Government Over Governance
Governance by regional bureaucrats destroys government as envisioned by our Founding Fathers. Join the Nine-County Coalition to help offer solutions to challenges affecting the San Francisco Bay Area that do not eradicate the ballot-box power of voters in our state and cities.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
Proposed Regional Fuel Tax for the November 2016 Ballot
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.
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.