Saturday, October 24, 2015
By Peter FimriteOctober 23, 2015 Updated: October 23, 2015 9:00pm
Photo: Nathaniel Y. Downes, The Chronicle
From left, Brandon Cono and Wendell Smith, bartenders at the Annual Meeting of The Minds, an event where the future of urban sustainability is reviewed, work behind the bar in Craneway Pavilion on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015 in Richmond, Calif.
It was a tough call, but Hugo Von Meijenfeldt thought he detected a hint of astronaut wastewater in the beer that he had just gulped.
The consul general for the Netherlands — who, as representative of the second-largest exporter of beer in the world, purports to know his way around a brewery — declared with some authority that the robust brew he had just tasted was the one made out of recycled wastewater supplied by NASA.
MORE ON RECYCLED WATER
Will the ‘yuck factor’ sink California water recycling?
He was wrong.
“I liked the one that was less hoppy, which I thought was not the recycled beer,” said Von Meijenfeldt, one of two people on a five-judge panel at the Meeting of the Minds sustainability convention taste test in Richmond on Thursday who couldn’t tell one potation from the other.
The blind tasting was an attempt by Maverick’s Brewing Co., an affiliate of Half Moon Bay Brewing Co., to bring attention to the importance of using wastewater as a resource and combat what water officials call the “yuck factor.” The event was held in front of more than 400 leaders from 15 countries during an all-day conference at Richmond’s Craneway Pavilion to discuss various urban sustainability projects.
The prospect of treating sewer water and redirecting it back into faucets is considered by many the future of California. Such recycling, which involves treating what washes down the drain until it is pure, would save hundreds of billions of gallons that is now dumped into the Pacific Ocean annually.
Photo: Nathaniel Y. Downes, The Chronicle
Adam Lenz, a member of the Annual Meeting of The Minds, an event where the future of urban sustainability is reviewed, mingles outside Craneway Pavilion on Ford Point drinking beer made from recycled grey water on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015 in Richmond, Calif.
“I really wanted to showcase the value of recycling water and get the public’s attention,” said Russ Drinker, an architect and trustee for Sustainable Silicon Valley, who spearheaded the recycled beer project. “Going back to the Phoenicians, beer was the way they created safe water because brewing it requires boiling it.”
Drinker said his work in Singapore and in Saudi Arabia, which recycle virtually all of their wastewater, convinced him of its efficiency and showed him how out of the loop California and the rest of the United States are on the technology. It is currently illegal in California for water districts to send recycled water directly through the tap or for merchants to sell products that use it.
‘Obvious source of water’
“I was surprised and a little angry that California does not recycle its water, especially in the context of this drought,” he said. “To me, it was the most obvious source of water, and once you have it, it is a really valuable asset.”
Drinker recruited Lenny Mendonca, owner of the Half Moon Bay Brewing Co., who liked the idea of the recycled beer tasting. The problem was to find a source of wastewater. Drinker knew someone at NASA, which has long used recycled urine in space, and convinced agency officials to supply Mendonca with gray water — the flow from sinks, showers and washing machines — from one of its facilities.
There was no denying from the judges Thursday that the zesty concoction created from the space agency water warranted serious consideration — it was so good, in fact, that several jokesters in the audience stopped referring to it as “I Pee A Beer” after they tasted it.
“I thought it tasted great. It was delicious,” said beer judge Jennifer Biesty, the chef and owner of Shakewell, a Mediterranean-style restaurant in Oakland.
On a hunch, she correctly picked out the recycled beer because it was less hoppy and bitter than the other IPA she quaffed down. “I actually liked the recycled one better,” she said.
Bay Area testing
Biesty said she would happily serve beer made out of recycled water in her restaurant if it were legal.
Two water districts in the Bay Area — the Dublin San Ramon Services District and the Santa Clara Valley Water District — are testing systems that filter sewer water and purify it to the point that it can be consumed by the public. Orange County has a system in place that recycles 100 million gallons of wastewater a day — enough to quench the thirst of 850,000 people — by treating it and injecting it into aquifers.
Photo: Nathaniel Y. Downes, The Chronicle
From left, Wendell Smith and Brandon Cono, bartenders at the Annual Meeting of The Minds, an event where the future of urban sustainability is reviewed, add beer cans to the display on the bar in Craneway Pavilion on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015 in Richmond, Calif.
The problem is that California does not allow the public to drink recycled water directly out of a treatment plant, a rule that exists largely because of the yuck factor. Recycled water currently has to be injected into the aquifer and mixed with groundwater before it can be pumped up and used as drinking water. The process of leaching through the ground naturally cleanses water, but water officials say it isn’t needed because of advanced technology.
Legislation has been introduced to make it legal to purify sewer water and send it right back to consumers. The California Water Resources Control Board is expected to issue a report in December on the feasibility of such a system.
“I think it’s an awesome concept,” Biesty said. “It makes sense, especially with the drought and global warming.”
Good enough to sell
Mendonca, who is allowed to use his recycled beer only for free tastings, said that the new brew is good enough to sell and that the water used to make it should be available to the public.
Photo: Nathaniel Y. Downes, The Chronicle
Ken Homer takes his first sip of a recycled grey water beer being sampled at the Annual Meeting of The Minds, an event where the future of urban sustainability is reviewed, in Craneway Pavilion on Ford Point on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015 in Richmond, Calif.
“If people can drink a beer that tastes good, why not drink the water,” Mendonca said, explaining that all the water on Earth has been recycled from the beginning of time. “This is not something new. It’s back to the future.”
Von Meijenfeldt, whose diplomatic post covers 13 Western states, including California, is expected to keep his job despite confessing to a preference for craft beer over Heineken. He was among a large crowd who stayed after the conference to have another go at the astronaut ale.
“I chose the wrong one for the wrong reasons,” said the Dutchman, as he slurped the heady hooch, “but two times wrong makes for a positive.”
Peter Fimrite is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: email@example.com Twitter: @pfimrite.
Friday, October 23, 2015
At a time when trust in government is an all time low, we now have revelations that Tarey Read, Marinwood CSD president betrayed the trust of the community and attempted to negotiate privately with an employee union on 1/15/2015. This was clearly OUTSIDE the authority of the Marinwood CSD Board. There was no staff or legal representatives present and appears to undermine the official offer voted on by the elected Marinwood CSD board the day before on 1/14/2015.
A serious lapse of judgement or an intentional unethical act?
Tarey is now running for CSD board. Ironically, she touts her experience as a reason to vote for her. With "experience" like this, Marinwood knows EXACTLY what they will get.
All documentation on this incident is available at the Marinwood CSD as of June 15, 2015.
Thursday, October 22, 2015
Contra Costa Times editorial: Stop MTC leader's bid for regional planning czar
Contra Costa Times editorial © 2015 Bay Area News Group
Steve Heminger's self-centered bid to become Bay Area planning czar must be stopped.
The executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, who runs his agency like his personal fiefdom, now wants to take key staff from the Association of Bay Area Governments.
He and MTC board chairman Dave Cortese portray the proposed move as a consolidation. Actually, this is a hostile takeover that would gut ABAG of its employees responsible for land-use and housing planning, and weaken the agency's financial underpinnings.
What's driving Heminger? Under state law, the two agencies must now work cooperatively on regional planning. As Heminger wrote tellingly, "these different organizational styles were more than a nuisance" during recent drafting of the latest joint regional planning document.
Heminger's doesn't like to waste time on the niceties of planning. "MTC is more action-oriented and project-based," he wrote, "while ABAG is more discussion-focused and policy-based."
Well, we've seen how Heminger's action approach has worked out. Bay Area traffic is a mess. Public transit systems are falling apart with billions of dollars of unmet capital needs.
Read the article HERE
Steve Kinsey blames the world capitalist system on the lack of affordable housing and unequal income distribution in Marin. We wonder who he is referring to. He wants to force urbanization of Marin with up to 50,000 tax subsidized apartments. The cost of this will be born by middle class communities like Marinwood while his home in West Marin among the landed gentry must be "preserved"
Supervisor Steve Kinsey of West Marin is Marin's ONLY representative on MTC. If ABAG is merged with MTC on October 28, 2015, Marin will lose local representation, leaving Steve Kinsey as the "Planning Commissar of Marin".
Wednesday, October 21, 2015
South Park takes on Urban Redevelopment HERE
Editor's Note: To urbanists, the problem with displacement has an easy fix, force development on the suburbs. The city dwellers want to make sweetheart deals with developers to increase the value of their housing stock and push the low/moderate income folks out to the suburbs. How will they do this? Through agencies like MTC who will force housing quotas in Marin. Goodbye to local control.
In the big, sad joke that is America’s urban rent crisis, San Francisco is a recurrent punchline. Last year, photographer Scott Hampton adopted a real estate broker's poetic license to advertise “waterfront condos,” “cozy studios,” and “lofts” alongside pictures of dumpsters, trash cans, and manholes. And this month the Onion reported that San Francisco would shut its doors due to rising rent—a literally unbelievable premise, but one that’s not too far from the mentality of Bay Area anti-gentrification activists who believe that stopping new housing projects will halt new arrivals at the city limits. David Campos, the supervisor who represents the city’s Mission District, has proposed halting all new residential construction in that hip, Latino neighborhood for a period as long as two years. The moratorium narrowlyfailed in a Board of Supervisors vote earlier this month but may be reborn as a ballot initiative in November.*
San Francisco has the highest rents of any large city in the U.S. The city doesn’t build nearly enough housing. But it doesn’t deserve to be the poster child for inaction in the face of inequality: In 2014, San Francisco built about 30 percent more housing units per capita than New York City, and more housing units per capita than Los Angeles. Between 2007 and 2014, San Francisco issued as many permits per capita as booming Santa Clara County, home to San Jose and Silicon Valley, one of California’s fastest-growing counties.
The biggest problem with housing in San Francisco isn’t actually in San Francisco. It’s in the suburbs.
In the Bay Area, the cities that have shut their doors to housing are the suburban municipalities that contain most of the region’s population. “The smaller communities, in my opinion, need to step up, and I don’t see that happening,” San Francisco planning director John Rahaim says. “There’s such a huge demand in general and that can’t be met just by the big three cities.”
Nor should it be. Once upon a time, a forward-thinking planner might have conceived of the region as three high-density nodes of housing and jobs, in San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland, with quiet bedroom communities strung like beads along commuter rail lines and highways.
But that vision has long since been dashed by the Bay’s unusually sprawling geography of employment. Of the 1.75 million jobs within 35 miles of downtown San Francisco, only 45 percent are within 10 miles. That’s 12 percentage points lower than average for a big U.S. city. Adding new housing only in the big three cities, then, will only exacerbate the region’s transportation woes.
To some extent, job sprawl in the Bay has the same causes as elsewhere. Manufacturers sought cheap land and highway access. Pulled by emigrating executives, white-collar work shifted to campuses and office parks. Retail and services followed consumers down the highway.
In this part of the country, though, this phenomenon played out with special intensity because of Proposition 13, the 1978 ballot referendum that froze California’s property tax rates. David Dowall, a professor of regional planning at the University of California–Berkeley, was one of the first to observe how the law skewed small-town zoning priorities. “Caught in a fiscal squeeze,” he wrote in 1982, “many towns have stepped up efforts to increase their tax base by attracting more commercial, office, and light industrial development. While attempting to attract economic development, most communities have not concomitantly adjusted their zoning to provide housing for additional employees. Consequently, new employees, particularly those migrating to the region, find it extremely difficult to acquire affordable housing.”
Three decades later, Dowall’s words perfectly describe San Mateo County—San Francisco’s visually suburban neighbor to the south, home to Oracle, Facebook, and YouTube—which hosts almost one job for every two residents. (That’s a considerably higher ratio than Westchester or Nassau Counties, adjacent to New York City, and nearly as high as San Francisco itself.) It’s also the most expensive county in the Silicon Valley region to buy or rent a home.
The wreckage of this perfect storm: A region with housing costs so high they are a drain on national economic indicators, zoning restrictions so stringent they push new residential construction to the fringes of the East Bay, and an average commute that takes longer than it does in Los Angeles.
So, how do you get existing suburbs to build their share of housing? In the Bay, at least, the Association of Bay Area Governments (there are nine counties and more than a hundred municipalities) has for years set forth a “Regional Housing Need Allocation” that suggests how much housing various counties and towns should build. They rarely cut it: Marin County, where George Lucas is building affordable housingto spite his NIMBY neighbors, didn’t clear 30 percent of its “objective” in 2014. San Mateo was at 42 percent. The region as a whole built half what had been deemed necessary.
In 2008, with climate change in mind, Sacramento required the state’s metropolitan regions to draw up long-term plans for urban growth. Five years later, ABAG and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (a more powerful regional organization) introduced Plan Bay Area—a proposal to funnel the majority of housing and business growth into just a few key areas.
“The three main cities of the Bay Area, while there may be background noise, have made significant and sustained commitments to housing,” says Randy Rentschler, the director of legislation and public affairs at MTC. Elsewhere, progress has been spottier. “There is every incentive not to do it, economically,” he says.
But in contrast to the toothless RNHA, the commission controls about $1.5 billion in regional transportation funds each year. For municipalities, Rentschler said, the offer is simple: Build more housing, get more money. With homes and jobs closer together, commutes get shorter, easing the weight on the region’s sagging transportation infrastructure. With better incentives to allow more construction, cities might start building enough housing to bite into the monthly rent increases.
Naturally, some conservatives see Plan Bay Area as part of the broader, Soviet-style plot to urbanize America. “The ultimate vision is to make all neighborhoods more or less alike,” wrote Stanley Kurtz in National Review, “turning traditional cities into ultra-dense Manhattans, while making suburbs look more like cities do now.” In response to this type of criticism, Plan Bay Area bothered to republish the American Planning Association’s factsheet on Agenda 21, a popular conspiracy theory that’s invoked in local land-use meetings to foil schemes for bus lanes and apartment buildings. (Meanwhile: What living environment in human history is more a product of central planning than American suburbia?)
Suburbanites, who always seem to value the freedom to drive more than the freedom to build, can relax. The Bay Area is not being Manhattanized—or even Brooklynized—at any scale. Plan Bay Area is neither radical nor combative. It directs housing and job growth primarily to jurisdictions that want it. Housing advocates have complained that, far from pushing for more balanced, regional urbanization, it concentrates 95 percent of 30-year housing growth in just 15 of the region’s hundred-plus cities.
That same imbalance in the PBA predecessor, RHNA, prompted a letter of concern from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that the plan might violate fair housing laws. And this month, HUD is finalizing rules that will allow the department to use grant money to fight segregation. Congressional Republicans are currently trying to block the rule, called Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing. Writing in National Review, Kurtz warned AFFH would “urbanize suburbs and Manhattanize cities.”
But suburbs are a hard nut to crack. New York’s Westchester County, which is half detached single-family homes despite boasting one of the world’s best commuter railroad systems, has been ignoring a court-ordered fair-housing plan for six years. Its county executive, Rob Astorino, has railed against “social engineering” and even asked if HUD also planned to break up ethnic urban neighborhoods.
Surely Astorino was being sarcastic, but that’s exactly what affordable, proximate suburban housing did to white ethnic enclaves in the 1940s and ’50s. It was a terrible thing for U.S. cities then: San Francisco’s population, like that of most other U.S. cities, fell for three straight decades. Suburbs employed racial covenants and other measures to keep out blacks. Car dependency was etched into the landscape.
But a modern-day building boom in the inner suburbs wouldn’t repeat those mistakes—it would correct them. This time, it would do a city like San Francisco good.
*Correction, June 22, 2015: This article originally misstated that a proposed moratorium on residential construction in the Mission District failed the week before the article’s publication. The moratorium vote failed earlier in June. (Return.)
Editor's Note: So called "smart growth" is a nationwide movement backed by the EPA's "sustainable cities" strategy. California has recently passed new redevelopment laws that threatens Marin County and will use many of the same tools of Tax Increment Financing. We can learn from the mistakes of other communities.
More communities aim to place limits on cities' use of long-time redevelopment tools
Urban renewal in Colorado, a decades-old strategy used by dozens of communities to replace or rejuvenate aging or derelict shopping malls and neighborhoods, has been under fire.
Earlier this year, Littleton passed a first-of-its-kind ballot measure in the state dramatically curtailing the power of its urban renewal authority. Wheat Ridge voters will decide on a similar measure in November.
Fears about eminent domain, which can be used under urban renewal law to push redevelopment forward, have been at the heart of two other high-profile disputes.
In Northglenn, the city vote d last week to condemn the beleaguered Huron Center strip mall. A longtime Persian carpet store in Glendale has been fighting off potential eminent domain as the city readies plans for Glendale 180, a $175 million dining and entertainment complex on the banks of Cherry Creek.
Disputes over urban renewal are not relegated to big cities. Last month, Steamboat Springs' City Council rejected a $7 million urban renewal plan for the ski resort city's downtown after a group of citizens threatened to take the issue to the voters.
"Urban renewal law is being stretched beyond its original boundaries and its original purpose," said Mike Krause, director of local Colorado projects for the libertarian-leaning Independence Institute. "What started off as a great idea has become abused over time."
The result, Krause said, is that local governments end up picking winners and losers based on which developers receive tax incentives. Should a project go south, he said, millions of dollars of taxpayer money is put at risk.
Throw in the power to designate an area blighted — making it ripe for condemnation — and the door is open to governmental abuse, he said.
Red flags raised
The issue has raised enough red flags that this year the state legislature passed a bill — later signed into law — that gives more control to counties, and to school and fire districts, over the allocation of new tax revenues generated by redevelopment.
Polly Lawrence, R-Douglas County, said she co-sponsored House Bill 1348 because she's concerned the state's urban renewal law is not always used properly.
"It seems like some of the projects are much larger and not as targeted as they used to be," Lawrence said. "In some areas, it's more of a tax collection tool than an urban redevelopment tool."
Urban renewal proponents, including Lakewood Mayor Bob Murphy, say detractors oversimplify the issue by automatically labeling a deal between government and the private sector as a "developer subsidy." But in many cases, the areas being targeted for revitalization have been subject to decades of neglect or are badly contaminated and would never on their face attract private-sector investment.
"Unless this (urban renewal) tool is used, you would not see the reinvestment back into these areas," said Kevin Bommer, deputy director of the Colorado Municipal League.
Tax increment financing
Central to Colorado's urban renewal law is tax increment financing, wherein additional tax revenues from future development at a site are used to pay for the installation of roads and utilities at the outset.
A city's urban renewal authority often will issue bonds to raise the initial capital and pay back bondholders using the future tax revenues, usually over a period of 25 years.
Tax increment financing, or TIF, serves as the underpinning for dozens of renewal projects throughout the state, including the $310 million Streets at SouthGlenn project in Centennial and the $105 million Denver Pavilions project on the 16th Street Mall.
Golden's urban renewal authority last month paid off the last two loans of a 25-year TIF that brought new bridges over Clear Creek at Ford Street and Washington Avenue and turned the old Hesteds department store — vacant for decades — into the mixed-use Gateway Station project.
The financing mechanism has been used in more modest efforts in small communities, too.
In La Junta, nearly $2 million in TIF money has been spent since 2011 on making improvements to downtown, including new paint and windows for storefronts and new curbs, gutters and sidewalks.
Rick Klein, La Junta's city manager, said the ability to raise money through TIF is crucial for the 7,000-strong farming community 68 miles east of Pueblo.
"Urban renewal sparked the development that otherwise we wouldn't be able to do," he said. "We have great buy-in because businesses see the tremendous good that comes out of the money."
There are now urban renewal authorities in 49 municipalities in Colorado.
Urban renewal advocates often point to Belmar — the $850 million new-urbanism neighborhood that rose out of the ashes of the former Villa Italia Mall in Lakewood — as a shining example of an urban renewal project done right.
Murphy said urban renewal took an outdated mall with an abysmal 60 percent vacancy rate and morphed it into a vibrant urban landscape that serves as home to more than 2,000 residents and generates approximately $200 million a year in retail sales.
Before urban renewal incentives were put on the table a little more than a decade ago, Murphy said there was little interest among developers to take on such a problem-plagued site.
"We tried everything we could over there until the voters allowed us to use urban renewal," he said. "Once we had those tools, the phone started ringing."
Murphy said the public improvements at Belmar were financed by $120 million in bonds issued by the private sector and $40 million fronted by the developer. No taxpayer money was put at risk, he said.
Bruce Baker, a Westminster councilman, said city government should not be in the business of imposing its vision of what is desirable on a redevelopment site. The councilman has sharply criticized his colleagues on the council for their decision last month to issue $40 million in certificates of participation to fund the infrastructure for the city's future downtown project.
Baker said it puts city assets, including parks and the recreation center, in potential jeopardy because they are used as collateral in the deal. If the downtown project fails or is abandoned by developers, he said, taxpayers ultimately would be left holding the bag.
"It's basically a development tool to give public money to developers to build," Baker said. "All this use of urban renewal has done is increase the profit margin and made developers expect this from every city."
Westminster Mayor Herb Atchison vigorously disagrees with Baker, saying the city has put up collateral in the form of public amenities before and never had a problem. Westminster, he said, is in strong fiscal condition and will be able to pay back bondholders in even the worst-case scenario.
In the meantime, he said, the benefit to the city of a well-planned downtown district on a strategically located piece of ground — the 105-acre site was once home to the Westminster Mall — is immeasurable.
But urban renewal reformers have made headway with their argument that TIF deals can deprive other taxing districts, such as schools and fire protection, of future revenues.
Spirit of resistance
Aside from the bill that emerged from the legislature this year, California lawmakers in 2011 put an end to urban renewal agencies there. The move in the Golden State was part of an effort to reclaim tax revenues that were being diverted to redevelopment efforts.
That spirit of resistance has most recently bled down to Wheat Ridge. Debbie Sarcone, of the citizens group Keep Wheat Ridge Local, helped launch a petition for a ballot measure asking voters to strip decision-making power from the city's urban renewal authority.
The initiative was validated by the city last week, and if it passes in November, TIF packages in excess of $2.5 million would have to go to a vote of the people.
The campaign was driven in large part by a $6.2 million TIF deal the city awarded to the developer of a planned Walmart-anchored site at West 38th Avenue and Wadsworth Boulevard. Sarcone said a deal of that magnitude needs public input, and ultimately, public approval.
"We're not against development. We're not against urban renewal. We're not against TIF," she said. "We want these checks and balances. We want accountability."
John Batey, urban renewal authority committee chairman for Downtown Colorado Inc., said the checks and balances of urban renewal decision-making are baked into what is a deliberately transparent process. TIF packages, he said, can be structured to minimize or eliminate risks to the taxpayer and eminent domain can be taken off the table, as it was in Littleton before the March ballot measure passed.
Or in Fort Lupton, where the city has pledged to avoid eminent domain as it revitalizes 14 blocks of Denver Avenue with urban renewal funds.
"It's just a threat to people," Fort Lupton City Administrator Claud Hanes said. "If we're going to acquire property, it will be on a market basis."
The danger of a community putting up too many roadblocks to urban renewal, Batey said, is that developers simply will bypass it.
"It is much cheaper for a developer to find a raw piece of land at the edge of town," he said. "That leads to a situation where the edge of cities keep sprawling and sprawling and the inner cores of cities keep crumbling."
And that is bad news for places such as Littleton and Wheat Ridge, which have reached a mature stage in their municipal life cycles, Batey said.
"The truly tragic part of this is that they are the inner-ring suburbs of Denver," he said. "Those are the communities that need urban renewal most."
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
Measure I on the Nov. 3 ballot asks voters in the Marinwood Community Services District to extend its $189-per-year parcel tax for parks, open space and maintaining street landscaping to households in apartments.
The measure closes a loophole in the tax, which charged some multi-unit housing, but not others. It changes the language from “per parcel” to “per unit.”
To Measure I’s opponents, the tax is a disguised attempt to build a financial hurdle for construction of affordable housing by applying the yearly charge to developments’ ongoing costs.
They may be right, but the district should address support for affordable housing with a follow-up provision — probably when it seeks the next increase — that enables the district to waive or reduce the fee for housing where rents are kept well below market prices. See the Article HERE