Friday, November 7, 2014

WASHINGTON POST: The War on Suburbs in Suburban Fairfax County.

Fairfax County wrestles with housing issues as its suburban character shifts

(Jared Soares/ The Washington Post ) - Bruce Waggoner, who has lived in his neighborhood for 20 years, stands on his street near his home in Springfield on Oct. 11. Fairfax County is examining changing zoning regulations to allow denser residential housing and more studio apartments.
By Antonio Olivo, Published: October 19
With its yellow wood siding and wraparound country porch, the apartment building near Mount Vernon evokes the quiet suburban charm that has long drawn families to Fairfax County’s neighborhoods.

Its tenants, however, are recovering drug addicts, ex-cons and drifters who used to be homeless.

And the studio apartments they are housed in are part of a debate across the rapidly growing county of 1.2 million people over how to manage the demographic changes sweeping through one of the richest communities in the nation.

A proposed zoning ordinance that grew out of an effort to create more transitional housing would make it easier for developers to build hundreds more studio or “efficiency” apartments that, officials say, are in increasing demand as Fairfax grapples with a mounting homeless problem and as more low-salaried workers arrive in search of cheaper housing.

Those forces have in recent years gnawed at the suburban character of the area that is home to such neighborhoods as Great Falls and the “planned community” of Reston. In the woods near regal mansions, homeless transients curl up at night inside makeshift tents, officials say. Along quiet cul-de-sacs, as many as a dozen renters at a time share space inside squat brick ramblers and newer “McMansions” that have been illegally converted into boarding houses.

Gail Nittle sighed at one of the houses in her Springfield neighborhood that, because of the number of cars parked in the driveways, she and her neighbors suspect are illegal boarding homes.

“When you look at your house and then you see these others, it just makes you want to weep,” she said.

County officials hope to address those problems by allowing single-occupancy apartments in areas that are not currently zoned for such housing, under an ordinance that was initially conceived as a solution to homelessness but has evolved to include housing for young professionals and low-income workers. The units would be no larger than 500 square feet, and most would be affordable to people making at least $45,000 a year, although some would be virtually free as part of supportive housing programs aimed at fighting homelessness.

With new luxury high-rise apartments going up in Tysons Corner and more growth expected to follow the $6 billion Silver Line Metrorail extension, county officials also see cheaper studio apartments as a tool for luring more hotels, restaurants and other lower-salary businesses to Fairfax.

The idea is part of an effort underway in Fairfax and other “urbanizing suburbs” to manage growth while keeping communities family friendly.

In an area where the annual median household income is $107,000 and average rents for one-bedroom apartments approach $1,300 a month, affordable “workforce” housing is increasingly hard to come by, said Sharon Bulova (D), chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

“When you talk to the business community . . . they’ll tell you that the biggest impediment to growth in Fairfax County is a lack of affordable housing for the workforce,” she said. “We’re really talking about creating a community in Fairfax County that provides for housing in all ranges so people can live and work here.”The zoning ordinance is before the county’s Planning Commission and is not expected to be voted on by the Board of Supervisors until early next year.

But an effort is already being mounted to kill the idea or dramatically scale it down. Many residents say they are already overwhelmed by congested parking and crowded schools and argue that the plan would exacerbate the problem.

They are particularly incensed by one option being considered: allowing developers to build apartment buildings with as many as 75 studio units in areas zoned for low density.

County officials say the option is required under federal fair-housing laws as a way to prevent income discrimination. They stress that all projects would be relegated to arterial roads and streets that connect them and that community input would be a major part of the approval process.

Friday night music : Chris Isaak mix

Will our Votes from Tuesday's Election Count?

I read this article in the Patch and then saw the video below.  I'll admit, I am a bit worried about the final outcome of Tuesday's election:


About 30,000 Ballots Left to Count from Election in Marin

Registrar expects final turnout to be about 60 percent.

The following is a news release from the County of Marin:
Nearly 61,000 ballots were counted by the Marin County Elections Officestaff on Election Day, and about 30,000 vote-by-mail and provisional ballots still need to be counted to certify the election.
The first results were posted at 8:08 p.m. November 4 and the count ended by 10:43 p.m., Registrar Lynda Roberts said. Her staff has 28 days to finish the count and certify the final results.
“It was relatively smooth sailing throughout,” Roberts said. “The team effort of everyone involved, including our team of extra hires, really makes the difference. We are like a big family, and I feel very fortunate to be working with this dedicated and professional group of people. They deserve the credit for making this a successful day.”
In the most recent gubernatorial election in November 2010, participation by registered voters was 76.17 in Marin. Roberts said it is unlikely that the turnout for this election will be that high, but “it should be about 60 percent.”
About 30 full-time Elections Office staff members and 585 poll station workers workedTuesday night. Part-time employees will continue to count ballots over the next few weeks.
For more information, call the Elections Office at 415-473-6456. Follow theElections Office on Facebook.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Vote all you want. The secret government won’t change.

Vote all you want. The secret government won’t change.

The people we elect aren’t the ones calling the shots, says Tufts University’s Michael Glennon

istock/photo illustration by lesley becker/globe staff

The voters who put Barack Obama in office expected some big changes. From the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping to Guantanamo Bay to the Patriot Act, candidate Obama was a defender of civil liberties and privacy, promising a dramatically different approach from his predecessor.
But six years into his administration, the Obama version of national security looks almost indistinguishable from the one he inherited. Guantanamo Bay remains open. The NSA has, if anything, become more aggressive in monitoring Americans. Drone strikes have escalated. Most recently it was reported that the same president who won a Nobel Prize in part for promoting nuclear disarmament is spending up to $1 trillion modernizing and revitalizing America’s nuclear weapons.
Continue reading below

Why did the face in the Oval Office change but the policies remain the same? Critics tend to focus on Obama himself, a leader who perhaps has shifted with politics to take a harder line. But Tufts University political scientist Michael J. Glennon has a more pessimistic answer: Obama couldn’t have changed policies much even if he tried.
Though it’s a bedrock American principle that citizens can steer their own government by electing new officials, Glennon suggests that in practice, much of our government no longer works that way. In a new book, “National Security and Double Government,” he catalogs the ways that the defense and national security apparatus is effectively self-governing, with virtually no accountability, transparency, or checks and balances of any kind. He uses the term “double government”: There’s the one we elect, and then there’s the one behind it, steering huge swaths of policy almost unchecked. Elected officials end up serving as mere cover for the real decisions made by the bureaucracy.

Glennon cites the example of Obama and his team being shocked and angry to discover upon taking office that the military gave them only two options for the war in Afghanistan: The United States could add more troops, or the United States could add a lot more troops. Hemmed in, Obama added 30,000 more troops.

Glennon’s critique sounds like an outsider’s take, even a radical one. In fact, he is the quintessential insider: He was legal counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a consultant to various congressional committees, as well as to the State Department. “National Security and Double Government” comes favorably blurbed by former members of the Defense Department, State Department, White House, and even the CIA. And he’s not a conspiracy theorist: Rather, he sees the problem as one of “smart, hard-working, public-spirited people acting in good faith who are responding to systemic incentives”—without any meaningful oversight to rein them in.
How exactly has double government taken hold? And what can be done about it? Glennon spoke with Ideas from his office at Tufts’ Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. This interview has been condensed and edited.
IDEAS: Where does the term “double government” come from?
GLENNON:It comes from Walter Bagehot’s famous theory, unveiled in the 1860s. Bagehot was the scholar who presided over the birth of the Economist magazine—they still have a column named after him. Bagehot tried to explain in his book “The English Constitution” how the British government worked. He suggested that there are two sets of institutions. There are the “dignified institutions,” the monarchy and the House of Lords, which people erroneously believed ran the government. But he suggested that there was in reality a second set of institutions, which he referred to as the “efficient institutions,” that actually set governmental policy. And those were the House of Commons, the prime minister, and the British cabinet.

IDEAS: What evidence exists for saying America has a double government?
GLENNON:I was curious why a president such as Barack Obama would embrace the very same national security and counterterrorism policies that he campaigned eloquently against. Why would that president continue those same policies in case after case after case? I initially wrote it based on my own experience and personal knowledge and conversations with dozens of individuals in the military, law enforcement, and intelligence agencies of our government, as well as, of course, officeholders on Capitol Hill and in the courts. And the documented evidence in the book is substantial—there are 800 footnotes in the book.

IDEAS: Why would policy makers hand over the national-security keys to unelected officials?
GLENNON: It hasn’t been a conscious decision....Members of Congress are generalists and need to defer to experts within the national security realm, as elsewhere. They are particularly concerned about being caught out on a limb having made a wrong judgment about national security and tend, therefore, to defer to experts, who tend to exaggerate threats. The courts similarly tend to defer to the expertise of the network that defines national security policy.
The presidency itself is not a top-down institution, as many people in the public believe, headed by a president who gives orders and causes the bureaucracy to click its heels and salute. National security policy actually bubbles up from within the bureaucracy. Many of the more controversial policies, from the mining of Nicaragua’s harbors to the NSA surveillance program, originated within the bureaucracy. John Kerry was not exaggerating when he said that some of those programs are “on autopilot.”
IDEAS: Isn’t this just another way of saying that big bureaucracies are difficult to change?
GLENNON: It’s much more serious than that. These particular bureaucracies don’t set truck widths or determine railroad freight rates. They make nerve-center security decisions that in a democracy can be irreversible, that can close down the marketplace of ideas, and can result in some very dire consequences.

IDEAS: Couldn’t Obama’s national-security decisions just result from the difference in vantage point between being a campaigner and being the commander-in-chief, responsible for 320 million lives?
GLENNON: There is an element of what you described. There is not only one explanation or one cause for the amazing continuity of American national security policy. But obviously there is something else going on when policy after policy after policy all continue virtually the same way that they were in the George W. Bush administration.

IDEAS: This isn’t how we’re taught to think of the American political system.
GLENNON: I think the American people are deluded, as Bagehot explained about the British population, that the institutions that provide the public face actually set American national security policy. They believe that when they vote for a president or member of Congress or succeed in bringing a case before the courts, that policy is going to change. Now, there are many counter-examples in which these branches do affect policy, as Bagehot predicted there would be. But the larger picture is still true—policy by and large in the national security realm is made by the concealed institutions.

IDEAS: Do we have any hope of fixing the problem?
GLENNON: The ultimate problem is the pervasive political ignorance on the part of the American people. And indifference to the threat that is emerging from these concealed institutions. That is where the energy for reform has to come from: the American people. Not from government. Government is very much the problem here. The people have to take the bull by the horns. And that’s a very difficult thing to do, because the ignorance is in many ways rational. There is very little profit to be had in learning about, and being active about, problems that you can’t affect, policies that you can’t change.

Pinky and the Brain, and politicians, planners, bureaucrats, developers and smart growth advocates

How planners view people.

How we view politicians, planners, bureaucrats, developers and smart growth advocates

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

So You Want To Fix The Housing Crisis

      So You Want To Fix The Housing Crisis

So 15 of the 30 cities with the highest rents in the country are all in the San Francisco Bay Area, with Palo Alto topping the list, according to this lovely report from Lovely that came out last week.
Part of this is cyclical. We don’t know where we are in the cycle or when it definitively turns. However, there are lots of structural forces at play that have accumulated over the last 40 years to get us where we are today including growth controls from back in the 1960s and 1970s, the emergence of the tech industry as an economic powerhouse and fragmented governance that often pits the Bay Area’s 101 municipal governments against each other. Here’s an overview I wrote back in the spring. These forces will almost certainly persist into the next economic cycle.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a startup or a piece of tech that’s going to solve the housing crisis, unless Oculus Rift is so good that we all decide to decamp to sparsely populated rural areas and “commute” to work in our virtual tees. (Hah, even Google CEO Larry Page seems to think houses in Palo Alto should cost $50,000.)

Actually, no. After geography, the constraints to more housing are largely political.
They will not get addressed unless there is a broad-based, regional movement of people who consistently turn out to vote in favor of inclusive, in-fill development and deep investment in mass transit. The reason the San Francisco city government won’t fix things that seem obvious like the appeals process for housing development, which leads to ridiculous situations like this, is because it fears a backlash from the hundreds of neighborhood associations that blanket the city and can reliably turn people out to the polls. On the other hand, the tech industry, which has 56,000 people in San Francisco, doesn’t.

If you need an example of how intense this is, over the summer, 71,421 people, or 8 percent of San Franciscans, decided that we should all vote on every single project over the existing height limits on the waterfront by passing a ballot initiative. It was funded primarily by a single wealthy couple that didn’t want to lose their views, and they put it through in one of the lowest turnout elections in city history.

It means that a mixed-use development from Forest City on Pier 70, which will create up to 2,000 housing units and preserve an artists’ warehouse after collaborating with 10,000 community members and undergoing a three-year design process, has to go to ballot this week. The San Francisco Giants, which have their own plans for a lot next to AT&T Park are closely watching this election, and they’ve already downscaled their ambitions about building a few housing buildings. Any delays and the cost of running all these political marketing campaigns will get passed onto buyers.

Another anti-growth measure sits on the ballot down in Menlo Park, where Facebook and most of the industry’s major venture capital firms are based. While it keeps the existing residential cap at 680 units of potential housing downtown, it will challenge two mixed-use projects that include residential apartments. (It’s worth noting that one of them is from Marc Andreessen’s father-in-law and real estate developer John Arrillaga.)

Keep in mind that Menlo Park is simultaneously allowing Facebook to expand its campus there to support a total of 10 to 11,000 workers with a new Frank Gehry-designed complex. Facebook also just quietly bought another 59 acres over the summer. (Um, where are those Facebook employees going to live?!)

So what do you do?

You need to vote on Tuesday. If you registered by the deadline already, good for you.
If you haven’t, just do it right now. The whole process literally takes two minutes. The deadline already passed, but you’ll be in for what will be a very fascinating San Francisco mayoral race next year.

None of these issues are simple. Seventy-five percent of the world’s population will be urban by 2050 and the population in many American cities on both coasts including New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Boston have rebounded over the last three decades after hitting a trough around 1980. Every economically and culturally vibrant city both here and abroad faces stress to their existing infrastructure and housing stock amid population growth and widening income inequality.

While I definitely have my own opinions, I encourage you to read a range of viewpoints from the left at the Bay Guardian, which sadly went out of print last month, to regional development think tank SPUR to the Chronicle and beyond.

Key Races To Watch This Week
Mountain View City Council Race: 
Google has wanted to build 5,000 units near its Mountain View headquarters for years, but the city council has blocked this for years. Bafflingly, they approved zoning for an additional 10,500 workers in North Bayshore without any housing back in 2012.
This is important because if cities in the South Bay, where Facebook, Google, Apple and Yahoo are based, don’t build enough housing to match the number of jobs these companies are creating, it contributes to this weird reverse commute where tech workers live in San Francisco but work in suburbs down south. For the first time in years, the debate has finally shifted in Mountain View toward a more pro-housing stance.

Here are the candidates that favor building housing in North Bayshore:
  • Lenny Siegel
  • Pat Showalter
  • Jim Neal
  • Greg Unangst
  • Ken Rosenberg
Here are the ones that oppose it:
  • Margaret Capriles
  • Lisa Matichak
  • Mercedes Salem
  • Ellen Kamei
San Francisco State Assembly Race with David Chiu and David Campos: This is the key race to watch this week. While it’s not explicitly about housing, it will be a broad political test of the city’s rising anti-tech sentiment and a precursor to Mayor Ed Lee’s potential re-election bid next year.
Chiu and Campos, who are both Harvard-educated lawyers named David who serve on the city’s legislative body as supervisors, are duking it out to represent the city in the State Assembly.
camposIf you are a tech worker, it probably wouldn’t be very logical to vote for Campos. He has sided against tech on the key votes of the last several years including the Mid-Market payroll tax exclusion, which kept Twitter downtown and from moving to Brisbane or South San Francisco, and the pilot to manage tech commuter shuttles. It’s not that I don’t sympathize very deeply with the some of the constituencies Campos has positioned himself to advocate for or think that his efforts to protect rent-controlled tenants or longstanding local businesses aren’t important. He plays to his base, doesn’t reach across the aisle and tends to antagonize tech workers. Actually, we invited him to speak at Disrupt, because we do want to have a conversation that covers a range of viewpoints and he declined.

At the same time, as someone who cares very deeply the availability of housing, I find that the Airbnb and short-term rental legislation that Chiu presided over leaves a lot to be desired.
Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 9.01.00 AMChiu has positioned himself as someone who has the wherewithal to get difficult legislation passed and staked a lot on this very politically risky effort to legalize and regulate short-term stays. Indeed, regulating Airbnb is a total rat’s nest in a city that has a long history of incredibly contentious land-use debates. Chiu’s legislation legalizes short-term rentals, but caps stays where the host isn’t present at 90 days per year, asks that platforms like Airbnb remit taxes on behalf of their hosts and guests and creates a registry of hosts.

Campos has made a really big stink about making Airbnb pay $25 million in back-taxes or else the new regulation doesn’t get enacted.

This is pure politics. Realistically, it would be a legal and logistical headache that might take months or years through the court system to figure out whether individual hosts or Airbnb should pay back-taxes. Meanwhile, the city would be forgoing $12 to 15 million per year in current transit occupancy tax revenue and Airbnb would continue to be the unregulated, unenforced and untracked black hole that it is today.

Personally, I think the back-taxes are far less important than data. Unfortunately, under current market conditions, $25 million might pay for 50 permanently affordable housing units. The city could lose many more residential housing units than that if it doesn’t have a properly enforceable and trackable regulatory approach to short-term stays. If platforms like Airbnb were required to turn over aggregated, anonymized quarterly or monthly data that could indicate how many units might be permanently taken out of the market, we’d have faster visibility into whether the housing stock is being cannibalized. The planning department actually suggested regulation that would require more data sharing but Airbnb apparently argued that you’d have to individually subpoena data on every single host.

Chiu argues that with a public registry where hosts will have to self-report stays under penalty of perjury, the city will be able to create its own version of this data in about a year’s time. Supervisor Jane Kim and the mayor also successfully pushed for a private right of action so that a select number of longstanding housing non-profits can directly sue violators of the new regulation.

At a broader level, I think that both political approaches to the city are flawed in one way or another. The more pro-development moderates under Mayor Ed Lee are great at attracting businesses and tech workers, but there isn’t a very convincing set of programs or policies for how we maintain socioeconomic mobility in the face of rising income equality. There are programs like the One City initiative, which are good conceptually, but seem largely cosmetic.
Meanwhile, the progressive left is good at tithing an existing, very organized mix of longtime, lower-income and more vulnerable residents along with wealthier, anti-development homeowners with lots of protections. But I don’t see a long-term vision for how you make the region accessible to the middle or lower-class for decades to come beyond vigorously protecting whoever happened to get here first.

San Francisco’s Proposition G, The “Anti-Speculation” Tax:

Proposition G is the so-called “anti-speculation” tax, that penalizes the sales of particular kinds of residential buildings if they’re flipped within less than five years. It’s very narrowly defined and excludes both owner-occupied homes and large residential buildings, so it actually only affects about 60 transactions per year. It’s intended to stop a particular strategy where people will buy rent-controlled buildings filled with tenants, evict everyone, and then re-sell the now vacant property at a profit.

Here’s some background. San Francisco city law is strongly influenced by a very organized tenants’ movement that both won and strengthened rent control over the past 30 years, while California state law is more heavily shaped by real estate interests. The intersection of the two creates some pretty strange and unfortunate incentives.

If you want to understand how the city’s rental market really behaves, a little less than half of the city’s housing stock or 172,000 units are rent-controlled. Under the city’s rent control ordinance, rent on these units can only rise as much as 60 percent of CPI, so these rents are declining in real economic terms. Meanwhile, about 10 percent or 37,000 units of the city’s housing stock are market-rate rentals where rents can be raised as much as a landlord wants with proper notice. Most incoming tech workers are competing for the market-rate units or whatever rent-controlled units re-circulate back online at the prevailing rates.

Over the past four years, the city has added 10,000 new residents annually but has only built roughly 1,000 units per year in the same time period. That’s caused the price differential between market-rate rents and whatever longstanding rent-controlled tenants are paying to spiral way out of control. That creates this huge financial incentive for landlords to evict rent-controlled tenants and turn units into tenancies in common, which are totally unregulated.

The longest-standing tenants, who tend to be older, are the most at risk because their rents are the farthest below market-rate rents. There are some pretty heart-breaking stories like this one about Gum Gee Lee, who was evicted along with her husband and disabled daughter from their apartment of 34 years. Lee’s former unit was recently remodeled and put back on the market for $759,000, or five times as much as it was purchased for back in 2012.

Proponents of Prop. G says it’s so tightly designed that it will surgically prevent the most worst speculative cases and that it was the last piece of legislation that revered supervisor Harvey Milk was working on before he was tragically assassinated in 1978. Taxes start at 24 percent of the property’s sale price if the owner flips it within a year, and they decline a teeny bit for every year after until they are at 14 percent after five years. Opponents say that it doesn’t give property owners enough flexibility in case of an emergency, and that Milk’s anti-speculation effort taxed profits, not the overall sales price.

Proposition K, Affordable Housing Commitment:

This is a largely toothless commitment to build 30,000 units over the next six years with one-third of them being affordable to low and moderate-income San Franciscans and half being accessible to middle-class residents. It was originally a measure that would’ve thrown in extra hurdles into the development process if the city fell below a goal of making one-third of units affordable, but it was later watered down. There was concern that the city’s development process is already arduous with many projects taking two to four years just to get permitted. Adding another layer of requirements would tack on another year of costs and delays.

One of the strange paradoxes in modern American urbanism is that the country’s most progressive cities have its most acute affordability problems. Cities that build a lot of housing like Houston, which is also home to a booming industry in the energy sector but admittedly isn’t ringed by ocean like San Francisco, offer the middle-class many more chances for homeownership than the Bay Area does. Houston has consistently permitted more new housing units than all of California throughout parts of this year.

Meanwhile, San Francisco’s current approach to building affordable housing consists of making development so deliberative and politically unpredictable that it takes several years to entitle anything and roughly $500,000 in raw land, construction and marketing costs just to build a single housing unit. Then housing activists go and complain that the 1,000 or 2,000 units that make it through this gauntlet every year are all “luxury.” Then these units get effectively taxed and made more expensive through an inclusionary housing requirement that then subsidizes a small number of units for lower-income residents. While it is really important to retain a socioeconomically diverse city, the current method doesn’t really produce a lot of housing for anyone.

Inclusionary zoning is the method both we and New York City are choosing because the federal and state sources of funding for affordable housing have all but disappeared over the last several years. To realistically build even a few thousand permanently affordable units, the amount of subsidies you’d need would get into the billion-dollar range. We haven’t figured out where any of this money will come from.

Anyway, this measure is largely symbolic. It feels good, but doesn’t do anything.

San Francisco’s Proposition F and Pier 70:
Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 9.12.45 AM
Pier 70 is a project that will turn an old pier into a mixed-use project with up to 2,000 housing units and 600 affordable ones. It preserves a longtime artist’s haunt called the Noonan Building and rehabilitates a number of historic buildings on the pier. The project, which has undergone a three-year design process, has widespread support across the political spectrum from SPUR to the Sierra Club.
The project has to undergo an individual citywide vote because of Proposition B, which passed over the summer and requires that any development on the waterfront that exceeds existing height limits be tested on the ballot.

BART Board Race:
josefowitzAnother candidate that’s received widespread support across the political spectrum is Nicholas Josefowitz, who is running for one of the two BART board seats representing San Francisco.

He’s running against longtime incumbent James Fang, who comes from a politically powerful family in San Francisco and has been caught on video ducking out on key votes. While he’s raised campaign money from a number of tech industry notables, Josefowitz has also racked up endorsements from everyone from Tom Radulovich, who holds the city’s other BART Board seat to almost all of the city supervisors.

In conversations that I’ve had with him, he’d would like to build housing on BART’s land alongside its 44 transit stops, which could be a key way of building a lot more affordable housing that could support middle-class or lower-income Bay Area residents even if those units aren’t right inside San Francisco.

As for all-night BART? That’s more complicated as the Transbay Tube doesn’t have redundancy built into it. That would realistically take a multi-billion dollar, multi-year (or even multi-decade effort) to upgrade.
Oakland mayoral race:
libby1Oakland is the major spillover community for people who are displaced or priced out of San Francisco and for where the tech industry is likely to expand into next given the current lack of commercial office space both here in the city and down on the peninsula in the popular cities like Palo Alto. Market rate rents for office space in San Francisco are close to where they were during the dot-com bubble and there are signs that the commercial vacancy rate may hit 5 percent by year-end.

Both front-runners Libby Schaaf and Rebecca Kaplan would like to entice tech companies to take some of the vacant Class B office space throughout Oakland’s downtown core, and both support building a substantial amount of housing. The consistent feedback I hear from the Oakland business community echoes what the East Bay Express, Governor Jerry Brown and Senator Barbara Boxer have already endorsed in Schaaf.

Menlo Park & Proposition M:

Menlo Park, home to the venture capital firms of Sand Hill Road and Facebook, has a growth control measure on the ballot that will cap new office developments at a maximum of 100,000 square feet, and leave residential caps unchanged.

Conceptually, I think that slowing the pace on office space growth to allow housing to catch up is not a bad idea. Menlo Park is allowing Facebook to build a campus that will house north of 10,000 workers and I don’t see a very clear plan for where these employees will get housed beyond putting additional stress on San Francisco or leaning on Redwood City, which is fairly pro-development.
However, this jeopardizes two mixed-use developments that could make the city’s pretty dead downtown area more attractive to tech workers. It’s also “ballot box planning,” which doesn’t give the city a lot of flexibility after it spent years to design an attractive urban space near the city’s Caltrain station.

Palo Alto City Council:

Palo Alto, the city that originally gave rise to Silicon Valley and plays home to Stanford University, astoundingly doesn’t seem to think that it has a housing problem. It’s mired in this very old debate between “residentialists,” who generally oppose growth, and the “establishment” even as the median home price has surged past $2 million and the rents are now apparently the highest in the nation.
If you follow the city council debates there, there’s almost universal distaste for high-speed rail yet discussions of Elon Musk’s hyperloop. The same group of NIMBYists that killed an affordable senior housing project last year are also all running for city council.

The housing shortage there is so bad that even a group of employees of Palantir, a company privately valued at north of $9 billion, showed up at the city council meeting over the summer asking for more affordable housing. Then this uninhabitable home possibly infested by rodents and held up by a couple of poles sold for $1.8 million to an investor group a few weeks ago. Meanwhile, one of the city’s top real estate agents, Ken DeLeon, who gives tours to foreign Chinese real estate buyers across Silicon Valley’s toniest neighborhoods in a Mercedes bus, said that he expects that 15 percent of this year’s sales will go to overseas Chinese.

On the office space side, the city has all but priced out its entire startup scene. With very little capacity and Palantir consuming what is available on the market, prices per square foot can get to $100 per square foot, which is actually about $40 higher than what you’ll find in SOMA.

While there’s not too clear a recommendation I can give here, there is a new group forming that is advocating for more housing called Palo Alto Forward that includes a mix of older and younger residents. Update: Here’s some more detail on Quora about where various candidates stand on housing.

In conversations over the summer before she co-founded the group, VMWare lawyer Kate Vershov Downing told me, “I do like living here. I don’t want to leave. There are these undertones that young people and tech workers are transient. But the reality is we don’t want to go. We’re leaving Palo Alto because there’s nowhere to live.”

More broadly speaking, Menlo Park and Palo Alto’s slow growth policies are irresponsible from a regional and racial justice perspective. Because both cities are not building housing, they’re leaving adjacent East Palo Alto, Silicon Valley’s last pocket of affordable housing and a historically black and Latino community, incredibly vulnerable to gentrification. East Palo Alto is a 2.8 square mile piece of land that sits between Menlo Park, Palo Alto, and the emerging Facebook campus.

Because Palo Alto and Menlo Park’s median home prices in the $2 million range are unaffordable to most post-IPO Facebook employees, that’s creating pressures for people to move into East Palo Alto, where the median home price is $500,000 and rents are significantly lower.

The East Palo Alto community was formed back in the 1950s when African-Americans moving to California as part of the Great Migration were shunned from housing in the rest of what would become Silicon Valley. Through exclusionary land-use policy, African-Americans were basically left out of some of the most striking American wealth, technological and cultural creation of the last 30 to 40 years, which was happening just miles away at Stanford University and in the heart of Silicon Valley. At the dawn of the commercial Internet in the early 1990s, East Palo Alto was dubbed the “murder capital” of the U.S.A., as a younger generation of blacks and Latinos who were largely left out of economic and job opportunities in Silicon Valley fell prey to drug and gang violence.

The community has since recovered and thrived over the past decade. However, without a concerted regional effort that includes housing development in Menlo Park and Palo Alto, this community may get completely erased or gentrified out. This mirrors what’s happening in the rest of the Bay Area as wealthier primarily white and Asian suburbs refuse to build a commensurate amount of housing to match local population and job growth, creating pressures for the region’s historically black, Latino and vulnerable neighborhoods to face displacement.

Indeed, the San Francisco and San Jose metropolitan areas added 114,000 jobs last year, but only 7,000 housing units.

Federal Judge Strikes Down HUD Rule on Housing Discrimination

 Federal Judge Strikes Down HUD Rule on Housing Discrimination

Disparate-Impact Rule Allowed Use of Statistical Analysis to Show Policies Had Adverse Effect on Minorities

Alan Zibel

Nov. 3, 2014 4:12 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON—A federal judge on Monday struck down a Department of Housing and Urban Development rule that aimed to make it easier for plaintiffs to file allegations of housing discrimination.

 issued in February 2013, was designed to make it easier to enforce a 45-year-old law to combat alleged discrimination by lenders, insurers, landlords and municipalities.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon, in his decision, called the rule “yet another example of an administrative agency trying desperately to write into law that which Congress never intended to sanction.”
The HUD regulation, Judge Leon ruled in favor of two insurance industry groups—The American Insurance Association and National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies—which sued in June 2013 to overturn the rule.

The insurance industry argued in its lawsuit the HUD rules would harm companies that sell homeowners insurance, requiring them to “provide and price insurance in a manner that is wholly inconsistent with well-established principles of actuarial practice and applicable state insurance law.”

The so-called disparate-impact rule allows plaintiffs to use a statistical analysis to demonstrate that lenders or cities promoted policies that had a disproportionately adverse impact on minorities. Under the rule, plaintiffs can claim that lenders or cities violated fair-housing laws without proving they did so with an intent to discriminate.

The ruling comes a month after the Supreme Court agreed to review the “disparate impact” legal strategy, taking a case focusing on the allocation of low-income housing tax credits in Dallas. The Supreme Court has tried to take up the issue two other times in recent terms, but those cases settled before the court could decide them.

“The Department is reviewing the ruling and considering its options on appeal,” a HUD official said.

—Brent Kendall contributed to this article

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Everyone is getting Richer and Healthier (in four minutes)

Hans Rosling's famous lectures combine enormous quantities of public data with a sport's commentator's style to reveal the story of the world's past, present and future development. Now he explores stats in a way he has never done before - using augmented reality animation. In this spectacular section of 'The Joy of Stats' he tells the story of the world in 200 countries over 200 years using 120,000 numbers - in just four minutes. Plotting life expectancy against income for every country since 1810, Hans shows how the world we live in is radically different from the world most of us imagine.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Hillary Clinton's remarks at the RIO+ conference.

As many of us know, "Sustainable Development" and Plan Bay Area is a jackpot of government cash that will benefit politicians, developers and NGOs and will urbanize Marin.  Though it sounds like a conspiracy theory,  "Agenda 21" is a UN initiative for "sustainable development" that actually exists.  It will be implemented by the very same UN that is mired in corruption and scandal. ( Unicef, "Food for Oil",  Despotic regimes in charge of human rights, etc.)

Curious about Hillary Clinton's positions on Sustainable Development? See her address to the 2012 Rio 20+ UN conference here:

Sunday, November 2, 2014

North Korea's Black Market Generation

October 31, 2014
Yeonmi Park represents North Korea's "black market generation" who are escaping the totalitarian mindset fostered within the Kim family's long-running tyranny. Only 21 years old, Yeonmi is a rising star. She is inspiring audiences worldwide with her story of escape from North Korea and her embrace of the ideas of liberty – thanks to her work with Atlas Network partner Freedom Factory in Seoul. 
In the video below, from the 2014 Oslo Freedom Forum, Yeonmi talks about how Leonardo Decaprio changed her opinion about Kim Jong-il.