Friday, September 2, 2016

Scat Singing!

Jerry Brown’s housing hypocrisy

Jerry Brown’s housing hypocrisy

Jerry Brown worrying about the California housing crisis is akin to the French policeman played by Claude Rains in “Casablanca” being “shocked, shocked” about gambling at the bar where he himself collects his winnings.
Brown has long been at the forefront on drafting and enforcing regulations that make building housing both difficult and very expensive. And now he has pushed new legislation, which seems certain to be passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor, that makes it worse by imposing even more stringent regulations on greenhouse gas emissions, mandating a 40 percent cut from 1990 levels by 2030.
The press and activists may cheer the new bill, which will require massively expensive and intrusive measures likely to further raise housing costs. A 2012 study by the California Council on Science and Technology found that, given existing and potentially feasible technology, cutting back carbon emissions by 60 percent, roughly comparable with the new legal mandate, would require that “all buildings … either have to be demolished, retrofitted or built new to very high efficiency standards.” Needless to say, this won’t do much for housing affordability.
Brown’s bona fides in promoting housing inflation goes back, at least to his days as attorney general. Throughout his career, Brown has fostered policies that have contributed to the regulatory quagmire largely responsible for helping drive house values in California up more than three times the national rate in the last half century. Over that period, a dense mesh of regional and local regulations have seriously restricted land for urban development, adding significant costs for housing developers.
Some have seen Brown’s recent suggestions to loosen up some regulations and add to housing subsidies as positive, although they have little chance of making it through Sacramento due to environmental, labor and municipal opposition.
But even if it is passed, Brown’s proposal would hardly affect housing supply or prices, in large part, because the governor’s people-last radical environmental theology rules out what Zillow economists identify as the one of “tried-and-true” means of reducing housing costs: single-family tract housing developments on the periphery (where the city meets the countryside). In contrast, Brown’s housing proposal focused on larger, multifamily developments in urban core areas.
Brown and the middle class
Brown’s housing policies offer little to the middle class. Densification, for example, has no record of making housing affordable much of anywhere. It is also not what most people want, which is one reason that middle-class families, particularly young families, continue to move out of the state, according to an analysis of 2014 Internal Revenue Service numbers.
California millennials already have among the lowest rates of homeownership in the country, with many staying with their parents after their mid-twenties. Brown’s proposal would have at least produced small units, although such units are hopelessly unfit to attract young families.
The biggest victims: The poor, the working class and the new generation
Brown’s land-use regulation policies – including those tied to greenhouse gas emissions – have been disastrous, especially for low-income households. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, California has by far the highest poverty rate in the nation of any state when adjusted for housing costs. With a rate 50 percent above that of Mississippi, for low-income households, California is regulating itself into something of a third-world country, with large portions of the population stuck in permanent poverty.
Renters in the Los Angeles metropolitan area are paying 48 percent of their monthly incomes on rent, up from 36 percent historically. In 2013, the Riverside-San Bernardino metro area had the highest poverty rate among the 25 largest metropolitan areas. Los Angeles (including Orange County) tied with Phoenix for the third-worst poverty rate.
Overall, two-thirds of the municipalities and Census-designated places with more than 5,000 residences in the United States with greater than 10 percent of housing units overcrowded are in California, according to the Census Bureau’s 2010-2014 American Community Survey.
Where are we going?
Brown’s legacy on housing has created a California that works for specific groups – some older home owners, urban land speculators – but leaves the state ever more crowded, plagued by miserable traffic and rising inequality. After all, California is already extremely dense: Census Bureau data indicate that Los Angeles is twice as dense as Portland, the density darling of urban planners. The Bay Area is 70 percent more dense than that “model” city, and cities like Fresno, Stockton, Modesto and even the small Los Banos urban area are also denser. In fact, California has the highest urban density of any state.
So before considering Brown’s claims to having solutions to the state’s housing crisis, Californians need to be aware of his real record. Brown may be childless, but he can claim to be the proud father of a California that resembles less than the aspirational model created by his father, but rather one more akin to the hierarchical, class-bound system more reminiscent of feudalism.
California residents, like other Americans, deserve some prospect for decent housing and homeownership. Rather than standing in the way of these aspirations, the state should look to facilitate sensible policies that allow for them to become reality for future generations.
Joel Kotkin is the R.C. Hobbs Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University in Orange and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism ( Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, a St. Louis-based public policy firm, and was appointed to three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Taiwan’s Social Safety Net Is the Street Market

Free-marketers are often ridiculed for suggesting the welfare state can be substantially replaced by free enterprise: that we’re smoking funny weed to even suggest that able-bodied adults would be better off with more invigorating freedom instead of a debilitating dole..
The Case of Taiwan
Well, we have a fantastic case study in exactly this: Taiwan. With a GDP per capita about half US levels -- between Spain and Portugal -- Taiwan has a tiny welfare state paired with regulations that are both light and lightly enforced.
Result? An explosion in commerce, and apparently near-zero homelessness. Walk anywhere in a Taiwanese city and the streets are alive, all day and all night, with a rotating cast of pop-up businesses that employ mainly low-skill labor while making life a joy for consumers.
Hundreds of jobs, small rivers of entrepreneurial income all running off one little street.
To give a flavor, take one street near my university, Wenhua St. in Taichung. Starting around 5am, farmers drive in and spread out their produce on folding tables along the street. Shoppers are diverse: elderly who can walk instead of driving out to a megastore, mothers with kids, fathers cooking up breakfast.
Around 7am the farmers pack up and in move the breakfast joints, unloading folding tables and stacking chairs off their pickup trucks. Sandwich places, noodle shops, omelettes and full English breakfast. These go until a bit past noon, when they fold up everything on their trucks and out come the night crew: a different set of restaurants selling fried chicken or dumplings, vendors selling clothes, watches, kids’ toys. As the night wears on the beer joints open, selling hot soup and a cold beer. Families, teens, and singles throng the streets until 3am, when the street cleaners come out in preparation for the farmers coming at 5.
So hundreds of jobs, small rivers of entrepreneurial income all running off one little street. Each patch of street is recycled 3 or more times a day according to what customers want. And none of it would be legal in most US cities.
The Beauty of Laissez-faire
Three interesting results come out of this laissez-faire approach to small commerce. First, streets in Taiwan are full of shoppers all day and all night. There are none of those dangerous urban deserts that abound in American cities like DC and New York. You can safely roam around at 3am any day of the week, and find tons of pop-up bars or restaurants, packed with laughing people enjoying the night.
His friends’ first question was: what kind of shop will you open during your job-hunt?
Second, because laissez-faire allows a robust market to develop, street food in Taiwan is safe, delicious, and ridiculously cheap. We pay between $1.50 and $2 for a full meal, in a country where overall costs are half the US level. So, adjusting for price levels, we pay $3 to $4 for what would cost us easily 3-5 times that in the US. As a result, my family doesn’t eat out once a week like back in the States; we eat out 2 or 3 times a day.
Why so cheap? Because the market is substantially left to self-regulate: if a vendor sells bad or dirty food, word spreads and they’re out of business. Other vendors, indeed, enforce this since the reputation of the whole street is at risk. The result is that vendors scrupulously clean their equipment every day; indeed there are services that go around cleaning your food-stall on hire. It’s like nested deregulation: an unregulated service provided to an unregulated service that is, ultimately, “policed” by customers themselves.
Freedom and opportunity: that is what underpins true welfare and security.
From my perspective as a customer, the end result is fantastic: clean, delicious food that we can afford to eat every single day of the month. By the way, that is apparently what most Taiwanese now do: it’s standard for people to never cook in, but rather to just pick up $2 meals every night for the family, only cooking for special occasions or for a midnight snack.
Third, and possibly most important, is the impact on jobs and self-sufficiency. A Taiwanese friend announced he’d lost his job, and his friends’ first question was: what kind of shop will you open during your job-hunt? Since it’s so easy to start a pocket-business, there’s an entire industry that caters to them. You can lose your job, take the bus, rent a food stand for a month, pay $50 to slap on some signage, have it delivered to some high-traffic spot and get cranking that night on fried twinkies, sausage-buns, whatever you think people want to eat. So sling sausages by night, keep looking for work in the daytime, and when you find a job just take the stand back for your deposit.
Freedom and opportunity: that is what underpins true welfare and security. The results are striking: in 3 years here, in a city bigger and poorer than St. Louis, I have never once seen a homeless person. The closest I've seen is an elderly lady who grows orchids and sells them out of a bag.
So choose one: job-killing regulations and a welfare state, or reduce burdens on small business and set the people free.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Want to Live in a Single Family Home without High Density Housing Next Door? Buy the Neighborhood!

[Editor's Note: While single family home neighborhoods are being targeted for high density multifamily development in the name of "social equity", these developments are disproportionately being built in middle class neighborhoods like Marinwood, Terra Linda and Novato. There IS a solution providing you are mega wealthy- BUY THE NEIGHBORHOOD!]

Yahoo's Marissa Mayer buys funeral-home property

Palo Alto parcel had been eyed by city for 21 housing units

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer. Photo courtesy of Yahoo.
Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is the new owner of the property that houses Roller & Hapgood & Tinney, Palo Alto's oldest funeral home, which will close Oct. 31, according to sources at the mortuary.
The 1.16-acre site at 980 Middlefield Road, at the corner of Addison Avenue, has been home to the 114-year-old family-owned mortuary since 1951, office manager Melodie Sample said. She said she thinks the property will be used for residential purposes.

The parcel is located a block east of Mayer's Addison Avenue home and across the street from Addison Elementary School.

The property is currently zoned "planned community" (PC) and allows only a commercial funeral-home to use the site, said Aaron Aknin, Palo Alto's assistant director of planning and community environment.
"Any new development would need to go through a re-zoning process -- Planning and Transportation Commission review and City Council approval required," he said.

The entire block -- bounded by Middlefield, Addison, Webster Street and Channing Avenue -- has been zoned as "planned community," including an adjacent PC zone for the Webster Wood Apartments for low-income families. But the city's Comprehensive Plan has designated the area for "multi-family use," which allows between 8 and 40 housing units per acre. The property owner would most likely request RM-15 or RM-30 zoning, which would allow for up to 15 to 30 units per acre, Aknin said.
The corner lot is, however, across the street from blocks designated for single-family homes. It is also one block away on Addison from single-family residences.

In June 26, 2012, a city staff report identified the funeral-home property as a potential site for up to 21 residences, which would help the city reach a housing goal mandated by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG). At that time, the site did not end up included in the city's official housing inventory because of the existing PC zoning, Aknin said.

Mayer could not be reached for comment regarding the purchase or her plans for the property.
The land deal closed Oct. 7, according to Jim Spangler, president of Mountain View-based Spangler Mortuaries, which purchased Roller & Hapgood & Tinney's business assets. He does not know what Mayer plans to do with the property, he said.

Mayer's current 5,600-square-foot home, on 0.3 acres, was the site of a Democratic fundraising dinner with President Barack Obama in October 2010. 

Cyclists who IGNORE the traffic laws should be ticketed.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Rhymes with Snobbery

See SF Gate: Rhymes with snobbery

Updated 8:06 pm, Friday, September 6, 2013
  • Mayor Gayle McLaughlin shows her support of the CARES, (Community Action to Restore Equity and Stability) program during a public meeting in Richmond, Calif. on Saturday June 15, 2013, at the Nevin Community Center.  A radical new program is being  proposed as a way to help struggling homeowners that could lead the city to use eminent domain to seize underwater mortgages and restructure them to keep families in their homes. Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle
    Mayor Gayle McLaughlin shows her support of the CARES, (Community Action to Restore Equity and Stability) program during a public meeting in Richmond, Calif. on Saturday June 15, 2013, at the Nevin Community Center. A radical new program is being proposed as a way to help struggling homeowners that could lead the city to use eminent domain to seize underwater mortgages and restructure them to keep families in their homes. Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle

"Richmond rhymes with enrichment," Mayor Gayle McLaughlin boasts on her city website. Actually, Richmond does not rhyme with enrichment. The slogan, however, is apt for the first American city poised to seize mortgages by eminent domain. City pols claim the scheme is legal because the city would pay "fair market value" for private property in the furtherance of public good. Call the scheme Richmond Hood, in honor of Robin of Sherwood Forest.

It turns out Richmond does spell enrichment - for Mortgage Resolution Partners, a San Francisco startup in which Chronicle columnist Willie Brown was an initial investor.

The plan originally was billed as a means to help Richmond by "preserving home ownership, restoring homeowner equity and stabilizing the communities' housing market and economy by allowing many homeowners to remain in their homes." Folks figured that meant fixing up homes and eliminating blight in depressed neighborhoods, Councilman Nat Bates recalled. "Lo and behold," he added, "we find out that we have folks with million-dollar homes" that can be helped.

As The Chronicle's Carolyn Said reported, with MRP's help, Richmond threatened the seizure of 624 underwater mortgages. The vast majority of the loans, 444, are current on their payments; 180 are delinquent. The three most expensive mortgages are for $1.22 million, $962,307 and $888,000 for homes in Richmond's priciest hood, Point Richmond on the waterfront.

The city offered $679,834, $543,608 and $510,727 to purchase those three mortgages. For a $4,500 fee, MRP helps homeowners get lower loans, and the city pockets profits in the process. (MRP would not talk to me on the record.)

So far, no surprise, no bank has taken up Richmond on its "fair market value" proffers. Still, the purveyors of Richmond Hood contend that the deal benefits the public.

Enter the cold embrace of reality. In August, Richmond tried to refinance $34 million in A-minus-rated bonds. No one bought them.

Richmond homeowners who have kept up their mortgages should be asking themselves: If I want to sell my house in three years, will potential buyers be able to secure a mortgage in a town known for robbing banks by fiat?

"It sounds good, the eminent domain, and I'm not in love with the lending institutions, because I do feel they've taken advantage of a huge number of our citizens," said Councilman Bates, who plans to introduce a motion on Tuesday to withdraw the city's purchase-or-go-to-court offers. "They're a hard-nosed group of people. But at the same time, I can't in good conscience go out and take these people on when they do have certain rights."

Also it would be a financial disaster to get in a fighting match with Wall Street and financial institutions, as City Hall is about to sell tax-revenue anticipation bonds needed to keep the city running.
McLaughlin tells me that she's not worried about finding buyers for Richmond bonds. "We think that it's a lot of blustering, and they're acting out of emotion," quoth the mayor.

And if banks won't lend to would-be Richmond home buyers?

"We believe that's totally against the law," she answered. Surely there are many civil rights lawyers who would be happy to "right any wrongs brought against the city of Richmond."
The next slogan: Richmond rhymes with legal pitchman.

She's not asking: Who wants to buy a home in a city where officials believe they have a right to seize property from one taxpayer - not for the public good of a school or a road but to feed a money-making enterprise run by political cronies? No one is safe in such a city. There is no alarm system powerful enough to protect a humble homeowner from the giant maw of such a revenue-raking machine.

Eminent domain and mortgages

The Chronicle's Kathleen Pender wrote this description of the Mortgage Resolution Partners model in her Net Worth column:

"Suppose a homeowner owes $300,000 on a home now worth $200,000. The city seizes the loan (by eminent domain) and pays the current mortgage holders $170,000. This price assumes a large number of severely underwater homeowners will ultimately default.

"The city, which now owns the loan, writes down the balance to $190,000. Now instead of being underwater, the borrower has $10,000 in equity. He gets a new loan for $190,000, which pays off the $170,000, with $20,000 left over for the city to share with its investors and pay expenses."

Debra J. Saunders is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. E-mail: Twitter: @DebraJSaunders
"Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on, or by imbeciles who really mean it." - Mark Twain

ABAG Retreat-Raising Taxes and Fees for Housing Trust

ABAG regional planning committee discusses ways to raise taxes and fees for an REGION wide affordable housing trust. Among the proposals is a regional parcel tax which will literally mean taxation without representation since regional commissioners cannot be voted out of office outside their jurisdiction. Meeting Held in Oakland on March 28, 2016.

Monday, August 29, 2016

And Now, Habitat III, the Olympics of Urbanization

And Now, Habitat III, the Olympics of Urbanization

The UN summit, coming in October, happens only every 20 years and aims to chart the path of global cities in the 21st Century.
An aerial view of a slum in Caracas, Venezuela. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)
The summer Olympics in Rio are fading into memory, but the world’s attention did focus, however fleetingly, on urban conditions in the Brazilian city—the challenges of life in the favelas, the specter of crime both real and imagined, and the future uses of new infrastructure that made the games possible.
Now comes another international event that most people aren’t aware of, also in a South American city, that has an even greater mandate: to set an agenda for the world’s rapidly urbanizing metropolitan areas. There won’t be any medals awarded at Habitat III, the United Nations-led global cities summit set for Quito, Ecuador, in October. But organizers are hoping for a similar zeitgeist: calling attention to the urgent need to better plan the planet’s cities, particularly in the developing world.
This summit only happens every 20 years. Habitat I was held in Vancouver in 1976, followed by Habitat II in Istanbul in 1996. Those meetings established a basic framework for wrestling with the challenges facing the world’s cities, but never quite set an implementable set of policies or goals concerning urbanization. With Habitat III, the United Nations agency charged with guiding sustainable urban policies worldwide—the UN Human Settlements Programme, also known as UN-Habitat—recognizes this may be the last best chance to chart a course for the rest of the 21st century.
It’s hard to get the countries of the world to agree on anything. But organizers, led by UN-Habitat executive director Joan Clos, a former mayor of Barcelona, are hoping for the global urban policy equivalent of the COP-21 consensus on limiting greenhouse gas emissions, forged in Paris last December. The sense of urgency is palpable—that it’s now or never.
Why all the heavy breathing? As readers of CityLab well know, more than half the world’s population, currently some 7 billion souls, now lives in cities. By 2050, two-thirds of the planet’s projected population of nearly 10 billion are expected to inhabit metropolitan areas. The rapid increases now are mostly attributed to rural migrants streaming in, in search of a better life; future generations will be born in the metropolis. The most growth will occur predominantly in the developing world, in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.
The problem is that on the whole, this extraordinary process of urbanization isn’t going particularly well. The UN estimates that nearly 1 billion people are currently living in informal settlements, or slums, without access to basic services such as sanitation and clean water. Two-thirds of rural migrants in Africa are believed to be moving straight into shantytowns.
Analysis of satellite data from a forthcoming revision of the Atlas of Urban Expansion, a project led by my employer, the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, shows an incredible sprawl of slums, expanding outward at the far periphery of the urban core, from Accra to Dhaka. At current rates, this unplanned growth worldwide will eat up land equivalent to the entire country of India. This vast consumption of land comes coupled with a poor quality and character of growth. It’s inefficient, willy-nilly, bad for ecosystems, bad for food security, and above all, bad for billions of poor people. Such inhumane conditions, in many cases exacerbated by the impacts of climate change, will be a tinderbox, increasing instability for the entire world.
What’s been clear is that the cities accommodating this unprecedented population growth have been woefully unprepared. It’s a little like driving a bus with a fraction of the capacity for riders, with no schedule and no route. The conceit of Habitat III is to suggest that there must be a better way. Improving the future growth of the world’s cities entails basic urban planning, inclusive economic growth, and principles of sustainability, both fiscal and environmental. UN-Habitat seeks to help cities grow more sensibly and humanely, and give them the tools and policy frameworks to achieve that mission. Simple enough.
The summit is supposed to conclude with an agreed-upon document of policies, commitments, and principles for 21st century city-building, ambitiously called the New Urban Agenda. This manifesto contains high-level language recognizing the central role of cities in the planet’s future, detailed statements about gender equality, disaster risk reduction, the financing of basic services and infrastructure, and also phrases such as: “Leave no one behind, by ending poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including the eradication of extreme poverty.” They’re not kidding around.
For the New Urban Agenda to be official, UN member states have to agree to it, which is the major challenge. In what might be described as typical parliamentarian wrangling for the international organization, the members have found it hard to reach consensus. Part of the problem is that the members are nations, while the New Urban Agenda is all about cities—local or “sub-national” governments in the parlance. Different countries have different ideas about what’s important, and resist being held accountable—to the extent they would be—on things they don’t agree with. There are turf and power issues riddled throughout.
The document was actually supposed to be finalized at a pre-Habitat III meeting in Surabaya, Indonesia, in July, but negotiators couldn’t resolve major differences, including where or whether to use the word “commitment.” Some even questioned whether UN-Habitat should be the entity in charge of the implementation of the New Urban Agenda.
It’s all not exactly what organizers had in mind heading into Quito. But something good can still come out of Habitat III. Negotiators are planning to meet in New York City next month to try to finalize the New Urban Agenda document, so the summit itself can focus more on implementation.
And while it is important to have a bold and firm United Nations statement on the future of the world’s cities, there are parallel global efforts related to cities that have more teeth. Chief among these are the aforementioned Paris climate agreement and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, a 17-point game plan for the planet through 2030. One of those goals, referred to in revered tones by Habitat III insiders, is Goal 11, which sums things up pretty nicely: “Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.” Member states have already agreed to be held accountable, as much as that is possible, for achieving those goals.
The New Urban Agenda, never conceived as a binding charter, might benefit from being more flexible: making it a living, evolving document, where stakeholders can get together and add initiatives or frameworks when it becomes apparent they would be useful. That approach could also allow for advances in technology and smart infrastructure. A clean energy source or sanitation system that hasn’t yet been invented could reshuffle priorities.
Throughout, the Habitat III hopeful have also been mindful of accentuating the positive. The focus shouldn't be just triage to avert dystopia, but how cities are solutions that can do enormous good for the world. An important component here is enabling a two-way North-South dialogue, where successful cities share pro tips, but emerging economies also showcase innovations and experimentation. It could even be fun.
When up to 30,000 dedicated urbanists converge in the nearly two-mile high Ecuadorean capital in a little more than seven weeks, some sort of positive action is very likely. The summit seems poised to serve as a catalyst, promoting ferment among non-profit and civic institutions, and potentially enabling all kinds of partnerships focused on sustainable city-building initiatives. This is utter bias on my part, because I’m part of one of those institutions. It may also be the shared optimism of all those who have been involved in Habitat III, because at the end of the day, this is all about an organized effort to improve life for billions of people. Like the planet of cities the conference is focused on, it’s too big to fail.

Sunday, August 28, 2016