Friday, June 8, 2018

Stressed Out? Go Outside, and Go Alone

Stressed Out? Go Outside, and Go Alone


Spending time by yourself in nature is good for mental health, and can make you a better leader.

Today Americans live in a world that thrives on being busy, productive and overscheduled. Further, they have developed the technological means to be constantly connected to others and to vast options for information and entertainment through social media. For many, smartphones demand their attention day and night with constant notifications.

As a result, naturally occurring periods of solitude and silence that were once commonplace have been squeezed out of their lives. Music, reality TV shows, YouTube, video games, tweeting and texting are displacing quiet and solitary spaces. Silence and solitude are increasingly viewed as “dead” or “unproductive” time, and being alone makes many Americans uncomfortable and anxious.

But while some equate solitude with loneliness, there is a big difference between being lonely and being alone. The latter is essential for mental health and effective leadership.

We study and teach outdoor education and related fields at several colleges and organizations in North Carolina, through and with other scholars at 2nd Nature TREC, LLC, a training, research, education and consulting firm. We became interested in the broader implications of alone time after studying intentionally designed solitude experiences during wilderness programs, such as those run by Outward Bound. Our findings reveal that time alone in nature is beneficial for many participants in a variety of ways, and is something they wish they had more of in their daily life.On an average day in 2015, individuals aged 15 and over spent more than half of their leisure time watching TV. (Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans Time Use Survey)
Reflection and challenge

We have conducted research for almost two decades on Outward Bound and undergraduate wilderness programs at Montreat Collegein North Carolina and Wheaton College in Illinois. For each program, we studied participants’ experiences using multiple methods, including written surveys, focus group interviews, one-on-one interviews and field notes. In some cases, we asked subjects years later to look back and reflect on how the programs had affected them. Among other questions, our research looked at participant perceptions of the value of solo time outdoors.

Our studies showed that people who took part in these programs benefited both from the outdoor settings and from the experience of being alone. These findings build on previous research that has clearly demonstrated the value of spending time in nature.

Scholars in fields including wilderness therapy and environmental psychology have shown that time outdoors benefits our lives in many ways. It has a therapeutic effect, relieves stress, and restores attention. Alone time in nature can have a calming effect on the mind because it occurs in beautiful, natural, and inspirational settingsSpending time in city parks like Audubon Park in New Orleans provides some of the same benefits as time in wilderness areas, including reduced stress levels and increased energy levels. (Bill Haber/AP)

Nature also provides challenges that spur individuals to creative problem-solving and increased self-confidence. For example, some find that being alone in the outdoors, particularly at night, is a challenging situation. Mental, physical, and emotional challenges in moderation encourage personal growth that is manifested in an increased comfort with one’s self in the absence of others.

Being alone also can have great value. It can allow issues to surface that people spend energy holding at bay, and offer an opportunity to clarify thoughts, hopes, dreams, and desires. It provides time and space for people to step back, evaluate their lives and learn from their experiences. Spending time this way prepares them to re-engage with their community relationships and full work schedules.

Putting it together: The outdoor solo

Participants in programmed wilderness expeditions often experience a component known as “Solo,” a time of intentional solitude lasting approximately 24 to 72 hours. Extensive research has been conducted on solitude in the outdoors because many wilderness education programs have embraced the educational value of solitude and silence.

Solo often emerges as one of the most significant parts of wilderness programs, for a variety of reasons. Alone time creates a contrasting experience to normal living that enriches people mentally, physically, and emotionally. As they examine themselves in relation to nature, others, and in some cases, God, people become more attuned to the important matters in their lives and in the world of which they are part.
Solo, an integral part of Outward Bound wilderness trips, can last from a few hours to 72 hours. The experience is designed to give participants an opportunity to reflect on their own thoughts and critically analyze their actions and decisions.

Solitary reflection enhances recognition and appreciation of key personal relationships, encourages reorganization of life priorities, and increases appreciation for alone time, silence, and reflection. People learn lessons they want to transfer to their daily living, because they have had the opportunity to clarify, evaluate and redirect themselves by setting goals for the future.

For some participants, time alone outdoors provides opportunity to consider the spiritual and/or religious dimension of life. Reflective time, especially in nature, often enhances spiritual awareness and makes people feel closer to God. Further, it encourages their increased faith and trust in God. This often occurs through providing ample opportunities for prayer, meditation, fasting, Scripture-reading, journaling, and reflection time.

As Thomas Carlyle has written, “In (solitary) silence, great things fashion themselves together.” Whether these escapes are called alone time, solitude, or Solo, it seems clear that humans experience many benefits when they retreat from the “rat race” to a place apart and gather their thoughts in quietness.

In order to live and lead effectively, it is important to be intentional about taking the time for solitary reflection. Otherwise, gaps in schedules will always fill up, and even people with the best intentions may never fully realize the life-giving value of being alone.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Western Cities Want to Slow Flood of Chinese Home Buying. Nothing Works.

Western Cities Want to Slow Flood of Chinese Home Buying. Nothing Works.

Governments from Vancouver to Sydney to Toronto are using taxes and other restrictions to tackle real-estate bubbles.

Crowds swept into the Beijing Exhibition Center on a recent morning for a real-estate expo that drew thousands of people interested in foreign property.

That kind of surging interest has created a flood of capital that is washing over cities throughout the globe, distorting home prices, irritating local residents—and defying almost every attempt to restrain it.

In Vancouver, Chinese home-buyers snapped up homes so fast in 2016 that prices escalated at a rate of 30% a month compared with a year earlier. Officials imposed a 15% foreign-buyers tax, and Chinese buyers turned to Toronto, where they soon bid up home prices.

Seeking to curb the market surge in the Toronto area, officials in the province of Ontario introduced their own 15% foreign-buyers tax in April last year.

Chinese buyers had by then begun returning to Vancouver, driving prices to fresh highs in mid-2017 and provoking a new round of measures in February. By May, sales numbers had fallen 35% from a year earlier, but prices, on an adjusted basis, still climbed 11.5%, according to the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver.

The hot pursuit of places to park money abroad by Chinese investors drove an estimated $100 billion in property purchases outside China in 2016, according to, a Chinese real-estate website. The buying frenzy, which grew from $5 billion in 2010, helped swell prices for housing and commercial real estate in cities on the Pacific Rim and beyond.

Chinese buyers have scooped up condos, apartments and houses from Vancouver to Auckland to Sydney. While foreign capital was welcome in the years following the financial crisis, officials have found that trying to control the flood of foreign money into housing is like squeezing a balloon: Taxes on foreign buyers in one city only divert them to another spot—and sometimes buyers return, taxes or no taxes.

Governments world-wide “are still at the trial-and-error stage,” said Aaron Terrazas, senior economist at Seattle-based Zillow Group, an online real-estate listing service. “They are trying to figure what works and what doesn’t.”

Officials in Canada and Australia, where relatively affordable homes and large Mandarin-speaking populations attract Chinese buyers, worry the price bubbles threaten their regional economies.

Montreal’s housing market has shown no signs of overheating, but after Valerie Plante was sworn in last year as mayor, she asked provincial officials for authority to tax foreigners buying property in Canada’s second-largest city.

After seeing what happened in Vancouver and Toronto, Ms. Plante worried her city was next. “We need to be very cautious,” a spokeswoman for the mayor’s office said.

Related video: This is the new American dream

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At the Beijing real-estate expo in April, Bao Yingqi of B.Y. Realty, was, in fact, making a pitch for Montreal, saying the city has yet to impose high taxes on foreign buyers. “This makes Montreal stand out for investors,” she said.

Montreal has new housing and an interesting French-speaking culture, Ms. Bao said, who was wearing a black beret. She sat in a booth decorated with a Canadian flag and described Montreal as the “Paris of the West.”

Zhang Yuxing, a 43-year-old Beijing resident, listened. He had planned on Vancouver, but taxes have gone too high.

Now, he said, his top choice is Montreal.

The impact of foreign buyers on home prices isn’t entirely clear, according to analysts and the International Monetary Fund. Low interest rates, liberal immigration policies in Canada and Australia as well as a tight housing supply in some areas also contributed to rising home prices.

Accurately tracking foreign home-buyers isn’t easy, although some local governments can now tally the number of people paying foreign-buyer taxes.

Some purchases aren’t counted, for instance, when foreign buyers hold dual citizenship, or if the transactions are made through companies or local proxies that obscure a buyer’s identity.

In Australia, Jonathan Kearns, the Reserve Bank of Australia’s head of financial stability, said in November that he estimated foreign buyers accounted for 10% to 15% of homes under construction, equal to about 5% of total residential sales in the country.

The share was highest in Melbourne and Sydney, Mr. Kearns said, where foreign buyers accounted for around a quarter of newly built apartments. Around three-quarters of the foreign buyers were from China, he said.

Sydney’s home state of New South Wales doubled its foreign-buyers tax to 8% in July 2017, but that didn’t arrest demand.

The rise in home prices has recently slowed in Sydney and Melbourne, but Chinese developers still dominate foreign investment in residential development across Australia, according to real estate company Knight Frank. Chinese nationals bought $1.5 billion in residential sites last year, about a third of Australia’s total.

Chinese property buying is an “unstoppable juggernaut,” said Jon Ellis, chief executive of Investorist, an online portal for cross-border property transactions.

Outgoing Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson described it as the “water bed effect of capital flooding wherever taxes are lowest and regulation is weak.”

For-sale signs in Vancouver feature Mandarin characters. Older abodes are leveled to make way for the construction of new homes, which real-estate agents say Chinese buyers prefer. Bus shelters and benches in Richmond, a suburb south of Vancouver’s airport, carry real-estate ads, also in Mandarin.

Mr. Robertson said rising home prices dominated much of his decadelong tenure. One reason was a lack of coordination among the three main levels of Canadian government—federal, provincial and municipal, he said.

“It’s a complex challenge between regulating offshore investment, local real-estate practices and addressing housing supply within cities, all in sync,” Mr. Robertson said in an interview. “The reality is that interventions take time and aren’t wholly predictable.”

After the first Vancouver 15% tax failed to put a lid on foreign buyers, Mr. Robertson worked with the province of British Columbia on more aggressive steps. In February, province officials raised the foreign-buyers tax to 20% and expanded coverage well beyond Vancouver. Officials also imposed a new levy—0.5% of the property value and climbing to 2% next year—on homeowners who don’t pay income tax in Canada.

In April, British Columbia also announced measures to deter the resale of condo units before construction was completed, to discourage investors from flipping units before they are occupied.

At the Beijing expo, Florence Chan said she originally wanted to buy a home in Vancouver but changed her mind. “The taxes are too high,” she said, adding that Melbourne is looking better.

Chinese buyers like the swanky 661 Chapel Street, a luxury condominium complex in Melbourne.

In December, Aw Sei Cheh, general manager of the project for Malaysian developer Gamuda Land, said Chinese buyers accounted for roughly 10% of sales at the complex, which has private dining rooms, a wine cellar, a theater and a library. Prices start around $410,000 for a one-bedroom, to more than $2 million for three-bedroom units.

One appeal is location. The complex is close to several top universities where some Chinese buyers intend to send their children, Mr. Aw said.

Beijing has tried to limit capital flight, fearing it shakes confidence in the national economy and could potentially weaken the yuan.

A recent crackdown prompted several Chinese tycoons to unwind foreign purchases by their companies acquired in debt-fueled global shopping sprees, including trophy office towers and luxury hotels.

Officially, Chinese citizens are only allowed to exchange no more than $50,000 worth of yuan a year. Yet people in the industry point to loopholes.

Chinese mom-and-pop investors sidestep limits, for instance, by linking real-estate purchases to the college education of children living abroad; buying such luxury goods as Rolex watches in yuan and exchanging them for dollars to use toward property; or friends and family paying to an overseas account.

One desirable target has been the harbor city of Auckland, New Zealand, home to just over a million people.

Auckland was named the world’s hottest city for luxury real estate based on sales in 2015 by a Christie’s International Real Estate survey. Its open-door immigration policy and light regulation of foreign property deals helped drive 63% annual growth in $1 million-plus home sales in 2015.

Last year, a political backlash erupted over complaints that the city had grown too expensive. New Zealand homeownership rates are at their lowest since 1951, national data show; a quarter of residents under 40 own their home compared with half that age group in 1991.

The center-left Labour Party campaigned on housing measures, and once elected in October pledged a ban on foreign speculators buying existing residential property. The new government also wants to reduce immigration.

“We are determined to make it easier for Kiwis to buy their first home so we are stopping foreign speculators buying houses and driving up prices,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said at news conference last fall.

House prices initially rose as lawmakers considered restrictions in foreign investment. Benjamin Liu, an agent with Ray White Real Estate in Auckland, said one Chinese buyer booked a flight after hearing about the proposed ban.

Foreign capital is now returning to Canada, driving the latest surge in home prices. Buyers from China and the U.S. have found Victoria, the small capital of British Columbia that sits on an island west of Vancouver.

Victoria was declared the world’s hottest new housing market last year in Christie’s International Real Estate survey, based on a 29% increase in annual sales of million-dollar-plus homes. Single-family homes in the Victoria area hit a record high of about $570,000 in May, up 9% from a year earlier, according to the Victoria Real Estate Board.

“Victoria is experiencing the same rapid growth in housing prices and sales volumes that have strengthened Toronto and Vancouver in recent years,” Christie’s International said in its survey last month. “If Toronto and Vancouver can be a measure, it is likely Victoria will continue to perform well despite [new] regulations” targeting foreign buyers.

Attention has already turned to Malaysia and Thailand, which now tops the list for Chinese buyer inquiries, ahead of the U.S. and Australia, according to Two years ago, Thailand ranked sixth.

Over the next decade, predicts that Chinese investors will spend $1.5 trillion abroad, as much as half of that in foreign property.

The real-estate portal recently teamed up with Inc.—one of China’s internet retail giants—to market property in the U.S., U.K., Australia and Canada. At the click of a button, online shoppers can connect with a sales agent who will assist in the purchase of an overseas home.

Write to Paul Vieira at and Dominique Fong at

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Who will save LA’s trees?

Who will save LA’s trees?

The city’s urban canopy is disappearing—and new developer rules might make it worse
By Alissa Walker@awalkerinLA Jun 6, 2018, 10:01am PDT

The Ficus microcarpa trees along Hollywood’s Cherokee Street create a majestic arch. Walking beneath them is an almost otherworldly experience. In the impenetrable shade, as birds chirp high in the deep green canopy above, the air is unmistakably cooler.

Trees are critical for cooling down warming cities like Los Angeles, where temperatures are expected to increase an average of 4 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050.

The shade that trees produce can cool surfaces like soil and pavement. But trees can also lower the surrounding daytime summer air temperature up to 10 degrees, thanks to water evaporating from their leaves.

That’s why preserving mature trees that form a canopy should be LA’s priority, says Glynn Hulley, a scientist in the carbon cycle and ecosystems group at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“It’s a pretty precious resource in cities, and you don’t want to take them down—you want to be adding to them,” he says.
LA’s palm trees are iconic, but they require a lot of water, and don’t create a great deal of shade. Getty Images/Collection Mix: Subjects RF

Instead, since 2000, many neighborhoods in the LA region have seen a tree canopy reduction of 14 to 55 percent, according to a University of Southern California study published in 2017.

In recent years, the city’s street trees have taken a hit. According to permits filed with the city of Los Angeles’s street services bureau, 263 street trees—including the 18 on the 1200 block of North Cherokee—are slated to be ripped out in the first five months of this year alone for sidewalk repairs and street widening.

Those numbers are for removals of three or more trees at a time and do not include instances where one or two trees are removed for repairs, which do not require a public hearing. They also do not include permits by developers to remove one or two street trees.

“People should be climbing into these trees to stop them from being cut down,” says Hulley.

Hulley is publishing a major study this summer looking at heatwave trends in the region, which he recently presented to a Los Angeles County sustainability task force.

The many devastating—and deadly—effects of heatwaves include increased wildfire risk.

“Heatwaves are not only increasing in frequency and intensity, but also their seasonality is changing, with more heatwaves earlier and later in the year,” says Hulley. “Trees are the most cost-effective way to cool down the urban environment.”

Since 2010, the region has experienced extreme drought conditions, which not only kills trees but also makes them more susceptible to disease. But the drought is only partly to blame for LA’s recent tree loss.

After an era that saw maintenance efforts plummet and budget cuts that restructured the city’s urban forestry efforts, in recent years, more healthy trees have been removed to make way for construction or sidewalk repairs.
“Trees are the most cost-effective way to cool down the urban environment.” LA Times via Getty Images

Sidewalk repair is important—as is building new multi-family structures to address the housing crisis—but these improvements can be made without losing tree canopy by employing alternative pavement materials, like recycled mixed plastic materials, or changing the sidewalk design to accommodate a mature tree, known as a meander.

Now, experts say a new program approved last month by the Los Angeles City Council to allow developers and homeowners to pay fees to tear out street trees—instead of replacing them at the city’s required 2 to 1 ratio—will exacerbate the problem.

The fee was proposed in response to patterns city officials saw in applications for tree removal permits, according to Heather Reppening, vice president of the board of public works.

For larger construction projects—which already have separate tree-planting requirements per unit dictated by the planning department—developers were filing tree removal permits because they claimed they didn’t have room to plant trees onsite, says Reppening.

Plus, replacement trees purchased by developers often sat unplanted in the city’s nursery, where they can become root bound and die. Repenning says the in-lieu fee money goes into a fund the city can tap to plant trees to maximize their chance of survival.

“The tree removals are necessary,” says Repenning. “But they are sad. You are losing mature canopy. But our urban foresters will tell us there’s value in having younger trees in that it’s actually healthy to have trees of all different ages.”
Since 2000, many neighborhoods in the LA region have seen a tree canopy reduction of 14 to 55 percent. Getty Images

The fee structure ranges based on the size of the project, not the size or maturity of the removed tree. Developers of large projects can pay $2,612 to remove or forego planting a tree, and homeowners and developers of smaller projects pay $267.

Those fees are far too low, says Travis Longcore of USC’s Spatial Sciences Institute; he co-authored the 2017 study that used aerial imagery to track the deforestation of LA.

That study found that deforestation was most accelerated in neighborhoods popular for McMansionization, where a smaller, older single-family home is replaced by a newer, much larger single-family home.

Longcore is particularly concerned with the $267 fee. He says the fee is low enough that homeowners and small-lot developers will simply pay instead of making a consideration to keep the tree.

“So you remove a tree—which provides a much greater annual economic value to the public—and then you don’t replace it?” he says. “We are incentivizing people to remove them instead of working around them.”
Deforestation was most accelerated in neighborhoods popular for McMansionization, where a smaller, older single-family home is replaced by a newer, much larger single-family home.

Repenning says the low fee, which is equivalent to the cost of purchasing and planting a new tree, will help remove a barrier for homeowners to repair their own sidewalks. The city is relying on some homeowners to front the cost of fixing buckling sidewalks to meet its sidewalk repair program goals.

But the city’s push to repair sidewalks has accelerated the loss of hundreds of mature trees, according to Julie Stromberg, a lawyer who serves on the city’s community forest advisory committee.

“I’m receiving all the notifications for tree removals, and sometimes there is not that much effort from local residents to save them,” she says. “In those instances, there’s no one in the community who is fighting for these trees.”

Stromberg also says she’s seeing trees aggressively removed from places where the city has been sued for trips and falls.

A notice that the 18 ficus trees on Cherokee Street would be removed was issued the same day the City Council voted to pay $3 million to a woman who fell and hit her head on a “defected” sidewalk there.

A major class action lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of Angelenos with disabilities, was also the impetus for the city’s sidewalk repair program.

Under both the sidewalk repair program and the in-lieu fee program, streets that see a lot of development or major sidewalk repairs are the most likely to lose tree cover.

While both programs aim to put replacement trees as close as possible to where removed trees had been, there is no guarantee for when and where replacement trees will be planted.

That’s unacceptable for underserved communities that never had much of a tree canopy in the first place, and where trees are helping to clean air polluted by freeways and industry. There is mounting evidence that shows the connection between chronic health problems and tree loss.

“Established and mature trees assist in mitigating the environmental impact as the city of Los Angeles moves away from fossil fuels,” says Jason Gallegos, the planning and land use committee chair for the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council. “The loss of trees from our community, even a temporary one, adds to a cumulative effect of lung issues, such as asthma.”
A broken sidewalk on Saturn Street. Advocates worry that there is little effort to save trees in an effort to repair sidewalks. LA Times via Getty Images

There are thriving urban forests just outside the city of LA’s borders that could serve as examples for how officials could work harder to protect existing trees and be more proactive in planting new ones.

Santa Monica is facing a lot of the same challenges when it comes to trees and development, says Matthew Wells, the city’s urban forester. But he estimates that the city loses very few trees through removal—“only a handful per year.”

In Santa Monica, removing any mature tree—whether the trees are on private or public property—requires a developer or homeowner to make a case to the city’s urban forest task force. Often a plan is made to save the existing trees, per the city’s detailed developer guidelines, and paying a fee is seen as a last resort, says Wells.

“We don’t want to stop development—we know we need more housing and more high-quality facilities,” he says. “But if we don’t value trees and we don’t try to preserve them, the design process happens so quickly that if developers are not aware the tree has to stay, they don’t think about it.”

Even notoriously gnarly ficuses are not nuisances if they are well-maintained with proper root pruning, says Wells, who has expanded treewells and widened parkways in efforts to save them.

To quantify the importance of large trees, Wells undertook a tree inventory for Santa Monica, and has has been able to produce data showing the value of its mature trees, some of which have public benefits—including energy and water savings—that are the equivalent of $10,000 to $20,000.
“We need to become a trees-first city, above all else, otherwise we are going to fry.”

Right now, Los Angeles doesn't have enough information to assess the value of its trees—or know how many need to be replaced.

A 2015 report on the state of trees commissioned as part of the city’s sustainability plan—the most recent report made available—noted that the city has 700,000 street trees and 100,000 vacant tree wells, but these numbers are based on 1996 data.

This year’s budget has money for the city of Los Angeles to mount a comprehensive tree inventory for streets and parks, according to Repenning.

The influx of money will also allow LA to hire a citywide tree policy coordinator who will oversee tasks that have been spread across several departments. It may also add up to 40 tree care jobs, including two new positions for preserving mature trees in place during sidewalk reconstruction projects.

Los Angeles is also the beginning stages of putting together an urban forest management plan to help guide the planting, care, and protection of the city’s trees.

That plan could make specific recommendations that address trees’ cooling benefits, says Bryn Lindblad, associate director at Climate Resolve. She recommends adding biochar, an agricultural waste byproduct, to roots to retain water and nutrients.

“The healthier the trees, the more effective they are at converting solar energy into new plant growth through the process of photosynthesis, which helps to cool down our intense urban heat island archipelago,” she says.

Hulley argues that the city could also be more strategic about where trees are planted by adding more in places where their cooling effects will be most impactful. Planting trees on the western side of LA buildings is known to shade structures from afternoon heat gain.

Protecting all healthy trees with a certain trunk diameter could be one solution to ensure that more mature trees don’t get removed, suggests Wells. For now, the city of Los Angeles only protects four native species.

Above all, a city with such lofty climate goals should view trees not just as a priority, but as a crucial public health investment. Longcore points out that trees should be treated as an essential part of the street—much like the city’s similarly sized network of street lamps, which have a dedicated installation, maintenance, and replacement budget.

Mayor Eric Garcetti—who has set a goal of preventing Los Angeles from warming 3 degrees—has garnered attention for a “cool streets” program that paints streets gray. That effort may receive as much as $2 million in funding this year.

The city should be looking at similarly creative, well-funded ways to make room for more trees, block-by-block, says Isabelle Duvivier, an architect and member of the city’s community forest advisory committee.

She has been tracking tree loss in City Council district 11, where she lives, and says at least 199 trees have been permitted for removal since January 2017. That includes 26 ficus and bottle brush trees on South Sepulveda Boulevard and South Naylor Avenue that a local nonprofit have elected to cut down as part of a streetscape improvement project to remove “unsafe, overgrown trees.”

“Trees should not be optional to the homeowner’s whim, but need to be part of the required city infrastructure,” says Duvivier. “We need to become a trees-first city, above all else, otherwise we are going to fry.”

Editor's Note: Marinwood-Lucas Valley is blessed with plentiful trees. Those of us who enjoy shade trees enjoy much cooler living and use less air conditioning. 

State Senate Passes Amended High-Density Housing Bill (SB-828)

State Senate Passes Amended High-Density Housing Bill (SB-828)

Posted by: Sharon Rushton - June 4, 2018 - 10:13am

A watered down version of Senate Bill 828, which would have dramatically raised the number of units a jurisdiction must plan for, was recently passed by the State Senate. Although highly improved, there are still concerns about the bill and it would be better if it were defeated. The bill will now head to the State Assembly for review and possible approval.

Here are definitions of terms that will help you understand this article:

"General Plans": General plans serve as the local government’s "blueprint" for how the city and/or county will grow and develop and include seven elements: land use, transportation, conservation, noise, open space, safety, and housing. The law mandating that housing be included as an element of each jurisdiction’s general plan is known as “housing-element law.”

"Housing Element": Every jurisdiction must adopt a Housing Element as part of their general plan. The Housing Element is essentially a housing plan that must adequately plan to meet the housing needs of everyone in the community.

"Regional Housing Needs Allocation": The Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) is the state-mandated process to identify the total number of housing units (by affordability level) that each jurisdiction must accommodate in its Housing Element. In the bay area, each jurisdiction is assigned its RHNA by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG).


SB-828 still increases the RHNA but less so: The bill automatically raises the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA), which is the state mandated number of housing units a jurisdiction must plan for, by 25% to equal 125%. However, this is lower than the original version of the bill. The previous version of the bill required cities and counties to identify enough land to meet 200% of their Regional Housing Need Allocation.

The unmet need audit is removed from the bill: The previous version of the SB-828 required a jurisdiction to plan for and potentially zone for more land for residential properties if a state audit showed there was a shortage in that community. This audit has been removed.

The rollover units were removed from SB-828: The bill had required a jurisdiction to plan for, and potentially zone for, housing units not built under production goals from the prior eight years. This section was removed.

The bill no longer mandates the building of new housing units: SB-828 in its amended form is advisory. Just like current law, this bill does not mandate the building of any new housing units. Although jurisdictions must still plan and zone for the number of housing units assigned to them through the RHNA process, which still has consequences.

The “shall” language in the legislation that required local municipalities to fulfill their Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) quota by ensuring the housing units were actually built was changed to “should”.

Why this is significant: The amended bill reverts back to existing law that essentially acts as guidance and encouragement for cities and counties rather than a mandate. There is no longer a mandate in this bill that requires local municipalities to fulfill their RHNA quota, which means they no longer need to ensure that the housing units they plan for are actually built. They do still have to plan and zone for the number of housing units assigned to them by the RHNA process.


There are still concerns about SB-828. Although watered down, the bill still increases the pressure for cities and counties to plan for more and more housing.

Here is a newly amended section of the bill that makes it more difficult for a jurisdiction to lower its Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) if it feels that the number is too high:

"(f) The following criteria shall not be a justification for a determination or a reduction in a jurisdiction’s share of the regional housing need:

(1) Any ordinance, policy, voter-approved measure, or standard of a city or county that directly or indirectly limits the number of residential building permits issued by a city or county.
(2) Prior underproduction of housing in a city or county from the previous regional housing need allocation, as determined by each jurisdiction’s annual production report submitted pursuant to subparagraph (H) of paragraph (2) of subdivision (a) of Section 65400.
(3) Stable population numbers in a city or county from the previous regional housing needs cycle."

Here is a newly amended section of the bill that would assign additional weight (meaning increase housing quotas) to local governments that meet certain criteria:

"(j) (1) It is the intent of the Legislature that housing planning reduce racial and wealth disparities throughout a region. To achieve this goal, the allocation plan shall assign additional weight to local governments that meet the following criteria in subparagraphs (A) and (B) in the distribution of the regional housing needs allocation for all income categories, in particular housing needs allocations for low- and very low income households:
(A) A local government with median employed household incomes above the 50th percentile for the region.
(B) A local government that either contains a major regional job center, as determined by the council of governments, or contains high-quality public transportation for the region, such as a major transit stop or stops along a high-quality transit corridor, as defined in Section 21155 of the Public Resources Code, that connects to a regional job center.
(2) The resolution approving the final housing need allocation plan shall demonstrate government efforts to reduce racial and wealth disparities throughout a region by assigning additional weight to local governments that meet the criteria in subparagraphs (A) and (B) of paragraph (1) in the distribution of the regional housing needs allocation for all income categories, in particular housing needs allocations for low- and very low income households."

SB-828 still impedes cities’ and counties’ ability to implement lower density solutions in order to fulfill their housing need:
As noted before, SB-828 would require a jurisdiction to plan for 125% of its Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA). The bill would also require at least 100% of the locality’s share of regional housing need (which would be raised to 125%) to be available for multifamily housing in developed areas. The 100% multifamily requirement does not allow many RHNA units for lower-, low-, and moderate-income households to be fulfilled with second units, accessory dwelling units, or junior accessory dwelling units. These lower density units are easier to build in smaller towns and counties, with little vacant land, where small-town and semi-rural character is valued and where there is strong opposition to high-density housing. More conversion units and assisted living units should also count toward the RHNA.

SB-828 would still increase SB-35 streamlining:
In short, Senate Bill 35 (a bill adopted in 2017) streamlines multi-family and mixed-use housing project approvals located in municipalities that either have failed to submit two or more annual housing reports or have not issued enough building permits to build the dwelling units called for by the jurisdiction's Regional Housing Needs Alllocation (RHNA). Should a municipality fall within the scope of SB-35, a proposed multi-family development project may apply under a streamlining approval process, which requires ministerial, or "by right", approval of a qualified development project.

Since SB-828 would increase a jurisdiction's Regional Housing Needs Allocation by 25%, there would then be greater probability that the jurisdiction would not have issued enough building permits to build the dwelling units called for by the jurisdiction's Regional Housing Needs Allocation. Thus, due to the combination of SB-35 and SB-828, there would be potential for more multi-family development projects to take advantage of SB-35’s streamlining and avoid CEQA and its required public engagement process on sites that meet SB-35 criteria.

Streamlining goes against the principles of local democracy and public engagement. Public hearings allow members of the community to inform their representatives of their support and/or concerns about potential development and leads to better project outcomes.

We should remain vigilant and follow SB-828 as it moves through the State Assembly.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Community choice programs are not delivering on clean energy for California

Community choice programs are not delivering on clean energy for California


Special to The Sacramento Bee

June 04, 2018 12:00 PM

Eighteen years ago, California was faced with rolling blackouts and a major energy crisis. It may not seem like it, but another energy crisis is brewing – this one caused by cities getting in the business of buying and selling electricity.

It was a lack of oversight and poor deregulation that led to those blackouts, when bad actors such as Enron saw an opportunity to game the system, manipulate energy markets and ultimately crash power grids.

Now, government-run energy programs – also known as Community Choice Aggregation – are unraveling the centralized planning and service California needs to keep the lights on.

As the former mayor of San Diego, I can see why CCAs are attractive to some local lawmakers since they’re billed as cheaper and greener alternatives. But they aren’t delivering on their promises and it’s not a program I would have introduced to taxpayers.

These programs produce very little new renewable energy, instead buying from existing sources, including out-of-state wind and solar farms. They take credit for improving our environment but they’re not actually reducing carbon emissions. For example, Marin Clean Energy, California’s first CCA, was launched eight years ago and is held up as a model. Yet it has not delivered more than 10 percent of its power from new clean energy sources in any year.

Government-controlled energy might one day deliver the benefits it promises, but the current market was not designed to support CCAs. Their customers can always return to utility companies. This risk, combined with a lack of credit, means that CCAs are reluctant to purchase long-term contracts for renewable energy, or build new facilities.

While utility companies buy nearly all their renewable energy under long-term contracts that lead to new renewable generation development, this has all but stopped because of the uncertainty caused by CCAs.

Also, some labor leaders strongly oppose CCAs because they are not creating more jobs. Worse, utility customers in neighboring cities are forced to pay higher energy bills to subsidize them.

So why is California seeing an acceleration of these programs, and why is San Diego even considering forming what would be one of the largest CCAs?

Cities are under pressure to comply with their own Climate Action Plans, even though all existing CCAs fall well short of achieving the goal: 100 percent clean energy use.

The only way for energy providers to meaningfully reduce emissions is to build more wind, solar, and other green energy sources. CCAs aren’t achieving that, but they do expose cities to significant risks. In San Diego, a city study found that a CCA could require annual revenues of as much as $961 million.

Clearly, there are many reasons to be skeptical of government-controlled energy. Local leaders should focus on building more housing near job centers, conserving water and increasing energy efficiency through numerous strategies that do not expose cities and their residents to financial risks or power outages.

Jerry Sanders, former mayor of San Diego, is president & CEO of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce. He can be contacted at

Income, Employment and Housing information for Lucas Valley-Marinwood

Lucas Valley-Marinwood, California

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Leaflet | Data, imagery and map information provided by CartoDBOpenStreetMapand contributors, CC-BY-SA
Clear, Hot
10 miles
Wind: Wind from WSW 18 mph
Pressure: 29.87 in
Humidity: 30%
Population in 2010: 6,094. Population change since 2000: -4.1%
Males: 2,726  (44.7%)
Females: 3,368  (55.3%)
Median resident age:  49.1 years
California median age:  36.4 years
Zip codes: 94903.
Estimated median household income in 2016: $123,347 (it was $85,444 in 2000)
Lucas Valley-Marinwood:

Estimated per capita income in 2016: $59,341 (it was $38,423 in 2000)

Lucas Valley-Marinwood CDP income, earnings, and wages data

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Why nearly half of San Francisco Bay Area residents plan to leave

Why nearly half of San Francisco Bay Area residents plan to leave

San Francisco was once called the Baghdad by the Bay by the late newspaper columnist Herb Caen, a moniker derived from the city's ability to captivate, attract and enchant generations from all walks of life. But decades later, many people plan to leave.


By Patrick Chu – Editor-in-Chief, San Francisco Business Times
Jun 3, 2018, 8:14pm

Nearly half of San Francisco Bay Area voters plan to leave the region in the next few years, fed up with exorbitant housing costs and the long commutes caused by the lack of available homes near their workplaces.

Less than 48 hours before polls open for the California election, the business-sponsored Bay Area Council advocacy group released its annual survey of registered voters in the nine-county Bay Area showing that 46 percent are likely to move away, the highest percentage in three years.

Bay Area employers are losing talent and many companies are relocating to more affordable housing venues in the state, or much more likely, leaving California altogether, the Council says, as rising housing costs far exceed the compensation to cover monthly payments. Housing costs topped the list of issues for the fourth straight year. Not surprisingly, 42 percent of those polled in an open-ended question said the housing crisis was the most troubling issue.

Just two weeks ago, the California Association of Realtors said a San Francisco household would need to make $333,000 a year to afford a median-priced home of $1.6 million using a 20 percent down payment and a 30-year mortgage with a rate of 4.44 percent. Only 15 percent of current S.F. households reach that compensation level, the Realtors said. For renters, it's not much better; the average rent for a one-bedroom unfurnished apartment in the city is about $3,258 per month.


Most troubling for the future of the regional economy, is that millennials plan to flee; 52 percent said they will depart vs. 46 percent last year, the Council poll says.

Despite full employment, only 25 percent of those surveyed say the regional economy is going in the right direction; in 2014, 57 percent said the economy was favorable.

This year, 47 percent said they expected "a significant economic downturn" within three years, the Council said.
Leaving? For where?

Of the people surveyed in the online poll who said they want to leave, only a quarter plan to stay in California. Sixty-one percent said they would relocate outside California and 10 percent are eyeing Texas. Oregon, Nevada and Arizona were mentioned, too. Six percent said they want to go anywhere that was affordable with lower taxes.

Bay Area traffic congestion was the No. 2 most-mentioned problem and homelessness followed.
“These results are tough to report, but we can’t let this growing pessimism become a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Bay Area Council President Jim Wundermansaid. “There’s still time to get a handle on our housing and transportation problems, but it will require strong leadership and partnership across the region to do it combined with bold thinking and decisive action. We can’t wait until our economy tanks to fix these problems and letting our economy tank is not a solution.”

In a possible sign of voter dissatisfaction in the coming election, 56 percent of the survey respondents said local governments are responsible for making housing more affordable and 66 percent said those same bodies should be reducing traffic congestion and providing more and better transportation solutions. About 19 percent of voters believe the tech industry should fix housing and traffic problems in the region.


The 2018 Bay Area Council Poll was conducted online by Oakland-based EMC Research from March 20-April 3. EMC surveyed 1,000 registered voters from the nine counties in the Bay Area.

The full results of the survey can be seen here:

2018 Bay Area Council Poll: More Plan to Exit Bay Area by Patrick Chu on Scribd

Bay Area employers are acutely aware of the housing crisis. Here's a recent rundown:


Last Thursday at Facebook Inc.'s annual shareholders meeting in Menlo Park, Chief Policy Officer Elliot Schrage said the social media giant must address the Bay Area's housing crisis "if we're going to remain a company in Silicon Valley for the long term."

"Our position is that Silicon Valley has been this extraordinary engine of economic opportunity and if we can't solve the housing and transportation issues, Silicon Valley won't be Silicon Valley," Schrage said. "These companies like ours will expand elsewhere. So we feel a real sense of urgency around that."

The company predicted earlier this year that it could more than double its current headcount in Menlo Park to 35,000 employees over the next five years, eventually eclipsing the city's population. Facebook's proposed mixed-use Willow Village campus in Menlo Park call for 1,500 housing units, 125,000 square feet of retail, including an anchor grocery store and a hotel, along with 1.75 million square feet of office space. Facebook recently leased all of the 755,900-square-foot Park Tower, an under-construction office highrise in San Francisco.

"We are late and frankly we have been slow — we are actually a relatively newcomer as a young company at only 15," he said. "But I think it is fair to say we have really made an investment and we consider this an existential issue."


Conversations in the board rooms of Bay Area companies have “shifted dramatically” as the costs of hiring people locally continue to escalate, Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman said at a panel discussion on housing held at the company's San Francisco headquarters in mid April.

Many investors and board members are now asking about opening up locations outside of California because of the housing crisis, Stoppelman said.

The obvious solution when a company continues to pay higher salaries is to ask whether an employee can be put in another city, like Scottsdale, Ariz., or Chicago or even New York City where they might be able to find housing “more readily and at a more reasonable price,” Stoppelman said in an interview with San Francisco Business Times tech reporter Alisha Green. Yelp has offices in all of those locations.

“So absolutely we are load-balancing across our different offices,” he said.

But he’s found the best tech talent continues to want to work in San Francisco.

“It’s really about where are you going to learn the most, where are you going to join the most innovative companies, where are you going to have the most exciting peer groups, where are you going to be able to touch the newest technologies first,” he said. “It’s all still happening around here.”

Asked about how tech companies might contribute to the housing crisis because of the high pay they give workers, Stoppelman called it “a circular argument.”

“You have to ask yourself why do we pay people a lot of money, and it’s because the cost of housing is so high,” Stoppelman said.

Yelp has been paying employees more to help them deal with the housing crisis, Stoppelman said, but it also has the option of adding employees in its other offices around the globe.

“It’s hard to see that impact in the Bay Area,” Stoppelman said.

Charles Schwab

At the Charles Schwab & Co. annual shareholders meeting in San Francisco last month, Business Times banking reporter Mark Calvey asked the chairman if the new federal tax law capping the deduction for state and local taxes push some of the Bay Area’s most productive residents to leave California?

“Probably,” Schwab told Calvey in brief remarks. “I would hope Sacramento would get more efficient and not raise taxes any more than they have. That would be good.

“But a lot of companies will be moving their people out of here, unless something happens,” Schwab said. “They can move to Nevada or other places with a lower cost of living. That’s really important if you’re raising a family.”

Asked whether the migration is already occurring, Schwab said, “I’m seeing it now. I’ve seen it for the last four or five years. But that’s the natural thing that happens. People move from high-cost areas to low-cost areas.”

That can be seen across Texas, where Schwab now employs 3,100, and in Austin, where it celebrated on May 31 the completion of three of four buildings in an office complex housing all 1,900 of its Austin-area employees. More than 100 additional jobs are posted in Austin.

The online brokerage pioneer employs about 18,200 people in total, and 1,300 in in this headquarters city in San Francisco. City employment has dropped 18 percent from 2016 to 2017, according to Business Times research.

"We have a lot of our (company's) growth outside of California — a lot more outside of California than inside California.

“It’s a complicated subject,” said Schwab.

It's also tougher for new home buyers in the Bay Area. The new tax law allows homeowners with existing mortgages to continue to deduct interest on a total of $1 million of debt for a first and second home. But for new buyers, the $1 million limit fell to $750,000 for a first and second home, difficult for San Franciscans where the median home price is $1.6 million.

California Public Utilities Commission

The state Public Utilities Commission, which regulates California’s largest power companies and ride-sharing companies, is moving positions from San Francisco to Sacramento because it can’t find new employees who can afford to live in the Bay Area. The PUC employs 800 people in San Francisco out of a total workforce of 1,300.

“It’s hard to find a place to live in San Francisco on a state employee salary,” state PUC President Michael Picker told Sacramento Business Journal reporter Mark Anderson.

The Glorious Future of Today seen from 50 years ago