Friday, December 20, 2019

Forced Upzoning is Bad Policy, But Here’s How We Can Mitigate Its Impacts

A number of bills in the legislature would attempt to “solve” the state’s housing challenges by overriding local municipal zoning ordinances and statutorily allowing developers to build up to Sacramento-mandated levels of density. The most notable of these bills is SB50, which has no provisions to make any of the housing built affordable, but espouses a “trickle-down” theory which suggests that market-rate (i.e. luxury) housing will “filter” down to create more affordable housing.
This “theory” not only has its foundations in Reaganomics, but is both opportunistic and false. Building more Porsches won’t bring down the price of Priuses. And however you try to frame it, upzoning is a wealth transfer from the public to the private sector. Mind you, on principle I oppose preemptive statutory upzoning that comes from either Sacramento or Washington. I believe that each community has its own unique DNA and, especially in major metropolitan areas, it is important for us to be able to make lifestyle choices which give us the ability create a sense of place, a sense of home and a sense of belonging, all of which are best created within individual communities.  In an increasingly cold, impersonal and faceless world, Community is more important than ever.
Statutory upzoning as proposed by Sacramento politicians, taking a number of chapters from the Trump Administration’s playbook, is the urban planning version of turning copper into platinum. Plain and simple, it’s a wealth transfer from the public to the private sector; in most cases that’s probably exactly the point. Strengthening communities made up of real, live people is not the ultimate goal of these policies, but rather the creation of corporate wealth on the backs of the larger community. Real estate interests and developers donate a lot of money to the political campaigns of Sacramento politicians and in our plutocracy, profits often outweigh people.
Nonetheless, politicians are crafty, and, at least in California, they understand that instituting policies which amount to corporate welfare don’t play well among the public.  So they need to use that most effective of political tools: spin. The “public” goal of these developer giveaways is, at least ostensibly, to create affordable housing and thereby ultimately to serve the public good.  But for all those California politicians who don’t want to wear their plutocratic tendencies on their sleeves and who want to envelope themselves in the mantle of progressivism, the true-believers in blanket upzoning should clearly support ways to limit the wealth transfer and to capture the value that their proposed upzoning creates.
One solution would be to introduce a progressive upzoning tax. Such a tax would work in a similar fashion to the way a progressive income tax is structured: the more expensive a luxury condo or apartment created through statutory upzoing is, the higher the tax rate would be.
Public services and infrastructure need to be funded (not to mention public employee pensions – but that’s another story); creating more development and adding more people to the mix clearly leads to increased needs. In fact, numerous nexus studies have shown that increases in market rate and luxury housing actually exacerbate the need for more affordable housing — a simply logical conclusion, confirmed by data.
Progressive upzoning taxes would not only help to capture the value created by Sacramento policies but would also provide local communities the resources to address the inevitable impacts.  With more people comes a need for more housing, transportation, infrastructure, schools, childcare, green space, etc.
A progressive upzoning tax could be implemented in a number of ways. It could be levied on the developer directly, but since Sacramento and the Trump Administration seem more concerned with developer profits than affordable housing (including self-styled progressives like Senator Nancy Skinner, who authored SB330 at the behest of developers), it would be more likely that such a charge should be levied on the well-heeled buyers or end-users.
The reasoning is also fairly simple: someone who can afford a $25 million luxury condominium or $50,000 in monthly rent for a luxury apartment can also afford to pay an additional 40% in upzoning taxes.  This is simply another tool to address growing income inequality, which is one of the root causes of our state’s housing affordability challenges.
The sliding scale of an upzoning tax would clearly and obviously not apply to affordable housing.
Studies and surveys repeatedly and continually show that the level of trust of citizens for their local communities and locally elected officials is much greater than their trust for Sacramento or Washington politicians. It isn’t even close.  And it’s understandable. Local communities are where we live and we can participate in our communities in a way that Sacramento and Washington don’t allow. When done right, local government is inherently more transparent and democratic than state or federal government, which is yet another argument for why subsidiarity should be a guiding principle within our democracy.
Progressive upzoning taxes would make the best out of a bad, preemptive situation in which Sacramento politicians show their disdain for local communities across the state. They would at least allow communities to capture some of the value created by Sacramento’s peremptory wealth transfer and put those funds to better use within our diverse and unique communities, to serve the residents and to alleviate the impacts of bad policies from Sacramento and Washington.
And what of the self-styled liberals who would oppose such a truly progressive way of mitigating this unprecedented wealth transfer and of capturing value for the public? They simply out themselves as what they really are: Trumpian corporate shills who are more concerned with Wall Street profits than anything else.
This piece first appeared on Fox and Hounds Daily.
John Mirisch has served on the Beverly Hills City Council since 2009. He is currently serving his third term as the city’s mayor.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Miller Creek after a Rainstorm

Miller Creek, one of Marin County's pristine watersheds is under threat of a 4400 square foot development in Marinwood Park. The proposed Maintenance Facility is excessive for the tiny park.  It is three times the size of the maintenance facility McInnis Park despite the fact that McInnis is employs double the staff and is 450 acres.  Marinwood Park is a mere 14 acres of which only about 7 acres is improved property and the excess. The rest is open space.  The Maintenance facility is gobbling up the open space and prime recreation area to fullfill the ambitions of the architect and former CSD board member Bill Hansell.  Despite the violation of the 2007 Marin County general plan that prohibits development within 100' of the stream bank, the Marinwood CSD is seeking approval of its design.  Neighbors are upset and the Marinwood CSD has kept its plans and budget secret.  They have violated numerous government contracting rules, political practices, transparency laws, in addition to numerous environmental laws.  This is quite unfortunate because there is unanimous agreement to approve a smaller structure outside the prohibited zone.  A 1200 sf structure identical to McInnis Park Maintenance Facility will be easily approved by a grateful public.

Marinwwood Architect Hansell Design accuses senior citizen for questioning billing

If I didn't see the above letter, I wouldn't believe how badly Architect Bill Hansell has behaved.  In February 2018, Marinwood CSD manager Eric Dreikosen hired an "unnamed architect" for the Marinwood Maintenance shed project for the "all inclusive price of $12,000".  Later, we found out that it was former CSD Director, Bill Hansell who had hired Eric Dreikosen in 2016.  Why wasn't this revealed?

I have gotten to know Bill Hansell over the years and know while he can be intemperate at times, he also has a positive vision for the community which I share.  From the start of this project I have wanted to work with Bill but it was not to be. 

Hansells billing stopped before reaching $12,000 and he has worked many hours from May 2018 until December 2018.  We simply wanted to know how much his services are costing the district.

Already, Hansell pushed the design from a small 1200 sf garage to a 4400 square foot compound that easily will cost at least five times the original proposal in 2017.   He refused to meet with the public to work out our concerns with the size, location and environment. Despite a large petition of residents asking for a public process to examine alternative designs,  the Marinwood CSD has attempted to seek a Design Review Exemption that would prevent a public hearing on the Marinwood CSD proposal.  (There are many issues of concern to be considered).

Now, Hansell is behaving quite poorly, as though a request for financial accountability is unwarranted and his character is being maligned.  We will let you judge it for yourself.  

Is Hansell Design's billing practice acceptable for a public project?  

Why is over 1/3 of the Marinwood Maintenance Compound Wasted Space?

The Maintenance Shed compound is huge because over 1/3 of it must remain open for vehicle and equipment access.  The above drawing approximates the areas that will need to remain open. It does not show the support columns in the center of the building which further restricts movement.

It is easy to overlook practical concerns when creating an initial design.  The first design of the Marinwood Maintenance Compound is an excellent example.   A huge access corridor must remain open at all times to allow vehicles and equipment to move in the long and narrow facility.  In addition each "room has support columns in the middle that further restricts movement.   This is a FATAL DESIGN ERROR and  why a new design must be created.

Almost everyone will support a well designed facility that minimizes the impact to the park and the creek while also providing enough space for our 3 workers.  The current building is approximately 3200 square feet inside a 5400 square foot compound.  This is TWICE the size of neighboring homes.  We are storing 1 full size truck, 2 utility vehicles, a tractor and equipment.  A conventional side access garage as seen in every government agency in Marin will take up about half the size at less than half the cost.

We need your help to stop the "White Elephant". Let's build a "right size" garage instead.
Sign the Petition HERE

Sunday, December 15, 2019



 A MILKMAID had been out to milk the cows and was returning from the field with the shining milk pail balanced nicely on her head. As she walked along, her pretty head was busy with plans for the days to come.

"This good, rich milk," she reused, "will give me plenty of cream to churn. The butter I make I will take to market, and with the money I get for it I will buy a lot of eggs for hatching. How nice it will be when they are all hatched and the yard is full of fine young chicks. Then when May day comes I will sell them, and with the money I'll buy a lovely new dress to wear to the fair. All the young men will look at me. They will come and try to make love to me,—but I shall very quickly send them about their business!"

As she thought of how she would settle that matter, she tossed her head scornfully, and down fell the pail of milk to the ground. And all the milk flowed out, and with it vanished butter and eggs and chicks and new dress and all the milkmaid's pride.

Do not count your chickens before they are hatched.

Marinwood CSD "White Elephant" design explained in two minutes.

Architect Bill Hansell explains his "drive through" maintenance shed compound to Marinwood CSD Parks and Recreation department on April 24, 2018.  Only five members of the public were invited to attend while the rest of the public was in the dark.  The CSD violated the  Brown Act .

Bill Hansells design is obviously flawed from a workflow standpoint.  The dimensions do not support the activities he proposes.  Recently, he has downplayed the parking garage and says these are workshops. If so, this means our equipment will be out in the rain and subject to vandalism.  Wasn't security and storage an essential goal of the project?

As the Truth comes out about the Shed, Outrage grows

Marinwood residents are getting restless at the lies.

As bomber pilots, say" You can tell when you are over the target. That is when the flack is the heaviest".   I am not on NextDoor but I understand that the architect, Bill Hansell and his willing allies are smearing me with personal attacks and calling critics of his plans "liars".   Funny thing is that he never addresses any specific criticism of the White Elephant project which is directed at the impractical aspects of a long drive through garage.   It is just relentless attacks.  

While I cannot blame Bill Hansell for wanting a payday for his project,  I'd prefer that he address concerns in a civil manner that respects public process.  

Here are a few questions I'd like answers to:

1.) Why a design with so much wasted space? Over 1/2 will need to remain open for access.
2.) The project was initially promoted as a garage/workshop that will hold vehicles, tools and materials.  Once the access limitations were pointed out, the project is now just a workshop and storage.   Do they now believe the vehicles are okay to be stored outside in the weather?
a.) Our guys only do projects a few times a month.  Is there need for a dedicated workshop? Won't a part time flexible space/garage be better?
b.) Why isn't a  design with side access doors being considered for cost and size savings? Why is the architects preference for "no garage doors" more important than worker's need for easy access, light and shop organization?  
3.) Why the insistence on "no door" design with so many limitations that it must be twice as big as necessary?
4.) Where will trucks turn around?  Are you aware that a Ford F250 needs approximately 60' circle to turn 180 degrees?
5.) Has ventilation and dust collection been considered in the the enclosed design?  Where will this be housed?  Is it noisy?
6,) What is the cost/budget for the project?   Why isn't this being discussed publicly?
7.) What do other parks departments use for garage/workshop? Shouldn't we build something similar to other successful designs?
8.) What do the workers think of the design? I have heard they hate the limitations/inefficiency of moving vehicles and equipment constantly for access and inaccessible storage
9.) Why can't we have story poles to establish the mass of the building and a 3D design of the building showing how the space "works"? Why isn't side and front elevation drawings available to the public?  The architectural drawings do not show the full building. 
10.) Why is the project being rushed for approval before public discussion?  Why should we trust the process?

Sign the Petition Here


Equipment is stored randomly
Marinwood Community Services District, 775 Miller Creek Road, San Rafael, Ca 94903
Main Office: (415) 479-0775 Fax: (415) 479-7759

The following needs assessments and considerations, once reviewed, finalized and approved, will be used by the selected design professional and implemented into final design of the facility.

A. Facility Location Needs and Considerations

1 Proximity: Close and efficient access for staff, ideally within Marinwood Park property where
majority of maintenance work is performed (Parks, Pool Complex & Buildings).
2 Available Space: Area needs to be large enough to house facility (building, exterior yard, materials) and
allow for vehicle access, turn-around, loading/unloading, trailer hook-up, etc.
3 Ingress & Egress: Safe, well-marked vehicle entry & exit way, accessible from multiple directions or
without need for extensive rerouting (U-turns, etc). Minimize impact on outside vehicle
and pedestrian traffic, users of park, associated facilities and other District operations.
4 Environmental: Park parcel = environmentally sensitive area with creek/watershed, natural areas, etc.
Minimize impact as much as possible. Coordinate with various regulatory agencies.
5 Neighbors: Existing location is within immediate proximity of private residences. Minimize impact
as much as possible.
6 Infrastructure: Consider and leverage existing infrastructure (water/sewer/electric) as much as possible.

B. Facility Interior Needs and Considerations

1 Size: Footprint and height to be minimized as much as possible as determined by design
professional while addressing needs as described herein.
2 Storage Capacity:
Vehicles: Full size maintenance truck (F-250 super cab with extended bed).
Other Vehicles: Riding mower; utility vehicles (x2).
Tools & Equip: Ladders, chainsaws, table saw, chop saw, specialty tools, compressor, generator,
drill press, landscape maintenance equipment (weed whackers, blowers), hand tools.
Parts & Supplies: Plumbing, Painting, Electrical, Irrigation, various screws, nuts, bolts, etc.
Lumber: Limited supply kept on-site for quick fixes (2x4's, 2x6's, 1x6's, plywood, etc).
Chemicals: Limited quantities kept on site including gasoline. Requires specialized storage.
3 Workshop Area: Space for equipment maintenance and special projects as well as workbench(es).
4 Desks/Office: Dependent on location. Current location allows for continued use of modular office.
Alternate locations will require office area to be incorporated into design as well as
restroom(s) for staff, water/sewer, electrical power, phone line, internet connection.
5 Cabinets/Storage: Built-in and free standing. Include shelving units. Optimize space utilization as much as
possible as determined by design professional.
6 Electricity: Conveniently located power outlets throughout. 110 and 220?
7 Lighting: Ample interior lighting needed. Consider optimal use of ambient lighting in addition.
8 Water/Sink: Shop sink(s) in addition to plumbed eye wash station(s).

The real problem with the shed is the lack of organization and light.

9 Fire Sprinklers: Building code may require connected sprinklers. This may require a larger water
meter connection.
10 HVAC/Ventilation: A/C not needed. Heating is needed. Insulation needed. Proper ventilation needed.

C. Facility Exterior Needs and Considerations

1 Secure Yard: Large enough to store tractor and potentially long-term storage unit/container, dump
truck and trailer (Dump truck and trailer may be able to be stored outside of yard). Area
should also have capability to be used as workspace for projects not suited to indoors.
Consider retractable or removable structure to protect from elements, rain, etc.
Suggest 8' tall fencing for security.
2 Lighting: Security and functionality. Consider motion detectors as well as potential impact to
nearby residences depending on facility location.
3 Material Bins: Storage of commonly used materials such as gravel, wood chips, sand, etc.
Potential to contain within Yard otherwise will need to be placed in immediate vicinity.
4 Electricity: Outlets placed outside to eliminate need of large extension cords running from inside.
Incredibly, after building a 4400 square foot compound surrounded by 8 foot walls, they suggest storing material bins , dump truck and trailer OUTSIDE the facility?   Come on!  Has anybody really thought this through? The existing footprint will DOUBLE and yet we still have on a 3 person staff managing about six acres within the 14 acre park.

D. Construction and Design Needs and Considerations

1 Building Material: Metal, Wood or Concrete Block. Initial -vs- long term cost, upkeep, aesthetics are
consideration factors.
2 Building Type: Premanufactured versus design and build-to-suit? TBD based on form, function, cost.
3 Aesthetics: Blend with surrounding environment and not seem out of place.
4 Access:
Vehicle Bay: Multiple garage doors (3x), possibly an over-sized garage door. Roll-up preferred to
maximize space. Reduce noise impact as much as possible.
Workshop: Standard door to outside for pedestrian access.
Yard: Sliding gate in addition to doorway or garage door to yard area direct from building.
5 Security: Limit visibility into building and yard area. Suggest 8' fencing for yard. Locked gate at
foot of driveway entrance (existing location already has gate in place).

Editor's Note:  Here are examples of professional grade shop organization.  There is no need for a massive shop.  Shop organization is essential for efficient workflow.