Saturday, June 3, 2017



For generations, politicians of both parties – dating back at least to Republican Herbert Hoover and Democrat Franklin Roosevelt – generally supported the notion of suburban growth and the expansion of homeownership. “A nation of homeowners,” Franklin Roosevelt believed, “of people who own a real share in their land, is unconquerable.”
Support for suburban growth, however, has ebbed dramatically, particularly among those self-styled progressives who claim FDR’s mantle. In California, greens, planners and their allies in the development community have supported legislation that tends to price single-family homes, the preference of some 70 percent of adults, well beyond the capacity of the vast majority of residents.
Less well-noticed is that opposition to suburbs – usually characterized as “sprawl” – has been spreading to the conservative movement. Old-style Tories like author-philosopher Roger Scruton do not conceal their detestation of suburbia and favor, instead, European-style planning laws that force people to live “side by side.” Densely packed Paris and London, he points out, are clearly better places to visit for well-heeled tourists than Atlanta, Houston or Dallas.
There may be more than a bit of class prejudice at work here. British Tories long havedisliked suburbs and their denizens. In a 1905 book, “The Suburbans,” the poet T.W.H. Crossland launched a vitriolic attack on the “low and inferior species,” the “soulless” class of “clerks” who were spreading into the new, comfortable houses in the suburbs, mucking up the aesthetics of the British countryside.
Not surprisingly, many British conservatives, like Scruton, and his American counterparts frequently live in bucolic settings, and understandably want these crass suburbanites and their homes as far away as possible. Yet, there is precious little concern that – in their zeal to protect their property – they have also embraced policies that have engendered huge housing inflation, in places like greater London or the San Francisco Bay Area, that is among the most extreme in the high-income world.
Of course, the conservative critique of suburbia does not rest only on aesthetic disdain for suburbs, but is usually linked to stated social and environmental concerns. “There’s no telling how many marriages were broken up over the stress of suburb-to-city commutes,” opines conservative author Matt Lewis in a recent article in The Week. In his mind, suburbs are not only aesthetically displeasing but also anti-family.
What seems clear is that Lewis, and other new retro-urbanist conservatives, are simply parroting the basic urban legends of the smart-growth crowd and planners. If he actually researched the issue, he would learn that the average commutes of suburbanites tend to be shorter, according to an analysis of census data by demographer Wendell Cox, than those in denser, transit-oriented cities. The worst commuting times in America, it turns out, to be in places such as Queens and Staten Island, both located in New York City.
Other conservatives also point to the alleged antisocial aspect of conservatism, a favored theme of new urbanists everywhere. A report co-written by the late conservative activist Paul Weyrich supported forcing “traditional designs for the places we live, work and shop,” which “will encourage traditional culture and morals,” such as community and family.
Once again, however, a serious examination of research – as opposed to recitation of planners’ cant – shows that suburbanites, as University of California researchers found, tend to be more engaged with their neighbors than are people closer to the urban core. Similarly, a 2009 Pew study recently found that, among the various geographies in America, residents in suburbia were more “satisfied” than were either rural or urban residents.
In working against suburbia, these conservatives are waging a war on middle-class America, not necessarily a smart political gambit. Overall, conventional suburban locations are home to three-quarters of the metropolitan population. And even this number is low, given that large parts of most large American cities – such as Los Angeles, Phoenix, Dallas, Kansas City and Houston – are themselves suburban in character, with low transit use and a housing stock primarily made up of single-family residences built during the auto-dominated postwar period. Only approximately 15 percent of residents in major metropolitan areas actually live in dense, transit-oriented communities.
Given these numbers, one might think conservatives would take issue with progressive plans to circumvent preferences and market forces by constraining suburban and single-family home growth. They might spot a strategic opening to secure the urban periphery, the one area still up for grabs in American politics. In contrast, the blue core cities and red countryside have, for the most part, chosen sides, and both return huge consistent majorities to their preferred party.
Lured by their own class prejudice, some conservatives nevertheless seem willing to abandon market forces, a supposed conservative virtue. In reality, imposing Draconian planning is not even necessary for the growth of density. In places that are have both liberal planning regimes and economic growth, such as Houston and Dallas, there has been a more rapid increase in multifamily housing than in such cities such as Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco or New York. The cost is just much lower.
Unfortunately, few mainstream conservatives apparently bother to study such things, and, as prisoners of the conventional wisdom, embrace the notion that, on economic grounds, suburbs are becoming irrelevant. Some, such as the libertarian economist Tyler Cowen, suggest that a stagnating post-recession America has to adjust to what has been described as a “new normal” of declining expectations.
With middle-class opportunity seen as largely moribund, many financial interests see America becoming a “rentership” society; for these rent-seeking capitalists, the death of suburbs would be not only morally correct, but also economically advantageous.
It’s hard for me, even as a nonconservative, to see how this trajectory works for the Right.
Renters, childless households, highly educated professionals, as well as poor service workers, clustering in dense cities are not exactly prime Republican voters. Without property, and with no reasons to be overly concerned with dysfunctional schools, the new urban population tilts increasingly, if anything, further to the left.
Meanwhile, the middle-class homeowner, and those who aspire to this status, increasingly find themselves without a party or ideology that champions their interests. In exchange for the approval of the cognitive elites in the media, in academia and among planners, conservatives will have, once again, missed a chance to build a broad popular coalition that can overcome the “upstairs, downstairs” configuration that increasingly dominates the Democratic Party.
Yet, there remains a great opportunity for either party that will appeal to, and appreciate, the suburban base. Conservative figures such as Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher understood the connection between democracy and property ownership and upward mobility. Much the same could be said for traditional Democrats, from Roosevelt and Harry Truman, all the way to Bill Clinton.
For all their faults, suburbs represent the epitome of the American Dream and the promise of upward mobility. That they can be improved, both socially and environmentally, is clear. This is already happening in new, mostly privately built, developments where the “ills” of suburbia – long commute distances, overuse of water and energy – are addressed by building new town centers, bringing employment closer to home, the use of more drought-resistant landscaping, promoting home-based business and developing expansive park systems. This seems more promising than following a negative agenda that seeks simply to force ever-denser housing and create heat-generating concrete jungles.
The abandonment of the suburban ideal represents a lethal affront to the interests and preferences of the majority, as well as their basic aspirations. The forced march towards densification and ever more constricted planning augurs not a return to old republican values, as some conservatives hope, but the transformation of America from a broadly based property-owning democracy into something that more clearly resembles feudalism.
This piece originally appeared at The Orange County Register.
Joel Kotkin is executive editor of and Distinguished Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. His newest book, The New Class Conflict is now available at Amazon and Telos Press. He is author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. His most recent study, The Rise of Postfamilialism, has been widely discussed and distributed internationally. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

The Legacy of Toilet to Tap

Political Analysis: The Legacy Of Toilet To Tap
The county's future plan for water expansion for the planned growth will come at the price of our drinking water quality.
Studies are underway today, to test the feasibility of converting our sewage into drinking water. This will allow "unlimited" urban growth in Marin since it will tackle both the sewage and water problem.  The key question is will you want to drink it?
You can bet that the rich and political elites will have their own pure water supply.

Aired 8/4/10
After years of being drowned in the YUCK factor of "Toilet To Tap," San Diego moves forward on water recycling. We'll trace the political story behind the water recycling reformation.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): Just last week, the San Diego City Council gave the go ahead to a water recycling pilot project. The project will recycle sewage water to drinkable standards. The idea of water recycling has been a hard sell in San Diego. The fate of the idea seemed doomed just a few years ago when the proposal received the damning title of ‘toilet to tap.’ Here to explore the political fallout of that unfortunate name, and how the issue has been reborn in San Diego is my guest, KPBS Political correspondent Gloria Penner. Good morning, Gloria.

GLORIA PENNER (KPBS Political Correspondent): Good morning, Maureen. What a luscious subject to start the day off with.

CAVANAUGH: Well, you know, there has been enormous opposition in years past to water recycling in San Diego. When have city officials tried to introduce this idea before?

PENNER: Oh, I can track it back to 1989, that’s 21 years ago, when a city ordinance mandated the widespread use of recycled water. And then it was hot again in 1998 when the city grappled with the issue and it became an issue in several closely contested city races, and that’s when project opponents developed slogans to get negative public response. So in 1999, the city council voted to halt the recycled water project when it was surfaced—and this was the key—that there was certain stakeholder groups unfairly targeted to use the purified—the so-called purified—water. In other words, there were allegations of racism. Yes.

CAVANAUGH: In what sense?

PENNER: In what sense? That the water would be sent to areas of the community where minorities live.


PENNER: Right.

CAVANAUGH: And what year was that that…?

PENNER: Oh, that was 1999. And then 8 years later, in October 2007, there was lots of debate, public discussion, you know, we were concerned about the drought. The city council voted to approve it’s called the Indirect Potable Reuse project, indirect meaning the water wouldn’t go directly into our homes, it would be going into reservoirs and aquifers for purification. Potable meaning drinkable. Reuse, water is being reused. And then a couple of weeks later, Mayor Sanders vetoed the resolution and then about, oh, a month later the city council voted to override the mayor’s veto. This is all in 2007. And then a year later, in November ’08, the city council approved a temporary water rate increase to fully fund the demonstration project and then last year, the PUC, the Public Utilities Department, not PUC, Public Utilities Department issued a request for proposals and then in January of this year, the city council directed the mayor to execute an agreement between San Diego and a group called the RMC Water and Environment to perform public outreach on this, project management and on and on. At the June 16th meeting, a city council committee issued the contract to build the facility. It was blocked from going to the full council because council members Sherri Lightner and Carl DeMaio still had objections to the basic premise of the project. And then on July 31st, a special follow-up meeting took place to address those questions. Sherri Lightner didn’t even show up for that meeting. Carl DeMaio didn’t ask any questions, and only reiterated that he remained steadfastly opposed. And then a few weeks (sic) later the project was approved by the full council. That’s the history.

CAVANAUGH: And that’s a long history…

PENNER: It is. It is.

CAVANAUGH: …in San Diego. Now one of the big bumps in that history, Gloria, was when the plan got dubbed toilet to tap. Tell us how that happened.

PENNER: I had to do some interesting research and I finally came up with it. It came from a man named Gerald Silver. He was an angry Encino homeowner’s association president who used the phrase in 1995 during a debate over IPR, again IPR is the Indirect Potable Reuse project, and that was in Los Angeles. So there was a debate and somehow he came up with it. You know, I don’t want my water going from my toilet to the tap. And it quickly became the term that most opponents used to refer to the idea of IPR. And then in San Diego when the plan was put to public review in 1998, all that – 12 years ago? 13 years ago? Angry protestors including then—get this—city council member George Stevens, Assembly member Howard Wayne, who’s running for political office this year, and former San Diego City Council member Bruce Henderson, they used the term to state their opposition to IPR and it was born again in San Diego.

CAVANAUGH: That name practically destroyed the issue in San Diego.

PENNER: It did. Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: Where did the opposition to this idea of water recycling, what prominent figures – you just named a few but have there been others in the community that have just really resisted the idea of water recycling?

PENNER: Well, I think the one that we really need to look at is Mayor Jerry Sanders. He has restated his opposition to using treated sewage to supplement San Diego’s drinking water supply and he said that he would oppose any effort to bring about toilet to tap. He says if there’s neither—this was a while back—there’s neither the money nor the public will to support such a program. And when you have the mayor of the city taking that position, that’s really all you need. For almost two decades San Diego has debated this. Water officials at the San Diego County Water Authority, local water districts within the county, academics, private business experts, they all agreed that the reuse of water for drinking was safe and affordable and necessary. But there was the yuk factor, you know…

PENNER: …associated with the concept of drinking treated sewage water and the belief by many—and this still continues—that trying to blend sewage water into the drinking supply is a recipe for disease and a public health disaster.

CAVANAUGH: One of the outlets in our city, the San Diego Union-Tribune, was very, very relentless and vocal in its opposition to this idea of water reuse, this toilet to tap project that we heard about over and over again.

PENNER: Yeah, they ran an editorial a number of years ago. It said your golden retriever may drink out of the toilet with no ill effects. Yuk. But that doesn’t mean human beings should do the same. San Diego’s infamous toilet to tap plan is back once again, courtesy of water department bureaucrats who are prodding the city council to adopt this very costly boondoggle. And that was from the Union-Tribune. So you had the major newspaper and you had the mayor and this was powerful.

CAVANAUGH: There were some people who spoke up in support of this, in fact during this most recent – the city council meeting about the water recycling plan, Councilwoman Donna Frye said she’s been speaking out for water recycling since she was 9 years old. There were a number of people who came out in support of these earlier recycling proposals.

PENNER: Well, yes. Absolutely. The city attorney then, Mike Aguirre, was very much in favor of it. He felt that it was needed to bolster the reservoirs. He urged the public, he urged elected officials to embrace it. He said, right now the City of San Diego is facing a water crisis—this is about two years ago—and we’ve entered into a period of uncertainty. We know there will be substantial cutbacks in water supplies beginning in the spring. And I think what he was talking about was, remember the federal judge’s ruling to limit the amount of fresh water that could be pumped from the San Joaquin River in an effort to protect the delta smelt, an endangered fish. And so when he said, you know, we are facing a water cutoff threat and keeping us in the system in which we’re dependent on imported water from faraway sources is not a prudent approach.


The plan for the urbanization of Marin is looking worse and worse each day. 

PENNER: And I’ve got a copy here of a memo that he wrote to Mayor Jerry Sanders dated August 4th, 2008, in which he wrote I’m writing to ask you to please explain your office’s behavior with regard to implementing the Indirect Potable Reuse pilot project. It was stalled in the mayor’s office. And he actually implied, maybe he went further than implying, that he was concerned that the mayor’s office may be frustrating the city’s council (sic) desire to pursue the project because of close ties to Poseidon resources. Poseidon is a project to desalinate water and put that into the water supply. He said it’s been suggested, this is Aguirre, that IPR is viewed as competition by Poseidon. So he is basically pinpointing the mayor and the mayor’s office relationship with Poseidon.

CAVANAUGH: Not only did there – was there political intrigue involved in the earlier versions of this water recycling proposal, but you talk most specifically about the yuk factor, the idea that people think there’s just something wrong with the idea of sewer water being able to be retreated up to drinkable standards and yet there has been some psychological work done about how communities can introduce this idea by – and get over that initial gut reaction.

PENNER: There’s been psychological work done, certainly, and then there’s been, you know, very basic work done. I kind of favor the rationale of a sixth grade teacher who would take his sixth grade class to waterways to discuss nature and water and life cycle of all living things. And he said, I would have them look at the life in the water and think about the water they were playing in or drinking. I would remind them that the water they were studying was the same water—get this—that the dinosaurs had once drank and lived on. All water is recycled and the same water that was around 5 million years ago is still with us. There’s no such thing as new water. I mean, if that concept can get into sixth graders and stick there, then they won’t look at their toilet water with such horror. Some of the methods for making reclaimed water more palatable are to design systems that purify water in people’s minds through association with environmental organizations like the Sierra Club, and taking advantage of emotions’ power over reason. One way is by incorporating a short stretch of river in the water recycling plant. It gives you a clearer, cleaner picture. Or by injecting treated water into an aquifer. Here’s a case in point. Residents of cities on the Rio Grande River in South America do not give much thought to the fact that a town directly upstream is discharging processed waste water almost directly into their water intake.

CAVANAUGH: And I know that up in Orange County they put their recycled water into the aquifer to kind of take the edge off the idea that, indeed, it’s being recycled.

PENNER: Well, the way they do it in Orange County and they do it in El Paso and they do it in Tucson and many other western communities where water is scarce, is that the water agencies recycle by dumping treated effluent on the ground so that it can soak in and recharge the aquifers and after that water’s been underground for a while, it’s then pumped up for drinking water use. So it is used that way.

CAVANAUGH: Well, back here in San Diego and back last week to a very different city council vote where water recycling was approved and one of the most amazing things about that meeting was that no one spoke against the plan.

PENNER: This is true. And that’s probably because an unusual coalition of people came together. There was Judy Swink of Citizens Coordinate for Century 3. She says, here we are 33 years later still dumping it. Environmental groups like Surfrider and Coastkeeper, now they joined with Amy Harris of San Diego Taxpayers Association. That is an unusual coalition. And she basically said, it’s a sobering fact the San Diego region cannot sustain these water rate increases and continue to import the amount of water that we do. So there was the financial factor. And Donne Frye, the city councilwoman, joked that she’d been, as you said, fighting for full water recycling since she was 9 years old. But Councilman Tony Young was one of those who said he has only just come around to the idea so that people like Marti Emerald were careful to point out that public education is a key element of the demonstration project, and it really is. And the two councilmembers that still are resistant, Carl DeMaio, Sherri Lightner, they don’t think that they’re ready to vote for it. Lightner doesn’t want to see water recycling put ahead of other strategies to tackle a future water shortage.

CAVANAUGH: So does this mean that we’ve heard the last of toilet to tap, do you think, Gloria?

PENNER: Well, it will depend on whether groups that oppose it, groups that might have a financial stake in not wanting to see it happen, if they can mobilize and come together in the kind of powerful coalition that I was just talking about. But remember, this is a demonstration project, that’s all it is, a pilot project. And I think it’s going to depend on the results of that pilot project and whether the outreach allows it to be sold to the public in a way that the public can really embrace it because I know when I’m out there, Maureen, I’m speaking to people and I tell them, you know, one of the projects I’m working on is looking at the history of this and the politics of it. They still look at me and say, yuk.

CAVANAUGH: Still have a ways to go.


CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you so much. I’ve been speaking with Gloria Penner, KPBS political correspondent and host of Editors Roundtable and San Diego Week. Thanks, Gloria.

PENNER: You’re welcome. Thanks to you.

The elites don't care what water you are forced to drink...

Friday, June 2, 2017

The Secret Scam of StreetCars and why Marin should never approve the Marin Trolley Folly.

Is California about to Clobber Local Contol?

Three dangerous bills being pushed by State Senator Nancy Skinner

Posted by: Zelda Bronstein - May 28, 2017 - 10:24pm

June 2nd is the final day in this session for the State Senate to pass bills that originated in that house. Berkeley’s state senator, Nancy Skinner, has supported or sponsored three dangerous bills that will be considered by next Friday. Two - SB 35 and SB 167 - have dire consequences for every city in California. The third, SB 595, enhances the power of the Bay Area's inept and unaccountable transportation planning agency, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission ("MTC").

SB 35 (Wiener)
SB 595, (Beall)
and Skinner’s own SB 167, the BARFer bill.

SB 35: Housing Accountability and Affordability Act (Wiener)

SB 35, the brainchild of San Francisco State Senator Scott Wiener, would force cities that haven’t met all their state-mandated Regional Housing Need Allocations ("RHNA") to give by-right approval to infill market-rate housing projects with as little as 10% officially affordable housing.

SB 35 is anti-free speech and civic engagement. No public hearings, no environmental review, no negotiation over community benefits. Just “ministerial,” i.e., over-the-counter- approval.

SB 35 is pro-gentrification. As a statewide coalition of affordable housing advocacy organizations has written:

Since almost no local jurisdiction in the State of California meets 100% of its market rate RHNA goal on a sustained basis, this bill essentially ensures by-right approval for market-rate projects simply by complying with a local inclusionary requirement [for affordable housing] or by building 10% affordable units.

The practical result is that all market rate infill development in most every city in California will be eligible for by-right approval per this SB 35-proposed State law pre-emption.

And as Berkeley Housing Commissioner Thomas Lord has pointed out, the RHNA program itself is a pro-gentrification policy. It follows that the passage of SB 35 would further inflate real estate values and worsen the displacement of economically vulnerable California residents.

SB 35 is pro-traffic congestion. It would prohibit cities from requiring parking in a “streamlined development approved pursuant” to SB 35, located within a half-mile of public transit, in an architecturally and historically significant historic district, when on-street parking permits are required but not offered to the occupants of the project, and when there is a car share vehicle located within one block of the development. Other projects approved under the measure would be limited to one space per unit.

Absent the provision of ample new public transit, the prohibition of parking in new development will worsen neighborhood traffic problems. SB 35 says nothing about new transit.

The construction of on-site parking is expensive, up to $50,000 a space. A measure that exempts new development, as designated above, from including parking without requiring developers to transfer the savings to affordable housing is a giveaway to the real estate industry.

Nor does SB 35 say anything about funding the amount of infrastructure and local services—fire and police, schools, parks—that would be required by the massive amount of development it mandates.

Are local jurisdictions expected to foot the bill?

The lineup of SB 35’s supporters and opponents reveals serious splits in the state’s environmental protection and affordable housing advocates.

Supporters include Bay Area Council, the lobby shop of the Bay Area’s biggest employers; BAC’s Silicon Valley counterpart, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group; the San Francisco and LA Chambers of Commerce; the Council of Infill Builders; several nonprofit housing organizations, including the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California and BRIDGE Housing; the Natural Resources Defense Council; the California League of Conservation Voters; and a panoply of YIMBY groups, including East Bay Forward and YIMBY Action.

Opponents include the Sierra Club; the League of California Cities; the Council of Community Housing Organizations; the California Fire Chiefs Association; the Fire Districts Association of California; a handful of cities, including Hayward, Pasadena, and Santa Rosa; the Marin County Council of Mayors and Councilmembers; and many building trades organizations, including IBEW Locals 1245, 18, 465 and 551, and the Western States Council of Sheet Metal Workers.

SB 595: Metropolitan Transportation Commission: toll bridge revenues (Beall)

State Senator Jim Beall’s SB 595 would authorize MTC to place on a November 2018 ballot, a regional measure to raise tolls on all Bay Area bridge except the Golden Gate, “to be used for unspecified projects and programs” vaguely specified as “improvements in the bridge corridors.” As a fee, rather than a tax, the measure would need only a simple majority to pass.

The exact amount of the increase has not been specified. MTC has indicated it will seek a $1-3 raise. That would jack up the price of driving west on the Bay Bridge at most times of the day (5 to 10 am and 3 to 7 pm) from $6 to $9. A $3-dollar increase in bridge tolls would raise an estimated $5 billion.

How can elected officials in good conscience vote for a bill to raise bridge tolls that doesn’t specify the amount of the increase?

A bigger concern is MTC’s disastrous fiscal history. In 2011, the agency lost $120 million in bridge tolls after a bond-credit swap (think The Big Short) went bad. Its new palace on Beale Street in San Francisco had 50%—$80 million—in cost overruns. And then there’s the new Bay Bridge, a fiscal and engineering fiasco in whose “oversight” MTC played a major role.

Bay Area public transportation is in desperate need of improvement, but giving an unelected rogue agency billions of new dollars to play with, is asking for (more) big trouble. Instead, the state legislature ought to be considering how to make the governance of our region’s transportation fiscally responsible—a new state audit of MTC is long overdue—and democratically accountable.

SB 595 has one supporter, MTC, and no opposition.

SB 167: Housing Accountability Act (Skinner)

This bill, sponsored by the Bay Area Renters Federation ("BARF"), is a companion to SB 35. It would prohibit cities from disapproving a housing project containing units affordable to very low-, low- or moderate-income renters, or conditioning the approval in a manner that renders the project financially infeasible, unless, among other things, the city has met or exceeded its share of regional housing needs for the relevant income category. (As of November 2016, HUD defined a moderate-income household of four people in Alameda County as one earning under $112,300 a year.)

The bill defines a “feasible” project as one that is “capable of being accomplished in a successful manner within a reasonable period of time, taking into account economic environmental, social, and technological factors.” It does not define “successful” or “reasonable.”

If a city does disapprove such a project, it is liable to a minimum fine of $1,000 per unit of the housing development project, plus punitive damages, if a court finds that the local jurisdiction acted in bad faith.

SB 167 authorizes the project applicant, a person who would be eligible to apply for residency in the development or emergency shelter, or a housing organization, to sue the jurisdiction to enforce SB 167’s provisions. The bill defines a housing organization as

a trade of industry group whose local members are primarily engage in the construction or management of housing units or a nonprofit organization whose mission includes providing or advocating for increased access to housing for low-income households and have filed written or oral comments with the local agency prior to action on the housing development project. [Emphasis added]

The reference to "the nonprofit organization" was added to the existing Housing Accountability Act to encompass BARF’s legal arm, the California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education Fund ("CaRLA"), whose lawsuit of Lafayette recently failed. Last week CaRLA re-instituted its lawsuit of Berkeley over the city’s rejection of a project at 1310 Haskell.

SB 167 further amends the existing Housing Accountability Act to entitle successful plaintiffs to “reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.”

Predictably, the bill is supported by the Bay Area Council, the lobby shop for the region’s largest employers; the California Building Industry Association; the Terner Center at UC Berkeley; the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition; and YIMBY groups, including East Bay Forward, Abundant Housing LA, and of course CaRLA.

Opponents include the California Association of Counties and the American Planning Association.

Nancy Skinner styles herself as a progressive. Her support for SB 35, SB 595, and her sponsorship of SB 167 shows that she’s just another real estate Democrat carrying water for the building industry and its YIMBY stooges, and the profligate autocrats at MTC. Her constituents in Berkeley, Richmond, and other East Bay Cities should urge her to change course and walk her talk.

And, throughout California, voters should contact their state senators and tell them to oppose SB 35, SB 595 and SB 167.

The Paris Climate Agreement Won't Change the Climate

The Paris Climate Agreement will cost at least $1 trillion per year, and climate activists say it will save the planet. The truth? It won't do anything for the planet, but it will make everyone poorer--except politicians and environmentalists. Bjorn Lomborg explains.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Dictators, Tyrants, Authoritarian Government: "Despotism"

MTC sends information about Plan Bay Area AFTER comments are due.

Received this note from MTC on June 1, 2017 the very day that public comments are due:

Hi –
Thank you for attending the Open House and Public Workshop on Plan Bay Area 2040 in Mill Valley on Saturday, May 20th.  At the open house, you asked for a copy of the presentations.  The materials are now posted online at:

Let me know if you have any further questions.

Below are the presentations.  Send your comments to

My Comments to Plan Bay Area 2040 (due today!)

Dear Planners and Politicians of Plan Bay Area 2040:

I am writing you today to express my comments about Plan Bay Area 2040 which presumes to guide the entire San Francisco Bay Region to a better future WITHOUT citizen input.  Like my 6000 neighbors in Marinwood –Lucas Valley in unincorporated Marin, I already have a plan for the next twenty five years of my life and Plan Bay Area 2040 it isn’t.  I believe that America’s promise of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” does not need a bureaucracy to implement.  Sadly,  MTC and ABAG disagrees and has laid out a plan which at its outset promises to diminish the middle class and make transportation and housing more expensive. 

In my community of Marinwood in unincorporated Marin, 80% of the RHNA allocations for Marin were placed in just 3 square miles of the possible 840 square miles.   Our bedroom community has been identified as the preferred location for housing despite our lack of shopping and employment opportunities.    Plan Bay Area offers us nothing except grief and higher taxes.  We have chronicled much of it on

Here is a list of issues of concern in no particular order.

1.)    Plan Bay Area 2040 will lead to displacement of tens of thousands of people, destroy the social fabric of hundreds of communities and neighborhoods. It will hit ethnic communities the hardest due to economic and race criteria as a basis for community redevelopment .   It takes decades for communities to emerge and only a few years to destroy.  Hunters point,  San Francisco Mission,  the Filmore District are just a few examples of dislocation of communities.  Marin City,  a traditionally minority community is slated for redevelopment in Marin.  Generations of African Americans have been born, raised, married and passed in this tight knit community. It is a source of strength and pride for its residents.  Now, developers have an eye on this well located community to put market rate and luxury housing which will push out old residents due to construction and economic pressures.  It is wrong and immoral and at its heart, racist as it presumes that to “improve” the community, housing opportunities must be made available for Caucasians.   I filmed many community meetings there.  Here is a small sample.
2.)    Plan Bay Area 2040 fails to anticipate innovation in the changing workplace due to automation.  No one can predict the future but that doesn’t seem to stop planners from trying.
We know the vast changes that have come to our own lifetimes due to technical innovation but we could have hardly predicted how the pattern of life would change with advent of personal computers, the internet and bioscience.  Future innovations in science, medicine, robotics and transportation are likely to change the direction of the Bay Area in ways we cannot even imagine.  It is foolish to plan a transportation system without considering the impact of self driving cars, narrow vehicles, self chaining cars and changing demographics in the Bay Area due to the high cost of government.
3.)    Plan Bay Area 2040 fails to account for the near certainty of an earthquake and other natural disasters that could lead to the displacement and disruption of thousands of people’s lives.  Survivors from such an event will need new homes.  Where will they live?
4.)    Plan Bay Area 2040 does not adjust for the business cycle and recessions.  No growth happens at a regular rate as PBA 2040 suggests.   In fact, the boom and bust cycles in San Francisco has been happening since its founding. 
5.)    Plan Bay Area 2040 fails to assume the drag on construction and business formation created by high housing development fees and taxation.    California is one of the highest taxed states in the USA. Marin County is one of the highest taxed counties in California.  This makes Marin County a poor choice to build or expand a business.  PBA 2040 assumes unlimited growth without considering the effect of low cost jurisdictions.  Without business, there is no job growth.  The overly optimistic assumption of job growth in Marin by the MTC is unsupported by historical jobs data.  
6.)    Plan Bay Area 2040 Urban Sim model is error prone and proven to be unreliable.  Since Urban Sim has been in use for Plan Bay Area, staff at the MTC has been given feedback that it has huge errors.   For example, the cities of Sausalito and Corde Madera have “lot inventory” in FEMA flood zones and areas that are not economic to develop.  In Marinwood Lucas Valley,  landslide risk and steep hillsides limit large scale developments.  Urban Sim is too inaccurate to use as a planning tool.
7.)    Sea Level rise is ignored as a limiting factor in Plan Bay Area 2040.  Freeways, housing developments and rail tracks are predicted to be under water in 2040.  If Plan Bay Area 2040 has been created to thwart climate change, why isn’t Sea level rise taken seriously?      We know that due to improved efficiency of automobiles that GHG targets have been met WITHOUT Plan Bay Area.  Will sea level change happen or not?  Guessing an outcome that will cost citizens billions of dollars and destroy communities is not acceptable.
8.)    Quality of life is not considered in Plan Bay Area 2040.   Planners assume that the sun will always shine, San Francisco Bay Area will lead the world technology markets and public transit will never break down.  They never consider that public transit, for example, will cost the local economy jobs and economic output.  They never consider the working mom who cannot take public transit and care for her children or that the high cost of living will not enable families to provide a decent quality of life. 
9.)    Infrastructure upgrades will be needed but no funding source has been identified in Plan Bay Area 2040. When communities expand, they need new schools, sewer systems and expanded government services.  Who will pay for this expansion?  Since taxes are among the highest in the nation now, will middle class families be willing to pay more taxes for the “privilege” of high density housing? Probably not.  It will invite emigration to neighboring states.
10.) Local democratic representation is ignored in favor of a centralized bureaucracy that is unaccountable to local concerns in Plan Bay Area 2040.   This model of governance has been proven a failure across the United States and the globe.  It is antithetical to our democratic traditions  and disenfranchises citizens. Many will flee the Bay Area in favor of local governments that recognizes a citizen’s right to self government.
11.) Outreach in Plan Bay Area 2040 has been insufficient and ignored the number one constituency of voters- working families.  The “Plan Bay Area” club of politicians, bureaucrats and special interest groups do not represent the majority opinion.   Most people are blissfully unaware of Plan Bay Area 2040 but rest assured they will learn- and rebel once the plans are felt by the average voter.  Marin County, for example was only given one public meeting barely a week prior to public commentary deadline.  Only a handful a people of the 500,000 Marin residents attended.   Surely, the Planners at MTC are deluding themselves if they think people won’t notice.   Those of us who attended the meetings noted how flimsy the arguments of Plan Bay Area are.  There will be a steep political price to pay for manipulating the public. 
12.) The regressive taxation to be implemented in Plan Bay Area 2040 will hurt lower and middle class citizens the hardest.  VMTs, bridge tolls, congestion fees, toll roads will create greater social inequity than ever before.  Workers, business and the labor force who must rely on personal transportation will be forced to pay the highest cost.  This will definitely reduce economic output and incentivize people to flee the state.

It will be far better to allow Plan Bay Area 2040 the chance to achieve TRUE public approval with a full engagement process known as VOTING.   The central planning scheme is only as strong as the public support.

A vote of “no plan” is far superior to the costly, centrally planned nightmare known as Plan Bay Area 2040.


Stephen Nestel
Marinwood, CA 94903

A youtube playlist featuring many of the Plan Bay Area many moments can be seen at

Self Help and Anarchy in Detroit (And the precarious finances of the Marinwood CSD)

Bankruptcy is a real possibility in Marinwood if the elected board continues to spend more money than we bring in.  Our pensions are underfunded,  our staffing grows and much capital equipment needs replacing and repair.  Recently, the Marinwood CSD entered into a twenty year agreement for solar electricity services with SolEd and SSG2 Group that has failed to produce savings.  A former CSD Director was a consultant involved in the contract.   While the Marinwood CSD board cheerfully boasts that revenues are up, they also fail to mention that they are not addressing the structural deficits.  Our Marinwood Fire Department (paid for Marinwood CSD and Lucas Valley homeowners association taxpayers) now spends 2/3 of its response time in the neighboring city of San Rafael for emergency calls.  Essentially, the Marinwood Fire Department is a substation of San Rafael Fire Department but WE PAY ALL OF ITS COST.

Clearly, Marinwood CSD is heading for trouble.  Will we need our own "lawnmower gang" in Marinwood in the future?

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Why ABAG housing quotas lead to displacement

Why ABAG housing quotas lead to displacement

Places with more low-income residents will be forced to add more higher-income people
The Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA), a product of the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), assigns to each Bay Area Jurisdiction quotas of new housing. Each city is urged to incentives and permit construction of its assigned number of new housing units, with some reserved for “very low,” some for “low,” and some for “moderate” income households. The majority of units to be built are supposed to be market rate units. Most of this new development is planned to take place in designated “priority development areas.”
This chart shows how the income of rich people increases faster than the income of everyone else, meaning that AMI in places like the Bay Area keeps going up while people at lower-income levels see little benefit and can less afford even affordable housing
This chart shows how the income of rich people increases faster than the income of everyone else, meaning that AMI in places like the Bay Area keeps going up while people at lower-income levels see little benefit and can less afford even affordable housing
These quotas, sometimes erroneously called a city’s “fair share” of new housing, are taking on steadily greater legal significance. There are pushes these days in Sacramento, such as Scott Wiener’s “streamlined approval process” bill (SB-35), which are meant to make RHNA quotas mandatory by reducing local control over development decisions. Wiener’s bill would make certain project approvals automatic in cities that have not met their assigned RHNA quotas.
Perhaps this anti-democratic push at the state level might be justified if, in fact, the RHNA quotas were designed to protect and enhance the public welfare.  Alas, they are not.
I think if more policy-makers discussed what the RHNA math and maps imply, our local housing policies might be very different.
RHNA, looked at carefully, is a pro-displacement, pro-gentrification policy which — by design — will permanently destabilize low-income community in the Bay Area. I’ll explain how, with particular attention to the example of Berkeley.
In the short term, the RHNA demands that the most affordable parts of the region become less affordable. Let’s consider the case of Berkeley:
Using Census Bureau data (from the American Community Survey), ABAG determined that, around 2009, about 32% of Berkeley’s households were “very low income” (or below), compared to the Area Median Income.
ABAG also found that in the region as a whole, only about 24% of households were “very low income.”
Because Berkeley currently has a larger share of very low income households than the region as a whole, ABAG demands that Berkeley build:
  1. A disproportionately large number (47%) of housing units for “Above Moderate” (i.e. high income) households.
  1. A disproportionately small number (18%) of units affordable to very low income households.
What does this imply? First, if not a single household were displaced while Berkeley achieved its RHNA allocations, Berkeley would nevertheless become less affordable. Second, in reality, displacement is occurring at a fast rate, and ABAG demands that Berkeley try to provide greater options for high income households, and fewer options for very low income households.
In the short term, Berkeley’s loss of very low income households is ABAG’s plan functioning as explicitly intended.
From the Regional Housing Need Plan, San Francisco Bay Area, 2014-2022:
Allocating a lower proportion of housing need to an income category when a jurisdiction already has a disproportionately high share of households in that income category, as compared to the countywide distribution of households in that category from the most recent decennial United States census. The income allocation method compares each jurisdiction’s household income distribution to the regionwide household distribution, based on data from the US Census 2005-2009 American Community Survey. A jurisdiction that has a relatively higher proportion of households in a certain income category receives a smaller allocation of housing units in that same category. For example, jurisdictions that already supply a large amount of affordable housing receive lower affordable housing allocations. This promotes the state objective for reducing concentrations of poverty and increasing the mix of housing types among cities and counties equitably.
Berkeley is steadily losing existing affordable housing units through a mix of rapid turnover in rent-stabilized units, loss of rent-stabilized units, and loss or turnover of other units with historically low rents or low owner-occupant expenses. Following ABAG and Sacramento, Berkeley has wholeheartedly embraced the strategy of income-restricted housing.
I see a problem with that.
For decades, wage growth has followed this pattern: The income of high income households increases much faster than the income of middle income households.  The income of middle income households increases somewhat faster than the income of low income households.
As a consequence, over time the rise in the median income moves many moderate income households to the lower income category, and many lower income households to the very low income category.
The number of income-restricted housing units available for each category is not changed by that change in incomes, but the range of incomes in each category change. For example, the upper limit on incomes that qualify for very low income housing rises, and it rises faster than the incomes of households currently in those units.
Even though income-restricted units are allocated randomly among qualified applications (i.e. by lottery), the tendency over time will be for competition for very low and low income units to grow, faster than new units can be created.
The odds that a displaced income-restricted person can relocate within the region, never mind her local community, will continually fall.
Every step of the way, politicians who are unconcerned about that human reality will be able to point to the large pool of income-restricted units. They can say — following the dubious method of measurement used by the UC Berkeley Anti-Displacement Project — that displacement has not taken place because the percentage of poor people remains the same, even though poor households are constantly being expelled from the region and replaced with newly poor but higher-income households.
Here is a straw-man policy proposal. It is not meant as a fully worked policy. It is not meant to convince you such a policy is definitely possible.  It is a just a way to point out that there MAY be better options.
Instead of income-restricted units, Berkeley could emphasize the need to grow a large pool of social housing whose rents could be flexibly determined, such as through means-testing.
Social housing does not have to mean “housing projects” meant solely for poor people.  Social housing can be available, in various degrees, even to high income households – households whose rents then subsidize very low income households as necessary.
Such a system could help to stabilize communities. It could help foster economic growth that rises from the community rather than growth which is alien to and imposed upon the community.
Whether social housing is the future or not, though, the ABAG plan is a recipe for permanent displacement, always putting capital ahead of community.
Thomas Lord abides in Berkeley, for some reason.

A beginner’s guide to socialist economics

A beginner’s guide to socialist economics

By Marian L. Tupy

In recent years, I have given a number of presentations to high-school and college students on the importance of economic freedom and persistent threat of socialism – as witnessed, for example, by the recent economic meltdown in Venezuela. One problem that I have encountered is that young people today do not have a personal memory of the Cold War, let alone an understanding of social and economic arrangements in the Soviet bloc, which, I suspect are either downplayed or ignored in American school curricula. As a result, I have written a basic guide to socialist economics, drawing on my personal experience growing up under communism. I hope that this – somewhat longer piece – will be read by the millennials, who are so often drawn to failed ideas of yore.

As a boy growing up in communist Czechoslovakia, I would, for many years, walk by a building site that was to become a local public health facility or clinic. The construction of this small and ugly square-shaped building was slow and shoddy. Parts of the structure were falling apart even while the rest of it was still being built.

Recently, I returned to Slovakia. One day, while driving through the capital of Bratislava, I noticed a brand new suburb that covered a hill that was barren a mere two years before. The sprawling development of modern and beautiful houses came with excellent roads and a large supermarket. It provided a home, privacy, and safety for hundreds of families.

How was it possible for a private company to plan, build, and sell an entire suburb in less than two years, but impossible for a communist central planner to build one small building in almost a decade?

A large part of the answer lies in “incentives.” The company that built the suburb in Slovakia did not do so out of love for humanity. The company did so, because its owners (i.e., shareholders or capitalists) wanted to make a profit. As Adam Smith, the founding father of economics, wrote in 1776, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we can expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”

In a normally functioning market, it is rare for only one company to provide a certain kind of good or service. The people who bought the houses in the suburb that I saw did not have to do so. They could have bought different houses built by different developers in different parts of town at different prices. Competition, in other words, forces capitalists to come up with better and cheaper products – a process that benefits us all.

Communists opposed both profit and competition. They saw profit-making as useless and immoral. In their view, capitalists did not work in the conventional sense. The real work of building the bridges and plowing the fields was done by the workers. The capitalists simply pocketed the company’s profits once the workers’ wages have been paid out. Put differently, communist believed that the capitalist class exploited the working class – and that was incompatible with the communist goal of a classless and egalitarian society.

But capitalists are neither useless nor immoral. For example, capitalists often invest in new technologies. Companies that have revolutionized our lives, like Apple and Microsoft, received their initial funding from private investors. Because their own money is on the line, capitalists tend to be much better at spotting good investment opportunities than government bureaucrats. That is why capitalist economies, not communist ones, are the leaders in technological innovation and progress.

Moreover, by investing in new technologies and by creating new companies, capitalists provide consumers with a mind-boggling variety of goods and services, create employment for billions of people, and contribute trillions of dollars in tax revenue. Of course, all investment involves at least some level of risk. Capitalists reap huge profits only when they invest wisely. When they make bad investments, capitalists often face financial ruin.

Unfortunately, communists did not share the above views and banned private investment, private property, risk-taking and profit-making. All large privately held enterprises, like shoe factories and steel mills, were nationalized. A vast majority of small privately held enterprises, like convenience stores and family farms, were also taken over by the state. The expropriated owners seldom received any compensation. Everyone now became a worker and everyone worked for the state.

In order to prevent new income inequalities and new classes from emerging, everyone was paid more-or-less equally. That proved to be a major problem. Since people did not make more money when they worked harder, few of them worked hard. The communists tried to motivate or incentivize the workforce through propaganda. Posters of strong and determined workers were ubiquitous throughout the former Soviet empire. Movies about hardworking miners and farmers were supposed to instill the population with socialist zeal.Propaganda alone could not increase the productivity of communist workers to Western levels. To incentivize the workforce, communist regimes resorted to terror. Workers who slacked off on the job were sometimes convicted of sabotage and shot. More often, they were sent to the Gulag – a system of forced labor camps. Sometimes, the authorities arrested and punished completely innocent people on purpose. Arbitrary terror, the communists believed, made the rest of the workforce more productive.

In the end, tens of millions of people in the Soviet Union, China, Cambodia, and other communist countries were sent to labor camps. The living and working conditions in the camps were inhuman and millions of people perished. My great uncle, who was accused and convicted of being a supporter of the underground democratic opposition in communist Czechoslovakia, was sent to mine uranium for the Soviet nuclear arms program. Working without any protection from radiation, he died of cancer.

By the late 1980s, communist regimes lost much of their revolutionary zeal. Terror and fear subsided, and productivity declined further. Thus, in the late 1980s, an average industrial worker in Western Europe was almost eight times as productive as his Polish counterpart. Put differently, in the same time and with the same resources that a Polish worker needed to produce $1 worth of goods, a Western European worker could produce $8 worth of goods.

Just as they replaced the profit motive with propaganda and terror, so the communists replaced competition with monopolistic production. Under capitalism, companies compete for customers by slashing prices and improving quality. Thus, a teenager today can choose between jeans made by Diesel, Guess, Calvin Klein, Levi’s and many others.

Communists thought that such competition was both wasteful and irrational. Instead, communist countries tended to have one monopolistic producer of cars, shoes, washing machines, etc. But, problems soon arose. Since producers in communist countries did not have to compete against anyone, they did not have any incentive to improve their products. Compare, for example, the BMW 850 that went into production in West Germany in 1989 and the Trabant that was made in East Germany at the same time.Communist producers were protected from domestic competition by having a monopoly. They were also protected from foreign competition by prohibitively high import tariffs or an outright ban on imports. Put differently, they had a “captive” consumer base. The Trabant car manufacturer did not have to worry about losing consumers, since the latter had nowhere else to go.

Moreover, the workers at the Trabant car plant received the same salary irrespective of the number of cars they produced. As a result, they produced fewer cars than were needed. People in East Germany had to wait for many years, sometimes decades, before they were able to buy one. Indeed, shortages of most consumer goods, from important items such as cars to mundane items such as sugar, were ubiquitous. Endless queuing became a part of everyday life.

Under capitalism, shortages are generally avoided through the movement of prices. Some prices, like those of national currencies traded globally, change virtually every second. Other prices change more slowly. If there is a shortage of strawberries, for example, their price will rise. As a result, fewer people will be able to buy strawberries. On the upside, the people who value strawberries the most and are willing to pay the higher price will always find them.

The movement of prices provides important information for the capitalists. Capitalists take their money and invest it in more profitable business ventures. If the price of something is rising, not enough of it is being produced. Investors rush in with new capital, hoping to make a profit. Production increases. The economy as a whole thus tends toward an “equilibrium” or a point at which capital is distributed roughly where it is needed.Prices are an important source of information, but where do they come from? In a capitalist economy, nobody sets prices. They emerge “spontaneously” in the market place. Every time I buy a cup of coffee on the way to work, for example, I incrementally increase the price of the coffee bean. Every time I fail to buy my usual morning cup of coffee because I am late for work, I decrease its price by a tiny amount. If everyone stopped buying coffee, its price would collapse.

Communists banned profit, capitalists, competition, free trade and much (if not all) private property – all of which are necessary for accurate prices to emerge. Instead, tens of millions of prices for items ranging from tractors to a loaf of bread were set annually (or every few years) by government bureaucrats. Since they could neither accurately predict how much bread would be produced (i.e., supplied) nor how much bread would be consumed (i.e., demanded), the bureaucrats almost always got the prices wrong.

Price-setting made shortages associated with low productivity worse. If the price of flour was set too high, bakeries would bake too little bread and bread would disappear from shops altogether. If the price of flour was set too low, too much bread would be baked and much of it would end up rotten. Put differently, communist economies were very inefficient.

To complicate matters, communists sometimes mispriced items intentionally. The price of meat, for example, was kept too low year after year out of political considerations. Low prices created an impression of affordability. On their trips abroad, communist officials would often boast that the workers in the Soviet empire could buy more meat and other produce than their Western counterparts. In reality, shops were often empty. As a consequence, money was of limited use. To get around shortages, many people in communist countries resorted to bartering goods and favors (or services).

Under communism, the state owned all production facilities, such as factories, shops and farms. In order to have something to trade with one another, people first had to “steal” from the state. A butcher, for example, stole meat and exchanged it for vegetables that the greengrocer stole. The process was inefficient, but it was also morally corrupting. Lying and stealing became widely used and trust between people declined. Far from fostering brotherhood between people, communism made everyone suspicious and resentful.Of course, not everyone was equally affected by shortages. Government officials and their families could generally avoid the daily hardships of life under communism by having access to special shops, schools, and hospitals. Communism started as a movement for greater equality. In reality, it was a return to feudalism. Like feudal societies, communist societies had an aristocracy composed of the communist party members. Like feudal societies, communist societies had a population of serfs with limited or no rights and little possibility of social mobility. Like feudal societies, communist societies were held together by brute force.


I am sometimes asked why, if communism was so inefficient, it had survived as long as it did. Part of the reason rests in the brute force with which the communists kept themselves in power. Part of it rests in the emergence of smugglers, who made the economy run more smoothly. When, for example, a communist shoe factory ran out of glue, the factory manager called his contact in the “shadow” or “underground” economy. The latter would then obtain the glue by smuggling it out of the glue factory or from abroad. Smuggling was illegal, of course, but it was preferable to dealing with the government bureaucracy – which could take years. So, in a sense, communism’s longevity can be ascribed to the emergence of a quasi-market in goods a favors (or services).