Friday, September 26, 2014

Jake Shimabukuro Mix


Board of Supervisors violate Brown Act by lengthy discussion of housing element off record.

Flap erupts over Marin board's 'off agenda' housing chat

By Nels Johnsonnjohnson@marinij.com @nelsjohnsonnews on Twitter


A legal kerfuffle involving the public's right to know erupted this week as an attorney representing housing policy foes squared off with county officials on state anti-secrecy law.

Attorney Ed Yates of San Rafael, representing Community Venture Partners, says county supervisors violated key provisions of the Ralph M. Brown Act by discussing housing issues that were not on the agenda of a public meeting last month. His client, Community Venture Partners, an organization headed by housing policy critic Bob Silvestri, says it believes "those most in need of affordable housing solutions are best served by a bottom up approach to planning, development and government decision making."

Yates, citing "substantial violation of central provisions of the Ralph M. Brown Act," filed a letter with the county Board of Supervisors that "demands that you cease and desist such violations." The county must respond within 60 days, at which time the matter could proceed to court.

County Counsel Steve Woodside, saying Yates' Brown Act complaint is all bark and no bite, asserted nothing illegal or otherwise inappropriate was done regarding the board's "off agenda" exchange.

At issue is a housing discussion requested by Supervisor Katie Rice during a period for supervisors' statements as a regular board meeting began Aug. 19. The matter was not on the agenda, but she inquired about housing policy procedures, and development chief Brian Crawford, alerted to attend, outlined issues. No deliberation or decision was made.
Yates, noting the discussion lasted 26 minutes, said the law requires notice be given, including an agenda listing, and added that the county violation of the Brown Act was "crystal clear."

The county's top lawyer begged to differ. "I looked at the tape of the meeting," Woodside said. "Nothing illegal was done."

"Asking staff to provide information on a subject not on the agenda ... is not a violation of the Brown Act or anti-secrecy law," Supervisor Rice said. "I asked Brian to provide information about the housing element update so as to highlight the opportunities for public participation throughout, including upcoming Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors' meetings," she said. "Seems like providing clarity on the process is a good thing ... encouraging public participation and assuring an open and transparent public process."

Next time, Yates indicated, make sure the discussion is posted on the agenda so that those interested can attend and opine.


Editor's Note:  Referring to a legitimate discussion of a Brown Act Violation is not a "kerfluffle'.  It is a fundamental violation of citizen rights.  We simply want to be part of the conversation of public policy.  The county attorney's response that "nothing illegal was done" which was not alleged but the fact the discussion needed to be properly noticed is undisputable

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Marin Voice: Why we need to keep speaking out on housing plan

Marin Voice: Why we need to keep speaking out on housing plan

By Bob Silvestri


The proposed Marin County Housing Element has produced a great deal of discussion lately. Unfortunately, it's been "dumbed down" to being a "for" or "against" argument. This kind of "straw man debate" distracts from the real issues, does a disservice to the community and does nothing to address our affordable housing challenges.

We're also told that those who disagree with the element are only "against" things and have no solutions. Nothing could be further from the truth. But sometimes one has to stop bad solutions in order to make room so better solutions can prosper.

Public criticism of the element is a good thing. But the devil, as they say, is in the details and that is what this discussion is and should be about.

Community Venture Partners, a nonprofit I recently founded, has taken an increasingly active role in monitoring local government and supporting a more responsive public process. Toward that end we've made comments on the element and how the county has been conducting its hearings. These comments serve simple objectives: to bring about better governance and decision-making, to ensure that our county's public process is based on accurate information and adheres to the law, and to promote greater transparency and accountability.

If sometimes accomplishing that requires legal action, so be it.

We fully acknowledge and understand the county's responsibilities to adopt a housing plan that makes a reasonable and good faith effort to address the state's growth projections and affordable housing quota for Marin. While many of us may feel the entire system of state quotas is nonsensical, that's an issue we need to deal with separately and one that we're going to have to take higher up the ladder to be effective about.

But at the local level, what we object to is a public process that is increasingly driven by state and regional agencies stepping outside of their legal authority to compel local municipalities to meet artificial and legally questionable requirements.

We object to public hearings that make a mockery of public input and consistently arrive at predetermined conclusions. We object to a plan that exceeds the county's legal obligations by over 400 percent, while ignoring its infrastructure and public service impacts.

And we object to decision-making based on incomplete and often inaccurate information, which is repeated over and over at public hearings, even though the county has been advised otherwise.

So when Supervisor Katie Rice sends out a newsletter stating that "proposals for development of any parcel are required to conform to local code, community plans," etc., when state housing-density bonus law specifically overrides all of those, we feel a need to correct that.

And when Planning Commissioner Wade Holland tells his colleagues that it's "too late" to change the number of sites or units based on public comment (when Ms. Rice has just assured us in her newsletter that it's a long process with plenty of time to comment), we feel a need to protest that.

I'm sorry if democracy is "messy," but the law applies to us all. And that is a very good thing. This is the spirit in which we bring our arguments and criticisms.

In fact, I believe it's our fundamental civic responsibility to question the actions and decisions of our government and elected representatives on any matters at any time, regardless of whether the views expressed are "left" or "right," Democrat or Republican, or popular or unpopular or politically correct to discuss.

And in the meantime, some of us will continue working diligently on more socially equitable and economically and environmentally sustainable solutions that must come next.

Bob Silvestri of Mill Valley is president of Community Venture Partners.

Six Iranians arrested for making a "Happy" Video


The Richmond Bridge Bike Path – A Bridge too Far?

The Richmond Bridge Bike Path – A Bridge too Far?

The Richmond Bridge Bike Path – A Bridge too Far?
While acknowledging that bicycle infrastructure is behind the curve and merits increased expenditure, we are seeing bike path projects where expenditures have been getting out of hand. Transportation funding is dwindling, the SMART train already diverted $11.4m of funding earmarked to solve congestion at the 101 Greenbrae interchange.
Thanks to highly effective bicycle lobbyists and “transit oriented development” Marin’s commuters face another diversion of transportation funding.  The Cal Park tunnel  project works out at a cost of $675,000 to remove one car from our roads. That’s quite an extraordinary expense.  And we now look set to follow this boondoggle with another bike path costing even more over the Richmond San Rafael Bridge.

The Cal Park Tunnel – the $27m Bikers Boondoggle

SF Streetsblog, a pro-cycling and TOD site, reports:
After 17 years of planning, the Cal Park tunnel will open to Marin County cyclists today, providing a shorter, safer route between San Rafael and the Larkspur Ferry for an estimated 800,000 riders a year.
The 1.1-mile project includes class 1 bike lanes to connect the 1,106-foot bore with Sir Francis Drake Boulevard on the south and Anderson Road in San Rafael
So how much did the project cost? The initial estimate was $3m but by completion the cost had ballooned to $27m.

Claim: 800,000 Annual Riders. Reality: 40 an Hour at Peak

It’s claimed that tunnel will be used by 800,000 riders a year –  a seemingly enormous number. This translates to 2,191 riders today if the claim is to be believed. Consider for perspective that the population of Marin is only 258,365 according to the latest US Census figures.
This 800,000 figure is conveniently manipulated – inflating ridership into an annual figure. Google does not reveal any source or basis from which this figure were derived as a future projection. If we were to use the same basis of calculation to assess 101 traffic today (not the future) at N San Pedro Road we could arrive at this comparson:
Cal Park Bike Users:        800,000
(projected annual future, date unspecified)
101 Users :  135,050,000
(2013 actual)
Even using this highly inflated 800,000 pie in the sky number the annual bike count in the future is 0.6% of 101 use.
Today, nearly four years after the tunnel’s completion the reality is far from the story we’ve been sold of 800,000 annual or 2,191 daily users. Walk Bike Marin publishes bike counts for 18 locations with the total ridership at peak hour for weekdays an aggregate of 963 last year. This peaked 2 years prior in 2011 at 1,295 cyclists per hour across the 18 locations. Cal Park tunnel was one of those locations.
Cal Park Tunnel Bike Counts
Click for larger image
The actual bike counts for Cal Park tunnel itself are dismal – attaining an initial 60 riders average per hour during weekday peaks in 2011 but since dropping to just 40 in 2013 (see chart, left).
If the 800,000 riders per year claim is to believed we should be seeing 2,191 riders per day – most during those peak hours. Not a mere 40.
Then we need to translate the benefit –  it might be argued that the tunnel removed 40 riders from Marin’s roads during peak rush hour. Of course this is  optimistic – it’s likely that some of those 40 were already commuting by bike, the tunnel improved their commute.
Here’s the math using the optimistic assumptions:
Expenditure: $27 million
Cars Removed: 40 at best (some cyclists may have cycled prior to the tunnel’s construction)
Cost per Car Removed: $675,000
Compare this to the Novato Narrows project to add HOV lanes to 101. A recent 1.3 mile section of the project cost just $9m and will increase capacity by 1,200 cars or 1,356 people at peak – equivalent to add a capacity of 1 person for $6,637. That capacity will get used. The Novato Narrows increases transportation capacity for less than a hundredth of the cost of the Cal Park tunnel bike path.
Imagine – how many people would take transit or bike or work from home if we paid them anything even close to $675,000. This represents an almighty benefit from the taxpayer to a very small  group. Name another group that receives anything like that amount. Imagine if we had spent that same $27m on genuine traffic choke points in Marin – how much could we have increased mobility and road capacity?

The Richmond Bridge Bike Path – the Next Boondoggle

RichmondBridgeBikesOne would have thought we would have learned from the Cal Park Tunnel boondoggle. But no – the next boondoggle is lining itself up – the Richmond Bridge bike path.
Here are the actual statistics on Richmond Bridge traffic counts vs. likely bike usage. On page 108 of  Caltrans “2013 Traffic Volumes on California State Highways“ the Richmond Parkway traffic count for peak is 13,000 vehicles per hour. This bridge has acute traffic issues with substantial daily backups.
The US Department of Transportation’s 2009 Travel Trends Survey  tells us that average vehicle occupancy for trips to and from work is 1.13. This means 14,690 vehicle users who are directly delayed or inconvenienced; this traffic routinely backs up onto highway 101 further delaying an additional 14,000+ vehicles per hour at Lucky Drive or 15,280 people. That’s 131m users annually if we apply the bike lobbies counting method (but this is an actual, not an unsubstantiated forecast). This lost time of those 131m road users translates into real impact, in terms of both time wasted and economic waste. For instance in the time spent in traffic:
  • a plumber or electrician could have fitted in another call (e.g. a plumber, electrician…)
  • someone who would have taken a shopping trip would be dissuaded from doing so due to known traffic delays
  • a worker who could otherwise have commuted to Marin would discount considering a job in our county due to the severe traffic delays
  • a company considering locating in Marin might be turned away by our transportation issues, causing an economic opportunity loss
Walk Bike Marin's Bike Path Counts - click for larger image
Walk Bike Marin’s Bike Path Counts – click for larger image
By comparison Walk Bike Marin’s bike count figures show 963 bikes were counted at 18 different Marin locations during peak hours. That works out at 53.5 cyclists per location. Therefore we might reasonable assume bridge usage would look like this during a peak hour:
Vehicle users: 14,690
Bike users: 53.5
Bike users as a percentage of vehicle users: 0.37%
(It’s a near meaningless figure, almost a rounding error).
The cost of adding an extra lane to the Richmond San Rafeal Bridge is estimated to be $70m (Source: MarinIJ, Sept 22nd 2014). But the majority of the expense and reasons for delay is that complex planning is needed to build the entrance to the bike path that is planned along the upper deck of the bridge. The author would suggest that at least half of the $70m is to plan the bike path. This is the Cal Park tunnel all over again – $35m+ to help a small number of cyclists.
The real impact is that tens of thousands of vehicle users on the Richmond Bridge and on 101 (caused by backups) are being delayed all for the benefit of a tiny handful of  cyclists. This just isn’t sustainable – either economically or in terms of emissions.

Benefits of a Bike Path Network

Richmond Bridge current car users vs. likely cyclists - click for larger image
Richmond Bridge current car users vs. likely cyclists – click for larger image
It’s important to point out that Marin does not have a complete bike path network. Creation of such a network could double or triple bike usage. But even when tripled the numbers remain in the weeds compared to car use.
Only the most hardened riders would cross a long, cold, windy bridge such as the Richmond San Rafael.
Instead of channeling money into “hero projects” we should be seeking to improve the most popular bike paths where there is a realistic return on investment. How many miles of regular bike paths could have been built using the millions spent on the Cal Park Tunnel or now set to be spent on the Richmond San Rafael Bridge bike path?
Ultimately this misallocation to “hero project” bike paths is a disservice to bikers. How many accidents could have been avoided? How many more might have cycled to school and removed cars from our roads?

The Moral – Let’s Restore Accountability

Federal Gas Tax Revenue is Falling
Federal Gas Tax Revenue is Falling. Source Pew analysis of Federal Highway Administration Data. Click to see larger image.
Transportation funding is being squeezed:
  • Gas taxes are dropping as cars are becoming increasingly fuel efficient, with more hybrids and EVs on our roads – especially in Marin
  • Funds generated by cars through gas taxes and bridge tolls are being diverted to pet projects such as the SMART train and these hero bike projects.
We simply cannot afford to be ineffective with our tax dollars. This is affecting thousands of people every day through delays, lost income, lost economic benefits and time spent in traffic we’ll never get back.
Let’s demand sanity and ensure that adding an additional Eastbound lane to the Richmond San Rafael Bridge is not delayed any further.

 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

In Europe and America, Segregation Continues

Editor's Note:  I find the obsession with race, one of the more unfortunate aspects of ABAG urban planning and HUD mandates.  What does someone's ancestry or skin tone have to do with good social policy?  The policies focus on the superficial while ignoring true diversity of culture and freedom of choice.  We don't expect everyone to eat the same food or listen to the same music.  Why should we expect that everyone wants to live in the same neighborhoods?  Diversity enriches us.  The marketplace of ideas and cultures will thrive WITHOUT government social engineering.  Let us be free.

In Europe and America, Segregation Continues

A new report outlines drivers and patterns of residential segregation—and why they are so hard to break.
Image
A mural in the Chatham neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. The city is one of the most racially and economically segregated in America. (Stephanie Barto/Flickr)
Chatham, a historically working-class, majority African-American neighborhood on Chicago's South Side, has had its share of post-recession struggles. Joyce Sallie has lived there for a year and a half, and says the area has declined in several ways. In the time she's lived there, she has witnessed three shootings.
"People be shocked that I still live where I live because it's so bad ... gang-infested, germ-infested, dirty," says the 25-year-old Boston Market employee. "I wouldn't wish my neighborhood on my worst enemy."
The Chatham neighborhood on Chicago's South Side. (Google)
Chicago is one U.S. city where residential segregation is especially visible, something that a new report released by the Migration Policy Institute backs up. The report examines patterns and drivers of segregation in cities in Europe and America along racial, ethnic and socio-economic lines.
There's nothing inherently bad about segregation, says John Iceland, sociology professor at Penn State and author of the report. It's natural that people want their neighbors to share their experiences and culture. But in practice, residential segregation is an indicator of social distance between groups. It reproduces and reinforces social inequalities—school quality, joblessness, poverty, and crime—which persist over generations.
"It’s kind of the legacy of these 'black ghettos' in these rust belt cities … they don’t go away," he says.
This map, based on 2010 Census block data shows the racial segregation in Chicago's South Side.
The report shows that the structure of cities has a large influence on residential segregation. American cities tend to be sprawled out, which isolates spaces where low-income groups and minorities live, says Iceland. European cities, on the other hand, are denser and more compact; fewer physical divisions means that these cities are less segregated in general, the report says.
In America, African-Americans are still most residentially segregated as a direct result of Jim Crow segregation laws and discriminatory housing policies that gave blacks little choice as far as neighborhood mobility. Vestigial discrimination from these policies remains, even in Hispanic and Asian populations, which tend to live in more "integrated" neighborhoods.
In Europe, on the other hand, it's immigrant populations—specifically Muslim ones—that live in insular neighborhoods. In Britain, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis clot together; in the Hague, it's Turkish and Moroccan communities; and in France, North-African and Caribbean groups. 
When immigrants arrive in a new city, they move into what Iceland calls "ethnic enclaves" because they seek familiar faces and culturally similar support networks. The report says that subsequent generations of immigrants actually tend to move away from these enclaves, signaling a higher degree of assimilation. Despite this, these generations still show restricted upward mobility.
While the roots of segregation may be different, the effects are similar across the board, the report says. So if segregation is both the disease and the symptom, what's the cure?
In European cities, policymakers have had a neighborhood-focused approach to chipping away at residential segregation, trying to improve conditions in situ. In France, for instance, the government has tried urban renewal programs and given tax breaks to businesses to lure them to the neighborhoods, says Patrick Simon, research director at National Demographic Institute at Sciences Po inParis. Other cities, including Berlin, Rotterdam, and Frankfurt, have experimented with housing-allocation programs aimed at diluting the concentrations of ethnic populations in certain neighborhoods. In America,housing vouchers and scattered-site public housing initiatives enable low-income families to move to neighborhoods with better resources. All of these have helped to some extent, but the overall the effects are small, says Iceland. A mixed approach tackling the economic inequalities and a broader look at immigrant integration are strategies to consider, he says.
A new initiative called Cities for Citizenship aims to do the latter. The campaign, launched by the mayors of New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles and in partnership with nonprofit organizations, offers eligible immigrants help with the naturalization process. Despite working lawfully, 52 percent of permanent residents are low-income, and making the switch to U.S. citizenship is one of the most important things immigrants can do to advance economically, says Joshua Hoyt, director of National Partnership for New Americans, one of the partnering nonprofits.
Iceland thinks this might help.
"Helping people feel a part of their host society—be it in the U.S., or in France, or any other place—is critical,” says Iceland.
New United States citizens recite the Pledge of Allegiance in a naturalization ceremony in July. Reports show that citizenship unlocks significant economic benefits for immigrants.  
But a comprehensive solution to this historical, complex, and multi-layered problem remains elusive, and stereotypes keep the physical divisions intact. A white resident of downtown Chicago, for example, might not consider the South Side a safe or viable place to live, even though not all neighborhoods are in the same condition as Chatham. A black South Side resident, may just as well not want to live in an all-white area because of the threat of discrimination, says Iceland.
If Sallie had the resources, she would personally love to live in downtown Chicago. But for the moment, anywhere else is better than Chatham.
"I don't know what other people do," she says. "Me—I got to go."

Alternative Transportation experiments


Reliant Robin, a failed experiment in three wheeled Automobiles Ecomobile
RYNO

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

If Senate Bill 628 is signed by Gov Brown, this could mean the end of Marin County as we know it.

 

This is a huge deal.   Under this new law, a group of government agencies can form their own PDAs and force the local residents to pay extra taxes for the "improvements" to their neighborhoods.   We must all oppose this outrageous attack on local neighborhoods by politicians and crony developers.

 

Stephen Nestel

www.savemarinwood.org

 

 

 



SB 628-Infrastructure Financing Districts
(redevelopment on steriods)
(sounds like SB1 under another name)
 
Stop Plan Bay Area
 
SB-628 Could Help Fund PDAs
(Tell Gov Brown to VETO this bill)

 
Senate Bill 628 by Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, surfaced just four days before adjournment.
 
It would re-establish local government redevelopment agencies
as "enhanced infrastructure financing districts" with virtually all their former powers.
 
But it eliminates many of redevelopment's safeguards, such as a requirement to establish "blight," and also lowers the vote for bonds to 55 percent. Thus, it would re-establish - and even enhance - cities' ability to engage in crony capitalism with subsidies for favored developers. Read the full article here
 
Lawmakers Approve Legislation Giving Cities More Robust Tools for Building Infrastructure
 
By Justin Ewers.
After years of seeking more authority to make much-needed investments in local infrastructure and economic development projects, California's local governments were handed a robust new financing tool by the Legislature last week when lawmakers approved Senator Jim Beall's SB 628, a bill that expands the authority of an existing investment mechanism known as Infrastructure Financing Districts.  Read more here
++++++++
State Senator Jim Beall
(author of SB 628)
SACRAMENTO -- Furnishing local governments with a new way to pay for improving and expanding their infrastructure, the Legislature today approved Senator Jim Beall's SB 628. The bill now goes to the Governor for his consideration.  
 
"This bill will help local jurisdictions finance transportation projects and transit-oriented development,'' Beall said. "The cost of maintaining or building much-needed transportation projects is estimated to be over $500 billion over the next decade for the entire state".  - See more here
 
CALL, CALL, CALL
The bill is sitting of Gov Brown's desk

 
Contact Info for Gov. Brown's office: Ask him to VETO
California Governor Jerry Brown
State Capitol, 1st Fl., Sacramento, CA 95814
Fax:(916)558-3160
Tel:(916)445-2841
email: governor@governor.ca.gov
Citizens MUST oppose this law 
Speak Up
 

 


 

WHY SUBURBIA IRKS SOME CONSERVATIVES

WHY SUBURBIA IRKS SOME CONSERVATIVES


los-angeles+(2).jpg
For generations, politicians of both parties – dating back at least to Republican Herbert Hoover and Democrat Franklin Roosevelt – generally supported the notion of suburban growth and the expansion of homeownership. “A nation of homeowners,” Franklin Roosevelt believed, “of people who own a real share in their land, is unconquerable.”
Support for suburban growth, however, has ebbed dramatically, particularly among those self-styled progressives who claim FDR’s mantle. In California, greens, planners and their allies in the development community have supported legislation that tends to price single-family homes, the preference of some 70 percent of adults, well beyond the capacity of the vast majority of residents.
Less well-noticed is that opposition to suburbs – usually characterized as “sprawl” – has been spreading to the conservative movement. Old-style Tories like author-philosopher Roger Scruton do not conceal their detestation of suburbia and favor, instead, European-style planning laws that force people to live “side by side.” Densely packed Paris and London, he points out, are clearly better places to visit for well-heeled tourists than Atlanta, Houston or Dallas.
There may be more than a bit of class prejudice at work here. British Tories long havedisliked suburbs and their denizens. In a 1905 book, “The Suburbans,” the poet T.W.H. Crossland launched a vitriolic attack on the “low and inferior species,” the “soulless” class of “clerks” who were spreading into the new, comfortable houses in the suburbs, mucking up the aesthetics of the British countryside.
Not surprisingly, many British conservatives, like Scruton, and his American counterparts frequently live in bucolic settings, and understandably want these crass suburbanites and their homes as far away as possible. Yet, there is precious little concern that – in their zeal to protect their property – they have also embraced policies that have engendered huge housing inflation, in places like greater London or the San Francisco Bay Area, that is among the most extreme in the high-income world.
Of course, the conservative critique of suburbia does not rest only on aesthetic disdain for suburbs, but is usually linked to stated social and environmental concerns. “There’s no telling how many marriages were broken up over the stress of suburb-to-city commutes,” opines conservative author Matt Lewis in a recent article in The Week. In his mind, suburbs are not only aesthetically displeasing but also anti-family.
What seems clear is that Lewis, and other new retro-urbanist conservatives, are simply parroting the basic urban legends of the smart-growth crowd and planners. If he actually researched the issue, he would learn that the average commutes of suburbanites tend to be shorter, according to an analysis of census data by demographer Wendell Cox, than those in denser, transit-oriented cities. The worst commuting times in America, it turns out, to be in places such as Queens and Staten Island, both located in New York City.
Other conservatives also point to the alleged antisocial aspect of conservatism, a favored theme of new urbanists everywhere. A report co-written by the late conservative activist Paul Weyrich supported forcing “traditional designs for the places we live, work and shop,” which “will encourage traditional culture and morals,” such as community and family.
Once again, however, a serious examination of research – as opposed to recitation of planners’ cant – shows that suburbanites, as University of California researchers found, tend to be more engaged with their neighbors than are people closer to the urban core. Similarly, a 2009 Pew study recently found that, among the various geographies in America, residents in suburbia were more “satisfied” than were either rural or urban residents.
In working against suburbia, these conservatives are waging a war on middle-class America, not necessarily a smart political gambit. Overall, conventional suburban locations are home to three-quarters of the metropolitan population. And even this number is low, given that large parts of most large American cities – such as Los Angeles, Phoenix, Dallas, Kansas City and Houston – are themselves suburban in character, with low transit use and a housing stock primarily made up of single-family residences built during the auto-dominated postwar period. Only approximately 15 percent of residents in major metropolitan areas actually live in dense, transit-oriented communities.
Given these numbers, one might think conservatives would take issue with progressive plans to circumvent preferences and market forces by constraining suburban and single-family home growth. They might spot a strategic opening to secure the urban periphery, the one area still up for grabs in American politics. In contrast, the blue core cities and red countryside have, for the most part, chosen sides, and both return huge consistent majorities to their preferred party.
Lured by their own class prejudice, some conservatives nevertheless seem willing to abandon market forces, a supposed conservative virtue. In reality, imposing Draconian planning is not even necessary for the growth of density. In places that are have both liberal planning regimes and economic growth, such as Houston and Dallas, there has been a more rapid increase in multifamily housing than in such cities such as Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco or New York. The cost is just much lower.
Unfortunately, few mainstream conservatives apparently bother to study such things, and, as prisoners of the conventional wisdom, embrace the notion that, on economic grounds, suburbs are becoming irrelevant. Some, such as the libertarian economist Tyler Cowen, suggest that a stagnating post-recession America has to adjust to what has been described as a “new normal” of declining expectations.
With middle-class opportunity seen as largely moribund, many financial interests see America becoming a “rentership” society; for these rent-seeking capitalists, the death of suburbs would be not only morally correct, but also economically advantageous.
It’s hard for me, even as a nonconservative, to see how this trajectory works for the Right.
Renters, childless households, highly educated professionals, as well as poor service workers, clustering in dense cities are not exactly prime Republican voters. Without property, and with no reasons to be overly concerned with dysfunctional schools, the new urban population tilts increasingly, if anything, further to the left.
Meanwhile, the middle-class homeowner, and those who aspire to this status, increasingly find themselves without a party or ideology that champions their interests. In exchange for the approval of the cognitive elites in the media, in academia and among planners, conservatives will have, once again, missed a chance to build a broad popular coalition that can overcome the “upstairs, downstairs” configuration that increasingly dominates the Democratic Party.
Yet, there remains a great opportunity for either party that will appeal to, and appreciate, the suburban base. Conservative figures such as Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher understood the connection between democracy and property ownership and upward mobility. Much the same could be said for traditional Democrats, from Roosevelt and Harry Truman, all the way to Bill Clinton.
For all their faults, suburbs represent the epitome of the American Dream and the promise of upward mobility. That they can be improved, both socially and environmentally, is clear. This is already happening in new, mostly privately built, developments where the “ills” of suburbia – long commute distances, overuse of water and energy – are addressed by building new town centers, bringing employment closer to home, the use of more drought-resistant landscaping, promoting home-based business and developing expansive park systems. This seems more promising than following a negative agenda that seeks simply to force ever-denser housing and create heat-generating concrete jungles.
The abandonment of the suburban ideal represents a lethal affront to the interests and preferences of the majority, as well as their basic aspirations. The forced march towards densification and ever more constricted planning augurs not a return to old republican values, as some conservatives hope, but the transformation of America from a broadly based property-owning democracy into something that more clearly resembles feudalism.
This piece originally appeared at The Orange County Register.
Joel Kotkin is executive editor of NewGeography.com and Distinguished Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. His newest book, The New Class Conflict is now available at Amazon and Telos Press. He is author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. His most recent study, The Rise of Postfamilialism, has been widely discussed and distributed internationally. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

Who Rules America?




Who Rules America?

 

Joel Kotkin's new book fingers Silicon Valley as the new elite. Is he right?

In The New Class Conflict, Joel Kotkin argues that the socially and politically ascendant groups in contemporary America are the oligarchs of Silicon Valley and a complex of elite journalists, think-tank pundits, and academics that he dubs the clerisy. The nouveaux riches of the tech world are increasingly intent on remaking society in accordance with their own passions, reports Kotkin, an urban studies scholar at Chapman University. The clerisy, meanwhile, promotes and provides ideological legitimation for elite goals. The effect of the two groups' efforts, he concludes, is to concentrate wealth and power in a shrinking number of hands, leaving the middle class stranded and subject to ever more evident economic decline.

Kotkin does not claim that either group is a monolith. Different factions within each class compete for access to wealth and political influence, and they also exhibit some differences in cultural commitment. But overall, Kotkin suggests, there is a persistent pattern: Contemporary elites are socially liberal but relatively blasé about the bread-and-butter impact of a broad range of policies that drive a growing wedge between those at the top and everyone else.

Thus, for example, tech leaders press a green agenda whose elements include support for mass transit and opposition to suburban living. Such policies implement the oligarchs' moral and æsthetic preferences, and sometimes they create business opportunities for the oligarchs' class (as when they invest in and promote putatively green technologies). But the same policies pose risks for the well-being of many ordinary people, by constricting their options and limiting their access to resources.

Similarly, while Bill Gates may call for higher taxes on the rich, many tech firms (Kotkin points to Twitter and Apple) seem quite happy to ensure that tax burdens fall not on them but on the middle class. (Gates's own Microsoft, for instance, has "shaved nearly $7 billion off its U.S. tax bill since 2009 by using loopholes to shift profits offshore.")

Despite its social liberalism, Kotkin suggests, the tech industry is visibly focused on business models in which disregard for privacy is central. Some commercial intrusions (sometimes compatible with contractual and property rights, sometimes not) may be annoying but relatively benign. But the industry has also generally appeared quite willing to facilitate surreptitious state monitoring of multiple facets of interpersonal communication as well.

Kotkin also criticizes the tech industry for business models that disregard people's privacy. These range from annoying but relatively benign commercial intrusions, such as the collection of browsing data to enhance the targeting of on-line advertisements, to cooperation with the National Security Agency's monitoring of our communications. Kotkin also highlights the tech industries' expansion into the broader media world, where their money is being used both to reinvigorate existing media outlets (such The New Republic and the Washington Post) and to create new ones (such Pierre Omidyar's First Look media, home to Glenn Greenwald's The Intercept). In this way, he argues, they create new platforms that allow their allies in the clerisy to enforce environmental and social orthodoxy.

What might a libertarian make of Kotkin's analysis?

Class used to be a significant theme in libertarian political commentary. Though Karl Marx's account of class conflict is better known, Marx acknowledged his indebtedness to earlier French classical liberal theorists of class, such as Augustin Thierry, Charles Comte, and Charles Dunoyer. Class analysis also figured powerfully in the rhetoric of many later libertarians, notably Karl Hess and Murray Rothbard during their alliance with the New Left (and, with a more right-wing populist flavor, in Rothbard's later work as well).

For Marxists, class position is determined by economic actors' relationship with the means of production. The ruling class rules, on this view, because it controls capital, while other classes are subordinate to it because they depend on access to the assets the rulers control. In libertarian class theory, by contrast, class position is a function not of the resources you own but your relationship with the state. Dominant classes are constituted by their relationship with political power. The source of their resources is their ties to the state, and the use to which they frequently put those resources is the manipulation of the state to achieve their goals.

Libertarians and Marxists will frequently identify the same groups as making up the dominant social classes: top elected or appointed officials, for instance, or dominant figures in the military-industrial complex. But while the Marxist might treat a Pentagon contractor as a member of the ruling class simply because of the resources she or he owns, the libertarian would explain the contractor's wealth and class position by stressing the role of the state's war machine and its incestuous ties with the "defense" industry.
Today, unfortunately, you're more likely to encounter class analysis in the discourse of the Marxist left, and perhaps the Tea Party right, than in that of classical liberals and libertarians. Perhaps this is a function of a desire to avoid unsavory associations. Often, I fear, it reflects an instinctive valorization of the successes of those who have made it in today's marketplace, no matter how unfree those markets may be. The worry seems to be that using the rhetoric of class to criticize influential groups in our society will somehow give aid and comfort to those who promote a politics of envy and resentment. But I think this worry is unwarranted. It is possible to acknowledge the creativity and determination of people who actually succeed by contributing to the welfare of others through creativity and peaceful, voluntary exchange while also criticizing social stratification and the abuse of power.

Kotkin is not a libertarian, but his account overlaps helpfully with a libertarian critique of contemporary class relationships. He tends to focus on members of the Silicon Valley elite's attempts to gain political power—for themselves personally and for their class. But it's worth emphasizing that the tech world's ties with the state are much more pervasive than those created by intermittent political campaigns, or even by their campaign donations.

The concentration of wealth in Silicon Valley would be unimaginable without a patent and copyright regime, created by political fiat, that confers monopoly power on a limited number of actors who can use this power to extract wealth at exorbitant rates from businesses and consumers dependent on their products and services. "Intellectual property" rights shore up Silicon Valley firms' control over software and other elements of their businesses, offering the premiums monopolies always make available to those who hold them. The creativity and drive of Valley entrepreneurs is real, but so is the mark-up that intellectual property laws allow them to charge.

The Valley's links with the NSA, and other profitable government contracts, also concentrate wealth in hands of the oligarchs, who are actively involved in vigorous D.C. lobbying. So do Bay Area land use regulations that dramatically raise the cost of living, limit access to housing and commercial space to the wealthiest people and firms, and route wealth to those who have already managed to gain access to land in the region.
The clerisy obviously depends on the state for influence, too. Elite journalists succeed by maintaining access to key political players, generally secured using fawning coverage and stenographic reporting of official positions. Pundits link the media with political elites and work for think tanks that frequently contract with state entities to provide rationales for the policies the establishment favors. Academics frequently rely on state-proffered grants to conduct research. State-mandated licensing requirements channel people into higher education when they might otherwise be inclined to seek alternate means of training. Tax money funds many academic institutions, and tax-secured student loans feed the wealth of universities.

Thus, the class groupings on which Kotkin focuses are (as I have no reason to think he would deny) creatures of the state. The cultural, political, legal, social, and economic environment misshaped by the oligarchs and the clerisy is a product of government intervention.
 
Kotkin understandably and rightly challenges the results of this intervention. In stark contrast to many contemporary commentators, he emphasizes that economic growth is crucial if the decline in middle-class and working-class living standards is to be reversed. High-minded talk about "sustainability" often serves as an excuse to leave the wealth of elites undisturbed while refusing to pursue policies with the potential to boost the incomes of everyone else. Kotkin stresses that those who care about reversing class polarization must support growth-oriented policies. He also emphasizes the snobbery and disregard for middle-class preferences and aspirations evident in elite groups' disaffection for the suburbs—though he does not address the ways, such as highway subsidies and the use of eminent domain, in which suburban development has been a function not only of consumer demand but also of policy outcomes designed to benefit developers. Silicon Valley isn't alone in its ability to play the lobbying game.