Saturday, December 3, 2016

AUSTRALIA’S RECIPE FOR URBAN DECAY (The same as Plan Bay Area to limit growth)


Across federal, state, and local levels, Australian urban planning authorities have emphasized the need for policies that seek to limit urban fringe development and create densely-populated urban centers. This process is called ‘urban consolidation’ and has been a goal of Australian authorities for more than three decades. More specifically, urban consolidation is defined by efforts to concentrate housing, jobs, and amenities around “activity centers” such as a traditional downtown, satellite urban centers, and elongated strategic corridors. These high-density areas are to be separated by green belts of undeveloped land and connected by public transport links such as trains and light rail systems.
Australian planners’ efforts to establish a high-density urban form have been effective, at least from their point of view. From 1981 to 2011, housing stock in Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane saw a large shift towards high-density units. A net total of 640,000 new multi-unit dwellings were built during this time, representing an increase of over 115%. This surge forced the proportion of multi-unit housing to increase to nearly one-third of the total housing supply in cities that have historically been dominated by single-family dwellings.1
As Australia moves toward higher-density cities, what will be the result? Urban planners assert that their policy decisions are thoroughly researched and provide the “best” outcomes, but evidence from Australia’s largest cities tends to refute that claim. Among the numerous issues that arise due to consolidation ideology, perhaps the most disturbing are the severe impacts on housing affordability, poverty, and housing quality.
Urban consolidation policies, by definition, are aimed at choking the supply of new single-family detached housing by limiting urban fringe growth as a means of minimizing the urban footprint. This is intended to drive more and more of the urban population into compact living situations.Thus, by limiting the supply of single-family detached housing and pushing more households into the market for multi-family housing, urban consolidation causes home prices to rise in both markets. As Figures 1 through 5 show, this is exactly what has happened in cities that adopt consolidation ideology. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that “the price of established houses in the capital cities rose by almost half (46%) between 2002-03 and 2008-09, with prices increasing at an average of 6.5% per year.”2 From 2001 to 2011, the number of dwellings in Sydney costing less than AUD $275 in rent per week decreased by 52% while the number of dwellings costing more than $275 in weekly rent surged by 269%; in Melbourne, the number of dwellings that cost at least $650 per week in rent more than tripled. Homeowners in Sydney and Melbourne have also seen tremendous increases in mortgage payments. In the same ten-year period, there was aseven-fold increase in the number of households in Sydney and Melbourne paying more than $4,000 per month in mortgage payments, while the number of households paying less than $1,000 per month was cut in half.3  At a time when wages and income have been stagnant, this means a severe decrease in housing affordability, meaning fewer Australians are able to afford the highly sought-after stability of homeownership.
Given the profile of buyers and sellers, the market for dense multi-family housing is predominantly driven by investors, landlords, and institutional property owners.4 Thus the large majority of occupants are renters, not owner-occupiers, and there is no reason to infer that this ownership pattern will change.  As Australian cities continue to densify, ownership demand – that is, the market for the purchase and sale of housing units – will be driven less by owner-occupiers and more by investors and landlords, who have historically been the dominant players in multi-unit dwelling markets. This latter group of owners responds to market conditions in a different way than the owner-occupier group, and the shift is likely to have a profound impact on economic and socio-political outcomes in the long-term.
In housing markets, there are two groups of consumers: investors, who intend to lease the units after buying, and owner-occupiers, who intend to live in the residences themselves. Owner-occupiers purchase homes for personal consumption; their decision about which home to buy is driven by the quality of the housing, access to transportation and employment, amenities in the surrounding area, and the sense of financial stability provided by owning one’s own home. Investors, on the other hand, are quite different. By definition, investors are driven by profit. They are seeking rental income from tenants as well as appreciation in the value of both the property and the underlying land. They evaluate properties based on the potential cash flows from renting and the price they can receive when they sell the property sometime in the future.
But investors’ motives may become distorted in Australia due to a policy known as ‘negative gearing.’ Negative gearing, in terms of real estate investment, allows any negative cash flow from a single property to be deducted from the investor’s total taxable income.5 This gives investors   an incentive to purchase properties where the mortgage payments exceed rental income, especially if value of the property is appreciating. This pushes up the after-tax returns to investors which inflates housing prices even further. It also provides investors with greater incentive to make speculative purchases, which increases home price volatility and instability.
What happens when you throw urban consolidation policies into the mix? As urban planners continue to choke the supply of new land, the price of existing land continues to accelerate upward. When investor profits are increasingly driven by speculating on the land value rather than income from the tenants, investors are more inclined to purchase lower-value properties which require less maintenance and fewer capital expenditures yet enjoy the same increases in underlying land value. By this logic, we could expect that low-income housing would increase in value at a faster pace than higher-quality housing as investors bid up the prices, which is exactly what happened in Sydney’s last real estate boom.6 Low-value properties are also more likely to provide investors with the support of negative gearing since they typically provide the lowest rental revenues. But investors, looking primarily at tax advantages, are less likely to improve the properties or even maintain existing structures. Thus, we can see how more and more investors not only have the incentive to compete for low-value housing units, where there is already insufficient supply, but also neglect those units in the long-term. Such market pressures are already noticeable in Sydney and Melbourne, where urban consolidation has been occurring for a longer time, and will certainly arise in Brisbane, in the state of Queensland, as planners establish growth boundaries for its booming population.7
But it doesn’t stop there. This problem is exacerbated by the nature of Strata title plans, which have come to dominate the market for higher density housing in Australia. Essentially, strata titling comes from legislation passed in the 1960s whereby each apartment unit or flat on a parcel of land can be owned individually, and thus a mortgage could be taken out in order to purchase individual high-density housing units. This is similar to a condominium ownership structure in the United States, but with a few key shortcomings. Although strata titling allows a few individuals living in high-density areas to enjoy homeownership, it primarily benefits investors who now only have to purchase single units instead of entire multi-family buildings. Even worse, strata titling’s lack of consideration for common areas poses a serious issue in the long run for the maintenance of high-rise buildings and their surrounding neighborhoods, especially in areas of lower income. According to Bill Randolph, Director of the City Futures Research Center at the University of New South Wales, “the strata system may come badly unstuck in lower value areas where investor landlords have little incentive to reinvest in their property and home owners do not have the wherewithal to afford major repair costs.”8
Putting it all together, what can we expect to be the future for Australia? Urban consolidation policies continue to push more Australians out of suburban homes and into cramped apartments, where housing markets are dominated by investor-landlords instead of owner-occupiers. The consolidation policies will squeeze the supply of land and force dwelling prices to rise regardless of rental revenue, promoting speculative behavior among investors. Negative gearing and strata titling programs incentivize these investors to neglect their properties, causing high-density areas (especially low-income neighborhoods) to deteriorate. The end result is slum-like conditions, social tension, and perpetual poverty for the neighborhood’s inhabitants. Even in higher-value neighborhoods, a lack of necessary upkeep will erode housing quality, even as prices continue to inflate. This is the reality of urban consolidation; it takes ownership out of the hands of Australians and puts it in the hands of speculative and neglectful investor-landlords. It is nothing short of a recipe for urban decay.

Friday, December 2, 2016


Marin IJ Editorial: Progress needed on Marinwood clean-up

Marin IJ Editorial: Progress needed on Marinwood clean-up

The Marinwood Plaza shopping center property has contaminants left by a former dry cleaner. The Savemor liquor store, one of the last businesses there, closed earlier this year. (IJ archives)
The Marinwood Plaza shopping center property has contaminants left by a former dry cleaner. The Savemor liquor store, one of the last businesses there, closed earlier this year. (IJ archives) 

Neighbors of the Marinwood Plaza shopping center want an underground toxic plume cleaned up now, not later.
That’s understandable.
The San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board has established clean-up deadlines it expects the plaza’s new ownership to meet. Warning that the owners could face fines should help ensure progress toward cleaning up the toxic waste by next fall.
The plume is a remnant of a dry cleaner that was open in that tiny shopping center for years. PCE, or tetrachloroethylene, has been detected in soil tests and the toxic waste has spread underground, moving 2,700 feet under Highway 101 and to privately held lands on the east side of the freeway.
Credit Supervisor Damon Connolly for keeping pressure on the state to demand compliance with its clean-up order. His determination to make sure there is progress has helped make it a higher priority with the state board. see Article HERE

Battle Lines drawn by San Francisco against President-Elect Trump

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors recently passed a resolution, introduced by Board President London Breed, in response to the election of Donald Trump. The resolution reads as follows:
WHEREAS, On November 8, 2016, Donald Trump was elected to become the 45th President of the United States; now, therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That no matter the threats made by President-elect Trump, San Francisco will remain a Sanctuary City. We will not turn our back on the men and women from other countries who help make this city great, and who represent over one third of our population. This is the Golden Gate—we build bridges, not walls; and, be it
FURTHER RESOLVED, That we will never back down on women’s rights, whether in healthcare, the workplace, or any other area threatened by a man who treats women as obstacles to be demeaned or objects to be assaulted. And just as important, we will ensure our young girls grow up with role models who show them they can be or do anything; and, be it
FURTHER RESOLVED, That there will be no conversion therapy, no withdrawal of rights in San Francisco. We began hosting gay weddings twelve years ago, and we are not stopping now. And to all the LGBTQ people all over the country who feel scared, bullied, or alone: You matter. You are seen; you are loved; and San Francisco will never stop fighting for you; and, be it
FURTHER RESOLVED, That we still believe in this nation’s founding principle of religious freedom. We do not ban people for their faith. And the only lists we keep are on invitations to come pray together; and, be it
FURTHER RESOLVED, That Black Lives Matter in San Francisco, even if they may not in the White House. And guided by President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, we will continue reforming our police department and rebuilding trust between police and communities of color so all citizens feel safe in their neighborhoods; and, be it
FURTHER RESOLVED, That climate change is not a hoax, or a plot by the Chinese. In this city, surrounded by water on three sides, science matters. And we will continue our work on CleanPower, Zero Waste, and everything else we are doing to protect future generations; and, be it
FURTHER RESOLVED, That we have been providing universal health care in this city for nearly a decade, and if the new administration follows through on its callous promise to revoke health insurance from 20 million people, San Franciscans will be protected; and, be it
FURTHER RESOLVED, That we are the birthplace of the United Nations, a city made stronger by the thousands of international visitors we welcome every day. We will remain committed to internationalism and to our friends and allies around the world—whether the administration in Washington is or not; and, be it
FURTHER RESOLVED, That San Francisco will remain a Transit First city and will continue building Muni and BART systems we can all rely upon, whether this administration follows through on its platform to eliminate federal transit funding or not; and, be it
FURTHER RESOLVED, That California is the sixth largest economy in the world. The Bay Area is the innovation capital of the country. We will not be bullied by threats to revoke our federal funding, nor will we sacrifice our values or members of our community for your dollar; and, be it
FURTHER RESOLVED, That we condemn all hate crimes and hate speech perpetrated in this election’s wake. That although the United States will soon have a President who has demonstrated a lack of respect for the values we hold in the highest regard in San Francisco, it cannot change who we are, and it will never change our values. We argue, we campaign, we debate vigorously within San Francisco, but on these points we are 100 percent united. We will fight discrimination and recklessness in all its forms. We are one City. And we will move forward together.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

SF Chronicle: California’s top court should uphold pension reform

California’s top court should uphold pension reform

California’s top court has agreed to issue the last word on a ruling that would give state and local governments new powers to cut public employee pensions.

The state Supreme Court’s final decision will have reverberations on local government budgets for decades. It will also influence other cash-strapped states, many of whom are closely watching the case.

The case stems from a 2012 pension reform law that slashed pensions and raised retirement ages for new employees, while banning “pension spiking” for existing workers.

Pension spiking is an odious practice by which some workers inflate their pay just before retirement, making them eligible for larger pensions.

With an estimated $500 billion-plus shortfall in pensions for state employees, teachers and UC workers, pension spiking is a practice that’s truly impossible to justify.

That’s what a three-judge panel of the First District Court of Appeal decided in August, with a ruling that said the state Legislature can alter pension formulas for active employees and reduce their anticipated benefits.

“While a public employee does have a ‘vested right’ to a pension, that right is only to a ‘reasonable’ pension — not an immutable entitlement to the most optimal formula of calculating the pension,” wrote Justice James A. Richman in the appeals court opinion.

While we agree with the appeals court’s ruling — and with the 2012 pension reform law — we also agree that the state Supreme Court should issue a final judgment.

This is a crucial decision that will have an enormous impact on government budgets for the foreseeable future.

It will help governments around the state decide how many public services they can continue to provide citizens in the years to come.

Many local governments have aging workforces, and the bill for pensions is only going to grow larger and larger with time. This is what the Legislature was considering when it passed the reform law in 2012: the ability of governments to provide for current and future citizens.

While the unions in opposition have tried to make the case about the status of pension benefits in general, the case is specific. The state wants to curb an abusive current practice, not avoid its responsibility to provide state and local workers with a reasonable retirement. It has a responsibility to public employees, but it also has a responsibility to California residents.

Two views of Steve Kinsey which receives local taxpayer funding LOVES Steve Kinsey

A few highlights of Steve Kinsey from Public Meetings.

Dick Spotswood: Local overtime pay has grown into costly dilemma

Dick Spotswood: Local overtime pay has grown into costly dilemma

Dick Spotswood, seen on Tuesday, Jan. 05, 2016, in San Rafael, Calif. (Frankie Frost/Marin Independent Journal)
Dick Spotswood, seen on Tuesday, Jan. 05, 2016, in San Rafael, Calif. (Frankie Frost/Marin Independent Journal) 
Something is wrong when the second-highest-paid employee of the county of Marin is a “fire crew superintendent.”
County Administrator Matthew Hymel, the county’s top executive, earns an appropriate annual salary of $257,336. With pension, health care and other benefits his total compensation is $356,720.
Coming in second, the fire crew superintendent enjoys total compensation of $344,155. That’s what it cost to get this fellow out the firehouse door. His total comp package is composed of a generous base salary of $135,591, pensions and health care benefits of $69,025, “other compensation” of $1,346 and overtime pay of an incredible $138,193.
(Note: I’m not including the names of the individual employees associated with compensation figures presented with the exception of the most senior levels of management. These folks have done nothing wrong. It’s the system, overly creative public employee unions and our elected officials who are responsible for these pay distortions. Curious readers can reference the website where the names, job titles and total compensation are disclosed for every California city, county, special-purpose agency and school district.)
Marin County’s fire crew superintendent isn’t a lone aberration. Nor is county government an outlier. Out-of-control overtime pay is skewering employee compensation in multiple Marin agencies. See Full Article HERE

Editor's Note: Overtime at Marinwood CSD is a serious growing concern.  At the same time, our employee retirement plans are chronically underfunded.  Something has got to give.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

San Rafael Senior Brutally Assaulted During Morning Walk

San Rafael Senior Brutally Assaulted During Morning Walk

Police seek info in the incident, during which a 74-year-old man suffered significant facial injuries.

By Mark Nero (Patch Staff) - November 30, 2016 11:13 am ET

SAN RAFAEL, CA -- Police are seeking information in a case where an elderly man who was on a morning walk was brutally beaten by an unknown person.

On Nov. 29, San Rafael officers responded to a report of an elderly subject who was assaulted as he walked on the McInnis Parkway path. The victim, a 74-year-old male, said he was walking as part of his morning routine around 6 am when he was approached by a male subject who punched him in the face, knocking him to the ground.

The suspect then continued punching the victim in the face before fleeing. The victim suffered significant injuries to his face.

The suspect is described as possibly being a Hispanic male, 30 years old, 180 pounds, 5 feet 10 inches tall, wearing a black hoodie and tan colored pants.

Anyone with information about this crime is asked to call San Rafael Police at (415) 485-3000. Tips can also be made online at

Journalists held hostage inside Dakota Access Pipeline protest camp

No matter what your view on the pipeline,  this incident is a disturbing example of the thuggish behavior of some on the Progressive left to shut down free speech on public land.  From the spinning on social media, this incident generated a huge response from people across the political spectrum.

Cyclist attacks Motorist at Critical Mass ride

Tuesday, November 29, 2016



Donald Trump’s election victory has been widely credited attracting households who have been “left behind,” by stagnating or declining income and lost jobs. But the left-behind also includes many households whose    standards of living are being reduced by the rising cost of housing. This is not about affordable housing for low-income households, itself very important, but a crisis among  middle-income households  no longer able to afford their own homes in some parts of the nation.
Indeed, the lack of middle-income housing affordability has been associated with migration from more expensive to less expensive areas. Moreover, more people have been fleeing the states that supported Secretary Clinton, with their inferior housing affordability, and moving to those that supported Donald Trump (a net 1.45 million gain  in just  the last five years), where housing affordability is generally better.
The differences in house prices are stunning. Between 1969 and 2014, the gap between the highest and lowest cost major metropolitan (over 1,000,000 population) housing markets had expanded 260 percent. This increase has been largely driven by markets that have become more restrictively regulated. In the more lightly regulated rental market the gap between the highest and lowest expanded only 30 percent, just one-ninth the change in the house price gap.
In some highly regulated markets, notably California, it has become all but impossible to build the consumer-favored detached housing in the suburbs associated with the “American Dream.”
In recent decades, California house prices have risen to as much as triple the costs relative to household incomes that exist in much of the rest of the country. A dense mesh of environmental regulation has been implemented,   far stronger than EPA regulations. Large parts of metropolitan areas are now off-limits for efficient housing tract construction, prohibited by “urban growth boundaries,” which can be characterized as “American Dream Boundaries.”
Progressive politicians, dominant in California, talk incessantly about housing affordability, but blindly pursue policies that will make things even worse. It should not be surprising that the housing-cost adjusted poverty rate in California is the worst in union, underperforming even Mississippi. It should also not be surprising that Californians of every age group, including Millennials, are leaving state in larger numbers than they are being attracted.
The San Francisco Bay Area’s two large metropolitan areas (San Jose and San Francisco) are the most unaffordable in the nation and rank fourth and seventh most unaffordable in the Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey among major metropolitan areas in nine nations. House prices have more than tripled relative to incomes since radical land-use regulation began. The problem is not a shortage of land. The Bay Area has more than enough developable land to accommodate up to four times the population. The shortage is in the amount of land governments allow to be developed. As a result, the Bay Area has become a rigged market that excludes many middle-income households by making housing unaffordable. This may be a boon for older property owners, but the burden falls most heavily on households that are minority or young. California’s housing affordability crisis is a profound public policy failure.
The problem extends beyond California, especially to places like Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Colorado, Maryland, and northern Virginia. The net effect is that households pay much more the necessary for housing and have a lower standard of living that is necessitated by government policy. It is no wonder that people think the future is less bright for their children.
Moreover, no one should be misled by planning fantasies that backyard “Granny flats” or high-rise apartment towers are the answer. They have their market, but it does not include most aspiring households. Government has no business lowering living standards by forcing house prices up.
A mortgage on a median priced house requires a qualifying income approximately double the median household income in San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Jose (10 percent down payment assumption). In much of the country, by contrast, housing remains affordable, as in the past. A median income household can comfortably afford the median priced house in metropolitan areas like Dallas-Fort Worth, Atlanta and Kansas City.
More Jobs and Economic Growth
But beyond the lower standards of living attributable to American Dream Boundaries, building fewer detached houses than households demand has an important economic cost.
Research by Chang-Tai Hseih of the University of Illinois, Chicago and Enrico Moretti at the University of California indicates that the gross domestic product was $2 trillion less than would have been expected in 2009, largely due to housing regulation. Matthew Rognlie of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that the widening inequality gap found by French economist Thomas Piketty was largely due to housing and suggested expanding the housing supply and re-examining land-use regulation.
Jason Furman, President Chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors has shown that single family houses make 2.5 times the contribution of apartment units to the gross domestic product. This fact eluded President Obama’s Department of Housing and Urban Development, which has spent years roaming the country inducing local officials to implement the policies like those noted above that make housing less affordable.
But, as Furman’s data indicates, the detached housing Americans overwhelmingly prefer is better for the economy. This means more good jobs in building homes, economic ripple effects and additional revenues for local governments.
Yet, seven years after the  Great Recession, California’s detached house construction rate is barely one half the national average.
Much of this has to do with a planning philosophy called “smart growth,” often accompanied by prohibitions on new housing on the urban fringe. But there is nothing smart about policies that raise the price of houses for struggling families. Nor is there anything smart about reducing people’s standards of living. The more important priorities of facilitating better standards of living and reducing poverty are turned on their head by such myopic policies.
It is time to restore priorities that put people first. Building the housing that people want would not only improve living standards, but would also boost the economy. The American Dream Boundaries need to be torn down.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Nationwide homeless population drops, while Marin County and San Francisco increase

Nationwide homeless population drops, while SF sees increase

Matthew Doherty, executive director of U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness said Thursday the homeless increase in West Coast cities involves multiple factors, but certainly the hot real estate market is among them.

“The housing market is definitely a huge impact on the ability of people to retain stable housing and avoid the experience of homelessness,” Doherty said. “And then I think it’s also becoming harder and harder in many of these communities for people to exit homelessness and to find the places to call home that they can afford.”

He added, “In many communities we are also seeing more indications of a strong connection between the opioid epidemic and experiences of homelessness.”

Julián Castro, HUD secretary, said that “homelessness is down significantly in our nation since 2010, but we also know there is a lot left to do.”

Castro called for “even more leadership by mayors and governors, nonprofit organizations, in addition to the federal government to prevent and end homelessness in the United States.”

San Francisco has the six largest homeless population of other major cities. New York City has the most, at 73,523. The numbers are from a count of one day in January.

Doherty said that there was a “need to urgently focus” on increasing affordable housing across the country, improving employment opportunities and collaborating among federal, state and local governments.

Doherty praised the leadership of Los Angeles’s mayor and Board of Supervisors for their success in passing this month a $1.2 billion voter-approved bond to house the homeless there.

“It’s a matter of being able to take the supply of housing opportunities to the scale that’s needed to meet the needs there. That’s why the passage of the proposition is so important to bring those new units online,” Doherty said. “That’s the strategy that is working in every community.”

Dick Spotswood: Kinsey’s new job a sign of the revolving door

Dick Spotswood: Kinsey’s new job a sign of the revolving door

Dick Spotswood, seen on Tuesday, Jan. 05, 2016, in San Rafael, Calif. (Frankie Frost/Marin Independent Journal)
Dick Spotswood, seen on Tuesday, Jan. 05, 2016, in San Rafael, Calif. (Frankie Frost/Marin Independent Journal) 

The revolving door is in full motion. Supervisor Steve Kinsey will retire from the Board of Supervisors in five weeks. His next job will be using contacts he’s made with county government, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and California’s Coastal Commission.
In Marin Magazine, Kinsey is quoted, “Eventually what I want to do is be involved as a consultant at the local or regional level in strengthening community, either in the field of transportation or working to achieve equity in various aspects of contemporary life.” Kinsey promptly pursued his goal by snagging a $50,000 contract with the city of San Rafael to help guide the city in joint efforts with SMART to relocate the C. Paul Bettini bus depot so it’s compatible with the city’s new rail station.
It’s not that Kinsey, 63, lacks private-sector skills. He was a successful San Geronimo Valley designer-builder when he was first elected to the board 20 years ago.
Kinsey was a good supervisor. There’s never been a whiff of financial scandal about him. Perhaps his contract with San Rafael will be a one-off arrangement.
In justification, Kinsey pointed out to me that his Mission City contract is consulting with a public agency, not working as a private-sector advocate.
It’s still a problem given Kinsey’s role as a reliable supporter of MTC’s management led by top honcho Steve Heminger.
Now that the five-term supervisor will be “interfacing” with MTC as a consultant, the issues of cronyism naturally will arise.
Ditto for the Coastal Commission where Kinsey, along with a few other commissioners, remains under a cloud. The Los Angeles Times reported that a handful of appointees, including Kinsey, had failed to publicly disclose ex-officio communications with entities coming before the coastal land use authority.
The revolving-door phenomenon, so prevalent in Washington, D.C., also encourages See Article HERE.

Steve Kinsey could be facing over $5 million dollars in fines according to LA Times

Lawsuit seeks millions in fines from 5 coastal commissioners, alleging 590 transparency violations

The California Coastal Commission listens to comments during a hearing to decide on the Newport Banning Ranch development Sept. 7 at Newport City Hall in Newport Beach. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Timse)
Dan Weikel

A lawsuit served this month against five California Coastal Commissioners could cost them millions of dollars in civil fines if the courts confirm hundreds of alleged transparency rule violations.

Spotlight on Coastal Corruption, a small nonprofit organization formed solely to pursue the allegations, filed the lawsuit in San Diego County Superior Court in mid-August against Commissioners Erik Howell, Martha McClure, Wendy Mitchell, Mark Vargas and Steve Kinsey, the chairman.

The suit, served at the panel’s meeting in Newport Beach on Sept. 7, accuses the commissioners of violating disclosure laws for so-called ex-parte communications a total of 590 times during the last two years. If the court finds widespread violations, each member could face hundreds of thousands of dollars in civil penalties.

At least four other lawsuits are challenging coastal development permits partly on the grounds that commissioners improperly disclosed their contacts, did not report them on time or used the communications to hold a series of behind-the-scenes meetings before voting on a project.

In one case, an Orange County judge heavily criticized commissioners for incomplete disclosure forms.
Some commissioners are being very arrogant about the law.”— Kathryn Burton, president of Spotlight on Coastal Corruption

The Spotlight suit, however, is apparently the first to seek fines against individual coastal commissioners.

“The Coastal Commission has gotten off track,” said Kathryn Burton, Spotlight’s president. “It needs to come back into compliance with the law and increase transparency as well as public accountability. Some commissioners are being very arrogant about the law.”

The defendants declined to discuss the case or could not be reached for comment. A Coastal Commission spokesperson said the state attorney general’s office is reviewing the matter.

Spotlight’s lawsuit is the latest development in an ongoing controversy about private ex-parte communications between commissioners and developers, lobbyists, environmentalists and anyone else with a stake in the decisions of the powerful land use agency.

In recent months, courts and the Los Angeles Times have scrutinized commissioners for failing to report ex-parte contacts, or disclosing them late or with little detail, in apparent violation of the statutory requirements.

Bill to ban behind-the-scenes communications with coastal commissioners is defeated in the Assembly

Chairman Kinsey decided not to vote on a controversial proposal to build hundreds of new homes on open land overlooking the Newport and Huntington Beach shoreline on Sept. 7, because he had two unreported ex-partes related to the proposal.

Though Vargas had filed one ex-parte disclosure eight months late, he voted on the project after consulting with the agency’s general counsel.

Ex-parte communications can involve telephone calls, face-to-face meetings, emails or other written material related to a pending matter. The contacts are outside official public hearings.

Under state law, commissioners are required to report such interactions in writing within seven days of the communication. If ex-partes occur within a week of a commission meeting where the subject matter is on the agenda, they must be disclosed orally from the dais at the hearing.

The reports have to include the date, time, type and location of the communication as well as the identities of everyone who initiated the communication and participated in it.

Commissioners are further required to provide a comprehensive description of the content of their ex-parte contacts, including all text and graphic material if any was presented in the course of the communication.

Finally, the disclosures must be placed into the commission’s official record so the public can review them.

Commissioners also are prohibited by law from influencing a decision if they knowingly fail to report ex-parte contacts related to the matter.

Each violation of the disclosure requirements carries a maximum fine of $7,500. The lawsuit asserts that the five commissioners are subject to additional fines of $30,000 for each disclosure violation because such violations are considered separate offenses under the state’s Public Resources Code.

Cory Briggs, the attorney for Spotlight on Coastal Corruption, said the group analyzed all written and oral ex-parte reports made by the commission’s 12 voting members between January 2015 and August 2016.

Spotlight decided to sue Howell, Kinsey, McClure, Mitchell and Vargas because they appeared to have the most alleged violations, Briggs said. The lawsuit charges that Kinsey violated reporting requirements at least 140 times, Howell 96 times, McClure 82 times, Mitchell 120 times, and Vargas 150 times.

If all the alleged violations are sustained, Kinsey faces fines of up to $5,250,000; Howell $3,600,000; McClue $3,150,000, Mitchell $4,500,000 and Vargas $5,625,000 court records state.

Briggs said many of the written disclosures in question lacked comprehensive descriptions of the communication. Others allegedly failed to meet required deadlines by a few days to eight months while eight ex-partes were never disclosed, the lawsuit states.

The most influential person on the coastal commission may be this lobbyist

The oral reports, Briggs said, were very brief, averaging about 20 to 30 seconds, not enough time to provide a meaningful disclosure. In some cases, commissioners said only that their ex-parte contact “was similar” or “substantially similar” to the oral report of a fellow commissioner given earlier.

The suit, Briggs said, focuses only on significant violations. “We are not seeking penalties for the lack of a signature.”

The lawsuit alleges that the violations were deliberate because the commissioners received training about ex-parte disclosure requirements. Agency officials say the instruction occurs at commission orientations and periodically during presentations by the chief counsel at public meetings.

“Nonetheless, defendants consciously disregarded the requirements of [the law] based on an arrogant, corrupt belief that their ex-parte conversations were none of the public’s business, at times using personal email to conceal the conversations,” the lawsuit states. “Defendants’ repeated violations were not innocent oversights.”

Earlier this month, California lawmakers, under pressure from pro-development interests, defeated a bill that would have prohibited ex-parte communications by commissioners.

Editor's Note:  Why must Marin citizens read the Los Angeles Times for local news about our Supervisor?   It is just one of the many examples of the Marin IJ failing to report on accurate, timely stories affecting Marin.  

Sunday, November 27, 2016

HUD Gives Poor More Rent Money to Live in “Higher Opportunity” Areas With “Lower Poverty”

HUD Gives Poor More Rent Money to Live in “Higher Opportunity” Areas With “Lower Poverty”

NOVEMBER 21, 2016

To help “very low-income families” live in better neighborhoods, the Obama administration has issued a sweeping order requiring the government to pay more for their housing so they can move to areas of higher opportunity and lower poverty. The final rule was announced in the federal register this month by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the agency that annually spends tens of billions on rent for the poor.
A chunk of the money, an estimated $18 billion according to the Congressional Budget Office, goes to a program called Housing Choice Voucher (HCV), which is funded by HUD and administered by local public housing agencies. It allows recipients to choose housing in the private market and pays a set amount based on fair market rent for a metropolitan area. Under the new rule, which goes into effect in January, fair market rents will now be calculated by ZIP code so Uncle Sam will pay a lot more for people to live in nicer areas. Here’s an excerpt of the new regulation: “This final rule establishes a more effective means for HCV tenants to move into areas of higher opportunity and lower poverty by providing the tenants with a subsidy adequate to make such areas accessible and, consequently, help reduce the number of voucher families that reside in areas of high poverty concentration.”
HUD Secretary Julián Castro said in an announcement that the goal is to “offer these voucher-holding families more opportunities to move into higher opportunity neighborhoods with better housing, better schools and higher paying jobs.” The agency decided to spend more money to house the poor after a group of Ivy League social scientists published a study on the effects of moving families away from neighborhoods with deeply concentrated poverty to low-poverty environments. They found that children who moved to low-poverty neighborhoods before the age of 13 did better as adults, had significantly higher earnings and a greater likelihood of attending college. To keep with one of the agency’s key missions of “fostering opportunities for economic mobility,” American taxpayers will foot the bill for the higher rent in more upscale neighborhoods.
To justify the added expense HUD is playing the race card, asserting that the current method of doling out vouchers “has not proven effective in addressing the problem of concentrated poverty and economic and racial segregation in neighborhoods.” The agency fully expects that when the new system kicks in it will be “more effective in helping families move to areas of higher opportunity and lower poverty.” To some this may sound like social engineering and yet another Obama administration example of spreading the wealth around. For instance, the “better jobs” argument is a huge red herring, particularly in the area surrounding the capitol, which will be deeply impacted by the new rule. For example, the highest new fair market rent areas in the District of Columbia are in the northwest while the lowest are in the southeast. Commuting to downtown is actually easier from the southeast because of its proximity, metro rail coverage and bus routes. Also, the highest rent allowances in the area are in places like Fairfax—again, far less accessible to employment centers than anywhere in the District.
The new regulation will have a significant impact on the composition of targeted neighborhoods. As an example: In 2016, the fair market rent for the entire D.C. metropolitan area for a two-bedroom apartment was $1,623. Under the new rule, voucher amounts in the D.C. area will range up to $2,420 a month for a two-bedroom apartment in northwest D.C and parts of Fairfax and Arlington counties. Among the areas that will implement the new system are the nation’s largest cities, including Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, Philadelphia and San Antonio. HUD claims that its current system artificially inflates rents in some higher poverty neighborhoods rather than incentivize voucher holders to move to higher opportunity neighborhoods.
This is an agency that’s been embroiled in a multitude of serious scandals—under both Democrat and Republican administrations—over the years and Judicial Watch has reported on many of them, including the discovery that $200 million had been wasted at local public housing agencies run by people with “troubled backgrounds” in high-ranking positions. Agency leadership has also been rocky over the years. George W. Bush’s HUD secretary, Alphonso Jackson, was forced to resign in the midst of a federal investigation involving cronyism. Bill Clinton’s HUD secretary, Henry Cisneros, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about payments to a mistress. Ronald Reagan’s HUD secretary, Samuel Pierce, was involved in an influence-peddling scandal that saw 16 people, including some of his top aides at the agency, convicted.