Saturday, October 8, 2016

California’s New Feudalism Benefits a Few at the Expense of the Multitude

California’s New Feudalism Benefits a Few at the Expense of the Multitude

California has been the source of much innovation, from agribusiness and oil to fashion and the digital world. Historically much richer than the rest of the country, it was also the birthplace, along with Levittown, of the mass-produced suburb, freeways, much of our modern entrepreneurial culture, and of course mass entertainment. For most of a century, for both better and worse, California has defined progress, not only for America but for the world.

As late as the 80s, California was democratic in a fundamental sense, a place for outsiders and, increasingly, immigrants—roughly 60 percent of the population was considered middle class. Now, instead of a land of opportunity, California has become increasingly feudal. According to recent census estimates,  the state suffers some of the highest levels of inequality in the country. By some estimates, the state’s level of inequality compares with that of such global models as  the Dominican Republic, Gambia, and the Republic of the Congo.

At the same time, the Golden State now suffers the highest level of poverty in the country—23.5 percent compared to 16 percent nationally—worse than long-term hard luck cases like Mississippi. It is also now home to roughly one-third of the nation’s welfare recipients, almost three times its proportion of the nation’s population.

Like medieval serfs, increasing numbers of Californians are downwardly mobile, and doing worse than their parents: native born Latinos actually have shorter lifespans than their parents, according to one recent report. Nor are things expected to get better any time soon. According to a recent Hoover Institution survey, most Californians expect their incomes to stagnate in the coming six months, a sense widely shared among the young, whites, Latinos, females, and the less educated.

Some of these trends can be found nationwide, but they have become pronounced and are metastasizing more quickly in the Golden State. As late as the 80s, the state was about as egalitarian as the rest of the country. Now, for the first time in decades, the middle class is a minority, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

The Role of the Tech Oligarchs.

California produces more new billionaires than any place this side of oligarchic Russia or crony capitalist China. By some estimates the Golden State is home to one out of every nine of the world’s billionaires. In 2011 the state was home to 90 billionaires, 20 more than second place New York and more than twice as many as booming Texas.

The state’s digital oligarchy, surely without intention, is increasingly driving the state’s lurch towards feudalism. Silicon Valley’s wealth reflects the fortunes of a handful of companies that dominate an information economy that itself is increasingly oligopolistic.  In contrast to the traditionally conservative or libertarian ethos of the entrepreneurial class, the oligarchy is increasingly allied with the nominally populist Democratic Party and its regulatory agenda. Along with the public sector, Hollywood, and their media claque, they present California as “the spiritual inspiration” for modern “progressives” across the country.

Through their embrace of and financial support for the state’s regulatory regime, the oligarchs have made job creation in non tech-businesses—manufacturing, energy, agriculture—increasingly difficult through “green energy” initiatives that are also sure to boost already high utility costs. One critic, state Democratic Senator Roderick Wright from heavily minority Inglewood, compares the state’s regulatory regime to the “vig” or high interest charged by the Mafia, calling it a major reason for disinvestment in many industries.

Yet even in Silicon Valley, the expansion of prosperity has been extraordinarily limited. Due to enormous losses suffered in the current tech bubble, tech job creation in Silicon Valley has barely reached its 2000 level. In contrast, previous tech booms, such as the one in the 90s, doubled the ranks of the tech community. Some, like UC Berkeley economist Enrico Moretti, advance the dubious claim that those jobs are more stable than those created in Texas. But even if we concede that point for the moment,  the Valley’s growth primarily benefits its denizens but not most Californians. Since the recession, California remains down something like 500,000 jobs, a 3.5 percent loss, while its Lone Star rival has boosted its employment by a remarkable 931,000, a gain of more than 9 percent.

Much of this has to do with the changing nature of California’s increasingly elite-driven economy. Back in the 80s and even the 90s, the state’s tech sector produced industrial jobs that sparked prosperity not only in places like Palo Alto, but also in the more hardscrabble areas in San Jose and even inland cities such as Sacramento. The once huge California aerospace industry, centered in Los Angeles, employed hundreds of thousands, not only engineers but skilled technicians, assemblers, and administrators.

This picture has changed over the past decade. California’s tech manufacturing sector has shrunk, and those employed in Silicon Valley are increasingly well-compensated programmers, engineers and marketers. There has been little growth in good-paying blue collar or even middle management jobs. Since 2001 state production of “middle skill” jobs—those that generally require two years of training after high-school—have grown roughly half as quickly as the national average and one-tenth as fast as similar jobs in arch-rival Texas.
“The job creation has changed,” says Leslie Parks, a long-time San Jose economic development official. “We used to be the whole food chain and create all sorts of middle class jobs. Now, increasingly, we don’t design the future—we just think about it. That makes some people rich, but not many.”

In the midst of the current Silicon Valley boom, incomes for local Hispanics and African-Americans, who together account for one third of the population, have actually declined—18 percent for blacks and 5 percent for Latinos between 2009 and 2011, prompting one local booster to admit that “Silicon Valley is two valleys. There is a valley of haves, and a valley of have-nots.”

The Geography of Inequality

Geography, caste, and land ownership increasingly distinguish California’s classes from one another. As Silicon Valley, San Francisco, and the wealthier suburbs in the Bay Area have enjoyed steady income growth during the current bubble, much of the state, notes economist Bill Watkins, endures Depression-like conditions, with stretches of poverty more reminiscent of a developing country than the epicenter of advanced capitalism.

Once you get outside the Bay Area, unemployment in many of the state’s largest counties—Sacramento, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, Fresno, and Oakland—soars into the double digits. Indeed, among the 20 American cities with the highest unemployment rates, a remarkable 11 are in California, led by Merced’s mind-boggling 22 percent rate.

This amounts to what conservative commentator Victor Davis Hanson has labeled “liberal apartheid,” a sharp divide between a well-heeled, mostly white and Asian population located along the California coast, and a largely poor, heavily Latino working class in the interior. But the class divide is also evident within  the large metro areas, despite their huge concentrations of affluent individuals. Los Angeles, for example, has the third highest rate of inequality of the nation’s 51 largest metropolitan areas, and the Bay Area ranks seventh.

The current surge of California triumphalism, trumpeted mostly by the ruling Democrats and their eastern media allies, seems to ignore the reality faced by residents in many parts of the state. The current surge of wealth among the coastal elites, boosted by rises in property, stock, and other assets, has staved off a much feared state bankruptcy. Yet the the state’s more intractible problems cannot be addressed if growth remains restricted to a handful of favored areas and industries. This will become increasingly clear when, as is inevitable, the current tech and property boom fades, depriving the state of the taxes paid by high income individuals.

The gap between the oligarchic class and everyone else seems increasingly permanent. A critical component of assuring class mobility, California’s once widely admired public schools were recently ranked near the absolute bottom in the country. Think about this: despite the state’s huge tech sector, California eighth graders scored 47th out of the 51 states in science testing. No wonder Mark Zuckerberg and other oligarchs are so anxious to import “techno coolies” from abroad.

As in medieval times, land ownership, particularly along the coast, has become increasingly difficult for those not in the upper class. In 2012, four California markets—San Jose, San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles—ranked as the most unaffordable relative to income in the nation. The impact of these prices falls particularly on the poor. According to the Center for Housing Policy and National Housing Conference, 39 percent of working households in the Los Angeles metropolitan area spend more than half their income on housing, as do 35 percent in the San Francisco metro area—both higher than 31 percent in the New York area and well above the national rate of 24 percent. This is likely to get much worse given that California median housing prices rose 31 percent in the year ending May 2013. In the Bay Area the increase was an amazing 43 percent.

Even skilled workers are affected by these prices. An analysis done for National Core, a major developer of low income housing, found that prices in such areas as Orange County are so high that even a biomedical engineer earning more than $100,000 a year could not afford to buy a home there. This, as well as the unbalanced economy, has weakened California’s hold on aspirational families, something that threatens the very dream that has attracted  millions to the state.

This is a far cry from the 50s and 60s, when California abounded in new owner-occupied single family homes. Historian Sam Bass Warner suggested that this constituted “the glory of Los Angeles and an expression of its design for living.” Yet today the L.A. home ownership rate, like that of New York, stands at about half the national average of 65 percent. This is particularly true among working class and minority households. Atlanta’s African-American home ownership rate is approximately 40 percent above that of San Jose or Los Angeles, and approximately 50 percent higher than San Francisco.

This feudalizing trend is likely to worsen due to draconian land regulations that will put the remaining stock of single family houses ever further out of reach, something that seems related to a reduction in child-bearing in the state. As the “Ozzie and Harriet” model erodes, many Californians end up as modern day land serfs, renting and paying someone else’s mortgage. If they seek to start a family, their tendency is to look elsewhere, ironically even in places such as Oklahoma and Texas, places that once sent eager migrants to the Golden State.

Breaking Down the New Feudalism: The Emerging Class Structure

The emerging class structure of neo-feudalism, like its European and Asian antecedents, is far more complex than simply a matter of the gilded “them” and the broad “us.” To work as a system, as we can now see in California, we need to understand the broader, more divergent class structure that is emerging.

The Oligarchs: The swelling number of billionaires in the state, particularly in Silicon Valley, has enhanced power that is emerging into something like the old aristocratic French second estate. Through public advocacy and philanthropy, the oligarchs have tended to embrace California’s “green” agenda, with a very negative impact on traditional industries such as manufacturing, agriculture, energy, and construction. Like the aristocrats who saw all value in land, and dismissed other commerce as unworthy, they believe all value belongs to those who own the increasingly abstracted information revolution that has made them so fabulously rich.

The  Clerisy: The Oligarchs may have the money, but by themselves they cannot control a huge state like California, much less America. Gentry domination requires allies with a broader social base and their own political power. In the Middle Ages, this role was played largely by the church; in today’s hyper-secular America, the job of shaping the masses has fallen to the government apparat, the professoriat, and the media, which together constitute our new Clerisy. The Clerisy generally defines societal priorities, defends “right-thinking” oligarchs, and chastises those, like traditional energy companies, that deviate from their theology.

The New Serfs: If current trends continue, the fastest growing class will be the permanently property-less. This group includes welfare recipients and other government dependents but also the far more numerous working poor. In the past, the working poor had reasonable aspirations for a better life, epitomized by property ownership or better prospects for their children. Now, with increasingly little prospect of advancement, California’s serfs depend on the Clerisy to produce benefits making their permanent impoverishment less gruesome. This sad result remains inevitable as long as the state’s economy bifurcates between a small high-wage, tech-oriented sector, and an expanding number of lower wage jobs in hospitality, health services, and personal service jobs. As a result, the working class, stunted in their drive to achieve the California dream, now represents the largest portion of domestic migrants out of the state.

The Yeomanry: In neo-feudalist California, the biggest losers tend to be the old private sector middle class. This includes largely small business owners, professionals, and skilled workers in traditional industries most targeted by regulatory shifts and higher taxes. Once catered to by both parties, the yeomanry have become increasingly irrelevant as California has evolved into a one-party state where the ruling Democrats have achieved a potentially permanent, sizable majority consisting largely of the clerisy and the serf class, and funded by the oligarchs. Unable to influence government and largely disdained by the clerisy, these middle income Californians are becoming a permanent outsider group, much like the old Third Estate in early medieval times, forced to pay ever higher taxes as well as soaring utility bills and required to follow regulations imposed by people who often have little use for their “middle class” suburban values.

The Political Implications of Neo-Feudalism

As Marx, among others, has suggested, class structures contain within them the seeds of their dissolution. In New York, a city that is arguably as feudal as anything in California, the  emergence of mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio reflected growing  antagonism—particularly among the remaining yeoman and serf class— towards the gentry urbanism epitomized by Mayor Michael “Luxury City” Bloomberg.

Yet except for occasional rumbling from the left, neo-feudalism likely represents the future. Certainly in California, Gov. Jerry Brown, a former Jesuit with the intellectual and political skills needed to oversee a neo-feudal society, remains all but unassailable politically. If Brown, or his policies, are to be contested, the challenge will likely come from left-wing activists who find his policies insufficiently supportive of the spending demanded by the clerisy and the serfs or insufficiently zealous in their pursuit of environmental purity.
The economy in California and elsewhere likely will determine the viability of neo-feudalism. If a weaker economy forces state and local government budget cutbacks, there could be a bruising conflict as the various classes fight over diminishing spoils. But it’s perhaps more likely that we will see enough slow growth so that Brown will be able to keep both the clerisy and the serfs sufficiently satisfied. If that is the case, the new feudal system could shape the evolution of the American class structure for decades to come.

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. 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.
This piece originally appeared at The Daily Beast.

'Nobody My Age Can Afford to Stay Here Forever'

'Nobody My Age Can Afford to Stay Here Forever'

London billboards are sharing the stories of people moving both to and from the rapidly changing city. Some of them are quite painful to read.

Image Duarte Carrilho da Graça
Billboards in London share stories of relocation—both in leaving the city and moving to it. (Duarte Carrilho da Graça)

Why do people choose to move to London? And why do they choose to leave? A new project exploring these questions is currently playing out in an unlikely venue—two advertising billboards in the center of the U.K.’s capital. Called London is Changing, the project is run through a website that invites people who are moving into, out of, or across London to share the reasons and emotions behind their migration. These messages are then displayed on the billboards, hopefully giving passers-by pause for thought as they walk or drive.

(Duarte Carrilho da Graça)
(Duarte Carrilho da Graça)
The project is the work of communication design lecturer Rebecca Ross, who traded for use of the electronic display units in lieu of payment for some consulting work she did for the billboard company. The results of her call for submissions make for compelling, surprisingly nuanced reading. While most of those taking part so far have been leaving rather than arriving, Ross hopes that greater publicity for the project (which runs through 2015) could help spread the word to a wider pool of people.
Even now, contributors’ reactions don’t fit comfortably into one camp. Some sound justifiably embittered by London’s intern culture and dodgy landlords. “What creativity can there be when only money can buy you your next opportunity?” asks a freelance filmmaker relocating from West London to the Netherlands. “I have had to move four times in the last two years because of unscrupulous landlords, rent increases or nightmare housemates,” protests an arts worker moving from expensive Southwest London to the cheaper Northeast.

(Duarte Carrilho da Graça)
(Duarte Carrilho da Graça)
Others seem lucky enough to have more control over their choices. “I wanted to live within walking distance of a cinema, a decent restaurant or a bookshop!” says a civil servant who moved from the edge of the London region to the inner borough of Greenwich. “By selling up I can clear my mortgage and live on my pension,” declares a retired naval officer who is himself leaving Greenwich and traveling outwards. And while some who have already left the city seem delighted to be free of the place, others look back wistfully to its diversity and choices. For some, London’s allure is largely in the past. “It's not the city I knew. It doesn't feel like it's for people like me anymore. It's a hell of a lot richer and duller,” says a student relocating to the South Coast. A graphic designer heading for the English Midlands sounds rather more regretful. “As a gay woman, I love the anonymity of the capital—it's tolerance and diversity has made life very comfortable.”
All round, the messages capture the alluring but frustrating pressure cooker atmosphere of a city going through rapid change. You can read a full transcript of all the billboard messages displayed so far on this page, or keep scrolling to view more.

(Duarte Carrilho da Graça)
(Duarte Carrilho da Graça)
(Duarte Carrilho da Graça)
(Duarte Carrilho da Graça)
(Duarte Carrilho da Graça)
(Duarte Carrilho da Graça)
(Duarte Carrilho da Graça)
(Duarte Carrilho da Graça)

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Housing Element Law is a Scam (strong language)

Council person from Corte Madera, CA makes terse remarks on the Housing Element Law which burdens small communities with enormous costs of compliance and diverts needed resources from more pressing local needs.  The unrealistic housing growth demands placed on communities from California Housing Community Development agency in California  plus ABAG's "Plan Bay Area" exceed the RESOURCES available to small communities to provide supporting infrastructure.

"The Housing Element Law is a SCAM!"

At last politicians are not afraid to tell it like it is.  Community all across California are rebelling to the housing element law.

Most people in the community that growth can be achieved provided it is rational and acknowleges resource limitations.

Judy Collins "Send in the Clowns"

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Oakland council approves sweeping reductions to parking for new developments

Oakland council approves sweeping reductions to parking for new developments

PUBLISHED: September 20, 2016 at 11:22 pm | UPDATED: September 21, 2016 at 4:16 pm

OAKLAND — For the first time in over half a century, the City Council approved sharp reductions to its parking requirements, which advocates say will make it less expensive to develop housing, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve the quality of life for residents.

Oakland’s parking regulations were drafted in 1965, when cars were king, highways were slicing through neighborhoods and the city was widening streets at the expense of sidewalks and safety, said Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich, who also serves as a BART board director. In many ways, he said, the new parking regulations approved by the council Tuesday are a return to a time when cities were built for pedestrians and trolleys, not cars.
A car exits the underground parking of one of the Uptown Apartment buildings in downtown Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016. (Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group)

“Even when Oakland was retrofitted for automobiles, it didn’t fundamentally change the city’s form, and that form is really pedestrian-oriented,” he said. “It’s all wired for walkability.”

Walkability is just one of the positive outcomes that the city is hoping to achieve with the new parking regulations, said Matt Nichols, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf’s director of transportation policy.

The changes reduce the amount of parking required for residential and commercial buildings throughout the city, with the largest reductions concentrated in areas closest to major transit hubs, such as downtown Oakland or at BART stations. In those areas, the new regulations reduce the required parking to zero and instead set a cap on the maximum amount of parking allowed.

The regulations provide incentives — and in some cases, requirements — for developers to offer car sharing spaces or AC Transit bus passes. The new rules also require property owners to charge tenants separately for parking, rather than including it with the rent, unless those tenants live in affordable housing.

The council approved amendments to the proposal that requires a review of the new regulations in two years and creates a method for the city to ensure that car sharing spaces or transit passes are maintained even when a new building changes owners.

Nichols said the changes do not mean developers won’t be building any new parking, but that they will instead be more thoughtful about how much parking is actually needed, rather than being bound to provide a certain amount of spaces mandated by the city. By separating the cost of parking from rent, Nichols said residents who don’t drive will no longer be forced to subsidize their neighbors who do.

At The Uptown, a 665-unit apartment complex in the heart of downtown Oakland, residents Brittany and Lawrence Smith said they ditched their car when they moved to San Francisco and haven’t looked back. At the time, their landlord in the city was asking for $300 per month for a parking space. It’s around $100 per month at The Uptown, they said, but at nearly $3,000 per month for rent, they said the extra fee wasn’t worth the added convenience of a car.

“We just walk everywhere,” Brittany Smith said. “Everything is so centrally located.”Lawrence and Brittany Fritz, walk from their apartment in the Uptown Apartments in downtown Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016. The Fritz’s do not own a car and use other means to get around including BART and Lyft. (Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group)

That’s fine for the downtown areas, said Darlene Allegro, who lives in East Oakland, but not her neighborhood. Getting downtown can take hours without a car, because she doesn’t live near a BART station and taking the bus requires several transfers, she said.

Jennifer West, a program manager for TransForm, a transportation and housing advocacy nonprofit, said some older developments included parking spaces that aren’t always needed. TransForm in 2014 released the GreenTrip parking database, which, for the first time, created a report showing there was a 30 percent vacancy rate in parking lots at 80 apartment buildings across the Bay Area, representing $198 million in built parking that was going unused.

The added cost of parking, which the city estimates to be up to $80,000 per space, hits low-income residents the hardest, since they are less likely to own a car and more likely to take transit than other residents, West said.

Jeff Levin, the policy director for the East Bay Housing Organizations, said Oakland’s new parking regulations, while a step in the right direction, don’t go far enough to ensure that developers pass on the reduced costs of building fewer parking spaces to new residents.

“The price of housing is being generated by the demand side,” Levin said. “If (developers) are able to build it more cheaply, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will transfer that to the consumer. It may just benefit their bottom line.”Darlene Allegro, of Oakland, finds a metered parking space in downtown Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016. (Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group)

Rather than give developers a “gift” in the form of reduced parking requirements, Levin said the city should require developers to use the savings to build some portion of moderate income housing, or housing for residents who make too much to qualify for federally subsidized housing, but not enough to actually afford market-rate rents.

Although city officials hinted that developers could use those cost savings to build more affordable or moderate-income housing, the new regulations do not require it.

“The city seems to be concerned that development is not feasible enough in Oakland, and they still need to bend over backwards to accommodate developers,” Levin said. “But we all know Oakland is a hot market.”

Oakland had the fourth-highest rental costs for available one-bedroom apartments in the nation as of April, according to the real estate website, which regularly compiles rental market reports.

City officials say Oakland’s affordable housing strategy is a multi-pronged approach that does not rely solely on parking reductions to induce affordable housing development. The City Council in April approved an affordable housing impact fee, which charges developers a one-time fee to build market-rate housing. Developers can build affordable or moderate-income housing in lieu of the fee, said Erica Derryck, a spokeswoman for Schaaf. The council also placed Measure KK on the ballot, which would allot $100 million to preserve affordable housing throughout the city.

Requiring moderate income housing in an amount equivalent to the reduced cost of building fewer parking spaces won’t help bring the cost of building housing down, Nichols said, and Derryck said the city would like to see housing built for all income levels.

“There’s not one silver bullet,” she said. “We have to employ a number of different strategies.”

Although not the most radical of changes, Radulovich said the relaxed parking requirements raise the bar for other cities to rethink their own auto-oriented policies. San Francisco and Berkeley have already passed similar reforms, he said, and other cities may be following suit soon.

“San Jose has aspirations to be more like San Francisco or Oakland,” Radulovich said. “Hopefully this will inspire them and smaller cities, as well.”

Important Eminent Domain case in New London (again_)

Family Sues West Haven Over Eminent Domain Case

By Justin Schecker

A West Haven family has filed a lawsuit against the city saying the planned use of eminent domain on two of their properties for The Haven is unconstitutional.

Bob McGinnity, 63, has more than 50 years of memories living in his home on 1st Ave. in West Haven. His house and the property his family owns next door stand in the way of The Haven Group LLC's plans to build the upscale waterfront mall.

“You’re taking homes from people and you’re holding a club over their head,” McGinnity said following a press conference outside the Milford Superior Court on Wednesday morning.

McGinnity is represented by local attorneys and the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Justice.

“Bob’s homes are not for sale,” Attorney Robert McNamara said. “The McGinnitys have offered to accommodate development as much as possible, they’ve offered to willingly sell their large backyard to the developer if they can stay in their longtime homes.”

“It’s not buildable without those pieces of property,” West Haven Mayor Ed O’Brien said. “This is not a strip mall. This is probably one of the first in the country of its kind.”

The mayor said the developer has made McGinnity a generous offer “in excess of maybe 200-percent of the assessed value and the market value.” Nearly all of the property owners have already settled, he added.

McGinnity’s attorneys say Connecticut has seen this situation play out before with the 2005 landmark Kelo v. New London Supreme Court case. The Institute for Justice argues the court got it all wrong by ruling in favor of eminent domain in exchange for the promise of economic growth and more tax revenue.

“What we have here is a private developer using the city," McNamara said. "This is a private entity abusing public power for its own private gain. That’s not just wrong, that’s unconstitutional.”

Mayor O’Brien said he hopes McGinnity’s refusal to settle doesn’t prevent the construction of the mall that will bring jobs, millions of dollars in tax revenue and a clean-up of the waterfront that’s already begun.

“I understand like it’s his family home, I wouldn’t want that to happen,” Mayor O’Brien said, “but then again, you have to look for the greater good of the city.”

McGinnity insists he’s not moving from where he cares for his nearly 80-year-old uncle.

“He’s had a heart attack and stroke a month after finding out that we were going to have eminent domain placed on us,” he said.

Published at 12:57 PM EDT on Sep 29, 2016 | Updated at 12:58 PM EDT on Sep 29, 2016

Autonomous Vehicles and Telecommuting

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Marin supervisor, judge races take center stage on IJ Forums

Marin supervisor, judge races take center stage on IJ Forums

IJ Forums this month brought together the two Marin supervisorial candidates and the two Marin judicial candidates for conversations about the hot topics and tough decisions facing Marin voters.
Dominic Grossi, 43, a dairy farmer from West Novato, and Dennis Rodoni, 64, an Olema residential contractor, offer their views on traffic, homelessness and fire danger in a 15-minute chat with host Dick Spotswood.
They are vying for the 4th District seat being vacated by Supervisor Steve Kinsey.
“This is obviously going to be a difficult and a close race for voters when you have two qualified candidates,” Spotswood concludes. “It makes it fun to watch, but it presents a quandry to pick: Which of two good candidates is our next county supervisor from the 4th District?”
In the second 15-minute segment, Spotswood asks Marin Superior Court judicial candidates Michael Coffino, 48, a deputy public defender from Sausalito, and Sheila Lichtblau, 50, a deputy county counsel from Mill Valley, to differentiate themselves and suggest what qualities voters ought to consider when they vote Nov. 8.
See Article HERE

Taxes are the Price for Civilization?

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Why Government Planning Fails ( A lesson for Plan Bay Area 2040)

With the smartest experts and the best economists, could the federal government run the U.S. economy? Could it keep America's $17 trillion economy going like a well-oiled machine? Steve Forbes, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of Forbes Media, explains why no one person or group can "run" the economy, and why any attempt to do so can only make things worse.

How to make post-suburbanism work: Joel Kotkin

How to make post-suburbanism work: Joel Kotkin

A view of downtown Los Angeles skyscrapers on Sept. 29, 2014. (File photo by Dakota Smith/Los Angeles Daily News)

By Joel Kotkin

Are you ready to become a “real” city yet, Southern California? Being “truly livable,” our betters suggest, means being “infatuated” with spending more billions of dollars on outdated streetcars (trolleys) and other rail lines, packing people into ever small spaces and looking toward downtown Los Angeles as our regional center.

Our cognitive elites dislike the very idea that Los Angeles, as Dorothy Parker once supposedly described, has long been “72 suburbs in search of a city.” Yet, Southern California, as I discuss in a new Chapman University report, has from its early emergence grown around a “post-suburban” model of dynamic, smaller clusters. This urban form has become common in many major metropolitan areas as automobiles have replaced transit as the primary means of getting around.

This model worked here brilliantly for most of the last half century — until planners, real estate speculators and California bureaucrats decided that we needed to emulate New York City and other older monocentric core cities. Like the provincials they consistently prove themselves to be, our leaders have generally complied.

So, after nearly 15 years spent in pushing this direction, what have we accomplished? A transit system that barely serves as many people as it did before we started building trains, housing prices among the highest in the nation, super-high poverty rates and a population that continues to seek to go somewhere else, including some 1.6 million net domestic migrants who have left the L.A. and Orange County area since 2000.


Some see densification as necessary to meet the demands of an expanding population. Yet, both L.A. and O.C.’s populations are growing slower than both the state and national average. Nor has the pro-density regime relieved any of the pressure on housing and rent. For one thing, high-density housing is far more expensive on a per-square-foot basis, either for townhouses or detached housing. It can only accommodate the poor at the cost of massive subsidies.

The drive to re-engineer our post-suburban form assumes that downtown Los Angeles can become like the more historic central business districts of New York, Chicago and San Francisco. These CBDs have from nearly double to 10 times the employment levels as downtown L.A. Suffice it to say, downtowns in New York, Chicago and San Francisco have retained regional significance, as others, including Los Angles, have declined in relative influence, with little growth in their share of regional employment. Even the most generous definition of downtown Los Angeles encompasses considerably less than 5 percent of the metropolitan area’s employment, and that share has not grown appreciably since 2000. All the net job growth has been in newer suburbs and exurbs.

Fundamentally, in “post suburban” regions like southern California, the “sell” is a different one than in places like New York. It is based on a largely suburban quality of life. This does not mean we need to lag economically. Many of the most successful high-tech regions — notably, Silicon Valley; Austin, Texas; Raleigh-Durham, N.C., and the northern reaches of Dallas —– are largely suburban and less dense than the L.A. area. Certainly, densification policies so far have not turned Los Angeles County into a high-tech haven. The county suffers from below-average tech employment, while more suburban Orange County remains 20 percent above average. The fastest increases, albeit from a low base, are occurring in the Inland Empire.


The advocates of the “new” dense Los Angeles have stirred opposition throughout the region. True, some of those objecting to new growth may be too concerned with preserving the past, but many others, including some in Los Angeles, have rightly concluded that the region’s once splendid quality of life is being consciously undermined by planners, politicians and their real estate paymasters.

The patterns of both jobs and settlement, however, tell us something of people’s real preferences. Since 2000, less than 2 percent of the Los Angeles metropolitan area’s population growth has been in the urban core, including downtown and the surrounding ring. The entire urban core accounts for only 10.1 percent of the population, somewhat less than in 2000. If high-density urbanization associated with Los Angeles is attractive to most migrants, this is not evidenced in the U.S. Census Bureau data.

Those longing for a denser Southern California might follow Bertolt Brecht’s advice to the East German government after the 1953 Berlin uprising: “Wouldn’t it be simpler … if the government dissolved the people and elected another?”

That way, our aspiring East German planners can get Southern Californians to give up all the things they love — their houses, their backyards, the freedom to settle or shop wherever — by replacing them with a population more amenable to living like harried New Yorkers, Hong Kongers or even denizens of Mumbai.

Perhaps, instead, our leaders might think about “going with the flow.” Let’s look at innovative solutions to transportation, home-based work, the development of dynamic centers spread throughout the region. If the demand is there, build new Irvines, Valencias or Lakewoods on the fringe, as has been done for generations. Southern California can only enjoy a greater future if it embraces our bold history of urban innovation.

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 (

Monday, October 3, 2016

Our letter to Marin County Board of Supervisors regarding Plan Bay Area 2040

Dear Supervisors,                                                      OCT, 3, 2016

Plan Bay Area 2040 needs to be based upon real world data and assumptions that reflect reality about building in Marin. Plan Bay Area 2040 is based on flawed assumptions that bear little resemblance to our past history and nor is it likely that we will see an endless rise in population and business opportunity that seems to underlay all assumptions about our future.

Instead,  I expect that the Bay Area will actually see a decrease in population as the economic pressures of housing, taxes and jobs equalize with other opportunity zones worldwide.  Despite the fever inducted optimism that abounds in our current economic climate, the California economy/government is on an unsustainable path.  We can expect that significant readjustment will occur as employers, people and capital seek more favorable economic environment.  According to Zillow about 50 percent of residents are considering a move elsewhere in the country per a recent SF Gate article HERE.

Marin County has always maintained a reverence for its land and quality of life.  The Marin County Supervisors must again lead the fight against unbridled growth that will degrade our quality of life.  History will remember you. 

The people of Save Marinwood Lucas Valley wholly endorse the letter submitted by Sustainable Tam Almonte on Plan Bay Area 2040.  We seek your leadership for sensible planning that is based on reality and is sensitive to our values for open space and livable communities.

See Sustainable Tam Almonte letter HERE

Reasons Why Plan Bay Area 2040 is seriously flawed for Marin County.

Reasons Why Plan Bay Area 2040 is Seriously Flawed for Marin County.

Planners and Politicians never learn.  Plans based on false data assumptions will NEVER work.

1.       Proposed changes to the projected household and jobs projections.
a.                   The proposed preferred scenario reduces the growth in Priority Development Areas (PDAs) from 80% to 75% for households and from 70% to 50% for jobs.  The reduction of job growth in PDAs does not coincide with the intent of SB 375 and PBA to reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG) by focusing housing and jobs near transportation corridors and/or transit.  We suggest that ABAG and MTC consider maintaining the level of job growth in PDAs to between 65 - 70%.

b.                  For the first time, PBA is using the UrbanSim model for projecting household and job growth which does not factor in the projected growth in our General Plans.  During our public workshop in May 2016 and in several of our comments from local governments in Marin, the projected job growth  of the alternative scenarios was too high given our demographics and constraints.  Unfortunately, the proposed preferred scenario did not reduce the job growth enough (NOTE TO MARIN CITIES/TOWNS:  This does not apply to some of the smaller cities/towns).  Please re-consider the job growth projections based on what is our General Plans.

2.       Some of the Proposed PBA 2040 Assumptions are not realistic.  Our comments are below on each assumption.
a)                  Current urban growth boundaries are kept in place.  Comment:  Support.

b)                  Inclusionary zoning to all cities with PDAs, meaning that these jurisdictions are assumed to allow below market-rate or subsidized multi-family housing developments.  Comment:  Not all jurisdictions with PDAs have adopted inclusionary zoning and may not support.  ABAG and MTC should review what percentage of jurisdictions have adopted inclusionary zoning and modify the assumption accordingly.

c)                   All for-profit housing developments are assumed to make at least 10 percent of the units available to low-income residents, in perpetuity (via deed restrictions).  Comment:  Not all jurisdictions require all developments to include units for low-income residents and some require more than 10% affordable as part of their inclusionary zoning ordinance.  ABAG and MTC should survey the local jurisdictions and modify the assumption accordingly.

d)                  In some cases, PDAs were assigned higher densities in the future than are currently allowed.  Comment:  Not all jurisdictions agreed with the higher densities in PDAs requested by ABAG/MTC.  This assumption should be changed to only include those local jurisdictions that agreed with higher densities in their PDAs since they were self-nominated. 

e)                  The cost of building in PDAs and/or Transit Priority Areas (TPAs) is assumed to be reduced by the easing of residential parking minimums and streamlining environmental clearance. Comment:  This assumption should be changed to reflect only those jurisdictions that have already passed ordinances to ‘reduce the residential parking minimums and streamlined the environmental clearances’ in PDAs.  Since local jurisdictions did not propose TPAs nor may not even know where the TPA’s are located in their jurisdiction, TPA’s should be removed from this assumption.  Before TPAs are included, ABAG/MTC should identify and ensure that the Council/Board of Supervisors (elected body) support the specific locations of the TPAs. 

f) Subsidies are assumed to stimulate housing and commercial developments within PDAs.  Comment:  This assumptions is unrealistic.  ABAG/MTC should not include this assumption unless the subsidies are going to be provided by ABAG/MTC.  Most local governments do not have access to ‘subsidies’ for private housing and commercial developers; and struggle to help not for profit housing developers.  In addition, most local governments do not have the financial strength to provide all of the services anticipated (e.g. police, fire, parks, recreations, street maintenance, etc..) with the anticipated household and job growth articulated in PBA; so, local governments are not where these subsidies should be coming from. 

Please endorse this letter and send it to the Board of Supervisors by Tues, Oct 4th.

Happy Monday!: "Who's on First?" Abbott and Costello