Government Over Governance

There is a difference 

Governance by regional bureaucracies destroys government as envisioned by our Founding Fathers.  The Nine-County Coalition seeks to offer solutions to challenges affecting the San Francisco Bay Area that do not weaken existing government jurisdictions.  Cities, counties, and states are government jurisdictions.  Regional agencies are not. Voters have control over officials serving in government jurisdictions, but no control over those administering agencies.  We encourage you to watch for legislation and decisions by regional boards that reduce your control over your city or county.  We thank you for visiting the NCC website. 

The Non-Partisan Nature of Opposition to Plan Bay Area

The Nine-County Coalition is not alone in viewing with a very jaundiced eye the growth of regionalism – here in the Bay Area personified by Plan Bay Area (PBA).  Although the NCC strives to remain completely non-partisan, we cannot help but point out that voices being raised against PBA arise from both the progressive and the conservative spectrum.  One of the best journalists in the Bay Area who often writes about the downside of regionalism is Zelda Bronstein.  We invite you to read her article on 48 Hills, More Than a Million People in San Francisco?  Did Anyone Ask You?  Here is an excerpt

Plan Bay Area

"Plan Bay Area’s autocratic character is rooted in the un-democratic governance of the regional agencies under whose aegis it proceeds, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments. Both entities are putatively overseen by unelected officials—to be precise, elected officials (mayors, city council members, and county supervisors) who were not elected to serve on MTC or the ABAG Executive Board. It follows that when they run for office or re-election, their positions on Plan Bay Area and the regional agencies’ other projects never come up."

Project Labor Agreements - Why the Clamor Pro and Con?

At its meeting of November 30, 2016, the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority (SFBRA) is expected to approve a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) under which all construction work undertaken SFBRA would operate. The meeting agenda packet contains a memorandum from Sam Schuchat, Executive Officer of SFBRA, proposing the adoption of the agreement,

“The Authority has compiled a list of numerous projects eligible for funding under Measure AA.
Many of these involve construction work. It is in the Authority’s interest to fund projects that are
high-quality projects built with a properly trained workforce and completed in a timely manner.
It is also in the Authority’s interest that the numerous jobs created due to passage of Measure AA
are safe, good-paying jobs that include training opportunities and other benefits to the region’s
workforce … The use of project labor agreements can help achieve these goals. A project labor agreement
(PLA) is an agreement between a project owner and a local building and construction trades
council that sets forth the terms and conditions of employment on a construction project."

As Sam Schuchat says in his memorandum of November 23, 2016, addressed to the SFBRA Governing Board, recommending that a Project Labor Agreement be adopted, “A project labor agreement (PLA) is an agreement between a project owner and a local building and construction trades council.”  In this case, it would be an agreement between the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority and various labor unions.  Mr. Schuchat cites quality work and workers’ benefits as reasons to require a PLA for construction work undertaken by SFBRA; however, if pressed, he would probably mention the federal Davis-Bacon Act and the California Prevailing Wage Law.  

Although Davis-Bacon, the California Prevailing Wage Law, and Project Labor Agreements are crucial elements of public works projects, usually the general public – who pays for these projects – is unaware of the high stakes involved.  Here we offer some historical background and details that we hope might be of interest.

The Davis-Bacon Act/Prevailing Wages - Origins

Back in the 1930’s, as the Great Depression and unemployment deepened, then President Franklyn D. Roosevelt unleashed the incipient force of federal power in an effort to put people back to work.  At the center of the nation’s restructuring were the Public Works Administration and the Works Project Administration, financing major construction as well as small-scale projects. Therefore, a substantial number of jobs created were in construction.  As market forces would dictate, workers migrated towards opportunities and adjusted their expected wages as necessary to benefit from the opportunities, often outbidding those not quite as flexible.

WPA Mural

Many of the migrants were non-white and relatively unskilled due to training barriers. Events culminated with the passage of the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931, a federal mandate which requires projects funded or assisted by the federal government to pay “prevailing wages” for each job classification in the project’s locality.

“The story of Davis-Bacon begins, one might say, in 1927 when a contractor from Alabama won a bid to build a Veterans' Bureau hospital in Long Island, New York.  He brought a crew of black construction workers from Alabama to work on the project. Appalled that blacks from the South were working on a federal project in his district, Representative Robert Bacon of Long Island submitted H.R. 17069 … the antecedent of the Davis-Bacon Act. (Davis-Bacon Act: Let's Bring Jim Crow to an End)

“The Davis-Bacon Act was passed with the specific intent of preventing non-unionized black and immigrant laborers from competing with unionized white workers for scarce jobs during the Depression.  And the devastating discriminatory effects persist, as minorities tend to be vastly underrepresented in highly unionized skilled trades and over-represented in the pool of unskilled workers who would have greater access to work if the prevailing wage laws were abolished … Most minority-owned construction firms are small and non-unionized. Davis-Bacon mandates inflated wage rates … and creates rigid job classifications and procedures which, though standard operating procedure for unions, are anathema to small non-unionized firms.” (Removing Barriers to Opportunity: A Constitutional Challenge to The Davis-Bacon Act)

Following the federal example, many states enacted “Little Davis-Bacon” acts containing similar requirements to those of the federal act.  California’s Little Bacon is the California Prevailing Wage Law.

Read More:   Prevailing Wages ~ Project Labor Agreements ~ Effect on Local Workforce

"The Pilgrims’ Real Thanksgiving Lesson"

Thanksgiving is thought as a day to express gratitude for bounties with which we are blessed and are happy to share. 


Benjamin Powell, a Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute, likes to remind us of an additional Thanksgiving story.
“In 1620 Plymouth Plantation was founded with a system of communal property rights. Food and supplies were held in common and then distributed based on ‘equality’ and ‘need’ as determined by Plantation officials.” … “Governor William Bradford, in his 1647 history, Of Plymouth Plantation, wrote that this system ‘was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort.' ”…

“Faced with potential starvation in the spring of 1623, the colony decided to implement a new economic system. Every family was assigned a private parcel of land. They could then keep all they grew for themselves, but now they alone were responsible for feeding themselves.”… “ ‘This change,’ Bradford wrote, ‘had very good success, for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been.’ "

Whether you celebrate Thanksgiving with family, and/or friends, or no one at all, we at the Nine County Coalition wish you a good and happy day.

Coalition Works! 

During the November 2016 Elections someone said, “NO on Proposition K is something Berniecrats and libertarians agree on!” This proposal would have increased San Francisco sales tax to 9.25%, sending buyers out of town to do their shopping, proportionally penalizing lower-income residents, diverting even more money from basic City services to homelessness.

San Francisco’s Proposition K had additional problems.  It was tied to Proposition J on the same ballot, which would create two new funds by charter amendment, the Homeless Fund and the Transportation Fund.  The City already has a Transportation Fund, so the new item was the Homeless Fund to the tune of $12.5 million to support the 2016-2017 budget.  That’s right, money is already needed to prop up the current astonishing $9.6 billion budget.

Residents are sensing that throwing money at homelessness does not work.  A study published shortly after the November Elections could support voters’ suspicions.  The study indicated that homelessness decreased by 14% since 2010 nationwide, but increased by 5.8% in San Francisco. 

Defeat of Proposition K shows that coalition around issues of common interest works.  Businesses, political parties, progressives, libertarians, tax groups, and especially transportation advocates just said no.  Ideology and partisanship need not hinder collaboration.


A Question Whether Joe Voter is Plumb Out of Luck

"It took some real effort on the part of regionally-oriented elected officials…to force a consideration of the true regionalism and mixed jurisdiction regionalism." 

"...That may take the form of a regional 'by right' or ministerial approval process for all plan-compliant projects or the creation of a regional review body that has approval powers and is free from parochial politics and pressures.”

Regionalism:  The Power of Peskiness

Persistence is an admirable trait, but at times it can turn into peskiness.  Bay Area residents who are happy with their city, county, and state jurisdictions, might feel that the persistence of advocates for regional governance has morphed into downright peskiness. 

Before there was Measure AA in June 2016 or the adoption of Plan Bay Area on July 2013, there were activist organizations which sprouted during the post-war era that lobbied for integration of Bay Area transportation, land use, and environmental efforts.  Specialized organizations, such as the Greenbelt Alliance, Save the Bay, and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission survived.  More ambitious efforts died in the vine, but served to pave the way for other regional endeavors.

Bay Vision 2020 is an example of a “failed” plan that succeeded admirably in normalizing the concept of regionalism.  Principal movers and shakers that today advance the cause of regionalism are rightful heirs of BV2020.  Here we offer a brief narrative of BV2020 and one of its foremost heirs.

Bay Vision 2020

Established in 1989, the Bay Vision 2020 Commission stands out as particularly bold in its intent not only to integrate functions but also governments.  This commission’s history is fascinating enough to have given rise to detailed case studies and to have left us with some understanding of the ultimate aim of regionalism -- a change in the current structure of governments -- as Joël Thibert discusses in Governing Urban Regions Through Collaboration.

"When the regional organizations were created back in the late 1960s and 1970s … they were really created to thwart regionalism.  They were really created to protect local jurisdictions’ authority and protect local control over the single issue… It took some real effort on the part of regionally-oriented elected officials…to force a consideration of the true regionalism and mixed jurisdiction regionalism."  Rod Diridon, as quoted in Thibert's book.

Rod Diridon, who held posts in both regional agencies (MTC and BAAQMD) and county councils (Saratoga and Santa Clara), was instrumental in the formation of the Bay Vision 2020 Commission.

The commission differed from previous efforts at implementing regionalism from the start. It excluded elected officials, lacked an objective to address one specific challenge (for example, need for clean water), and aimed at passing enabling legislation to address a laundry list of diverse issues.  In other words, the commission was formed, Thibert observes, to reform government, rather than to tackle a specific regional problem.

Read More:  Joe Voter  


Most of Us Really Are The 99%

Since the Big Bank Bailout of 2008, institutions like JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs have suffered tarnishing in the public’s mind.  News that Wells Fargo Bank employees were so driven that they resorted to opening fake accounts did not help the big-bank image. To that, add investments in industry sectors some people consider unacceptable, sizeable corporate contributions to political campaigns, and continued just plain bigness, which will call for bailing out again during the next inevitable downturn.

So, what to do?  Stay with a big bank for the convenience of ATM’s everywhere and services of every imaginable kind, or move to another alternative?  Judging by the existence of alternative banking, it appears some folks have taken the plunge. 

Part of the mission of the Nine-County Coalition is to offer alternatives where things do not feel quite right.  Therefore, here is a brief summary of alternatives to traditional big banks.  Of special interest might be the “public bank,” of which there is only one in the entire United States.

Community banks:  Small, locally owned, invest in their community and not across state lines, provide more personal service, can be state or federally chartered. 

State-chartered banks:  Regulated primarily by state agencies familiar with local challenges and strengths, have comparable powers to federal institutions in all areas of operation, can choose not to belong to the Federal Reserve system, but can belong to the FDIC.

Internet-only banks:   No brick & mortar so substantial costs savings to pass on to customers, offer banking stability to people who travel or relocate often, many absorb the cost of customers using other banks’ ATMs to withdraw cash, lots of free services.

Read More: Public Banks

Is "Local" a Made-Up Word?

At their board meeting of September 27, 2016, San Francisco Supervisors passed Resolution 161044, calling for San Francisco agencies to "monitor and review any development proposals for the Brisbane Baylands Area." News outlets reported the backstory that the Supervisors discussed the annexation of Brisbane.  But doesn't Brisbane have local control?!  Read on.

At their board meeting of September 27, 2016, San Francisco Supervisors passed Resolution 161044, calling for San Francisco agencies to "monitor and review any development proposals for the Brisbane Baylands Area." News outlets reported the backstory that the Supervisors discussed the annexation of Brisbane.  But doesn't Brisbane have local control?!  Read on.

What does “local” mean?  What does "local control” mean?  Our articles on the Nine-County Coalition sometimes call for “local control.”  Proponents and opponents of ballot proposals, having caught on to voters’ desire to eliminate federal mandates such as Common Core or to prevent legislators from taxing them into homelessness are using variations of “local control” in their appeals.  Here are three examples from the California voter’s guide.

“Prop. 51 will fix deteriorating schools, upgrade classrooms, and provide job-training facilities for veterans and vocational education. All projects are accountable to local taxpayers.” 

“Prop. 53 erodes local control by requiring statewide vote on some local infrastructure projects.”
“Proposition 58 gives school districts local control to choose the most effective instruction methods for their students.”

Recently, one of our website visitors wrote to us pointing out the problem with our accepting the phrase “local control.”  The visitor’s arguments were in our view good enough to list here:

• Lawful political jurisdictions are city, county, state, and federal.  Reference to local, regional, and global areas as if they were lawful jurisdictions is unwise.

• We the people require established legal political jurisdictions in which to exercise our legal political power.  If we allow legal political jurisdictions to blur, our legal political power is also blurred.

• We have lawful authority in an incorporated city, unincorporated county (dependent legal political subdivision of the State), State and federal governments.

• "Local" is a word of society not government, so is “regional” and so is “global.”

• Proof that we must guard our lawful political jurisdictions otherwise our lawful political authority will be gone: The San Francisco Board of Supervisors recently considered "annexing" the near-by city of Brisbane because it found Brisbane's development plans unhelpful to San Francisco.  Development is a regional issue, they said.

Upon hearing about the annexation plans referenced above, Thomas Jefferson would have said “I warned you against not keeping eternal vigilance, didn’t I?”

The November 2016 Ballot - Lucy Strikes Again!



Remember Lucy from the Peanuts cartoons?  Lucy’s favorite pastime was to fool Peanuts into believing she would hold the football still for him to kick.  Does Lucy remind you of anything else besides Charles Schulz?  How about California’s Proposition 55?  San Mateo’s Proposition K?  San Francisco’s Proposition B?  Oh, we can go back in recent memory to 2008 and Proposition 1A, "The Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act for the 21st Century." How is that easy commute working for you?  The “Lucy Syndrome” permeates politics, and voters might benefit from awareness of that fact. 

Proposition 30, “Temporary Funding for Education,” on the California November 2012 ballot implemented a retroactive personal income tax increase on incomes over $250,000 over seven years through 2018, and an increase of $0.25 in the state sales tax over four years through 2016.  The temporary tax would provide funding for schools.  On the November 2016 California ballot, Lucy has placed Proposition 55, "Tax Extension to Fund Education and Healthcare," which extends by 12 years the temporary personal income tax.  (Temporary Taxes Become Permanent on Prop. 55)

Proposition A, San Mateo County’s 2012 “Critical Services Ordinance,” implemented a one-half cent sales tax to maintain the county’s “quality of life.”  The proposal said, “The tax will remain in effect for a period of ten years, after which it expires.”  On the November 2016 San Mateo County ballot, Lucy has placed Proposition K, "San Mateo County Critical Services Measure," extending the sales tax implemented by Proposition A by 20 years; this time primarily for housing – although revenues would go to the general fund for no specific purpose at all. (No on K: Why Now-Too Soon)

Proposition A, San Francisco’s 2012 “City College Parcel Tax” expiring in 2020 would save City College, who had supposedly fallen victim of general economic times.  However, in 2016, when the City expresses joy for a booming economic climate, Lucy is at it again. Proposition B, "Local Control Parcel Tax," on the November 2016 ballot is here to save City College again, four years before the expiration of the Proposition A tax.  Proposition B asks for a parcel tax $20 higher at $99, and good through 2032. (Shall We Kill the Messenger?)

As a political tool, the “Lucy Syndrome” is unparalleled.  It helps pass ballot measures by making proposals – and the challenges they address – seem temporary and easily remedied.  It provides unending sources of revenue while disguising needs as temporary.  A more efficient and cost effective way to deal with challenges is to actually fix their underlying causes. Voters can help by remaining well informed and always holding their representatives’ feet to the fire.

Sustainable Freedom Lab

Although the Nine-County Coalition is primarily focused on the nine counties located in the San Francisco Bay Area, we attempt to provide context with material relating to state, national and international developments.  One of several organizations discussing regionalism at the state and national levels is Sustainable Freedom Lab.  Their website contains much information on how bureaucracies replace elected officials, how property based on distribution of resources replaces traditional private property, how misguided ideas of social justice replace rule of Constitutional law.

One of the must-see or must-hear programs on the SFL website, is Socialism in America.  Segment one of three, aired September 25, 2016, discussed how our republican form of government is morphing into socialism, and how that morphing is taking place.  Segments two and three on October 2 and October 9 will further discuss the challenge.

Must-read on the SFL website are articles on HUD (the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development).  If you have not yet carefully read requirements of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule, an executive order issued by President Obama implemented July 2015, we encourage you to do so.  Mandates of the AFFH result in one-size-fits-all prescriptions for all communities, something no one ends up happy with.

Then Came the Urban Planners...

“Cheap rents and relatively lax building codes drew artists and entrepreneurs with wild ideas to the neighborhoods of empty properties and empty streets…The new residents created a hip new community and cleaned environment with no help from private or government funds.  Sweat equity was the currency we ran on.”

This personal San Francisco story of the Mission and what came to be called South of Market around the 1970’s , can be found in zRants, but variations on the theme can be found in countless communities characterized as artists, entrepreneurs, recent immigrants, or minorities.  “Sweat equity” is the common currency.

Prior to the early 1970’s, most communities still developed organically, as people gravitated to what they liked. There were neighborhoods of single-family homes with big yards, pads for flower children, and everything in-between.  If a neighborhood got too crowded for some, they moved somewhere else.  If residents’ fortunes grew and they moved to better neighborhoods, others moved in to create their own fortune.

Then came The Planners, and everything was declared Unsustainable.  In the Bay Area, although planners such as community redevelopment agencies had been wrecking havoc since the 1940’s (the most prominent instance of wrecking was the obliteration of San Francisco’s Old Fillmore District), The Planners did not reach their stride until The General Plan in the mid 1980’s.  Each city formulated a plan, remarkably similar to one another.  That not being enough planning, Plan Bay Area was approved – no peoples’ votes, just approved -- in July of 2013. 

Today’s Planners are obsessed with achieving their magical goal of Sustainability, no matter what it takes.  If it takes a three-feet long voter’s ballot filled with proposals for parcel taxes, sales taxes, and bonds, so be it.  If it takes bulldozing neighborhoods built on sweat equity, so be it. 

Should voters continue to feed the beasts unleashed by The Planners?

 "Sustainable Development" - A Mantra for Our Times

The principal theme of today’s Bay Area central planners is “Sustainability.”  What does that concept mean?  How did that word become so ubiquitous? Often, past events give us a clue of present conditions.  For those interested in events that preceded the current sustainability theme, we offer a time line, going back to 1864.  Obviously, many other equally significant happenings could fit into this time line, such as Moshe Safdie’s Habitat, seen by 50 million people at the Montreal World’s Fair of 1967.  Or Earthrise, the photograph of the Earth and parts of the Moon's surface taken by astronaut William Anders in 1968, during the Apollo 8 mission. 

However, we chose these events:

*American National Park System:  Early Critical Documents

1864 – Congress turns over Yosemite Valley and a nearby grove of giant sequoias to the state of California as a public park

1872 – Congress turns over the Yellowstone areas in Montana and Wyoming to the U.S. Secretary of Interior as a public park.

1906-  Congress passes the Antiquities Act, making any appropriation or injury to lands controlled by the U.S. Government punishable by fines or imprisonment.  The Antiquities Act also states, “That the President of the United States is hereby authorized, in his discretion, to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments.”

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AB2492 and The Makings of a Perfect Storm

What is there not to love about eliminating blighted areas, providing housing, opening malls?  Lots, if we are talking about “redevelopment” as the California Legislature has come to interpret the word. 

The “old” Redevelopment Agency, dissolved in 2012 at the urging of Governor Jerry Brown, has the distinction of going down in history as the instrument that during the 50’s and 60’s bulldozed the homes, businesses, livelihood, and rich culture of thousands of residents of San Francisco’s Old Fillmore District.  Such rampage was duplicated throughout California, as other forms of “urban renewal” were replicated throughout the nation.

In a January 2011 article on the Rasmussen Reports, Jerry Brown Takes on Redevelopment, Debra Saunders discusses then Assemblyman Chris Norby’s view of the Agency.  “Some redevelopment zones may eliminate blight and provide low-income housing as originally intended, he concedes, but redevelopment also allows billions of tax dollars to bankroll the building of a lot of half-empty shopping malls, as well as sweetheart deals that pad the pockets of well-connected developers. As Norby put it, redevelopment served as an ‘unknown government’ that feeds ‘the most wasteful, the most fraudulent and the most abusive’ spending in California government.”

That “unknown government” ended not because it was destructive, corrupt, wasteful, and beyond voters’ reach, but because Governor Brown was staring at $1.7 billion in budget deficits that could be remedied by eliminating funding for the Redevelopment Agency.   Therefore, as soon as the California economy rebounded, calls for bringing back urban renewal sprouted like crabgrass. 

In 2015, AB2, Chapter 319, authorized cities and counties to create “community revitalization and investment authorities.” CRIAs are also known as mini redevelopment agencies.  The agencies just got a boost in their workload with the passage of AB 2492, signed by Governor Brown on August 23, 2016.  The bill declared that a community could be declared “blighted,” not only because the area is run down beyond remedy, but also because most of its residents are relatively poor.  We are witnessing the development of a perfect storm.

Read More

Get Unstuck:  Fight Bay Area Bureaucracies

It is certainly rewarding to see one’s cause gain some press coverage.  Thank you to John McDowell for mentioning the Nine-County Coalition in his article of August 9, on the San Mateo Daily Journal, Stuck in the Zone.  The article is a good summary of the many parts coming together in building the engine of regionalism, multiplying a maze of unreachable bureaucracies, while spinning tales of benefits and transparency.  Stuck in the Zone alludes to Rod Serling’s yarns of the 5th Dimension. We wonder if regionalism has gone even further – into the labyrinths of Franz Kafka.

Have bureaucracies as the one pictured below become leaner, and that is why we don’t see such offices any more, or have bureaucracies simply become powerful enough to demanded more space?  We would bet the latter. We are stuck in the zone, albeit a more spacious and spruced up one.

Permit requests only on the 5th floor.  Pick up of permits on the 9th floor. Requiredstamping (mornings) on the 2nd floor.  Building has no elevators.  Walking is good.

Permit requests only on the 5th floor.  Pick up of permits on the 9th floor. Requiredstamping (mornings) on the 2nd floor.  Building has no elevators.  Walking is good.

The Bay Area Housing Crisis and Sinking Towers

The San Francisco Bay Area is experiencing a “housing crisis,” resulting in great activity from many quarters offering solutions.  Veritable movements have sprung up with plans for a better tomorrow.
Behind every movement there are people driving the movement.  For example, history has it that the prohibition on landfill around the San Francisco Bay was the result of three feisty ladies getting together back in the early 60’s to find a way to stop the big corporations of the time from making more land on the Bay’s waters -- by using sand, garbage, sunken ships -- and then building on the landfill. 

Today, some people are still fighting the big corporations that are now advocating building up, instead of out.  We believe the new fight is worth discussing, so we offer some random observations:

The dominant corporations in the Bay Area are technology companies, such as Google and Tweeter.  They are labor intensive, and their workers need to live somewhere.  In the heyday of factories and mills, there were “company towns” built and paid for by companies.  Today, there are not.

The Bay Area Council calls itself “The Voice of Bay Area Businesses.”  Its website says “It is very clear that our inability to generate housing at the pace we are generating jobs is fueling an affordability crisis and at some point it will put the brakes on further economic growth. Employers are faced with the need to provide higher wages for their workers, putting a strain on their bottom line…”  Their recommendation is to mitigate “regulatory barriers to development of all kinds.”

Governor’ Browns response to the call to mitigate regulatory barriers is his Streamlining Affordable Housing Approvals trailer bill, which would override building permit rules of local cities and counties, including environmental hazard rules. 

All buildings settle a bit, but the South of Market 58-story luxury-condo Millennium Tower has sunk 16 inches into its bed of sand and tilted 2 inches northwest since its completion in 2009.    A lot of San Francisco is built on sand.

Map of San Francisco from website of the Oakland Museum.  Legend: Blue: creeks & streams; Aqua-green: marshes; Pink: modern landfill

Map of San Francisco from website of the Oakland Museum.  Legend: Blue: creeks & streams; Aqua-green: marshes; Pink: modern landfill

Our Down-Side-Up Powers


What a difference 229 years make!  The United States Constitution Article I, Section 8, Clause 7, says “Congress shall have power to establish post offices and post roads.”  In Article I are the “Enumerated Powers” of the United States Congress.  Powers not Enumerated, says Amendment X, are “reserved to the States, respectively, or to the people.” 

However, today the Federal Transit Administration tells the States and its people how they must manage their entire transportation system, in a down side up view of powers.  For example, FTA policy says that Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) “are required to represent localities in all urbanized areas (UZAs) with populations over 50,000.”  Say, if Napa County wants to build some roads within their county, Napa must register with our regional MPO (which is the Metropolitan Transportation Commission), and stand in line for their plan’s approval and for funding.

The “and for funding” part might bring to mind the old saying “He who pays the piper calls the tune.”  If the federal government contributes federal funds for local – not interstate – infrastructure, federal mandates that directly affect localities should be expected.  Mandates such as MPOs result in power shifts from cities, counties, and states to regions.  Cities, counties, and states are made up of elected officials over whom voters have power.  Regions are not. 

Here at the Nine-County Coalition, we hope that an increasingly wider circle of ordinary citizens concerned with the downsides of regionalism discuss the issues, find solutions to challenges, and eventually start affecting legislation designed to restore power of voters at the ballot box.

Proposition 218 and Why We Might Lose its Protections

Founding Father Thomas Jefferson said that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. Let’s compare that idea with the following excerpt from a 1996 legislative analysis of California Proposition 218:

Prior to Proposition 218, the local resident and property owner's role in approving most new local government revenue-raising measures was minimal… locally elected governing bodies held most of the power over local revenue.  Proposition 218 shifts most of this power over taxation from locally elected governing boards to residents and property owners. In order to fulfill this considerable responsibility, local residents and property owners will need greater information on local government finances and responsibilities.

The power shift occurred because Proposition 218 closed a lot of gaps left by Proposition 13.  Here is Section 2 of the Proposition also found on the 1996 legislative analysis:

The people of the State of California hereby find and declare that Proposition 13 was intended to provide effective tax relief and to require voter approval of tax increases. However, local governments have subjected taxpayers to excessive tax, assessment, fee and charge increases that not only frustrate the purposes of voter approval for tax increases, but also threaten the economic security of all Californians and the California economy itself. This measure protects taxpayers by limiting the methods by which local governments exact revenue from taxpayers without their consent.

Ever since, tax-and-spend advocates have not been happy campers, and have attempted to devise ways to circumvent both propositions.  One such attempt is now waiting to be heard by the California State Supreme Court.  The Pacific Legal Foundation in their May 24, 2016, letter to the Supreme Court Justices says in part,

PLF urges review of the decision of the Fourth District Court of Appeal in California Cannabis Coalition v. City of Upland, 245 Cal. App. 4th 970 (2016) (CCC v. Upland). Review is proper under Rule of Court 8.500(b)(1) because the case raises an important question of law that this Court should resolve. The question is whether the proponents of a new tax can evade constitutional prerequisites by introducing the tax as an initiative rather than a resolution of the governing body. The lower court held that taxes imposed by initiative are exempt from Article XIIIC of the California Constitution. Id. at 974. Under this ruling, local governments need not apply the constitutional requirements applicable to new taxes—a vote of the electorate in a general election.

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association contends that at issue is not just “a vote of the electorate in a general election,” but all safeguards contained in Proposition 218.

The Court of Appeal ruled that taxes proposed by a local initiative are not subject to Proposition 218. The ruling, however, was not limited to Proposition 218’s election date requirement. The Court said taxes proposed by initiative are exempt from all of 218.

The 4th District Court ruling is bizarre, and if allowed to stand it would eliminate the intent of Proposition 218.  Any proponent, including governing bodies, could team up with powerful special interest lobbies to pass a tax via an initiative.  We recommend that voters who wish to retain their power to decide how and by whom they will be taxed support the efforts of the organizations working to overturn this 4th District Court ruling.

By Right Housing Approval - Why the Clamor Pro & Con?

Much legislation that originates in the state or federal legislatures often weakens local control.  Such proposals pass based on promises of benefits – or threats of withholding benefits – in exchange for some transfer of power.  Governor Jerry Brown introduced one such proposal as a rider to the California State Budget 2016-2017, Streamlining Housing Approvals.  $400 million for affordable housing programs is contingent upon passage of the rider.  Although the budget was approved on June 15, this rider is under discussion as of today July 1, and amendments are being submitted.

Any mandate rolls downhill.  The Federal Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing executive order issued in 2015 made significant changes to crucial parts of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, and made Community Development Block Grants contingent on localities implementing the AFFH rules. It appears that Governor Brown needs to “do something.”

The challenge facing Jerry Brown is that communities want what they want, and will find a way to get it.  The permitting process is a tool in the arsenal.  Communities that want lots of affordable housing will use the process to negotiate affordability issues with developers.  Communities that do not want lots of affordable housing simply delay permits indefinitely.  But development costs soar as a result of delays, and groups that want increased supply to bring housing costs down see nothing happening.  So, Governor Brown decided on a "one size fits all" mandate from above.  

One would think there would be a less convoluted way for communities to maintain local control of their neighborhoods.  Perhaps allow neighborhoods to determine their zoning needs and provide ways for neighborhood groups to negotiate with developers in good faith?

More Info!

Brexit and Bay Area Regionalism

Editorial:  By Marcy Berry

Top of the news today, June 24, 2016:  Brexit!  The majority of voters in the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, and the markets and press are not happy at all.  Why would Bay Area voters concerned with regionalism pay attention to this event?  The connection should be clear; voters in the United Kingdom want a say in what happens to them, just like voters in the four Bay Area counties that rejected Measure AA.

Let’s make this clear.  Brexit or concern about regionalism in the Bay Area is not about folks being isolationists, anti-trade, backwards, uncaring or selfish.  It’s about people who do not wish non-elected bureaucrats to determine people's destiny. It’s about people who are no more pleased with some bureaucrat in Brussels telling them what to do than some bureaucrat in the Bay Area Restoration Authority doing the same.  Certainly, cooperation among countries or counties is essential to peace, prosperity, stability, safety, and a clean environment – all of which all responsible voters want.  But is loss of voter control necessary for the achievement of these objectives?  The answer should be “NO.” 


Brexit The Movie

Quotes about bureaucrats from The Movie:

Democracy only works if you know who your representatives are.
Massive transfer of power.
Power without accountability.
Designed so that great masses of people could not control government ever again.
We are being asked to give up the power to govern ourselves.
They really do believe that trinkets are going to buy us off.
You should have the power to remove the people who govern you.
Pooled sovereignty: It is bolix!
What price freedom?

A WAGTV Production for the "Leave the EU Campaign," written, presented and directed by Martin Durbin

What's In Store?

What:  A regional $0.05 to $0.10 per gallon fuel tax proposed by the Metropolitan Transportation Agency for local street and road repairs.  The board of supervisors in each of the Bay Area’s nine counties would have to agree to place the measure on the ballot.

Why:  MTC’s justification for the proposal is that federal and state funds for local transportation have decreased substantially; therefore, local entities need to raise funds on their own.  Funds would be used for local street and road repairs.

Problem:  Counties already raise transportation taxes.  There is no need for a regional agency to enter into the funding picture.

Alternative:  Residents of each county need to bear responsibility of using their hard-earned tax money efficiently to fund their transportation needs.

  • Growth of the Bay Area Regional Collaborative

What:  In May of 2012, California Senate Bill 1149 established the Bay Area Regional Commission, the purpose of which was to succeed the Joint Policy Committee.  JPC/BARC is made up of four agencies, Association of Bay Area Governments, Bay Area Air Quality Management District, S.F. Bay Conservation and Development Commission, and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

Why:  The bill states, “In spite the JPC's efforts to integrate Bay Area regional planning activities, it lacks the authority to make binding policy decisions or override its member agencies' decisions. As a result, some Bay Area elected officials worry that the JPC will be unable to achieve the close integration of transportation planning, land use planning, and air quality regulation that is necessary to achieve SB 375's goals.”  March 2015 the Governing Board of this agency changed the agency’s name to Bay Area Regional Collaborative.

Problem:   "Override its member agencies' decisions" sounds scary.  Also, it is not clear what JPC/BARC mean by “elected officials.” We would like to remind voters that the Bay Area Restoration Authority (which spawned Measure AA on the June 2016 ballot) considered itself made up of “elected officials," and nothing could be more misleading.  If we keep adding layers of agencies, each layer removes decision making further from voters.  Each layer ads cost, since layers are added but nothing is removed; as Ronald Reagan said, “A government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth.” 

Alternative:  Adults in the room meet periodically, discuss, cooperate, and collaborate to get things done, without additional layers of governance.

  • Questionable Role of Powerful Business Entities

What:   Community involvement is crucial in elections, but dominance by one or only a few segments of the voting public is not desirable.

Why:  Powerful private groups in so-called “public-private partnerships,” such as ABAG/Bay Area Council, generate enough cash to influence legislation benefitting their constituents and perhaps no one else.

Problem:  “As part of the Regional Economic Strategy process, the Bay Area Council Economic Institute in partnership with ABAG and MTC has led five sub-regional meetings that have highlighted local best practices in economic development and identified local priorities and concerns. Possible regional-level strategies were discussed that would support or complement local efforts.”  As we at the Nine-County Coalition noted, the Bay Area Council, in essence a business lobby, was the primary force behind the $2.3 million poured into Measure AA on the June 2016 ballot.

Alternative:  Grassroots groups -- such as the Nine-County Coalition, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, neighborhood coalitions, small businesses – need to get more involved in local policy making in order to provide balance.

  • Legal Issues

What:  “Taxation without representation” are fighting words! 

Why:  The Bay Area counties of Contra Costa, Solano, Sonoma, and Napa did not approve Measure AA, yet they are still obliged to pay the measure’s parcel tax.  Is a “region” a Constitutional, lawful taxing entity such as a state is? 

Problem:  The California state legislature seems bent on abdicating its planning and funding responsibilities (but not its generous salaries and benefits) by passing legislation forming and empowering regional entities.  Unlike cities, counties, and the state, these regional entities are run by bureaucrats far removed from the will of voters.

Alternative:  Question the legality of such regional entities, especially their power to propose taxes and spend as they see fit.  Return power to tax and spend to elected officials who directly represent voters.

Guess what the Stamp Act Rebellion was about?   Taxation without representation, of course.

Guess what the Stamp Act Rebellion was about?   Taxation without representation, of course.