Saturday, March 15, 2014

Saturday Night Videos

Placebo // Loud Like Love (feat. Bret Easton Ellis) from Saman Kesh on Vimeo.

COMING UP FOR AIR from Finisterre on Vimeo.

I Like It When You're Gone from Rosanna Wan on Vimeo.

TODAY: A Short Documentary Film from Phillip Montgomery on Vimeo.

Project Skyborn - short film from Marko Slavnic on Vimeo.

VOICE OVER (English subtitles) from Kamel Films on Vimeo.

Keys N Krates - Treat Me Right from Ohji on Vimeo.

Shugo Tokumaru / Katachi from Kijek / Adamski on Vimeo.

HUD Over reaching in Westchester County in New York. Marin is next

Marin entered a similar HUD agreement and will be building hundreds of low income units concentrated in Marinwood/Lucas Valley. Robert Astorino was re-elected in a landslide victory in Westchester on November 5, 2013 by taking leadership stance against HUD.. Local politicians take notice. Victories are achieved by standing up for your citizens.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Silvestri: The Great PDA Debate Part II

The Great PDA Debate - Part II

The Win Cup Project in Corte Madera
The Win Cup Project in Corte Madera
Read The Great PDA Debate - Part I

When Marin County prepared its Housing Element and proposed how much multifamily development should occur in the future, they adopted the "default density” offered by state law.
The default density for Marin is 30 units per acre. Adopting the default density alleviates the County's need to do any kind of study or research to support what actual density might be required to fulfill their obligations under their Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) quota. In other words, if a city or county has a lot of potential building sites available, they could argue that even a density of 10 units per acre would fulfill the RHNA quota. This would mean that building lower densities would be justified in their area and HCD would probably have to accept that if the total RHNA was addressed adequately.

This is essentially what Mill Valley and Novato did. They produced their own analysis to prove that they had plenty of development and rezoning opportunities available to satisfy their RHNA numbers, at lower than 30 units per acre. Accepting the default density for the Housing Element, as the County did, is the lazy man's way to do it.
The recent Marin IJ Voice by Sharon Rushton does an excellent job of explaining all this. And as noted by Glen Campora, Assistant Deputy Director of HCD, in his letter of March 18, 2013 to the Novato Homeowners Association:
“Flexibility was increased in 2004 when Government Code Section 65583.2(c)(3) was amended to provide all jurisdictions the option to adopt the applicable statutory default density deemed appropriate for a rural, suburban, or urban jurisdiction to accommodate housing for lower-income households. “
“In updating its housing element, Novato has the flexibility to choose to (1) provide an appropriate analysis demonstrating how its adopted densities can accommodate development of housing affordable to lower income households or (2) adopt the default density of 30 units per acre.”
This flexibility is quite broad and is particularly important because Marin is presently mis-classified as an “urban” area by HCD, rather than being classified correctly as “rural” and “suburban.” So the efforts by our BOS and County staff, on our behalf, were really needed when the County

Friday Night Music

How the NSA Plans to Infect ‘Millions’ of Computers with Malware

Featured photo - How the NSA Plans to Infect ‘Millions’ of Computers with Malware

One presentation outlines how the NSA performs “industrial-scale exploitation” of computer networks across the world.

Top-secret documents reveal that the National Security Agency is dramatically expanding its ability to covertly hack into computers on a mass scale by using automated systems that reduce the level of human oversight in the process.

The classified files – provided previously by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden – contain new details about groundbreaking surveillance technology the agency has developed to infect potentially millions of computers worldwide with malware “implants.” The clandestine initiative enables the NSA to break into targeted computers and to siphon out data from foreign Internet and phone networks.

The covert infrastructure that supports the hacking efforts operates from the agency’s headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, and from eavesdropping bases in the United Kingdom and Japan. GCHQ, the British intelligence agency, appears to have played an integral role in helping to develop the implants tactic.

In some cases the NSA has masqueraded as a fake Facebook server, using the social media site as a launching pad to infect a target’s computer and exfiltrate files from a hard drive. In others, it has sent out spam emails laced with the malware, which can be tailored to covertly record audio from a computer’s microphone and take snapshots with its webcam. The hacking systems have also enabled the NSA to launch cyberattacks by corrupting and disrupting file downloads or denying access to websites.

The implants being deployed were once reserved for a few hundred hard-to-reach targets, whose communications could not be monitored through traditional wiretaps. But the documents analyzed by The Intercept show how the NSA has aggressively accelerated its hacking initiatives in the past decade by computerizing some processes previously handled by humans. The automated system – codenamed TURBINE – is designed to “allow the current implant network to scale to large size (millions of implants) by creating a system that does automated control implants by groups instead of individually.”

In a top-secret presentation, dated August 2009, the NSA describes a pre-programmed part of the covert infrastructure called the “Expert System,” which is designed to operate “like the brain.” The system manages the applications and functions of the implants and “decides” what tools they need to best extract data from infected machines.

Mikko Hypponen, an expert in malware who serves as chief research officer at the Finnish security firm F-Secure, calls the revelations “disturbing.” The NSA’s surveillance techniques, he warns, could inadvertently be undermining the security of the Internet.

“When they deploy malware on systems,” Hypponen says, “they potentially create new vulnerabilities in these systems, making them more vulnerable for attacks by third parties.”
Hypponen believes that governments could arguably justify using malware in a small number of targeted cases against adversaries. But millions of malware implants being deployed by the NSA as part of an automated process, he says, would be “out of control.”

“That would definitely not be proportionate,” Hypponen says. “It couldn’t possibly be targeted and named. It sounds like wholesale infection and wholesale surveillance.”

The NSA declined to answer questions about its deployment of implants, pointing to a new presidential policy directive announced by President Obama. “As the president made clear on 17 January,” the agency said in a statement, “signals intelligence shall be collected exclusively where there is a foreign intelligence or counterintelligence purpose to support national and departmental missions, and not for any other purposes.”

“Owning the Net”

The NSA began rapidly escalating its hacking efforts a decade ago. In 2004, according to secret internal records, the agency was managing a small network of only 100 to 150 implants. But over the next six to eight years, as an elite unit called Tailored Access Operations (TAO) recruited new hackers and developed new malware tools, the number of implants soared to tens of thousands.

To penetrate foreign computer networks and monitor communications that it did not have access to through other means, the NSA wanted to go beyond the limits of traditional signals intelligence, or SIGINT, the agency’s term for the interception of electronic communications. Instead, it sought to broaden “active” surveillance methods – tactics designed to directly infiltrate a target’s computers or network devices.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Great PDA Debate - Part I

On February 25th the Marin County Board of Supervisors held a public hearing about whether or not to remove the Priority Development Area (PDA) in the Strawberry neighborhood. A PDA is a land use designation that a city or county can assign to indicate a desire for high density growth in that location.

The hearing was led by Kate Sears, the Supervisor for the Strawberry district, who lectured the public in chatty, schoolmarm tones through an ever-present grin that seemed oblivious to the community’s need for her to at least emotionally acknowledge the seriousness of the issue before them.
As the Grateful Dead song Truckin goes," You've got two good eyes but you still don't see.."  Supervisor Kate Sears refused to put the Strawberry PDA on the Board of Supervisor's agenda for 14 consecutive meetings despite hundreds citizen requests. She is seen here at the Feb 25, 2014 meeting. She expressed disappointment that it could not have been made smaller and blamed the public for misinformation.

For months Ms. Sears had tried to dismiss, deflect and derail the need for such a hearing. At first she tried to divide and conquer by refusing to attend any large community meetings: she would only meet with small groups to diffuse dissent. But her attempts didn’t work. She had ignored requests to put the topic on the agenda of the weekly BOS meetings for 14 consecutive weeks, but the public wouldn’t let up. She had even tried to shift the decision’s responsibility to entirely different agency, the Transportation Authority of Marin, but to no avail. Her curious obstructionist tactics only fanned the flames. By now her constituents were fully informed and actively engaged in making their opinions known.

And so it began.

After a variety of somewhat long winded, defensive and off topic remarks by most of the Supervisors it was time for a presentation by Community Development Director, Brian Crawford.

Mr. Crawford’s staff report was ostensibly about the history, locations and ramifications of PDAs in Marin, but it ended up being a good deal of confusing disinformation and “planner- speak” gibberish (see video here: Item 16). But as innocuous as his report may have seemed, it was in some ways one of the more important things that occurred at the meeting because it touched on, or perhaps more appropriately failed to touch on, larger issues we are facing about PDAs.

No Wonder Everyone Is So Confused

The urbane, highly paid Brian Crawford, explains to the Board of Supervisors and the hundreds of Citizens about the Highway 101 PDA Corridor that was "volunteered" by the Community.  Despite the intense protest of residents, Smart Growth and Plan Bay Area boosters claim that we must urbanize Marin.

Mr. Crawford showed the Board a map of the County’s Priority Development Areas. On it, it showed that the entire north-south corridor within a half mile of highway 101 was designated as the “Highway 101 PDA Corridor” (indicated by hash marks).  Mr. Crawford went on to explain that the County had “volunteered” this entire swath of land as a PDA back in 2006 and 2007, during the Pre-Plan Bay Area “Focus” sessions led by ABAG. He then noted that in 2010 to 2011 the BOS had voted to confirm this PDA designation for the 101 corridor and to include what the map called “Transit Neighborhoods,” which included the Strawberry PDA.

Oddly, his presentation and charts made it sound as if (1) the county had the authority to dictate land use for property that was located within other cities in Marin, and (2) that everything within a half like of highway 101 was a PDA, as defined by Plan Bay Area.
This, of course, is completely wrong.

The areas noted as Transit Neighborhoods were in fact the only actual PDAs.  But the map was still incorrect because the outlines of the areas noted as Transit Neighborhoods did not correspond accurately to the areas of the actual PDAs noted in the County’s Housing Element. In places like Marin City, for example, this is significant because his map showed County Housing Authority-owned projects, like Golden Gate Village, as being in a PDA, which it is not.

Why the map was presented at all remains a mystery.

However, predictably, not a single Supervisor raised an eyebrow or seemed to care enough to question his misstatements even though they should have all known that the County’s Housing Element only recognized a few remaining areas as actual PDAs: Strawberry, Marin City and California Park (Marinwood and the Tam/Almonte area having already been removed).

But okay, so the map was wrong. What’s the big deal?

Some Backstory

The ABAG Focus sessions that Brian Crawford referred to happened prior to the passage of Senate Bill 375 in September of 2008. SB375 was the legislation that made the terms “Priority Development Area” (PDA) and “Transit Priority Project Area” (TPA) meaningful legal terms and connected them to federal and state transportation funding. That funding was the primary argument the BOS had been making as to why the Strawberry PDA should remain.

Following the passage of SB375, our metropolitan planning organization (ABAG and MTC) had to craft a “Sustainable Communities Strategy,” which became a known as Plan Bay Area. Plan Bay Area was not adopted until June of 2013. 

Whatever the County might have done prior to the adoption of Plan Bay Area was not officially connected to federal and state transportation funding that Plan Bay Area brought with it targeted for PDAs.  

It’s important to also know that it was SB375 that clearly defined the state’s intention of promoting and incentivizing zoning changes for high density transit oriented development (TOD). SB375 and Plan Bay Area make it emphatically clear (in fact it’s pretty much their sole purpose) that 80 percent of the TOD that occurs is targeted for

Supervisor Susan Adams Welcomes Gang Members to Marin County Fair

See the full June, 18, 2013 Board of Supervisors meeting here
See the Marin IJ story here

Susan Adams:

” Be very certain and very clear we are not saying gang members are not invited to the fair. Everybody is welcome to the fair.

I  think the message is to whoever gang members are out there.  Come to our fair.  Leave your insignias at home and enjoy it like everybody else and the public in a wonderful setting.  And that’s my hope.  I think we have had that experience with our past fairs and I will be looking for that report sooner than later.”

Is this how Susan Adams is approaching the problems 
with Marinwood Village and Dixie Schools? 

Don't Wear Your Colors to the Fair.

Cool Temporary Shelters for the Homeless.

Collapsible woven refugee shelters powered by the sun

Abeer Seikaly, Woven Shelters, refugee housing, solar powered refugee shelters, nomadic dwellings, Kuwaiti design, humanitarian aid, social design, humanitarian designMore than 40 million people worldwide have been displaced from their homes and left to find shelter in strange lands. Maybe they find a tarp, or a tent, but their quality of life almost always remains dismal. To close this gap in need, Jordanian-Canadian architect and designer Abeer Seikaly designed a new kind of shelter.  One that allows refugees to rebuild their lives with dignity.

Seikaly, now living in Amman, Jordan is well poised to design a dwelling for refugees given that her ancestors in Jordan probably toggled between nomadic and sheltered life in the desert for centuries.
Abeer Seikaly, Woven Shelters, refugee housing, solar powered refugee shelters, nomadic dwellings, Kuwaiti design, humanitarian aid, social design, humanitarian design
“The movement of people across the earth led to the discovery of new territories as well as the creation of new communities among strangers forming towns, cities, and nations,” writes Seikaly in her design brief. ”Navigating this duality between exploration and settlement, movement and stillness is a fundamental essence of what it means to be human.”
Related: Stackable shelters by Exo 
But today, a great deal of migration is no longer voluntary, as wars and climate change force people out of their homes – often with very little money. The collapsible woven shelters, which are conceptual but proven to work, would allow these people to carry their homes with them.
Abeer Seikaly, Woven Shelters, refugee housing, solar powered refugee shelters, nomadic dwellings, Kuwaiti design, humanitarian aid, social design, humanitarian design
Comprised of a structural woven fabric that “blurs the distinction between structure and fabric,” the shelter expands to create a private enclosure and contracts “for mobility.” It also comes with some fundamental amenities required by modern people, including water and renewable electricity.
Related: IKEA’s flatpack homes for refugees get a reluctant OK frLebanonom 
The outer solar-powered skin absorbs solar energy that is then converted into usable electricity, while the inner skin provides pockets for storage – particularly at the lower half of the shelters. And a water storage tank on the top of the tent allows people to take quick showers. Water rises to the storage tank via a thermosiphoning system and a drainage system ensures that the tent is not flooded.
Abeer Seikaly, Woven Shelters, refugee housing, solar powered refugee shelters, nomadic dwellings, Kuwaiti design, humanitarian aid, social design, humanitarian design
Well ventilated and lit, the shelter opens up in the summer and huddles down during cold winters. But most importantly, it allows refugees to have some semblance of security, some semblance of home.

“This lightweight, mobile, structural fabric could potentially close the gap between need and desire as people metaphorically weave their lives back together, physically weaving their built environment into a place both new and familiar, transient and rooted, private and connected,” says Seikaly.
Abeer Seikaly, Woven Shelters, refugee housing, solar powered refugee shelters, nomadic dwellings, Kuwaiti design, humanitarian aid, social design, humanitarian design
“In this space, the refugees find a place to pause from their turbulent worlds, a place to weave the tapestry of their new lives. They weave their shelter into home.”
weaving home Abeer Seikaly See more at:

Wouldn't this look nice in San Rafael?


This video comes to me from Janis Maras: Rare Earth blog post that she writes for the Marin IJ
See her comments HERE

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

An Animation of the High Flyover , Corte Mazilla and Once upon a time in Marinwood-Lucas Valley

) ) ) )

Separated at Birth? Susan Adams and Queen Victoria

Susan Adams surveys the crowd at the Board of Supervisors meeting to remove the Strawberry PDA on March 25, 2014
Learn how she used her influence to delay the Toxic Waste cleanup at Marinwood Village HERE
Queen Victoria of England in 1877
Learn more about her HERE

A group of designers from London's Royal College of Art have created what might be the creepiest survey of public space.

Francesco Tacchini, Julinka Ebhardt, and Will Yates-Johnson wanted to explore "transitional public spaces," like stairs, tunnels, and elevators through acoustics.

What they came up with is Space Replay, a dark floating ball that records and echos eerie footsteps and conversations. The hovering orb is actually a latex balloon filled helium and electronic components that handle sound. The sphere, which weighs about 4.2 ounces, naturally follows the air currents caused by anything that moves past it.
Watch the spooky thing go in this video. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

San Rafael mob-style hit, other recent shootings, just fraction of violence surge

San Rafael mob-style hit, other recent shootings, just fraction of violence surge

POSTED:   03/03/2014 07:11:33 PM PST

As San Rafael police continue to investigate a mafia-style shooting Saturday at a downtown restaurant — the fifth gunshot victim in the city in 11 weeks — authorities said those shootings are really just the tip of the iceberg.
In addition, the police department has been coping with a surge of other violent crimes over the past year, including stabbings, attempted shootings, beatings, machete and bottle attacks, even an assault with a pair of bicycle handlebars.
Police Chief Diana Bishop acknowledged Monday that the department is being bombarded with violent crime cases, and if the trend continues it will drain resources from other work on quality-of-life issues and the mentally ill.
TWO CENTS 03/04/14
Are you worried about escalating violence in San Rafael?
Total Votes = 331
 89.12 %
  10.87 %
"From my 29 years (in police work), I think the number of serious incidents in a short amount of time is unprecedented for me," said Bishop, who spent most of her career at the Santa Clara Police Department before coming to San Rafael in 2011.
The latest shooting occurred during a karaoke event early Saturday morning at Pa's Mexican and Filipino Cuisine on B Street. The restaurant sits in the core of downtown San Rafael — less than a block from Fourth Street and about two blocks from City Hall.
Police said a Hispanic man in a hooded sweatshirt entered the restaurant, walked up to the victim and fired numerous times before running away. Despite the presence of more than 20 people in the restaurant, the occupants were unable to give police a more detailed description of the gunman.
The 31-year-old gunshot victim was taken to Marin General Hospital in very critical condition. He was in stable but serious condition on Monday, said police spokeswoman Margo Rohrbacher.
The investigations unit worked on the case through the weekend but has not announced an arrest or a suspect. Sgt. Michael Vergara, a supervisor of the unit, said detectives were still investigating Monday whether the attack was gang-related.
The shooting was not even the only major crime that night in the city, which has a population of about 58,000. While police were immersed in the restaurant investigation, they received a report of an assault and robbery in the Canal neighborhood that seriously injured the victim.
The police department took the unusual step of asking the Marin County Sheriff's Office to step in and investigate the case. No arrests have been reported.
The shooting victim at Pa's restaurant was the fifth in San Rafael since Dec. 13. The other four cases occurred in the Canal area and are suspected to involve gangs.
But police said the violent crimes over the past year, while often gang-related, are not exclusively so. Some involved robberies or domestic violence or prostitution, and many were outside the Canal area.
The city has also seen several significant arrests, including Cameron Weaver and Ruben Torres, attempted murder suspects in a gang-related shooting, and Christopher Wootton, the serial bank robbery suspect who allegedly pulled a gun on police in Terra Linda.
In a response to an inquiry from the Marin Independent Journal on Monday, the police department provided a list of assaults and murder attempts since March 12, 2013. The roster includes 10 shootings and seven stabbings.
Bishop said the lack of fatalities is a credit to the staff at Marin General Hospital.
Bishop said the recent flurry of shootings has prompted the department to escalate its enforcement efforts and "make life uncomfortable" for criminals and associates. The efforts have included adding staff to the street crimes unit, conducting probation compliance checks and asking other law enforcement agencies for help.
But she said the moves could come at a cost to the police department's other programs, including its much publicized campaign to address public nuisance crimes in the downtown area. She has already reassigned an officer who specializes in handling the mentally ill to the investigations unit.
"Hopefully we'll be getting back to normal," Bishop said. "Obviously violent crime trumps everything else."
Bishop said she is not considering, as of yet, a move to bring San Rafael back into the Marin County Major Crimes Task Force, the county's multiagency drug unit. The city withdrew its financial support in 2003.


Editor's Note: While low income areas themselves are not responsible for crime, higher density of people means that even if the "per capita" crime rate stays constant,  overall crime for the area will rise.   San Rafael's Canal district has BELOW AVERAGE violent crime "per capita" but due the relatively large population living in high density apartments,  their neighborhood crime rate for Marin is high.  We expect that Marinwood's crime rate to increase as a result of the influx of high density housing. Supervisor Susan Adams approved the 2012 Housing Element that places 71% of all affordable housing for unincorporated Marin in Marinwood-Lucas Valley. Supervisor Steve Kinsey has less than 6% of the total allocation in his district of West Marin.

Susan Adams, lobbied for HUD housing for Marinwood-Lucas Valley
 while campaigning for US Congress in 2012.
See Related Post:  Crime comes with High Density Housing HERE

Pre-Fab Houses to Help the Homeless

Pre-Fab Houses to Help the Homeless

Pre-Fab Houses to Help the Homeless
Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners has designed a housing unit in conjunction with the YMCA that the firm hopes will give homeless people (or "rough sleepers," as the Brits call them) a stable place to get back on their feet.

Developed over three years, the pre-fabricated Y:Cube House costs only about £30,000 to produce and is very energy-efficient, requiring only £7 a week to heat. They look like cartoon houses with no chimney, clad in bright red panels. The flat-packed construction system allows for easy assembly and mobility, in order to accommodate the changing needs of the YMCA. The houses' parts are built in a factory with precision-cut glue-laminated timber sections assembled by hand, and put together on site using just two types of screw. Anyone who has put together IKEA furniture can tell that this is a benefit.

The homes will serve as a transitional space for those who have depended on the YMCA's hostel program. The homes will be rented out over three- to five-year contracts at a price of £560 per month.

Advocates of the program seem to think that this will allow people time to gain skills and save up for a deposit, which can be a big hindrance to those looking for housing. A group of investors will provide capital for development of more units at a 5% return, assuming the system takes off. If it does, it could be used for infill of otherwise unused sites. The YMCA houses are a part of the larger Insulshell project (developed by Sheffield Insulated Group and Cox Bench), using the same process.

According to the program's creators, this could be a solution to London's housing crisis. The system does subvert some of the realities of developer-led construction, such as the drawn-out process that saps money from budgets, and it explicitly states that its investors will only make a 5 percent return, which will let the project operate more like a social service than a purely profit-driven project. Because they are technically classified as temporary, the square footage of these houses is falls under the usual size mandate for housing.

While this is all smart and good, the project raises some larger questions. Is this really the answer to the 6,000+ homeless in London? Is it possible for some kind of large-scale program of temporary social housing to exist outside of a traditional rent-based system? Is it necessary for these units to be so large, elegantly designed and single-occupancy?

All images courtesy of the architects.
This post originally appeared on Architizer, an Atlantic partner site.
 Matt Shaw writes for Architizer. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Politics before Education-A drama in NYC.

Smart Growth and the NEW, Newspeak

Evry rail station, annotated.png

see full article Smart growth and the New Newspeak

It’s a given in our representative system that policies adopted into law should have popular support. However, there is a distinction to be made between adopting a policy consistent with what a majority of people want, and pushing a policy while making dubious claims that it harnesses “the will of the people.”

The former is a valid exercise in democracy; the latter is a logical fallacy. Smart Growth advocates are among the most effective practitioners of Argumentum ad Populum, urging everyone to get on the bandwagon of higher densities, compact mixed-uses, and transit orientation because all the “cool cities” are doing it.

Smart Growth advocates also claim this is what people prefer, even if it is not how they currently live. The two core features of Smart Growth land use — high densities and multi-family dwellings — are simply not preferred by most Americans in most places, despite the trendy push for Livability, New Urbanism, Resilient Cities, Smart Codes, Traditional Neighborhood Design, Transit Oriented Developments or any other euphemistic, clever name currently in fashion.

Survey Says!
In the internal data of the 2011 Community Preference Survey commissioned by the National Association of Realtors, no specific question was asked about density, but 52 percent of respondents said, if given a choice, they would prefer to live in traditional suburbs, small towns or the rural countryside. Another 28 percent chose a suburban setting that allowed for some mixed uses (Question 5). Taken together, this shows an overwhelming preference for low densities. Only 8 percent of the respondents favored a central city environment.

As for vibrant urbanism, only 7 percent were “very interested” in living in a place “at the center of it all.” Most people wanted to live “away from it all” (Question 17). An astonishing 87 percent said “privacy from neighbors” was important to them in deciding where to live. One can reasonably infer that a majority of this majority would favor low density places with separated uses rather than crowded, noisy mixed use locations that blur the line between public and private.

When presented with a range of housing choices, 80 percent preferred the “single-family detached house” (Question 6). Only eight percent chose an apartment or condominium. Furthermore, 61 percent preferred a place where “houses are built far apart on larger lots and you have to drive to get to schools, stores, and restaurants” over 37 percent who wanted a place where “houses are built close together on small lots and it is easy to walk to schools, stores and restaurants” (Question 8).
So -- absent the loaded terms and buzzwords that are central to Smart Growth -- a large majority of randomly selected people from across the country showed a strong preference for the land use pattern derisively referred to as “sprawl.”

Yet the press release from the National Association of Realtors proclaimed that “Americans prefer smart growth communities.” This is because on Question 13, respondents were given a description of two communities:

Community A, a subdivision of only single family homes with nothing around them. Not even sidewalks!

Community B: lots of amenities all “within a few blocks” of home. Of course, the description neglected to mention the population density and degree of residential stacking required to put all those dwellings in such close proximity to walkable retail. This was a significant omission, since the first housing option offered in Community B was “single family, detached,” on “various sized lots.”

Community B received 56 percent support.

So, with just one response to an unrealistic scenario, out of twenty answers that included many aversions to Smart Growth, the myth that people prefer Smart Growth was spread. The National League of Cities released a Municipal Action Guide to thousands of elected and appointed officials declaring the preference for Smart Growth, and the online network Planetizen, among others, uncritically helped spread the news.

Missing from the triumphalism was this important caveat in the 98-page analysis of the results by the consultants who conducted the survey:
“Ideally, most Americans would like to live in walkable communities where shops, restaurants, and local businesses are within an easy stroll from their homes and their jobs are a short commute away; as long as those communities can also provide privacy from neighbors and detached, single-family homes. If this ideal is not possible, most prioritize shorter commutes and single-family homes above other considerations.”

In addition to spinning the results of preference surveys, Smart Growthers also ignore them. Maryland is a case study in how to disregard what people want while claiming the opposite. In drafting a statewide growth management plan that anticipated “increased demand for housing, an aging population, and diverse communities,” Maryland officials ignored a robust 55+ Housing Preference Survey from Montgomery County that specifically addressed this concern.

The survey showed that most seniors planned to remain in their present homes upon retirement. Only 30 percent planned to move, and, of that group, only a small percentage would consider an apartment or condominium. This should have mattered to Maryland officials trying to gauge housing preferences for their senior population. Instead, the architects of PlanMaryland looked elsewhere to find studies that reinforced their assumptions.

The Great Conflation

There is an abundance of examples like these, and the key to understanding how they influence decision-makers lies in the conflation of specific amenities with the overarching concept of Smart Growth. For example, Todd Litman’s Where We Want to Be, published by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, claims that “preference for smart growth is increasing due to demographic, economic and market trends such as aging population, rising future fuel prices, increasing traffic congestion, and increasing health and environmental concerns.”

Does this mean most seniors – such as those in Maryland – want to live in high density, mixed use, transit-oriented apartments even when they say they don’t? Hardly. Litman concedes that “most Americans prefer single-family homes,” but finds “a growing portion want neighborhood amenities associated with Smart Growth including accessibility, walkability, nearby services, and improved public transport.”
Those amenities are things like sidewalks, which evidently are now a Smart Growth invention, and shops that are close to (but not mixed into) residential areas. Litman’s clever construction – e.g., sidewalks equal walkability equal Smart Growth policy – is convincing to officials who mistakenly conclude that their constituents must want Smart Growth when, in fact, they do not.

This has been Part One of a Two-Part Series on Smart Growth by Ed Braddy.
Photo by W. Cox: Rail station in Evry, a suburb of Paris

Ed Braddy is the executive director of the American Dream Coalition, a non-profit organization promoting freedom, mobility and affordable homeownership. Mr. Braddy often speaks on growth management related issues and their impact on local communities. He can be reached at

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Insane Clown Posse fights back

Marin Voice: Challenging Marin's 'metropolitan' housing quotas

Marin Voice: Challenging Marin's 'metropolitan' housing quotas

Posted:   03/06/2014 07:29:00 PM PST

Sharon Rushton of Mill Valley is chairperson of Sustainable TamAlmonte, a group of Tamalpais...

NOVATO has deservedly received many accolades for its recently adopted Housing Element, its plan for meeting state regional housing quotas.

Most notably, the city listened to local residents and worked diligently to lower the minimum density requirement for affordable housing sites identified in its Housing Element from 30 units per acre to 20-23 units per acre.

Learning about Novato's success, residents of unincorporated Marin, who are greatly dismayed with the county's Housing Element, can't help but wonder: If Novato officials can push back against urban-like high-density housing, then why can't the Board of Supervisors? Does the county have fewer resources and less capability than the city of Novato?

In light of how aghast Marin residents are about the enormity of the apartment complex at the former WinCup site in Corte Madera and the strong countywide repulsion to high-density development, one would think that unincorporated Marin would have taken Novato's approach with its Housing Element.

Amazingly, county planners and supervisors ignored constituents' protests and did the exact opposite.

When choosing sites for the county Housing Element's Available Land Inventory (a list of sites to accommodate unincorporated Marin's need for housing in the 2007-14 cycle), the county sought out sites zoned at 30 dwelling units per acre, thus locking these sites into inappropriate high densities) and up-zoned other sites to the same density (30 units per acre) by establishing an "Affordable Housing Combining District."

Other county Housing Element programs further increased the potential scale of housing by raising the allowable height for multi-family residential development and reducing parking requirements.

Worse still, a state density bonus can easily increase a residential density of 30 units per ace to 40 units per acre, equal to the WinCup apartment complex's density!

So, many of the county Housing Element sites could become additional "WinCups."
County supervisors and planners gave the impression that the county Housing Element must, with no exception, identify housing sites with minimum densities of 30 units per acre, equal to the county's assigned density. They further alluded that this requirement could only be eliminated if the default density were lowered by a law like Assemblyman Mark Levine's proposed AB 1537, which would lower Marin's default density from a "Metropolitan" density of 30 units per acre to a "Suburban" density of 20 units per acre.
They further alluded that this requirement could only be eliminated if the default density were lowered by a law like Assemblyman Mark Levine's proposed AB 1537, which would lower Marin's default density from a "Metropolitan" density of 30 units per acre to a "Suburban" density of 20 units per acre.However, this is not the case.
 [Editor's Note: Ms. Rushton makes a very important point here. If we can already achieve 20 units per acre designation, why are the housing activists, Susan Adams, Judy Arnold and Marc Levine pushing for AB1537 and asking for public support?  We suspect it is because this new law will lock in MANDATORY zoning of 20 units per acre where 3-7 per acre zoning occurs now along the 101 corridor.  This will eventually force the urbanization of our county.]

Another option with probable lower minimum densities has been available to the county all along.

This other option is described in a memorandum from the state Department of Housing and Community Development.

As illustrated by what Novato was able to achieve with its Housing Element, the department states that using a default density is voluntary.

According to the state, a Housing Element may identify housing sites with lower density levels, as long as it provides an analysis demonstrating how the adopted densities can accommodate the jurisdiction's housing need for all income levels, including lower-income households.

Using a default density is a streamlined option for a local government to meet the density requirement if the government doesn't want to provide its own analysis.

Residents can't help but be perplexed. Why in the world would the county planners and supervisors simply use the default density of 30 units per acre for sites identified in Marin County's Housing Element, when such an objectionable high density could have been avoided?

So again we ask: If Novato officials can push back against requirements for urban densities, then why can't the Board of Supervisors?

Does Marin County have fewer resources and less capability than the city of Novato?

Or, contrary to residents' wishes, do our supervisors prefer high-density housing?

Sharon Rushton is a resident of the Almonte neighborhood of Mill Valley and chairperson of Sustainable TamAlmonte, an organization focused on preserving the area's semi-rural quality of life.