Saturday, August 8, 2015

Sky-High California Gas Prices Have a Green Additive

Sky-High California Gas Prices Have a Green Additive
The national average is $2.76 a gallon, while Golden State drivers pay $3.88. Eco-virtue is expensive.

ALLYSIA FINLEYJuly 17, 2015 7:08 p.m. ET

For most American families, the ritual summertime road trip is a lot cheaper this year thanks to plunging gas prices, propelled in part by the U.S. shale-oil boom. The average gas price nationally has dropped by nearly 25% to $2.76 a gallon over the past 12 months.

California is another story. While gasoline in the Golden State is averaging $3.88 a gallon, the average price in the Los Angeles market shot up 65 cents this week to $4.30 a gallon, about 20 cents higher than a year ago. Gas prices surpassed $5 per gallon at some stations, hitting $5.49 in downtown L.A., according to

As usual, purported consumer activists are blaming collusion among putatively monopolistic oil companies. The real culprit is anti-carbon regulation promoted by a cartel of green activists and liberal politicians that is aimed at raising energy costs to discourage consumption. Sticker shock at the pump, like water rationing and high electric rates, is the price Californians must pay for their environmental virtue.

For most of the 1980s and ’90s, Californians paid roughly the national average, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data. Since 1999—the year Democrat Gray Davis assumed the governorship following 16 years of Republican leadership—California gas prices have sizably surpassed the national average and most of the lower 48 states, principally due to more stringent fuel regulations. California gas taxes are also about 12 cents higher than the national average.

In 1999, Mr. Davis’s Air Resources Board banned the fuel additive MTBE—a smog-reducing oxygenate that in low quantities has been detected in groundwater. It also adopted cleaner “reformulated” fuel standards that raised production costs. A tiramisu of other environmental mandates have been layered into the state’s fuel standards.

The results? By 2006 Californians were paying 23 cents more than the national average for regular gas. The disparity increased to 40 cents in 2014 and now sits at $1.11.

Next to crude, electricity ranks as refiners’ largest production cost. Electric rates like gas prices have soared in California thanks to the state’s mandate that requires that renewables make up 33% of the state’s electricity by 2020. Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic legislators have proposed raising the mandate to 50% by 2030.

Over the past three years, electric rates in California rose by 2.18 cents per kilowatt-hour—about four times the rate nationally—as more solar and wind power has come online. Meanwhile, nuclear plants, which generate cheaper electricity, have been decommissioned, and hydropower has flagged because of the drought.

The state’s 2006 global-warming law, AB32, also established a cap-and-trade program that requires large industrial companies operating in the state to cut their carbon emissions or buy permits. Cap-and-trade auctions commenced in 2012, but this year refiners have to buy permits.

Based on an Air Resources Board analysis, the Western States Petroleum Association last year extrapolated that cap and trade would add 16 cents to 76 cents a gallon to the retail price of gas. Other economists projected a 10-cent bump. Sure enough, gas prices skyrocketed this year, though it’s tough to disentangle the impact of cap and trade from other ill-conceived environmental policies.

State and federal environmental mandates have forced several smaller, inefficient refineries in California to shut down over the past two decades. Only 14 refineries in California produce the state’s pristine-burning fuel, and most operate at nearly full capacity to stay cost-effective. Few refiners outside the state blend California’s reformulated fuel.

In most of the country, a problem at one refinery won’t significantly affect retail gas prices. But in California, when one refinery shuts down, others can’t pick up the slack. And it can take weeks to import refined fuel by tanker. In the meantime, customers are stuck paying higher prices.

Hence this year’s price swoon. Following an explosion at an Exxon Mobil refinery in Torrance, and a labor stoppage at a Tesoro plant in Martinez this winter, gasoline prices rose nearly a dollar. Eventually, imported oil helped cover the supply-demand gap. But recently a Tesoro refinery in Carson reduced its output to perform annual maintenance, which has again stretched supply in the Southern California market.

In May Democratic state legislators held hearings to “investigate” the gas price spike. San Francisco hedge-fund grandee Tom Steyer has demanded subpoenas of oil-industry executives.

“As everyone knows, the oil companies have been charging Californians up to $1 billion per month more for gasoline than if we paid the national average,” the billionaire environmentalist asserted. “It’s time to put an end to the Big Oil giveaway.” His remedy? An oil-extraction tax.

Here’s a better idea: Mr. Steyer and his liberal friends in Sacramento should take the stand to explain why they’re gouging consumers to indulge their rich green appetites.

Ms. Finley is an editorial writer at the Journal.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Disco Hits of the 70s!

The 3 Most and Least Libertarian Moments of The First GOP Debate

Requiem for the starter home — where are young families supposed to live?

Levittown, on New York’s Long Island, new starter homes were plentiful in the late 40s and 50s. Click to visit the Instant House blog, a tribute to manufactured homes.
I had a depressing conversation recently with someone who does big housing construction deals for a big bank. There’s only two types of deals that work, he said.  1) Building pricey, premium granite countertop homes for well-off folks or 2) Building affordable housing with government subsidies. Roughly speaking: construction for the rich or the poor. Nothing in between.
Most important, nothing for that apartment-dwelling couple with a toddler and a baby on the way.  That’s the lament I hear from all my urban friends around the country. Where can I start my family? Where is my starter home?
It’s gone. Builders and banks just can’t make money off humble homebuilding, or at least they think they can’t.
If he’s right, my banking friend solved a riddle that has been at the heart of The Restless Project: why do middle class folks feel so lost, even if they have decent jobs?
I set about trying to confirm my friend’s sentiment, and it was harder than I thought.  There’s little agreement on what a starter home is.  He blamed demanding millennials, who refuse to live in a house without granite.  While that’s partly true, I think the problem is much deeper.
In fact, you could argue (and I will) that starter homes are basically disappearing.  They aren’t being built and those that exist are either falling into functional disrepair (they are old), or more likely, being snapped up by investors to rent to young families.
First, a little housing lesson. Back in the post-War boom, America’s housing industry was on fire. Single-family housing starts jumped an incredibly 400 percent during the decade. According to this great housing history, in 1950, the average price was $11,000. For perspective, median income, in real dollars, was about $3,300.
But here’s the number to watch: the average home was 963 square feet. A majority of homes had two bedrooms and one bathroom.
By 1972, prices had jumped to $30,000 while family income was nearly $10,000.  Homes, which typically had three bedrooms and at least a bath and a half, now averaged 1,600 square feet. That kind of house can pretty comfortably shelter a family with 2.3 children.
Today, families are smaller — from 1970 to 2014, family size shrunk by about half a person.   What’s the average square footage of a home? About 2,500.  More space, fewer people.
That’s progress, of course. Now homes have central air and finished basements and man caves and spa tubs and yes, granite countertops.  But all those things are useless to young families who have no idea where to find the $500,000 they have to pay to live in a place with decent schools that’s within 50 miles of their workplace.
A healthy housing market would provide a wide spectrum of housing – the $200,000 tiny place, the $400,00 step-up home, the $700,000 dream home. I promise you that plenty of my apartment-dwelling friends would love a two-bedroom starter home on a cozy lot. But they don’t seem to exist. Why?
This story, “Are new starter homes history,” offers a tidy explanation.  For now, let’s peg $200,000 as a starter home price.  (For a fun fact, $30,000 in 1970 has the spending power of $185,000 today. But I’m going with round numbers). It begins with a tale I’ve told in other places — if a builder can construct homes that cost 2.5 times median household income in a neighborhood, the homes will sell like hotcakes. Two-and-a-half times?  Median household income is roughly $50,000 in America today.  See a lot of $125,000 homes sprouting up?
No. You don’t even see $200,000 homes sprouting up. In fact, only 46,000 new sub-$200,000 new homes were sold in 2014. Anywhere.
And here’s why, according to BuilderOnline.
Making a $200,000 home work as a home builder is junior-high–level arithmetic. Solving for profit—say, 20%—land and building direct costs can not exceed $160,000. Problem is, a 20% margin on a sub-$200,000 house has become frighteningly elusive in the past decade.
The lowest build cost is around a $50 a foot,” says David Goldberg, a home building and building products manufacturers analyst for UBS, New York. “If you do a 2,000-square-foot house, which is what you’d have to do to compete with existing stock, that leaves you with $100,000 of sticks-and-bricks cost. The maximum cost on the land would be $60,000.”
The catch to all this is that it’s not just one problem. No single culprit is killing the new starter home. A stream of factors—land, operational risk, labor, material costs, entitlement fees—converge at a single, all-too-real vanishing point where affordability becomes unaffordability.
Even if land can be secured at a reasonable cost, cash-thirsty localities heap fees upon fees that weigh more and more heavily on final home price tags. Chris Cates, co-owner of Fayetteville, N.C.–based Caviness & Cates Communities, estimates that regulations that stipulate he has to convert stormwater ponds to permanent ponds and bond items such as street lights, sidewalks, landscaping, and retention ponds have doubled his development costs.
So the numbers just don’t work. But left unsaid in another obvious factor, typical in all industries — every business strives to sell premium, high-margin goods.  Your coffee shop wants to sell you pour-over brews at twice the price.  You bar wants you to buy microbrews.  Your car dealer wants you to buy an Ford Escalade, not a Ford Focus. The low end of the market is for suckers, or Walmart. At least until demand becomes overwhelming in that segment. But even then…housing isn’t like hamburgers.  Even if builders today decided America needed 5 million new mid-range affordable homes, it would take years for projects to take shape, get approvals, get financing, etc.  Housing is very slow to react to demand.
But that’s why there’s “used” homes, right?  Young families are supposed to buy a needs-TLC place in their 20s, fix it up, and trade up to their dream home later.
The problem is cheaper, older starter homes are nearly as hard to find. Here’s one piece of evidence: The folks at RealtyTrac ran the numbers for me, and it turns out that year-to-date sales of sub-$200,000 homes is down this year compared to the last three years. That’s strange, given that sales above $200,000 are up. For example, two years ago, there were 395,000 sub $200,000 homes sold from January to May. This year, there were only 343,000.  Rising prices can’t account for more than a fraction of that drop.
Worse yet, families who would buy cheaper homes are being edged out by investors who buy the homes and rent them out. Non-occupant buyers of single-family homes hit a record last quarter, according to RealtyTrac.
Worst of all — that’s even more true in hot, affordable communities where families are fleeing to avoid NYC and San Francisco prices.
Among metropolitan statistical areas with a population of at least 500,000, Memphis, Tennessee posted the highest share of institutional investor purchases of single family homes in the first quarter of 2015 — 14.1 percent — followed by Charlotte, North Carolina (12.1 percent), Atlanta, Georgia (9.6 percent), Jacksonville, Florida (8.5 percent) and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (7.6 percent).
Of course investors are buying in those places. At a time when it’s very hard to make money by saving, and the stock market appears fragile, renting to stable families is a great way to make return on investment.
Housing expert and loan officer Logan Mohtashami talks about the “cracked equilibrium” that has led to this state of affairs. Dual income parents with decent jobs shut out of the housing market because there’s just nothing but luxury homes to buy, trying to stick it out in their one-bedroom apartment.  I keep saying that average people with average jobs can’t afford average homes in America, and that’s the source of untold strife.
There’s no law of nature that says buying a home is superior to renting one.  There are plenty of logical reasons that young folks might choose to rent instead of buy, and more power to them. It’s been good for America to shed the idea that housing is a guaranteed investment / retirement plan.  But Mohtashami warns about the potential long-lasting social consequences of an all-renter / landlord society.
“Are we at the beginning of a sociological movement away from middle class home ownership and towards a cultural split between the investment property landlords and their renters both of whom may have less personal investment in neighborhood security, local schools and shared public facilities compared to primary homeowners?”
Buying has one huge advantage over renting — fixed monthly payments.  In all but the most unusual situation, that means housing really becomes cheaper as time passes, thanks to inflation. That is not true of renting, and certainly not now.  Rents are rising at record rates around the country.
That puts families who want a place to live between a rock and….no place, really.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Ralph Nader Q&A: How Progressives and Libertarians Are Taking on Corrupt Dems and Reps.

The total support of the military-industrial complex and empire by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton is staggering," Ralph Nader tells Reason TV. "Everybody has an equal right to run for election. We're either all spoilers of one another, trying to get votes from one another or none of us are spoilers. We're not second-class citizens because we're a Green Party candidate or a Libertarian candidate....The brass of these two parties is they control the election machinery so they keep you off the ballot, harass you, file a lawsuit, delay you, exhaust you."

Nader's latest book is Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State.

The longtime consumer activist, recidivist presidential candidate, and several-time host of Saturday Night Live talks with Nick Gillespie about what he sees as a new libertarian-progressive attack on crony capitalism, whether GM cars were ever any damn good, and why the Democrats still wrongly insist that he cost Al Gore the 2000 presidential election. Oh yeah, and the article of his Reason published back in the early '70s!

It's a wide-ranging, spirited, fun, and at times contentious conversation.

About an hour long. Produced by Joshua Swain.

From "Up Sucker CreeK" Charting the demolition of Single Family Homes. (to Build Multi-Unit Apartment Buildings)

Demolition derby

It's a race to destroy our present and our past 

And the future doesn't look very bright either

This website intrigues and depresses me.  Portland Chronicle charts the demolition of houses in Multnomah County.  They have been extremely busy this year.  Below are maps of demolitions in Portland in 2015 to date, and all of 2014.  From the website you can zoom in to see exact locations.  From the menu you can select the list of demolitions and count them.  I did not take the time to do this - the list was too long.

What would such a list look like for Lake Oswego?  How many tear-downs are there per acre (not counting lakes or rivers) in each city?   It would be an interesting comparison, but it is distressing no matter which city you live in.  

REM-"It's the End of The World" & Why you should be a Rational Optimist


I love the R.E.M. song,  "It's the End of the World" because it illustrates the fleeting nature of crisis and popular imagination.  Matt Ridley, author of the excellent book "The Rational Optimist" makes the case for optimism in the human condition based on a factual reading of history.  The world is constantly evolving to a BETTER PLACE with more freedom, imagination and "ideas having sex"/

2 immigrants in U.S. illegally are named to Huntington Park commissions

2 immigrants in U.S. illegally are named to Huntington Park commissions

Julian Zatarain, far left, says the pledge of allegiance before being appointed to the Huntington Park parks and recreation commission. He has lived in the country illegally since age 13. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
By CINDY CARCAMO AND RUBEN VIVEScontact the reporters

Julian Zatarain always assumed the doors of City Hall were closed to him because he is here illegally, arriving from Sinaloa in 2007 when he was 13.

The 21-year-old college student found other outlets for service, such as volunteering for the Red Cross and with an organization that helps young people like him get access to educational resources.

Then on Monday, Zatarain proudly accepted an appointment to the Huntington Park parks and recreation commission. Another immigrant here illegally, Francisco Medina, 29, won an appointment to the health and education commission.

"I'm speaking out for people like me," Zatarain said. "I'm not doing anything wrong."

Immigrants object to growing use of ankle monitors after detention

Their appointments mark a bold — and controversial — step by the small southeast Los Angeles County city to boost the participation of these immigrants in city government.

The working-class communities along the 710 Freeway have long been entry points for immigrants from Mexico and Latin America — a good portion arriving illegally.

The demographics have resulted in much lower-than-average voter turnout, with some elections dropping below 10% in the last decade. In one election in Bell, only 2% of the voting-age population cast ballots; balloting in nearby South Gate brought out only 3%.

There is also the belief that the lack of civic engagement has helped foster the corruption that has plagued city halls across southeast L.A. County, most notably the Bell scandal over public officials' salaries that resulted in national headlines and multiple criminal convictions of top leaders.

People who are in this country illegally cannot vote or seek elected office, but officials in Huntington Park said their status should not stop them from helping govern in other ways.

"Our population includes documented and undocumented immigrants, and I wanted to make sure everyone could participate," Huntington Park Mayor Karina Macias said. "If we're going to talk about transparency, being open and having a community that's involved, then the conversation also has to include undocumented immigrants. I'm hoping other cities are looking at what we're doing here."

Macias said the city began accepting new applications for commission posts two months ago, and officials began wondering what would stop them from appointing people who are living in the country illegally.

State law does not prohibit people who are in the country illegally from serving as appointed commissioners.

Both men are required to undergo full background checks. And unlike other city commissioners, Zatarain and Medina won't receive a monthly stipend, which generally ranges from $25 to $75.

"These two gentlemen have thousands of hours of volunteer work," said Jhonny Pineda, a Huntington Park councilman who formally appointed both men. "They are qualified but it just turns out they are undocumented."

Experts say the move reflects a growing effort in heavily Latino cities to push for more inclusion of people without legal status in public life. Several years ago, Maywood — which is next door to Huntington Park — made national headlines by declaring itself a "sanctuary" for those who are in the country illegally and repealed practices that some considered anti-immigrant.

"It's all about inclusion in civic engagement and also about using the resources a city has, and the No. 1 resource in any city are its people," said Fernando Guerra, a political science professor who also serves as director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University.

This inclusion is also occurring at the state level. California this year began issuing driver's licenses to people without legal status. This summer, the California Legislature passed a measure that provides healthcare to many immigrants who are in the country illegally.

The U.S. Census Bureau last month said Latinos are now the largest ethnic group in California. But Latinos still have lower income levels than whites, and many believe the low voter turnout is blunting their political influence.

Reaction to the appointments has been decidedly mixed inside and outside Huntington Park.

Linda Caraballo, a former councilwoman and resident of Huntington Park, said that while she doesn't oppose the people who are in the country illegally, she is against the appointments of the two men, fearing it would produce bad press for the city.

"There are more qualified people," she said. "How could they be policy advisors if they can't even vote for the council members? This is just going to bring media attention, it's going to create national debate and it is something the city of Huntington Park doesn't need."

Robin Hvidston, executive director of We the People Rising, an immigration enforcement group in Claremont, said the appointments take two commission seats from U.S. citizens.

"To appoint commission seats to individuals who are breaking federal laws demonstrates that lack of respect for U.S. law," she said.

But others argued that it's important for immigrants to feel like they have a stake in how their communities are governed. When more people care about these issues, the chances of corruption are lessened, said Antonio Gonzalez, president of the William C. Velasquez Institute — a Latino-focused public policy and research organization.

"The environment of where corruption flourishes is an environment where there is almost always a low level of scrutiny in monitoring and accountability and that is always characteristic of low level civic engagement," he said. "The participation in commissions is a logical and healthy step forward."

Zatarain, who is attending Santa Monica College, said he chose the parks and recreation commission because he believes he can help the city provide better services for residents.

He said he first thought about getting involved in government after the city picked a new trash hauler and garbage started piling up on streets.

"I was upset," Zatarain said. "Why was my city dealing with this...? I came to realize, I wanted to get involved and help."

Editors Note:  I am very pro legal immigration but I was shocked by this story.  I wonder where we are headed if we cannot have a legal, democratic government.   We need better immigration policy and uniform laws. Ultimately, carving out special status hurts the people meant to help the most.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Livable and Lovable Transit Oriented Development coming to Marin just like Malaysia, Hong Kong, Bejiing and Singapore!

Check out this hooky promotional video for transit oriented development put out by a Malaysian government office.  x=

It promotes the vision of UC Berkeley Architect, Peter Calthorpe who proposed designs for St Vincents/Silveira in the 1990s and is consulting Marin for San Quentin,  Strawberry, and Marin City.

ABAG/MTC still has all property within the 1/2 mile along the 101 corridor inside a proposed  PRIORITY DEVELOPMENT AREA which will mean more Wincup style apartment blocks and the destruction of single family neighborhoods.  Marinwood has been termed a "Transit Oriented Town Center" and is planned to have upto 4500 homes along the 1/2 mile strip of land next to the 101 Freeway.

Do any of these photos in the video look like a place in Marin where you would like to live?   

We must Save Marin Again!

P.S. Peter Calthorpe doesn't live in a TOD.  No...  He lives in a multimillion dollar gated estate in Berkeley Hills.
It PAYS to be "smart".

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Mall’s Washed Up? Not Quite Yet

Mall’s Washed Up? Not Quite Yet

Home » Demographics » Mall’s Washed Up? Not Quite Yet
By Joel Kotkin
David McNew/Reuters
David McNew/Reuters
The conventional wisdom wrote off the shopping mall long ago, but while no one was looking, the reinvented mall succeeded in attracting new urban and ethnic clienteles
Maybe it’s that reporters don’t like malls. After all they tend to be young, highly urban, single, and highly educated, not the key demographic at your local Macy’s, much less H&M.
But for years now, the conventional wisdom in the media is that the mall—particularly in the suburbs—is doomed. Here a typical sample from The Guardian: “Once-proud visions of suburban utopia are left to rot as online shopping and the resurgence of city centers make malls increasingly irrelevant to young people.”
To be sure, there are hundreds of outmoded malls, long-in-the-tooth complexes most commonly found in working-class suburbs and inner-ring city neighborhoods. Some will never come back. By some estimates, something close to 10 to 15 percent of the country’s estimated 1,000 malls will go out of business over the next decade; many of them are located in areas where budgets have been very tight, with locals tending to shop at “power centers” built around low-end discounters such as Target or Walmart.
But the notion that Americans don’t like malls anymore is misleading. The roughly 400 malls that service more-affluent communities—like those typically anchored by a Bloomingdale’s or Nordstrom—recovered most quickly from the recession, and now appear to be doing quite well.
To suggest malls are dead based on failure in failed places would be like suggesting that the manifest shortcomings of Baltimore or Buffalo means urban centers are not doing well. Like cities, not all malls are alike.
Looking across the entire landscape, it’s clear the mall is transforming itself to meet the needs of a changing society but is hardly in its death throes. Last year, vacancy rates in malls flattened for the first time since the recession. The gains from e-commerce—6.5 percent of sales last year, up from 3.5 percent in 2010—has had an effect, but bricks and mortar still constitutes upwards of 90 percent of sales. There’s still little new construction, roughly one-seventh what it was in 2006, but that’s roughly twice that in 2010.
Shopping in stores, according to a recent study from A.T. Kearney, is preferred over online-only by every age group, including, most surprisingly, millennials, although many of them research on the web, then visit the store, and sometimes then order on line. The malls that are flourishing tend to be newer or retrofitted and are pitched at expanding demographic markets. These “cathedrals of commerce” in the past tended to reflect the mass sameness of mid-century America; those in the future focus on distinct niches—ethnic, income, even geographical—that are not only viable but highly profitable.
This leaves us with a tale of two kinds of malls. One clear dividing line is customer base. In the ’80s and before, malls succeeded fairly universally, notes Houston investor Blake Tartt. But now it’s a matter of being in the right place. “Everything has changed and you have to be with the right demographics,” he suggests. “It’s not so much about the mall but the location that matters.”
Old malls in declining areas, notes a recent analysis by the consultancy Costar, do truly face a “bleak future” and should look to be convertedinto apartments, houses, corporate headquarters, or churches.
In contrast, affluent urban areas are becoming an unexpected hotspot for malls—even outlet malls are opening open in the urban core. You now see gigantic malls in places like Manhattan: the Shops on Columbus mall in Manhattan, the world’sfifth-most profitable mall, looks inside like it was teleported from Orange County, California, or, god forbid, Long Island.
This is not unusual across the world. Malls are on the march in many of the world’s biggest cities, including Istanbul, Mumbai, Singapore, and Dubai. Today Asia is the site of seven of the world’s 10 largest malls, in places like Beijing, Dubai, and Kuala Lumpur.
In the developing world, malls grow as local shopping streets either gentrify or decay. This is particularly true in fast-growing developing countries where malls are often seen as an escape from hot, humid, dirty and even dangerous urban environments. Indian novelist and Mumbai blogger Amit Varma suggests that these folks like malls “because they are relatively clean and sanitized” as opposed to the city’s pollution-choked, beggar-ridden and often foul-smelling streets.
Ethnic Malls
Within the U.S., demographic change is creating opportunities for a new breed of mall-maker. Across the country, savvy investors and developers have been buying older malls, which tended to serve either Anglo or African-American customers, and shifting them instead to focus on fast-growing ethnic markets. Such malls can now be found in traditional Latino areas such as Southern California and Texas, but they also exist in Atlanta, Las Vegas, Oklahoma City, and Charlotte, places that have recently become major hubs for immigrants.
“We had a terrific recession,” notes Los Angeles-based mall maven Jose Legaspi, who has developed 12 such malls around the country. “You do well if you target specific niches that are growing. You can’t make it with a plain vanilla mall. We are creating in these places a Hispanic downtown.”
Fort Worth’s 1.2 million-square-foot La Gran Plaza, which Legaspi manages, epitomizes the advantages of such marketing. When investor Andrew Segal bought the mall in 2005, it was a failing facility that primarily serviced a working-class Anglo population. Barely 15 percent of the mall’s tenants were both open and paying rent.
Segal quickly recognized that the area around the mall—like much of urban Texas—was becoming more diverse, in this case largely Latino.
Segal and Legaspi redid the once prototypical plain vanilla mall to look more like a Northern Mexican town plaza, a design pattern developed by Los Angeles architect David Hidalgo. Latino customers are drawn to amenities like large and comfortable family bathrooms, an anchor supermarket, mariachi music shows, and even Catholic masses. There is also a “swap meet” that accommodates small vendors, something that Legaspi sees as essential to creating “a carnival of retail experiences.” By 2008, when the face-lift was complete, the mall achieved 90 percent occupancy. Today La Gran Plaza is effectively “full,” says Segal, who is considering a further expansion of the mall.
The viability of ethnic malls in hard times demonstrated their viability in better ones. When Dr. Alethea Hsu opened her Diamond Jamboree Center in Irvine, California, the state was reeling from the recession. Yet from the time she opened in 2008, her mall, which focuses on Orange County’s large and expanding Asian population, has been fully occupied. It includes various realty offices, hair salons, medical offices, a Korean supermarket, and a small Japanese department store, all primarily aimed at a diverse set of Asian customers. The biggest problem—for those interested in choosing among various kinds of Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, or Japanese cuisine—is not that it’s deserted but that it’s often difficult to get a parking space.
Be sure of this: The ethnic mall is no flash in the pan, at least as long as immigrants pour into this country. By 2000, one in five American children already were the progeny of immigrants, mostly Asian or Latino; today they make up as much as one-third of American kids. These kids, and their own offspring, not to mention Anglo or African-American friends, have been brought up with food and fashion tastes that often originate in Mexico, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, or China. When I was a kid growing up in New York, you went to Chinatown or Little Italy for an ethnic infusion. Now you get in your car, park, and get options not so dissimilar than what you would find—usually in a mall—in Mexico City, Mumbai, or Singapore.
The World According to Rick
For most of America, says Los Angeles developer Rick Caruso, the future lies in replicating the function that Main Street once served. Rather than simply a center for instant consumption and transactions, the mall is a social meeting point, says Caruso, who has 10 developments under his belt. To make it all work means adding often unconventional amenities such as live entertainment or the lighting of Christmas trees and the Chanukah menorah.
This is part of a broader mall trend in which developers see their properities as community and entertainment centers, an approach adopted now by mainstream mall developers such as Westfield, whose projects are increasingly open-air and built around amenities such as health clubs and trendy restaurants and cafes.
The ultimate example may be the Caruso-owned Grove, a giant open-air mall that lies next to the Farmers’ Market, one of the oldest and beloved shopping areas in Los Angeles. The world’s eighth-most profitable mall, the Grove is laid out like a Disneyesque Main Street and is particularly appealing to families and tourists. Overall, the Grove now ranks among L.A.’s leading tourist attractions. This reflects both the development’s pleasant, pedestrian-oriented design as well as proximity to the Farmer’s Market, which remains, as has been traditional, largely a collection of small, idiosyncratic stalls.
A sense of place is what makes the Grove—and, to a lesser extent, Caruso’s other developments—work. Located in the Miracle Mile district of L.A., it attracts a huge urban population that includes old Jewish shoppers from the immediate area as well as the growing ranks of hipsters, tourists, and the rest of the vast diversity that is Los Angeles. Caruso’s other centers, like the Commons in suburban Calabasas and The Promenade in Westlake, may lack global appeal but they succeed as anchors of their communities. Without developed, large historic downtowns, these communities still need a central place, and for them, the malls, however imperfectly, come closest to delivering it.
In today’s environment, Caruso suggests, a mall has to offer something that online retailers, power centers, or catalogs cannot provide: a social experience. “You have to differentiate yours, offer a place for people to gather for holidays. People are yearning for a place to connect with each other. We are not building just town centers, but the centers of towns.”
Ironically these malls are fulfilling a role that some urbanists have denounced the suburbs for lacking. “What do most urbanists want?,” asks David Levinson, director of the Networks, Economics, and Urban Systems Research Group. “A lively, pedestrian realm, clean, free of automobiles, with a variety of activities, the ability to interact with others and randomly encounter friends and acquaintances. This is what the shopping mall gives.”
The New Town Center: With Suburban Revival, New Hope for Malls
The notion of dead malls has been connected to a similar idea about the inevitable demise of the suburbs, which appeared possible at the height of the recession, but has since been shown to be largely false. Suburbs may not be booming as in the ’90s, but they are now growing as fast as core cities, and constitute more than 70 percent of all new population and 80 percent of new job growth since 2010.
Surprisingly, the most recent numbers suggest that the outer suburbs and exurbs, once consigned to Hades by the new urbanist crowd, have begun to roar back. Millennials, as they get older, notes Jed Kolko, now seem to be moving to what he calls “the suburbiest” areas farther out on the periphery.
It is in these areas that malls may have their greatest future. In communities like Irvine, where the Spectrum development has become the de facto downtown, or Sugar Land, a highly diverse outer suburb of Houston, the “town center” is essentially a mall in brick, made to look like an old Main Street but filled with chain stores and specialty restaurants. Many residents of fast-growing communities like Sugar Land, which has 83,000 residents, are relative newcomers, and for them such town centers are the focus of their communities.
It is time to dispense with the twin memes of mall- and suburb-bashing, and begin appreciating and improving how most Americans live and shop. The malls of the future indeed may be very different in many ways—more segmented by income and ethnicity, more entertainment- and experience-oriented. But they will continue to serve an important focus for most American communities. And at a time when many of our most celebrated cities have themselves become giant malls (is there any place on Earth more boring than the area around Times Square?), the future of malls may prove brighter, and even more transformative, than commonly imagined.

More local decisions usurped by ideological regulators

More local decisions usurped by ideological regulators

BY JOEL KOTKIN / Staff columnist

In hip, and even not-so-hip, circles, markets, restaurants and cultural festivals across the country, local is in. Many embrace this ideal as an economic development tool, an environmental win and a form of resistance to ever-greater centralized big business control.

Yet when it comes to areas being able to choose their urban form and for people to cluster naturally – localism is now being constantly undermined by planners and their ideological allies, including some who superficially embrace the notion of localism.

In order to pursue their social and perceived environmental objectives, they have placed particular onus on middle- and upper-class suburbs, whose great crime appears to be that they tend to be the places people settle if they have the means to do so.

Central planning

Nothing is more basic to the American identity than leaving basic control of daily life to local communities and, as much as is practical, to individuals. The rising new regulatory regime seeks decisively to change that equation. To be sure, there is a need for some degree of regulation, notably for basic health and public safety, as well as maintaining and expanding schools, parks, bikeways and tree-planting, things done best when supported by local voters.

But the current regulatory wave goes well beyond traditional methodology. It reflects policies more akin to those central planners, who, as Chapman University researcher Alicia Kurimska suggests, dominated city planning in the once-massive Soviet bloc. There, theorists like Alexei Gutnov, lead author of the influential 1968 essay “The Ideal Communist City,” saw the city as providing “a concrete spatial agenda for Marxism.” Gutnov acknowledged the appeal of suburbia – “ideal conditions for rest and privacy are offered by the individual house situated in the midst of nature,” but rejected the suburban model common in America and other capitalist countries. Gutnov favored high-density development, in part, because private homes might encourage people to focus on their families and their property rather than on the overarching collective dream of achieving socialism.

‘Smart growth’ enforcers

Sadly, our fair state, California, has become the new Vatican for a similarly minded approach, this one largely driven largely by environmental determinism. Under the provisions of 2008’s Senate Bill 375, the drive to reduce greenhouse gases will not be advanced through gradual technological improvement but by strangling the suburban preferences of the vast majority of residents. In the process, local priorities now can be sacrificed for the predilections of our own central planners and a governor who has made little secret of his detestation of the very suburban “sprawl” that accommodates some 85 percent of residents in large U.S. metro areas.

In the past, the key decisions about density were left up to localities. Yet today, notes Ontario Mayor pro Tem Alan Wapner, powers once reserved for localities, such as zoning and planning, systematically have been usurped by Sacramento. The state determines policies and then employs, bureaucracies such as the Southern California Association of Governments and the Bay Area Association of Governments, to be its “smart growth” enforcers. “They are basically dictating land use,” Wapner said.

This shift disturbs not only conservatives, but suburban moderates and even some progressives. Nation magazine contributor and Bay Area activist Zelda Bronstein, for example, has attacked ABAG for its “insular, peremptory” style of decision making. She accuses local politicians and planners of caving in to what she refers to as “real estate Democrats,” essentially, local crony capitalists who would benefit from densification policies.

In the Bay Area, planners now mandate that all growth in the next 25 years will take place on 4 percent of the land, essentially contrary to the largely suburban growth that has characterized the region. It’s hard to see how this approach will do anything but spike real estate prices even higher.

This is not just a suburban issue: Even locals in San Francisco have opposed further intensification that they fear, justifiably, would turn the city into Manhattan West and destroy its physically stunning landscape.

For most of the population, residential high density’s benefits are even less obvious. Los Angeles has embraced ever-expanding density for at least a decade. This has occurred as the balance of power has moved from low- and moderate-density neighborhoods to an unholy alliance of developers and planners, who hope to feed on the city’s declining percentage of homeowners and the eroding suburban character of all but the wealthiest enclaves.

So how is this approach working? The density-oriented online publication Atlantic Cities celebrates these trends by hailing L.A. as America’s “biggest anti-sprawl success story.” But few look at how the denser Los Angeles is turning out. On virtually every measurement – poverty, unemployment, low education results – Los Angeles lags not only relatively prosperous Orange County, but even statewide averages. Even the region’s elites admit that the area is now in secular decline.

Of course, some hipsters and empty-nesters love the new, dense Los Angeles, and they are welcome to enjoy it. Yet there is little evidence that most Angelenos, and particularly families, want to live cheek-to-jowl. Given the city’s existing dispersed employment pattern, few find public transit a reasonable option – despite the spending of more than $10 billions on trains, the percentage of L.A. commuters taking transit is little changed from 1990. Large numbers also have been heading out of L.A. for well over a decade, paralleling the hegira from other dense regions, such as New York City.

Federal social engineering

Ironically, this approach may prove somewhat unnecessary and even counter-productive in terms of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. As McKinsey has noted, there is no need to change the fundamental way people live to achieve continued progress on emissions. But this practical approach will not dissuade planners and their allies from seeking to control how people live. More pragmatic policies such as improved vehicle mileage, tree planting and encouraging working from home can certainly reduce greenhouse gases without seriously impinging the majority’s aspiration.

But rather than being just the latest California lunacy, the demise of local control is now going national. A cascading tide of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations already threatens future developments, particularly those that cater to middle-class homeowners. In addition, regulations from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development aim to force communities into inviting a designated number of poor people to achieve greater sociological and racial balance.

This soft Stalinism will be accomplished by suggesting that current housing patterns, despite no evidence of discrimination, have a “disparate impact” on the poor. HUD’s Julian Castro acknowledges that the real aim is to force middle-class communities into becoming instruments of top-down social justice. The Soviet Union may be history, but Alexei Gutnov would be proud.

Ironically, this targeting of suburbs is occurring just as minorities, who, like other Americans, generally prefer lower-density living, are flocking there. African American “strivers” have moved away from the city in increasing numbers in recent decades, notes the Brookings Institution. According to a University of Minnesota report, in the 50 largest U.S. metropolitan areas, 44 percent of residents live in racially and ethnically diverse suburbs, defined as between 20 percent and 60 percent nonwhite.

Immigration and the growth of other non-Anglo groups have accelerated this integration. Roughly 60 percent of Hispanics and Asians, notes Brookings, already live in suburbs, and more than 40 percent of noncitizen immigrants now move directly to suburbs.

Simply put, racial integration is occurring, as it should, both massively and organically. This trend reflects most people’s basic aspirations and desires. This social ascendency will not be helped by forcing upwardly mobile minorities to accommodate a policy that imposes on them again the social problems – poor schools, gangs, unemployment – they sought to leave behind.

This assault on local control could, over time, upset the political balance even in Democratic strongholds. This can be seen, ironically, even in the “greenest” areas, such as Marin County, north of San Francisco, where residents have objected to densification schemes, which, they maintain, would undermine the “the small-town, semirural and rural character of their neighborhoods,” noted one opponent, that drew residents there in the first place.

Similarly, attempts to force density have already sparked uproars in other blue bastions, such as the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., Davis, Calif., and Boulder, Colo.

This undermining of the gentry liberal base, notes New York Times opinion writer Tom Edsall, can already be seen from HUD’s earliest forays into social engineering. Edsall notes that HUD’s dictates may have already shifted politics to the right in the affluent New York City suburb of Westchester County, an early target of the social engineers.

Ultimately, the assault on localism should concern not only free-market conservatives or fans of limited government, but anyone who values the basic ideal of personal choice and the right to pursue your aspirations. Such a struggle fostered the first American Revolution, and might well become a rationale for another, more peaceful grass-roots rebellion.

Joel Kotkin is the R.C. Hobbs Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University in Orange and the executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism (

His most recent book is “The New Class Conflict” (Telos Publishing: 2014).

Concerns over signs of gentrification in Chinatown

Concerns over signs of gentrification in Chinatown

Posted: Jul 30, 2015 11:14 PM PDT
SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) - San Francisco Chinatown has long been the hub for Chinese immigrants as both a place to live and work.
But now, some say signs of gentrification and the tech boom are threatening to drive longtime residents out of their homes.
The historical neighborhood is place where culture and history are on full display. There is what's called the Chinatown Area Plan in place to protect that identity.
But the area is facing new challenges, including rising rents, empty storefronts and evictions of low income tenants. "What we're seeing is some early red flags," said Cindy Wu, deputy director with the Chinatown Community Development Center.

Red flags - which some community leaders say include longtime businesses like the Empress of China Restaurant shutting down, and single room occupancy hotels being used for more lucrative short term rentals.
"They're charging up to $150 a night where we used to see SRO's going for $600 a month. If you can get $150 a night, what are you up against?" said Wu.
Speaking in Cantonese, an older Chinese woman shared with KTVU a notice she says she received Thursday. The notice informed her that the building, where she and other low income tenants live, is now being sold.
Tenants say many people have lived in the building anywhere from 8 years to 30 years.
On Thursday night, they headed to a community meeting worried about being evicted in favor of higher paying tenants.
They pay about $500 a month for a single room.

"Chinatown is dying, that is what I feel," said tenant Joe Leung.
To keep Chinatown from dying, some say 25-year-old Jenny Chan, co-founder of 1920C, is the new blood needed. The company offers work space, Wi-Fi and other services for a membership fee.
Chan says the space was once a restaurant where she ate dim sum growing up in the city. "I live really close by. That's why I really wanted a community oriented space," said Chan.  
But critics say the building is not zoned for the type of business Chan is running and that it violates the Chinatown Area Plan.
"I feel hurt as a community member," said Chan.

"We really want to protect Chinatown as an immigrant gateway for immigrants but also for low income people who need a place that's affordable in the city," said Wu.

The space Chan is in was vacant for 8 years before she opened her business.
She expects a decision from the zoning department sometime in the coming weeks.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Next Stage of development of Marin is upzoning Single Family Home Neighborhoods like Portland and Seattle. (Important film for Marin)

Den$ity: Profit Over People in Portland, Oregon from Straw Bale Films on Vimeo.

This is an important film for the people of Marin to watch.  Portland, Oregon is thought to be the "cutting edge" of smart growth policies for densification.   Marin undoubtedly is heading this way.

Last year, Planning Commissioners openly talked about the elimination of "racist" single family home zoning.  They contend that building apartments is the only way neighborhoods can become more inclusive.

The Community Development Department has been advocating "densification" policies along the "101 Priority Development Area".  Although it is no longer "official" planning is underway to urbanize all areas within 1/2 mile of the 101 corridor.

Thomas Jefferson on Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Thomas Jefferson
was a very remarkable man who started
learning very
early in life and never stopped.

At 5, began
studying under his cousin's tutor.

At 9, studied
Latin, Greek and French.

At 14, studied
classical literature and additional languages.

At 16, entered
the College of William and Mary.
Also could write in Greek with one hand
while writing the same in Latin with the other.

At 19, studied
Law for 5 years starting under George Wythe.

At 23, started
his own law practice.

At 25, was
elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses.

At 31, wrote the
widely circulated "Summary View of the Rights of British America" And
retired from his law practice.

At 32, was a
delegate to the Second Continental Congress.

At 33, wrote the
Declaration of Independence.

At 33, took
three years to revise Virginia's legal code and wrote a Public Education
bill and a statute for Religious Freedom.

At 36, was
elected the second Governor of Virginia succeeding Patrick

At 40, served in
Congress for two years.

At 41, was the
American minister to France and
negotiated commercial treaties with
European nations
along with Ben
Franklin and John Adams..

At 46, served as
the first Secretary of State
under George

At 53, served as
Vice President and was elected
president of the American Philosophical

At 55, drafted
the Kentucky Resolutions and
became the active head of Republican

At 57, was
elected the third president of the

At 60, obtained
the Louisiana Purchase doubling
the nation's

At 61, was
elected to a second term as President.

At 65, retired
to Monticello ..

At 80, helped
President Monroe shape the

At 81, almost
single-handedly created the University of Virginia and served as its first

At 83, died on
the 50th anniversary of the Signing of the Declaration of Independence along
with John Adams.

Thomas Jefferson
knew because he himself studied the previous failed attempts at government.
He understood
actual history, the nature of God, His laws and the nature
of man. That happens to be way more than what most understand

Jefferson really
knew his stuff.

A voice from the
past to lead us in the future:

John F. Kennedy
held a dinner in the White House for a group of the brightest minds
in the nation at that time. He made this statement: "This is perhaps
the assembly of
the most intelligence ever to gather at one time in
the White House with the exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined

"When we
get piled upon one another in large cities, as in
we shall
become as corrupt as Europe ." --

democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those
who are
willing to work and give to those who would not."

"It is
incumbent on every generation to pay its own debts as it goes.
principle which if acted on would save one-half the wars of the

predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government
from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of
them." --

reading of history convinces me that most bad government
from too much government." --

"No free
man shall ever be debarred the use of
arms." --

strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms
as a
last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in

tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to
with the
blood of patriots and tyrants." --

compel a man to subsidize with his taxes the propagation of ideas which he
abhors is sinful and tyrannical."

Jefferson said in 1802:

believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than
standing armies.

If the
American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their
first by
inflation, then by deflation,
banks and corporations that will grow up around
the banks
deprive the people of all property -
their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers