Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Marinwood CSD regularly violates the Brown Act by prohibiting Public Comment.

A. Is there a right to participate in public meetings?

Yes, during a regular or special meeting, but not during a closed meeting. Under both Acts, a body must provide an opportunity for members of the public to directly address each agenda item under consideration by the body either before or during the body’s discussion. Cal. Gov't Code §§ 11125.7(a) (Bagley-Keene Act); 54954.3(a) (Brown Act). Additionally, under the Brown Act, during a regular session but not during a special session, the public has a right to comment “on any item of interest to the public, before or during the legislative body’s consideration of the item, that is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body ….”  Cal. Gov’t Code § 54954.3(a). This right has been construed to mean that there must be a period of time provided for general public comment on any matter within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body, as well as an opportunity for public comment on each specific agenda item as it is taken up by the body.  Galbiso v. Orosi Public Utility Dist., 167 Cal. App. 4th 1063, 1080, 84 Cal. Rptr. 3d 788 (2008); see also Chaffee v. San Francisco Library Commission, 115 Cal. App. 4th 461, 468-69, 9 Cal. Rptr. 3d 336 (2004).  Under the Brown Act, the right to comment includes the right to comment on matters to be considered by the body in closed session.  Galbiso, 167 Cal. App. 4th at 1080; see also Leventhal v. Vista Unified School Dist., 149 Cal. App. 4th 11424, 1437-39, 57 Cal. Rptr. 3d 885 (2007).
Under both Acts, the right to comment on agenda items does not apply if the agenda item has already been considered by a committee composed exclusively of members of the body at a public meeting where the public had the opportunity to address the committee on the item, before or during the committee's consideration of the item, unless the item has been substantially changed since the committee heard the item, as determined by the body. Cal. Gov't Code §§ 11125.7(a) (Bagley-Keene Act); 54954.3(a) (Brown Act).
The Bagley-Keene Act further provides that public testimony may be taken at a regular or special meeting if the state body takes no action at the same meeting on matters not on the notice and agenda that are brought before the body by the public. Cal. Gov't Code § 11125.7(a).
Under both Acts, the state body or the legislative body of a local agency may not prohibit public criticism of the policies, procedures, programs or services of the body, or the acts or omissions of the body. Cal. Gov't Code §§ 11125.7(c) (Bagley-Keene Act); 54954.3(c) (Brown Act)  see link HERE
Editor's Note: On Tuesday, April 25, 2017 a special budget meeting for the Marinwood CSD was held. The public was not allowed "open time" in gross violation of the Brown Act.  The new general manager Eric Dreikosen is under the mistaken belief that the public comments are banned at special meetings.  As you can see from the above legal analysis, he is incorrect.  Mr. Dreikosen also maintains that all communications be addressed to him for distribution. He has refused to release the emails of CSD board members. He believes this to be in violation of their "privacy".  He should inform the Marin County Supervisors, State Senate and Assembly for they all encourage communication with the public.  How else do you have a functioning democracy?







Friday, April 28, 2017

Gov. Brown signs gas tax increases

Gov. Brown signs gas tax increases


BY TARYN LUNA

tluna@sacbee.com





Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday signed the controversial $52 billion tax and fee increase to pay for the largest road funding plan in California in more than a quarter century.

Senate Bill 1 raises the funds through a 12-cent gas tax increase that begins in November, a new fee based on vehicle value and other means over a decade to pay for road maintenance and repairs, public transit and other projects.

“Safe and smooth roads make California a better place to live and strengthen our economy,” Brown said in a statement. “This legislation will put thousands of people to work.”

The bill reached the governor’s desk after he and fellow Democrats negotiated side deals with lawmakers to hammer the bill through the Legislature with a two-thirds majority vote during a floor session that stretched late into the night on April 6. The sweeteners included nearly $1 billion in funding for special projects for districts in the Modesto and Riverside areas to convince wavering Democrats and one Republican to sign onto the plan.

A Republican radio host quickly pounced on the vote as a launching point to launch a recall of Sen. Josh Newman, D-Fullerton. Carl DeMaio, who is leading the recall effort against Newman, said he’s targeting the lawmaker over the gas tax and to eliminate Democrats’ powerful majority in the Senate.


With 27 Democrats in the Senate and 55 in the Assembly, the party can at least in theory pass major tax bills without a single Republican vote. That’s not how it worked with the transportation bill. Sen. Steve Glazer, D-Orinda, refused to support the deal, prompting leaders to strike a deal with Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Modesto, to cross party lines to vote for the tax increase.

The governor said the negotiations were an example of democracy and called suggestions that the side deals may be illegal “preposterous.”


Editor's Note:  State Senator Mike McGuire, Assemblyman Marc Levine voted Yes on this Tax Bill.  Virtually every local politician supported it. Damon Connolly wrote a Voice piece in the Marin IJ.  Why do they always "NEED" to raise our taxes for essentials like road but find plenty of money to hire consultants, fund their favorite causes and expand social services?   This bill will hurt low income people and businesses that rely on transportation the most.

Plan Bay Area 2040 ( aka. Snake Oil 2.0)




MTC presented a special workshop "for elected officials" prior to the TAM meeting. The public could attend but their was NO PUBLICITY about it except an item on the TAM agenda.  I am always curious when our public servants have meetings that EXCLUDE the public.  Only about 15 elected officials showed up and a handful of the public.  The scenario laid out would mean substantial growth in Marin AND the acknowledgement that THE MIDDLE CLASS will be decimated.

The MTC believes that many more low income (taxpayer subsidized) housing must be built.  If low income (tax free ) housing is built then taxes must rise for everyone else to pay for essential government services, schools and public safety.  The MTC acknowledges the plan will need massive new taxes such as increased sales taxes, bridge tolls, highway tolls,  abolish prop 13 and lower the threshold to 55% for new taxes approvals.  A regional housing fund will be created where we subsidize affordable housing for other counties.  It is a massive social engineering project.

The politicians have lost their minds. They think the taxpayers are an endless source of revenue even while the mass exodus of millennials and families from California has begun.   We must submit comments on Plan Bay Area 2040 by June 1, 2017 or lose the county will hold so dear.

We must SAVE MARIN, AGAIN!  (and your hometown, too!)




A more thorough discussion of the "Preferred Scenario" was discussed in October 2016 at MTC.s new headquarters in downtown San Francisco.
https://youtu.be/S_5NkCu1uQo

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Marinwood Park Shed Public Workshop 4/25/2017



Marinwood CSD board and Parks and Recreation commission hold public workshop to discuss the removal and replacement of the Park Maintenance Shed.  The current shed resides on the bank of Miller Creek where it is subject to flooding and collapse when the stream bank erodes. It is well within the 100 foot setback required by the Marin County 2014 Steam Conservation Ordinance.  This covers "ephemeral streams" such as the drainage canal that runs parallel to the entrance road behind the tennis courts.  There is literally NO room to build a new shed in this area.  Fortunately, we have space next to the firehouse behind the 10 foot high berm to hide the new structure. Residents are encouraged to contact the Marinwood CSD manager, Eric Dreikosen and www.savemarinwood.org with your concerns.

The "public" Marinwood CSD budget meeting but you could not attend 4/25/2017



Published on Apr 27, 2017

The Marinwood CSD discusses the 2017-2018 Budget that includes Staff raises, increased funding across the board yet downplays the amount of expected revenue. I had to repeatedly ask the Marinwood CSD for the total estimated revenue and he dodged the question repeatedly. Finally, Bill Shea provided the $5.7 million number which was no where to be found on the budget projections. Also, additional revenues generated by extra events are not openly discussed. Once again the Marinwood CSD is continuing the practice of deceiving the public on its financial condition. There was no open time given to the public and Eric Dreikosen said that it was due to the "special meeting" status. We believe the Marinwood CSD is again in violation of the Brown Act.

The Letter that you never saw about the Marinwood CSD maintenance shed and Creekside ordinance


Editor's Note: This is the letter sent to the Marinwood CSD on 4/21/2017 concerning the Maintanence Shed that was NOT DISTRIBUTED prior to the Special Meeting on 4/25/2017.  The Marinwood CSD must respect the Stream Ordinance.  We are the largest landowner of Miller Creek stream property in Lucas Valley. 


Dear Mr. Dreikosen/Shane Demarta/Board Members/Public:

Please be advised that the Maintenance Shed is within the 100 foot set back and building improvements are prohibited.  This includes Miller Creek and the drainage canal next to the horseshoe pit (an ephemeral stream)



The only place in Marinwood Park a new shed could be built is along side the fire house on Lucas Valley Road.  Such a shed could be simpler in design as it would not need an office or bathroom.  A separate office shed could be added if needed with minimal cost.
As you know the Miller Creek stream bank has had serious erosion issues and is unstable during wet years.  In addition, it is sound ecological practice to avoid buildings and storing chemicals where they could harm the environment.  It is time the district take this responsibility seriously.

At next weeks meeting to discuss the new shed, I hope you will provide a feasible alternative for a shed located next to the fire house.  The two designs offered thus far are not in compliance within the current Stream Ordinance.

Parcel Number164-260-35
Address775 MILLER CREEK RD
SAN RAFAEL, 94903
Stream Conservation Area Setback100 feet (Additional setback may be required)
See MapClick Here 164-260-35

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Important Government Links on the Marin County Stream Conservation Ordinance.


Short Summary of Creek Regulations and Permitting Agencies   
(Important)

Marin County Stream Ordinance Power Point presentation
(IMPORTANT)

Understanding Permitting for Creek Projects (IMPORTANT) 

FAQ on Marin County Stream Ordinance

Marin IJ Story on Stream Ordinance




Land Owner resource guide for properties near stream


County info on the Stream Ordinance


Creek Project Checklist



Marin Watersheds website



Out Migration increases in major metropolitan areas. San Francisco leads the country.




Hunting for a house that’s affordable, nearly one in five home seekers living in the Bay Area is looking outside the region, according to a new analysis by Redfin.
The brokerage’s inaugural “migration report” places the San Francisco metropolitan area — including San Jose and Oakland — in the No. 1 position among markets where house hunters are most likely to leave.
The brokerage sampled nearly 1 million users who looked for homes in 75 U.S. metro areas during the first three months of 2017.
Those 1 million users included about 110,000 in the San Francisco metro area, out of whom 21,300 — 19.4 percent — looked outside the region, where the cost of homes isn’t so prohibitive. The most common in-state destination for those heading toward the exits was Sacramento, while the most common out-of-state destination was Seattle.
“Fast-growing coastal cities may be generating the high-paying jobs, but they haven’t created enough budget-friendly housing to keep pace. The price of real estate and desire for homeownership is compelling many to uproot and seek housing in more affordable communities,” said Nela Richardson, Redfin’s chief economist. “Even a Bay Area family with two solid incomes can struggle to afford a modest home. For many, the only path to homeownership is to pack up and move out.”   
See Full Article in the Marin IJ HERE

"This water is getting quite warm" said the frog in the frypan.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Portland Anarchists Patching Up Potholes

Portland Anarchists Patching Up Potholes

A government official warns them they might be breaking the law.

Daniel Lobo / FlickrDaniel Lobo / FlickrA group of masked anarchists have taken to the streets of Portland, Oregon. But they're not out breaking windows or burning cars—instead, they're patching up potholes. The Portland Anarchist Road Care (PARC) group has tasked itself with addressing problems with the city streets that have plagued the community since winter, KGW reported.
"The city of Portland has shown gross negligence in its inadequate preventative care through this winter's storms, and through its slow repair of potholes as weather has improved," claims the group's Facebook page. "Daily, this negligence is an active danger to cyclists and causes damage to people's automobiles, and an increased risk of collision and bodily injury."
"Portland Anarchist Road Care aims to mobilize crews throughout our city, in our neighborhoods, to patch our streets, build community, and continue to find solutions to community problems outside of the state," the page also says.
In a recent outing, PARC repaired five potholes. Members assured the community that they will continue filling holes as long as they are able, according to the KGW report. But not everyone is thrilled with the group's service.
Especially peeved is the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT). "If it's a city-maintained street, then folks should call us and have the professionals do it," bureau spokesman Dylan Rivera told OregonLive. "It's generally not safe for folks to be out in the street doing an unauthorized repair like this." The PBOT claims the city repaired 900 potholes during a recent patch-a-thon event, KGW reported; the city claims it fills up to 8,000 potholes every year.
OregonLive notes that Rivera couldn't say whether there's an ordinance against residents patching up potholes themselves, but he believed the action "might be illegal."
Portland isn't the only place where people taken it upon themselves to repair potholes in their neighborhoods. In Hamtramck, Michigan, a group that dubbed itself the Hamtramck Guerrilla Road Crew has been operating since 2015, reports USAToday. "Everyone who lives in or has been through Hamtramck recently knows how much help our roads need," the group's Facebook page reads. "The city is doing what they can with the major roads but unfortunately does not have funding to fix a lot of the pot holes in the residential streets."
A 2016 report by TRIP, a national transportation research group, found that 20 percent of major roads in the United States are in poor condition, costing around $523 per motorist (or around $112 billion total) per year in vehicle wear and tear. The report also claims that investment in roads and bridges nationwide would need to increase from $88 billion to $120 billion a year to adequately cover operation and maintenance costs

Adopt a Pothole , an Idea for Marin?



Hamtramck guerrilla pothole crew patches up civic pride

Hamtramck guerrilla pothole crew patches up civic pride

LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE
HAMTRAMCK, Mich. -- In late July, a group of friends filled a few of Hamtramck’s notorious potholes themselves.
A storm of media attention followed. So did thousands of dollars in donations.
Suddenly it was on them to see how far they could go.
“I think we sort of pledged ourselves to that initial vision of covering all the pivotal streets,” said Jonathan Weier, one of the six friends who helped fill potholes on that first weekend. “It’s not something you can really back out of.”
Their efforts struck a chord in a state with some of the bumpiest roads in the country. Though 38% of the state’s roads were thought to be in poor shape, and steadily getting worse, Michigan’s lawmakers have tried and so far failed to find the money for a long-term fix.
But the group – whose members dubbed themselves the Hamtramck Guerrilla Road Crew – showed that some residents will go to shocking lengths to fix what their city hasn’t.
“The biggest thing we’ve learned from this is don’t be a one-hit wonder,” said Jeff Salazar,  one of the original friends who started the effort. “Do something for the benefit of all, instead of just getting your 15 minutes of fame.”
After five weekends, when all was said and done, the crew covered 41 residential blocks – which is roughly one third of all the blocks in the city’s 2 square miles. They and dozens of volunteers laid down 36 tons of cold patch, thanks to $4,410  donated through a GoFundMe account.
CLOSE
Maritza Garibay, 25, explains how she and neighbors are solving the pothole problem in their streets.
“We didn't think we were going to get any press,” Maritza Garibay said. “And then it blew up into this thing we couldn’t control.”
The plan began as half-serious. A few of the friends merely floated the idea over drinks at one of the city’s dive bars.
But a couple days later, on a Saturday, they bought bags of cold patch and spent a few hours putting the material into the ground on Lumpkin between Caniff and Casmere.
Then one media report followed another. Weier said he got a call from someone with NPR’s All Things Considered. The effort briefly became a meme, and earlier this month, the story even appeared on Glenn Beck’s official Facebook page.
State Sen. Bert Johnson even congratulated the crew when he visited Hamtramck as part of a regular visit.
As the idea snowballed, the friends were concerned they might get reprimanded. They were, after all, circumventing the work normally done by the city.
But they were relieved when Hamtramck’s mayor, Karen Majewski, effectively gave the group the go-ahead when interviewed by media.
Garibay said that Hamtramck’s City Manager, Katrina Powell, sent the group a list with a few major roads that they needed to avoid because the city is working to repair them soon.
The rest of the roads were fair game.
For the next few Saturdays, after the media storm died down, 15 or more volunteers consistently kept showing up. They rode across the tiny city with bags of cold patch and tampers, and tracked their progress with an updating tool through Google Maps.
The road-repair sessions would usually end with a barbecue party — and the food was free.
So many volunteers kept showing up that the work would be finished within an hour or two. Salazar noted that jobs went so fast, “Every week people were surprised. Like, ‘That’s it?’”
Hamtramck’s roads have been notorious for potholes, and the cash-strapped city has struggled to repair them. But this is also not the first attempt to fix the situation, or at least comment on it. A few months prior, resident Paige Breithart and her friend Josh Gaudette planted 50 flowers in potholes around the city.
And Majewski, the city’s mayor, says that about 10 years ago, a neighbor began filling the potholes on her own street as well.
It’s not clear how long these newest resident-led repairs will last. The cold patch they used has a range between one and three years. Garibay hopes that figure ends up being closer to three, but it’s hard to know for sure. She added, “Winters are so brutal.”
But the effort has certainly brought them local recognition. Garibay said that strangers still sometimes exclaim, “You’re the pothole girl!”
And Salazar said the experience made him want to run for Hamtramck city council in the hopes of producing more positive change.
“We do what we gotta do in Hamtramck, and I think people are proud of that,” Majewski said.

Leaving California? After slowing, the trend intensifies

Leaving California? After slowing, the trend intensifies




AP Photo/Paul SakumaA moving truck is shown at a house that was sold in Palo Alto, Calif.
26 COMMENTS
By JOEL KOTKIN and WENDELL COX | Orange County Register
PUBLISHED: April 23, 2017 at 12:08 am | UPDATED: April 23, 2017 at 12:10 am


Given its iconic hold on the American imagination, the idea that more Americans are leaving California than coming breaches our own sense of uniqueness and promise. Yet, even as the economy has recovered, notably in the Bay Area and in pockets along the coast, the latest U.S. Census Bureau estimates show that domestic migrants continue to leave the state more rapidly than they enter it.

First, the good news. People may be leaving California, but, overall, the rate of leaving is about three-quarters less than that experienced in the first decade of the millennium. In the core, booming San Francisco metropolitan area, there was even a shift toward net domestic migration after 2010, something rarely seen since the 1980s.

Outmigration dropped with the initial economic slowdown of the last recession, particularly as housing prices in some areas, notably the Inland Empire and the Sacramento area, drifted toward the national norm of three times incomes by 2010, having been twice that high or more in the boom times. The initial recovery after 2010 may also have encouraged people to stay as well.
Back to mounting outmigration

The San Francisco Bay Area lost more than 600,000 net domestic migrants between 2000 and 2009 before experiencing a five-year respite. Now, sadly, the story seems to be changing again. Housing prices, first in the Bay Area and later in other metropolitan areas, have surged mightily, and are now as high as over nine times household incomes. In 2016, some 26,000 more people left the Bay Area than arrived. San Francisco net migration went from a high of 16,000 positive in 2013 to 12,000 negative three years later.

Similar patterns have occurred across the state. Between 2010 and 2015, California had cut its average annual migration losses annually from 160,000 to 50,000, but that number surged last year to nearly 110,000. Losses in the Los Angeles-Orange County area have gone from 42,000 in 2011 to 88,000 this year. San Diego, where domestic migration turned positive in 2011 and 2012, is now losing around 8,000 net migrants annually.

The major exceptions to this trend can be found in the somewhat more affordable interior regions. Sacramento has gained net migration from barely 1,800 in 2011 to 12,000 last year. Even some still-struggling areas, like Modesto and Stockton, have seen some demographic resurgence as people move farther from the high-priced Bay Area.
California and the new demographic reality

The movement away from expensive core regions reflects the basic preference among people for affordable, less dense housing. The new Census estimates have confirmed this national trend. Migration to both suburbs and smaller cities — and away from dense core counties — is now at the highest rate in a decade.

Population growth in big urban core cities, including New York, is now about half of what it was back in 2010. Last year, all 10 of the top gainers in domestic migration were sprawling, more affordable Sun Belt metropolitan areas in states like Texas, North Carolina, Florida and Tennessee.

These dispersive trends are clear in Southern California, where net migration out of Los Angeles County runs about four times the rate of neighboring, more suburban Orange County, as migration to places like Riverside County mounts. Despite all the national hype surrounding L.A.’s drive for densification, it’s not a model that most people, and particularly families, seem to be embracing.

California’s choice


The apparent growing appetite for suburban living presents a unique challenge to California. The state policy is aggressively anti-suburban, placing ever-higher hurdles on any development on the periphery. This, over time, is slowing construction in the interior and forcing housing prices unnaturally up, even in these areas.

Some so-called progressives hail these trends, as forcing what they seem to see as less desirable elements — that is, working- and middle-class people — out of the state. They allege that this is balanced out by a surge of highly educated workers coming to California. Essentially, the model is that of a gated community, with a convenient servant base nearby.

Yet, in reality, this may prove to be wishful thinking. A dive into Internal Revenue Service data shows distinctly that, while poor people are, indeed, leaving, the largest group of outmigrants tends to be middle-aged people making between $100,000 and $200,000 annually. They may not be ideal algorithm creators for Facebook, but they do constitute the solid middle ranks critical to any healthy economy.

Indeed, since 2010, the Golden State has seen an overall net outflow of $36 billion from these migrants (and that counts only the first year of income). The biggest gainers from this exchange are where Californians are moving, to such places as Texas, Arizona and Nevada. That some California employers are joining them in the same places should be something of a two-minute warning for state officials.

But California leaders have other things on their minds that do not include accommodating the aspirations of residents who refuse to abandon suburban homes, or who are unwilling to desert their cars for the pleasures of mass transit. Until Californians demand a government that reflects their aspirations, too many people will continue to have to seek their futures elsewhere, to the detriment to those who remain behind.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Smart Growth and the Ideal City- a model for the Bay Area

Smart Growth and the Ideal City

May 6, 2005

American suburbs are "a chaotic and depressing agglomeration of buildings covering enormous stretches of land." The cost of providing services to such "monotonous stretches of individual low-rise houses" is too high. As a result, "the search for a future kind of residential building leads logically to" high-density, mixed-use housing.

This sounds like typical writings of New Urbanist or smart-growth planners. In fact, these words were written nearly forty years ago by University of Moscow planners in a book titled The Ideal Communist City. The principles in their book formed a blueprint for residential construction all across Russia and eastern Europe. With a couple of minor changes, they could also be the blueprint for smart growth.

Mixed-use developments, wrote the Moscow planners, allow people easy access to "public functions and services" such as day care, restaurants, parks, and laundry facilities. This, in turn, would minimize the need for private spaces, and the authors suggest that apartments for a family of four need be no larger than about 600 square feet. Prior to the late 1960s, such apartments were built in five- to six-story brick buildings, but the authors looked forward to new, reinforced-concrete building techniques that would allow fifteen- to seventeen-story apartment buildings.

Like the New Urbanists, the soviet planners saw several advantages to such high-density housing. First, it would be more equitable, since everyone from factory managers to lowly janitors would live in the same buildings. While New Urbanists are less concerned about housing everyone in nearly identical apartments, they do promote the idea of mixed-income communities so that the wealthy can rub shoulders with lower-income people.

Second, the soviets believed apartments would promote a sense of community and collective values. Single-family homes were too "autonomous," they said, while the apartment "becomes the primary element in a collective system of housing." Similarly, many New Urbanists claim that their designs will produce a greater sense of community.

Third, high-density housing was supposed to allow easy access to public transportation. "Private individual transportation has produced such an overwhelming set of unresolved problems in cities that even planners in bourgeois societies are inclined to limit it," the Russians prophetically observed. With their high-density apartments, as many as 12,000 people could live within 400-yard walking distances of public transit stations. That's about 70,000 people per square mile, slightly greater than the density of Manhattan. "The economic advantages of (public transit) for getting commuters to and from production areas are obvious," says the book, "and it is also an answer to congestion in the central city."

Urban Planning, East German-Style

Soviet-block countries were building such new cities even as the University of Moscow planners were writing their book. In 1970, East Germany developed a standard building plan known as the WBS 70 (WBS stands for Wohnungsbausystem, literally, "house building system") that was applied to nearly 650,000 apartments in East Berlin and other East German cities. "The WBS 70 was the uniform basis of the accelerated housing construction until the end of the GDR," says a paper titled Architecture as Ideology. According to page 23 of this paper, the WBS 70 offered a generous 700 square feet in its three-room apartments, not counting 75 square feet of private balcony.
To get an idea of just how small 700 square feet is, take a look at this photo from someone else's web site of the living room of a WBS 70 apartment in Halle. The WBS 70 was one of the major designs used in Halle-Neustadt, a bedroom community built between 1964 and 1990 for about 100,000 people on the outskirts of the manufacturing city of Halle. I first became aware of Halle-Neustadt at a 1998 conference on sustainable transportation at which two planners from the University of Stockholm declared it to be one of the most sustainable (i.e., least "auto-dependent") cities in the developed world.

As shown on a vintage postcard, Halle-Neustadt consists of rows of apartment buildings surrounded by pleasant-looking green spaces, with a central commercial area and road corridor featuring large, articulated buses. The new city was also connected to Halle by an extensive streetcar system and an S-Bahn (commuter-rail line), and the city met the "Ideal Communist City" density of about 70,000 people per square mile.

The Stockholm planners' paper noted that almost all the apartments had two bedrooms because government planners decreed "that the ideal family consisted of four family members and that the number of flat rooms should be one less than the number of family members." They also noted that the government discouraged car ownership by placing most of the parking on the outskirts of the city "at a relatively large distance from the residential houses."

What the Swedish researchers failed to note in their 1998 presentation, but faithfully recorded in their full paper, was that Halle-Neustadt was only "sustainable" during the socialist period. When Germany reunified, many residents moved out, and those who stayed bought cars so that auto ownership "reached nearly the level of western Germany." Naturally, this created major congestion and parking problems: "The cars are parked everywhere -- on pavements, bike-ways, yards and lawn." The Swedes feared that proposed construction of new parking garages would "undermine" the "planning concept of concentrating the parking places on the city's outskirts." (See page 263 of The Vanishing Automobile for a somewhat greater discussion of the Stockholm paper.)

Visiting Halle-Neustadt


On April 27, 2005, I had the opportunity to join Wendell Cox on a tour of Halle-Neustadt and other formerly East German cities. The first thing we noticed is that the "parking problem" is gone, as are most of the green spaces, which have been turned into parking lots.

The city center also enjoys a modern new shopping mall supported by a multi-story parking garage.

The apartment buildings themselves range from reconstructed to totally abandoned. According to various web sites on the city, Halle-Neustadt's population peaked at 94,000 in 1990 but since has fallen to 60,000. After reunification, the apartments were privatized and are now owned by various housing companies. These companies have successfully lobbied the federal government to fund the demolition of unneeded buildings, and more than two dozen high-rises in Halle-Neustadt are scheduled for destruction. Yet the population of east German cities is declining so fast that demolition cannot keep up: despite numerous demolitions, the region is expected to have even more vacant housing in 2010 than it does today.

Wendell and I looked closely at two basic styles of building. First was a six-story apartment structure that probably represented the pre-mass-produced buildings described with such fanfare in The Ideal Communist City. These buildings had no elevators, so it is not surprising that many of the top floor apartments appear unoccupied.

The second building type was eleven stories tall and probably represented the previously mentioned WBS 70. Some of these were in good condition, obviously reflecting investments made by the new private landlords.

But many others were clearly abandoned and ready for demolition. We saw a few other building types, including some with even more stories, but did not examine them closely.
Germans pronounce the letter "H" as "ha" while "neu" is pronounced "noi." So residents often refer to Halle-Neustadt as "Hanoi," an ironic reference to the bombed-out nature of much of the suburb. They commonly refer to the apartments as "die platte," meaning "the slab," referring to the method of construction.

Following reunification, many of Halle's inefficient factories went out of business. The city has partly compensated by doubling the size of its university. Halle-Neustadt's central corridor still has frequent streetcar service to the university, but the commuter line connecting Hanoi with Halle's factories receives little use.

From a distance, the S-Bahn station still appears attractive.

A closer look reveals many of the windows are broken, the inside is covered with graffiti, and the restaurant and other facilities advertised on the outside are abandoned. The actual loading ramp has room for fifteen-car trains, but today four-car trains are more than sufficient.

Where did all the people go? Many found jobs in western Germany; since reunification, east Germany has lost more than 1.25 million people. But many of those who stayed got away from the slabs by moving to suburbs of new duplexes and single-family homes.

Wendell and I did not have to search very far to find such suburbs, mostly added onto existing villages.

But well away from any village, in the middle of farmlands, we found several big-box stores, including a home improvement center, a furniture store, and a hypermart.

Today no one in Germany refers to such suburbs as "monotonous." This term is instead reserved for the grey slabs of concrete that most people are abandoning as fast as they can. Throughout Europe, high-rise apartments are increasingly becoming ghettos for Muslim and other foreign "guest workers." While the houses shown above are admittedly smaller than ones found in modern American suburbs, the Germans are fast catching up. A little further from Halle we found a suburban village that included many large homes with large backyards such as the one below.

After leaving Halle-Neustadt, Wendell and I went to Berlin where we found Corbusier House, the 1957 prototype for much high-rise housing. Planning historian Sir Peter Hall calls Le Corbusier "the Rasputin of the tale" of authoritarian urban planning, because his "Radiant City" inspired so many bad urban plans around the world, including Halle-Neustadt and American public housing projects. But I suspect the 1,400 people living in Corbusier House are pleased with their setting. This is partly because, though a bad urban planner, Le Corbusier was a master architect, but mainly because Corbusier House residents chose to live there, whereas residents of soviet-block countries had no choice.

There will always be a market, though probably a small one, for high-density housing, whether in Radiant-City high rises or New-Urban mid rises. The problems arise when planners ignore the market and try to impose their ideology on people through prescriptive zoning codes, regulations, and subsidies.

A Communist Plot?

I have always resisted the notion that smart growth and sustainability are some kind of international plot to take away American sovereignty. Even if it were true, saying so marks one as a kook and eliminates all credibility. But I don't think it is true; we have enough central planners in our own midst that we don't have to look for them elsewhere.
And yet I get a creepy feeling when I look at the publication date of "The Ideal Communist City." Though written in the mid 1960s, the book was first released in English by a New York socialist publisher in 1971.
The earliest mention of smart-growth concepts I can find in the planning literature came out just two years later in the book, Compact City: A Plan for a Livable Urban Environment. Like The Ideal Communist CityCompact City advocated scientific or "total-system planning." Like The Ideal Communist City, but unlike New Urbanists, Compact City advocated high-rise housing. Like the New Urbanists, it quoted Jane Jacobs' book, The Life and Death of Great American Cities, in support of mixed-use and transit-oriented developments.

By 1980, research by Northwestern University economist Edwin Mills had thoroughly discredited the hypothesis that more compact cities would have less congestion and air pollution because people would be more likely to walk and ride transit. That didn't stop the U.S. House of Representatives from holding hearings titled Compact Cities: A Neglected Way of Conserving Energy. In 1996, compact cities were tied to sustainability in a book titled, Compact City: A Sustainable Urban Form?

Which brings us full circle to 1998 when University of Stockholm researchers tell an international group of planners that Halle-Neustadt is one of the most sustainable cities on earth -- knowing full well (but not mentioning) that the prerequisite for Hanoi's sustainability was keeping its residents poor and oppressed.

While I don't seriously equate urban planners with communists, the similarities between the Ideal Communist City and smart growth are far more numerous than their differences. As the table below shows, both seek to use planning to create a sense of community and promote collective rather than individual transportation. Beyond the superficial difference that the soviets preferred high rises and smart growth prefers mid rises, the main difference is that the communists tried to put everyone in identical small apartments while smart growth allows people to have as big a house or apartment as they can afford, but just tries to get them to build those houses on small lots.

The Ideal Communist City vs. Smart Growth

Concept                        Ideal Communist City    Smart Growth
Higher density housing                 Yes                 Yes
Mixed-use developments                 Yes                 Yes
Mixed-income housing                   Yes                 Yes
Transit-oriented development           Yes                 Yes
Discourages auto parking               Yes                 Yes
Calls suburbs "monotonous"             Yes                 Yes
Minimizes private yards                Yes                 Yes
Maximizes common areas                 Yes                 Yes
Minimizes private interiors            Yes                  No
Height of residential buildings     High Rise            Mid Rise
Though they publicly claim they want to reduce congestion, most smart-growth plans admit they seek to increase congestion to encourage people to use transit. Though they publicly claim to worry about affordable housing, smart-growth plans drive up land and housing costs with the hidden agenda of encouraging people to live in multifamily housing or at least on tiny lots.

Before visiting Europe, I spent a few days in Madison, Wisconsin. After returning, I spent a few days in Hamilton, Ontario. Though neither region is growing particularly fast, in both places politicians talk about the dangers of uncontrolled growth and how the firm hand of government planning was needed to prevent chaos and sprawl. Part of their plans, of course, call for packing more of that growth into urban infill than the market would build.

In particular, the plan for Hamilton requires that 40 percent of all new development be high-density infill. Currently the rate is just 18 percent. Now, 40 percent is a lot less than the near-100 percent imposed by Russia and East Germany. But Hamilton's plan means that 22 percent of its new residents will be forced to live in housing that they wouldn't normally choose. Experience in Portland and other cities shows that regulation that attempts to make much smaller changes in the housing market can lead to huge increases in housing costs.

Planners call this giving people more "choices"; what they mean is forcing people to accept lifestyles that they would not choose for themselves. How is this fundamentally any different from the philosophy of the Ideal Communist City?