Governance by regional bureaucrats 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 governmental 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 thank you for visiting the NCC website.

SB 166 Takes One More Bite Out of Private Property

California Senate Bill 166 - Nancy Skinner (D-East Bay) :  An act to amend Section 65863 of the Government Code, relating to land use.  Approved by Governor Brown on September 29, 2017.

“This bill, among other things, would prohibit a city, county, or city and county from permitting or causing its inventory of sites identified in the housing element to be insufficient to meet its remaining unmet share of the regional housing need for lower and moderate-income households."

Some events are watersheds, demarcation lines for a before and an after.  The adoption of Plan Bay Area during a marathon meeting that ended shortly after midnight on July 19, 2013, is such a watershed.  The event announced to the people of the Bay Area that the concept of private property just changed, because the State of California wanted it so.  As a reminder, the catalyst behind Plan Bay Area 2013 was California Senate Bill 375, Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008.

In the before scenario, the concept of private property was acceptably clear – private meant it was yours.  You felt reasonably well protected by Amendment V of the U.S. Constitution:  “..nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.”

In the after scenario, the concept of private property became entangled with the notion of public good – your property exists to satisfy needs conceived by government, as Senator Nancy Skinner’s Senate Bill 166 illustrates.

A Nine-County Coalition participant summarized the situation and ramifications well:

“If there is no mine is mine and in fact what is mine is yours, then we are in very bad shape indeed. No one has any control then over any of the property they claim to be theirs… The useful innocents seem to have drank the Kool-Aid, convinced that the only way they will ever get anything is to take it from someone else. One is always able to create their own reality (there is no private) with their words.”

The alternate reality created by words such pubic good, crisis, fair share, insufficient, affordable, all boil down to a desire to communicate the ultimate substitute reality, “there is no private.”  The NCC participant goes on to say,

“Property ownership is essentially happiness. People work to get those things that they want in life. This ‘new world order', while seemingly providing for equity for all; ends up concentrating all property in the hands of a few (banks and multi-national corporations)... Our mission seems to be to make sense of what is said in concert with our desires in this life -- our pursuit of happiness.”

In other words, those of us who are concerned with the New Speak, need to be aware of what is being said and why.  Once we understand the language, we can vote in concert with our Constitutional right to our own property.

Senator Skinner's SB 166

More on SB 166

"If the approval of a development project results in fewer units by income category than identified in the jurisdiction’s housing element for that parcel and the jurisdiction does not find that the remaining sites in the housing element are adequate to accommodate the jurisdiction’s share of the regional housing need by income level, the jurisdiction shall within 180 days identify and make available additional adequate sites to accommodate the jurisdiction’s share of the regional housing need by income level."

Folks, think bout it.  What are "available additional adequate sites?"  Your basement?  Your backyard? 

Action Item: Phil Ting's Community Coffee

Event:  California Assemblymember Phil Ting’s Community Coffee

Why:  We encourage voters to attend town halls, listen to what their representatives say, and offer their comments regarding legislation, taxation, etc.  Assemblymember Phil Ting represents West San Francisco and San Mateo Counties. 

To Do:  This might be a good time to ask Mr. Ting to address the effect of crowding on real estate prices, how he and his colleagues in the Assembly plan to deal with unfunded pension liabilities, what is he hearing from neighborhoods regarding the recently enacted by-right building incentives, has he heard about the current effort to repeal the gas tax, and anything else you might want to get off your chest.  Representatives’ town halls in San Francisco are usually packed with supporters of tax and spend.  It might be good to balance the crowd a bit.

  West Portal Elementary School, at Taraval Street and Lenox Way.

  West Portal Elementary School, at Taraval Street and Lenox Way.

When:  Saturday, October 21, 2017, 10:00 to 11:30 am.

Where:  West Portal Elementary School, 5 Lenox Way, San Francisco.  Located on the corner of Taraval Street and Lenox Way. 

RSVP:  Assemblymember Ting’s official website, Event:  Community Coffee

Action:  Tell your family, friends (live and/or virtual), neighbors, and associates. 

Unsustainable Sustainability Strategy: Tax, Subsidize, and Build

The Projected New Normal

On September 29, 2017, California Governor Jerry Brown gifted California residents with yet another package of taxes and regulations by signing 15 bills intended to mitigate the state’s housing-affordability crisis.  The Governor, as well as legislators who passed the bills, all made clear this was only a start.  Hence forward, Californians must expect a steady stream of affordable housing funding proposals and mandates to ensure that every community meets its Regional Housing Needs Allocation numbers.  A new steering committee, the CASA Steering Committee -- whose slogan is Production, Preservation and Protection – is tasked with making tax, subsidize, and build the “new normal.”

The Bay Area is an epicenter of unaffordability, and it appears leaders in the region’s major cities are on board with the state’s tax, subsidize, and build plan – either because they are true believers or because they fear loss of state transportation funds if housing goals are not met.

The Perils

As an aside, it should be noted that California is among states that enjoy the following distinctions,

*   highest taxes
*   highest priced real estate
*   highest unsheltered homeless population
*   highest state debt per capita, not even counting unfunded pension liabilities.
*   most regulated
*   declining net in/out migration per 1,000 residents

It also should be noted that the states’ cities and counties have their own debt and pension liabilities woes.  They also have challenges associated with poor quality schools and crime.  

At some point, the costs associated with high taxation, micromanagement, bureaucratic expansion, and crowding will outpace the benefits of subsidies.  Add to the costs project labor agreements, diversity-tracking paper work, disgruntled residents demanding control over their neighborhoods, and we get perilously closer to the tipping point.

Although the combination of all these variables have the makings of a perfect storm, especially in the high-cost Bay Area, as a rule, once so much time and treasure is invested in a strategy such as the tax, subsidize, and build plan, it is difficult to change course.  No one sees an alternative to getting on board.

Comments of participants during the CASA Steering Committee meeting of September 27, 2017, provided good examples of the one-track option gripping the Bay Area.  Here are samples.

Steve Heminger, Executive Director of MTC, declared housing planning and construction are on a new track, and some “sacred cows” will need to be discarded.

Jake McKenzie, President of MTC, indicated a need for “different taxation structures” to finance housing needs.

Scott Wiener, CA Senator, said the 15 housing bills, including his SB 35 containing the gas tax, were a first step, a “healthy down payment.”

Ed Lee, Mayor of San Francisco, declared that plenty of affordable [subsidized] housing is the only solution to ensure that people who work in the City, including first responders, also live in the City.

Libby Schaaf, Mayor of Oakland, indicated her hope for bold action.  She noted the predicament of people who would like to move but fear not being able to find anything they can afford.

Bob Alvarado, Executive Officer of Nor Cal Carpenters Regional Council, expressed perhaps the most direct comments. He noted that in the past, builders produced a lot of track housing in bedroom communities; since that is no longer possible, new ways to build need to be found.  He added that there is push back on taxes, so there needs to be impetus for voters to vote in favor of more taxes; a lot of money is already spent on promoting bond and local measures.

Failing On All Fronts, but No Plan B

Steve Heminger opened the CASA meeting mentioned above by saying that in the current housing affordability plan, "We are failing on all fronts."  However, there is no Plan B. 

The tax, subsidize and build mind set is the "new normal."  It will continue to be promoted to the voting public. Advocates of the current plan will continue to be the only ones welcomed at the MTC/CASA table.  Hopefully, those who take the possibility of a perfect storm seriously will also take action by pushing back and suggesting alternative plans.

Plan Bay Area: A Dud or Just Needs More Money to Succeed?

Plan Bay Area 2040 is a done deal.  The bureaucracy is in place in the form of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and its unwelcome stepchild the Association of Bay Area Governments.  California legislators churn out legislation enabling regional bureaucracies like the Bay Restoration Authority (which spawned the “first of its kind” regional tax, Measure AA), and pass laws supporting development of transit-oriented walkable cities replete with subsidized housing in every county.

The Problem

No one likes to commute many miles to work every day because they cannot afford to live close to where they work.  No family or senior wants to be forced to move from a home they love because property taxes and rents become unaffordable.  No one likes to drive over poorly-maintained roads or commute to work in crowded and unreliable public transportation.  We all enjoy some open space, like a neighborhood park, a public beach, or a natural monument such as Muir Woods.

The Flawed Response

Plan Bay Area 2040’s ostensible purpose is to ensure a good mix of housing for all, transit as car replacement, and copious open space – all in the name of fighting climate change.  So far, we have seen continued high housing costs despite untold sums poured into subsidies and no relief from potholes or decrepit transit.

It would appear that Plan Bay Area is not working.  It also appears that planners as well as California legislators are doubling down on what does not work, with the not uncommon idea that if something does not work the solution is to throw more money and more rules at it.

Alternative Strategies

Opponents of Plan Bay Area, including the Nine-County Coalition, have focused on pointing to the perils and inefficiencies of regional governance.  Yet, regionalism marches on.  Perhaps a different strategy is needed?  Different strategies might include,

*   Focused effort by diverse groups to address the downside of specific proposals on the ballot.  

*   Partisan groups (the Nine-County Coalition is non-partisan) working together to change the central planning focus of the state legislature.  This would require finding and supporting political candidates.

*    Development, publication, and promotion of a credible alternative to Plan Bay Area.  As a rule, the public does not respond favorably to highlighting of problems without realistic alternative solutions.  By the way, “doing nothing” has never been an alternative embraced by the public!

Call to Action

 Astronomically expensive housing, shabby public transit, and ill-maintained roads are a drag on the economy and on quality of life.  Plan Bay Area has so far not fixed anything.  In addition, future generations will have to deal with the debt left behind by a plethora on bond measures passed to satisfy the perceived needs of the present generation.  The public has the choice to believe that all Plan Bay Area needs is more taxpayer money to succeed, or understand that the plan is flawed and a new one needs to come from those concerned.

Update on California's "Housing Bills Package"

The flagship Senate Bills SB 35, SB 2, and SB 3 passed on September 15, and Governor Brown indicated he will sign them into law.  SB 35 further moves decisions on housing from cities and counties to state.  SB 2 loads residents with more fees when they need to file a property-related document.  SB 3 funnels $4,000,000,000 in bond money into subsidized housing.

A note to veterans:  SB 3 is titled the Veterans and Affordable Housing Bond Act of 2018.  Of the $4 billion bond money, $1 billion would be used to fund farm, home, and mobile home purchase assistance for veterans.

SB 35 and SB 2 are pretty much done deals.  However, SB 3 will require voters’ approval of the bonds.

Senate Bill 2 - Is Your State Legislator on Your Side?

California residents have been hearing about the “package” of housing bills pending in the state legislature.  The flurry of plans to finance and build “affordable” and “worker” housing comes with a significant price tag – there is no such thing as a free lunch, remember?

We have already seen the passage of Senate Bill 1, the infamous “gas tax,” supposedly enacted to provide funds for roads, and supposedly crucial now that so much housing is being built.  The price tag for SB 1 is an annual $5 billion, to be paid by tax and fee payers.  California residents will also pay increased prices for goods and services, as businesses will pass their increased costs to consumers.

As brazen as SB 1, is Senate Bill 2, in floor process as of September 14.  SB 2 is yet another housing bill,

The bill would impose a fee, except as provided, of $75 to be paid at the time of the recording of every real estate instrument, paper, or notice required or permitted by law to be recorded, per each single transaction per single parcel of real property, not to exceed $225. By imposing new duties on counties with respect to the imposition of the recording fee, the bill would create a state-mandated local program.

SB 2 will add to housing costs incurred by developers, homebuyers, and renters – a strange way to help people obtain housing.

Another example of bills in the “package” is Senate Bill 3.  SB 3 intends to funnel money into housing by the issuance of bonds, further increasing California’s state debt.  

This bill would enact the Veterans and Affordable Housing Bond Act of 2018, which, if adopted, would authorize the issuance of bonds in the amount of $4,000,000,000 pursuant to the State General Obligation Bond Law. Of the proceeds from the sale of these bonds, $3,000,000,000 would be used to finance various existing housing programs, as well as infill infrastructure financing and affordable housing matching grant programs, as provided, and $1,000,000,000 would be used to provide additional funding for the above-described program for farm, home, and mobilehome purchase assistance for veterans, as provided.

A homeless camp in California.  Will there ever be housing for all?

A homeless camp in California.  Will there ever be housing for all?

We note that bonds under SB 3 have to be approved by voters, giving voters a choice whether they wish to continue losing control of planning of their cities and counties; and whether they want to further mortgage the future of their children and grandchildren.

There must be realization that California is stuck in an infinite programming loop – stack overflow, eventual crash!  Stacking people in limited land is bound to raise housing prices.  Those who cannot afford to own or rent expensive housing, live on the streets.  Planners’ solution is to produce subsidized housing in packed spaces.  The subsidies attract more residents, many of them homeless.  And the cycle re-starts.

Mello-Roos Property Taxes: Taxation Without Representation

Are you paying Mello-Roos taxes, in addition to your regular property taxes?
Are the Mello-Roos taxes being used for their intended purpose?
Or do you even know what the intended purpose was?
For how long will you be paying those taxes?
 

What is Mello-Roos?

Proposition 13, the “People's Initiative to Limit Property Taxation,” was approved by voters in 1978, and is enshrined in the California Constitution as Article XIII A.  One of the results of Proposition 13 has been a blizzard of legislation imposing taxes not based on property value and therefore not subject to Proposition 13.  An example is the Communities Facilities Act, passed by the California Legislature in 1982 (CHAPTER 2.5. 53311 - 53368.3). The CFA is better known as “Mello-Roos,” derived from the act’s co-authors, Senator Henry J. Mello and Assembly Member Mike Roos.

Mello-Roos allows for the creation of special districts that issue bonds to finance infrastructure and certain services (streets, water, sewage, electricity, schools, parks, police) in development areas.  Residents of the development pay a tax, which attaches to their land (not to the structure) as a lien that remains in force until the bonds are paid in full and all other obligations associated with the bonds are satisfied.  Residents pay the Mello-Roos tax in addition to their ad-valorem property taxes.

The usual alternative to creation of a Communities Facilities District is a fee paid by the owner of the land to be developed to the city or county in which the development is located.  The fee is then passed on to the purchasers of property in the development. This alternative makes property more expensive to buy, but results in lower taxes to pay.

If the land owner decides to establish a CFD, and the jurisdiction’s council passes a resolution approving the CFD, voters residing in the CFD vote to pass or reject establishment of the district. In development areas where there is nobody there yet, the land owner is the only voter.  In development located in already urbanized areas, (say, additional condominiums in a cluster of already existing buildings), voters are whoever owns property located within the CFD.

But Mello-Roos Grew and Grew

The intent of Mello-Roos was to provide funds to pay for infrastructure that would serve a specific community, and to establish a method under which residents of that community would help with costs.  However, as often happens with laws, the scope and obscurity of Mello-Roos grew with time. Here are some highlights:

Senate Bill 1432 in 2006 extended Mello-Roos to include financing of “affordable housing.”  Then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed, with a strong admonition regarding the housing clause, “This provision represents a fundamental shift in the purpose of Mello-Roos taxes and is one that I cannot support.”  However, attempts to shift and expand the purpose of the Mello-Roos tax were highly successful after 2006.

*   Senate Bill 555 in 2011 authorized a CFD to finance and refinance the acquisition, installation, and improvement of energy efficiency, water conservation, and renewable energy improvements to or on real property and in buildings, publicly or privately owned.  Thus the rule expands the meaning of infrastructure and services to include improvements to buildings.

*   In March 2014, the Pacific Legal Foundation filed a suit on behalf of the Building Industry Association against the City of San Ramon, claiming that Mello-Roos taxes were intended to finance new infrastructure and services in new development areas.  The court ruled that Mello-Roos could also apply to existing services in already urbanized areas.  This decision amounts to an increase in taxation without voter approval. 

*   Grand Jury Report issued on July 2015, Mello-Roos: Perpetual Debt Accumulation and Tax Assessment Obligation:  In a review of Orange County’s 119 Mello-Roos districts, the Grand Jury noted vague language on documents describing projects, lack of oversight, and indebtedness without end dates. “The descriptions often are vague statements such as ‘public works,’ ‘maintenance,’ and ‘schools’ which are very broad and do not have the detail that is required by the Act.”  “After bonds are paid off, a CFD tax may continue to be collected for maintenance of the facilities.” Residents could be obliged to pay taxes in perpetuity to satisfy the CFD lien on their land, and not know what revenues are being used for.  This is a much expanded interpretation of the original Mello-Roos Act.

*   Assembly Bill 2618 in August 2016, authorized a CFD that already allowed for financing of energy improvements to also finance seismic safety improvements on public or private property.

Extent of the CFD Network

The California Mello-Roos Communities Facilities Districts Yearly Status Reports for fiscal year 2014-2015 indicated 921 CFDs throughout California.  Each district carries a substantial burden of debt to finance a lot of vaguely-described projects. 

For example, San Francisco’s five CFDs (Rincon Hill, Mint Plaza, Power and Energy Generation, Mission Bay, and Hunters Point) reported a total of $209,751,688 in outstanding Mello-Roos bonds.  That figure does not yet include the San Francisco Transbay CFD, with authority to incur bond indebtedness in an aggregate amount not to exceed $1,400,000,000. 

As the scope of the Mello-Roos Act grows, so does what amounts to taxation without representation.  Obviously, the restrictions imposed by Proposition 13 have been successfully circumvented.  Residents continue to pay increasingly large property tax bills, are on the hook for growing obligations attached to their land, and wittingly or unwittingly subscribe to perpetual bonded indebtedness that mortgages their children and grandchildren’s future.

One hopeful note:   Establishment of obscure or irresponsible Communities Facilities Districts cannot occur without passage of a resolution by your city or county elected board or city council. 

Action Item: Senate Bill 35

Senate Bill 35 is one of a package of several bills meant to mitigate the astronomical housing prices in California, aka “solve the housing crisis.”  The bill passed the California Senate in June, and was ordered to the Assembly.  Debate, scheduled for Friday, September 1, was postponed until after the Labor Day weekend.

For highlights of SB 35, please see Affordable Housing Streamlined Approval Process:  Who Should be in Charge? by clicking“Articles” in the menu above.

To reiterate the reason stated in our previous article why SB 35 should be opposed, this bill further moves the function of housing construction from incentives to mandates.  Decisions once the purview of your neighborhood leaders and city councils will be relegated to formula – x units per y locations.   

The bill is touted as supported by city mayors, which is true of mayors of big cities like Oakland, San Francisco, and San Jose.  However, among the bill’s opponents is the League of California Cities, counting in its membership elected officials of many smaller jurisdictions.  Also in opposition to SB 35 are community organizations that would prefer to negotiate with builders on a one-to-one for what is best for the community.  

We recommend you listen to the short segment on SB 35 on AirTalk.  You will notice that guest Peter Cohen, Co-Director of San Francisco Council of Community Housing Organizations, responds to questions from the interviewer clearly and directly; while Fred Sutton, director of Government Affairs of Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles, seems to repeat the mantra cities must meet the housing goals mandated by SB 35 –  control is “How you meet your housing goals not whether you meet your housing goals.” The NCC does not in any way endorse either speaker or association, but recommends listening for a good summary of the issues involved.

SB35.JPG

Also recommended is Senator Scott Wiener’s own presentation on SB 35, where you will hear where the mantra came from.

Events become iconic unpredictably.  SB 35 has earned such nomenclature as representing a significant shift from market realities defined by cities and counties to those defined by state legislators. 

We hope we have shown you the detrimental effects of SB 35.  If you agree with our view, please call or email your California Assembly Member and suggest a NO vote.

Climate Change Crisis Strikes Again

Electric car.jpg

California Assemblyman Phil Ting introduced in February AB 1184, now in committee process.  Assembly Bill 1184 if enacted would do the following,

*   Establish the California Electric Vehicle Initiative, to be administered by California Air Resources Board in coordination with the California Energy Commission and the California Public Utilities Commission.

*   Authorize on or before September 1, 2018, until December 31, 2025, changes to the Clean Vehicle Rebate Project in order to ensure 1.5 million Electric Vehicles are deployed in California by 2025.

*   Promote, in coordination with the State Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission and the Public Utilities Commission, electrical transmission and distribution grid benefits to electric customers, including, but not limited to smart charging for the benefit of the grid, integration of eligible renewable energy resources, maximization of the utilization of grid assets.

*   Establish a portfolio of funding resources in order to deliver point-of-sale rebates for various types of electric vehicles.

*   Require the Air Resources Board to establish up to a $3 billion funding portfolio and funding plan to implement California Electric Vehicle Initiative by September 1, 2018 from existing funding sources.

*   Require the initial rebate amount for an electric vehicle to be equal to the net purchase price of a compact car, and that the rebate declines over time to zero as the 1.5 million electric vehicle target is accomplished.

*   Require the funding plan to, among other things, take into account access and direct benefits from electric vehicles to low- and moderate-income consumers.

*   No later than February 1, 2018, begin a review to adopt revisions to all other vehicle electrification programs to ensure those programs consider funding benefits for disadvantaged individuals, low-income individuals, or both for all eligible vehicle types.

*   “Notwithstanding any other law, the state board may provide, to the extent funds are available, for projects funded by the state board from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, created pursuant to Section 16428.8 of the Government Code, for advance payment based on the total grant or contract to all entities if the state board makes a finding that those advance payments will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”   (This last paragraph is placed in quotes, since it could mean anything.)

Clean air is, of course, a worthwhile objective.  However, it appears that California standards are moving targets that render our air forever in need of more cleansing – even if that means a massive electric car “giveaways.”   

Inconvenient Challenges of AB 1184

As of today, there are 10 vehicle-electrification bills pending in the California Assembly, either in floor or committee process.  These bills target a number of objectives intended to increase electric vehicle use, such as directing investor-owned utilities to develop programs and investments, providing sales tax exemptions, extending rebate programs to used vehicles, providing loan guarantees to low-income and high-risk individuals, developing networks of charging stations.

Should all these bills be enacted, Californians may or may not end up with cleaner air, but chances are they will end up with a state even more deeply mired in expenses.

Whether the electricity used to power the avalanche of electric vehicles envisioned by these bills is clean depends of where it comes from.  In California the sources are relatively clean.  However, natural gas, a finite source with some say questionable credentials, remains dominant.  Methane leaks from drilling, extraction, and transportation of natural gas, and methane is 34 times stronger than CO2 at trapping heat over a 100-year period.  Unconventional methods of extracting gas such as fracking can contaminate water and cause seismic abnormalities.

Renewable energy, especially solar, has gained traction over the years, but remains expensive compared to other sources of power.  California started providing direct subsidies to the solar industry in 2005, renewing expiring terms for the last 12 years.  Now California is adding substantial direct subsidies to the electric vehicle industry.

Can California Afford its Largesse?  

Assembly Bill 1184 comes with a price tag of $3 billion.  The money is supposed to come from “existing sources,” such as cap-and-trade, the 2017-2018 budget which has $1.3 billion in discretionary funding, and shifting funds from other existing clean vehicle programs.  The sources are vague, and there is no guarantee the price tag will remain as stated.  

$3 billion spread over the next 12 years might not seem much for a state with a $125 billion budget.  But it is a lot for a state that in 2017 ranks below average in financial solvency, at 43 out of 50, according to George Mason University Mercatus Center.  Perhaps Californians need to start saying NO to promises of largesse, letting the free market force entrepreneurs to compete in the production of better and cheaper products, and invest in basic clean-energy public transit.

Sacramento has the Laws but Voters Have the Money: Just Vote No

The recent demise of the voter-elected State Board of Equalization elicited the following comment from a Nine-County Coalition participant:

The current administration appears to be h*ll bent on converting our elected form of government into an appointed form of government. Not to mention creating an executive rather than a judicial process to address claims and complaints. Once our elected representative government is transitioned to a patronage system of appointments, the government can better control the people rather than the people controlling the government.

The transition is becoming increasingly obvious, especially at the level of cities and counties; but it appears that We the People are becoming increasingly docile.   So, our communities continue to devolve from government by voter-elected officials to governance by appointed bureaucrats.  What our communities look like depends not on our preferences, but on ministerial planning.

Legislators Pass the Laws

As is always the case, a crisis is an essential ingredient in such transitions.  Transitions rely on challenging situations such as national security or climate change or housing shortages.  California legislators have chosen the latter two.  Armed with these two crises, they have so far written 14 housing-related bills for the 2017-2018 term that are currently in committee or on the floor, all of which further the principles of ministerial mandates from above.   We discuss a few of these proposals in our article State Legislation: Sustenance for Plan Bay Area 2040. 

But Voters Pass the Money

Just Vote No

One of the Nine-County Coalition maxims (we have many; click the "Background" tab on the website menu), is “Legislators pass the laws, but voters pass the money.”

There is a very good Opinion article by columnist Dick Spotswood of Mill Valley posted on August 1 in the Marin Independent Journal.  The article notes the list of Marin County proposed tax hikes: $450 million school district facilities improvement bond, parcel tax for school district operating expenses, sales tax increases (1/4 cent by Marin County for transportation and 3/4 cent by Larkspur for street improvement), and a $3-per-vehicle bridge toll increase (Regional Measure 3, which applies to bay toll bridges except Golden Gate Bridge). 

These tax increases are not directly housing related.  Mr. Spotswood ties them to a real California crisis to which voters are not giving as much attention as housing:  unfunded liabilities of public employee pensions.

However, the suggested remedy would work for any mandate a community of voters finds unpleasant,

Local and regional officials are going too far, too fast. The only practical route to slow down the tax-increase gold rush is a unified “Just Vote No” campaign on all 2017-18 tax measures. Once the message is out that Marinites’ willingness to tax themselves has limits, these efforts can return in future years with greater transparency and more modest ambitions.

Similarly, the message needs to be conveyed that Bay Area residents should not be willing to fund the demise of their own self-government.  A "Just Vote No" campaign seems in order!

The Final Plan Bay Area 2040 is Now Approved

                    Plan Bay Area logo

                    Plan Bay Area logo

At their joint meeting of July 26, 2017, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments approved the final Plan Bay Area 2040 and the associated final Environmental Impact Report.  The Plan and approved revisions are posted on the Plan Bay Area website.  A summary of the Plan from the point of view of the Nine-County Coalition is on Plan Bay Area 2040: Regionalism Marches On.

Approval of this update to Plan Bay Area 2013 by the MTC/ABAG Boards comes after much publicity and “public participation.”  Comments submitted from a variety of sources, a Power-Point summary of public input, FAQs, and other information can be found in the Plan Bay Area website in the Get Involved section.  We thought we would summarize the public input in order to illustrate the fact that once a “Plan” is implemented, it is set in stone, regardless of whether it works or not.

What They Heard  

“What We Heard” highlights four questions -- improving the “housing crisis,” improving economic development, promoting “resiliency,” and “we need a transportation system that…”  Public preference is summarized as:  transit-oriented development near job centers, higher wages and more middle-class jobs, bold action to meet greenhouse gas reduction targets, transportation funding tied to housing construction, and raising gas taxes to motivate transit use.

The questions presuppose the wisdom of the Plan and strategies therein.  Therefore, responses merely offer light embellishments but leave the Plan basically untouched.

Acknowledgement of “Other Perspectives”

Most comments were in line of, the Focus Group exhibited “near unanimous support for developing a regional plan.”  However, acknowledgement of opposing opinions is made in passing:  “a small number of participants” expressed “other perspectives.”  These other perspectives are not embellishments, but challenge some fundamental premises of Plan Bay Area 2040. 

•Question the plan’s assumptions and goals
•Oppose infill development
•Prefer a hands-off approach to housing and the economy
•Prefer more emphasis on the needs of drivers

Fundamental Premises Questioned

*  Job growth predictions that ignore innovation and automation transforming the workplace, consumer preferences, and transportation alternatives.

*  Population growth predictions that ignore significant out migration from the Bay Area of residents looking for more affordable living.

*  Plans for massive funding of subsidized housing that ignore the already high California tax rates and the out migration of residents and companies leaving California in search of lower taxes.

*  Plans for infill development that ignore the possibility that prospective buyers might wake up to the fact their homes would be sitting on garbage, toxic waste, shifting sand, and other undesirable foundations.

*  City of Brisbane: “The City of Brisbane is extremely troubled by the draft household projections, which can only be achieved if the Brisbane Baylands project as proposed by the developer is approved…Given that the City is actively engaged in the review and decision-making process for the Baylands, it is objectionable for Plan Bay Area to utilize household projections which are inconsistent with the City’s General Plan…”

*  City of Livermore:  “Livermore is concerned that the strong emphasis on housing production within the Bay Area and “fixit first” strategies downplay the role of interregional dynamics and transit expansions…The Plan also falls short on the performance target with respect to increasing access to jobs, which is also related to the minimal attention towards transit expansions.”

*  City of San Rafael:  “…OBAG [One Bay Area Grant Program] funding over the next four years will be allocated to cities that approve and build housing per the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) process. This is concerning as the City of San Rafael does not build housing and cannot control whether a private property owner or developer will construct a project that has received all planning entitlements.”

Plan Bay Area 2040 continues its claim that the Plan is offered as guidance, not imposed as mandatory.  Yet, it is fully supported by state mandates, which can easily override local plans such as those for Brisbane Baylands.

The Plan’s vision concentrates growth of housing and jobs within the Bay Area’s transit corridors, as if everyone could be glued in place.  Livermore’s comment suggest that expanded transit radius and modes, and the resulting efficient mobility of workers, are necessary because realities do not support the glued-in-place model.

Cities and Counties that choose not to get involved in the micromanagement of housing lose state and possibly federal infrastructure funding.  Therefore, a city like San Rafael needs to control what private property owners and developers do if it wants its residents to continue benefiting from portion of state and federal taxes they pay for infrastructure funding.

Process not Results

“Performance-based planning is at the core of Plan Bay Area 2040, incorporating performance targets,
project-level evaluation, and scenario assessment to better inform policy decisions and the public at
large.” Executive Summary, Performance and Assessment Report.

Plan Bay Area 2040 is a mass of details.  Every demographic variable needs to be collected and catalogued.  People need to be identified, enumerated, and placed in their appropriate demographic slot.  Data collection needs to be thorough and frequent to ensure equity, environmental justice, sufficient outreach, minute forecasting into the next 20 years.  Each of these “performance targets” needs to be methodically described, religiously followed, and reworked when not met.  “Performance-based planning is at the core of Plan Bay Area 2040.”  Performance means achieving a stated objective.  Result means solving an obvious problem. 

Process not results is today’s central planning credo.  Plan Bay Area was implemented in 2013.  Except for overall improvement in air quality, the Plan’s other performance targets have been way less than stellar.  If emphasis were placed on results, by this time one would start hearing serious calls for the Plan’s demise.

What a Dump! Movie Line as Sustainable Development

For the last five or so years the San Francisco Bay Area has emerged as a leading example of environmentally blessed “sustainable development.”  Strangely, environmentally blessed development includes residences and other structures built on waste dumps.  These dump sites are variously known as landfill (garbage), brownfield (toxic waste), and infill (“underdeveloped” for various reasons).

Dumpster Building is Not New

Building on dumping sites is not new.  For example, Treasure Island, Foster City, and parts of San Francisco’s financial and Marina districts are build on landfill.  What is new is labeling such development sustainable and environmentally desirable.

UPC has four major development projects in the pipeline.  Development Agreements for these projects are approved by the respective agencies. Schlage Lock Redevelopment in Visitacion Valley, a brownfield site, currently transitioning to a transit oriented development (TOD) including retail, office and housing project on a brownfield; Executive Park, a mixed-use/housing project near Candlestick Point in San Francisco, and the Sierra Point Hotel Project – at the Brisbane Marina.  The Brisbane Baylands, a 660-acre brownfield redevelopment project on a former landfill and railyard in Brisbane is currently going through the public approval process…Environmental sustainability is a core value that guides our projects – from conceptual design to property management.

UPC’s projects pale in comparison to Related Companies plan to build the “largest housing project ever proposed atop a landfill in the Bay Area, regulators say, and perhaps in the entire state.”  The $6.7 billion mixed-use project in the City of Santa Clara will contain 1,680 housing units.  And predictably the project is "sustainable:"  "Related is exploring a number of ways to incorporate the sustainability and environmental consciousness that defines the Bay Area." The complex will be sitting on top of a foot-thick concrete barrier intended to protect residents, shoppers, and workers “from any kind of problem.”  In contrast to this strange assertion, a writer in SF Ceqa says,

Are we this desperate for land that we need to build on a dump?  Can’t wait to see the marketing materials and disclosure statements on this one. This is not the first I have heard about building on landfill.  Major problems with shifting soil would seem particularly concerning in an earthquake zone. Maybe you can sell housing to non-natives, but it may be hard to convince people to buy on landfill.

Problems With Landfill are Not New Either

Marina District building during earthquake

The soil liquefaction that contributed to the collapse of seven buildings in San Francisco’s Marina District during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake should make the sustainability of such structures questionable.  Years later, after much promotion of improved methods of building on landfill, we have the sinking and tilting Millennium Tower.

Asbestos and lead were praised as miracle building materials, but today are vilified as health hazards.  Yet, toxic waste dumps are now environmentally desirable.  However, an article on Bankrate summarizes the challenges well,

Pipes may break, drywall can crack, doors may not close properly and kids or dogs might pull dangerous materials out of the ground, including lead, plus leaching chemicals and sinkholes are legitimate possibilities as well.  Ground that is marginally stable after fill-in typically erodes further as the land settles and chemicals eat away at organic materials.

Buyer Beware

In California, if your Granny died within the last three years in the home you are now trying to sell, by law, you must advise all prospective buyers of the death except if Granny died of AIDS.  Also by law, you must prove to prospective buyers that the home you are selling does not contain hazardous levels of radon or mold.  Yet the challenges of a home built on landfill are by and large overlooked, and disclosure requirements unclear.  Disclosure is based on whether problems are detectable by visual inspection by the average buyer or seller.

Easton v. Strassburger: A case regarding a home built on a landfill that had not been disclosed to the listing broker by the seller, was sold, and then subsequently suffered major damage due to land slippage.  The ruling set precedent for future cases that if there are red flags then the problem should be properly investigated and fixed.  Broker should inspect property and disclose any facts that may affect the marketability.

It appears that disclosure rules might be biased toward what central planners want you to know or not know.

Traces of the Wild West

In the Old Wild West, people took extreme chances in hopes of extraordinary gains.  Perhaps nothing has changed.  Landfill homes are akin to throw of the dice.  Foster City suffered relatively small damage during the Loma Prieta earthquake, while San Francisco’s Marina District suffered greatly.  Large structures east of San Francisco’s Montgomery Street are surviving, while the Millennium Tower is sinking.  Planners and developers say landfill is environmentally desirable, sustainable and safe.  Soil liquefaction, waste mass shifts, toxic gases that might not be contained with present technology say otherwise.  As long as buyers and renters take the chance to buy or rent in landfill, developers will continue take the chance to build on landfill.

State Legislation: Sustenance for Plan Bay Area 2040

Plan Bay Area Action Plan

“Two upcoming endeavors will improve the region’s ability to address its chronic housing affordability challenges. The integration of MTC and ABAG staff will lead to more effective long-range planning and increase the region’s housing policy capacities. The newly created CASA initiative will bring together diverse interests to develop a bold new strategy for housing preservation and production. This work will likely evaluate and recommend a range of legislative, regulatory, financial, and market-related measures needed to provide for the region’s housing needs at all income levels.”

Plan Bay Area 2040 is rich with "bold" ideas, most of which should raise some concerned eyebrows.  The Action Plan paragraph quoted above tells us that the situation is “chronic” (unlikely of cure); action necessitates long-range planning (for the next 20 years regardless of any changing circumstances); growth of policy capacities is dependent on multi-level new legislation, regulation, and funding sources (once in place, here for good); funding will be multi-county (your county is in, whether its residents like it or not).

Sacramento has been producing enabling legislation purportedly to fight climate change for a while, starting way back in 2006 with AB 32, California Global Warming Solutions.  However, Plan Bay Area 2040 acknowledges the Plan’s shift of emphasis from fighting climate change to producing housing at all income levels within the Bay Area's transit corridors.  

Mandates and money are essential to the continued existence of Plan Bay Area, and Sacramento has been obliging.  Here, for the record, is a list of a few state proposals pending as of today taken from the California Legislative Index.  This list reads like a package of similar legislation with one objective:  remove the ability of cities and counties to determine how much and what kind of housing they will or will not build, and implement an allocation process that must be followed under threat of penalties.

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Have a Happy and Safe 4th of July!

Plan Bay Area 2040 is one of many examples to today’s penchant for top-down micromanagement.  The proposed solutions to climate change are veritable morasses of long-range central planning replete with massive investments in public transit and transit-oriented development.  

This 4th of July, might be a good time for We the People to think about solutions other than micromanagement of our lives.  For example, folks like Joel Kotkin are saying, Want to be Green? Forget Mass Transit. Work at Home. Here is a brief look at Mr. Kotkin’s June of 2017 article.

True, in a handful of large metropolitan regions — what we might call “legacy cities” — trains and buses remain essential. This is particularly true of New York, which accounts for a remarkable 43% of the nation’s mass-transit commuters, and of other venerable cities, such as San Francisco, Washington, Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago.

“Legacy cities,” ouch!  Are San Francisco and other metro centers that focus on expensive transit-oriented development hung up on legacy plans?  Apparently so, according to Kotkin.  Not only that, the cheaper alternative is already here and growing.

…the proportion of the labor force working from home continues to grow. In 1980, 2.3% of workers performed their duties primarily at home; by 2015, this figure had doubled to 4.6%, only slightly behind the proportion of people who commute via mass transit. In legacy core-metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs), the number of people working from home is not quite half that of those commuting by transit. In the 47 MSAs without legacy cores, according to the American Community Survey, the number of people working from home was nearly 250% higher than people going to work on trains or buses.

Lady Liberty

Interestingly, other news sources have reported that IBM and Yahoo, both early adopters of working from home, have eliminated WFH options, citing the need for face-to-face collaboration as means of increasing innovation.  Thank goodness we are not into conspiracy theories, or we would be asking if there is really a big difference between collaborating around a table at the office or collaborating via video conferencing.

Thank you to a Nine-County Coalition participant for forwarding a link to Joel Kotkin’s article, and noting that this 4th of July is a good time to enjoy our freedoms – while we can.

The Nine-County Coalition wishes everyone a happy and safe 4th of July.

State Board of Equalization: Voters Lose Again

CA SBE.JPG

The California State Board of Equalization until today, June 27, was unique as a tax collecting and tax arbitration board whose members were elected by voters, not appointed.  The BOE was established in 1879 to ensure that property taxes were fairly assessed and collected – equalized – throughout the state of California.  Over the years, the BOE acquired the duties of collecting and administering several taxes and fees, and deciding on tax appeals.  

The Board’s longevity and its having successfully administered numerous taxes and fees affecting millions of individuals and businesses did not save it from the chopping block.  On June 15 California legislators passed Assembly Bill 102, and on June 27 Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill into law.  By the stroke of a few pens, all duties of the State Board of Equalization, except those specifically enumerated in the California Constitution, transferred to newly-created bureaucracies of unelected officials.  The California Department of Tax and Fee Administration inherited all of BOE’s tax administration duties, and the Office of Tax Appeals acquired BOE’s tax adjudication duties.  

"This agency should serve the public rather than serve the next person up the hierarchy ladder. The BOE is currently like a dysfunctional family. It needs a strong and clear leader who will assume fiscal accountability and ensure everyone plays by the same rules of good government.”  (Fiona Ma, Board of Equalization member since 2015)

The text of AB 102 lists a litany of woes, such as “inappropriate interventions by board members in administrative and appeal-related activities,” and attempts to “influence the audits, investigations, and collections activities of the board’s civil service employees.”  Leaving aside the possibility that the job of elected officials is to watch over the job of civil service employees, it appears the BOE needed some improvement.

"Taxpayers must be warned: the so-called 'Transparency and Fairness' legislation announced today by the very politicians who just voted to raise your gas tax, is neither transparent nor fair…This last-minute budget power grab would strip California taxpayers of their right to bring their tax appeals before their elected peers. In its place the bill would establish yet another unelected and costly tax bureaucracy.”  (George Runner, BOE Board member since 2011.)

With AB 102 it sounds like the baby was thrown out with the bathwater.  Voters have lost one more chance to control how they are governed.  State legislators seem to be implying that appointed officials can be held better accountable than elected ones, right after the news that appointed officials of the University of California system were found to have interfered with auditors’ surveys and hidden millions of dollars in reserves while student tuition soared.  

"Opponents to Assembly Bill 102 have stated that the bill was drafted and advanced too quickly for lawmakers to fully vet the proposal and for taxpayers to provide input.  It already has been reported that certain lawmakers believe the bill violates the California Constitution and certain state policies addressing how the legislature can make major changes to state agencies."  (KPMG Observation)

The manner in which AB 102 came into being further illustrates how voters’ rights can be eroded.  The bill passed as a trailer in Governor Brown’s 2017 – 2018 budget.  Once the budget was approved, so was AB 102.  The magnitude of changes called by this bill warranted more deliberation and public input.  The rush to passage leaves legislators and civil servants with the mammoth task of figuring the details of reassigning 4,000 employees, and administering numerous taxes and fees that generate nearly $60 billion annually.

Water Wars and the Frog in Boiling Water

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission is not just a water agency.  It owns the Hetch Hetchy water system, generates electric power from the system, and sells both water and power to agencies in Alameda, Santa Clara, and San Mateo counties.

In April 2017, SFPUC announced that residents in parts of the City would start receiving Hetch Hetchy water blended with groundwater.  The uproar was immediate and intense.  Not good that San Franciscans accustomed to pristine drinking water now faced a cocktail of nitrates and chromium.  Therefore, once again, the Nine-County Coalition would like to mention the Frog in Boiling Water Fable:

 For Information:  No frogs were harmed to make this video.

 For Information:  No frogs were harmed to make this video.

“The boiling frog is a parable describing a frog being slowly boiled alive. The premise is that if a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in tepid water which is then brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death.”

Not that this fable necessarily describes what a frog would really do – apparently studies differ, as noted in the Wikipedia article quoted above.  However, the metaphor is indisputable:  the slower events are caused to develop, the more successful their objectives.
 
Back in 2004, the Reason Foundation published a policy brief called Western Water Wars – Efforts to take over San Francisco’s Hetch Hetchy Systems.  In this brief, Bryan Browne, a San Francisco economist specializing in water resource issues, lists a number of legislative changes that could be described as equivalent to slowly turning up the heat on a frog.

By 2002, Hetch Hetchy was in great need of retrofitting and repairs.  Bay Area water-related agencies and organizations were determined to band together to take action, and to find money with which to fund action – one way or another.

“Overshadowing and also interwoven into this regionalization and funding debate are the real issues of the system retrofit and repair due to normal wear and tear and the very present threat of earthquakes and other natural catastrophes.”

“To acquire/transfer an asset there are three established methods for assessing its value: (1) historical costs, (2) replacement costs, and (3) capitalized value of the net income stream. It appears that in Northern California possibly a fourth method is being used: acquisition/transfer by legislative actions.”

The laundry list of changes evidences not only attempts at asset acquisition by legislative action, but also at power acquisition.  The less voters have a say, the greater the chances of bureaucratic power achieving its objectives.  

“In San Francisco the year 2002 was a tumultuous ballot season leading up to the passage of city Propositions A, E, and P. There is a thread running through Propositions A and E and legislation AB2058, AB1823, and SB1870 that one might find difficult to see as casual.”

The tumultuous activity is difficult to see as casual, and not difficult to see as causal.  

*  AB 2058 created a district that San Francisco could join and cede 70% of its governance of Hetch Hetchy.  The district was empowered to issue bonds without voter approval.

*  AB 1823 directs the SFPUC to perform a number of improvements to Hetch Hetchy by certain deadlines [SFPUC says these mandated improvements are 91% complete].

*  SB 1870 created the San Francisco Bay Area Regional Water System, also known as the Regional Funding Authority (RFA).  No voter approval is necessary for debt created by this authority.

*  San Francisco Proposition A granted the SFPUC funding authority to issue $1.6 billion in revenue bonds.  It also said that RFA could fund suburban (non San Francisco) projects.

*  Proposition E removed voters’ charger right to approve revenue bonds.

*  Proposition P formed the Revenue Bond Oversight Committee, a committee of appointed members.

What has not changed is that after all this legislative mayhem, SFPUC still owns and is responsible for Hetch Hetchy.  What has changed is that voters gradually lost their say so.  However, this tale is an evolving one.  Will voters allow further erosion of their rights?  Will voters assert their rights and require District Supervisors to get the City’s pristine Hetch Hetchy water back? 

San Francisco: Lower quality water and no say on the matter?

What this Article is About

Regulations implemented by bureaucracies need to have basis in legislation passed by elected officials or in voter approval at the ballot box.  The Nine-County Coalition has on numerous occasions pointed that increasingly legislation is designed to empower agencies with significant powers, including the power to interpret legislation rather freely.  It appears that some residents of one Bay Area county, San Francisco, are grappling with the question of where the S.F. Public Utilities Commission obtained the power to drastically change the composition of the water residents drink.

Taking Advice From an Expert

  "The idea is to get going. Start digging a hole and make it so big, there's no alternative to coming up with the money to fill it in."

Willie Brown – California Assemblyman, San Francisco Mayor, and political philosopher – wrote those iconic words in reference to the Transbay Terminal construction being $300 million over budget. The advice boils down to just do it, because by the time a lot of people find out what you did, you can say it’s too late to undo it.

That appears to have been the strategy chosen by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission in their effort to substitute pristine Hetch Hetchy water with blended water. Required public outreach apparently was not absent, but it was subtle -- until April 2017, when the SFPUC turned on the spigots of blended water in selected City neighborhoods and rolled out ads extolling the benefits of the project. 

SFPUC On Groundwater

San Francisco residents are receiving blended water right now during the first year in several that rainfall is adequate; however, this is SFPUC's description of groundwater.  The illustration shows how rain filters through the ground into aquifers. 

"The concept of groundwater storage and recovery, also known as “conjunctive water management”, consists of storing water in wet years and recovering that water for use during dry years. As part of the GSR [groundwater supply and recovery] project, surface water will be used instead of groundwater in wet years, allowing the groundwater to recharge through rainfall and decreased pumping. This will create a savings account of up to 20 billion gallons of groundwater that will be stored in the aquifer."

The illustration and description of groundwater are on the SFPUC website in the section "Regional Groundwater Supply & Recovery."  The "San Francisco Groundwater Supply Project" is described in a separate section, complete with cheering for the project.

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Global Climate Agreements and Plan Bay Area

President Donald Trump opted on June 1, 2017, to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement.  As President George W. Bush before him, who did not sign the Kyoto Protocol, Donald Trump felt such a global agreement would interfere with national policy.  Since this website focuses on San Francisco Bay Area land use issues, what does the Paris Agreement have to do with it?  The connection can be gleaned by perusal of the “Background” and “Globalization” sections of this website.  However, we would like to offer a more succinct relationship between our key objections to the central planning embodied in Plan Bay Area and the reasons Messrs. Bush and Trump opted against the Kyoto and the Paris agreements respectively.

What incentive can these riders have to leave their cars at home the next time? Invest in local transit or in global agreements? 

What incentive can these riders have to leave their cars at home the next time? Invest in local transit or in global agreements? 

It is unlikely that anyone wants to breathe bad air or have his home swallowed up by rising seas.  The challenge is that bad actors do pollute and seas do rise – independently or otherwise.  The challenge then becomes how to deal with those twin dangers.  California legislators, city council members and other officials tell us there is only one way:  severely restrict housing development to densely-populated transit corridors, declare vast areas off limits to housing, and pour enormous amounts of money subsidizing the resulting increases in housing costs.  Additionally, and most importantly, the fourth strategy is to remove voters’ ability to do away with the first three objectives.  As residents become accustomed to the drumbeat of central planning and overwhelmed by the volume of legislation curbing their abilities to exercise choices, they quietly settle for the prescribed modus operandi.  No further word is said about alternatives, such as excellent transit systems that can automatically reduce the number of cars on the road, or consumer pressure on corporate polluters, or satellite modest-income neighborhoods that can house job-creating emerging technologies.  

Going back to the subject of the Paris Agreement, we offer the following two illustrations how the nation is lulled into abdicating its choice to operate independently:

*  There used to be a distinction between the words “treaty” and other covenants such as “agreement” or “accord.”  The reason for the distinction is that Article II, Section 2, of the U.S. Constitution states that the President "shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two-thirds of the Senators present concur.”  A treaty requires that the direct representatives of the people concur.  No other forms of covenant require such concurrence.

Today, the media uses the terms treaty, agreement, etc. interchangeably, and the U.S. State Department’s website says, “Treaties in Force uses the term ‘treaty’ in the generic sense as defined in the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, that is, an international agreement ‘governed by international law, whether embodied in a single instrument or in two or more related instruments and whatever its particular designation.’  So, a single individual, the President, is able to commit and un-commit a whole nation to serious global obligations.

*  Supporters of the Paris Agreement imply that the U.S. has turned its back on Mother Earth.  Again, the question remains whether joining a global agreement is the only way to love Mother Earth.  What keeps voters from choosing solutions domestically?  How about technology to make solar panels really cheap, wind turbines for backyards, or economical hybrid cars?

Picking industry winners and losers may not be a good idea (who gets to pick and why!).  However, if we are all so concerned about lowering carbon emissions, we could consider investing in domestic production of environmental-friendly technology rather than contributing to the Green Climate Fund – established under the 2009 Copenhagen Accord – which to date has received from the U.S. $1 billion out of a total pledge of $3 billion.

Voluntary cooperation at all level -- global, national, and local – is desirable.  The Nine-County Coalition’s concern is top-down undemocratic mandates in the name of achieving objectives.