co-chief executive officer of The Carlyle Group, a private-equity firm based in Washington D.C., before an audience assembled to help launch Harvard’s newest fund-raising campaign.
This is the interview in which he said that the keyboard combination of hitting the control, alt and delete buttons to log into Windows was “a mistake.”  He also spoke about his own education at Harvard, where, he said, he established a reputation for being the freshman who did not attend classes in which he was enrolled but instead went to other classes that interested him. He is famous for being a Harvard dropout, and when Rubenstein asked if he would ever go back to get his undergraduate degree, he said:
I don’t know. I take a lot of college courses. The online free stuff has gotten very good in these new MOOCS, where Harvard is doing edX and there’s Coursera, Udacity, the Learning Company DVDS — now they have streaming finally. Meteorology, biology , geology — I highly recommend. I just took oceanography last month. These are really really good courses. It’s kind of ironic that I’m a dropout. I love college course probably as much as anyone around.
Education references are sprinkled throughout the interview. Here’s the video: