Saturday, January 31, 2015

Major Embezzlement Scandal Hits "Plan Bay Area"

Official suspected of embezzling $1.3 million resigns from agency

Updated 7:51 am, Saturday, January 31, 2015
City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s office has demanded the return of the embezzled money and referred the matter to an unnamed law enforcement agency. Because wire fraud may be involved, it would most likely be a federal investigation

The Association of Bay Area Governments official suspected of embezzling $1.3 million has resigned from the agency, an ABAG spokesman has confirmed, although it’s unclear where he was when the resignation was tendered or whether he intends to cooperate with an investigation.
Clarke Howatt, now ABAG’s former director of financial services, is wanted for questioning in the disappearance of $1.3 million from a South of Market fund meant for parks and other public improvements. He has not been indicted and no warrant for his arrest has been issued.
“It appears that Clarke Howatt ... executed a sophisticated scheme to defraud the agency by creating illegitimate documents, creating false identities, and deceiving (ABAG’s Finance Authority for Nonprofits) board and bank trustees to wire these funds,” ABAG Deputy Executive Director Brad Paul said in a statement.
Howatt, who was scheduled to be in New York at a conference this week, has hired a defense attorney, Mary McNamara. She could not be reached for comment. His daughter, reached by telephone Friday, would not comment on Howatt or where he might be.

Dinesh D'Souza: The End of Racism: New Prospects for a Color-Blind Society

Friday, January 30, 2015

Friday Night Music: Desmond Dekker mix

An Open Letter to Congress about the Proposed Gas Tax.

An open letter to the 114th Congress from the American Dream Coalition.
January 30, 2015
Dear Members of the 114th Congress,
On behalf of our organizations and the millions of Americans we represent across all 50 states, I write to express our strong opposition to legislation that includes an increase to the federal gas tax.
Not only is increasing the gas tax an ineffective way to address the nation's transportation infrastructure needs, it would further increase the burden of government on families and business - and would disproportionately hurt lower income Americans already hurt by trying times in our economy.
A higher gas tax means higher prices not just on gas, but on goods and services throughout the economy. These increased costs would inevitably be passed down to consumers, resulting in a regressive tax hike on middle- and lower-income Americans.
Millions of people struggling through stagnant wages and increased cost of living have been given some relief with falling gas prices. These lower prices amount to nearly $100 extra per month for an average family, which is expected to lead to an additional $100 billion of economic growth. Congress should embrace these lower prices, not confiscate the savings, increase costs, and weaken growth potential.
Moreover, a gas tax increase would exacerbate existing problems with the current transportation infrastructure funding formula. Despite billions in Highway Trust Fund (HTF) shortfalls, Washington continues to spend federal dollars on projects that have nothing to do with roads like bike paths and transit as well as completely unrelated projects like museums and squirrel sanctuaries. Over one-third of HTF spending today is for non-highway purposes.
In addition, Davis-Bacon wage rules and other burdensome regulations needlessly add time and cost to transportation infrastructure projects.
As with so many other issues in Washington, transportation infrastructure has a spending problem, not a revenue problem. Rather than asking Americans for even more of their hard-earned paycheck to fund reckless Washington spending, Congress should seek an alternate solution that properly prioritizes federal transportation infrastructure needs, reduces costly and time-consuming bureaucratic hurdles, and further empowers state and local governments in conjunction with the private sector. In doing so, Congress can create a system that is efficient and responsive, and ensures that the United States has the best and safest transportation network in the world.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Huffman proposes new gas tax for YOU!

Huffman proposes new gas tax based on carbon emissions @HalsteadRichard on Twitter
POSTED:   01/25/2015 05:37:12 PM PST

2015 TWO CENTS 01/26/15
What do you think of a carbon-based gas tax?
 Support it
 Oppose it
 Doesn't matter

A new bill proposed by U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman that would create a new federal gas tax that reflects the carbon emissions of the fuel used is gaining attention as Congress struggles to find a way to finance the Highway Trust Fund.
States and cities rely on the Highway Trust Fund, which is supported by the federal gas tax, for money to maintain roads and bridges and to expand transit rail service. Over the years, however, more fuel-efficient cars have resulted in less money going in the trust fund. The gas tax is not indexed for inflation and hasn't gone up since 1993. The trust fund is expected to run out of money by May.
Jared Huffman speaks at the Marin Democratic headquarters in San Rafael in 2012. (Special to the IJ/Douglas Zimmerman)
Jared Huffman speaks at the Marin Democratic headquarters in San Rafael in 2012. (Special to the IJ/Douglas Zimmerman)
Huffman's Gas Tax Replacement Act of 2015 would replace the 18.4-cent-per-gallon tax on gasoline and 24.4-cent-per-gallon tax on diesel fuels with a tax that would be based on the fuel's "life-cycle assessment of carbon emissions."
That means different sources of crude oil, biofuels and other inputs into gas and diesels would be taxed differently based not just on fuel combustion within the vehicle but also on emission created during the extraction process and production. The Environmental Protection Agency would make the assessments on which the tax would be based. Emissions would initially be taxed at $50 per metric ton of carbon dioxide emissions.
Not putting his eggs all in one basket, Huffman is also supporting a bill by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat, that would phase in a 15-cent hike in the gas tax and provide for future increases based on the annual rate of inflation.
"I'm trying to contribute to a discussion that has to happen in the next few months," said Huffman, a Democrat from San Rafael.
As unlikely as a gas tax increase might seem with a Republican-controlled House and Senate, several Republicans have recently expressed an openness to consider a tax hike. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, who replaced Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, as chairman of the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee, has said a gas tax is "one of the options" for dealing with the trust fund's shortfall.
"There are some more Republicans in the Senate expressing an openness to a gas tax increase," Huffman said.
Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah and John Thune of South Dakota have said they would consider raising the tax, and GOP Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee has sponsored a bill to increase the tax.
Dianne Steinhauser, executive director of the Transportation Authority of Marin, said it has been years since states and counties could count on a reliable stream of funding from the Highway Trust Fund.
"It's been a struggle for quite some time," Steinhauser said. Last year, the fund required a last minute, short-term fix to avoid becoming insolvent.
Steinhauser said local projects at particular risk include the Novato Narrows lane addition; a new bridge planned above Sir Francis Drake Boulevard connecting Larkspur Landing and the Ferry Terminal; and work in downtown San Rafael and around the Civic Center to prepare for an extension of the SMART train.
"We're in such dire need on the infrastructure side with both our existing facilities needing maintenance and repair as well as addressing the sea level rise that comes with climate change," Steinhauser said
Responding to Huffman's proposed bill, Marin Republican Party chairman Kevin Krick said, "I do like the fact the Rep. Huffman is looking at the gas tax with a more holistic point of view."
Krick, however, said he had concerns with the plan to have the EPA determine how much tax energy producers would be assessed and the regressive nature of the tax, which he said would affect middle- and lower-income drivers disproportionately. Krick said he prefers a proposal by former Secretary of State George Shultz for a revenue-neutral carbon tax that would be refunded to taxpayers.

San Rafael police to purchase mobile license plate reader

Marin Independent Journal
POSTED:   01/25/2015 02:33:55 PM PST

The San Rafael Police Department plans to purchase a mobile license plate reader system for $38,000.
City Council members approved the action Jan. 20 as part of their consent agenda. The police department submitted a grant proposal to the Marin County Office of Emergency Services to purchase the system in June 2014. Through the county the department will receive a $25,000 grant from the Department of Homeland Security to help cover the costs of buying the system. The remaining $13,000 will come from the police department's budget.
The department already has two police vehicles equipped with such systems, but it does not have a portable trailer system with the same capabilities. Police officials said the system will help them detect wanted vehicles, capture vehicle information in and around the area of known and recurring crimes, deter crimes and increase their ability to solve crimes.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

California considers replacing gas tax with per-mile charge

California considers replacing gas tax with per-mile charge

POSTED:   01/24/2015 04:14:40 PM PST673 COMMENTS| UPDATED:   48 MIN. AGO

More people are driving electric cars. Gasoline cars are getting better mileage. And California's vehicles are causing less pollution.
But all that good news is generating a major problem: As motorists buy less gasoline, state gas tax revenues that pay for roads have been falling for a decade, leading to more potholes and traffic jams.
Now, in a move that could solve the problem -- or cause a political pileup -- state officials have begun to seriously study a plan to replace California's gas tax with a fee for each mile motorists drive.
"We're going to have to find another way to finance the upkeep of the roads," Gov. Jerry Brown said earlier this month in rolling out his 2015 budget, noting that California has a $59 billion backlog of maintenance needs on state highways and bridges.
Brown gave no specifics. But last fall he signed a law that set up a commission to study a "road usage charge" and establish a pilot program by Jan. 1, 2017. The 15-member commission had its first meeting on Friday in Sacramento.
The idea is far from reality, but it's raising a hornet's nest of practical and political questions, from how government would track the miles to what happens when people drive out of state or on private roads.
But it is gaining momentum. This year, Oregon is beginning a test program in which 5,000 volunteers will pay 1.5 cents per mile driven, and be refunded each month what they paid under the state's 30-cent gasoline tax. Colorado and Washington state also are studying similar pilot programs.
"I think there's a long way to go before this is implemented. But we have a real problem when it comes to infrastructure in California," said U.S. Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Richmond, who wrote the bill when he was a state senator. "We have to do something."
Silicon Valley is getting involved early.
The chairman of the California Transportation Commission, which chose the 15 members of the study panel, is Carl Guardino, CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group.
 Lydia Holland fills up at a gas station in Sacramento, Calif., November 2014.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)
Lydia Holland fills up at a gas station in Sacramento, Calif., November 2014.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File) (Rich Pedroncelli)
Guardino said he wants the new commission, formally called the California Road Charge Pilot Program Technical Advisory Committee, to explore every angle, and receive wide public and media scrutiny.
"This is a game-changer for transportation policy in our state," he said. "And we better do it right. We will be trampled by innovation if we don't do this right."
Meanwhile, Oregon's transportation department announced this month it has signed a contract with a San Jose company, Azuga, that makes GPS tracking devices that plug in below a vehicle's dashboard.
After an outcry by the public and privacy groups about government potentially tracking the location of vehicles, Oregon changed its test program so that motorists can choose to report their mileage however they want. They can keep their own handwritten diaries, or use a GPS device or some other technology, such as a smartphone app.
"Public concerns, you never get rid of them, they never go away, but you can calm them down if you make the right choices," said James Whitty, who manages the program for the Oregon Department of Transportation.
Speaking at the first meeting on Friday of California's commission studying the issue, Whitty said the key is to provide choices to the public, to protect the privacy of the data and be open about the program with motorists.
The devices Oregon intends to employ track mileage and gasoline consumption. They send the information electronically from the car to private contractors like Azuga, which provides motorists with a monthly bill. The state then refunds drivers for any gas taxes accrued.
Among the critics of the concept are electric car owners.
"I think it's too early to start penalizing electric car drivers," said Felix Kramer, of Berkeley, who owns a Tesla Model S and a Nissan Leaf. "Heavy vehicles take a lot more out of the roads than light vehicles. Electric vehicles are lighter. You have to look at road impacts."
Kramer said the state should raise the gas tax instead.
California leaders say they are open to learning more.
"There are pros, there are cons. We have to pay for roads," said state Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar. "This is a way that might be part of that. "
California has more than 100,000 electric cars on the road now. That's less than 1 percent of the 23 million cars in the state. But electric vehicles -- whose owners pay no gas tax -- represented 3 percent of new car sales last year. And federal mileage standards on gasoline cars continue to require better fuel efficiency.
As a result, the amount of gasoline sold in California peaked in 2003, at 15.9 billion gallons. It has fallen steadily since then, despite population growth, to 14.6 billion gallons in 2013, a drop of 8 percent. And as people have bought less gasoline, state gas tax revenues have fallen from $2.87 billion in 2003 to $2.62 billion in 2013.
Critics skeptical of government are wary of the new approach.
"They are going to lower the gas tax and introduce the mileage tax," said Don Batyi, with the Inland Empire Car Club Council, which represents more than 4,000 car collectors in Riverside and San Bernardino counties. "I have a strong feeling we won't get a fair shake on this."
California has funded its state and local roads with a gas tax since 1923.
But that state tax, now 36 cents a gallon, hasn't been increased since 1994 due to political opposition. Similarly, the federal gas tax of 18.4 cents a gallon has also remained unchanged for more than two decades, leading to a debate now in Washington, D.C., about whether it should be raised when gas prices are low.
Like cigarette tax revenue that falls as fewer people smoke, the gas tax is a victim of California's success in reducing oil dependency. But California has the most congested freeways in the nation, said state Transportation Secretary Brian Kelly.
"We do want to reduce pollution and greenhouse gases from vehicles. That's a good thing to do," Kelly said. "And it's also a good thing to invest in our infrastructure. We have to find a way to thread the needle and achieve both."

The Real Problem with China’s Ghost Towns

Point of View


The Real Problem with China’s Ghost Towns

The Real Problem with China’s Ghost Towns
Courtesy Peter Calthorpe
 We’ve all seen the reports on “ghost town” developments in China, showing acres of empty high-rise apartments and vacant shopping malls. These barren towns seem particularly ironic in a country planning to move 250 million people from the countryside to cities in the next 20 years. But this massive, unprecedented demand has been distorted by a number of factors unique to China. Flawed financial incentives for cities and developers, along with the poor phasing of services, amenities, and jobs create most of the problems. In addition, China’s emerging middle class is very comfortable (perhaps too comfortable) investing in real estate, so people often buy apartments in incomplete communities but don't move in, expecting that values will rise, or that they will live there someday. The result is a string of large, empty developments that remain speculative investments rather than real homes and communities. [See-through buildings are the worry now, but the real problems may come when they are full.]
While it’s hard to get data on vacancy levels in China, there are certainly many anecdotal examples across the country. An all-too-typical example is Chenggong, the new town planned for 1.5 million just outside of Kunming in the west. This freshly minted city boasts the growing Yunnan University, currently with 170,000 students and faculty; a new government center; and an emerging light industrial area. Under construction are the city’s new high-speed rail station and two metro lines connecting the historic city center.
Courtesy Peter Calthorpe 
The town has been growing at a robust 6% a year. There seems to be lots of activity to prime the pump, but even here there are scores of vacant buildings. Why? Foremost is Chinese tax policy: there are no local property taxes so cities derive most of their income from developing land. The incentive is to lease large tracts of land (land sales are illegal in China), even if the market and complementary services aren’t ready. Without an ongoing property tax, the long-term viability of the towns is a secondary consideration. Compounding this, the average Chinese worker, with their high savings rate, needs investment options. Lacking a transparent stock market, most workers prefer to own real estate if they can, both as an investment and as future home for a child. They often buy with cash, and with no debt and no property tax it’s easy to hold empty apartments. Additionally, the country has yet to see a drop in real estate values so the properties seem safe. (Sound familiar?)
In addition to these buy-now financial incentives, the transit in Chenggong isn’t complete, and many of the town’s services and schools are yet to come. Consequently, many people purchase apartments but stay in their old homes until the new community is complete or their child marries. The good news here: these tax, investment, and development policies can be easily corrected, and in fact the central government is considering new property taxes, limits to second home speculation, and a more strategic phasing of infrastructure.
Perhaps more significant than these market irregularities and flawed policies is the long-term viability and health of the new towns. Most development in China takes the form of superblocks with towers in the park-style gated communities.  At up to a quarter of a mile to an intersection and often eight lanes of automobile traffic across the street, walking and biking in these districts is difficult and dangerous. Driving then skyrockets worsening congestion, air pollution, carbon emissions, and household costs. In Jinan, a study showed a quadrupling of auto travel in the newer superblock developments.
In addition to these growing economic and environmental issues, these developments—some containing more than 5,000 dwellings—hold the seeds of rapid social decay. As we experienced in the West, this urban pattern isolates people in huge impersonal landscapes that lack identity, safety (no “eyes on the street”), community, and a human scale. We demolished a generation of social housing built on this model, and I believe the Chinese eventually will too.
Courtesy Peter Calthorpe
Fortunately, Chenggong is experimenting with a new model of urban planning. With support from the national government and planning by the China Sustainable Transportation Center, our firm is redesigning 2,500 acres in the central district of the new town. The superblocks have been broken down to human-scale, traditional courtyard blocks.  The streets are smaller and more frequent—and many are auto free or dedicated for transit.  Parks are smaller but closer and safer with housing overlooking each.  Mixed-use buildings with sidewalk oriented shops and cafes rebuild the street-life that was once a hallmark of older Chinese communities. And ultimately jobs will balance with housing, avoiding the “bedroom community” disease that eroded suburbs all over the world.
This new pattern is in its “pilot” phase with government officials studying the results and policy implications. But there is every reason to believe timely corrections can be made, both in the incentives that distort the market and, perhaps most important, in China’s new cities. Creating the appropriate design DNA as well as the proper economic incentives will profoundly impact the long-term social, economic and environmental viability of urban centers that will be the largest and fastest growing in the history of mankind. For all of our sakes, let’s hope China gets it right.

Peter Calthorpe, a Berkeley-based architect and planner, heads up Calthorpe Associates. He is a founding member of the Congress for the New Urbanism and the author of several books, including his latest, Urbanism in the Age of Climate Change.

Editor's Note: Peter Calthorpe is a leading "Pied Piper" of New Urbanism and has been pushing for the urbanization of Marin for at least twenty years.  He was a consulting architect for the first massive "Marinwood City" vision that would have resulted 6000 residents in Silveira Ranch in the 1990s.   Fortunately that plan was scrapped but Susan Adams was instrumental in reviving a more insidious version which relies on taxpayer subsidized apartment blocks all over Marinwood/Lucas Valley and high density private development.

It is interesting to note that Peter Calthorpe prefers to live in a multimillion dollar estate in Berkeley Hills. No mixed use development for him.  He lives among the swells.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Bizarre Chinese "Smart Growth" Ghost Cities A warning for "Plan Bay Area"?

This story illustrates the fallacies of Smart Growth planning and "Disneyland" approach to architecture. Smart Growth planners think that a city simply needs interesting architecture and a logical street plan and "poof" an instant successful city with shops, people and commerce will emerge.  

How could you go wrong with the recreation of a world class city like Paris?

The reality is respect for the people, culture and values and a measure of free market economics create our best cities, like San Francisco.  The Soviet style, top down approach to planning like "Plan Bay Area" succeed in only destroying the special the natural beauty of people and place.  You cannot create another "Paris" without the Parisians, the artists, the history, the industry, and the culture. We must never surrender Marin to exploitation by central planners and crony developers.

We will Save Marin again!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Supervisor Susan Adams/Assemblymen Mark Levine Lobbies RWQCB to change Toxic Waste Clean up Order (1 minute)

This is just one of the shocking revelations at the February 12, 2014 hearing for the Toxic Waste Clean up at Marinwood Village. Seen here is the attorney for the current owner Marinwood Village, LLC aka Hoytt Enterprises. Also present was project manager, Lisa Grady for Bridge Housing. They are asking for vacating the cleanup order with the date of August 1, 2016 so they may have time to pursue financing and permitting.

 The toxic plume is migrating eastward under the 101 freeway and now is found perilously close to the drinking well on the Silvera Ranch from which dairy cattle and residents derive their water. Supervisor Adams and Assemblymen Mark Levine lobbied AGAINST the speedy cleenup for the benefit of Bridge Housing and Marinwood Village LLC.  The Toxic Plume is expected to contain PCB, the same toxin found at Love Canal, NY  which was proven to cause cancers and birth defects.  There is no known intrusion on the Silvera Ranch at this time but it is urgent that this matter be resolved before traveling further.

 Supervisor Susan Adams holds a doctorate in Nursing and cites her healthcare background as a key asset for serving as a County Supervisor. Check back. The full meeting video will be published shortly.

See the story in the Marin IJ HERE

Full Hearing on the Toxic Waste Cleanup for Marinwood Village

This is a full hearing on the Toxic Waste cleanup for Marinwood Village. Speakers include a team for Marinwood Plaza, LLC aka Hoytt Enterprises consisting of Attorney, Geologica consultants, and Wells Fargo Bank, Asset Manager; An Attorney for Silveira Ranches and Renee Silveira and Marinwood residents. Also present was the Bridge Housing project manager, Lisa Grady who did not speak but submitted comments.

The toxic plume has been known to exist since 2007 but only the minimal remediation efforts have taken place.. Marinwood Village, LLC asked the board to remove the clean up order and date of compliance so that they have more time to gather financing and permitting.  The Silveiras and the community objected citing health concerns. The Silveiras, their dairy cows, employees and the community fortunately prevailed over multiple phone calls from Supervisor Susan Adams and Assemblymen Mark Levine to stop the cleanup order to allow a "more flexible solution".

The board agreed unanimously with the Silveiras and Marinwood community members. Several RWQCB board members also commented that they are willing to consider an accelerated cleanup schedule to July 2015 due to the severity of the health implications.

According to the sworn testimony of the attorney for Marinwood Village, LLC,  Marin County Supervisor, Susan Adam  made several calls to the RWQCB to supporting the relaxed clean up schedule for Marinwood Village, LLC.  Assemblymen Marc Levine called a day prior to the hearing also to express support for the landowners and developers.

This is is a profound MORAL ISSUE.  Our elected representatives, choose to support builders, bankers and landowners over the public health. One would expect Dr. Susan L. Adams, with a PHD in Nursing to favor the public health.  She was defeated by a landslide in June  2014.

Susan Adams ran on the slogan "Cows not Condos" .  Now those same cows are threaten by a toxic plume that could poison them.  She lobbied for the Builders, Banks and Developers against the interests of the Silveiras, the Community and the Cows.   Susan Adams was defeated by a landslide in June 2014.