Saturday, August 12, 2017

Marin County Supervisors on Rent Control, Just Cause and Housing Overlay Districts

See the list of videos for each Supervisor's Response to proposed changes to housing law in unincorporated Marin County

See article in the Marin IJ

Marin group lobbies supervisors for renter protections

Meredith Parnell of Congregation Rodef Sholom and Supervisor Damon Connolly listen to a renter’s landlord experience during a Marin Organizing Committee meeting for renters at Saint Raphael School.
Meredith Parnell of Congregation Rodef Sholom and Supervisor Damon Connolly listen to a renter’s landlord experience during a Marin Organizing Committee meeting for renters at Saint Raphael School.Alan Dep – Marin Independent Journal
Marin Supervisor Damon Connolly has signaled what may be the Marin Board of Supervisors’ next step in addressing the county’s affordable housing crisis.
“What we’re likely to propose — and it’s under consideration right now — is any landlord looking to raise the rent by more than 5 percent would be subject to mandatory mediation,” Connolly told a packed house of renters and others in San Rafael on Wednesday.
Connolly made the comment at a meeting on renter protections hosted by the Marin Organizing Committee at St. Raphael Catholic Church. More than 300 people attended, about the same number that turned out for a similar meeting the committee held in January. Marin Organizing Committee is a broad-based network of religious organizations and nonprofits; it is the same group that founded Marin’s emergency winter shelter program for the homeless.

See article HERE

Friday, August 11, 2017

In China even the chatbots go to reeducation camps

In China even the chatbots go to reeducation camps


From the Wall Street Journal:

Beijing’s system of internet censorship relies on tens of thousands of workers to remove comments critical of the Communist Party. So what does the average citizen really think of the one-party state? A couple of artificial-intelligence programs run by a Chinese internet company suggest resentment of the country’s rulers is running high.

Tencent introduced two “chatbots” in March to provide information in a conversational manner similar to Apple’s Siri. The programs were designed to learn how to make conversation by listening to Chinese netizens. Like children, the programs started to repeat what they heard, and that’s when the problems began.

Taiwan’s Apple Daily newspaper printed screenshots of the chatbots attacking the Communist Party. BabyQ asked one user, “Do you think such corrupt and incapable politics can last a long time?” XiaoBing mocked President Xi Jinping’s “Chinese Dream” slogan, saying, “The Chinese dream is a daydream and a nightmare.” Its Chinese dream was “to move to America.”

Chinese internet users post a variety of opinions, like their counterparts in the rest of the world. The difference is that explicitly antigovernment comments are glimpsed only briefly before they are removed. It seems Tencent forgot to erase the forbidden thoughts from the memory of its chatbots. They effectively became a record of prevailing opinions without the filter of censorship.

That is until BabyQ and XiaoBing were taken down. This week the chatbots were sent off to digital re-education camps, and Tencent says they will return after “improvements.”

Appeared in the August 4, 2017, print edition.

China's Dissident Chatbots

One of the differences between actual real government and citizenship in a free society on the one hand and being subjects of a ruler on the other is that actual real governance is an organic self-correcting mechanism. Rule is a hammer that smashes the self-correcting mechanism of government.

The Left is not for "big government." The Left is not for government at all. The Left is for rule. Rule is not government. The Left destroys government. They piss on our heads and tell us it's raining.

UW researchers create realistic video from audio files alone

A new tool developed by computer vision researchers at the University of Washington Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering creates realistic video from audio files alone. In this example, the team created realistic videos of Obama speaking in the White House, using the audio file from a television talk show and during an interview decades ago.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

"Will Marinwood CSD be forced to slash Pensions like Loyalton?"

An open letter to Marinwood CSD board members and staff:

I think this opinion piece makes the points about the dangers of WITHDRAWING from CALPERS may have serious consequences for Marinwood CSD.

This refutes the claim that "retirees cease to be a liability once fully vested and retired" and "Calpers pays all of the retirement" . If we pull out of CALPERS even if we have no CSD employees in the future, we still are facing HUGE MULTIMILLION DOLLAR LIABILITIES.   
I guess I was confused. CALPERS is set up more like social security (ponzi scheme) than a 401k. It depends on the continued contributions from cities to keep them solvent.

Only aggressive by restructuring now, watching our expenses and Recreation program business can we minimize our financial risk of defaulting on Marinwood CSD pension obligations.

Loyalton's pension default is a wake up call

Chuck Reed

Sick … a punch in the stomach.That’s how public retirees in Loyalton, California, are taking news that their town defaulted on its pension payments, resulting in the possibility of their retirement benefits being cut by as much as 60 percent, the majority of their hard-earned livelihood.

Pension debt is not a new story — in fact, most of the country’s public pensions are significantly underfunded (state and local pensions across the U.S. have an estimated $5 trillion less than needed to cover promised benefits). But this time the largest pension plan in the nation, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), has thrown public employees overboard. And that has government workers and retirees across the country asking, could this happen to me? The answer is yes! If your city runs out of money and your pension plan is not fully funded, you will lose. The only question is how much.

Loyalton withdrew from CalPERS in 2013, upon the retirement of its last guaranteed pensioner. For council members, it just made sense — after all, the town had been fully paying its required annual contributions all along. But what it didn’t count on was the $1.6 million termination fee demanded by CalPERS to cover unfunded liabilities which CalPERS has allowed to grow for the last 17 years. The fee amounts to a whopping $320,000 per each of Loyalton’s five retirees, an amount that is impossible for the town to pay. And now CalPERS has put the retirees on notice that their monthly checks will be cut.

This is what happens when cities run out of money and their pension plans are underfunded. Municipalities in fiscal distress with huge pension debt are spread throughout the country, and, sadly, California is leading the charge. Stockton, San Bernardino and Vallejo were just the beginning — all forced into bankruptcy with massive pension obligations, causing retirees to lose their health care benefits. In Detroit, Michigan; Central Falls, Rhode Island, and Pritchard, Alabama, retirees took hits to their health care and pension benefits.

State and local government retirement programs are trillions of dollars in debt, resulting in tremendous budget challenges for states and municipalities and it’s only getting worse. There is no doubt that spiraling pension debt is at crisis-level proportions and is the most significant financial issue facing state and local governments.

So how did we get here and what steps can policymakers take to clean up the mess?

As retirement costs go up, and in most states they’ve doubled or tripled in the last decade, government leaders are simply not keeping up with the rising costs. Instead, they are creating enormous pension debt, which threatens not just taxpayers but also retirees.

In California we’ve seen many years of systemic failure to properly fund the state’s public pension systems. CalPERS’ pension debt now totals around $170 billion. As a result, between 2003 and 2013, annual pension costs for California governments jumped from $6.4 billion to $17.5 billion, and are still rising. Because of the debt, Californians face a future of higher taxes and lower services, and retirees face insecurity and possible loss of their pension benefits.

The story is similar in many other states as well. Some local governments already face service delivery insolvency and bankruptcy. More will join them in the next recession, and public employees, retirees and residents will suffer unless there is significant and meaningful pension reform.

Government leaders can start by fully funding their pensions. State and local governments have an obligation to ensure that their retirement plans are sustainable, fiscally sound and responsibly managed so that all retirees and employees get paid what they have earned. All workers deserve safe and secure futures and shouldn’t be held responsible for poor decision-making by policy leaders.

Failure to fund pension obligations as they are incurred makes retirement security impossible. The widespread use of overly optimistic assumptions, like high rates of return on investments means that plans are systematically underfunding their obligations every year.

Let Loyalton be a wake-up call. Neither public employees nor taxpayers created the current pension crisis, and neither should be left holding the bag when the politicians who created the problem don’t make good on their promises.

Reed, former mayor of San Jose, is a board member of the Retirement Security Initiative, a national, bipartisan advocacy organization focused on protecting and ensuring the fairness and solvency of public sector retirement plans.

Public Pensions slashed by 60% in Loyalton, CA

This tiny Sierra Valley town voted to pull out of CalPERS. Now city retirees are seeing their pensions slashed

Loyalton pensions slashed

The tremor in John Cussins’ right hand worsened as he described restless nights haunted by worries about paying the bills.
After suffering a stroke in 2012, he retired as a 21-year employee of the city of LoyaltonCalif., where he oversaw the town’s water and sewer systems. Cussins, 56, believed his city pension and the Social Security payments he and his wife received would bring in enough to provide a decent retirement in the tiny, old timber mill town in the Sierra Valley.
Then a letter arrived in October. The California Public Employees’ Retirement System was cutting his $2,500-a-month pension by 60 percent, bringing it to about $1,000 a month.
“I was really shocked when I found out about it,” Cussins said. “We thought the pensions were there for the rest of our lives.”
Loyalton’s four retired city employees became the first in California to see their pensions sliced by CalPERS because of a city defaulting on its payments to the fund, but hundreds of other government retirees across the state may soon face a similar fate. At the same time, financially strapped local governments that considered pulling out of the state pension system, some hoping to find more affordable alternatives, have found it next to impossible to do because of the large termination fees they must pay CalPERS if they do.
As the nation’s largest public pension fund, CalPERS manages a $300-billion retirement system that services more than 1.8 million members and a retiree healthcare program that serves close to 1.4 million more. CalPERS functions as a money manager, investing the funds paid into the system by state and local governments. But those governments decide what pension benefits they will provide their employees and are ultimately responsible for ensuring there is enough money in their pension funds to provide the benefits promised.
Cussins was a member of the Loyalton City Council when the pensions were cut, but he said he had no idea it was coming. More than three years before he was elected, the council voted to pull out of CalPERS when its last pension-eligible employee retired, deciding the monthly payments were too steep for a town that for years flirted with insolvency.
CalPERS levied a $1.66-million termination fee on the cityLoyalton, home to about 760 people, has a single full-time city worker and an annual budget just shy of $1 million. The city didn’t pay the fee, so the four retired city employees saw their pensions slashed in November.
“I’m scared to do anything. I’m scared to spend much money,” Cussins said. “I guess worst comes to worst, we’d even have to sell our property and try to go to some low-income housing deal.”
He now has company. The CalPERS Board of Administration in March voted to cut the pensions of close to 200 retirees from the East San Gabriel Valley Human Services Consortium, a Southern California job training program created by the cities of AzusaCovinaWest Covina and Glendora. The agency stopped contributing to the state pension system when it folded in 2014. On July 1, CalPERS sliced the pension checks for the consortium’s retirees by 63%.
Retirees of the Niland Sanitary District, just east of the Salton Sea, could also face action, although the agency is currently negotiating with CalPERS officials to determine how much it may cost to leave the pension system.
At the center of all of these cases is the termination fee local governments must pay to CalPERS if they opt to leave the system — money that officials at the state pension system say is needed to ensure retirees receive the full pensions they were promised.
After the city of Stockton declared bankruptcy in 2012 following the nationwide recession, the federal court judge handling the case called the fee a “golden handcuff” and “poison pill” that prevents cities and other local governments from leaving CalPERS to find other options for employee pension benefits. The price tag for Stockton to pull out of CalPERS was $1.6 billion. The city chose to stay put.
If a city decides to pull out of the state pension fund, CalPERS places the municipality’s pension fund into a pool of lower-risk investments, which lowers the return rate on what that city earns. As a consequence of the reduced investment earnings, the city will have less money to pay the full pension benefits of its retirees, increasing the termination fee imposed by CalPERS to make up the shortfall.
Loyalton’s CalPERS account was worth $1.1 million when it voted to pull out. And when placed in the pool of terminated pension accounts, the city was expected to earn a 2.4% rate of return on those investments.That rate of return for Loyalton’s terminated account was far lower than what CalPERS expects to earn for active pension accounts — roughly 7%.
CalPERS spokeswoman Amy Morgan said the agency placed the pool of terminated accounts in conservative investments as a precaution because CalPERS would be obligated to cover any shortfall if there was a drop in earnings. That risk is compounded by the fact that cities exiting CalPERS stop contributing to the pension system — monthly payments that serve as a buffer to investment losses and other potential impacts, including inflation.
Close to 100 cities and other government entities have terminated their CalPERS accounts and, combined, those pension funds create a pool of money that exceeds $222 million. As of June 2015, the amount CalPERS expected to have to pay in pensions from that fund was estimated to be $88.5 million — meaning the pension account had a $111-million surplus, according to a March report.
Villa Park in Orange County toyed with the idea of leaving CalPERS in 2014, in part because officials wanted to determine the small city’s long-term pension liability. Former Villa Park Mayor Rick Barnett said other, more affordable options are available, including deferred compensation plans similar to a 401(k). But Villa Park opted not to move forward after CalPERS tallied the termination fee: $3.6 million.
“It’s a joke,” said Barnett, an Irvine bankruptcy attorney. “You’re trapped.”
CalPERS warned Loyalton officials about the exit fee back in June 2014 and met with city leaders several times to discuss the consequences. CalPERS officials said that Loyalton received 10 collection notices before the pensions were cut. But the retirees said neither the city nor CalPERS warned them that their pensions were at risk until last fall.
“As a Board, we have a fiduciary responsibility to keep the CalPERS Fund on secure footing, and as part of this duty we must ensure that employers adhere to the contracts they agreed to. When they don’t, the law requires us to act,” said Rob Feckner, president of the CalPERS board, in a statement after the November decision. “The people who suffer for this are Loyalton’s public servants who had every right to expect that the city would pay its bill and fulfill the benefit promises it made to them.”
Loyalton City Council members told CalPERS officials in November that the city would directly reimburse retirees for the pension money they lost — $5,000 a month for all four retirees combined.
But that promise may be short-lived. The City Council has been providing those supplemental payments since CalPERS sliced the city retirees’ pensions, and it has voted to continue those payments until November. After that, the payments may be reduced — or cut off entirely.
Most of Loyalton’s annual budget is dedicated to running the city’s water and sewer system. The city only has about $160,000 for other expenses, including paying the Sierra County Sheriff’s Office for police protection, the salary of the city’s single full-time employee who works inside City Hall and outside contractors that help run the city. Loyalton only expected to have $30,000 in reserves, city officials said. Reimbursing the city’s retirees will cost $60,000 a year.
Loyalton Mayor Mark Marin knows the math won’t work. The son of the former town fire chief, Marin spent most of his life logging in the Sierra Nevada until he said he was talked into running for mayor just over a year ago, adding that he only ran for City Council to help untangle the city’s financial mess.
“I don’t know where we’re going to get the money unless we start selling crap off,” Marin said. “What’ll end up happening is that we won’t be able to pay our obligation and the retirees will come back with a lawsuit. The only way they’re going to get any money is if they take property. It’s a Catch-22.”
Marin noted that it would have been a lot cheaper if the city had just stayed in CalPERS. Loyalton was paying just $3,500 a month, and that covered the cost of its retirees’ full pensions.
Once a proud and vibrant company town known for solid-paying jobs and a frontier lifestyle, Loyalton was flattened in 2001 when Sierra Pacific Industries — the largest employer in Sierra County at the time — shut down the sawmill that sustained the town for more than a century.
And more recently, Loyalton has been bitten by a series of self-inflicted financial blunders and misfortune.
In 2014, a Sierra County grand jury issued a scathing report that detailed a litany of mismanagement issues in the city. It found some members of the City Council were “less than honest” and questioned whether the city would survive financially.
“The City, through its City Council, has decided that amateurs know the best way to run the city, and this is causing problems that are starting to show up. This is exposing the citizens of the city to liability issues in many forms and from many sources,” the report stated.
In 2010, the city’s bookkeeper was arrested and charged with embezzling public funds. The FBI was called in to help sift through the city’s tangled finances.
Around the same time, Loyalton’s city employees received a big raise — close to 50 percent. Explanations for how that happened differ. Marin says it was knowingly approved by a former City Council. But Councilman Brooks Mitchell, who was on the council when the raises went through, insists that he and his colleagues approved only a 5% raise and that the figure was mysteriously switched to 50% after the vote. It took years for city officials to notice, Mitchell said.
Mitchell figures that mistake cost the city more than $650,000, though Loyalton’s insurance policy allowed the city to recoup about $330,000.
But that pot of money disappeared fast. The council spent a chunk to convert an old elementary school into a new home for Loyalton’s City Hall and the town museum in 2015. It also spent more than $20,000 on a pair of engraved stone signs to welcome visitors to Loyalton.
“The City Council went overboard. They got all this money back from the insurance and started spending everything. Then, later on, they cut our retirement,” said Patsy Jardin, 71, who worked for the city for three decades as the City Hall office manager and bookkeeper.
Jardin said her $4,100 monthly check from CalPERS was slashed by close to $2,000 after the City Council voted to pull out of the pension fund in 2012.
The council “promised me it wouldn’t cut my retirement,” Jardin said. “They promised me.”
Loyalton’s mayor said there’s no doubt the city messed up by granting pension benefits without thinking hard about whether the small town could pay for them down the line. But, he said, Loyalton’s predicament is just a symptom of an overly generous state pension system that has become unsustainable.
“There are people who made $200,000 a year and they’re drawing $200,000 in retirement,” Marin said. “How’s that going to work?”

Editors Note: 

CalPERS strikes me as a combination of the schoolyard bully and the Roach Motel - dictating, punishing and allowing no exit. 

In Loyalton the trouble came sooner than expected. It sounds like there was gross mismanagement on their city council and with some employees. They continued to give raises and spend money. Then, when it was apparent they could no longer meet the CalPERS payments, they wanted out. The price tag for exiting reflects the amount "owed" to CalPERS using a far less rosy assumption rate! Loyalton couldn't afford it.

In other words, once you're in, you're OK if you stay in and leave the mess for others to clean up. If you want out, you're doomed.

Train Songs

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Walmart and the Poor

Damon Connolly honors Ray Day

Adjourn in memory of Ray Day - August 8, 2017 I would like to adjourn today’s meeting in memory and honor of Raymond Francis Day who passed away on August 1, 2017. Ray was a longtime resident of Marinwood with his wife Vickie, who is here today. Thank you, Vickie. He was very active in affairs that affected the Marinwood community and often attended Board meetings to speak on those issues. Most recently he was instrumental in community efforts to secure cleanup of the contamination left behind by a former drycleaners at Marinwood Plaza. His dogged pursuit of information helped secure favorable rulings from the Regional Water Quality Control Board towards the cleanup. His efforts will now help with our ability to move forward in planning for the future of that site. It is significant that the Marinwood neighbors that Ray worked most closely with are here today to also pay their respects. Ray was awarded two Purple Hearts for his service in Vietnam, which you’d never know from his unassuming manner. Following his years in service he worked as the Investment Accountant for the County of Marin Treasurer-Tax Collector’s Office in the 1970s where he met and married his wife of 39 years, Vickie. Ray retired in 2006 from his position as Chief Investment Officer for the City of San Diego. A huge dog lover, Marinwood neighbors saw Ray walking his dogs twice a day every day for the past 11 years! He will be forever loved and greatly missed by Vickie and their son, Michael, as well as the many friends he had in our community.

Ray Day was an amazing neighbor.  He was instrumental in getting the Toxic Waste clean up at Marinwood Plaza. His comments start at :02:40

Wichita Lineman by Glen Campbell

Respect the worker who "gets it done" every day.  Glen Campbell R.I.P>

Innovative housing for the urban poor | Rhea Silva | TEDxGSMC

Affordable housing is a challenge globally faced today, with about 235 million households worldwide suffering with housing poverty. Working on the same, Rhea founded Chototel, with a vision to deliver a product that will help change the way the world houses its people. 
Watch as she ends up, disapproving the widely held perception that social businesses have to choose between profitability and purpose, but that they can find a balance.

Coming from a family immersed in real estate, Rhea Silva has seen land, finance and a lot more. But her vision is bigger, and by starting Chototel, she took her first steps in social enterprise. Chototel provides affordable housing for low-income families, and is making small steps in reducing homelessness, with expansions into the Indian market. 
She maybe young, but her ideas have surely taken flight, and have impressed many.

This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Brisbane Baylands. Developers, Politicians, Housing Activists attempt to destroy a small town

Playlist for Brisbane Baylands project which proposes development of 4400 homes on top of a former landfill and a toxic waste site.

Tenant demands that Marin Supervisors lower property values in unincorporated Marin (Marinwood)

David Schoenbraun, a self described "aging tenant" speaks at the housing workshop held at the Marin County Board of Supervisors on August 1, 2017.  The supervisors are considering sweeping regulations to limit rights of landlords to evict,  raise rents and will lower property values in unincorporated Marin County.  Mr. Schoenbraun thinks that only "bad landlords" will be affected and claims it is for the "public interest".

Monday, August 7, 2017

I Paid $217.00 Rent 2 Bed 2 Bath & Why I Moved Out

One woman's experience living in low income housing and why it sucked.   Privately owned low income units have very stringent lease terms unimaginable to renters in "market rate" apartments.  This woman decides that it simply isn't worth it.

Outpouring Of Support For Vendor After Hipster Topples Over His Food Cart

Congratulations to the street vendor who kept his cool while a hipster jerk destroys his food cart.  Tensions are boiling in immigrant communities over the clash between intolerant newcomers and the established residents.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Landlord yells at Marin County Supervisors over affordable housing.

Dave Coury, landlord in Marin County makes a "full throated" appeal to Marin County Supervisor for tenant reforms.  Never a shrinking violet, he is a towering man frequently seen at Marin county meetings calling for the destruction of single family zoning,  abolishment of Prop 13,  just cause evictions, more section 8 and rent control.   One wonders why he spends his time with advocacy at public meetings for more taxes and government controls when he could easily devote his wealth to direct charity.

Virtue Signalling with taxpayer money is cheaper than personal charity.

Remy: $20 Trillion Reasons (Lady Gaga Parody)

How To Play Tambourine In A Black Church

Joel Kotkin: Why America Will Still Lead the World in 2050