Saturday, October 31, 2015

Gangs in Marin County (2008)

I Want It All Now! Documentary on Marin County in 1978

This documentary and the writings of Cyra McFadden in the 1970s led to the myth of Marin County as a haven for rich, self absorbed, trend setters.  The other side of Marin as a family oriented, middle class suburb was never seen in this documentary.  

Friday, October 30, 2015

How Far to St. Vincents Senior Housing?

Join me on a trip from Marinwood Plaza (4 minutes) to the site of St. Vincents senior housing that is proposed for 240 units.  It is located along the SMART railroad tracks. The whistle will blow every 15 minutes from 5AM daily.  

It is quite a walk with armload of groceries.

We welcome housing that represents wise land use and responsibility.  Unfortunately, the remote location of this project (like the Grady Ranch) proposal belongs in the "What the heck are they thinking?" category. It is high density sprawl with none of the accessibility to shopping, transportation and jobs.

Is this "smart" planning?  Our seniors deserve better.  

We must Save Marin Again!

Yes, Traffic on Sir Francis Drake Avenue may get Worse with these "Improvements"

"Traffic Calming" is the phrase  planners use to describe measures that slow traffic down.  This is what "traffic consultants" are proposing for Sir Francis Drake Blvd.  Instead of directing bicycle traffic to use the beautiful Corte Madera Creek bicycle path,  they are proposing the inclusion of a bicycle lane.  As this video clearly shows, such traffic calming  measures to slow traffic is the actual goal, not to improve traffic flow.

I wonder how many commuters on Sir Francis Drake Blvd want this "improvement".

Here is the full meeting on Sir Francis Drake improvements on October 28, 2015

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Progressive Income Tax: A Tale of Three Brothers

The Sierra Club's 'huddled masses' vision

The Sierra Club's 'huddled masses' vision
September 1, 2001

WENDELL COXWendell Cox is a senior fellow of The Heartland Institute

On June 18, the Sierra Club posted what it termed an "Environmental Impacts Calculator" to its Web site. The calculator allowed visitors to enter various data, including population density, and then generated Sierra Club estimates for resource consumption, travel, and infrastructure requirements at the selected level of density. These data were then compared to an "Efficient Urban" density of 500 housing units per acre and a "Sprawl" density, at one housing unit per acre.

Randal O'Toole (Thoreau Institute) and I (Demographia) were quick to point out that the "Efficient Urban" density used for comparison by the Sierra Club was well above the densities of the world's most dense cities. Our Internet posting noted the Sierra Club was proposing densities even greater than the "black hole of Calcutta."

It did not take long for the Sierra Club to recognize its mistake. By June 20, Environmental Calculator II had been posted, reducing the "Efficient Urban" category 80 percent to 100 housing units per acre," while adding a "Dense Urban" category at 400 units per acre, and an "Efficient Suburban" at 10.

But this did not solve the problem. At average U.S. housing unit occupancy rates:
The new "Dense Urban" category (400 units to the acre) would require residential population densities (commercial areas excluded) approximately 1.5 times that of poverty-stricken Mumbai's (Bombay) densest area, the Marine Lines Ward. The most dense census tract in the United States, in New York City, is barely one-half the "Dense Urban" figure, and this is for an area of less than 12 acres, approximately the size of San Francisco's compact new baseball stadium.

Perhaps most starkly, the new Dense Urban category is more than three times as dense as the notorious turn-of-the century (twentieth) Lower East Side of Manhattan. U.S. urban density peaked there at 120 households to the acre and even fewer housing units, because many families had to "double up."

The revisionist "Efficient Urban" category (100 units to the acre) is more dense than all but nine square miles of the United States (out of approximately 100,000 square miles of urbanization) and all but 45 acres in Manhattan. Even the 1.5 square mile 11th Arrondissement in Paris (the most area of the most dense western city) falls short of the "Efficient Urban" category. The new "Efficient Urban" category is similar to the "Huddled Masses" 120 households-to-the-acre record set by the Lower East Side in 1910.
The new "Efficient Suburban" (10 units to the acre) category requires, according to the Sierra Club, "row houses with occasional single-family dwellings and apartment houses." It is doubtful the average suburbanite would recognize such intense urban development as suburban. Perhaps it is time the Sierra Club's analysts visit a suburb to see what it is really like.

The reality is that affluent people do not live at densities of 400 to 500 units to the square mile, and few live at 100. Moreover, poor people seek to escape as quickly as they can, which is why Lower East Side densities have fallen by 70 percent.

The Sierra Club tried to limit the damage by attaching a disclaimer to Environmental Impacts Calculator II, indicating no endorsement of any particular level of density. However, as Denver Rocky Mountain News columnist Vincent Carroll put it, "why would the Sierra Club even suggest an urban density of 400 households an acre as a desirable goal?"

The case reveals the extent to which the Sierra Club is out of touch with reality. Its higher density categories would require adding between 24 and 124 housing units to the average quarter-acre suburban lot. Even Portland's policies, by far the most draconian in the nation, do not anticipate adding even a single housing unit to each lot.

In the end, Environmental Impacts Calculator II was withdrawn from the Sierra Club's Web site as "under construction."

But that was not the end of it. The pressure forced Sierra Club officials to climb down even further. In a letter to the editor responding to Carroll's column, the president of the Rocky Mountain Chapter wrote, "we do agree with Carroll and others on one thing--people should be able to live how and where they want" . . . a near verbatim quote from the free-market based Lone Mountain Compact.

But people cannot live how and where they want if Sierra Club-supported land use regulations "green line" large swaths of land out of development. It may be time for the Sierra Club to climb down again.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

George Washington on Free Speech

We Had To Destroy the City In Order To Save It

We Had To Destroy the City In Order To Save It

As housing prices and rents soar out of control in tightly regulated cities like San Francisco and New York, many people have called for a significant loosening of zoning rules to permit greater densification. Many policies contribute to unaffordable housing, including rent control, historic districts, eminent domain abuse, and building codes, but zoning puts an absolute cap on dwelling units per acre thus is generally part of any solution to the supply problem. What’s more, as recent commentators have started to notice, even many of America’s most dense cities are predominantly zoned for single family homes, calling into question the need to dedicate so much space to a single housing typology.
For example, a web site called Better Institutions posted this map of Seattle, in which all of the yellow districts are zoned exclusively for single family homes:
The poster lets his feelings be known by using scare quotes to denote single family “character” and blaming the zoning for Seattle’s high rents.
And Daniel Hertz posted a similar map of Chicago in which the red is single family homes only and yellow is industrial space unavailable for any residential use:
Some go beyond affordability, saying that we also need to significantly increase densities in central cities in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Harvard professor Ed Glaeserwrote an article advocating this subtitled, “To save the planet, build more skyscrapers—especially in California.” He says, “A better path would be to ease restrictions in the urban cores of San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, and San Diego. More building there would reduce average commute lengths and improve per-capita emissions” and “Similarly, limiting the height or growth of New York City skyscrapers incurs environmental costs. Building more apartments in Gotham will not only make the city more affordable; it will also reduce global warming.” He claims that, “The best thing that we can do for the planet is build more skyscrapers.”
These complaints and the proposed solution of more dense multi-family development may be true in a technical sense, but what would carrying that out mean for people who actually live in our cities?
Some critics may disdain the character of single family districts but few of these pundits ask the question of what eliminating lower-density housing actually means to the survival of the urban middle class. Districts, like the Portage Park example Daniel Hertz gave in Chicago, are some of the last bastions of middle class family life in the city. It’s clear that some densification can be implemented without radically changing the appearance or functioning of the built environment. Allowing 2-flats and coach houses, or even the corner apartment building or townhouse development, wouldn’t ruin Portage Park. There’s no reason such things should not be allowed. But nor would they make a major dent in affordability in places where a tidal wave of global demand is washing over the city such as in San Francisco.
To materially boost the number of units in an era in a manner that moderates prices in a highly desirable place like San Francisco would require massive changes in the built environment of its neighborhoods. This would radically transform the character and nature of the city in question. If San Francisco were really covered in skyscrapers, it would cease to be San Francisco— a city of low-rise buildings framed by hills that would be obscured by high rises. There may well be the same geography on the map labeled as such, but it would be a completely different place. We would have to destroy the city in order to save it.
One person who gets that is Alex Steffan. He’s angry about prices, saying that the “criminal lack of housing is a global scandal.” He’s also honest enough to forthrightly acknowledge that a sufficient scale of new homes to bend the cost curve would fundamentally change many of our cities:
We can build some housing incrementally, without changing the skyline or cityscape, but not anything like enough. To produce enough homes to matter, fast enough, we’re going to have to fundamentally alter parts of our cities. That, of course, demands a local government willing and able to plan and permit such widespread change. It also takes an array of homebuilders doing the actual work, often in more innovative and low-cost ways, like more collaborative housing, manufactured buildings and flexible living spaces. Most of all, it takes broader public insight into how large-scale development can improve our cities.
In other words, it’s a major change in communities that requires selling the public on the idea. He believes that young people will be the agents of change here. This shows perhaps one of the signature affects such changes would have. They would displace families by eliminating their preferred housing typologies in favor of forms more amenable to predominantly younger singles or the childless for whom living in an apartment with no backyard is more likely a relief than an imposition. But it’s hard to imagine cities as places for solving the problem of climate change if they are, like San Francisco, increasingly places devoid of families with children.
Steffan also says affordable housing is a social justice issue. Yet is it really social justice to require everyone to have equal access to San Francisco, population 825,000? I think not. Especially not when America is replete with urban centers whose biggest problems are depopulation and worthless houses that you can’t give away. There are plenty of options of places for people to live; we should look at making our now failing cities more attractive to people who may like the housing and neighborhood, if not for issues such as crime and poor schools. There’s no guarantee in America that you can afford to live in the place you might most want to choose. That’s long been true of suburbanites and city dwellers alike.
Also, the willingness to fundamentally reshape cities is odd in light of the fact that such previous attempts are uniformly viewed in the urbanist community as disasters. The idea of Manhattanizing San Francisco brings to mind nothing so much as Le Corbusier’s Plan Voisin for Paris, in which the historical cityscape is replaced with towers in the park.

Fundamentally altering Paris
Of course no one is actually saying to take it this far, although Glaeser’s vision gets close it. But once we enshrine the rule that a certain threshold of unaffordability means more density and building regardless of neighborhood character, it’s hard to see what the limiting principle would be. Also, high rises or even buildings above 4-5 stories in height usually require expensive construction techniques, and thus are inherently costly.
It’s true, however, that cities are not static entities. Every downtown skyscraper in America is built on a site that was once used for something else. Yet we see this densification overall as a good thing. Had Manhattan been preserved as of its pre-skyscraper era, it’s not clear the city would have benefitted.
Clearly the zoning and building regulations in our cities are often too strict. Yet the disasters of previous generations’ radical change suggests that incrementalism is a better course. By all means allow two-unit houses, corner stores with upper story apartments, etc. into currently all-single family zones. Add areas where high rises are allowed the peripheries of districts currently zoned for such; warehouse districts as well as office buildings that are not well occupied. But don’t bring out the bulldozer wholesale. Additionally, a healthy city should make sure to embrace the entire palette of housing types – including single family homes. There’s more to making cities attractive to middle class families than just cost, and things like the prospect of a backyard for the kids to play in are among them.
And given the relatively few intact and attractive urban cores in America, prices are going to continue to go up. That’s true even with radical new building. As mentioned, San Francisco only has a bit over 800,000 people. Boston and DC have only about 600,000 each. How many people can you plausibly put into these places? Realistically, not all of us who would like to live in San Francisco or lower Manhattan are going to be able to do so. That’s true no matter how many skyscrapers we build.
This post originally appeared at New Geography on February 26, 2014.

Bullet Train is Bound for Budget Bust.

$68-billion California bullet train project likely to overshoot budget and deadline targets

The Foothill Freeway and Sunland Boulevard intersect at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains, through which about 20 miles of tunnels will be required. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Ralph Vartabedian

The monumental task of building California's bullet train will require punching 36 miles of tunnels through the geologically complex mountains north of Los Angeles.

Crews will have to cross the tectonic boundary that separates the North American and Pacific plates, boring through a jumble of fractured rock formations and a maze of earthquake faults, some of which are not mapped.

It will be the most ambitious tunneling project in the nation's history.

State officials say the tunnels will be finished by 2022 — along with 300 miles of track, dozens of bridges or viaducts, high-voltage electrical systems, a maintenance plant and as many as six stations. Doing so will meet a commitment to begin carrying passengers between Burbank and Merced in the first phase of the $68-billion high-speed rail link between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

However, a Times analysis of project documents, as well as interviews with scientists, engineers and construction experts, indicates that the deadline and budget targets will almost certainly be missed — and that the state has underestimated the challenges ahead, particularly completing the tunneling on time.

"It doesn't strike me as realistic," said James Monsees, one of the world's top tunneling experts and an author of the federal manual on highway tunneling. "Faults are notorious for causing trouble."
It doesn't strike me as realistic. Faults are notorious for causing trouble.- James Monsees, tunneling expert

The California High-Speed Rail Authority hasn't yet chosen an exact route through the mountains. It also is behind schedule on land acquisition, financing and permit approvals, among other crucial tasks, and is facing multiple lawsuits. The first construction began in Fresno in July, 21/2 years behind the target the rail authority had set in early 2012.

A confidential 2013 report by the state's main project management contractor, New York-based Parsons Brinckerhoff, estimated that the cost of building the first phase from Burbank to Merced had risen 31% to $40 billion. And it projected that the cost of the entire project would rise at least 5%.

Parsons Brinckerhoff briefed state officials on the estimate in October 2013, according to the document obtained by The Times. But the state used a lower cost estimate when it issued its 2014 business plan four months later.

Jeff Morales, the rail authority chief executive, said he was not aware of the Parsons Brinckerhoff projection. A spokeswoman for the authority declined to discuss the differences in the estimates.

Public opinion polls taken over the years have shown that support for the project has ebbed as costs have risen — and at $68 billion, the budget is already more than double the $33-billion estimate made by the rail authority before California voters approved bonds for the project seven years ago.

Proposed Burbank-to-Palmdale routes

Morales said he believes the costs can be reduced below the projected $68 billion, which includes a 10% contingency. The authority is applying the best construction and engineering methods in the world, and initial contract bids have come in below estimates, he said.

Morales also said the project can make up for any delays.

But Bent Flyvbjerg, a University of Oxford business professor and a leading expert on megaproject risk, said the lagging schedule, litigation, growing costs and permit delays arising so early in construction are warning signs that even more delays and higher costs are coming.

"You have an 80% to 90% probability of a cost overrun on a project like this," Flyvbjerg said. "Once cost increases start, they are likely to continue."

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

"Displacement is Inevitable especially in Priority Development Areas"

For years, politicians have been telling us that Plan Bay Area is a wonderful thing.  "We will build up our communities around "Priority Development Areas" and their will be no displacement of communities.  

We now have full admission by the Metropolitan Transit Commission and staff at ABAG that this is a lie.

Redevelopment of the "101 Transit Corridor for Urbanization" ( recently renamed from the more specific areas from Marin City to Novato) will force the resettlement of hundreds, possibly thousands of families from their established neighborhoods.

Supervisor Steve Kinsey is our ONLY representative on MTC.  He should be fighting for us instead of pushing for an ever stronger regional power.

The life of our community demands it.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

If you live in Marinwood CSD you now owe $5402 in Unfunded Pension Liabilities

Stanford study: Pension liability runs deep in Corte Madera, Ross, Sausalito andMill Valley

By Nels Johnson, Marin Independent Journal
POSTED: 10/24/15, 
A new database by Stanford University academics that ranks hundreds of public agencies across the state by pension liability lists Corte Madera deep in red ink at No. 17 — and Ross, Sausalito and Mill Valley in the top 100.

Marin County’s pension program checks in at No. 144 — and in better shape than 22 other California counties when ranked by unfunded liability per household — but no breakdown was available outlining the county system’s individual components, including county government, the city of San Rafael and the Novato and Southern Marin fire districts.
Former Marin assemblyman Joe Nation, a public policy professor at Stanford, worked with top colleagues and others to sort 2013 data providing fiscal detail on 1,079 California counties, cities and key special districts on The data indicates Corte Madera officials over the years have promised pensions that in effect now cost each household in the city $25,003 — the 17th-highest tab calculated across the state, and the highest in Marin. George Warman, Corte Madera’s veteran finance chief, said Nation makes the situation seem apocalyptic. “The world is not all falling down,” Warman said, adding the city is paying off its pension liability “on an ongoing basis over a period of time.” Further, state reform puts new hires under a less expensive plan that will eventually curb city costs, he said.
But Nation said the town faces a monumental fiscal hurdle. “Clearly Corte Madera has a challenge,” Nation observed. “They have their work cut out for them.”
Employees of most cities and special districts in Marin are part of the state CalPERS retiree system, and robust benefits in Corte Madera allow former city fire chief Robert C. Fox to collect the state system’s biggest pension in the region. Fox’s final pay and 36 years of service provided a $223,483 pension in 2013, making him No. 72 on CalPERS’ payroll of 583,000 pensioners.
Last year, Robert Fellner, a researcher for the California Public Policy Center’s Transparent California website, criticized “exorbitant” pay and benefits at Corte Madera Town Hall, noting the average compensation package topped $170,000.

The unfunded liability Nation  See Article in the Marin IJ

If you live in Marinwood CSD you owe $5402 in unfunded pension liabilities.  This why the deception by Tarey Read, Marinwood CSD president is so devastatingly dishonest.  Unlike most jurisdictions in the study that have sales tax revenue, Marinwood CSD relies almost exclusively on parcel taxes for revenues.  The solution offered by Leah Kleinman-Green to float a massive bond as a "cure" is nothing more than a band-aid that will delay substantive reforms:  See more HERE

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