Friday, February 22, 2019

Marinwood CSD Leah Green interrupts six times and threatens arrest.

Marinwood CSD board president Leah Green threatens public with arrest and jail if "public decorum" is violated and then interrupts the public six times in two minutes during public comment time. Board president is upset that the speaker is criticizing the financial condition and issues arrest warning.

The Marin County Sheriff appears to have his hand on his gun during Leah Green's threat.

From the First Amendment to the Constitution:

The right to petition government for redress of grievances is the right to make a complaint to, or seek the assistance of, one's government, without fear of punishment or reprisals, ensured by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution (1791).

nation of sheep government of wolves.jpg

Inside Japan’s Chicano Subculture

If San Francisco is so great, why is everyone I love leaving?

If San Francisco is so great, why is everyone I love leaving?

We are witnessing two migrations: One is a continuation of the California dream. The other no one talks about, though it affects nearly everyone I know.

By Diana Helmuth Jan 30, 2019, 9:28am PST
Illustrations by Leonard Peng

I’m driving down the 101 toward San Francisco International Airport. A gray blanket of fog pours over the hills in the distance, smothering what would be a luminous California sunset. Eleanor is sitting next to me in the passenger seat taking deep breaths. She does not like to fly.

I hesitate, then finally ask what’s on her mind, cutting the air between us. “I don’t want to put any pressure on you, but since this is the last time we’ll be hanging out for a while, I feel like we have drifted apart over the last year. Is there something I did wrong? Is there something you want to tell me? You know, before you leave?”

We are driving to her one-way flight bound for Pittsburgh. She’s moving out of the San Francisco Bay Area, where we have both lived since we were kids. Our parents, who were themselves mixed transplants from New England and other parts of California, settled in the Bay in the ’70s and ’90s. Eleanor and I met in high school—two weirdos who recognized each other’s outsider-looking-in approach to the world. Now on the cusp of 30, we have 16 years of friendship between us. We did a podcast together. She went to work with me the day after my father died. We have gotten lost in the desert together, twice (before smartphones). On separate occasions, we have cleaned up each other’s vomit. We were once referred to as “hetero life mates.” And today she is leaving.

There are other friends out in Pittsburgh who have made a calm life as artists, cooks, house-cleaners, and creatives: an impossibility in the Bay Area, unless you have family assistance. Eleanor visited them a few months ago, and, charmed by their stability, the brick-paved streets, and the affordable apartments that lined them, it became impossible for her not to see how well she could do there too. Among other talents, she is, first and foremost, an artist.

I’m not.

I’m telling her “I feel like we’ve drifted apart.” What I really want to say is “What could I have done to make you stay?”

“There’s nothing, really,” she says, “I mean, the political climate has been hard. But also it’s just the Bay. Inviting people out to Stinson is easy; getting people to visit me when I have nowhere to host them is harder.”

Several months ago, she had made the difficult decision to move back onto a small corner of her parents beach-town property, after her urban East Bay house became waterlogged during the rainstorms of 2016. We had to move her out over a weekend, after the mold took half the furniture and gave her roommate pneumonia in both lungs. I touched swollen blisters of stagnant rainwater pulsing on her walls. After emailing the landlord about the issues, the housemates abandoned the property. He then successfully sued them in accordance with California tenant laws.

Although moving back to your parents’ home is never ideal, Eleanor didn’t have a lot of other options. But Stinson was not the little village she had left behind for college.

While only accessible by a narrow 10-mile strip of road lined by falling rocks and perilous sea cliffs, Stinson Beach is nevertheless one of the most popular day trips for San Francisco urbanites. Once a salty refuge for dendrophilic introverts and quiet hippies of means, Stinson spent the last few years transforming into a seaside “simpler times” theme park for San Francisco’s stratospherically wealthy. Eleanor had watched her foggy hometown gorge with tourists in $300 jeans on a mission for an idyllic, sand-weathered NorCal experience.

But hating rich tourists simply for flooding the place with money is not the reason Eleanor is leaving the Bay.
“We understand that with our respective shares of the rent, we could be paying mortgages on entire houses in Denver or Austin. But we are here.”

She was a manager at an artisanal goods boutique, which directly served this crowd of fast-culture beneficiaries hungry for slow-culture products. She is also the child of interracial parents, who built their own house in Stinson when she was little more than a baby. The town was essentially her cocoon for over 15 years. As an adult, she quickly got hired at the boutique because, to quote Eleanor, “the owners know the signs of a townie who has returned with swallowed pride and no prospects.” But the tourists did not know these signs. The new deal for living in Stinson—her hometown—was getting used to hearing “Where are you from? Here? No way!” repeatedly from rich white people, who didn’t know how to fit a brown girl in their vision of an authentic seaside experience.

She would then go home to an in-law unit, while those people retired to one of the many vacation rentals that are starting to overwhelm permanent housing in West Marin. “Imagine working at Disneyland, then going home to your place in the back of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride while drunk frat grads puke into the water,” she told me.

To be clear, she loved her town and its bearing in the coastal California fantasy. She wanted to share it, brag about it, celebrate it. But selling bourgeoise yogurt crocks and $100 bottles of wine to people who didn’t see her as part of their shabby-chic fantasy was becoming difficult to bear. She was also onboarding other displaced “village kids” who were doing exactly what she was doing: moving back home, into their parents’ offices, in-law units, and backyards. Having only kind words and a dead-end service job to offer them was making her grow thorns.

She was unhappy. The boutique was becoming a psychological warfare zone. She had tried her hand doing sales at a startup, but the work was soul-fraying. Art made her happy, and she was genuinely talented, but working at a couture costume shop and an internationally acclaimed ceramics studio wasn’t enough to pay the bills. She couldn’t afford to move.

The muse was not only dead—it couldn’t afford the resuscitation fee.

This is why I never doubted her desire to leave the Bay Area. But my guilt came from somewhere else.

I had not been facing these problems. I dabble in dance, but I was too cowardly to ever accept the life of an artist. I work in tech.
“Leaving the Bay Area is the best thing you can do right now, if you have a dream.”

To clarify, I am not a programmer. I say I am a “techie” in the sense that I have positioned myself, through a combination of hard work, luck, and privilege, to benefit from the startup bomb that exploded in my backyard 10 years ago. I was handed a sales job by a family friend right out of college, and I took it greedily, not looking back until, well, now. Mostly I have worked in sales, marketing, and user research. For my efforts, I live in a gritty but familial part of the sprawling, controversial metropolis of Oakland. I have my own en suite bathroom and a tiny balcony where I can grow useless amounts of herbs and play at “connecting to the land.” My roommate is a professional journalist with a blue checkmark on Twitter. We’re both in our 30s. We understand that with our respective shares of the rent, we could be paying mortgages on entire houses in Denver or Austin. But we are here. Our friends (what’s left of them) and family are here; my job network is here. Two fully employed middle-class women in their 30s splitting bills on Venmo and figuring out how to most diplomatically accuse the other of eating more of the peanut butter. This is normal in the Bay Area. Only programmers live alone. Only rich programmers own houses.

Setting aside for a moment Oakland’s own gentrification culture war (which would be another 20-minute essay), it is a two-hour drive away from Eleanor’s home in Stinson. It should only be an hour, but the traffic on the 580 moved from “rush-hour average” to “perpetual nightmare” sometime in 2014. With a regular work week, you don’t often have four hours to spare for a round-trip drive to see a friend—even the one who wouldn’t leave your side when your dad died.

Had we drifted? Of course we had. But it was more than the traffic and geography that was the source of my guilt. I felt I had played into the system that was financially and culturally kicking her out. And I’d realized it for the first time just as she was leaving.

“I’m scared I haven’t been a good enough friend to you,” I confess to her.

“I do feel loved and supported,” she says.

“I’m glad,” I say. And I mean it. I feel greedy for this absolution because I realize beyond the guilt, there’s another feeling: paranoia.

For the first time, while sitting in full-stop traffic before the Bay Bridge in the ironically named “fastrak” lane, I count them in my head: 11 people I care about have left California in the past two years. Eleanor is number 12, and apparently the final straw that’s really making me pause and think, “What the hell is going on?”

She shifts next to me in the dead-stop traffic. I know her well enough at this point to know she is teeming with anxiety. “We’ll make the flight. We left early,” I say.

“I know,” she says.

But we both know this is not why she’s nervous.

She’s nervous about the life shift. The constant cloud of “failure” that threatens to downpour on you at any minute if you live in the Bay Area is still looming over her head.

What she doesn’t know yet is that this cloud, for her, is about to dissipate. Leaving the Bay Area is the best thing you can do right now, if you have a dream. She’s going to be fine. She just doesn’t know it yet.

Moving, especially moving across the country, is an enormous, yet hardly uncommon, life shift. Leaving one’s hometown to forge a better future in a new city is one of the most traditional adult rites of passage that we as Americans have. Eleanor and I had a few friends who left the Bay around 2012 and 2013 for career opportunities, to be with a spouse, or to take a rare internship. We wished them well. It was hard, but normal. We were in our early 20s.

There’s something not normal, however, about the number of people who have taken flight out of California in the past year or so.

If you go to Austin, New Orleans, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Portland, Seattle, Chicago, and Denver—to name just a few—you can easily find folks transplanted from other cities and states. You can also easily find a band of locals bemoaning, specifically, the “fucking Californians” who are flooding their home, driving up rents, installing yoga studios, polluting the local vibe with new technology, and generally making everything suck while sipping kale juice. We’re threatening Austin’s weirdness and erasing Bozeman’s cowboys. We seem to be everywhere you look, ruining other cities, apparently by not staying where we ought to—back in California.

It would appear we are fleeing California like it’s on fire (which, actually, it literally is lately); only large quantities of “foreign” people moving into one area typically disrupt culture and incite hatred like that. Yet San Francisco rent continues to lead the nation based on white-hot demand. This doesn’t really make sense.

Let me offer a snapshot of San Francisco in 2018:

A friend is having a birthday party at a funky dive bar in the Mission and has invited you. Despite the ostensibly blue-collar aesthetic, you pay $14 for a cocktail containing house-made lavender syrup and organic gin. You lean against a vintage pinball machine, a shrine to the predigital adolescence half the people in the bar never had, and proceed to make small talk with the other guests, asking, “Where are you from?”

They reply: “Wisconsin.”



“Los Angeles.”



“North Carolina.”

And, of course, you encounter several international immigrants from Europe, Latin America, and Asia, who never ever seem to complain about housing costs, traffic, Whole Foods, or you.

One person says, “I’m a Bay Area native.”

Being a Bay Area native does not mean this person is Miwok or Ohlone (two Native American tribes who originally lived here). It just means they lived in the Bay before tech took off. It’s like wearing an invisible bachelorette party sash that says: “The startup tsunami basically came to me. I am both riding the wave and I can complain about it.” (Or, depending on their shoes, it could mean, “My dad founded a venture capital firm and my apartment’s lot is worth more than your entire life.”) This person will proceed to complain about rent and the general loss of culture they have witnessed over the past 10 years.

But what this “native” Bay Area kid won’t do is start blaming the guy from North Carolina or Wisconsin or Boston—basically every other person in the bar—for propelling the rents into the sky and inadvertently forcing the “locals” to flee. Someone may disagree with me here, but I just haven’t seen it done. If the conversation actually manages to advance far enough into blaming something for the Bay’s loss of culture and housing woes, the finger falls on the companies who employ these newcomers: Google, Genentech, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, etc. Even still, this finger of blame rarely gets raised above the hip; we use these companies’ products or benefit from their research every day.

There is an apocalyptic amount of people moving into California, and no one blames them for the overcrowding and the shifting culture. But when too many Californians leave California and settle in, say, Portland, they are blamed for ruining the place by way of simply being themselves. I visited Seattle for the first time a month ago and was warned someone might throw a bottle at my car for my California plates. In Portland, I saw “No Californians” signs slapped onto “for sale” signs in yards. In Denver, I read news articles about friendlier locals advising Californians to tell people they were from literally anywhere else. You can Google virtually any city plus the phrase “hate Californians” and find pages of forums and articles giving voice to the hatred of Golden State jerks “ruining” cities. This is not true for other domestic migrants.

It is apparently Californians who are unique in their snobbery and ability to ruin other places.

Yet I am having trouble feeling snobbish and superior when I’m losing friend after friend after friend to cities that don’t make it impossible to be a teacher, a painter, a bakery owner, or even a damn barista in order to have a full fridge and a fulfilling life.
“I don’t want California to stop being a hub of brilliant, ambitious people. What I want is for California to be affordable to more than one kind of life.”

Also, above all, I don’t want California to stop growing and benefiting from all the international and domestic migrants who flock here for opportunity and/or safety. Despite the fact that my rent makes some people do spit-takes, I am still a beneficiary of an inflated Bay Area salary. On a daily basis, I get to work with freakishly brave, casually brilliant minds, curated and imported not just from across the United States, but from India, China, Canada, Britain, New Zealand, and South America. At a dinner party, I get to sound like a comic book super scientist (“we’re finding the algorithm for love”) or a Bond villain’s understudy (“we’re building a robot army”). I am also proud to be part of a liberal community that is trying to be a safe zone for people who would otherwise be persecuted in other parts of the country or the world. And, to frost the cake, I get to experience all of this while being surrounded by majestic redwood forests, nationally conserved seashores, famous wines, temperate weather, and the entire food, music, and art accessory package that comes with being in a world-class city that international business kings and technology icons call “home.” Holy shit. The Bay Area is fucking awesome, right?

Yeah. Except for the part where everyone I love is leaving.

I don’t want California to stop being a hub of brilliant, ambitious people. What I want is for California to be affordable to more than one kind of life. And I want the record set straight about who exactly is moving where and, above all, why.

We are witnessing two migrations. One is the continuation of the Californian dream, where young people flock here for gold and glory, ready to hustle and disrupt, hammering to hit the motherlode and laughing at the odds. The other is the migration of young people out of California, which seems to have affected everyone I know, but which I rarely hear examined. These people want to be artists, teachers, blacksmiths, therapists, mechanics, and musicians. They want to have children, open bakeries, own a house. But they can’t. There is no room here for those kinds of dreams anymore. They hear about someone’s success in New Orleans, Kansas City, or Pittsburgh, and they leave their families and communities behind on the chance they will, ironically, strike gold.

To the angry locals of Portland, Seattle, Denver, New Orleans, Kansas City, Phoenix, Austin, and elsewhere, please hear this defense: The Californians who are coming in and “ruining” your cities are not snobs. They don’t have trust funds. They aren’t entitled. They are the opposite. They have been kicked out of their own backyards for not learning Python fast enough or not having a dad who could introduce them to VC firms or not wanting to live in their family’s in-law unit at age 30 or not being able to afford a $2,000/month studio on a $20/hour paycheck. They aren’t techies; they had the audacity to want something besides tech. They are some of our best, most creative, most hardworking people—and you are getting them. We are losing them.

We are kind to your friends who move here to grow, to start things, to feel safe, to dream. So, please, be kind to my friends and their dreams too.

At SFO, I watch as Eleanor walks inside the terminal with all her possessions: two trunks and a carry-on full of handmade ceramics. We hug. We tell each other I love you—something I rarely say—promise to keep in touch, and say all the other sentiments humans use to anesthetize loss. She turns the corner and is gone.

I get back into my car. I take a breath. Instantly I crumple, like an angry teenager, gasping and wiping tears all over my face. I want to slam the steering wheel and have my own private “it isn’t fair” meltdown. But I don’t. The meter maids at SFO are fierce and will bear down on you if you idle in passenger loading for more than 30 seconds. The airport is a zoo of emergency lights, Ubers competing for space, attendants blaring whistles. At San Francisco’s busy pace, there is no time for examining loss.

I take another breath, remembering that I am happy for her. I’m an adult. People move all the time. This is normal. It’s not my fault she’s gone, that all 12 of them are gone. Normal. People move all the time. Nothing I could have done.

I can’t change the rent.

This article first appeared on Medium.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

The Blight of Eminent Domain

The Blight of Eminent Domain

Blight Is Whatever a City Declares It to Be
My sister-in-law came back from a recent trip to Poland outraged at how that former communist country treats its citizens. An acquaintance of hers owns a beautiful home in the Polish countryside and is now involved in an ugly court battle because a government official was so impressed with the property that he began the legal process of taking it for himself.
That sort of outrage would never happen in America, for heaven’s sake. This is the land of the free and home of the brave. A place where every man’s home is his castle and where the government can’t just take property for the heck of it, thanks to a sophisticated system of property rights. At least that’s what my sister-in-law and the vast majority of Americans think.
Unfortunately, the truth is far different. The experience of that Polish homeowner isn’t much different from what happens every day in southern California. And don’t think it’s only on the left coast property rights are treated shabbily. Eminent-domain abuses are rampant in every state in America.
In the city of Cypress, a well-kept middle-class community in the north Orange County suburbs of Los Angeles, a large non-denominational church made the tragic mistake of operating with the assumption that this is still a free country. The Cottonwood Christian Center negotiated the purchase of an 18-acre property in a commercial center with zoning that specifically allows the construction of a church.
The church bought the land and developed plans for an attractive architect-designed community center–a first-rate project that would be a considerable improvement over an empty parking lot next to a sprawling racetrack. Trouble started when the church submitted plans to the city to gain the necessary approvals.
City officials had an epiphany. This was the last large tract of vacant land in the city, they realized. If a church builds a facility there it won’t pay much in the way of property or sales taxes. So city officials have found every reason to deny the church a permit to proceed with the project, and began shopping the land around to tax-generating companies.
The latest in this long and deceitful process: The City Council, at the urging of the city manager, voted to take the property under eminent domain (while still claiming it is willing to “negotiate” a settlement) and plans to hand it over to developers, most likely at deep discount prices, to build a Costco retail center. The national discount chain is notorious for strong-arming cities into using eminent domain on its behalf.
“It is hubris for the city of Cypress to decide a church isn’t the best use of land owned by the church,” Assemblyman Ken Maddox said. “In the Soviet Union, Stalin seized churches and turned them into museums. Cypress seizes a church and wants to turn it into a Costco. At least Stalin looked for something with artistic merit.”
Maddox is one of only a handful of elected officials willing to speak out against a process that has become so commonplace that many officials can’t understand why the Cottonwood issue is even controversial. It’s not just a possible “taking” that’s at issue, but an entire taxpayer-funded smear campaign by a city against a property owner. Cypress has launched a public-relations crusade against the church for defending a concept of property rights that city officials view as arcane.
Taxpayer money is spent to pay for a push poll designed to show the true benefits of kicking the church off its land. A pricey city-sponsored public effort is bashing the church and implying that religious fanatics are selfishly trying to build something that will deprive the city of needed revenue to pay for parks, schools, senior centers, after-school programs, and more.
It always creeps me out when life resembles an Ayn Rand novel, but that’s exactly what’s happening here. Craven officials are allied with looting companies to defame and then rob a group of people who are trying to live their own lives their own way on their own property.

Fiscal Crisis Invoked

Sophisticated supporters of the city make an argument that’s used repeatedly on behalf of the many cities that operate this way. Tax-limiting Proposition 13, the California ballot initiative that capped property tax increases unless approved by a two-thirds vote, limited city revenues, they say. Furthermore, the state of California has repeatedly dipped into funds belonging to cities to pay for state priorities. Given this fiscal “crisis,” cities have no other choice but to turn to sales taxes as a way to pay for needed services. So cities must use eminent domain to assure that every piece of developable land has its tax potential maximized.
Actually, the local budget “crisis” isn’t that different from the national one–it’s a question of too much spending rather than too little revenue. In California cities, cops routinely make six-figure salaries, bureaucracies are huge and expanding, city halls are gilded palaces, union featherbedding is rampant, and officials spend money on open-space acquisition and other costly amenities with frightening abandon.
Municipal-finance experts in California correctly refer to the “fiscalization of land use.” Governments have immense power over what gets built where, and they use it to approve only those projects that bring in the most tax revenue. This has exacerbated the housing problem in southern California, because cities view housing as a drain on their resources and therefore force homebuilders to make all sorts of concessions before getting approvals. But coveted retail complexes–1 percent of the sales tax goes into city discretionary budgets–are lured with ridiculous subsidies and promises of using eminent domain on their behalf.
This is accomplished through California’s 1950s-era redevelopment law. Other states have similar laws called different things. In California, the good-government “liberals” wanted to come up with a way to help cities clean up blighted neighborhoods. Every city can start a redevelopment agency, which is technically separate, but operates as a city department. In almost every case, the city council is the agency’s governing body.
Simply put, agencies can declare areas blighted, based on the broadest possible standards. Once an area is blighted, and the city goes through an official hearing process, every increase in property value–called tax increment–goes directly into the agency’s budget. Debt can be floated without a public vote. Tax dollars are used to subsidize developers, pay for consultants, and acquire land. Agencies gain eminent-domain powers to take property from one private owner and give it to another.
The details are complicated but the concept is simple. Government officials are granted central-planning and confiscatory powers that would make a Soviet commissar jealous. It’s such a handy development tool that few cities can resist using it. So the bulk of major development projects, especially in the more densely populated areas where land isn’t sitting fallow, are driven by city officials who serve as land-clearing agencies for big developers. The process is rarely about blight removal and mainly about finding ways to turn areas that produce little tax revenue (that is, your church or older neighborhood) into sales-tax bonanzas (that is, strip malls). No wonder southern California is an endless sea of Wal-Marts, Costcos, and Home Depots.
It’s just too difficult to assemble 15-acre tracts without using eminent domain, according to a development specialist who handles land acquisition for Costco. In other words, companies are unwilling to play by the rules of the free market, where buyers must cajole willing sellers to part with their properties. It’s so much easier to have government thugs just take the land and hand it to you on a platter, with taxpayers picking up much of the tab.

Just Compensation?

Wait a minute, critics often say. It may not be nice to use eminent domain for private purposes, but in America the courts still insist that property owners get paid just compensation. (Of course, under the U.S. Constitution takings can be only for “public use.”)
Yes, property owners are reimbursed. Those who play ball with the city often get amounts that approach gifts of public funds. Those who try to defend their businesses, however, often get subjected to vicious hardball tactics. It’s not unusual for victims of eminent domain to spend years in court trying to get just compensation. And what about people who plain old don’t want to sell their property? They like their neighborhood or have built up a good reputation with their business. Why should they have to move? Besides, cities refuse to pay for the value of businesses’ goodwill, paying instead only the assessed value of the accumulated property and business equipment.
Not far from Cypress is Garden Grove, a working-class, immigrant-heavy city filled with small businesses and older, decently maintained tract neighborhoods. Yet city officials don’t like its down-market reputation and are trying to capitalize on its location close to Disneyland. So officials are using redevelopment to remake much of the entire city. Until public outrage forced the city to back down, officials were looking to drive 1,000 families out of their homes, possibly to make room for a theme park. By their own admission, city officials are marching along the major commercial boulevards and driving small companies out of business, with the hopes of luring new hotels that draw overflow tourists from the Anaheim resort area.
This is horrible on any number of levels. The city is amassing a large public debt to pay for projects of questionable long-term value. Many of the proposed projects have become embarrassing busts, such as a major hotel that nearly went bankrupt until the city poured in additional millions to prop it up.
The process also has exacerbated blight, given that property owners are less apt to fix up their homes and businesses when they know that they are being targeted for extinction. Most disturbing, though, is the way the city puts the screws to victims of eminent domain when it comes time to pay fair market value.
One couple, Joseph and Yae Hong, operated a successful car-rental business along Garden Grove Boulevard. The company had a ten-year lease on the property and brought in about $2 million a year, but the city offered them $16,000 for the entire operation after condemning it. The Hongs were forced out of business and ran up tens of thousands of dollars in debt to fight for a better deal. A court eventually awarded the Hongs nearly $1 million but only after a long period of pure misery. And they were forced to move to a less desirable location.
In 1997 Garden Grove took a Romanian couple’s small business and offered $640,000 for a property the couple had purchased in 1990 for $778,000 and zero for the business itself, which the couple had purchased for $100,000. These are two typical examples of what goes on. In one attempted use of eminent domain in Anaheim, the company doing the appraisal had a financial interest in the final project. Wouldn’t that be great if you could appraise a property that you wanted to buy?
I could go on and on with examples. I’ve seen blight designations for modern shopping centers, newer housing developments, and even for vacant land. Blight is whatever a city says is blight, even though California and federal courts have finally added a few needed limits after cities went way over the line in justifying blight designations. (For example, the rural enclave of Mammoth Lakes declared land blighted because of excessive urbanization).
Essentially, cities can take any property anywhere within their city limits and give it to other private owners for virtually any reason. It’s terrible in many other places. One Illinois agency offers one-stop shopping for businesses that want to take someone else’s property. Just fill out a form designating the property you want and the agency will see what it can do.
It’s all in the name of the common good, of course. Cities need tax revenue and churches don’t pay any. Small car-rental businesses aren’t nearly as attractive as fancy new discount centers. Neighborhoods with 1960s tract houses don’t impress the tourists as much as a new theme park.
Now what was that again about America being a beacon of freedom and property rights? Surely things can’t be this bad in Poland.
Editor's Note. This article is from 2002 but it is still applicable today.  Although Governor stopped the old Redevelopment Agencies, brand new Redevelopment 2.0 is reemerging under new laws to take advantage of new laws designed to redevelop California.  Look out. It is going to be a wild ride.

Lesson in Free Speech (attention Marinwood CSD)

Could this new bill help solve California’s housing crisis? New study suggests otherwise

Could this new bill help solve California’s housing crisis? New study suggests otherwise


FEBRUARY 20, 2019 12:02 AM,

These are some of the issues behind California’s housing crisis
California's housing crisis is due in large part to a lack of supply, particularly when it comes to affordable housing, and it is hitting low-income individuals the hardest.
By Michelle Inez Simon

California's housing crisis is due in large part to a lack of supply, particularly when it comes to affordable housing, and it is hitting low-income individuals the hardest.
By Michelle Inez Simon

It’s often held up as a key strategy for solving California’s housing crisis: increase the supply of cheaper housing by encouraging more dense construction near transit centers.

New research, however, suggests that the approach known as “upzoning” isn’t necessarily a magic bullet.

A study published in Urban Affairs Review last month found that such zoning policy changes in Chicago over a five-year period led to higher housing prices and no increase in housing supply in the affected areas.

Yonah Freemark, the study’s author and a doctoral candidate at MIT, found “no evidence for short- or medium-term increases in housing-unit construction.”

Over a five-year period, housing prices in the affected areas went up, but the number of housing units constructed did not.

In California, Sen. Scott Wiener has proposed SB 50, also known as the More HOMES Act, which would let developers bypass certain zoning restrictions when building multi-family housing in “transit-rich” and “job-rich” areas, putting more units than typically allowed on those parcels.

SB 50 is co-sponsored by California YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard) and the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California (NPH) and has earned praise from San Francisco Mayor London Breed, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, the California Apartment Association, and the State Building and Construction Trades Council, among others.

Wiener said he doubts the study can lend many insights to the conversation around his bill given that the research concerns zoning changes in Chicago.

“I appreciate the study, but you also have to take it for what is,” he says. “Chicago is not a good comparison for California.” He pointed to the city’s declining population and struggling real estate market as two reasons why the research isn’t easily applicable to California.

Wiener also said he’s not surprised Freemark didn’t find an increase in housing units given the study’s time frame. The research focused on a five-year period, looking at the impacts of zoning changes that occurred in 2013 and 2015.

“It takes a lot more time to build the housing, and that’s frustrating for us who wanted to see housing built yesterday,” Wiener said.

Brian Hanlon, president and CEO of California YIMBY, acknowledged that California might not see new housing construction immediately if SB 50 were to pass. However, he said the bill is still a key component of the solution to California’s housing crisis in the long term.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has pledged to build 3.5 million new housing units by 2025.

“What’s the bill that’s really going to enable Governor Newsom to hit his 3.5 million target? It’s going to be SB 50,” Hanlon said.

Freemark, the study’s author, acknowledged that his findings might not be replicable in California but also cautioned that upzoning is only effective when used in concert with other policies.

“We have a housing crisis in much of the U.S., and that crisis needs to be addressed by providing funding for construction of more units and subsidies for people to afford those units,” Freemark said.

At a hearing last year for SB 827, an earlier version of Wiener’s bill with fewer tenant protections, many advocates expressed concerns about the effects zoning changes can have on vulnerable communities when not accompanied by the proper protections.

“We’re very concerned that state planning mandates, if not carefully crafted, can have significant impacts on existing low-income communities.” said Anya Lawler, policy advocate for Western Center on Law and Poverty. “We know that the gentrifying effects of increased densities can trigger displacement. We’ve seen this play out over and over again, and we shouldn’t continue to repeat the same mistakes.”

Wiener appears to have heeded those concerns, reworking SB 827 to include additional protections for people who might be displaced by new development prompted by upzoning.

In the latest version, communities deemed “sensitive” to displacement and gentrification by the Department of Housing and Community Development and community organizations would be able to delay the application of the standards for five years, giving them time to plan for ways reduce displacement.

The bill also prohibits developers from seeking to take advantage of the new policies by demolishing buildings in the affected areas that are currently or were recently occupied by renters.

Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy at UCLA, says it’s difficult to tell how SB 50 might actually affect housing in California based on the limited scholarship that exists around zoning changes.

“It’s important to view a study like this as a part in maybe, modestly, a small part, of a larger body of research that is really early,” he said.

“We need to hear from tenants. We need to hear from and listen to developers as to what they say would be a reaction to policies like this,” he said. “We need to read carefully the text of these bills that outline various protections that are pretty robust in terms of communities vulnerable to gentrification and displacement.”

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Making It In San Diego: Neighbors protest high density housing plan

Editor's Note: This is a story from 2018 but it demonstrates the danger of housing laws like SB50. Housing must be approved by law no matter the impacts to the community or capacity of the infrastructure. This is the nightmare scenario that we want to avoid.

Making It In San Diego: Neighbors protest high density housing plan

Posted: 11:29 PM, Jun 19, 2018
Updated: 11:32 PM, Jun 19, 2018

By: Rachel Bianco

ENCINITAS, Calif. (KGTV) -- Wednesday night, the city council is expected to vote on its proposed high density housing list; roughly 20 parcels of land that the City wants rezoned for higher density.

People living on Lake and Birmingham Drives in Cardiff by the Sea are hoping to keep a vacant lot in their neighborhood off that list.

Allison Wylot lives across the street from the five acre lot.

"This is a very small street, it's a dead end, it's all residential going south, there's no mixed use here, it's just homes, single family homes," said Wylot.

According to Wylot, when Encinitas based Zephyr initially purchased the property, the company had plans to build 4 custom homes. Then, a permit sign went up notifying residents that the plan is to build nine homes. Now, the company wants to be added to the high density housing list. If that happens, the zoning change would allow for the possibility of 30 dwellings per acre - or 150 units.

No one from Zephyr was available after hours on Tuesday night to comment.

"We just don't think this property is suitable for that," said Wylot.

Councilman Tony Kranz said the residents' concerns may be premature.

"I don't know that there is an appetite to add anything to the list," said Councilman Kranz.

The final list of lots would have to be approved by voters in November. A similar housing initiative was rejected in 2016. Multiple lawsuits have been filed against Encinitas over its lack of affordable housing. State law requires the city to provide more than a thousand low income units.

"The reality is we're in a housing crisis here in the state, and it's in part because people are not too excited about having the impacts of higher density and more people," said Kranz.

Wylot said she understands the need for more housing, but she thinks it should be built in an area closer the freeway or public transit.

"Everyone is feeding into Santa Fe and Birmingham to get to the freeway. It just can't handle it, it's one way in and one way out," said Wylot.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Awful Multifamily Boxes could spring up everywhere in Marin if SB50 passes.

In Seattle, multifamily living done right

An architect couple creates a home in a newly developed trio of townhouses in Squire Park

By Samantha Weiss Hills Feb 18, 2019, 9:00am PST
Photography by Eirik Johnson

Three years ago, architects and life partners Kailin Gregga and Steven Lazen were scouring Seattle for opportunities to buy a home—or a lot on which they could make their mark.

“We were drawn to the idea of having a hand in making our own space,” says Gregga. “[But] in [Seattle’s] crazy real estate market it’s a little bit inconceivable to say [we’re] going to buy some land and build [our] own house.”

Owners of all three units pose outside with Mojo the dog.

To make the couple’s dream a reality, Gregga, who is a part of Best Practice Architecture & Design, linked up with Rob Humble, founding partner and design principal for Hybrid Architecture. Humble happened to be developing a set of townhouses in Squire Park, a neighborhood of the Central District, and the collaboration would mean Gregga and Lazen could cut costs and do some customization with a new-build home. For Humble, it would also mean that one of the townhouses would already be occupied when the rest went on the market.

Big Mouth House—so dubbed because one of Gregga and Lazen’s friends photoshopped teeth onto a photo of the main window, giving it the look of an open maw—is situated at the front of the three-townhouse series. Each is clad in vertical panels of black metal. While the two townhouses behind Gregga and Lazen’s, units B and A, are accented by splashes of pink, thanks to their house numbers, Big Mouth puts color front and center, using it to frame a cantilevered floor-to-ceiling window, line the front entrance, and highlight the roof deck railing.
In the Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) at Big Mouth House, two of Gregga and Lazen’s bikes hang in front of a wall decal from FAB. The couple’s cat, Novi, sits atop a wood pedestal hand cut by a friend from a giant fallen fir tree. The shelving unit is two-stories-tall, and runs into the second-level living room.

Each unit has a roof deck that, to the west, overlooks Seattle’s skyline and the Central District. A gabion retaining wall stands in front of Big Mouth, while landscaped walkways mark the way to the additional homes.

At 1,850 square feet, with three bedrooms and three bathrooms, Big Mouth is a little larger than its two counterparts, with an additional bathroom and a configuration that, unlike the others, puts the main living area on the second floor rather than the third.

Gregga calls it a “genius” move on the part of the developer, because if “the middle unit and back unit had kept the same layout that we had, they would essentially not have any views from their living spaces. The site is actually [on a] a little slope, so by flipping the units and taking advantage of that, all the living spaces actually [have] great views.”

EDITORS NOTE: Life in the suburbs with sunshine and nature or in an Ikea inspired tin can dystopia?   i feel so sorry for the people next door to this new townhome complex in Seattle.  This fawning YIMBY inspired article turns my stomach.  This is exactly the type of debasement of my neighborhood that I fear from high density housing.  Where once there was a neighborhood and sunshine, now will be tin can Ikea shacks. No gardens. No community.  Just bland boxes everywhere.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Marinwood CSD will arrest Citizens who offend them

Marinwood CSD board president, Leah Green threatens the public with arrest if they violate her interpretation of "public decorum".  A Marin County Sheriff was posted ready to arrest members of the public at the February 12, 2019 meeting.  Her interpretation of "public decorum" is so broad as to include speech that is clearly protected under the Constitution.  Language, tone and content of speech are "off limits".  Later during the public time, she repeatedly interrupts to speakers with whom she disagrees with their point of view.  Such arrogance of power must not be tolerated.  Our democracy requires both public participation and debate.  The "right to redress the government" is explicitly spelled out in the Constitution.  The meeting became tense as Green repeatedly provoked and argued with public speakers.  Though the Marin Sheriff did not respond as she hoped, it was clear that she was trying to set up a response so she could ban the attendance of me and other speakers, thus making their government meetings effectively secret.  

Marin County must intervene  to educate the Marinwood CSD to protect the rights of the citizens.

From the First Amendment to the Constitution:

The right to petition government for redress of grievances is the right to make a complaint to, or seek the assistance of, one's government, without fear of punishment or reprisals, ensured by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution (1791).

Inside China's High-Tech Dystopia

Ghost of Stephen Foster

California's Redevelopment Agencies: The Bad Idea That Won't Die

California's Redevelopment Agencies: The Bad Idea That Won't Die

Assemblymember David Chiu, D-San Francisco, has pushed bills to bring back California's infamous Redevelopment Agencies. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)ASSOCIATED PRESS

California’s redevelopment agency idea just won’t go away.

In 2011, the state’s 400 agencies (RDA) were shuttered by then-Governor Jerry Brown following negative press and budgetary shortfalls caused by the recession. But as public coffers refilled again due to California’s economic boom, legislators have explored ways to bring RDAs back. Assemblymember David Chiu, who represents the eastern half of San Francisco, has proposed multiple bills that would allow an alternative version of RDAs. And in his latest proposed budget, newly-elected governor Gavin Newsom called to expand Enhanced Infrastructure Financing Districts (EIFD), which are a close cousin. If these alternative RDAs gain traction, it is important that they avoid the mistakes of previous ones, which were riddled with waste and eminent domain abuse.

California’s RDAs were first founded in 1945 as an effort to combat urban blight. They functioned through tax increment financing: after designating a certain area as blighted, the agency issued debt and gave that money to developers to build within the area. As property-tax revenues rose, the RDAs got that increase – aka the “increment” – to pay off the bonds. The idea behind the program was that, because the redevelopment generated more property tax receipts, it deserved this increment. Meanwhile, the rates designated for core services would remain frozen.

After decades of operation, this funding model proved to be a pipedream, as projects under-performed and these agencies wound up consuming 12% of property taxes statewide.

One of the main failings was with affordable housing, which consumed one-fifth of RDAs’ budgets. Like many affordable housing programs, this money wound up getting spent inefficiently. According to a 2010 Los Angeles Times report, at least 120 municipalities combined to spend $700 million in housing funds without producing a single unit, as many instead spent 6-figure sums on “planning and administration.” In other cases, cities spent over $800,000 per affordable unit. The Times found that "many projects face inexplicable delays…Land ostensibly set aside for affordable housing was in some cases turned over to commercial developers, raising questions about whether cities ever intended to build the housing in the first place.”

The RDAs’ commercial development side had similar problems. Money was often spent for projects that were slow to develop, and made little sense anyway: $17 million to refurbish a municipal golf course in Palm Desert; $2 million on land confiscation for a museum on Catalina Island; $5.4 million to renovate part of a restaurant and bar complex in Sacramento.

But the worst thing about RDAs was the eminent domain. Using the blight designation, which could be determined seemingly at whim, RDAs used “extraordinary powers”, in the words of a state senate committee, to confiscate property. The practice got further legal justification in 2005, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Kelo v. City of New London that private property could, in fact, be seized and transferred for private uses.

Thanks to California’s RDAs, there was plenty of money for this. For example, the city of Cypress took property owned by the Cottonwood Christian Center to use for retail development. After a prolonged legal battle, both the church and retail were allowed to coexist on the property. In Lancaster, Costco threatened to leave if the city didn’t condemn the 99 Cents Only store that competed with it in the same shopping center. Following a lawsuit, the city finally gave Costco land in a public park.

And other eminent domain examples abounded. Writing in City Journal, Steven Greenhut noted the irony of how the policy was used for housing, in particular. To build affordable housing, existing homes were often demolished. But because the construction process was so slow, this new housing wasn’t built, creating an even worse shortage than before.

“The RDAs’ diverted funds and failed promises are reason enough to get rid of them,” wrote Greenhut. “But their abuses of property rights are the last straw.”

In 2011, state controller John Chiang concurred after auditing 18 RDAs. He found that the agencies had stripped $40 billion from public education, causing a bailout from the state's general fund; that every RDA audited was found to have reporting deficiencies; and that some weren't appropriately tracking their debt.

For these reasons, Governor Brown ended them in 2011 – a decision that proved to be half-hearted. In 2014, he signed legislation to allow EIFDs, the entities that Governor Newsom wishes to increase funding for. The policy allows cities to continue issuing tax increment financing for projects, although it is more focused on core infrastructure than RDAs were.

The policies promoted by Chiu, however, are more like a Redevelopment Agency 2.0 effort. The assemblymember has jumped on California’s affordable housing crisis as a reason to bring them back, designating more of the revenue for affordable units. Early last year, he proposed a bill that died in committee. After Newsom’s election, he’s proposed a new bill – AB 11 – that, according to the fact sheet, “allows cities and counties to create affordable housing, and infrastructure agencies to fund affordable housing and infrastructure projects using tax increment financing.” To avoid the previous problems, the bill would mandate stronger oversight. As Chiu wrote by email:

The past abuses of redevelopment were substantial, but AB 11 is not a replica of the former redevelopment agencies. Our bill requires that affordable housing funds be spent in a timely manner and has robust reporting requirements. This new financing tool focuses on building sustainable, affordable communities and has safeguards in place to prevent fraud, abuse, and displacement.

Chiu's optimism seems unfounded. The governments of California, at city and state level, remain riddled with waste and abuse. If the examples from the RDAs aren't convincing enough, just consider two recent trends - the state has been unable to solve its pension crisis, despite these costs having driven several cities into bankruptcy; and it was unable to build high-speed rail (which itself spurred the condemnation of 300 homes) because of cost overruns resulting form poor oversight of contractors.

The state's governing culture has been eroded by special interests, and the RDAs, said Greenhut, were no exception, fielding an army of lawyers, consultants and politically-connected developers. A new crop of RDAs that require additional oversight will - whether Chiu intends this or not - be a sop to the bureaucracy that performs the work.

Perhaps even worse is the notion that RDAs are needed to produce affordable housing in California. As housing analysts - including myself - have mentioned exhaustively by now, high home prices there result from a chronic, government-created housing shortage. Thanks to zoning, environmental review, and other regulations, there's a limit on how much housing can be built, and significant expenses added to each new unit. The answer is not to redirect scarce property tax revenue into politicized agencies that require vast oversight just to perform their work. It's to let developers build - including the state's many affordable housing developers, who already have a variety of state and federal subsidies they can leverage.

No, the new RDAs appear to be a slightly less bad version of the old RDAs. They're an idea that needs to remain just that.

Scott Beyer owns a media company called The Market Urbanism Report, and is traveling the U.S. to write a book on reviving cities. His Twitter handle is @sbcrosscountry.

Scott BeyerContributor

Sunday, February 17, 2019

The Legend of the Gordian Knot

Alexander Cuts the Gordian Knot

The god Zeus had declared that when it came time for the people of ancient Phrygia to select a king, they must choose the first person to ride up to the temple of Zeus in a wagon. 

The peasant Gordius innocently fulfilled the oracle, was made king, and ruled very successfully.  In his gratitude Gordius dedicated his wagon to Zeus by tying it to a pole near the temple with an intricate knot of bark.

Another oracle declared that anyone who succeeded in untying the knot would be the ruler of all Asia. The knot stayed firmly tied, confounding all attempts to loosen it, until the arrival of Alexander the Great. 

Even Alexander’s conventional attempts to untie the knot were unsuccessful, until he cut the knot open with his sword. Zeus honored Alexander’s initiative by making the prophecy come true, and Alexander conquered all of Asia and more.

The “Gordian knot” has come to represent a difficult and intractable problem, while Alexander’s simple solution focused on the outcome rather than the problem.

for more on the gordian knot

Amazon’s HQ2 Fiasco Will Cost the Company More Than It Costs New York

Mark Lennihan/AP

Amazon’s HQ2 Fiasco Will Cost the Company More Than It Costs New York

The mega-company has bucked dealing reasonably with New York City, Seattle, and any community that asks them to pay for its freight.

In an economic development Valentine’s Day from hell, Amazon broke up with New York City today. As Amazon dropped Long Island City, Queens, as part of its second headquarters, the company showed its true colors.
Despite being a trillion-dollar enterprise, Amazon has refused to pay for its freight in communities, including Seattle. Instead of reacting reasonably to opposition to the HQ2 deal from state Senator Michael Gianaris, city council members, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and neighborhood activists, Amazon decided it only wants to play its game on its own terms.
But how big companies enter communities shouldn’t be handled like a ploy directed at gaming the system and extracting maximum incentives from cities. Amazon should not treat cities with tactics of exploitation and abuse.
The right thing for Amazon to do would have been to be a true partner for New York City: stay, make it work, and hire people in support of New Yorkers. Instead, Amazon has decided to leave New York City behind in favor of other regions it considers to be more hospitable. (Amazon has announced that it will not re-open the search process and will proceed only with northern Virginia and Nashville.)

As I have written before and will say again, it’s past time for city leaders across the country to stand up to Amazon, demand much-needed tax revenues instead shying away from taxing big businesses, and show support for the people in their neighborhoods. In New York, this movement has started in earnest. In a new proposal this week, state lawmakers are asking their fellow states to join them in an interstate compact to oppose incentives races like the one for Amazon. I would add to that call an ask for the mayors and former mayors considering running for president to stand up against incentives.
For such an analytically-minded company, which did such an extensive selection process, Amazon should have been able to predict that the incentives would generate a backlash. Even during the selection process, the signs of resistance movements across the U.S. were evident, from new legislative proposals, to protests and rallies. New York City in particular, a region with an already-robust economy, was well positioned to resist Amazon. And yet, the company turned a blind eye. New York Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio drank the Kool-Aid they sold to Amazon. The Amazon HQ2 process has created a PR fiasco that has damaged the potential for cities and tech companies to work together effectively and to communities’ benefit. It will almost certainly hurt Amazon more than losing the HQ2 will hurt New York.
And that PR fiasco may just be getting started. To assume that everything is rosy in Crystal City, Arlington, and nothing like “activist NYC” is flawed. The mega-company shouldn’t expect zero backlash from the greater D.C. area. In fact, Amazon’s departure from New York City might embolden activists in the D.C. area, which has a large activist community as well. It would be perfectly reasonable to anticipate backlash left to come, especially after the news of an Amazon exit from New York City.
This is far from over.
CityLab editorial fellow Nicole Javorsky contributed research and editorial assistance to this article.

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