Saturday, February 10, 2018

Mill Valley: ‘We’re a bench town’

Mill Valley: ‘We’re a bench town’

Chris Ford, a Mill Valley writer/ad creator, sits at his beloved bench at Peet’s Coffee in downtown Mill Valley. For a testy two days, the bench went missing. (Photo by Mary Ann Hogan) 2018

By Mary Ann Hogan, Marin Independent Journal


Mark and Gwen Marinozzi, on the bench where they met and fell in love. The bench, originally downtown, has been moved to their Mill Valley home. (Photo by William Newton) 2018

Chris Ford showed up as usual, 8 a.m., Peet’s Coffee, downtown Mill Valley, to sit on the outdoor bench to sip his java in the sun. He’d been going there, same time, same bench, for as long as memory served.

Then, one day last fall, no bench.

Was it being replaced? What now? Café tables and chairs?

“No one likes tables,” Ford says. “We’re a bench town.”


Indeed. Benches: the last bastion of small-town downtowns. A pleasure that’s outlived free parking, a drink at the town water fountain, the first-name chat by the corner mailbox. More than a piece of furniture, a bench is an invitation, a listening post. Witness:

• “On the bench, you look up and out, not across. You make eye contact with people,” says Mill Valley fine woodworker Steve Ward, who crafted the bench in front of downtown’s EO boutique out of three types of Brazilian hardwood. “Here, there’s always room for one more.”

• A few doors down Throckmorton, a weathered black-lacquered bench sits outside of Carolina Boutique. “The early morning regulars around town, they have their own benches,” says shop manager Julia Pfahl. “It’s like going to your local bar — but it’s their local bench.”

• Says Phil Kline, a Marin general contractor taking a lunch break on City Hall’s carved redwood-trunk bench: “It’s a good place to reflect. ... Things can happen at benches.”
Editor's Note: I love this story. It says so much about the people and the way of life in Marin that we wish to preserve and enhance. It is not all about buildings and roadways. It is about community.

 See the full story in the Marin IJ  HERE:

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Walkable City- A Planner explains his vision for Walkable Cities

How do we solve the problem of the suburbs? Urbanist Jeff Speck shows how we can free ourselves from dependence on the car -- which he calls "a gas-belching, time-wasting, life-threatening prosthetic device" -- by making our cities more walkable and more pleasant for more people.

This self loathing baby boomer claims that "suburbs" are killing us and a awful problem. He claims he can makes us healther, economically more prosperous, solve global warming and more with "Smart Growth Cities."  God save us from the do-gooder, know it alls who want to "improve" our lives by taking our property rights, local democracy and economic liberty.

Density, Unpacked: Is Creative Class Theory a Front for Real Estate Greed?

Density, Unpacked: Is Creative Class Theory a Front for Real Estate Greed?

“The heresy of heresies was common sense”—George Orwell

The stories we tell affect the lives we lead. I do not mean to be abstract here. I mean, literally, the stories that are told make up a kind of meta-reality that soaks in us to form a “truth”. This “truth” affects policy, which affects investment, which affects bricks and mortar, pocketbooks, and power. Eventually, the “truth” trickles down into a more real reality that defines the lives of the powerless.

The story du jour in urban policy is one of density. The arc of the story is that cities are places where “ideas come to have sex”. The lovechild is innovation. The mood lighting is creative placemaking.

The Kama Sutra of density reads this way: creative people cluster in cities that are good at lifestyle manufacturing. The more people that are sardined the higher likelihood there will be “serendipitous” encounters. The more serendipity in a city the better chance the next “big thing” will occur. The next “big thing” will lead to a good start-up, which will lead to an agglomeration of start-ups, termed an “Innovation District”. Detroit becomes Detroit 2.0 then.

The story of density is a seductive story. Society-making is sobering and full of harsh realities. The story of density is seamless, velvety. It is no wonder the story gets sold, implemented, and then told and re-told, despite the validity and logic of the story being pretty awful.

Take the recent New York Times piece entitled “What It Takes to Create a Start-up Community”. In it, the writer interviews urbanist Richard Florida. “Population density, [Florida] said, allows for the serendipitous encounters that inspire creativity, innovation and collaboration,” reads one key passage in the piece.

The story goes on to highlight the emerging tech hub of Boulder as the exemplar of the story of density. One problem: Boulder, a city of less than 100,000, isn’t dense, with a population per square mile of 3,948. The writer moves the goal posts a bit and says the city “is an unusual case of density”, before going on to question whether a start-up community can be created in a city like Detroit that “lacks density”. Yet Detroit, despite being a land mass comprised of one-third vacant land, is denser than Boulder, at 5,144 people per square mile. In all, Aristotle would have a field day with the piece.

Such illogic peppers the story of density, particularly as it relates to the correlation—to say nothing of the causation—between household clustering and tech growth. For instance, in a recent analysis of America’s top “high tech hot spots” by the Progressive Policy Institute, the top 25 counties experiencing the highest percentage of tech job growth reads like a “Where’s Waldo” list, if Waldo was Thoreau-like. There’s Madison County in Alabama (417 people per sq. mile). Utah County in Utah (258 people per sq. mile). Denton County in Texas (754 people per sq. mile). Fayette County in Kentucky (1,043 people per sq. mile). Snohomish County in Washington (342 people per sq. mile).

To be fair, also on the list are San Francisco, Boston, and New York. In the case of Boston and San Fran, the tech clustering is a legacy asset---including large venture capital funds --- from decades prior, not the result of the story of density. New York, under Mayor

The New Opportunity Boomtowns

The New Opportunity Boomtowns

A century ago Detroit was a boomtown and Los Angeles a sleepy refuge for sun-seeking Midwesterners. A half-century later, L.A. was the fastest-growing big city in the high-income world, while Detroit was beginning its long tailspin. In the ’70s, New York was the “rotten apple” and seemed destined for further decline. But for the past 20 years it has enjoyed an enormous surge of wealth, as have many of the countries’ dense, culturally creative cities.
In other words, when it comes to the death and life of American cities, things change, often in unpredictable, once unthinkable ways. Now, high prices and a lean to the left in the nation’s coastal metropolises could spell new opportunity for more business-friendly, less costly regions like Dallas-Fort Worth and Salt Lake City. If current trends continue, there may be new hope not only for Midwestern cities like Columbus, Indianapolis and Kansas City, but even for some long down-on-their-luck metros, like Detroit and Cleveland.
The post-recession economy favored many dense urban centers like New York, Boston, San Francisco and Seattle, which just a quarter century ago seemed unable to grow jobs or population. Even less successful big metros, such as Chicago and Los Angeles, experienced something of a surge in the central core, despite substandard overall economic performance.
Several factors paced the growth of the “superstars,” notably the surge in the number of educated millennials headed for dense urban areas. The extreme concentration of venture capital in a handful of cities, led by the Bay Area, which on its own accounts for nearly half of the VC world, followed by New York, Boston and Southern California, helped these places dominate growth in tech over the past decade. A post-recession boom in the stock market also paced growth, particularly in New York, but also in the affluent suburban regions surrounding these cities.
This has created something of a celebratory meme that suggests only elite cities can compete successfully in a globalized economy, leaving the rest to lag behind. Yet, as longtime urban booster Richard Florida and others note, the big city boom may be coming to an end.
In some ways this tapering effect reflects the extent of their success. Virtually all the superstars, with the exception of Chicago, have seen a rapid ascent in housing prices, chasing people out of these metros. In the Bay Area, for example, 74 percent of millennials plan to leave, according to the Urban Land Institute. Even in Seattle, still a major lure for young people, many younger residents are now looking outside the city as they get ready to buy houses or raise families. Chicago is also facing an exodus, exacerbated by crime and a desultory economy.
This demographic challenge will grow as more millennials enter their 30s. The fastest growth in millennial migration is taking place not in New York, Washington and Los Angeles, but in cities like Charlotte, Houston and Austin. Immigrants, too, may be looking elsewhere; Los Angeles, long a major center for entrants, has seen its annual immigration rate fall by nearly two-thirds this decade.
These trends are likely to grow as job growth and startups slow in places like the Bay Area and New York. Since 2010, for example, Manhattan and Brooklyn’s population growth has dropped 90 percent. No surprise then that many of those leaving New York, California and other blue havens are people in their mid-30s to their early 50s, precisely the age when people start families, buy houses and launch businesses.
To these issues, add strong progressive politics in many of the nation’s biggest cities, including higher minimum wages, threats of new wealth taxes and an ever more stringent regulatory environment. This could prompt many firms to seek other locations. The Amazon search for a second headquarters (I am working on Kansas City’s bid) may presage expansion to other locales, even among firms that may remain headquartered in the superstars.
So where is the next generation of talented people and innovative companies most likely to go? The fastest growth in educated millennials today is taking place not in New York, Washington or San Francisco, but in opportunity cities like Nashville, Denver, Charlotte, Raleigh and Orlando, as well as the Texas metros outside of Houston, which has been slowed, at least for now, by low oil prices and hurricane Harvey.
Growth in tech and professional services in these areas suggest a new trend. At a time when tech growth has slowed in the Bay Area—down by 80 percent over the past two years, according to Chapman University economist Jim Doti—it has been surging in many of these cities. Since 2014, says Mark Schill, vice president of the Praxis Strategy Group, the fastest growth in tech jobs has taken place not in San Francisco, but in Charlotte. Nashville, Raleigh, Indianapolis, Phoenix, Denver and Salt Lake City all grew their tech ranks faster than such superstars as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
Despite the much-ballyhooed shift in small executive headquarters to some core cities, the fastest growth in professional services is increasingly not Chicago and New York but up-and-comers like Nashville, Austin, Charlotte and San Antonio. In financial services, there is a rapid “decentralization” from high-cost markets like San Francisco and New York to more affordable places like Nashville, Dallas, Salt Lake, Charlotte and Phoenix.
Demographic trends could drive this further as millennials and young families struggle with ultra-high costs. In New York City, millennial incomes (ages 18–29) have dropped in real terms compared with the same age cohort in 2000—despite considerably higher education levels—while rents increased 75 percent. New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco have three of the nation’s four lowest home-ownership rates for young people and among the lowest birthrates.
According to Zillow, for workers between 22 and 34, rent costs claim up to 45 percent of income in the Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Miami metropolitan areas, compared with closer to 30 percent of income in metros like Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston. Even more stark is the difference in home prices. In Dallas-Fort Worth (the nation’s fastest-growing housing market) as well as Houston, San Antonio and Charlotte, prices can be just one-third of those in the superstar cities.
Urbanist author Derek Thompson suggests that cities like New York are wonderful for new immigrants, hipsters and the ultra-rich, but “not a great place for middle-class families.” Yet young families, not single hipsters, will now be increasingly critical to urban success. The opportunity cities are also bolstering their appeal to millennials and young families by focusing on urban amenities and walkable suburban areas while maintaining policies that keep housing prices relatively low.
As cities in Texas, the Intermountain West and even the Southeast grow, they become more exposed to higher housing prices and, in some cases, stronger anti-business sentiment. This could prove good news for a host of cities, many of them long-time economic laggards that could become the next opportunity cities.
Many of these cities, largely in the Midwest, enjoy significant advantages. Their large, but still affordable central cores and suburbs, notes Chicago-based analyst Pete Saunders, attract millennials. These metro regions often boast great legacy resources, such as universities (Ohio State), hospitals (Cleveland Clinic) and high concentrations of engineering talent, such as that found in Detroit. These, in turn, are attracting educated millennials from urban cities like New York to places like Ohio’s Cuyahoga County, which now enjoys a net surplus in educated millennials from Kings County, home to Brooklyn, New York.
This is beginning to occur with tech jobs. Cities such as Detroit, Kansas City and Indianapolis are all growing tech employment faster than New York or Los Angeles and enjoy more employment in this critical sector per capita. In professional service growth, Kansas City ranks second among the largest metros. Superstar cities like to brag about being “ideopolises,” but both talent and innovation are mobile and capable of heading to less congested, costly and far less celebrated environments.
Midwestern cities increasingly also offer companies a business-friendly environment, including “right to work” laws that limit unionization. Virtually all, except for laggard Illinois, are run by Republican governors and legislators. These places are not likely to impose the kind of regulatory or tax policies that flourish in the superstars and even some opportunity cities. The ability to accommodate young families could also prove crucial. Metropolitan areas such as Kansas City, Columbus, and Indianapolis combine strong economic growth with low costs.
The pro-manufacturing agenda of the Trump Administration, as epitomized by the Foxconn plant being built in southeastern Wisconsin, could be a plus in places like Detroit and Cleveland, devastated by the erosion of factory jobs and straining to cope with severe social dysfunction, most notably high crime. What the wannabes offer companies and individuals is a place where one can live decently in the urban core, and then later find an affordable home in a nice suburb, which two-thirds of millennials prefer—the youth to middle-aged life cycle, once common in places like the Bay Area, Southern California and many parts of the Northeast.
Not all metros have a clear path to recovery, much less any prospect of ascending towards superstar status. Many smaller towns across the country, largely in the Midwest, have lost much of their economic base, a trend that includes the movement of firms like Caterpillar from cities like Peoria, Illinois, to the suburbs of Chicago. These parts of Trump’s America, notes analyst Aaron Renn, himself a native of southern Indiana, continue to lose population, becoming ever older and whiter as their ambitious young head elsewhere.
But not all smaller metros are hurting. Some smaller towns are benefiting from “on-shoring” of services that were once in East Asia and India. Places that have retained their largest companies—for example the Fayetteville, AR-MO region that is home to Walmart—continue to gain new migrants and jobs at among the highest rates in the country.
Price pressures and aging millennial populations, as well as advances in telecommunications, could make some smaller cities more attractive over time. What is certain is change. Just as places like New York arose from decades of torpor, so too may many other places around the country; even unlikely metros in the Midwest could re-emerge.
America’s typology of prosperity is protean and will continue to be so, forcing CEOs, investors, workers and policy-makers to re-examine their models to fit ever-changing conditions.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

California Senator Wiener, "Single Family Homes are Racist" SB827

Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl

Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream by Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Jeff Speck

An Arrogant First Step on a Journey Toward Tyranny
Jane S. Shaw
by  Jane S. Shaw
North Point Press (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) • 2000 • 290 pages • $30.00
The authors of Suburban Nation are luminaries in the movement called “the New Urbanism.” Their goal is to stop what they view as the misshapen sprawl around cities, which they consider alienating, destructive of community, and wasteful of land. Suburban Nation is, in their words, a “call to arms” to redesign American communities.
Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Jeff Speck are scathing in their denunciation of suburbia today. A typical suburb is a “city of garages” and “single-use pods.” The “stupefying monotony” is relieved only by gimmicks such as multiple gables and peaked roofs (a “house on steroids”), the “California jog” (a series of homes placed diagonally on a lot), and “dingbats” (apartment buildings built over their own parking lots). As for the cul-de-sacs and curving roads of suburbia, they are “utterly disorienting.”
These suburban pods are linked by highways to which commercial strips attach “like a parasite.” The distance between neighborhoods isolates people, and the separation of commercial and residential sectors blocks a sense of community. The authors contend that amenities like cathedral ceilings and luxurious bathroom spas exist primarily “to fill the spiritual void created by the absence of community.”
The automobile is the villain, a “potentially sociopathic device” that allows people to live in distant, scattered locations and still hold jobs. The authors want towns and cities to look the way they did in the first half of the twentieth century, before the automobile took over. Their plan is this: New neighborhoods must be designed with straight streets in a grid-like pattern, with alleys behind houses so that garages are hidden. Population density should be high, with single-family homes close to the street, townhouses abutting the street, and apartments above storefronts. Residents should live within walking distance of shopping and a public transit line. Commercial buildings should create “pedestrian-friendly” streetscapes with their storefronts, and their parking lots should be out of sight (getting pedestrians from one to the other, they admit, is “tricky”).
Major streets should be narrow and one-way streets avoided (because they encourage speeding). Residential streets should use “traffic calming” devices such as “speed bumps, rumble strips, hammerheads, flare-outs, doglegs, and other combinations of geometry, landscape, and street furniture.” In fact, the authors recommend 26-foot-wide two-way residential streets. Those streets are not wide enough for two cars to pass one another, so when cars meet, one of them must move into the parking lane (assuming that it is not in use) to let the other go by.
The authors know that achieving their goals beyond a few idiosyncratic neighborhoods will require governmental force, but they employ euphemisms, talking in terms of “incentives” and “federal funding criteria.” They recommend the formation of a “regional-scale agency” that can address problems through a “comprehensive Regional Plan.” They urge plans to be “drawn with such precision that only the architectural detail is left to future designers.”
Since regional agencies are few in number, they urge states to take an active role, withholding funds for towns that lack “smart growth” planning and overruling state transportation departments if necessary. (Transportation departments are part of the problem because they concentrate on moving automobiles quickly, rather than accommodating the cars to town or city destinations.)
The federal government, too, must get involved. Not only should more public transit be financed through gasoline taxes but the government should use its funding power to “regulate the urban design within a half-mile radius of all new stations.” There must be “federal incentives to convince developers to do business downtown” and a “federal initiative” that coordinates “affordable housing provision, business assistance, job creation, and social services.” With their plan in place, it seems that there would be little left for the market to address or private individuals to make decisions about.
Sprawling growth and especially suburban traffic upset many people, but the suburbs exist because millions of individuals have assessed their options and chosen to live there. Duany, Plater-Zyberk, and Speck want to overthrow those decisions and fit people into living patterns they think are better.
The book does offer some useful insights into neighborhood design and layout. It sheds light on the mistakes of architectural “modernists” who thought that their buildings could change human nature and recognizes that a lot of “cookie-cutter” housing stems from rigid zoning codes.
Unfortunately, the authors don’t want to free up zoning codes or let ideas compete in the marketplace. Convinced that they know what is best for Americans, they want the government to impose it. Such arrogance, as we know from history, is the first step on a journey to tyranny. It may well be that Suburban Nation is the road map.
Jane Shaw is a senior associate of PERC (the Political Economy Research Center) and co-editor with Ronald D. Utt of A Guide to Smart Growth: Shattering Myths and Providing Solutions (Heritage Foundation and PERC).

Rust Belt rebirth: a $17,500 Cincinnati old home renewal

Monday, February 5, 2018

Beautiful Black Sheep 4 days old

Beautiful Black Sheep 4 days old. All black sheep are rejected by their mothers. This one was rescued and is being bottle fed by a kind neighbor. Living close to nature is one reason I love living in Rural Suburbia. Photo taken at a farm a short distance from my home.

Scott Wiener’s war on local planning

Scott Wiener’s war on local planning

His next round of housing bills force cities to accept growth and displacement—without giving them the money or tools to mitigate it
February 1, 2018

On January 19, I attended UCLA Extension’s 2018 Land Use Law and Planning Conference at the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. Seated in long rows of tables under the glittering chandeliers of the hotel’s Crystal Ballroom, hundreds of elected and appointed public officials, developers, attorneys, and consultants are annually briefed by sharp pro-growth land-use lawyers and other like-minded experts on the latest California land-use legislation and case law.Sen. Scott Wiener wants to force cities to allow more high-end housing, without giving them the tools or money to control the impacts

This year the star of the show was State Senator Scott Wiener. He earned that role by authoring SB 35, the controversial “by-right” housing bill that Governor Brown signed into law in September. Like his fellow Yimbys, Wiener believes in a supply-side, build-baby-build solution to California’s housing woes and blames those woes on local jurisdictions’ resistance to new residential development. He presents himself as a brave policymaker who grapples with hard issues that others have dodged—an image belied by his evasive responses to my questions.

In California, Wiener told the conferees, “housing has been a purely local thing.” There have been “few laws on the books,” those that are on the books “are not enforced” and are outdated. What needs to happen, he said, is that the state should govern housing the way it governs education. Local school boards “set policy,” but “the state sets the ground rules.” Just so, last February the senator told Streetsblog, “if you [a city] are meeting your RHNA [Regional Housing Needs Allocation, set by the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development] goals…you maintain full local control.”

This strains to the breaking point any reasonable definition of local control, which, moreover, the Legislature has been chopping away for years. For starters, see SB 375, which spawned Plan Bay Area; SB 743, which eliminated local congestion as an environmental impact; and, in last year’s “housing package,” SB 35, SB 167 and AB 1515. On January 3, Wiener introduced two new bills, SB 827 and SB 828, that move beyond chopping into slash-and-burn territory.

SB 827

Drafted by California Yimby Executive Director Brian Hanlon, and coauthored by State Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) and Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), SB 827 would prohibit cities from limiting heights to lower than 45 feet (six stories) or 85 feet (eight stories)—depending on the width of the street—on parcels within a half-mile of a “major transit stop” or a quarter-mile of “a high-quality transit corridor.” For such parcels, SB 827 would also suspend local parking minimums, density restrictions, and “any design standard that restricts the applicant’s ability to construct the maximum number of units consistent with any applicable building code.”

The bill defines a major transit stop as “a site containing an existing rail transit station, a ferry terminal served by either a bus or rail transit service, or the intersection of two or more major bus routes with a frequency of service interval of 15 minutes or less during the morning and afternoon peak commute periods.” The California Government Code defines “a high transit corridor” as “a corridor with fixed route bus service that has service intervals of no more than 15 minutes during peak commute hours.”

SB 828

Wiener’s companion bill, SB 828, would exponentially increase both cities’ Regional Housing Needs Allocations (RHNAs) and state authority over local land use planning. I’m going to review the bill in wonky detail, because though SB 827 has gotten the lion’s share of publicity, support, and pushback, SB 828 is likely to have at least as much impact.

Every eight years, the California Department of Housing and Community Development determines how much housing at various income levels will be needed to accommodate each region’s forecasted population. The region’s council of governments—in the Bay Area, the Association of Bay Area Governments—divvies up this number among its local jurisdictions, who must then plan and zone accordingly. See the FULL ARTICLE HERE

Fix Yourself

Gay and Conservative...So What?

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Senator Wieners "War on the Suburbs " SB827 on 2/3/2018

This is the raw unedited full meeting video of Senator Wiener.  He discusses housing about 30 minutes into the meeting.  I will provide further edits in the coming week.