Saturday, February 2, 2019

Gavin Newsom "Do as I say, not as I do"

Gavin Newsom ditches the urban Governors Mansion for a $3.7 million dollar mansion in one of the whitest communities in California. It is an hour round trip from the capitol and will require a large security detail to make the trek every day.  So much for diversity and global warming.

Solano MTC rep votes NO on CASA compact

Friday, February 1, 2019

Socialism makes everything better?

Report: 98 Percent Of U.S. Commuters Favor Public Transportation For Others (satire)

Report: 98 Percent Of U.S. Commuters Favor Public Transportation For Others

11/29/00 3:00pm

WASHINGTON, DC–A study released Monday by the American Public Transportation Association reveals that 98 percent of Americans support the use of mass transit by others.
Traffic moves slowly near Seatte, WA, where a majority of drivers say they support other people using mass transit.

"With traffic congestion, pollution, and oil shortages all getting worse, now is the time to shift to affordable, efficient public transportation," APTA director Howard Collier said. "Fortunately, as this report shows, Americans have finally recognized the need for everyone else to do exactly that."

Of the study's 5,200 participants, 44 percent cited faster commutes as the primary reason to expand public transportation, followed closely by shorter lines at the gas station. Environmental and energy concerns ranked a distant third and fourth, respectively.

Anaheim, CA, resident Lance Holland, who drives 80 miles a day to his job in downtown Los Angeles, was among the proponents of public transit.

"Expanding mass transit isn't just a good idea, it's a necessity," Holland said. "My drive to work is unbelievable. I spend more than two hours stuck in 12 lanes of traffic. It's about time somebody did something to get some of these other cars off the road."

Public support for mass transit will naturally lead to its expansion and improvement, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials said.

"With everyone behind it, we'll be able to expand bus routes, create park-and-ride programs, and build entire new Metrolink commuter-rail lines," LACMTA president Howard Sager said. "It's almost a shame I don't know anyone who will be using these new services."

Sager said he expects wide-scale expansion of safe, efficient, and economical mass-transit systems to reduce traffic congestion in all major metropolitan areas in the coming decades.
Morning rush hour on one of Los Angeles' economical, environmentally friendly buses.

"Improving public transportation will do a great deal of good, creating jobs, revitalizing downtown areas, and reducing pollution," Sager said. "It also means a lot to me personally, as it should cut 20 to 25 minutes off my morning drive."

The APTA study also noted that of the 98 percent of Americans who drive to work, 94 percent are the sole occupant of their automobile.

"When public transportation is not practical, commuters should at least be carpooling," Collier said. "Most people, unlike me, probably work near someone they know and don't need to be driving alone."

Collier said he hopes the study serves as a wake-up call to Americans. In conjunction with its release, the APTA is kicking off a campaign to promote mass transit with the slogan, "Take The Bus… I'll Be Glad You Did."

The campaign is intended to de-emphasize the inconvenience and social stigma associated with using public transportation, focusing instead on the positives. Among these positives: the health benefits of getting fresh air while waiting at the bus stop, the chance to meet interesting people from a diverse array of low-paying service-sector jobs, and the opportunity to learn new languages by reading subway ads written in Spanish.

"People need to realize that public transportation isn't just for some poor sucker to take to work," Collier said. "He should also be taking it to the shopping mall, the supermarket, and the laundromat."

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Alicia Aguirre votes for the CASA compact and loses MTC appointment

Redwood City council person Alicia Aguirre laments about the lack of outreach and loses her appointment to the MTC.   The mayors in San Mateo Couinty refused to reappoint her because she did not report back about the CASA compact.  Politicians are beginning to understand that they need to represent their constituents not just the regional agency.

New MIT study suggests the Yimby narrative on housing is wrong

New MIT study suggests the Yimby narrative on housing is wrong

Higher density leads to higher prices, not more affordability, a review of an upzoning experiment in Chicago shows.
The Yimby narrative – that higher density in US cities will bring down housing prices – doesn’t work in real life, a dramatic new study from an MIT doctoral student suggests.
In fact, the study, released today, shows that – at least in Chicago, where author Yonah Freemark complied the data – upzoning for greater density leads to increased housing costs.
Sen. Scott Wiener, shown here with Yimby leader Laura Foote Clark, says he thinks people who fear displacement from market-rate housing are “quacks.” A new MIT study suggests othewise.
There’s no evidence in the study that allowing greater density in areas close to transit actually leads to more construction – certainly not to the construction of affordable units.
Affordability in the areas where the city allowed increased density declined, he reports.
Freemark looked at places in Chicago where the city, in an effort to promote more “smart growth,” changed the zoning laws to allow more density near rail stops. That’s a concept that many modern urban planners have been promoting.
What he found is that the price of land rose in the upzoned areas, housing became more expensive – and there was no discernible increase in the number of building permits or new units constructed.
An increase in housing unit-level values may suggest that affordability for potential new owners on affected parcels declined with upzoning, at least in the short term. On the specific parcels where upzoning occurs, costs appear to go up for individual housing units. The reason why this change occurs is worthy of debate and further analysis. Does an increase in allowed construction make redevelopment more feasible and thus inflate sales prices? Does it increase the perceived amenity value of the neighborhood, since more shops and the like may come in?
Reducing parking requirements – another big issue for planners – also increased the value of the property, the study shows.
Freemark, who already has two master’s degrees in urban planning and transportation and is a PhD candidate, doesn’t address San Francisco. And Chicago is a very different city.
But his study support what we have seen here – and what any basic economic logic should show. If you allow increased density in an already-dense city, you make the land more valuable. (Homeowners who oppose density on the belief that it will bring down property values are, in almost all parts of San Francisco, wrong.)
When land gets more valuable, housing prices and rents rise – not only on that site, but in the surrounding area.
And – because housing development is so tied to factors like international capital availability – there’s no guarantee that new, denser (and more affordable) housing will ever get built.
I am not an opponent of density – but I am an opponent of policies that wind up driving up housing costs and driving out existing residents.
Freemark is not an opponent of density, either; he tweeted that “I did not expect nor ‘want’ this conclusion,” and he said that upzonings in the long term may still be good at the metro level.
He also says that his time period of five years may be too short to draw extensive conclusions.
So he’s not some anti-development radical.
But he puts into perspective some of the calls from the local Yimbys, who have said that eliminating all single-family housing in the city and (as Sen. Scott Wiener says) “legalizing apartment buildings”) will lead to more affordable housing.
There is not data that I know of showing that to be true. And now there is some good data suggesting that it may be entirely false.
It’s funny: the Yimbys complain about the progressives who they say were responsible for limiting new housing. Actually, I was there — from 1981 to now — and what progressive urbanists tried to do, and ultimately succeeded with Prop M in 1986 — was to limit office growth because we lacked the housing for the influx of new workers. 
Then the suburbs built tech offices and exported their housing problem to San Francisco, and in this city, developers were allowed to cheat Prop. M and create new office space (for Twitter!) without paying for housing.
New office space means new demand for housing. Why are the Yimbys not demanding this sort of linkage? SEE THIS ARTICLE AND MORE on

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Damon Connolly Votes No on Casa Compact

She handed a stranger $2,220 cash in a paper bag. Her reward: a BART parking spot

She handed a stranger $2,220 cash in a paper bag. Her reward: a BART parking spot

Rachel Swan Jan. 24, 2019 Updated: Jan. 24, 2019 1:19 p.m.

1of2Joy Hoffmann paid $2,220 cash for another BART rider’s permit to park in the Lafayette Station lot until she got a space in S.F.Photo: Santiago Mejia / The Chronicle
2of2The Lafayette BART Station parking lot fills early, as do most other lots in the system — 7 a.m. in this case, some even earlier.Photo: Santiago Mejia / The Chronicle

It was like a drug deal.

Once a year, Joy Hoffmann would arrive at a Safeway parking lot next to the Lafayette BART Station clutching a paper bag with $2,220 cash. A white car would be idling there, with a woman waiting inside. Hoffmann would furtively hand over the bag, and the woman would give her a plastic tag to hang in her car windshield: 12 months of permitted parking at BART.

“And then I’d be jumping up and down,” said Hoffmann, a financial worker in Moraga who rode BART for 20 years from Lafayette to downtown San Francisco. She paid a huge markup for the permit — $185 a month, compared with BART’s fee of $105 — but the price was worth it. Before she stumbled on the subletting scheme, Hoffmann was among thousands of commuters marooned on a waiting list that never seemed to budge.

Today, the list of applicants is just shy of 41,000 people for 6,512 monthly parking spots scattered throughout the BART system. Board directors will discuss the crunch during an intensive two-day workshop that starts Thursday, where parking likely will emerge as a contentious issue.

“We’re seeing this shift to thinking about climate change, greenhouse gases, that we should eliminate cars,” said board Director Debora Allen. Her district spreads through the hills and flatlands of central Contra Costa County, where driving is essential to daily life.

The car-free vision works in San Francisco, which has robust alternatives to get from Point A to Point B, Allen said. But in suburban areas where housing is sprawled out and buses are scarce, commuters are out of luck.

BART’s numbers show that parking permit demand is highest in the suburbs. At West Dublin/Pleasanton Station, 4,607 people are lined up for 140 permitted spaces. Walnut Creek has 3,862 people jockeying for 200 monthly permit spots. And in Lafayette, 3,738 people linger on a wait-list for 304 monthly permits, at a station that draws commuters from as far away as Dixon and Davis (Yolo County).

Those conditions opened the door for gray market trading, which came as no surprise to some board directors, riders and city officials who are pressing for more parking. They say the situation will only get worse when BART starts filling its lots with housing under a state law enacted last year.

“BART could care less about parking,” said Lafayette Mayor Cameron Burks. He opposed the law, arguing that dense development at BART stations — without any requirement for a garage or parking structure — will only put more cars on the road. When people circle a parking lot and can’t find any space, they wind up on the freeway, Burks and others said.

BART also sets aside one-day permitted spots for people who reserve them in advance, and spaces for travelers seeking to stow their cars for several days. The vast majority of BART’s nearly 50,000 parking spaces are not reserved, and at most stations they fill up by 7:30 a.m. on weekdays.

After 10 a.m. anyone can park in permitted spots, which doesn’t help people who have to be at work hours earlier, Allen said.

The issue has created an ideological split among BART riders. Some cling to the concept that shaped BART back in 1972: suburban stations with vast parking lots that guaranteed a space for every commuter. But others see those lots as prime space for apartments, plazas and town houses — a form of urban design that would wean people off cars and reduce carbon emissions.

“If we stopped subsidizing housing for cars, we’d have enough money to subsidize housing for people,” said Jeffrey Tumlin, a principal at the San Francisco transportation consulting firm Nelson\Nygaard. “And then people wouldn’t need to drive.”

Fear of parking scarcity has made the monthly permits a valuable and sought-after commodity.

Lark Hilliard, who lives in Orinda and got a permit several years ago, said she still hangs on to it even though she no longer rides BART every day.

“I knew I’d never get it again,” she said.

That sentiment appears to be widespread. Permit turnover has been slow, said Bob Franklin, department manager of customer access and accessibility at BART. In December, he said, the agency issued just 136 permits, barely chipping away at its long queue. Anecdotally, people wait as long as two years to get a spot.

Subletting permits is against the rules, but that hasn’t stopped people from doing it. Since 2016, BART officials caught at least five permit holders who advertised on Craigslist or NextDoor, Franklin said.

“Other people on the wait-list see that and call it to our attention,” he said. “They don’t appreciate it.”

He also recalled three instances in the past three years of people putting fake parking placards in their windows.
Joy Hoffmann at the Lafayette BART Station parking lot where she used to pay a premium to a permit holder for use of their tag.
Photo: Photos by Santiago Mejia / The Chronicle

Hoffmann said she found her dealer by posting a desperate plea on an internet discussion board. The exchange was somewhat complicated — besides paying cash in a paper bag, Hoffmann also had to give the woman her license plate number so it could be linked to the tag — but it worked for three years. Then, in 2017, Hoffmann snagged a parking space at a private lot through her job.

She urges BART to adopt a more equitable permit strategy, with incentives for people to give up their spaces.

“This is like people who sublet apartments in New York when they have rent control,” Hoffmann said. “It’s the same model.”

One solution that’s not on the table: more parking. BART doesn’t have land or money to build new structures or lots, which cost $20,000 to $30,000 a space. The planned surface lot at Antioch Station, scheduled to open next year with 850 spaces at a cost of $16.4 million, will likely be BART’s last parking expansion.

Instead, the agency will focus on modernizing its carpool program so that people who share a vehicle can be guaranteed a spot. Board directors will also discuss new enforcement tools, such as license plate readers, which could free up police while clamping down on underground trading.

Board Director Lateefah Simon, whose district stretches from Richmond to downtown San Francisco, said she gained a new perspective on suburban commuting last August, when she moved from West Oakland to North Richmond.

Simon doesn’t drive, so she takes Uber or Lyft to Richmond BART each morning.

“A bus to BART would take 45 minutes, and as a single mom with multiple jobs, I don’t have that kind of time,” Simon said. “I now understand in a different way the complexities of why people need a place to park.”

Rachel Swan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email:

Monday, January 28, 2019

10 Insane Things the Pentagon Gave to Local Law Enforcement

10 Insane Things the Pentagon Gave to Local Law Enforcement

The DoD has distributed everything from "extreme cold weather drawers" to San Diego police to grenade launchers to cops in a small Iowa county.  

Police in Ferguson clad in SWAT gear watch protestors August 9, 2014. (Jeff Roberson/AP)

The Department of Defense Excess Property Program has seen a lot of criticism lately as news surfaces about how local police departments are using the Pentagon's extras. Pentagon equipment used by the St. Louis County Police in Ferguson, Missouri—the scene of civil unrest following the shooting of Michael Brown—includes multiple $47,000 trucks and scores of military rifles. The New York Times highlighted the program and produced an interactive graphic to show the flow of weapons from Defense to police. According to the Times, the program started as a countermeasure to high crime in the 1990s.
Using data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and covering 2006-2014, we looked into the type and cost of equipment that local law enforcement has been receiving from the Pentagon. Items ranged from aircraft (some costing over $5 million each) to screws and washers (36 cents each). Most of the equipment filtering down to local law enforcement will not surprise the average citizen—mostly rifles, handguns, and related equipment—but we found a lot of questionable line items.
1. 240 pair of "DRAWERS, EXTREME COLD WEATHER" for a total cost of $1,770.65. San Diego County, California.

La Jolla Beach, San Diego (kan_khampanya/
The documentation on just where the equipment goes is not clear, so a lot of the equipment could be used in county jails, by county or city law enforcement, or any other number of places. But one thing's for sure: Almost no one in San Diego County, California, needs underwear for "extreme cold weather." San Diego is one of the most pleasant places in the world, weather-wise, with a year-round average temperature of 75 degrees.
2. 200 pairs of "SOCKS" for a total cost of $468. Wichita County, Texas.
The Pentagon gave or sold a lot of socks to different counties. The document contains 175 line items with the word "socks" in them, with nearly every state receiving the all-important garments. Wichita, Texas, received 200 pairs of Pentagon-issued socks, presumably for inmates at the James V. Allred Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Otherwise, law enforcement in Wichita County is swimming in socks.
3. 18 units of "HAMMER, HAND" for a total cost of $2,683.86. Oakland County, Michigan.
Oakland County is part of the Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, Michigan, Metropolitan Statistical Area and has a population of 1,202,362, but that does not explain why the local law enforcement needed to receive 18 hammers from the Defense Department at an average cost of $149.10 each. Considering Sears sells a Craftsman hammer for a quarter of the same price, it seems odd that the Pentagon is buying hammers at such a price in the first place.
4. One "1996 FORD EXPLORER" for a total cost of $24,500.00. Estill County, Kentucky.
The notion that a county of 15,000 could need a police department sport utility vehicle is completely reasonable, but at issue is the specific vehicle. In 2012, Estill County received a Ford Explorer valued at $24,500, which is more than 11 times the current Kelly Blue Book value for a 1996 Ford Explorer (just over $2,100).
5. One "BOAT, FISHING" for a total cost of $100.00. Aroostook County, Maine
Aroostook got $7,441,065.48 worth of equipment from the Pentagon—including 65 rifles, 25 pistols, and a $138,870 truck. It appears the Aroostook is the second-largest county by geography in the United States, but it's very curious that "the county" received a fishing boat from the Defense Department. One wonders how that aids in law enforcement activities.
6. 58 "HELICOPTER, UTILITY" for a total cost of $53,491,640.00. Brevard County, Florida.

(Brevard County Sheriff)
As highlighted in pieces in the Times, helicopters are a popular item. The District of Columbia received five helicopters, Los Angeles County received one, and even Stephens County, Oklahoma—population 45,000—received one. However, the Space Coast's Brevard County got a mind-boggling 58 helicopters from the Pentagon. The department even features its aviation unit online.
7 (tie).
1 "MINE RESISTANT VEHICLE" for a total cost of $733,000.00. Dekalb County, Georgia.
1 "MINE RESISTANT VEHICLE" for a total cost of $412,000.00. Montgomery County, Kansas.
3 "MINE RESISTANT VEHICLE(s)" for a total cost of $1,236,000.00. Honolulu County, Hawaii.

John Oliver's Last Week Tonight highlighted a video from the police in Doraville, Georgia, located in Dekalb County, showing off the police department's mine-resistant vehicle. It could be this one that nearly cost three quarters of a million dollars, shown in the video during a training exercise.
Dekalb County is not the only county to receive such a vehicle. The phrase "MINE RESISTANT VEHICLE" occurs 341 times in the document, suggesting the Pentagon had a huge excess of such vehicles after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Honolulu County, Hawaii, received three mine-resistant vehicles, despite the fact that Hawaii rates 36th in crime in the United States and does not have a problem with landmines.
Perhaps most curious is the acquisition of such a vehicle in Montgomery County, Kansas. Montgomery County is only the seventeenth-most populated county in the state of Kansas and is over 100 miles from the state's largest city: Wichita.
8. 92 pairs of "SNOWSHOES" for a total cost of $6,191.60. El Paso County, Texas.
Several counties received snowshoes from the Pentagon's excess equipment (including counties in Idaho, Montana, and Illinois)—but El Paso County, Texas While El Paso does get some snow because of its elevation, the county has a median snow measurement of 0 inches, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The likelihood that law enforcement would need to wear snowshoes is low.
9. One "TRUCK, ARMORED" for a total cost of $65,070.00. Lincoln County, Montana.
Lincoln County is a heavily wooded area on the Canadian border, with a sparse population of just under 20,000 people. It's also an area of low crime, which makes one wonder why a local police department received a $65,000 armored vehicle. Fear of invasion from the Royal Mounted Police?
10. Five "LAUNCHER, GRENADE" for a total cost of $3,600.00. Buena Vista County, Iowa

A Marine trains with a grenade launcher at Camp Pendleton in 2013. (Defense Department)
In a competition for the most well-equipped police department in the United States, Iowa's Buena Vista County Sheriff's Office must be near the top. The BVCSO is responsible for all law enforcement in the county of 20,000 and now certainly has the weaponry to do so. The BVCSO received two mine-resistant vehicles, four sets of night-vision goggles, 20 rifles, nine handguns, and eight shotguns from the Pentagon, among 180 line items in the document.
But the five grenade launchers are a bit shocking. Buena Vista County is not known for being a war zone; rather, it is a group of small communities in northwest Iowa. The need for multiple grenade launchers anywhere outside a war zone is questionable, but it's truly ridiculous for the BVCSO, considering its last two press-release-worthy law enforcement actions included a capsized boat and a traffic accident.
All of these line items bring up a host of other questions about the Pentagon's program. First, is training included for this weaponry? The spectre of improperly trained St. Louis County law enforcement has been raised in the reporting on the situation in Ferguson. And what about maintenance? Does Brevard County have a trained helicopter mechanic for its 58 helicopters?
But mostly: Who in the Pentagon approved these transfers? Defense spokesman John Kirby told reporters this week that the equipment "is made available to law enforcement agencies, if they want it and if they qualify for it." That statement suggests that someone in the Pentagon looked at an application from Buena Vista County for five grenade launchers and did not bat an eye.

Fredrick Douglass on Class and Liberties

Oakland’s vacant-property tax takes effect, sparking hope — and alarm

Oakland’s vacant-property tax takes effect, sparking hope — and alarm

Kathleen Pender Jan. 26, 2019 Updated: Jan. 26, 2019 4 a.m.

1of3Oakland real estate agent Mel Copland owns one of several empty lots on Oakwood Court in the Montclair neighborhood. He said it’s too expensive to bring infrastructure to the property and the value of the land has dropped 50 percent since the last recession.Photo: Yalonda M. James / The Chronicle
2of3Eucalyptus trees stand on a vacant lot on Oakwood Court in Oakland’s Montclair neighborhood. Oakland voters passed a vacancy tax, but details about how it will be implemented remain unclear.Photo: Yalonda M. James / The Chronicle
3of3Turkeys cross over to a vacant lot on Oakwood Court in Oakland’s Montclair neighborhood. There are 10 exemptions to Oakland’s new vacant-property tax, as described in Measure W, but not a lot of certainty about how it will be implemented.Photo: Yalonda M. James / The Chronicle

As San Francisco supervisors consider putting a vacant-property tax on the November ballot, Oakland is struggling with the reality of implementing one.

Oakland voters in November approved a tax that applies to any privately owned property in the city — including residential, commercial and empty lots — that is not “in use” for more than 50 days in a calendar year starting in 2019. The annual tax is $6,000 per parcel for most properties, regardless of size or value. The tax for condo or duplex units or ground-floor commercial space is $3,000 per year. There are 10 possible exemptions.

The tax will be added to annual property tax bills starting with the one that goes out next year. It will continue for 20 years.

Oakland’s City Council put Measure W on the ballot, saying it would raise $10 million annually, which can only be used for homeless services, affordable housing, programs to fight blight and illegal dumping, administer the tax and defend any possible lawsuits. Measure W passed with 70 percent of the vote.

Among the many issues now facing the city: defining “in use,” identifying vacant properties, clarifying the 10 exemptions, developing software to administer the program and forming a commission on homelessness to recommend how the revenue should be spent.

The City Council could, by ordinance, restrict the tax to certain zones within the city, but has not done so.

In December, the city’s Finance Department sent a letter to owners of 25,000 non-owner-occupied properties warning them about the tax should their property be deemed vacant. The letter set off alarm bells for some owners.

“I thought it was only on vacant homes, not vacant property,” said James Liu, who lives in Fremont and owns five steep lots on Ascot Drive in the Oakland hills. Liu bought the adjacent parcels in 2012 and 2013, thinking — naively, he admits — that he could develop them, despite their 50 percent slope. But architects and engineers told him it wouldn’t be possible. He put them on the market twice, with no takers. Meanwhile he’s paying $3,000 per year in property taxes on each lot, plus another $3,000 per year to have them cleared of debris.

He said the the additional $6,000 per parcel tax is not just about money. “It’s about fairness. It’s not something I realized could happen in America.”

The measure exempts owners “who can demonstrate that exceptional specific circumstances prevent the use or development of the property.” But most owners won’t know if they qualify for this or any exemption until the Finance Department writes rules implementing the measure and the City Council adopts them.

Another provision that merits clarification says, “for parcels with multiple units, whether residential or non-residential, the parcel is not vacant if any unit on it is not vacant. A condominium, duplex, or town house unit under separate ownership is treated as a separate parcel …”

The Finance Department will probably bring an implementing ordinance to the City Council in April, but it could take “a number of meetings” before it’s adopted, said Karen Boyd, a spokeswoman for the city.
Vacancy-tax exemptions

These are 10 exemptions to Oakland’s new vacant-property tax, as described in Measure W. The Finance Department will clarify them in an implementing ordinance, which must be approved by the City Council.

(1) Owner is “very low income,” as defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The city wouldn’t define it. But HUD’s website says that the income limit in Oakland is $40,700 per year for a one-person household and goes up with family size.

(2) Owner is 65 or older and “low income,” as defined by HUD. That limit is $62,750 for one person.

(3) Owner of any age receives Supplemental Security Income for a disability or Social Security Disability Insurance benefits and has income that does not exceed 250 percent of the 2012 federal poverty guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That limit is $11,170 for one person and goes up with family size.

(4) The tax would create a “financial hardship due to specific factual circumstances.”

(5) The property is vacant because of a “demonstrable hardship that is unrelated to the owner’s personal finances.”

(6) The property is under active construction.

(7) The owner has an active building permit application being processed by the city.

(8) The owner has a “substantially complete application for planning approval” under review.

(9) The owner can prove that “exceptional specific circumstances prevent the use or development of the property.”

(10) The owner is or is controlled by a nonprofit organization.
Read More

In its letter to property owners, the Finance Department said it would “be difficult to answer questions” until the ordinance is adopted. It strongly urged them, in a bold and underlined comment, to “not make any inquiries regarding this letter or the tax at this time.”

It did give them an email address,, but said it could take up to 30 days to get their questions answered.

The city’s finance director, Katano Kasaine, urged the council in a May letter to delay implementation for one year, citing “the aggressive timetable required for the implementation of the tax.” The City Council could delay implementation, but there’s no sign it plans to.

The Finance Department estimated it would cost $425,000 per year to administer the tax, plus a one-time startup cost of at least $100,000. Boyd said the city has received a legal challenge to the tax but provided no details.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf supports the tax, her spokesman Justin Berton said in an email. “It’s a novel idea that will generate new resources to address some of Oakland’s biggest challenges, such as homelessness,” Berton said. It also “taxes people who are failing to utilize their property during a housing shortage, which damages overall community vitality.”

Nobody is sure how many vacant properties there are and how many will get an exemption.

Using data from the county assessor, Hayley Raetz, a researcher at the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley, estimated that there are about 4,000 undeveloped, privately owned lots in Oakland. Most are small lots in residential neighborhoods.

“If approved by Oakland voters, the tax could act as a deterrent for speculation, and encourage owners of vacant parcels to sell or develop their land, ideally unlocking sites for housing,” Raetz wrote in a report. She did not look at lots with homes or businesses on them, because there’s no methodical way to determine whether they’re vacant.

Looking just at an estimated 4,000 vacant lots, the Finance Department said that the tax could bring in $6 million to $10.5 million a year, depending on how many got exemptions.

Building a home or apartment building on raw land is not easy or cheap, and some vacant lots are in areas prone to landslides and wildfires.

Oakland real estate agent Mel Copland owns one of several empty lots on Oakwood Court in the Montclair neighborhood. “The infrastructure is so expensive, to bring, solar, gas and water to the property, plus a private road,” he said, adding that the value of that land has dropped 50 percent since the last recession. “What’s going to happen, people are not going to pay the tax, and you are going to have a lot of defaulted lots.”

Dragos Badeamic, a structural engineer and contractor who lives outside Sacramento, owns three vacant properties on Woodrow Avenue in Oakland., “I was planning to build some houses there, but for family reasons, I could not do that,” he said.

He’s paying about $1,900 per year in property tax on each of the three lots; the vacancy tax would be nearly three times that per lot.

Badeamic grew up in Romania, where the communists imprisoned his grandfather and seized the family’s property, forcing them to flee the country. He said the tax reminds him of what went on in the early days of the communist regime there. “I never thought I was going to see this here, in the bastion of capitalism,” he said.

SPUR, a Bay Area urban planning think tank, said in its voter guide that it supports the idea of a vacant parcel tax, as a way “to help move vacant land into active use and eliminate blight,” but it opposed Measure W because it would be very difficult to implement fairly. “The definition of what constitutes vacancy is very broad,” it said, and “the exemptions are also very broadly defined,” such as a “demonstrable hardship that is not financial.” It also said a flat tax may disproportionately affect small property owners.

Evelyn Sinclair, who owns a vacant lot next to her home in the Oakland hills near Redwood Regional Park, said she objects to the tax because “we shouldn’t be balancing somebody’s project for helping homeless people and urban blight on a tiny minority of people in the city.”

Candice Elder, director of the East Oakland Collective, a Millennial-focused nonprofit, said that “once everything gets ironed out, (the tax) has the potential to help address some of the issues in homelessness and the housing crisis.” She said it won’t overcome all of the obstacles, but “it’s one component of the solution.”

She hopes the tax will spur landowners “with a challenging piece of property, or low-income owners who can’t afford to develop, to work with the city or with nonprofit agencies to reimagine the use of the land.”

James Vann, co-founder of the Homeless Advocacy Working Group, which campaigned for Measure W, said the tax “will probably deplete itself” as vacant lots, homes and buildings are put to use.

Meanwhile in San Francisco, Supervisor Aaron Peskin said in a news conference Wednesday that he wants the Board of Supervisors to put a vacancy tax on the November ballot. The $250-per-day tax would apply to some commercial and multifamily residential properties that are “intentionally” kept vacant for more than six months of the year. Peskin has been talking about a vacancy tax since 2017 but hasn’t introduced any legislation.

Before crafting a tax, San Francisco might want to consider the challenges facing Oakland.

Kathleen Pender is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. Email: Twitter: @kathpender

Sunday, January 27, 2019

FABLES: King Canute on the Seashore

by: James Baldwin, The Book of Virtues

Long ago, England was ruled by a king named Canute. Like many leaders and men of power, Canute was surrounded by people who were always praising him. 

Every time he walked into a room, the flattery began. "You are the greatest man that ever lived," one would say. "O king, there can never be another as mighty as you," another would insist. "Your highness, there is nothing you cannot do," someone would smile. "Great Canute, you are the monarch of all," another would sing. "Nothing in this world dares to disobey you." 

The king was a man of sense, and he grew tired of hearing such foolish speeches. One day he was walking by the seashore, and his officers and courtiers were with him, praising him as usual. Canute decided to teach them a lesson. 

"So you say I am the greatest man in the world?" he asked them. "O king," they cried, "there never has been anyone as mighty as you, and there never be anyone so great, ever again!" "And you say all things obey me?" Canute asked. "Absolutely!" they said. "The world bows before you, and gives you honor." "I see," the king answered. "In that case, bring me my chair, and we will go down to the water." "At once, your majesty!" They scrambled to carry his royal chair over the sands. 

"Bring it closer to the sea," Canute called. "Put it right here, right at the water's edge." He sat down and surveyed the ocean before him. "I notice the tide is coming in. Do you think it will stop if I give the command?" 

His officers were puzzled, but they did not dare say no. "Give the order, O great king, and it will obey," one of then assured him. "Very well. Sea," cried Canute, "I command you to come no further! Waves, stop your rolling!. Surf, stop your pounding! Do not dare touch my feet!" He waited a moment, quietly, and a tiny wave rushed up the sand and lapped at his feet. "How dare you!" Canute shouted. "Ocean, turn back now! I have ordered you to retreat before me, and now you must obey! Go back!" 

And in answer another wave swept forward and curled around the king's feet. The tide came in, just as it always did. The water rose higher and higher. It came up around the king's chair, and wet not only his feet, but also his robe. His officers stood before him, alarmed, and wondering whether he was not mad. 

"Well, my friends," Canute said, "it seems I do not have quite so much power as you would have me believe. Perhaps you have learned something today. Perhaps now you will remember there is only one King who is all-powerful, and it is he who rules the sea, and holds the ocean in the hollow of his hand. I suggest you reserve your praises for him." The royal officers and courtiers hung their heads and looked foolish. And some say Canute took off his crown soon afterward, and never wore it again.

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