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.

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

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Even Donald Trump Wants Gary Johnson in the Debates

The First Presidential Debate in 3 minutes

One Bay Area: A Template for Regional Governance Advocated by" Build One America"

Stanley Kurtz book, Spreading the Wealth: How Obama is Robbing the Suburbs to Pay for the Cities exposes the efforts of the administrative state, in conjunction with social equity interests, to regionalize decision making and funding for what in the past have been local government decisions. It includes requiring suburbs to take their "fair share" of all income levels. No where is this more obvious than in the San Francisco Bay Area with the One Bay Area Plan/Plan Bay Area. Regional unelected bureaucrats tell every city in the Bay Area how many housing units they MUST be prepared to accomodate. For many of the small village type towns, this will force their urbanization and destroy their uniqueness. Kurtz identifies an organization called Building One America. Here is a video, in their own words, of their plans.This is a shortened version of a video that was posted on the Building One America website ( The complete video can be viewed here

Terms used by Build One America in the video include:

Zoning out the poor
Affordable housing
Affordable transportation
Livable communities 
Regional Opportunity Agenda 
Combating poverty=controlling urban sprawl
Vestiges of segregation=suburbs
Suburbs must do their "fair share"
Metropolitan wide accept responsibility

All these terms and ideas are spread liberally throughout the One Bay Area Plan. MTC-ABAG are the epitomy of regionalization, taking control out of the hands of local city councils and mayors. The Obama Administration is firmly behind this effort through the support of Valarie Jarrett and Ronald Sims. California is one of the initial test cases. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Democrats’ Methodist Moment- Hilary Clinton

The Democrats’ Methodist Moment

Young Hillary Rodham saw the church’s social concerns shift from alcohol and gambling to sexism and racism.

The Clintons at a United Methodist church in Washington, D.C., Sept. 13, 2015. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST/GETTY IMAGES
KENNETH L. WOODWARDSept. 22, 2016 7:14 p.m. ET

After Bill Clinton, a Bible-toting Southern Baptist, was elected, I repeatedly tried as religion editor of Newsweek to interview him about his religious beliefs and practices. Ten days before the 1994 midterm elections, the White House offered me Hillary, the sturdy Methodist, instead.

The first lady spoke candidly about her Methodist upbringing, her core Christian beliefs and prayer habits, and how she frequently consulted the latest Methodist Book of Resolutions, the church’s official handbook on social and political issues, which she kept upstairs in the family quarters. Piety plus politics was her message.

I asked her if she ever thought of becoming an ordained Methodist minister once her White House years were over. “I think about it all the time,” she instantly replied. But after exchanging glances with her press secretary, Lisa Caputo, she asked me not to print what she had said because she felt it made her sound much too pious. I didn’t.

I feel free to mention this now because Hillary Rodham Clinton obviously has opted for a career in public service. But for a serious Methodist, public service is a form of ministry. All the more so because, as Mrs. Clinton’s former youth minister told Newsweek with sly self-awareness: “we Methodists know what’s good for you.”

Although religion is not an issue in this year’s presidential election, Hillary Clinton is by far the more religious candidate. What’s more, hers is the more religious political party—even though atheists, agnostics and other religiously nonaffiliated Americans (the “Nones”) now represent the largest bloc, replacing African-Americans, within the Democratic Party. To understand this seeming paradox, we first have to recognize that since its transformation in 1972 under another Methodist politician, George McGovern,the Democratic Party has advanced a righteous politics that mirrors the political righteousness of the United Methodist Church.

Methodists have been zealous monitors of American morals since the middle of the 19th century when, as historian Nathan O. Hatch has written, Methodists operated “the most extensive national institution other than the federal government.”

Their longtime concern with politics is symbolized by the Methodist Building, still the only nongovernmental edifice on Capitol Hill. It was built during Prohibition to house the denomination’s powerful Board of Temperance, Prohibition and Public Morals. The building also provided office space for Washington lobbyists representing the other mainline Protestant denominations. Together, they formed a moral Maginot line against the growing political influence of American Catholics as a threat to their vision of a Protestant America.

By the time Hillary Rodham joined a Methodist youth group in the early 1960s, the church’s social concerns had shifted from alcohol, gambling and shopping on the Sabbath to racism, sexism and the war in Vietnam. Thanks in large part to South Dakota’s George McGovern, so would the concerns of the Democratic Party.

The events of 1972 inaugurate what I call the Methodist Moment in Democratic Party politics. That was the year McGovern won the party’s presidential nomination—and, coincidentally, the year former Republican Hillary Rodham became a Democratic Party activist. McGovern was the son of a Methodist minister, grew up in a Methodist manse, graduated from a Methodist college, studied for the Methodist ministry before taking a doctorate in history, and taught at his Methodist alma mater before accepting the challenge of rebuilding South Dakota’s moribund party. His stump style was prairie preacher; his reformer’s rhetoric Methodist to the core.

In 1972 the United Methodist Church, as it was by then called, held its quadrennial General Convention—the church’s highest legislative body—as it does every presidential election year a few months prior to the national political conventions. A review of the positions taken by the church reveals remarkable congruence with the Democrats’ subsequent party platform. Both opposed the war in Vietnam and called for immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops. Both framed the nation’s economic ills as “systemic” and proposed wholesale transformation of political, economic and social institutions.

What is truly astonishing is the way that the Democrats’ planks on emerging culture-war issues echoed the (often more radical) stands adopted by the Methodists. Among the rights of children, for example, the Methodists included the right “to a full sex education, appropriate to their stage of development.” Affirming the rights of women, the Methodists supported full equality with men and demanded and end to “sex-role stereotypes.”

To counter overpopulation, the convention recommended the distribution of “reliable contraceptive information and devices.” Less than a year before Roe v. Wade, the convention urged “removal of abortion from the criminal code” but stopped short of approving abortion on demand. Finally, the Methodists embraced affirmative inclusion by reserving 30% of seats on all church boards and agencies for nonwhites, even though barely 6% of church members were African-American.

The events of 1972 also hastened the steady decline in membership and influence among the liberal mainline churches. Before the 1970s were out, the politically and socially conservative Southern Baptists superseded the United Methodists as the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. As one generation gave way to the next, more and more young Methodists, Presbyterians and the like grew up to become religiously something else or—especially among millennials—nothing at all.

In sum, many of today’s Nones have retained the Methodists’ ethos of righteous politics while jettisoning the beliefs, behavior and belonging that made righteous Methodists Methodists in the first place. Many Jews and Roman Catholics can and do find in progressive Democratic politics aspects of their own social-justice traditions.

But the emergence of the Nones shows us that anyone can think and act like righteous Methodists just by being a liberal Democrat.

Mr. Woodward is the author of “Getting Religion: Faith, Culture and Politics from the Age of Eisenhower to the Era of Obama,” just published by Convergent Books.

California’s road to leviathan: Joel Kotkin

California’s road to leviathan: Joel Kotkin

France's Louis XIV: a new model for California's centralizing governance? (Getty Images)

By Joel Kotkin

At a time when technology and public opinion should be expanding the boundaries of innovation and self-expression, we appear to be entering a new era of ever greater economic and political centralization, Wendell Cox and I suggest in a new paper.

The trend to a more centralized economy is particularly evident in the information and media sectors, once hotbeds of entrepreneurial opportunity but now dominated by a handful of leviathan firms who gobble up competitors and often control markets at will. This trend is also evident in Washington, which increasingly regulates all aspects of our life, under an unprecedented welter of presidential and regulatory decrees, often bypassing the legislative process.

But nowhere is the centralist leviathan being incubated more than in the once fiercely individualist state of California. President Obama’s centralizing can be at least partially justified by the antics of an obstructionist Congress which has shown little desire to work across party lines. But that’s not the case here in California, which functions largely as a one-party dictatorship of crony business oligarchies, an aloof and arrogant bureaucracy, the green lobby and public-sector unions.


In his quirky first term, Jerry Brown was skeptical of central control and an open adherent of the decentralist, “small is beautiful” philosophy of the late British philosopher E.F. Schumaker. Now he seems to be enamored with creating a “coercive state” that would have fit better during the reign of France’s “Sun King,” Louis XIV.

California already leads the country in imposing state regulations and laws on everything from gender rights, to cow flatulence, to fair pay, to new licensing requirements for a never-ending panoply of professions. This huge extension of government has already reshaped the cost of such essentials as energy, particularly on the state’s impoverished, heavily Latino interior, and seems likely to escalate already inflated property values to even more absurd levels.

Critical to the California regulatory tsunami is the unraveling of any semblance of local authority. Brown’s bureaucratic phalanx, led by the California Environmental Protection Agency, the Office of Planning and Research, and the California Natural Resources Agency, has recently advocated a new state-directed planning policy that essentially all but prohibits new greenfield development, something generally required for keeping housing costs down.

In the process, the state is poised to seize control of the most basic local functions — such as zoning — potentially under the auspices of new, unelected regional governments that would be as remote from local concerns as the European Union’s increasingly detested autocrats are to many residents of the continent, and, before Brexit, to the United Kingdom.

Another centralizing bill, by Santa Monica Democratic Assemblyman Richard Bloom, would deprive local municipalities of the right to review and oppose high-density projects. This reflects the state’s latest climate-change driven obsession, although such developments are widely opposed in many affected communities in California.

This approach rejects essentially all grassroots solutions to pressing environmental challenges. There is little or no interest in internet-based solutions like dispersed work, or telecommuting — despite the fact that in Southern California more people already now work at home than take transit, according to the recently released American Community Survey data. The problem, perhaps, is that people who work at home don’t hand over big contracts to engineering construction firms or provide the rationale for real estate speculation.


These policy agendas likely do not reflect public opinion or preferences. Most Californians, like their fellow Americans, overwhelmingly prefer local control. And they don’t show much enthusiasm for the dense environments that are being imposed on them. Between 2000 and 2012, population growth in the Los Angeles metropolitan area urban core was all of 9,500 people, while the surrounding inner ring added less than 14,000 residents. In contrast, the suburban and exurban areas added well over 675,000 people.

Ultimately, the attempt to impose state planning amounts to nothing more than social engineering by a centralizing elite who want to change the way most Californians live, including those who continue unashamedly to “live large.”

Centralization is already spawning a backlash, mainly focused on forced densification in communities like Marin County, Los Angeles and Assemblyman Bloom’s Santa Monica, which are as blue as indigo. But community groups, even if well organized, are often no match for the power of regulators, the green lobby and what “The Nation” contributor Zelda Bronstein calls “real estate Democrats.”

In a healthy political culture, such controversial policies would be altered by popular demand. But in one-party California, where the Republican presence is largely vestigial, those hurt by such moves, particularly blue-collar workers and prospective homeowners, are routinely sold out by their representatives, often funded by green billionaires like Tom Steyer. With no organized alternative in one-party California, there is no recourse to punish legislators. Many traditional industries, from energy to homebuilding, which might be expected to speak out, are increasingly powerless or intimidated by the threat of inciting centralized bureaucratic and gubernatorial wrath.

As a result, California, once seen as the fount of innovation and individuality, is beginning to resemble something of a bizarre mix between crony capitalist concentration and taxpayer-funded socialism. The nightmarish consequences could mean the continued ascendency, and not only here, of an ever more centralized and authoritarian state.

Joel Kotkin is the R.C. Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University in Orange and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism (