Saturday, November 7, 2015
Bay Area group’s housing solution: Punish cities that don’t build
By David R. Baker
November 6, 2015 Updated: November 6, 2015 12:04am
Photo: Liz Hafalia, The Chronicle
About a hundred units of affordable housing might replace this parking lot on the southwest corner of San Jose and Geneva avenues in San Francisco, Calif., on Tuesday, October 27, 2015.
To keep the Bay Area economy strong, all nine counties and 101 cities must work as a unified entity — adding housing and coordinating mass transit and road projects — according to a report from an influential business group.
But many of the group’s recommendations are sure to face resistance.
The Bay Area Council report argues that the clogged roads, packed commuter trains and astronomical housing prices plaguing the region can be solved only by cities planning and working together. The “Roadmap for Economic Resilience” calls for creating “super agencies” that would prioritize, approve and fund projects throughout the area, whether in bustling downtown San Francisco or suburban Livermore.
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“We believe religiously that the best approach to solving challenges on a regional scale is to act on a regional scale,” said Jim Wunderman, the council’s chief executive officer.
The need is perhaps most visible in the housing crisis that has become one of San Francisco’s most contentious issues.
For years, the region has not been building enough housing, Wunderman said. Some cities have actively encouraged new housing while others have tried to shut it out. Unaffordable prices are the result.
“The core issue is under-supply,” Wunderman said. “We’re in a crisis now, there’s no question about it. The cost of housing in the Bay Area could be a very serious downer for the future of our economy.”
But the report’s prescriptions for solving the crisis would be difficult to carry out, in part because they would require cities to give up some of their power.
For example, regional planners already set goals for the number of housing units each Bay Area city should build, goals that many cities routinely ignore. The report recommends punishing cities that don’t meet the targets, perhaps by stripping them of the ability to approve or reject development projects.
Photo: Jerry Telfer, The Chronicle
Jim Wunderman of the Bay Area Council
Or the state could expand “by right” approval for housing. If a proposed housing project complied with local zoning and building codes, no city would be able to block it.
The report also suggests capping impact fees on housing developments and exempting some home construction from state-mandated environmental reviews.
Some of those steps would need the approval of the Legislature, while most would require the agreement of the Bay Area’s cities. Such agreement would not come easily.
“We have, in the state of California and in the Bay Area, a real commitment to local control over land-use issues,” said Jeremy Madsen, CEO of the Greenbelt Alliance, which encourages environmentally responsible development. “That’s something cities hold onto with a very tight fist.”
Wunderman says the report’s recommendations aren’t set in stone.
“The mission of the report isn’t to say, ‘It must be done this way,’” he said. “It’s to start a region-wide conversation. ... We don’t, in any way, want to put local governments out of the business of deciding what goes in their neighborhoods.”
The report also calls for creating a regional authority with the ability to raise and spend money for infrastructure projects that benefit the entire Bay Area. That money could come from establishing a regional gasoline tax, sales tax or vehicle license fee.
In addition, the region’s 26 transit agencies should immediately start coordinating their operations and future plans. Eventually, a regional transit agency would set priorities and distribute money for expansion projects, such as building another transbay tube or increasing ferry services.
“It’s definitely time for them to start coordinating,” Wunderman said. “It should be routine that, from scheduling to payment systems, they should act as one.”
David R. Baker is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: email@example.com Twitter: @DavidBakerSF
Friday, November 6, 2015
Thursday, November 5, 2015
Why Architect Le Corbusier Wanted To Demolish Downtown Paris (Why even Brilliant Planners can be Idiots)
Walking through Le Corbusier's exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, I was surprised by how many of the great modernist architect's designs were never built. They were simply too radical, and none more so than his 1925 proposal to demolish two square miles of downtown Paris.
It's probably a good thing the architect, born Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris, didn't get his hands on Paris. The area he would have destroyed, including the 3rd and 4th arrondissements on the right bank of the Seine, is today among the prettiest, hippest, and most architecturally significant neighborhoods in the city. What's more, the replacement of organic urban areas with huge new developments has been criticized since the 1960s for sapping the vitality of cities.
All of that said, let's take a moment to appreciate how cool Le Corbusier's Plan Voisin would have been.
To start, demolishing central Paris made a lot of sense in the 1920s. The formerly aristocratic Marais district had fallen into squalor, characterized by poor sanitation, disease, and overcrowding, as chronicled by Marybeth Shaw in "Promoting An Urban Vision: Le Corbusier and the Plan Voisin." By 1921 in the Beaubourg area, 250 out of 276 houses were marked uninhabitable due to tuberculosis contamination.
Le Corbusier wanted to replace this urban blight with something incredible.
Plan Voisin called for 18 cruciform glass office towers, placed on a rectangular grid in an enormous park-like green space, with triple-tiered pedestrian malls with stepped terraces placed intermittently between them. Extending perpendicularly to the west, there would be an adjacent rectangle of low-rise residential, governmental, and cultural buildings amid more green space.
The new development would be integrated with highways, train and subway lines, as well as an airport, making this area the first thing that most visitors to the city would see.
The design sounds beautiful, as described by the architect :
I shall ask my readers to imagine they are walking in this new city, and have begun to acclimatize themselves to its untraditional advantages. You are under the shade of trees, vast lawns spread all round you. The air is clear and pure; there is hardly any noise. What, you cannot see where the buildings are ? Look through the charmingly diapered arabesques of branches out into the sky towards those widely-spaced crystal towers which soar higher than any pinnacle on earth. These translucent prisms that seem to float in the air without anchorage to the ground - flashing in summer sunshine, softly gleaming under grey winter skies, magically glittering at nightfall - are huge blocks of offices. Beneath each is an underground station (which gives the measure of the interval between them). Since this City has three or four times the density of our existing cities, the distances to be transversed in it (as also the resultant fatigue) are three or four times less. For only 5-10 per cent of the surface area of its business centre is built over. That is why you find yourselves walking among spacious parks remote from the busy hum of the autostrada.
The new office district would be the business center of the city, the country, and the world — while looking nothing like the "appalling nightmare" downtown streets of New York City. The adjacent housing district would be home to the world's business elite.
"Paris of tomorrow could be magnificently equal to the march of events that is day by day bringing us ever nearer to the dawn of a new social contract," Le Corbusier wrote.
To pay for the project, Le Corbusier counted on investment from France's business elite, promising a five-fold increase in land value. As for the denizens of the area that he wanted to destroy, the architect said these "troglodytes" could be relocated to garden cities in outer Paris.
As for concerns with leveling such a historic neighborhood, Le Corbusier insisted that the best architecture from the district — including the Palais Royal, the Place des Vosges, and certain townhouses and churches — would be saved. They would be, as described by Shaw, "preserved like museum pieces in the green carpet of the skyscrapers and low-rises that one would come upon while walking the curved paths of the parks."
Now, courtesy of Fondation Le Corbusier, here's a sketch of the verdant business district:
© 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris / F.L.C.
Here's a close-up showing the green spaces between buildings, with hints of ground-level commerce and transportation access:
© 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris / F.L.C.
Here's a model showing the business district and part of the residential, cultural, and governmental district extending west along the Seine:
© 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris / F.L.C.
And here's what the area looks like today:
Editor's Note: Would Paris be "Paris" if Le Corbusier succeeded in his plans? Even Hitler knew better than not to destroy Paris during the occupation/retreat during World War II.
The monstrous conceit of "Smart Growth" planners of Plan Bay Area is that they can build a "better Marin" by creating transit oriented development prescribed by a national institue of planning professionals. We even have "style guides" for architecture that will help builders expedite construction. Goodbye to architectural innovation, nuance and whimsy. If successful, we will be left with a soulless landscape much like Le Corbusiers Vision. We will not let this happen. We will Save Marin Again!
Fair Isn’t Fair Congressman Paul A. Gosar, D.D.S
Patrick Henry—an ardent supporter of a smaller, local government—once said, “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.” Something tells me that he would not utter such a statement were he alive in 2014. Henry and many other Founding Fathers are likely rolling over in their graves as a result of the incessant intrusion into local affairs by our current president and the federal government.
More recently, in the eyes of the Obama Administration, Americans are not the best judges of where they should live and raise their families. At least that’s the message coming from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Just when you thought the administration’s Orwellian sovereignty had reached its limits, HUD declared that our nation’s suburbs aren’t diverse enough and that local governments may not be the best arbiters of housing and zoning regulations.
To remedy this perceived cultural malaise, the administration has issued a new proposed regulation (sound familiar?) that mandates a barrier for individuals and families on where they can choose to live. With this action, the president and his administration are encroaching on the rights of local governments and once again needlessly injecting race into public policy issues, setting the stage for even further division and animosity in America.
As a means of accomplishing this goal, President Obama proposed a rule known as Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH), which according to Stanley Kurtz of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, will “push Americans into living how and where the federal government wants. It promises to gut the ability of suburbs to set their own zoning codes. It will press future population growth into tiny, densely-packed high-rise zones around public transportation, urbanizing suburbs and Manhattanizing cities.”
What this administration fails to understand is that one of the most unique American values is our ability to be mobile. America practically invented the modern open road. That road to the future symbolizes our freedom to choose—to choose where we live, where we work and to choose our neighbors and neighborhoods.
But instead, the president has decided to restrict that freedom. If this proposed rule is adopted, Washington bureaucrats are now going to tell Americans where they can live and who they will live next to, all in the name of social justice and ideological utopianism. Nothing could be more un-American and more fundamentally wrong. Just like Americans don't need the government choosing their doctors, they don't need the government choosing their neighbors.
The 1968 Fair Housing Act already makes discrimination illegal in the “sale, rental and financing of dwellings based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin.” The Act was amended in 1988 to add disability and familial status as covered conditions. Apparently, it’s not enough to provide everyone with equal opportunity in housing matters. What the Obama Administration wants is equal outcomes, and the only possible way to produce this is for the federal leviathan to force itself upon local jurisdictions.
While no one should ever be targeted for exclusion from a neighborhood because of their ethnicity or any other protected category, neither should there be quotas for neighborhoods to achieve some sort of racial balance that would not happen naturally. A level playing field that allows all Americans to choose where they live, and that gives zoning authority to local governments, is the wisest policy.
To curb this federal overreach, I sponsored an amendment in the Transportation, housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act that would block funding for the president’s rule on AFFH. Some of my colleagues and I are issuing a call to action and are asking House appropriators to include the same defunding language that passed the House of Representatives in any appropriations package we vote on and send to the president. If the rule is implemented and municipalities do not comply with AFFH, federal community development grant money will be withheld.
The sad truth about this Obama social engineering proposal is that HUD conducted its own study in 2011 which concluded that moving those currently living in poor neighborhoods into suburban neighborhoods neither helps children do better in school nor decreases their family's dependence upon welfare, as is the goal of the proposed AFFH rule. Therefore, one of the most compelling reasons to defund this regulation is that it will have the opposite impact on the people it is intended to assist, increasing their likelihood of government dependency.
In essence, this is an encroachment into the domain of local governments—even bypassing the state government level—and is a violation of the basic intent of our Founders. So if you hear reports of a minor earthquake near Henry’s resting place at Red Hill in Charlotte County, Virginia, it should be easy to locate its epicenter.
Editor's Note: Marin is currently under a voluntary agreement with HUD to meet racial quotas in its neighborhoods. Curiously, the most vigorous supporters of this initiative, Steve Kinsey, in particular has NO PLANS for large affordable housing projects in his district while pushing 80% of all affordable housing in Marinwood-Lucas Valley.
Wednesday, November 4, 2015
Zone of Possible Contamination includes all of Casa Marinwood, a parts of Roundtree and Blackstone Canyon Rd.
The above circle represents the Zone of possible contamination from Prosperity Cleaners toxic waste site located at 187 Marinwood Ave, San Rafael., CA. High levels of toxins have been discovered on the eastern most edge of the circle (right hand side of map) and a radius has been drawn around it to signify other possible contamination locations.
While most of the toxic waste contamination from Prosperity Cleaners is expected to flow on the down gradient towards San Pablo Bay East, new soil vapor testing has proven contamination exists just a few feet away from Casa Marinwood.
There is effective treatment available once testing inside Casa Marinwood is complete. Residents need to know that there appears to be no risk of their drinking water to be contaminated.
The Clean Up Marinwood Plaza Now Oversight committee will hold a meeting in conjunction with Supervisor Damon Connolly's office and the Regional Water Quality Control Board in the next few weeks.
We will announce the meeting here on www.SaveMarinwood.org
Tuesday, November 3, 2015
Monday, November 2, 2015
Sunday, November 1, 2015
Much at stake for Bay Area in regional planning merger talks
Now the hard work begins.
Leaders of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission on Wednesday temporarily halted their ham-handed bid for a hostile takeover of the Association of Bay Area Governments. Instead, the two regional planning agencies have promised to work cooperatively toward a needed and long-overdue merger.
There's much at stake. The Bay Area must better align housing, jobs and public transit. We spend too much time stuck in traffic. It will only get worse if we fail to build densely near transit centers and continue to approve sprawl along highway corridors already filled to capacity.
Unfortunately, for decades we've had two regional planning agencies -- one for transportation, the other for housing -- that have been engaged in passive-aggressive and sometimes open warfare.
The mantra of ABAG is local control. For MTC, the goal has been imposition of regional order. In other areas of the state, one regional agency oversees the two functions. But in the Bay Area they have always been split. Merging these two cultures won't be easy.
Previous attempts have failed. And this one almost died before it began. Last month, MTC's executive director, Steve Heminger, and board chairman, Dave Cortese, proposed that their agency take away key ABAG staff members. See the Full Article HERE
THE DOGS AND THE HIDESSOME hungry Dogs saw a number of hides at the bottom of a stream where the Tanner had put them to soak. A fine hide makes an excellent meal for a hungry Dog, but the water was deep and the Dogs could not reach the hides from the bank. So they held a council and decided that the very best thing to do was to drink up the river.
All fell to lapping up the water as fast as they could. But though they drank and drank until, one after another, all of them had burst with drinking, still, for all their effort, the water in the river remained as high as ever.
Do not try to do impossible things.
Inconvenient truths about “affordable” housing and Ballot Question 300
By Paul Danish
Whatever else Ballot Questions 300 and 301 end up accomplishing, they have already succeeded in awakening the social consciences of most of the developers, builders, realtors and bankers in Boulder.
They’ll get over it, of course, but in the meantime a lot of trash is being talked about planning, development, growth and housing prices in Boulder.
And about Ballot Questions 300 and 301. Ballot Questions 300 and 301 would allow residents of neighborhoods to vote on zoning changes that affect their neighborhoods (Question 300) and require new growth to pay its own way (Question 301).
Here, in no particular order, are a few inconvenient truths that ought to be part of the conversation but aren’t:
1. Both liberals and conservatives say they’re for “more affordable” housing, but the very term “affordable housing” is meaningless. All housing is affordable — by someone. It isn’t “affordable housing” that we’re after. It’s low-priced housing.
2. The reason Boulder housing prices are high isn’t “a simple matter of supply and demand” as pro-growthers (both those with recently awakened social consciences and those with interminable liberal guilt) sometimes claim.
It’s a simple matter of demand and supply.
Boulder housing prices are high because there are a lot of relatively high paying jobs in the Boulder. When it comes to buying a house, chances are Boulderites with six-figure incomes will want more than a double-wide.
3. Apart from demand and supply, Boulder housing is going to be more expensive than comparable housing elsewhere in the metro Denver area for at least two other reasons. The first is location, location, location; if you want to live within walking distance of the Rocky Mountains instead of the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, you’re going to pay a premium. The second is that the people of Boulder have made an enormous investment in maintaining Boulder’s environment and character — starting with the purchase of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of open space — which makes Boulder a highly desirable place to live and pushes up property values.
4. When it comes to Boulder housing, the 500-pound gorilla in the room is the University of Colorado. The current enrollment of the University of Colorado is about 32,000, and chances are it will continue to grow. Historically university dormitories and married student housing can accommodate maybe 25 to 30 percent of the student body, and that proportion is unlikely to change much in the future. The rest, more than 20,000, live in off-campus housing in Boulder or in surrounding towns. It doesn’t take a genius to see that as CU grows an increasing number of students are going to find accommodations outside of Boulder — in Westminster, Longmont, Lafayette, Broomfield, Northglenn, Frederick and so on, and commute to school.
Instead of trying to further densify the already over-crowded neighborhoods near the campus, a more realistic student housing policy for Boulder would be for the City to provide more parking lots near the campus.
5. There is no free lunch. The more Boulder grows, the more traffic-congested it is going to become. This is because a) Boulder is designed around the automobile, and b) thanks to Boulder’s geography, Boulder’s street network cannot be expanded much without doing real damage to the city. Buses, bicycles and hare-brained schemes like eliminating auto lanes on arterial streets in favor of bicycle lanes will not eliminate the added congestion that comes with added population or even mitigate it. Neither will the sort of densification that has occurred in the 28th and 30th Street corridors — that much should be self-evident by now.
6. Opponents of Ballot Question 300 are trying to define it as an existential threat to low-cost housing in Boulder. The assumption is that if neighborhoods could vote on up-zonings and land use changes that would result in higher density — like the back-door densification measures the Council tried to slip through a few months ago — such changes would almost always be voted down.
That may well be the case. However, it doesn’t follow that changing Boulder’s land use regulations to allow additional rental units in existing single family homes and on existing single family lots will result in lower rents.
Back in the 1960s, a lot of Boulder home-owners rented out basement apartments to students, and (even taking into account 800 percent inflation) the rents were moderate by today’s standards. And because the homeowners lived on the premises, there was a degree of adult supervision, which made the higher density more tolerable.
But as the old homeowners died off, their homes were acquired not by new owner-occupants who rented out a room or a basement, but by absentee investors who turned them into total rental properties and jacked up both the rents and the number of renters — often in brazen disregard of the city’s occupancy limits. In Austin, Texas such rental properties around the University of Texas are called “stealth dorms.”
7. The claim by opponents of Ballot Question 300 that it “pits neighbors and neighborhoods against each other” is hogwash squared and cubed. Boulder neighborhoods historically look out for their own interests, but I can’t recall an occasion where one neighborhood has gotten into a fight with another over a land use issue. Ballot Question 300 isn’t going to change that.
As for pitting neighbor against neighbor, as a Boulder City Councilman and Boulder County Commissioner, I’ve sat through dozens of public hearings involving proposed projects that would increase the density and change the character of neighborhoods. The most striking thing about those hearings was the unanimity with which the residents opposed those projects. The real fear of Ballot Question 300’s opponents isn’t that it will pit neighbor against neighbor, but neighbors against developers. They should be honest enough to admit it.