Saturday, October 1, 2016

Citizen Victory! Littleton, Colorado citizens win right to vote on Tax Financing of Urban Renewal

Littleton voters pass measure restricting city's urban renewal powers

UPDATED:   03/05/2015 12:59:08 AM MST

The storefront of the new location of Crown Trophy in Littleton.
The storefront of the new location of Crown Trophy in Littleton. (Brent Lewis, The Denver Post)

Littleton will need to go to the voters before employing commonly used urban renewal tactics, like tax increment financing or eminent domain, according to special election results released late Tuesday.
The city in Denver's southern suburbs became the first Colorado community to place such constraints on a local government's ability to use the state-sanctioned economic development tools.
Opponents of the measure warned that Littleton would stunt its economic growth potential by making projects in hard-to-revamp areas impossible to complete.
The final tally in favor of Question 300 was 5,755 yes votes to 3,811 no votes, or 60 percent to 40 percent.
Voters passed by an even wider margin a competing ballot measure, Question 2A, which only limits Littleton's eminent domain powers.
In a statement issued late Tuesday, Paul Bingham with Your Littleton Your Vote, said "like most elections, this one was a large difference of opinion, This one about what is best for Littleton."
"Thank you to the citizens of Littleton for understanding our message and voting for our charter amendment," he said.
Tuesday's victory for Your Littleton Your Vote came despite being heavily outgunned by those challenging the measure, who operated under the name Littleton Strong. Opponents raised nearly $91,000 in campaign donations while backers raised nearly $3,000.
The vast majority of Littleton Strong's donations came from heavy-hitting builders and real estate industry groups while Your Littleton Your Vote's contributions came from local residents.
Mayor Phil Cernanec, who along with city council, had opposed Question 300, released a statement late Tuesday.
"Regardless of the voters' decision, the city council and I will continue engaging with citizens and encouraging healthy dialogue on the very important issues we face," he said. "It is, and always has been, our goal to look for ways to keep Littleton moving forward."
The movement to restrict the powers of the urban renewal authority in Littleton, known as Littleton Invests For Tomorrow, began last year when Your Littleton Your Vote collected signatures to get the measure on the ballot.
A special election was scheduled for Tuesday and more than 30,000 mail-in ballot were sent out last month.
Question 300 amends Littleton's charter to require voter approval before the city lures developers with deals that share the cost of infrastructure improvements, often through the issuance of bonds, in a public-private arrangement.
Urban renewal has been widely used in Colorado, including in the developments of the Denver Pavilions on the 16th Street Mall, the Streets at SouthGlenn in Centennial and Lakewood's Belmar.
Ballot backers argued that the city doesn't need to make deals using taxpayer money to bring projects to town and shouldn't do so without voter consent. They also objected to the city's decision last year to map out four zones — deemed blighted — where urban renewal dollars could be used.
Urban renewal proponents, led by the group Littleton Strong, lashed back by placing their own measure on the ballot that only prevents the seizure of property for urban renewal projects, unless the property owner agrees to eminent domain, but keeps intact other development tools.
By having every urban renewal decision go before voters, they argued, developers will eventually just skip over Littleton and go elsewhere with their projects so as not to get entangled in expensive elections.
Editors Note: Littleton, Colorado is mostly Democratic and voted strongly for liberal representation.  Urban redevelopment is not a right or left issue.  It is a local control and voting righrs issue.  If you feel that a local community has the right to limit "fracking" in their community then why shouldn't they be allowed to vote on the use of their taxes for redevelopment?

Transit Oriented Development’s Dirty Secret

Transit Oriented Development’s Dirty Secret

Click to see a larger image
Click to see a larger image
An innocent reader interested in learning about transit oriented development projects would have learned from official county and city sources that one of the major justifications was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fight climate change. Here is a selection of the justifications made to justify a number of projects in Marin:
- The County of Marin told us in official documents that Priority Development Areas would “lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions”
- The Larkspur Station Area plan public workshop presentation told us that we should add 920 units of high density housing in order to “minimize greenhouse gas emissions”
- The SMART’s train’s measure Q, climate change whitepaper and final Environmental Impact Report told us that it would “fight global warming”
IPCC CoverBut what if none of this turned out to be true? What if all of these projects actually increased emissions? What if the claims that “if we don’t build high density here then we’d increase emissions by building sprawl elsewhere?” rang hollow? Then shouldn’t we re-evaluate all those projects based on the new information? After all the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated unambiguously that the climate change crisis has become so significant that we can’t continue with business as usual.

The Changing Landscape: Car Emissions Have Dropped

Many of us still feel a modicum of guilty pleasure driving a vehicle – based on information such as the above we presume that while taking transit can be inconvenient, we’re doing our bit to save the planet because transit has lower emissions. But the reality is that cars have come a long way in the last few years. Market pressures have led to cars making immense improvements in fuel economy and this almost directly results in lower emissions. In 2012 the average new US car achieved 23.8 mpg (source: EPA) a 1.4 mpg improvement in just one year.
It’s important to understand that miles per gallon figures are directly linked to emissions. If you burn 1 gallon of gasoline in an internal combustion engine you will emit, on average, 8,887g of CO2 according to the EPA. Diesel emits slightly more per gallon – 10,180g CO2.
The California Air Resources Board’s EMFAC database provides the official emissions figures used by transit agencies, cities and counties. Marin has commissioned consultants ICF International who inform me they use this data with their own proprietary model as they revise Marin’s Climate Action Plan. This EMFAC data uses actual DMV data regarding the specific vehicle fleet – down to the make, model and age – registered to be on the road in any selected county. It then applies official forecasts based on improvements from Pavley legislation and California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) to project emissions for cars and transit out until the year 2035.
CAFE StandardsHowever the EMFAC database has yet to consider in its projections the much more aggressive Pavley II legislation enacted into law by the EPA in August 2012. This enacted legislation states that the average new car must achieve 54.5 mpg by the year 2025. Sources in the ARB report that they are confidently on track to meet this target.
Since this more aggressive, enacted legislation is not considered we must treat any car emissions projections over-estimates (actual emissions will be lower).

What About Transit?

As previously covered in Planning for Reality, transit emissions historically have remained fairly static over the past 20 years. The California Air Resources Board EMFAC database also provides insight into emissions per vehicle mile for buses. More importantly it provides this data specific to buses currently used in Marin – and projects bus emissions out into the future.
We know the emissions for the SMART train as SMART published this in their SMART vehicle study.  SMART locomotives will emit 6,825g CO2 per vehicle mile.

The All Important Passenger Miles Per Gallon

More important than emissions per vehicle mile is emissions per passenger mile. We all know that a bus with 4 people on it will emit far more than the same 4 people in a large SUV because the bus has a larger engine pulling more weight. What’s important is measuring the CO2 emissions generated by transporting each passenger 1 mile.
To arrive at these vital figures requires an understanding of average ridership:
  • Cars: The US Department of Transport conducted a National Travel Trends Survey in 2009. Table 16 on page 33 arrives at the average occupancy for cars of 1.67.
  • Golden Gate Transit Buses: The American Public Transportation Association’s 2012 Factbook, Appendix A provides detailed information about vehicle miles travelled and passenger miles.  Here we see that the system achieved 82,418 million passenger miles and 6,147 vehicle miles – this translates to an average ridership of 13.4 passengers.
  • Golden Gate Ferry: The same fact book shows that the ferry system achieved 22,541 million passenger miles and 194 million vehicle miles – translating to an average ridership of 116.5 passengers.
  • The SMART Train: SMART does not have official ridership numbers, MTC, SMART and projection authors Dowling all stated in TAM meeting notes that projections are “incorrect”. Reverting to the national figures for trains, bouyed up by rail systems in the northeast with dense monocentric employment centers such as Manhattan and Boston, we can use the same approach above to arrive at an average ridership for commuter rail of 44.1 passengers. This figure is especially generous for SMART that is running in a suburban and rural area and not connecting to major employment centers.Looking at the Altamont Commuter Express (ACE) commuter train in the East Bay which serves  a much larger population than SMART in San Jose, Pleasanton and Fremont, the APTA 2012 figures show an lower average ridership of 40.6 passengers. Had this been used SMART’s emissions would be higher on the chart. In the author’s opinion, given that SMART does not connect to major employment centers directly like ACE, and serves a much reduced population catchment, SMART’s true average ridership will be significantly below 40 passengers.

The Results

This graph shows the results:
Click to see a larger image
Click to see a larger image
  • Cars have lower emissions per passenger mile than the bus throughout the forecast
    (Diesel cars, not shown, have even lower emissions).
  • While the SMART train has a slight edge until about 2023, just 7 years into operation (when ridership will be lower), for the remaining 23 years of operation cars have lower emissions than the train.
  • Golden Gate ferries are not shown on the chart as they have the highest of all emissions at 727g CO2 per passenger mile

But What If…

One question I hear is that if we add more high density transit oriented development then surely we can fill buses so there are more occupants. In reality as buses reach capacity more need to be added – how long would you tolerate waiting for a bus every day when half the time it arrived was full and you had to catch the next one? After wasting 15 minutes a day several times a week you’d change your travel mode.
The most popular arterial routes are already served, adding additional bus service will cause bus emissions per passenger mile to further increase, widening the gap against lower emission cars.
Another objection is that if we don’t build high density near transit here in Larkspur, Strawberry, Santa Rosa, then it will lead to more single family homes with cars which will increase emissions. But given the new data it would appear that such a displacement would likely reduce emissions. More evidence is emerging that single family homes can reduce emissions by becoming more self-sufficient using solar power.

Trains Cannibalize Other More Cost-Efficient Transit Projects

Another objection is that since Marin and Sonoma voted to allow the SMART train to be built, and it will be operating in any case, we might as well fill it as full as we possibly can. After all we’ve paid for the train, it’s free.
[update 4/16 9:15am] However I am now learning that such thinking ignores the reality, which is rail projects cause transit agencies to “eat their young”. This deserves a longer article to explain, but there is fairly clear proof that rail projects such as SMART displace money from far more cost-effective bus services or highway improvements. We already know SMART took $20m+ away rom other transportation service via TAM in 2011  to balance it’s budget, and more recently diverted $20m meant for highways, bike and ped in the Greenbrae corridor project.
It appears increasingly likely SMART may be back, cap in hand, asking for more money just to conduct ongoing operations and potentially deliver the full line length that it promised. Additionally the  transit network may pivot in Marina and Sonoma to gear into feeder buses to SMART stations – again diverting/absorbing more money away from more cost effective transit projects.

What Does This Mean?

If this week’s United Nations IPCC report is to be adhered to, which advocates the end of business as usual, then it becomes vital that we reassess justification of transit oriented development projects based on this new data.
We need to educate the public of the new reality. We need our politicians to embrace these facts, and we need plans and outreach to reflect the data.

One Last Consideration

I had an especially enjoyable conversation with a fellow climate change opponent this week who suggested the importance of thinking bigger. He pointed to how a mechanic he knew condemned the Toyota Prius as it generated higher lifecycle emissions than equivalent gasoline models. But he highlighted that the Prius was a symbol – a stepping stone on the way to a time when genuinely efficient cars would emerge (which is now happening).
In the same way there may be an argument that in the long term we need to change people’s travel habits as 20+ years out perhaps genuinely efficient transit will arrive with superior (lower) emissions to cars. However that is not the conversation that we are having, and not the marketing we are being sold as we consider the Larkspur Station Area Plan and similar high density projects.
We need to level-set the conversation, and once and for all put an end to the myth that transit is cleaner than cars. If we continue discussions, planning and processes that are not based on facts then we are not going to arrive at the right outcome.
Only with a fact-based foundation to planning we can have a genuine conversation about fighting climate change and preserving, possibly even improving the quality of life for all.

Friday, September 30, 2016

The Simpsons - Monorail Town Hall Meeting & Song

Judy Arnold's idea for "Sustainabile" Travel in 2009.

County of Marin hired a consultant to study these Unimodal Levitating trains in 2009

Editor's note: Someone should tell Ms. Arnold that we already have individualized transit that doesn't require billions in infrastructure. They are called "cars".  A hybrid getting 51 mpg like the Prius leaves a far smaller "carbon footprint" than this idea.

From Marin IJ:  Supervisors Revive Monorail Idea by Nels Johnson

Although the prospect of commuters rocketing over Marin in space-age pods may be a little out there, county officials are interested in a high-speed monorail transit system.
Marin County supervisors said a pilot project could bring SkyTran, a futuristic high-speed monorail still under development, to Marin as a key public transit link complementing the SMART rail project approved by voters last year.

The program, boosted by Supervisors Judy Arnold and Charles McGlashan, could connect the Civic Center with the SMART rail system, or be set up at other sites.

The project "could be a first step to a countywide system enhancing bus and ferry service, as well as the SMART rail system," Arnold and McGlashan said in a letter to colleagues. Last year, Arnold boosted the SkyTran program as an alternative to SMART.

The electric SkyTran system involves two- or three-person "pods" capable of traveling non-stop at 150 mph between cities. The vehicles do not have drivers, but use computers, sensors and radar collision systems to navigate. Unimodal Transport Solutions of Westlake Village, a firm founded in 2003 to develop the transit system, says it is 10 times less expensive than light rail.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a "letter of interest" to Unimodal that can be used to attract private financing for a project in Marin. Santa Cruz and San Jose have each requested a formal plan from Unimodal for larger-scale projects.
"We recognize that this is only a first step in this process and that many discussions and public meetings will need to follow to determine the feasibility of this project, to identify a location for the pilot, and to analyze environmental impacts," Arnold and McGlashan said.

The two supervisors said Marin is in a good position to win state transit grants to help finance the project. Both state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, and Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, support the move.
"In the past year SkyTran has progressed from the design phase into building and testing physical prototypes, and has also identified partners for project management and private financing," Arnold reported. "Pods are being produced in Southern California for assembly at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View and a financing partner, IERS, is interested in funding a demonstration project that is up and running as soon as possible."
The board dispatched a letter to Unimodal, saying the county could provide right-of-way for a pilot project, help obtain permits and open the door for state grants.

A Marin project would "provide connectivity with existing and future transit to demonstrate the efficacy and convenience of this innovative technology," the county letter to Unimodal says, adding the system "would eventually integrate more comprehensively with other transit options countywide to serve commercial, retail, residential, government and entertainment centers."

Christopher Perkins, CEO of Unimodal, on Wednesday applauded the move, saying, "Marin County's leadership in bringing green transportation solutions to the region is a key to future economic prosperity and quality of life."

Perkins said that although Unimodal's vehicles can zip along at high speeds, "our technology would be deployed appropriately in Marin County, moving at the speed you would expect cars to travel."

Fares of 15 to 25 cents per mile would cover costs of the firm's "personal rapid transit system that has high speed, low cost and low maintenance characteristics," he said, adding the first pod will be assembled in March.

"By doing this on county property we can put in a showcase," Perkins said of a Marin project.

County supervisors traded quips as they unanimously dispatched a letter of interest to Perkins.

"I think it's great you have cast yourselves along with the Jetsons," Supervisor Steve Kinsey told colleagues Arnold and McGlashan.

"Is this one of the times I can't roll my eyes?" asked Supervisor Hal Brown.

Holy Cow! St. Vincents /Silvera Ranch Development in 2006

See Article: Marin County's development debate comes to a head at St. Vincent's / Silveira.

Author: Bill Meagher and Peter Seidman

December, 2006 Issue

It isn’t quite 7 a.m., and the southbound traffic on Highway 101 crawls as cars crest the hill coming out of Novato and drop down into Marinwood. Commuters on the northbound side of the highway can look toward the San Pablo Bay and see the fog hugging the ground, shrouding the rolling hills and oaks in a ghostly blanket. Further north, the cows from Silveira Ranch gather near the fence line and head out to a pasture dry and barren from a late Indian summer. The 78-year-old Italian Renaissance church of St. Vincent towers over the herd of Holsteins as if keeping track of the bovines. On this chilly morning, rays of sun squeeze through the marine layer and mix with the wet mist to lend a mysterious quality to the 1,300 acres known as St. Vincent’s/Silveira.

The curtain-like haze fits the land to a T as uncertainty has draped the ranch and church land for almost three generations. That ambiguity hasn’t really benefited from three different land-use committee studies, a ballot measure, countless public meetings or a lawsuit. Perhaps the most remarkable thing to come from this tortured process is that there’s only been one legal action in relation to the area in a county where some organizations and businesses have their barrister on speed dial.

Depending on whom you talk with, the adjoining properties that belong to the Catholic Youth Organization and the Silveira family north of San Rafael are an ideal location for market-rate housing, affordable housing, commercial development, a mixed-use development, a senior care center or open space.

The land in question

The St. Vincent’s land is owned by the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO), which falls under the organizational umbrella of the San Francisco Catholic Archdioceses. It began with a gift of 317 acres that was donated by Timothy Murphy to Archbishop Alemany. The school for boys, which was opened by the Sisters of Charity in 1855, is the oldest continuously operating school for children west of the Mississippi; it’s number 630 on the California registry of historic landmarks. There are 952 total acres of land on which it sits, including the St. Vincent’s Holy Rosary Chapel that can be seen from Highway 101. Today, the program consists of residential counseling for troubled youth as well as educational programs.

The school, like most in California, is always in need of more funding. For St. Vincent’s, the need is more critical since the buildings are in need of repair—in some cases, complete rebuilding or tear-down. In the 1990s, the school had proposed selling 594 acres of land to Shappell Industries for development of homes and commercial buildings. But the sale never came off, due in large part to the fact that, although the property has long been planned for building, the city of San Rafael and the county of Marin have never agreed officially on whether the development could take place, nevermind at what level.

Bordering the church property is the Silveira Ranch, a 358-acre spread on which the Silveiras run the last remaining dairy operation in east Marin. Led by family patriarch Tony Silveira, the family has made a living off the land for as long as anyone can remember. As part of the 1972 General Plan, the county elected to take away the family’s Williamson Act designation, meaning it would no longer be taxed at a rate consistent with agricultural use but rather as land that could be developed. The new plan zoned the ranch and neighboring St. Vincent’s land for development as part of the “city-centered corridor” (CCC).

The CCC was designated for the lion’s share of future development along the Highway 101 corridor.
The change has cost the family literally thousands of dollars extra in property taxes each year as they continued to run the ranch. And since then, the Silveiras have done a slow burn waiting for the city and county to come to grips with what could ultimately take place on their family land. They have met with city and county officials, participated in studies and even come forward with an informal development plan of their own.

But today, the cows graze in quiet solitude, undisturbed by construction, and the family’s developmental rights are in limbo.

The problem for both St. Vincent’s and the Silveiras is that, up until 2005, while both properties are outside the San Rafael city limits, the lands were within the sphere of the city’s influence. “Sphere of influence” is planese for land that will eventually be annexed into the city, and thus the city must take it into account when planning for such things as fire protection, sewer service or affordable housing requirements.

To date, there’s little (if any) agreement among land owners, the city of San Rafael, the county of Marin, the business community, environmentalists, affordable housing advocates or anybody else who’s ever bothered to circulate a petition, step up to a microphone at a meeting or write a letter to the editor. Moreover, there’s even less political will to do anything, leaving the CYO and the Silveira family to twist in the wind.

What is undisputed is the fact that the 1,300 acres that run from Highway 101 to the San Pablo Bay represent the largest and last block of undeveloped-but-buildable property in Marin County. What’s also undebated is that the uncertainty over the future of the land has cost the Silveira family a small fortune and delayed the CYO’s plans to renovate its aging school. It has propelled a political unknown into a county supervisor’s seat and, for all intents and purposes, ended the political aspirations of one city councilman.

The tale is the stuff of movies, with a cast of characters that includes a politically connected development company headquartered in Beverly Hills, a crusty family patriarch, the most powerful religious organization in the world, various elected officials of every stripe, captains of industry and take-no-prisoner environmentalists. It also stars troubled kids and slow-moving cows. It would make a dandy comedy…if only the story weren’t so true and so sad.

At this writing, the question of what can become of the portion of the land belonging to the CYO is before the Marin Superior Court. The CYO has brought a lawsuit against the city of San Rafael, claiming the city was arbitrary and capricious in taking St. Vincent’s out of the city’s new General Plan. The suit also contends the city illegally certified its General Plan before the associated environmental impact report was certified and that the city’s housing element is legally deficient. Marin Superior Court Judge James Ritchie is expected to render a decision soon.

To understand the future of St. Vincent’s/Silveira, one must try to understand the past—which is not an easy thing to do. Moreover, one must understand the agendas of all parties involved in this 25-year-old land dispute.



The globalization of cities and their elites often comes at the expense of many of the people who live there. Forced to compete with foreign capital and immigrant workers, native-born residents of cities from Los Angeles and London to Singapore often feel displaced, becoming strangers in what they thought was their own place.
This phenomena is common for virtually all the leading lights on our list of The Most Influential Global Cities. Higher prices and greater labor force competition seem to be the natural result of global city status, posing enormous challenges to local populations and those that govern them.
Since the late Enlightenment, great cities, often built around markets, were typically places for the aspirational middle and lower classes. The ability to rise in cities from North America and Europe to Asia — through what historian Peter Hall calls “this unique creativity of great cities” — stands as one of the great social achievements of modern times.
But in this era of powerful oligarchs and growing inequality, these planetary centers are less places for upward mobility than most other cities. This is clearly true in the United States, where its premier global city, New York, as well as its prime competitors for international standing, Chicago, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area, rank among the 10 most unequal cities in the nation.
The property market has a distorting effect. Home prices in affordable markets tend to average three times household incomes. The ratio for the top 10 global cities tend to be much higher, often upward of 10 times incomes.
Pied a terre and investment purchases by wealthy residents of the former Soviet Union, China, the Indian diaspora and the Middle East play a role in this inflation, particularly in London, where an onslaught of Asian buyers, now, by one estimate, purchases 70% of the city’s newly built homes.For young people in London, the possibility of home ownership has begun to evaporate. Regulations that restrict new construction and raise development costs also play a substantial role in the diminishing amount of affordable housing in cities like London, New York and San Francisco.
The Disappearance Of The Middle Class
Rising home prices are among the impacts of globalization that tend to force out the middle class. Even in traditionally egalitarian Toronto, a study by the University of Toronto found that between 1970 and 2001 the proportion of middle-income neighborhoods in the core city had dropped from two thirds to a third, while poor districts had more than doubled to 40%. By 2020, according to the study, middle-class neighborhoods could fall below 10%, with the balance made up of affluent and poor residents.
This leads even usual urban booster to question the direction of their cities, as they lose their counter-culture gloss. As one green journalist laments: “But what are we getting when we throw away height limits and barriers to development, stop worrying about shadows and views, and let the developers loose? Also importantly, who are we getting?”
The impact of rising prices clearly reshapes societies. In Manhattan, half of households are single, according to the American Community Survey; in the city of San Francisco, there are now 80,000 more dogs than children. Similar trends can be seen in London, Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore and other top global cities. Due to high prices, some 45% of Hong Kong’s middle-class couples have abandoned the idea of having children anytime soon, according to a survey commissioned by Citibank.
The Jobs Dilemma
Property prices and development pressures represent just one aspect of how globalization impacts the native working and middle class. The globalized economy often favors the employment of the very skilled, and those who serve them. Many companies, such as in finance, move their middle management jobs to other, less pricey places, from Sioux Falls to India and virtually anywhere else, reducing global cities’ mid-income employment and middle-class populations.
At its apex, in places like New York and London, the new global economy creates what economist Ajay Kapur calls a “plutonomy,” an economy that revolves around serving the wealthiest. This leaves the primary global cities as centers for both concentrated wealth and the greatest poverty, as we have seen in London, New York and other major global cities.  In New York, over a third of workers labor in low wage, service jobs, a percentage that has increased steadily through the recovery, notes a recent study by the Center for an Urban Future.
Not surprisingly the luxury cities — the most affluent parts of certain metropolitan areas — tend to have the highest concentrations of inherited and other rentier wealth in the nation, as well as some of the greatest concentrations of poverty. An asset-based recovery, like America’s current one, favors places like Manhattan, but does little for the Bronx, just across the Harlem River, which ranks at the bottom among the nation’s large counties for the percentage of residents’ income that comes from investments, rents and dividends.
Increasingly, the cores, and often the suburbs, of global cities such as New York San Francisco, London, Paris and other cities where the cost of living has skyrocketed are no longer places where one goes to be someone; they are where you live when already successful or living on inherited largess. They are, as journalist Simon Kuper puts it, “the vast gated communities where the one percent reproduces itself.”
Political Consequences
These trends could shape the future of cities socially and politically. In New York, the election of a strong left-wing mayor, Bill de Blasio,reflected the concerns of working- and middle-class Gothamites that they were becoming superfluous in their own town. Similar leftward trends can be seen in Seattle, another city that has experienced widespread gentrification, and recently passed a $15 an hour minimum wage.
This shift represents, in part, a reaction to the fact that gentrification has done little to address the large and growing population of the poor in many global cities. London may, by recent accounts, have more billionaires than any city on the planet, but it also has the highest incidence of child poverty in the United Kingdom.
Even many of the lower-end service jobs in restaurants, construction and retail have not redounded to the benefit of the native-born in Britain; more than 70% of the jobs created between 1997 and 2007 in the United Kingdom went to foreigners, according to the OECD. Indeed, economist Tony Travers at the London School of Economics estimated that during the last decade London received more immigrants, many from the rest of the EU, than New York or Los Angeles.
Cultural Displacement
The combination of mass migration and the power of the city-hopping global wealthy makes many native-born residents in global cities worried, as one London writer put it, about losing “the soul” of their city.
This trend can be discerned in almost any global city. A Tommy Hilfiger or other chain store in Causeway Bay in Hong Kong, Fifth Avenue in New York, or Regent Street in London is pretty much like any other. Yet for independent merchants in global cities, the price of being there is often too much to bear. In the process many of the most unique shops and restaurants are displaced by the largely high-end chains that can handle the rent.
At the same time, globalization and migration have inspired dangerous reactions, notably nativism, and a growing chasm between guest workers and residents. This has become a political issue even in the most cosmopolitan cities such as London, Singapore and the Randstadt (Amsterdam-Rotterdam-the Hague-Utrecht ).
The fundamental challenge: the global city must accommodate two identities, a global and a local one. A great global city must serve its international role as well as its local economy and the needs of its local residents. A city must be more than a fancy theme park or a collection of elite headquarter towers. It needs a middle and working class, not just the global rich and their servants. It needs families and ordinary residents who may rarely leave town, not just globe-trotters. It needs to be true to itself and the people who, in the first place, created it.
This piece originally appeared at Forbes.
Joel Kotkin is executive editor of and Distinguished Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. His newest book, The New Class Conflict is now available for pre-order atAmazon and Telos Press. He is author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. His most recent study, The Rise of Postfamilialism, has been widely discussed and distributed internationally. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Affordable housing can be reverse Robin Hood scheme: Social Equality Fail in Boulder, CO

Affordable housing can be reverse Robin Hood scheme

By Earl Noe
POSTED:   09/27/2016 07:25:25 PM MDT

I am that rara avis, a low-income Boulder homeowner. The only reason I am here is that I bought a house over 40 years ago, and through old-fashioned manual labor, paid off two mortgages and years of escalating property-tax bills. Can you imagine how I feel when I hear that the city's affordable housing policies involve taking properties off the tax rolls, compelling the other property owners make up the difference in revenue? Property tax is already regressive taxation, but when my taxes are incrementally increased to subsidize housing for people with greater incomes than mine, it becomes a reverse Robin Hood scheme. So I ask you, when you make plans for affordable housing, that those plans don't actually make housing less affordable for people already living here who are poorer than those you are trying to help.
It has not escaped my notice in the half-century I've lived here that the city has encouraged, and continues to encourage, the construction of thousands of units of new office space, without provision for housing the people who work in those offices and adequate parking for their automobiles. Now, we are constantly told that there is a "housing crisis" and a "parking crisis." These are not crises, but deliberately created shortages. There is, in fact, a movement to "open Boulder," which I see as an attempt to monetize the fruits of Boulder's long history of wise policies of moderating development, and the preservation of the town and its quality of life.
It is nothing more than a push for the kind of development Boulder has resisted for years, and a philosophy of making the people who don't share in the wealth flowing from this development sacrifice for it.
I also don't appreciate certain activists pushing what the Camera has called a "new political climate" in Boulder suggesting that opponents of the new order are just a bunch of rich old farts. I'm far from rich.
Earl Noe
Earl Noe lives in Boulder.

Crystal Ball Communism: "Toward Soviet America"

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Written by: Diana West 
Monday, November 30, 2015 5:23 AM  

Toward Soviet America by William Z. Foster, CPUSA chairman, was first published in 1932. Later, copies of the book would be purged and almost eliminated entirely from American bookstores and libraries in what was presumably the CP response to the latest Moscow line; but surely it was also to try to put this spitting Soviet-American cat back in the bag. Interestingly, the book would be reprinted in 1961 with a foreword and commentary by the chairman of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, Rep. Francis E. Walter, who recommended that every American read it as a blueprint of Soviet intentions much like Mein Kampf was a blueprint of Hitler's. The 1932 version (sans HCUA commentary) is now available online.

For the first time, I just picked up my new 1961 copy, formerly from the library of the late, great Stanton Evans, opened it at random, and found myself reading about what the Soviet-American world of tomorrow looked like back in 1932 to a Communist Party official under Stalin's tight control. Eight decades later, it is shocking how many of Foster's Kremlin-approved prophesies have come true -- more counter-conventional evidence of the extent to which our "victory" in the so-called Cold War was in fact an ideological rout, particularly at home. This is a main theme of exploration in American Betrayal. 

What continues to be clear is that none of this is "history." Just from today's headlines, for example, it is reported that the IMF is likely to promote China's yuan into the "basket of currencies" on a par with the dollar. This isn't a brand new, discrete development so much as it is the latest installment of a continuing Communist saga. That would be Communist China, of course, and that would be the same IMF whose first US director was Harry Dexter White, a Communist agent-extraordinaire inside the Roosevelt and Truman administrations, whose personal machinations on Stalin's behalf greatly assisted, among other world-changing events, the cataclysmic Communist takeover of China in 1949.

It turns out that the "history" of Communism, from the IMF abroad to the "cultural revolution" on the college campus at home, is continually breaking news; or, worse, the status quo. And note: Foster is using the phrase "cultural revolution" (below) several decades before Mao.

Beginning on p. 316, here are some of Foster's prophesies, a mix of recognizable present-day conditions and ...?  

On education:
Among the elementary measures the American Soviet government will adopt to further the cutlural revolution are the following:  the schools, colleges and universities will be coordinated and grouped under the National Department of Education and its state and local branches. The studies will be revolutionaized, being cleansed of religious, patriotic and other features of the bourgeois ideology. The students will be taught on the basis of Marxian dialectical materialsm, internationalism and the general ethics of the new Socialist society. Present obsolete methods of teaching will be superceded by a scientific pedagogy. 

On religion:
The churches will remain free to continue their services, but their special tax and other privileges will be liquidated. Their buildings will revert to the State. Religious schools will be abolished and organized religious training for minors prohibited. Freedom will be established for anti-religious propaganda.

On science:
The whole basis and organization of capitalist science will be revolutionized. Science will become materialistic, hence truly scientific; God will be banished from the laboratories as well as from the schools. Science will be thoroughly organized and will work according to plan; instead of present-day individualistic hit-or-miss scientific dabbling, there will be a great organization of science, backed by the full power of the government. This organization will make concerted attacks upon the central problems, concrete and abstract, that confront science.

On Obamacare:
One of the basic concerns of the workers' government will be, naturally, the conservation of the health of the masses. To this end, a national department of Health will be set up, with the necessary local and State sub-divisions. A free medical service, based upon the most scientific principles, will be established. The people will be taught how to live correctly. They will be given mass instruction in diet, physical culture, etc. A last end will be put to capitalist medical quakery and the adulteration of food.

The war on the suburbs:
A main task of the American Soviet government will be to make the cities liveable. This will involve not only the wholesale destruction of the shacks that millions of workers now call homes, but the building over of the congested capital cities into roomy Socialist towns. These will develop toward the decentralization of industry and population, the breaking down of the differences between the city and country. ...

A few more snippets from the world according to Communist cant are eye-catching for their familiarity from deep within America's present-day tissues:

On crime (p. 321):
Capitalism blames crimes upon the individual, instead of upon the bad social conditions which produce it. ...

On trade (p. 326). In some ways, this is the most shocking find, given the honest-to-goodness Communist stamp of approval for "free trade":

A Communist world will be a unified, organized world. [NB: Remember, Communist agent and Roosevelt era State Department official Alger Hiss would foster the United Nations into existence.] The economic system will be one great organization, based upon the principle of planning now dawning in the U.S.S.R. The American Soviet government will be an important section in this world organization. In such a society there will be no tariffs or the many other barriers  erected by capitalism against a free world interchange of goods. The raw material supplies of the world will be at the disposition of the peoples of the world. 

And about those "peoples: (p. 327):
There will be no place for the present narrow patriotism, the bigoted nationalist chauvinism that serves so well the capitalist warmakers. ...

At this point, Foster cranks up the hosannas for the U.S.S.R.'s "peace policy," "plan for doing away with war," etc. (similar, in reality, to Islam's "submission" doctrine).

A few pages later (p. 333):
"Deadly individualism is doomed," he writes. "The collectivist society of Socialism, by freeing the masses from economic and political slavery will, for the first time in history, give the masses an opportunity to fully develop and express their personalities."

Don't look now but this last prediction is something Nancy Pelosi explicitly champions as a benefit of Obamacare.
Foster: "Theirs will be an individuality growing out and harmonizing with interests of all."

The scariest "prediction" of all.

Low Interest Rates Have Created New Housing Bubble, Says UBS

Low Interest Rates Have Created New Housing Bubble, Says UBS

Vancouver and London came first and second on the 2016 list of cities most at risk of real estate bubbles

A real estate for sale sign is pictured in front of a home in Vancouver on Sep. 22, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS
ART PATNAUDEUpdated Sept. 27, 2016 9:56 a.m. ET

Housing bubbles are inflating in major cities around the world, with Vancouver and London most at risk, according to Swiss lender UBS Group.

Ultralow interest rates at global central banks have contributed to overheating in the housing market in recent years, the report from UBS Wealth Management said Tuesday.

Vancouver and London came first and second on the 2016 list of cities most at risk of real estate bubbles. Bubble risk was also evident in Stockholm, Sydney, Munich and Hong Kong, UBS said.

House prices in all these cities have increased by nearly 50% on average since 2011. The average price rise in other financial centers has been less than 15%.

Loose monetary policy at global central banks is a key driver behind rising prices, the report said. Low interest rates have pushed investors to hunt for returns in tangible assets, “so it is hardly any wonder that housing markets are again overheating,” according to report authors Claudio Saputelli and Matthias Holzhey.

For the European Central Bank, which controls monetary policy for all 19 member countries, the inability to adjust interest rates for particular economic development in separate countries has contributed to rising house prices in the region, UBS said.

“All European cities are overvalued, apart from Milan,” the report said. Central banks in theU.K., Canada and Australia are also keeping interest rates low. Combined with stable supply of homes and strong demand from foreign buyers, especially in China, “this has produced an ideal setting for excesses in house prices,” the authors said.

Vancouver house prices have been significantly overvalued since 2007, according to UBS. Neither the financial crisis nor weakening commodity prices incited a slowdown.

In an attempt to temper soaring prices in Vancouver, the provincial government of British Columbia introduced a 15% transfer tax on foreign home buyers in August.

London and Hong Kong topped UBS’s bubble index in 2015. London has been knocked into second place this year, and Hong Kong sixth, but both are still in bubble-risk territory.

In London, an acute housing shortage and readily-available mortgages “should be able to sustain the inflated prices for the time being,” the report said.

What might pop the bubbles, and when, is impossible to predict, even in cities with the clearest signs of a problem, UBS said. “A sharp increase in supply, higher interest rates or shifts in the international flow of capital could trigger a major price correction at any time,” Mr. Holzhey, a real estate economist, said in a written statement.

Investors now buying cities considered overvalued “should not expect real price appreciation in the medium to long run,” UBS said.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Obama takes on zoning laws in bid to build more housing, spur growth

Obama takes on zoning laws in bid to build more housing, spur growth


09/26/16 05:13 AM EDT
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The Obama administration Monday is calling on cities and counties to rethink their zoning laws, saying that antiquated rules on construction, housing and land use are contributing to high rents and income inequality, and dragging down the U.S. economy as a whole.

City zoning battles usually are fought block by block, and the president's involvement will create friction, particularly among environmental groups and the not-in-my-backyard crowd. But the White House jawboning is welcome news to many others, including mayors and builders increasingly foiled by community opposition to development.

The White House published a “toolkit” of economic evidence and policy fixes to help local political leaders fight back against the NIMBYs that tend to hold sway over municipal zoning meetings.

“In more and more regions across the country, local and neighborhood leaders have said yes in our backyard,” the paper states. “We need to break down the rules that stand in the way of building new housing.”

The prescriptions call for more density, speedier permitting and fewer restrictions on accessory dwelling units such as basement and garage apartments. The plan rejects some of the arguments made by environmentalists, labor unions and other liberal constituencies that have stood in the way of development and endorses changes long sought by builders and the business community.

“When unnecessary barriers restrict the supply of housing and costs increase, then workers, particularly lower-income workers who would benefit the most, are less able to move to high-productivity cities,” said Jason Furman, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers. “All told, this means slower economic growth.”

Zoning policy might seem picayune for a president, but eight years after the foreclosure crisis left the country littered with empty homes, the country is facing a critical housing shortage in its most vibrant job centers. The result is soaring rents, growing income inequality and sputtering economic growth nationwide. By one estimate, barriers to development in major cities have shaved as much as $1.95 trillion a year off U.S. economic growth.

“It’s important that the president is talking about it,” said Mark Calabria, director of financial regulation studies at the Cato Institute. “Local restrictions on housing supply are a crucial economic issue. I would say it’s one of the top 10.”
There’s not much the White House can do beyond talk. The administration’s 2017 budget request includes $300 million in grants to help mayors update zoning rules, and the Department of Transportation has begun weighing plans for housing growth and affordability before approving funding for certain transit projects.

Despite a growing consensus among economists that slow-growth policies of the 1970s are hurting job and income growth, many elected officials continue to face local opposition to liberalized development.

Earlier this year, environmentalists and labor unions quickly shut down a plan by California Gov. Jerry Brown that would have made it easier for developers to build apartments and condominiums. The proposal got nowhere, despite the support of mayors, businesses and the White House.

The case illustrates the steep road to change and the need for high-profile jawboning, Calabria said.

“Normally governors don’t like to get involved in local land-use decisions,” Calabria said. “And if you have a president talking about it, that’s unusual.”

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