Published: June 20, 2014 Updated: 4:43 p.m.
Saturday, October 24, 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
Activists fighting Ballot initiatives to stop Developer Favors for high density development.
Becky Boone opened her Ignite Boulder presentation last weekwith a disclaimer: "I do not represent the city of Boulder. All these ideas are my own. I don't want a strongly worded email to City Council tomorrow about the things I'm about to say."
Then Boone, a fellow with nonprofit Code for America, laughed and said she knew her audience didn't care. The slide behind her changed to show a smiling Julie Andrews from "The Sound of Music" dancing through the Chautauqua meadow with the caption, "Look at all the (expletives) I give."
Boone is in Boulder on a $150,000 contract with the city to work on expanding community outreach beyond traditional constituencies as city leaders develop a new Comprehensive Housing Strategy.
During the May 13 presentation before the tech-friendly crowd, she uttered the F-word five times, and showed it eight more times in her slides — including four times in a single image that played off Dr. Seuss' "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish."
The strongly worded emails to the City Council didn't come the next day or the day after.
By Friday afternoon, Code for America had apologized for Boone's profane presentation, and Boulder officials acknowledged that herIgnite Boulder talk did not represent "the level of professionalism expected by the city's consultants."But when the Boulder Neighbors blog posted video of the speech on Thursday, activists concerned about the direction of development in Boulder reacted with outrage — both to Boone's language and what they saw as her endorsement of one side of the debate.
When reached Friday, Boone declined an interview request.
She used last week's five-minute talk at the Boulder Theater — built around the common Internet expression of "zero (expletives) given" — to implore the tech-industry audience to get involved in local government, especially around the housing and development issues that have become so contentious.
Ignite Boulder is a ticketed, 21-and-up event held every few months that features "short five-minute talks about geeky passions." The most recent installment was held during Boulder Startup Week.
"What do you guys think about this?" Boone said as the slide behind her showed the sentence, "Boulder needs fewer jobs, not more housing."
"Does this represent your opinion?" she asked the Ignite Boulder crowd. "This is actually a conversation that's happening, and if you don't get involved, this may be the way it goes. I don't want you to just sit in this room and say, 'God this sucks.' I would love at least some of you to actually do something."
Steve Pomerance, a former City Council member and Daily Camera columnist who long has advocated for more restrictions on growth, had particularly strong words for Boone.
"If she thinks the way to engage young people in this serious conversation about Boulder's future is to say the F-word as many times as she can and insult people who have made Boulder what it is, the city hired the wrong person," Pomerance said. "If the city wants to restore any credibility to this process, she can't be out there managing public engagement.
"She has destroyed her own ability to function as a facilitator."
Backlash at the backlash
But the backlash to the speech quickly generated its own backlash, much of it on social media and much of it just as profane.
"(Expletive) censorship," Ignite Boulder founder Andrew Hyde wrote on his blog. "I stand fully behind Becky. ... It is really time we started giving a (expletive)."
In an interview, Hyde said Ignite Boulder was aware of the content of the speech and found it "uncontroversial."
"The reactions I've seen are kind of puzzling to me," he said. "I think anyone calling for more participation is a great thing."
Hyde said Ignite Boulder didn't receive any complaints about the talk at the time or immediately afterward.
Boulder's housing-strategy process has been contentious from the start.
Those who want to see more workforce housing are advocating for greater density and other changes to city rules. Those opposed to current development trends see affordable housing as the Trojan horse by which denser development will be forced on Boulder, with community character destroyed in the process.
Boone's speech highlighted a disparity in public engagement in Boulder.
More than half the city rents their housing, rather than owns. But renters make up roughly 24 percent of participants in public meetings. Those under 40 represent 65 percent of the population, but only 17 percent of those who participate in public meetings.
Less than a third of Boulder residents vote in a typical local election, and Boone told her audience that "some of you are(expletive) lying" when she asked how many voted in the last local election and the audience clapped and cheered.
Speech 'does not represent the city's views'
City spokesman Patrick Von Keyserling said Boulder has been in contact with Code for America about Boone's presentation, but has not made any decisions about whether she should continue to work with the city and how her role might be affected.
"The presentation does not represent the city's view, the city's commitment to engagement or the level of professionalism expected by the city's consultants," Von Keyserling said Friday. "When Boulder does community engagement, we want to engage every member, all age groups, all demographics. The presentation did not accomplish that.
"We understand the desire to reach out to new audiences, but this was not done the way we would have liked."
When the Code for America project was announced, Boulder officials emphasized that they wanted Boone to help them reach segments of the community that have not previously been involved, such as renters and young people.
In a statement emailed Friday, a Code for America representative said the organization wished to apologize for distracting from the important work of community engagement and hoped this would be a learning experience.
"We at Code for America sincerely apologize to anyone who was offended by the profanity or tone of Becky Boone's Ignite talk last week," Catherine Bracy, director of community organizing, wrote. "Our goal in our work with the city of Boulder has been to open up new channels for residents, particularly those whose voices are under-represented in traditional channels, to participate in the public decision-making process."
Not in 'best civic interests of the city'
Zane Selvans, who favors denser development as a way to get more affordable housing in Boulder and support transit options, also wrote a blog post in support of Boone on Friday, saying her overall message of civic engagement was "pretty wholesome."
"I think it's just an opportunistic swipe at her," Selvans said in an interview. "She's working to get younger people and renters involved, and people who don't want to get that constituency involved feel threatened by that."
Selvans said that if the city doesn't keep working with Boone, it will send a message that it supports a status quo in which property owners have an outsized voice.
"They engage with a population that you have not historically engaged with, and they do a good job and you punish them?" he said of Boone's work. "That is a political act in favor of the status quo. I can understand why, politically, you might do that because the people who elected you are upset, but I don't think it's in the best civic interests of the city."
Pomerance said Boone's role means she should have maintained a scrupulous neutrality.
"She certainly has First Amendment rights like anyone else," he said. "However, if she wants to be a facilitator of a conversation rather than being a representative of a certain group, she should have kept her mouth shut."
'Inappropriate and disrespectful'
Kay MacDonald, who writes the Boulder Neighbors blog, said she posted very little commentary with the video because she thought the problem was self-evident.
She was surprised to see so many disagree with her, and she feels less hopeful than ever that common ground will be found.
"Her message was inappropriate and disrespectful to a large percentage of Boulder's population," MacDonald said. "The city manger and the planning department have invited and paid the way for Becky Boone to promote their radical ideas to a vulnerable population of people here who want to build housing on our open space and open up our town to granny units in every neighborhood, ideas that would never fly with the majority of homeowners.
"Since when can the employee of any city push her own views with a simple disclaimer that these are her views and not the city's? She has only lived in Boulder for four months, and she is trying to engineer the future of housing here following a stint in Anchorage enabling people to adopt a fire hydrant. That qualifies her to rile up a discussion of housing here in Boulder?"
Asked whether she thought Boone should keep working with the city, MacDonald said that's a hard question to answer.
"In a way, I think she was just doing the job she was hired to do," MacDonald said.