Friday, November 28, 2014

"Free" Armored Trucks for Marin Police and Sheriff



Feb. 26 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Army is giving away 13,000 armored trucks, worth about $500,000 each. The 20-ton MRAPs, or Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected trucks, were built specifically to save U.S. soldiers from roadside bombs in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now the trucks are patrolling U.S. city streets. U.S. law enforcement agencies have received the lion’s share of this high-powered military surplus. (Source: Bloomberg)


Last year the Marin paid $370,000 to purchase a similar armored vehicle.

Critics rip Marin sheriff's $370,000 armored truck


Posted:   02/14/2013 10:45:50 PM PST


A Lenco armored law enforcement vehicle is used during an event in Washington state in this photo taken in 2012. Marin County is buying a similar vehicle.
A Lenco armored law enforcement vehicle is used during an event in Washington state in this photo taken in 2012. Marin County is buying a similar vehicle. (Seattle Times photo/Jordan Stead) (Jordan Stead)


Related Stories

Marin County officials say an armored truck is a good thing to have on hand in a world so volatile that terrorism, mayhem and calamity can strike any neighborhood in any town or any place at any time.

But in a region where law officers take the Boy Scout motto "Be Prepared" to heart, a county decision this week to buy a $370,000, steel-plated, state-of-the-art response and rescue vehicle from a Massachusetts defense contractor has triggered a firestorm of protest.
Critics are blasting the move by Sheriff Robert Doyle and the county Board of Supervisors, contending the BearCat G3 rescue truck from Lenco Armored Vehicles is a ridiculous waste of money.

The BearCat, which can withstand explosive blasts and .50 caliber gunfire, is "used by SWAT and special-ops teams at high-security facilities" and is just what the county's Special Response Team needs in order to handle "incidents that are beyond the capability of first responders," Sheriff Doyle advised supervisors. The sheriff said the 16-member special response team includes a four-member "weapons of mass destruction unit" to deal with "chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive agents." The team is trained in "terrorism response scenarios" and is designed as "a regional asset in the North Bay."

It's the only unit of its kind in the North Bay.

"Wow, I'm just boggled by the stupidity of this," said Mike Benefield of San Anselmo, joining a fusillade of protest posted online at marinij.com. "Has there ever been a single incident in which any Marin police agency has been under fire from a .50 cal rifle or roadside bomb?" he wondered. "Instead they could be spending the money patrolling that crime-plagued Marin City bus stop, or downtown San Rafael."

"I, for one, will sleep better knowing that if Sonoma invades, we're ready," deadpanned Jody Morales of Lucas Valley. "I think we might need to do a whole lot of housecleaning up there at Fort Civic Center."

Many others joining the online conversation seemed to agree, although a few noted that if an officer gets shot in an incident where an armored vehicle could have been used, "we will be pounding our desks asking why we were not prepared," as Kevin Moore put it.

Sheriff Doyle, saying he was both disappointed and surprised by the chorus of critics, said the truck will be the only such vehicle in the North Bay and will shore up regional security. "If the critics had access to the threat assessments of the Bay Area, they would think differently," Doyle said without elaborating. "This is a regional asset we were selected to have."

The federal and state grant funds used to buy the vehicle could not be used for other programs, or shifted to replace local money, he added. "These are Homeland Security funds designed for this kind of anti-terrorism project. ... If people have a problem with these types of programs, they need to contact their federal legislator," the sheriff said. "If our program was not funded, some other anti-terrorism program in another county would have been."

Novato Police Chief Jim Berg, lauding Doyle's staff "for an outstanding job in going out and getting these funds," called the vehicle well worthwhile, a "wonderful piece of equipment" able to respond to incidents including public safety calamities that can happen anywhere. "It's not just for terrorism," Chief Berg added. "It's multifaceted. It's able to respond to a whole variety of incidents."


Several county supervisors remained tight-lipped amid the controversy, but Steve Kinsey appeared on a television news broadcast, noting the county was known for planning ahead.

The purchase followed analysis and a "process of prioritization" among North Bay public safety agencies, Kinsey said. "While no one wants to waste money on expensive technology, we also would forever lament our failure if we had an opportunity to be prepared and we ignored it," he said. "The funding implements a national program to increase readiness, but it will also allow us to respond to more normal local hazardous waste clean-up challenges as well."

Judy Arnold, president of the county board, noted the vehicle "was paid for with Homeland Security funds to be used for major security disasters region-wide."

And Supervisor Susan Adams, who is recovering from knee surgery and did not attend the county board meeting Tuesday, stressed the same thing. "These are not county general funds dollars," said Adams, head of the county Disaster Council. "The Bay Area is trying to gear up right now to have regional response equipment through the area," Adams said, adding the airtight vehicle would be helpful in incidents involving hazardous materials.

Varying views were expressed among those with raised eyebrows.

William Rothman of Belvedere, commenting as an individual, and not as the vice chairman of the county Peace Conversion Commission, which watchdog's Marin's 1986 Nuclear Free Zone Law, says "no legally improper procedures" were used in the purchase. The vehicle was approved without discussion along with other county business on a routine consent calendar Tuesday.

"I was personally saddened about the armored military-style vehicle contract, because I see it as promoting an exaggerated atmosphere that our society is under quasi military siege, and therefore needs, routinely, to react in a quasi-military manner," Rothman added.

Former Supervisor Denis Rice, who wondered whether Civic Center was a "'high-security facility" in need of the kind of protection provided by the vehicle, noted that its funding comes from federal and state Homeland Security grants, plus $46,500 from a sheriff's office trust fund.

"If these are all funds that could be available for any other kinds of county activities, I'd say this expenditure is somewhat irresponsible," Rice said. "If it comes from federal and state grants that can only be used for such anti-terrorist vehicles, then one would say it's a case of 'if the money's already there, spend it.'"

Sheriff Doyle shook his head as he reflected on the commotion. "When you are in public safety, it's all about being prepared," Doyle said. "Look at all the events that have happened. Aurora. The Connecticut school ... those things could happen anywhere.

"I can put my head down and go to sleep at night because I believe in what I am doing."

Editors Note:  I am glad that Sheriff Doyle can sleep at night.  What concerns me is the creeping power of the state with cellphone tracking technology, internet snooping, and the militarization of our civilian police forces.  Isn't this what happens in totalitarian regimes? I agree with Mr. Rothman. Look for a ballot measure to purchase a new high powered communication/surveillance system in Marin sponsored by MERA in the next election. See www.meraonline.org


What me worry?


Team Obama Steps Up Racial Standards for Neighborhoods

“Make no mistake: this is a big deal.  With the HUD budget alone, we are talking about billions of dollars.”-- Shaun Donovan, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, in a July 16 speech to the NAACP about a new regulation and database aimed at adding “protected classes” into predominantly white neighborhoods.

The federal government is getting serious about pushing racial and ethnic diversity into America’s neighborhoods--and is using big data and big money to achieve its aims.

A new interactive database will help regulators, local housing officials and individuals take action on a newly proposed regulation that would require agencies to “affirmatively further” the inclusion of minority residents in white neighborhoods.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan announced the database and regulation at last week’s NAACP convention, saying the Obama administration was battling “a quieter form of discrimination” that was “just as harmful” as long-outlawed segregationist practices, like racially restrictive property covenants.

The problem now, Donovan said, is that prospective minority buyers are not being encouraged to move into predominantly white neighborhoods with top-notch schools, government services and amenities like grocery stories, etc.

The goal here then is to continue to prosecute at a high rate incidences deemed proactively segregationist – Donovan touted 25,000 individuals in the past 3 years being paid damages under cases reported to the agency or independently investigated by HUD – but to add in a mandate for diversifying neighborhoods.

The old way was to punish exclusion. The new way is to punish lack of inclusion.

The punishment is also different. Rather than fines and prosecutions for those who sought to keep minorities out, the new penalty would be a withholding of federal funds from local and state government agencies dependent on HUD grants if they fail to push greater diversity. The way those agencies interact with developers, realtors, homeowners associations and others would need to reflect the federal push for diversity.

.
The report card comes in the form of the new maps, which use Census data to score communities on their racial and ethnic concentrations, as well as income and community services. Check out the Atlanta suburbs. South of Dekalb Avenue, the dots are mostly green – black residents – and north of Dekalb Avenue, the dots are mostly blue – white residents.

HUD wants a more even distribution of blue and green dots in the city and if you are planning a new subdivision or a realtor looking to sign potential buyers up for FHA loans, the dot distribution is something the Obama administration wants you to be mindful of. And your local zoning board, county commission or state real estate licensing bureau ought to be mindful too, since their funding could depend on it.

As for what happens if you live in a place like Brooke County, W.Va. where every dot is blue? Would the local housing authority have to recruit non-blue dots to the county in order to not risk federal funds?  What if no holders of green dots want to come to live on Apple Pie Ridge Rd.?

What about all the green dots at the intersection of West MLK Blvd. and Crenshaw in Inglewood, Calif.?  It will not presumably be necessary for local city planners to recruit blue dots for that map.

And what about the fact that the real estate purchases increasingly begin on the color-blind Internet? Would one need to declare the color of their dot before entering the search terms?

At a time when Americans are on high alert about government snooping and databases, and we have still unfolding before us at the IRS a story about how readily power can be abused for political aims, it would seem like a strange moment to put the federal government in the dot distribution business.


Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013/07/23/team-obama-steps-up-racial-standards-for-neighborhoods/#ixzz2aZQFtuAs

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Victory in Larkspur!!! ( A special Thanks to the people of Larkspur from all of the people of Marin)

Residents cheer City Council's decision to discontinue Larkspur SMART Station Area Plan

City Council scraps housing-business development plan near SMART station

mhansen@marinij.com @HansenMegan on Twitter
POSTED:   06/18/2014 09:34:27 PM PDT


Officials wait as a crowd gathers in Larkspur for a workshop June 18, 2014, to discuss the SMART Station Area plan and its environmental impact report.
Officials wait as a crowd gathers in Larkspur for a workshop June 18, 2014, to discuss the SMART Station Area plan and its environmental impact report. (Megan Hansen - Marin Independent Journal)



In what members of the public called a historic move, the Larkspur City Council voted unanimously Wednesday night to discontinue a plan that would have concentrated future housing and business development near the proposed Sonoma-Marin 

See the Full Story in the Marin IJ


Thanks to everyone who helped the Larkspur Rebellion!


How to Get Rid of an Unwanted Houseguest

Low Income Developers receive a 50 year tax abatement.  They will be sleeping on our couch a long time.

Editor's Note:  As a public service message for the holidays,  we are bringing you this practical article on getting rid of an unwanted house guest.   Low income housing developers don't just bring us housing, people, traffic and crowded schools,  they bring us a huge tax burden for decades.

Ever Had a Houseguest Who Just Wouldn't Leave?


Ever had a houseguest who just wouldn't leave? Ever been a good friend and let someone sleep on your couch till they were on their feet and ended up being taken advantage of? Here are some ways to get rid of unwanted houseguest.

 Stop being a good host If you make your guest feel wanted they may never leave. Stop washing clothes, cleaning up after them or cleaning the space they are using. Don't let your house become a hotel with maid service. Make them clean up after themselves. Stop being their personal chef. If that doesn't work stop buying food for them. Inform your unwanted houseguest that you can only had enough money to buy groceries for your family and let them start buying their own groceries.
Assign chores Since your houseguest has made themselves a housemate instead of a guest start assigning them chores. Let them pitch in on the upkeep of the house. Give them specific and consistent chores. The chores don't need to be backbreaking try things like mowing the yard, walking the dog, vacuuming the house, or washing the dishes.
Make them pay If your main consider is financial make your houseguest start paying rent or utilities. If your wanting your housemate to move out make sure your rates are higher then the local motel or weekly rental units. Also charge for things like cooking, washing clothes and household goods.
Leave them home alone Do not always include your unwanted houseguest in your family activities. Keep your usual schedule up without always including them. Let them know that you have other friends and family you need to spend time with without them around.
Have them evicted If you are renting your place ask your landlord to send a letter about guest not on the lease. Give them notice that they must move out by a certain time and stick to it.
Find them a new place Help your houseguest out the door by finding them a new place to stay. Ask around to see if any of their other family or friends would be willing to let them stay with them. Call around to local apartment. motel or weekly rentals and find out how much they charge for rent, deposits and application fees. Make a list for your houseguest with all the places you have called. Be sure to give them the address and phone numbers of each place. 
......

If all else fails and your unwanted houseguest refuses to move out you and always throw their stuff out of the house and change the locks.

for complete article see:

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

New Discovery cuts Air Conditioning Energy Use

Cool Discovery Blasts Summer Heat Into 'the Cold Darkness of the Universe'



In this illustration, the reflective panel is coated with a material invented by Stanford engineers. They designed it to help cool buildings without air conditioning. The material works in two ways--It reflects incoming sunlight (yellow splotch) that would otherwise heat the building. And it sends heat from inside the structure directly into space as infrared radiation (reddish rays). The blue areas on an otherwise warm roof show the cooling effect.




The way we cool buildings in the summer has a lot of middlemen. What if we could cut out the middlemen and just eject the heat out to space?
Technology being developed at Stanford University could slash the need for summertime air conditioning, which currently uses up about 15 percent of the $180 billion spent on energy for commercial buildings in the U.S.
Lowering a building's temperature typically requires burning coal or gas to generate electricity, which runs the AC, which lowers the mercury. Far easier and cheaper than burning fuel to cool hot places would be to both stop the heat before it comes in and suck it out when it's too hot.
Research published today in the journal Nature describes a new, experimental material that can do those two things. Thin, silicon-based wafers act as both a rooftop mirror, reflecting sunlight and heat skyward, and as a kind of thermal funnel, drawing a building's internal heat up through the roof. Neither requires a volt of electricity.
The Stanford material can reduce the temperature by up to 5 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit), below the outside air temperature, according to the study. Experiments have proven successful on an eight-inch-diameter wafer. The researchers' next job is to scale up the effort. "We need to get to a point where I can cover part of your roof," said Shanhui Fan, a co-author and professor of electrical engineering. "So there's still a way to go."



Source: Norbert von der Groeben, Stanford Engineering
Stanford electrical engineering professor Shanhui Fan (center) gazes into the... Read More

The reflective panel and coating can probably be manufactured using existing fabrication techniques, Fan said. Scaling-up will require more time, testing and money. The work so far has been supported by the U.S. Energy Department's high-end research agency, ARPA-E. The scientists haven't yet formed a company to commercialize their research.
Reflecting heat and light is easy enough to imagine for anyone familiar with mirrors, or with efforts, like New York City's, to paint roofs white so they heat up less. The real trick is "venting" a building's heat out to space, which has to do with a peculiar feature of the Earth's atmosphere.
Trace gases, such as carbon dioxide and water vapor, have an outsize influence on the Earth's climate, because they prevent heat from re-radiating back out to space. The research takes advantage of the fact that there are wavelengths of heat, or infrared energy, that are not blocked by the atmosphere.
There's a kind of heat window in the atmosphere that no naturally occurring substance, trace gas or otherwise, can block. Set atop a roof, the new material teases this heat out of the building. It could be applied to cars, too. The silicon and hafnium oxides in the wafer absorb and emit heat at the same wavelength that the atmosphere can't block. So it just harnesses energy coming up out of the building and shoots it out of the atmosphere, into the great beyond.
The great beyond is where it gets fun.
For decades, environmental futurists have pointed up at the Sun as the obvious answer to all of our needs. It provides the energy living things need to live and grow. And ever-improving technologies can harness it for residential and commercial power.
The Stanford researchers suggest that what's really interesting isn't the Sun -- but everything else in the universe: the emptiness. The universe is absolutely freezing. Really: It's a few notches above absolute zero. The new Nature paper suggests that humanity should harness what it calls "the cold darkness of the Universe" as a renewable resource. Heat seeks out cold. And there is just no limit to the amount of heat that space would take off our hands.
The technology belongs to a field called nanophotonics -- a wing of nanotechnology that concerns structures tiny enough to interact with light. The Stanford invention appears to successfully reflect solar energy and shuttle the building's heat up, up and away during the hottest daylight hours, when it's needed most.
"I was surprised that you could actually accomplish that, because it's very challenging," said Marin Soljacic, a physics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is familiar with the Stanford research but did not participate in it. "It has all the right ingredients that make it exciting."
A journal research article does not an energy revolution make. It is however, an intriguing technology with backing from a high-profile U.S. agency. It exposes how backwards our current system is of burning carbon minerals to make power to cool buildings. And, to hit the trifecta, it performs the rarest of all feats: it introduces into energy debates a new, renewable resource and a new way of thinking about, literally, the universe: It's the heat equivalent of an infinite garbage dump.

Three Kind of Lies. Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics. My testimony challenging the Marinwood Village Economic Impact Report.

Marin County Board of Supervisors


Comments from Stephen Nestel on the Marin Economic Forum’s Report produced by Robert Eyler on the economic impact of the Marinwood Village project as proposed by Bridge Housing.   Spoken on 11/25/2014.

Madam Chairperson:

The Eyler Report uses dissimilar comparisons, overlapping data sets and obscure academic papers to conclude that a tax-free, high density development will have minimal negative impact to Marinwood and the Dixie school district will instead have a boost to the economy because a higher population shops more.   The report ignores statements by Bridge Housing,  Dixie School district and plain old common sense.  There is no free lunch.  The supervisors cannot ignore that significant infrastructure costs and schooling must be paid by the community no matter how you slice the numbers.



“There are lies, damned lies and statistics” once observed Mark Twain.  This report uses all three.   I’d get into that but first I’d like to state as a general principle, this is not an argument against all subsidized housing in Marin or even Marinwood.  In 2012, I wrote to our supervisor and suggest that Bridge Housing Rotary Village in Lucas Valley is an excellent example of the kind of housing that fits in our community at 10-12 units per acre. The Marinwood site has particular challenges because of the toxic waste and benzene contamination and the neighboring cancer hotspot.  The best use for this site,  after clean up is to serve our community in the capacity of a commercial center- to make our community truly walkable and bikeable.

We can agree more residents mean more economic activity but this cannot be analyzed in a vacuum.

Here are some of problems I have with this report:

1         The Eyler report claims that there is widespread concern about property values on the community.  This has never been a primary concern for the community.  Instead, the community is focused on the impacts on the crowded Dixie Schools that are bulging from enrollment and influx of tax free housing that will contribute nothing to the community costs to build schools and infrastructure.  Since we have been given 71% of the housing in the 2012 RHNA and the 2014 RHNA , Marinwood-Lucas Valley is bearing the lion’s share of the costs for all of Marin.

There is no doubt there will be significant economic impacts to the community because the more costs will have to be paid by fewer people.  Tax increases are the inevitable result.

The Eyler report meanders through irrelevant data points and academic research done on very dissimilar communities and concludes that there will be minimal effects.

2.) The report exaggerates the income and property values by offering a median housing cost based on the entire Marinwood-Lucas Valley.  Our census tract is one of the most economically diverse in Marin, from condos near Marinwood plaza that range from condominiums that just recently sold from 175K to mega-mansion,  billionaire estates in the hills.   Any real estate professional can tell you that prices very per block,  not just census tract.   Such statistical bias renders all of the conclusions of the Eyler report false.

The specific demographics in the immediate vicinity of Marinwood Plaza is more similar to 94903 zip code in general with the median household income at $80k and the house values similar to Terra Linda.   It is a neighborhood of two income working families, not the wealthy.

3.)  The report discusses the “costs” to Dixie School district as a specific cost per taxpayer per pupil  (only $243!) vs the reality that Dixie School spends roughly $10,000 per pupil.  There is “no free lunch”.  Those are taxpayer funds and someone needs to pay them.  Clever accounting will not escape this simple fact.

4.) Bridge Housing, vp of development,  Brad Wiblan spoke to a group of residents on October 27, 2012 and testified that it was his experience that 1.8 students per household can be expected from this type of housing.  That is 148 students not the mythical 43 students the Eyler report claims. Even the Dixie School estimates of 100 students are low.

When Bridge housing insists on building 100 units due to it’s “density bonus” there will be 180 students added to the Dixie School system.

At $10,000 per student, that is $1.5 million per year.   Someone needs to pay these costs. Unfortunately, it won’t be the individuals pushing for this agenda , it will be the working families surround the development.

5.) The Eyler report ignores the significant cost and infrastructure challenge from moving the Dixie School Bus Garage.  Such facilities are difficult to find and approve.  Surely the Dixie School District doesn’t think this is an insignificant expense.   This is a serious oversight and renders the report invalid.


 In conclusion, the Eyler report tortures so many statistics that few useful conclusions can be drawn from it.   We can agree that more people bring more money into the community but this must compared to the alternative of bringing tax paying commercial or market rate development.

We have other locations in Marin that can be considered for subsidized housing and agree that it is needed especially senior housing but the full costs and merits must be weighed by the community not special interests.   

Stephen Nestel




P.S. The full testimony was clipped from open time by Chair Kate Sears.   I also remarked that 900 people had signed a petition against the Bridge Housing proposal last year.

P.P.S.  A clip showing Bridge Housing VP, Brad Wiblan testifying that 1.8 students per household can be expected is available at http://youtu.be/v8435IFLilc


See the Marinwood Village Economic Impact report HERE


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Bridge Housing estimates 150 kids for Dixie Schools from Marinwood Village in 2012 (That's 1.5 million dollars ANNUALLY!)

See the report that Susan Adams and the Board of Supervisor's commissioned to support the conclusion that tax free housing won't have much of an impact HERE

Please sign the online petition to
"Prevent Marin County's Housing Plan from Promoting Excessive High-Density Housing"



Here's the link:
https://www.change.org/p/marin-county-board-of-supervisors-prevent-marin-county-s-housing-plan-from-promoting-excessive-high-density-housing
 

We only have until December 9th to convince the Supervisors to make MAJOR changes to Marin County's DRAFT Housing Plan in order to prevent excessive high-density housing in Unincorporated Marin.  The only way this will happen is if we can demonstrate STRONG political clout.  Presenting hundreds, better yet thousands, of petition signatures will help accomplish this.

Please take two minutes to sign the online petition described below.  Be sure to add a comment where it asks; "Why is this important to you?" Then, please forward this message to everyone you know.

ISSUES:
Marin County’s DRAFT Housing Element (a state mandated document that plans to meet the existing and projected housing needs of Unincorporated Marin) promotes excessive high-density housing by planning for over 200% more housing units than required by law and by including programs geared to housing developments that could:
• Greatly increase density by changing the definition of a “unit”, such as calculating studios and one-bedroom apartments as fractions of units;
• Dramatically raise height limits – up to 45 feet (similar to the WinCup Apartments);
• Cluster housing units at 30 units per acre even in single family neighborhoods;
• Reduce onsite parking and force residents to park on crowded streets or in public parking areas that are meant for other purposes;  
• Promote streamlined and ministerial “over-the-counter” permit review, thereby significantly limiting public input and thorough review; and 
• Allow the number of units in traffic impact areas to exceed pre-established housing unit CAPs.

CONSEQUENCES: 
The Housing Element promotes an excessive number of high-density housing developments with even greater potential density, height, and size than currently allowed. Such densification with the ensuing population growth would increase the risk of adverse impacts on the environment, public health and safety, traffic congestion, infrastructure, utilities (water supply), public services (schools), views, sunlight, privacy and neighborhood character. Streamlined and ministerial “over-the-counter” permit review of housing projects would hinder thorough and accurate review, constrain valuable public input on planning decisions, and reduce transparency, thereby diminishing the quality and safety of the developments. 

TAKE ACTION:
Please sign this petition to urge the Marin County Board of Supervisors to act now to revise the 2015 to 2023 Marin County DRAFT Housing Element and:
1. Reduce the number of sites and housing units identified in Housing Element’s Site Inventory; and
2. Eliminate the above-mentioned Housing Element programs. 

Here's the link to the petition:
https://www.change.org/p/marin-county-board-of-supervisors-prevent-marin-county-s-housing-plan-from-promoting-excessive-high-density-housing

Thank you for taking action! 

Together we can make a difference!


Special thanks to Sharon Rushton, Chairperson, Sustainable TamAlmonte for creating this petition.

Agenda 21

Focus on Agenda 21 Should Not Divert Attention from Homegrown Anti-Growth Policies

By , and
Abstract: Agenda 21, a voluntary plan adopted at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, unabashedly calls on governments to intervene and regulate nearly every potential impact that human activity could have on the environment. However, Agenda 21 is non-binding; it depends on governments for implementation. If opponents focus excessively on Agenda 21, it is much more likely that homegrown smart-growth policies that undermine the quality of life, personal choice, and property rights in American communities will be implemented by local, state, and federal authorities at the behest of environmental groups and other vested interests. Preventing American implementation of Agenda 21 should therefore be viewed as only one part of a broader effort to convince U.S. government officials to repeal destructive smart-growth programs and prevent the enactment of new ones.

Radical environmentalists, local business groups, and the ever-present Not in My Backyard crowd have been trying for decades to reshape American communities to conform to their preferred “smart growth” policies. These advocates work to impose land use regulations that would force Americans into denser living arrangements, curtail freedom of choice in housing, discriminate against lower-income Americans, and compel people to pay more for their houses and give up their cars in favor of subways, trolleys, buses, and bicycles.

These efforts—often described as “New Urbanism,” “sustainable development,” or “open land preservation”—have long been resisted by some members of the community due to their negative impact on economic growth, competitiveness, and the nation’s standard of living. As Heritage has documented, communities implementing smart-growth policies have significantly higher home prices, which precludes moderate-income households from homeownership. In turn, these high home prices have forced buyers to take on excessive levels of mortgage debt, which has contributed to the default and foreclosure problems that have led to the current recession. Indeed, the foreclosure problem is at its worst in states with the strictest land use constraints: Florida, California, Arizona, and Nevada.[1]

In recent years, however, many smart-growth opponents working at the local level have shifted their focus toward opposing the 1992 United Nations voluntary initiative called Agenda 21, which advocates many policies that reflect smart-growth principles. They should recognize that Agenda 21 is simply another facet of smart growth and not allow it to divert them from opposing the more ubiquitous, overarching agenda of homegrown environmental extremists.

Principles Outlined in Agenda 21 Are Smart-Growth Principles

Agenda 21 is a remarkably broad, ambitious action plan that was presented at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and adopted by the attending nations as “a comprehensive plan of action to be taken globally, nationally and locally by organizations of the United Nations System, Governments, and Major Groups in every area in which human impacts on the environment.”[2] At well over 300 pages, Agenda 21 sets forth hundreds of specific goals and strategies that national and local governments are encouraged to adopt.[3] These policies are presented in four sections:
  1. Social and economic dimensions (e.g., international cooperation to accelerate sustainable development in developing countries, combating poverty, changing consumption patterns, promoting sustainable human settlement development);
  2. Conservation and management of resources for development (e.g., protection of the atmosphere, planning and management of land resources, promoting sustainable agriculture and rural development);
  3. Strengthening the role of major groups (e.g., women, children, indigenous people, workers and trade unions); and
  4. Means of implementation (e.g., financing, technology transfer, promoting education and public awareness, international legal instruments).
In sum, UNCED was explicitly focused on getting governments to “rethink economic development and find ways to halt the destruction of irreplaceable natural resources and pollution of the planet.… The Summit’s message [was] that nothing less than a transformation of our attitudes and behavior would bring about the necessary changes.”[4] Agenda 21 unabashedly calls on governments to intervene and regulate nearly every potential impact that human activity could have on the environment.

If implemented, the types of policies encouraged in Agenda 21 would significantly expand the role of government in economic decision-making, impede development and economic growth, and undermine individual choice and policy flexibility for local communities. Opponents should be concerned about efforts by the U.S. government to implement these policies, both nationally and locally.[5]

However, Agenda 21 is non-binding; it depends entirely on national, state, and local governments for implementation and therefore poses little threat in and of itself. It is the policies endorsed by Agenda 21 that are of most concern, and these policies are not confined to Agenda 21. On the contrary, those policies undergird the smart-growth agenda that has gained widespread acceptance in many parts of the U.S. to the detriment of local economies.

Radical Environmental Principles Predate Agenda 21 Proposals

The smart-growth policies echoed in Agenda 21 originated among liberal European and American intellectuals and significantly predate the adoption of Agenda 21. In fact, the British version of these policies—which had a strong influence on American liberals and the international environmental activists that largely wrote Agenda 21—had its origins in the 1920s. As Britain’s Prince Charles has written:
For more than eighty years, the Campaign to Protect Rural England has been leading the fight to preserve the remaining delicate fabric of the countryside. The foresight of the founding fathers was extraordinary—in 1926 Clough Williams-Ellis, whom I remember well and admire greatly, published England and the Octopus, an anti-sprawl polemic, and in the same year Sir Patrick Abercrombie wrote his paper, The Preservation of Rural England. The fight has continued since then and great successes have been won.[6]
These policies, embodied in the Town and Country Planning Act, enacted by a socialist government in 1947, which forced nearly all subsequent development into existing urban footprints, have been an economic disaster. The citizens of the United Kingdom now have the smallest and most expensive housing of any advanced country in the world.[7]

America’s smart-growth movement emerged in force in the early 1970s when communities in California and Oregon began to replicate Britain’s anti-sprawl policies through restrictive zoning practices to discourage suburbanization. Bit by bit, it spread around the country as more and more communities adopted polices to deter suburban growth for all but the well-to-do. Growth control efforts underway in these communities were driven not only by a distorted view of the environment, but also by the desire of those already in place to prevent newcomers from arriving and spoiling the rural ambience of their suburban communities.

By the 1980s, these policies led President George H. W. Bush to create a commission, overseen by Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Jack Kemp, to investigate the impact of these policies on growth and communities and make recommendations. Its report, “Not in My Back Yard”: Removing Barriers to Affordable Housing,[8] was a powerful critique of policies now known as “smart growth.”

Nonetheless, smart-growth policies continued to advance in the U.S. As they became more prevalent and restrictive, their impact on housing prices and construction likewise expanded. An explosion of exclusionary zoning throughout the U.S. encouraged many communities to adopt zoning policies to ensure that they maintained a certain demographic “profile.” Such zoning limited real estate development to higher-cost homes in order to “price out” moderate-income households, which included a disproportionate share of minorities.

In the wake of the bursting of the U.S. housing bubble, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne wryly noted that Britain escaped the sort of housing bubble and crash that staggered America because, whereas America recklessly expanded its housing stock, “We were saved by the fact that you can’t build anything in this country.”[9] While recklessness was certainly a factor in the U.S. housing bubble, smart-growth policies played a major role in creating and exacerbating the bubble and the subsequent recession. In fact, the states and metropolitan areas with the strictest smart-growth land regulations were the ones that suffered the greatest home price bubbles (notably in California, Florida, Arizona, and Nevada) and the most serious foreclosure problems once the bubble burst.[10]

Missing the Real Target

Opponents of Agenda 21 should not be distracted from the more tangible manifestation of the smart-growth principles outlined in that document. If they focus excessively on Agenda 21, it is much more likely that homegrown smart-growth policies that date to the early 1970s and undermine the quality of life, personal choice, and property rights in American communities will be implemented by local, state, and federal authorities at the behest of environmental groups and other vested interests.

Adding to the problem, the Obama Administration has warmly embraced smart-growth policies and, more broadly, increased environmental regulation and restriction of use of natural resources. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood is the Administration’s point man in selling smart-growth policies to the American people.[11] He and other key Administration officials are abetted by state and local elected officials and numerous interest groups, including the Urban Land Institute, local Metropolitan Planning Organizations, Smart Growth America, the American Public Transportation Association, the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, and shortsighted local business associations.
Opponents of these policies have been very effective in their work. A good example is the state of Florida, where Governor Rick Scott (R) and the state legislature repealed a 25-year-old smart-growth law a few months ago.[12]

If implemented, the types of policies encouraged in Agenda 21 would be detrimental to economic growth and prosperity. Thus, preventing American implementation of Agenda 21 at the national level and membership by U.S. counties, cities, and municipalities in the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI), now called Local Governments for Sustainability, is worthwhile. But this effort should be viewed as only one part of a broader effort to convince U.S. government officials to repeal destructive smart-growth programs and prevent the enactment of new ones.

Wendell Cox, Principal of the Wendell Cox Consultancy in St. Louis, Missouri, is a Visiting Fellow in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation. Ronald D. Utt, Ph.D., is Herbert and Joyce Morgan Senior Research Fellow in the Roe Institute. Brett D. Schaefer is Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs in the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation and editor of ConUNdrum: The Limits of the United Nations and the Search for Alternatives (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2009).

Monday, November 24, 2014

Urban Planning for the People

Urban Planning For People

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The recent publication of the United States Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration's (EIA) 2014 Annual Energy Outlook provides a good backdrop for examining the importance of current information in transportation and land-use planning. I have written about two recent cases in which urban plans were fatally flawed due to their reliance on outdated information. In one case, San Francisco's Plan Bay Area, the planners are ignoring reality, and a court challenge is underway. In the other, a court invalidated the city of Los Angeles Hollywood Plan.

Progress In Automobile CO2 Emissions

The new Annual Energy Outlook forecasts continuing and material progress in improving energy efficiency, reducing fossil fuel consumption and reducing carbon dioxide emissions from cars and light trucks (light vehicles). Per capita carbon dioxide emissions from light vehicles are projected by EIA to fall to 51 percent below the peak year of 2003 (Figure 1).

The gross (not per capita) 2040 carbon dioxide reduction from light vehicles is projected to decline 28 percent in 2040 from 2003. Most significantly, the reduction is to occur as gross driving miles increases 29 percent (Figure 2). The actual 2040 emissions are likely to be even lower, because the 2014 Annual Energy Outlook assumes no vehicle fuel economy improvements after 2025. Improvements in vehicle technologies and cars using alternative fuels, and under government incentives, seem likely.

The emissions forecast improvements have been stunning, to say the least. The 2002 Annual Energy Outlook had expected a 46 percent increase in carbon dioxide emissions from light vehicles between 2000 and 2020. The revised forecast – which takes into account what actually has occurred – says there will be a 9 percent decrease.

This is the result of multiple factors. In 2002, EIA predicted a 55 percent increase in driving between 2000 and 2020. The 2014 Annual Energy Outlook revises that figure to 22 percent (Figure 3). Fuel economy is improving, which is being driven by stronger regulations as well as technological advances.

Driving is Down
Driving per capita fell nine percent from the peak year of 2003 to 2012. This decline is not surprising given the sorry state of the economy and high unemployment. Gas prices have risen 85 percent (inflation adjusted) over the same period. The decline in driving is modest compared to the increase in gas prices – a 0.9 percent reduction in driving per capita for each 10 percent increase in gasoline (Figure 4), inflation adjusted. This is half or less the reduction in transit ridership that would be expected if fares were raised by the same percentage.

Meanwhile, little of this reduction in driving has been transferred to transit. The increase in transit per passenger miles per capita captured less than one percent of the driving decline. Indeed, the daily increase in per capita transit use is less than the perimeter of a 20-to-the-acre townhouse lot.

With fewer jobs, higher gas prices and the new reliance on social media, as well as a rise in people working at home, people may have become more efficient and selective in their driving patterns (such as by consolidating shopping trips). Certainly those with jobs use their cars for those trips above as much as before.

Meanwhile, the EIA forecasts that driving per capita will rise gain, once the economy is released from intensive care. However, with the near universality of automobile ownership, the potential for substantial increases is very limited.

Hiding Success?

It might be thought that the planning community, with its emphasis on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, would be rushing to incorporate these into their plans and even to herald the improvements.

Yet, this is not the case. San Francisco Bay Area planners hid behind over-reaching state directives to "pretend-it-was yesterday" and employed out of date forecasts for vehicle emissions.

Data in Plan Bay Area documentation shows that 95 percent of the projected improvement in greenhouse gas emissions would be from energy efficiency improvements. These have nothing whatever to do with its intrusive land use and transport strategies. 

The additional five percent requires social engineering residents into "pack and stack" high density developments, virtually outlaw detached housing on plentiful urban fringe land and will likely cause even more intense traffic congestion.

California's high speed rail planners have made the same kind of mistake, using out-dated fuel economy data in their excessively optimistic greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

The Illusion of Transit Mobility

Part of the problem is an illusion that people in the modern metropolitan area can be forced out of their cars into transit, walking, and biking, without serious economic impacts (such as a lower standard of living and greater poverty).

Transit is structurally incapable of providing automobile competitive mobility throughout the metropolitan area without consuming much or all of its personal income (of course, a practical impossibility). But there is no doubt of transit effectiveness and importance in providing mobility to the largest central business districts (downtowns) with their astronomic employment densities (Note 1). Yet, outside the relatively small dense cores, automobile use is dominant, whether in the United States, Canada, Australia, or Western Europe. The transit legacy cities (municipalities) of New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Boston, and Washington, with the six largest downtown areas account for 55 percent of all transit commuting in the United States.

The Delusion of Walking and Cycling as Substitutes for Driving

Illusion becomes delusion when it comes to cycling and walking. Walking and cycling work well for some people for short single purpose trips, especially in agreeable weather. However, walking and cycling are inherently unable to provide the geographical mobility on which large metropolitan areas rely to produce economic growth. True, cycling does approximate transit commute shares in smaller metropolitan areas, like Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Bremen, but still accounts for barely a third of commuting by car according to Eurostat data. Prud'homme and Lee at the University of Paris and others have shown in their research that the economic performance of metropolitan areas is better where more of an area's employment can be reached within a specific period of time (such as 30 minutes). That leaves only a limited role for walking and cycling.

Toward an A Non-Existent Nirvana?

The "Nirvana" of a transit-, walking-, and cycling-oriented metropolitan area proves to be no Nirvana at all. We don't need theory to prove this point. Take Hong Kong, for example, with its urban population density six times that of Paris, nine times that of Toronto, 10 times Los Angeles, 12 times New York nearly 20 times Portland, and nearly 40 times that of Atlanta.

This vibrant, exciting metropolitan area cannot deliver on a standard of living that competes with Western Europe, much less the United States. Despite the high density, the overwhelming dominance of transit, walking, and cycling, Hong Kongers spend much longer traveling to and from work each day than their counterparts in all large US metropolitan areas, including New York and in most cases the difference is from more than 50 percent (as in Los Angeles) to nearly 100 percent.

The problem goes beyond the time that could be used for more productive for rewarding activities. Housing costs are the highest among the major metropolitan areas in the eight nations covered by the Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey. Hong Kong's housing costs relative to incomes are more than 1.5 times as high as in the San Francisco metropolitan area and almost five times as high as Dallas-Fort Worth. Meanwhile, the average new house in Hong Kong is less approximately 485 square feet (45 square meters), less than one-fifth the size of a new single family US American house (2,500 square feet or 230 square meters), though Hong Kong households, are larger (Note 2).

When households are required to spend more of their income for housing, they have less discretionary income and necessarily a lower standard of living. This loss of discretionary income trickles down to people in poverty, whose numbers are swelled by higher than necessary housing costs.

Planning is for People

Contrary to the current conventional wisdom, the prime goal of planning should not be to achieve any particular urban form. What should matter most is the extent to which a metropolitan area facilitates a higher standard of living and less poverty.
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Note 1: In 2000, employment densities in the nation's six largest downtown areas (New York, Chicago, Washington, Boston, San Francisco and Philadelphia) was three times that of the downtowns in the balance of the 50 largest urban areas, and 14 times as dense as outside the downtown areas.
Note 2: According to the 2011 census, the average household size in Hong Kong was 2.9 persons. This is more than 10 percent larger than the US figure of 2.6 from the 2010 census.
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Wendell Cox is a Visiting Professor, Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, Paris and the author of “War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life.
Photo: Prius photo by Bigstock.