Burlingame and The Metamorphosis of Cities

Commercial Rents Too High and Parking Too Scarce

The San Mateo Daily Journal carried an article last Friday noting that many of the small specialty stores that give Burlingame its distinct character and make the city a shopping destination for Bay Area residents are closing or moving elsewhere.  And “…in the wake of businesses departing Burlingame Avenue due to frustrations over high rents and parking problems, a recent uptick in vacant storefronts is concerning local merchants and officials.”

 Gymboree, along with J. Crew, Anthropologie, Kara's Cupcakes, Baby Couture, and Aida Opera Candies have left Burlingame.

Gymboree, along with J. Crew, Anthropologie, Kara's Cupcakes, Baby Couture, and Aida Opera Candies have left Burlingame.

Mayor Michael Brownrigg says he understands the affordability challenges.  He notes that Burlingame is also a destination for “corporations seeking to fill bigger storefronts, creating a disadvantage for smaller or independent companies.”  Presumably, Mayor Brownrigg is stating the obvious – larger corporations are able to pay the high rents along Burlingame Avenue and other main shopping corridors.  He suggests that smaller local merchants locate their stores on side streets, rather than vie with larger corporations for prime shopping spaces.

Mayor Brownrigg and other city officials also understand the parking problem.  He notes that councilmembers recently approved shorter time limits in downtown parking meters -- “The idea is to promote more frequent turnover of the spaces closer to most of the shops and restaurants, while encouraging merchants and employees to take the spaces further away.”  

It appears form this article that Burlingame is changing, and will continue to change if or when the planned construction of “Village at Burlingame” starts.  This planned development is a 5-story workforce (78 units) and senior (54 units) housing complex, and a parking garage, on what is now Parking Lots F and N downtown.  Mayor is Brownrigg says it is too early to decide what gets built first, housing or parking.

It remains to be seen whether Burlingame retains its present charm, as well as its high-end shoppers that look for unique items in the city’s locally-owned boutiques.  Or in the absence of their favorite shops along Burlingame Avenue, these shoppers will vote with their feet and shop elsewhere.  The latter seems the more likely scenario.  City officials hope that old-time shoppers will be replaced by foodies looking for yet another unique dining experience.

Additional View on the Subject:  The Burlingame Voice

The Burlingame Voice blog has some pretty good stuff.  A take on the merchant flight from Burlingame:
“I'll bet there are more than a few business owners who also think adding a big chunk of new housing will only exacerbate the business-available parking.  They may be feeling the political-correctness pressure to not say so, but I bet they are thinking it.”

We at the Nine-County Coalition suspect those business owners know high-end shoppers don’t take the bus.

Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association Files RM 3 Lawsuit

The Howard Jrvis Taxpayers Association on July 5, 2018, filed a lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court against the Bay Area Toll Authority and the California State Legislature claiming Regional Measure 3, approved by voters on June 5, 2018, as well as enabling legislation Senate Bill 595, should be invalidated. HJTA claims that SB 595 was proposing a tax not a fee and therefore 2/3 approval from legislators should have been required. 

HJTA's suit also claims that Regional Measure 3 is also a tax proposal and should have required 2/3 approval by voters.  The measure passed with 55 percent voter approval.  You can access the court filing in the Superior Court of California website (you need to prove you are not a robot to view the case).

The lawsuit states that both SB 595 and Regional Measure 3 violate Section 3 of article XIII A of the California Constitution, which reads,

The State bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that a levy, charge, or other exaction is not a tax, that the amount is no more than necessary to cover the reasonable costs of the governmental activity, and that the manner in which those costs are allocated to a payor bear a fair or reasonable relationship to the payor’s burdens on, or benefits received from, the governmental activity.

Obviously the above paragraph does not describe RM3, since money taken from bridge crossers will be allocated to BART, ferry, bus, and bicycle riders.

The Mercury News carried a good article on the HJTA lawsuit on its July 9 edition.  The article quotes  interviews with Tim Bittle, Director of Legal Affairs Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, Jim Wunderman, president and CEO of the Bay area Council, and Randy Renschler, spokesperson for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

Tim Bittle explained that Proposition 26, approved by voters in 2010, codified what is a fee and what is a tax.  What may have slipped in as a fee prior to 2010 should not do so after Prop 26.

Jim Wunderman provided an interesting version of a “fair or reasonable relationship to the payor’s burdens on, or benefits received from, the governmental activity.”

Getting commuters and others out of their cars and into mass transit, including BART, Caltrain, local buses and ferries, provides a direct and powerful benefit to everyone who uses the region’s seven state-owned bridges.

Randy Renschler was quoted as saying,

We oppose their path of obstruction as our highways and transit systems must be maintained and improved in order to support the Bay Area’s high wage economy that benefits Bay Area families.

Perhaps Jim Wunderman and Randy Renschler are indeed trying to solve a problem, but doing so by ignoring laws and hurling invectives will bring on a free-for-all in the public arena.  Opposition to RM3 does not represent a “path of obstruction.” It represents a desire for lawfulness.

Frederick Douglass.jpg

Contra Costa County Grand Jury Not Happy With JPAs

A mission of the Nine-County Coalition is to look with an extremely jaundiced eye at all types of agencies staffed by non-elected officials.  Joint Powers Authorities (JPAs), as the Contra Costa County Civil Grand Jury says in its 2017-2018 report,  are “a flexible, easy to form, cost-effective means to carry out specific functions.”  But they are also not in voters’ radar screen.  Therefore, until we all miraculously come up with a more accountable way to deal with inter-agency, inter-city, inter-county functions (think BART or water systems), we can try to ensure that our JPAs abide by their intended purposes and observe fiscally responsible ways.  

Joint Powers Authorities

JPAs were created by the California legislature way back in the 1940s.  Cities and counties in need joint action can form JPAs for a wide range of functions, such as transportation or construction projects.  Inter-county, inter-city, and inter-agency projects have proliferated since the 1940s, and so have JPAs.  Here are a couple of examples of recently-formed Joint Powers Authorities.

In May 2018, participating public water agencies formed The Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority (DCA) as a Joint Powers Authority.  This JPA will be responsible for final design and construction of facilities that are part of the California plan to upgrade its water systems.  The JPA will be empowered to incur debt and acquire real and personal property.

In April 2018 The California State Association of Counties Finance Corporation (CSAC Finance Corporation) established the California Cannabis Authority (CCA) as a Joint Powers Authority to help cities and counties deal with regulations and taxes in the cannabis industry.  One objective of the CCA is to gather data on regulatory and tax compliance in order to provide detailed information to financial institutions interested in working with the cannabis industry.

We are talking about a lot of JPAs serving innumerable functions, and in some cases having the power to accumulate substantial liability for which ultimately taxpayers are responsible.  The Contra Costa County Civil Grand Jury Report Joint Powers Authorities:  Transparency and Accountability lists the findings and provides recommendations.

Findings

The Contra Costa Grand Jury focused its study on Financial JPAs, and addressed transparency and accountability.  Here is a brief summary of the findings.

*  Certain JPAs with a single controlling entity, such as a city council, can avoid legal debt limits and provide limited disclosure to taxpayers.

*  In Contra Costa County there are 12 JPAs created by Redevelopment Agencies that no longer exist, and these JPAs are also attached to the new Successor Agencies.  Thus these JPAs can take on new debt while still servicing the debt incurred under the now defunct Redevelopment Agencies.

*  Cities that created the 12 JPAs referred to above, do not provide JPA-specific information, making it difficult for voters and other interested residents to evaluate JPA performance.

*   The Contra Costs County Auditor maintains  information only on JPAs in which the County is a member, and nothing on JPAs in which the county is not a member.

*   LAFCOs (Local Agency Formation Commission) are not responsible for oversight of JPAs.  They act only as a repository of information that JPAs voluntarily choose to file.

Recommendations

Grand Jury reports explain issues, enumerate findings, offer recommendations, and ask for responses from those the Grand Jury deems responsible for the difficulties described in the reports.  Grand Juries are not responsible for directly implementing changes. 

In this report, the Grand Jury makes several specific recommendations, requesting evidence that JPAs are complying with California codes governing JPAs (Gov Codes Sections 6505), suggesting that the Auditor-Controller review JPAs especially in regard to their connection with Redevelopment Agencies and Successor Agencies, indicating that the Auditor-Controller should post on its website financial and organizational data received from JPAs, and indicating that cities with JPAs should communicate JPA debt decisions and audit reports to the public.

Such recommendations are just that.  However, they are useful in raising public awareness and hopefully eliciting corrective action.

                                                                  A sample of Bay Area JPAs

                                                                 A sample of Bay Area JPAs

Plan Bay Area 2050, Open Spaces, and Choices

In a previous article, the Nine-County Coalition discussed the next iteration of Plan Bay Area, Plan Bay Area 2050.  One of the Five Guiding Principles of PBA 2050 is ensuring everyone has affordable housing.

Affordable: All Bay Area residents and workers have sufficient housing options they can afford—households are economically secure.

This “principle,” mandating outcome rather than opportunity and backed by numerous pieces of California state legislation already in place, provides additional understanding that PBA 2050 will limit consideration of projects to those that do not depart from the Plan’s already prescribed approach to planning.  Unfortunately, basic laws of nature and of economics render Plan Bay Area’s approach to making housing “affordable” difficult at best.

The Prescribed Approach

Plan Bay Area, as unveiled back in 2013, rejects the traditional organic growth of cities in favor of central planning that mandates dense housing along transit corridors as well as ample open space. 

Environmentalists, such as the Greenbelt Alliance, and other stakeholders interested in dense development within prescribed corridors have succeeded in encouraging legislators and bureaucrats to declare 27% of the Bay Area land space permanently protected from development, 55% protected from 10 to 30 years, and only 18% open to development. 

Bay Area Land

The 7% protected from 10 to 30 years is in environmentalists radar screen as land “at risk” of development and ripe for declaring out of bounds to new housing.  These figures and concern for land "at risk" come from a comprehensive report issued by the Greenbelt Alliance.

293,100 acres of farms, ranches, and natural lands are at risk of development in the next 30 years.  Of that land, 63500 acres are likely to be consumed in the next 10 years.  These lands are at risk, but there's still time to speak up and save them.  At Risk, by Greenbelt Alliance

If the majority of residents wish to relegate 82% of Bay Area land to open space, great! Let’s do it!  However, under the present Plan Bay Area scenario residents need to choose between high density along transit corridors that supports the housing demands of a growing workforce locating in cities; or fighting to keep demand and housing prices at current levels.  Choice number two would need to assume lower economic growth, since a significant increase in production of goods and establishment of services necessitates influx of new workers that need a roof over their heads.  Choice number one is tricky, because high-density housing is more expensive to build than single-family homes; therefore, a lot of those dense abodes would have to be subsidized (paid for) by somebody!  Here are two good quotes from New Geography,

Casual and investigative observers seem to agree that housing costs do rise with city compactness. A recent report on the effects of compactness determined that housing costs increased by 1.1% for every 10-point increase in the compactness index. Other researchers have come to similar conclusions, using only population density as an indicator.  What Price Urban Density

The problem is that high-density housing–that is, mid-rise and high-rise housing–costs 50 to 68 percent more, per square foot, to build than low-density housing. If California really wants to build housing that is affordable to low-income people, it needs to build more low-density housing. To build that, it needs to open up land that has been off-limits to development because it is outside of urban-growth boundaries. Will Density Make Housing Affordable?

Who Really Wants 82% Open Space

The motives of bureaucrats seem often obscure.  Does the majority of Bay Area residents truly want that much open space, and bureaucrats are only responding to what residents desire?  Is pressure coming from a strong minority, and bureaucrats are responding to that?  Maybe both?  Here is an excerpt from the Greenbelt Alliance website.

An urban growth boundary (UGB) separates urban areas from the surrounding natural and agricultural lands … they serve the same purpose of stopping sprawl development and encouraging sustainable growth practices...We work with residents around the Bay Area to help them create, renew, and strengthen urban growth boundaries for their cities and towns. Thirty-eight cities across the Bay Area have voter-approved urban growth boundaries.  Urban Growth Boundaries, by Greenbelt Alliance

"Voter-approved" are key words here.  We must assume that residents of the 38 cities (the Bay Area has 101 cities) mentioned in the excerpt want a lot of open space, but whether they want high housing costs and/or density along prescribed corridors the Greenbelt Alliance does not say.

Besides the “sustainable growth” mentioned above, there is another argument made by advocates of density:   Sprawl is expensive to taxpayers because each new development needs new infrastructure, such as roads, sewer, and water lines.  It is also expensive to residents who need to pay for long commutes to job centers.

Multiple studies show that sprawl is more expensive than infill growth within cities. A 2015 study found that sprawl costs America over $1 trillion, and can increase per-capita land consumption by up to 80% and car use by up to 60%. Providing water, sewer, roads, and other services to far-flung neighborhoods is very costly for local governments. Smart growth allows more affordable housing types at increased densities, reduces land requirements per household, has lower public service costs, and reduces transportation costs. The higher housing prices that residents may pay will be offset by lower transportation costs, energy costs, and better access to jobs, services, and amenities in more centralized locations.  At Risk, What is Sprawl, by Greenbelt Alliance

True, sprawl requires new infrastructure, and a wide base of taxpayers pays the cost (assuming Mello-Roos property taxes or developer impact fees are not imposed).  However, under Plan Bay Area, individuals pay exorbitant rents or mortgages and/or taxes arising from taxpayer-subsidized affordable housing.  Regarding transportation costs, yes, sprawl does increase the cost of commuting to jobs in central locations; however, a family needing to buy or rent a home in San Francisco or Silicon Valley might worry more about paying for housing than it would about transportation costs.  And, by the way, why are jobs so centralized?

So Are We Stuck?

Given all the challenges mentioned above, are we stuck with what we have?  It appears that researchers and commentators have found some holes in Plan Bay Area’s approach to planning.  We described some legal holes in our article on Post-Sustainability Institute vs. ABAG et al.  We have noted some economic holes above. 

However, it seems that Plan Bay Area and its transit-oriented development have the support of some heavy lifters.  This excerpt is from the Bay Area Council website, and refers to Senate Bill 680 signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in July of 2017.

Legislation the Bay Area Council sponsored that could bring 20,000 units of new housing to the region got Gov. Brown’s signature last Friday (June 21). SB 680 authored by Senator Bob Wieckowski extends the radius within-which BART can pursue transit-oriented development (TOD) projects from ¼ mile from BART stations to ½ mile. The legislation garnered broad support by various groups across the Bay Area, including The Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California, SPUR, North Bay Leadership Council, SAMCEDA, Transform, among others.

The folks mentioned above apparently have the ears of our legislators.  If we are not entirely happy with Plan Bay Area, perhaps the only way to achieve significant modifications to the Plan might be to withhold tax money intended for the Plan’s expansion and/or acquire legislators with different ears.

SB 1333: Charter Cities Zapped Again

   Indomitable Lucy of Charles Schulz Peanuts fame seems to be saying, "Sorry, the rules changed again."

Indomitable Lucy of Charles Schulz Peanuts fame seems to be saying, "Sorry, the rules changed again."

A Crisis is Always Valuable to Someone

One of California’s many crises is housing, according to the inexhaustible number of housing-related bills generated by our state legislators.  The principal objective of these bills is to override city and county zoning rules.  The argument goes, California has a housing crisis, the crisis is the fault of NIMBYs that refuse to build, build, build, and therefore the state needs to step in and zap local zoning rules – in some cases, regardless of what the state Constitution or court decisions say.

 

Charter Cities – Worrisome Sources of Blowback

In Article 11, Section 5, the California Constitution vests powers on charter cities to conduct their own municipal affairs as they see fit.  However, nothing is that simple.  Here is an excerpt from the opinion of California Supreme Court case California Fed. Savings & Loan Assn. v. City of Los Angeles (1991),

Since the addition of the "home rule" provision to our Constitution in 1896, the organic law of California has granted charter cities [54 Cal. 3d 6] sovereignty over "municipal affairs." Although this court and the Court of Appeal have parsed that cryptic phrase in literally scores of cases in the 95 years since the adoption of what is now article XI, section 5, subdivision (a) of the Constitution, what an early member of this court called those "wild words" have defeated efforts at a defining formulation of the content of "municipal affairs.

In other words, legislators push the envelope and it is up to cities to sue in court to invalidate the bills.

Senate Bill 1333

Let’s look at Senate Bill 1333, introduced in February 2018 by state Senator Bob Wieckowski and presently in committee process.  The bill aims to neutralize the Constitutional authority of charter cities by amending the government code.

Government Code Section 65700, Applicability of Chapter 13, Local Planning, says “This chapter shall not apply to charter cities…”   SB 1333 changes that to “This chapter shall apply to charter cities…”

Government Code Section 65803, applicability of Chapter 4, Zoning Regulations, says “Except as otherwise provided, this chapter shall not apply to a charter city…”  SB 1333 changes that to “This chapter shall apply to a charter city.”  The changed rule comes into effect July 1, 2018, “Notwithstanding Section 65803, a development agreement entered into by a charter city before July 1, 2018, shall not be required to comply with this article.”

Legislators’ concerns about their bills being unlawful are present; however, their contention that things need to be fixed in order to ameliorate a crisis takes precedence in their minds.

Comments on The Senate Rules Committee Analysis of SB 1333 state,

1 ) Housing affordability has reached crisis levels in California… Last year, the Legislature enacted a series of measures intended to increase housing affordability, including giving HCD [Department of Housing and Community Development] authority to review local actions for consistency with approved housing elements. But a recent court case [Kennedy Commission v. City of Huntington Beach] threatens to undermine the state’s efforts to ensure that affordable housing is available statewide by allowing charter cities to adopt specific plans that permit many fewer affordable units than required by their HCD-approved housing elements. SB 1333 closes this loophole by applying state planning and zoning laws to charter cities, thereby ensuring that charter cities’ zoning ordinances, specific plans, and development agreements are consistent with their plans for affordable housing contained in their housing elements.

2) The California Constitution vests charter cities with substantial authority over their municipal affairs, and voters choose to adopt charters in order to take advantage of that greater control. Land use is a prototypical example of a municipal affair—the permitting or prohibition of certain types of uses within the boundaries of a local government principally affects the people that live within that community, and zoning in particular has been recognized by courts as having limited statewide effects. The flexibility afforded by adopting a charter allows cities to make the best decisions for their citizens based on local conditions, even if generally applicable state law provides otherwise. SB 1333 runs contrary to these principles by subjecting numerous charter city land use actions to regulation by the state.

The Kennedy Commission vs Huntington Beach case is addressed in one paragraph as a mere loophole to be fixed. But the authority of charter cities is regarded in the second paragraph as a significant obstacle to forceful mandates that include charter cities.  

Push the envelope and see who reacts seems to be the strategy of our times.   In the case of SB 1333, it might be questionable that a piece of legislation can stand above what the state Constitution and court decisions say about the authority of charter cities.

Smart Pavement and a Little More Temporary Safety

Recently a Nine-County Coalition participant posed the rhetorical question whether in the future Plan Bay Area might insist on monies to build “smart pavement.”  Our guess would be “indubitably.”  A perusal of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission website yields the following announcements, which look like groundwork for smart roads that could include smart pavement.

*  Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS):  Bay Area transportation is getting “smarter” — and MTC is leading the way.  We guide the ongoing development of the Bay Area ITS Architecture, a blueprint for integrating and coordinating various technologies collectively known as intelligent transportation systems, or ITS.   ITS is all about harnessing technology to make our streets, highways and transit systems smarter, safer and more efficient.

*  As part of the Freeway Performance Initiative, several freeway corridors are slated for a full range of smart roadway improvements.  These include:
   Interstate 880 between San Jose and Oakland
   Interstate 80 in Alameda and Contra Costa counties
   U.S. 101 in San Mateo County

As nothing in life is free, the response to the question whether Plan Bay Area might soon be looking for money to pay for smart pavement as part of the development of intelligent transportation systems is “yes.”

Why Smart Pavement, and What Is It?

The roads listed above are federal highways.  The Federal Department of Transportation (DOT) is working with states and private industry to develop and implement intelligent technologies that promise significantly to increase highway safety.  Immediate goals are the development of automated and connected vehicles, that can provide real-time data to government agencies (first responders in case of emergencies or highway maintenance for example), and to drivers themselves (alerts of road construction or entering a school zone for example).  Such connectivity can be achieved with cell-phones and with sensors.  

Smart pavement consists of blocks of concrete produced in factories that can contain whatever sensors are needed to support the functionality of automation and connectivity.  

Asphalt Magazine provides fascinating information on the subject:

Smart pavement is an exciting concept that could revolutionize the building, usage and funding of asphalt roads everywhere.   To be specific, smart pavement refers to roadways that have been specifically engineered and built to support a wide range of 21st century IT-enabled features; making them “smart” in the process.

The magazine article lists some IT-enabled features:

*  Radio-connected sensors embedded in a road to constantly monitor and report pavement conditions.
*  Two-say WiFi transmitters in the roadbed for enhanced broadband services.
*  Charging electric cars as they drive along.
*  Remotely control and coordinate all the WiFi enabled self-driving cars in a coverage area.
*  Reduce accidents and fatalities by coordinating traffic flow, reducing traffic slowdowns, and eliminating the stop-and-start behavior of individually-controlled vehicles.  

Has Anybody Started to Use Smart Pavement?

The state of Colorado Department of Transportation Road X Program serves as an example of projects that aim to transform traditional roads into smart roads.  The program has an attractive, fact-filled website that describes the program’s goals.

RoadX will use 21st century technology and ingenuity to solve our current infrastructure challenges. Bold thinking and bold actions drive progress. That means smarter roadways with more informed drivers and, eventually, self-driving cars that can communicate with the roads on which they travel.

A component of Road X technology will be smart pavements, and CDOT has partnered with Integrated Roadways to implement the smart pavement project.  A press release by Integrated Roadways provides insight into the possibilities of smart pavement:

Integrated Roadways is developing "smart pavement" technology that would not only help increase roadway safety but could also serve as the platform for Wi-Fi for cars and other future mobility services.

The road system uses high-resolution fiber-optic sensors and other technologies inside the pavement to detect vehicle position in real time, as well as roadway conditions. This technology would detect crashes as they occur, for instance, and automatically notify emergency responders to those crashes.

Integrated Roadway's smart pavement is about to be put to the test. The company announced this spring that the Colorado Department of Transportation has awarded a $2.75 million contract for a five-year smart pavement project on U.S. 285 near Fairplay, Colo., south of Breckenridge.

The Downside

Among Benjamin Franklin’s many words of warning is his admonition against purchasing “a little temporary safety.”  Purchased safety often proves to be temporary, as it tends to bring its own perils.  Here are perils inherent in intelligent transportation systems.

*  In March 2018 security professional association ISACA published its global survey on smart cities.  The survey identified this major security threat to smart infrastructure:  vulnerability to malware, ransomware, and denial of service attacks.

*  Critics of smart technology claim smart cities lack privacy safeguards.  Albert Gidari noted his concerns in an article published by The Center for Internet and Society (CIS):  1) In President Obama’s $160 million Smart Cities Initiative of 2015, there are over 4000 words of new grants, proposals and collaborations with local communities, but “the word ‘privacy’ was mentioned in the document exactly once in that hortatory preamble.  In short, it was an afterthought, not the predicate for the program.”  2) Cities are collecting a vast amount of data, but regulatory agencies are not addressing privacy implications in such collections.

*  Surely we are all aware about business as well as government’s thirst for data.  Businesses want information on you specifically for their targeted marketing, and government wants to keep you safe.  Smart appliances, smart devices, smart infrastructure, and smart cities yield an incredible amount of information of interest to businesses and to government.  Who owns all that information?  Who can monetize it?  

The website IoT Innovation (IoT stands for Internet of Things) says there are opportunities for intelligent technology service providers to monetize smart cities.

Because service providers are at the heart of all smart cities, these companies face a massive opportunity for growth and increased prominence in the industry – but only if they can figure out a sustainable way to monetize their offerings.

One of the ways IoT suggests monetization is to “Sell data, demographics data, and analytics generated by smart city projects.”

*  Increasingly, people have been favoring the “safety” – laced with convenience -- side of Ben Franklin’s equation.  Our busy schedules, as well as a complex world, prompt us willingly to opt for convenience and safety.  A NASDAQ article speaks of the potential for “decentralized data” to power smart cities.

These days cities are becoming increasingly open to the concept of sharing. Starting with Airbnb, now we share cars, rides, and bicycles, even basketballs and handbags can also be shared, at least in China.

The obvious next step is to share data, and all the better if you can monetize data in the same way that you can monetize your spare bedroom or the spare handbag.

Conclusion

Potholes

Technology, as any other product or service, is as beneficial and effective as are their providers.  Will smart pavement sensors bring maintenance crews faster than does a call by an irate driver now?  Will data collected be used as intended? 

The frog in slowly boiling water realizes too late that he is doomed.  It is naïve to believe that the enormous amount of data collected by smart infrastructure such as smart pavement will remain Big Data devoid of lucrative personal information.  However, as the NASDAQ article points out, we the people increasingly chose to share data.  We willingly choose safety and convenience.

Post Sustainability Institute: The Surviving Lawsuit

Soon after the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) approved Plan Bay Area in July 2013, opponents of the Plan filed lawsuits.  Of the four lawsuits filed, two were settled out of court, one lost on appeal, and one is still active and awaiting oral arguments at the California Court of Appeals District 1.

The surviving legal challenge to Plan Bay Area is The Post Sustainability Institute et al. v. Association of Bay Area Governments et al, Case, No. A144815.  At present, the last Order filed was on 01/30/18, in response to an MTC/ABAG (Respondents) request for dismissal of the case.  The Order:

Respondents' motion to dismiss appeal and request for judicial notice in support thereof, filed on August 14, 2017, which are opposed, are taken under submission and will be decided with the merits of the appeal.

In other words, the case is still alive, and we at the Nine-County Coalition hope our readers consider supporting the efforts of the Plaintiffs, Rosa Koire and Michael Shaw, in moving this case forward.  You can find more information on the case at StopPlanBayArea.com

Background: What is this Case About and Why Still in Appellate Court?

Unlike the other three lawsuits filed against ABAG and MTC, this case seeks to prove that Plan Bay Area claims to be able to accomplish an unfeasible feat, denies Bay Area residents equal protection, undermines private property, and aims gradually to modify California’s Constitutional representative government to allow for rule by unelected bureaucrats.  

The Globalization of California website explains the central Constitutional issues involved in this case.

“The real question is, is the Appellate Court going to protect the Constitutional form of government in California?

The structure of government is the issue raised by our lawsuit.  The Court’s facing a tough decision, because to do the right thing, it has to neutralize AB 32 and SB 375, and neutralize ABAG — the COG creating the prototype designed to globalize America through unelected and unaccountable councils.

Thus, the long delays, since a lot is at stake.  However, regardless of the Appellate Court’s decision, the losing party will appeal to the State’s Supreme Court.

Attorneys in the Case

Principal attorney for Plaintiffs/Appellants Rosa Koire and Michael Shaw is Timothy V. Kassouni of Kassouni Law.  The law firm engages in several practice areas, among which are Constitutional Law and Land Use Law.

Principal attorney for Respondents ABAG/MTC  is Tina Thomas of Thomas Law.  The firm also has several practice areas, including Environmental Law and Local Government Law.   Ms. Thomas’ bio on the Thomas Law website reads,

Tina’s work extends beyond the traditional role of attorney, shaping not only land use legislation, but also the way it is practiced and understood…Additionally, Tina played an extensive role in the passage of California Senate Bill 375, authored by Senator Darrell Steinberg, which encourages smart growth and infill development.

Links to Opening Briefs

Post Sustainability Institute et al v. Association of Bay Area Governments et al filed opening briefs worth reading.  The briefs sum up what is at the heart of Plan Bay Area’s egregiousness from a Constitutional framework point of view. We summarized the opening brief in the initial California Superior Court filing as introduction, and quoted the “Conclusion” of the opening Appellate Court brief.  Read More.

Moving this Case Forward

The Nine-County Coalition has received communications from Bay Area residents unhappy with the relentless bureaucratic talk about "sustainable communities," cities' and counties' loss of local control over land use, upending of neighborhoods due to imposition of transit-oriented development, and numerous bills enabling further entrenchment of the Plan Bay Area concept.  One way to fight is to litigate.  May  we count on your support of Post Sustainability Institute et al v. Association of Bay Area Governments et al?

 "We the People" does not mean people living in certain areas enjoying the benefits of transit and economic development.  It means all the People.

"We the People" does not mean people living in certain areas enjoying the benefits of transit and economic development.  It means all the People.

AB 2923: Mission Creep Forges Ahead

California Assembly Bill 2923 BART Transit Oriented Development, authored by David Chiu (San Francisco) and Timothy Grayson (Concord) and now in committee process, stands as a good example of mission creep. 

Were this bill among only a few deserving such label, one would have small cause for concern.  However, the list of bills and measures replacing city and county land use rules with state rules keeps growing.  Way back in 2008, California Senate Bill 375 declared green house gas emissions a threat that needed to be dealt with through land use policies – bunch up housing, prevent sprawl, and decrease automobile use. Since then legislators have churned out innumerable transportation, housing, and climate change bills that keep growing in scope and forcefulness:  mission creep.

Mission creep is the expansion of a project or mission beyond its original goals, often after initial successes. Mission creep is usually considered undesirable due to the dangerous path of each success breeding more ambitious attempts, stopping only when a final, often catastrophic, failure occurs. The term was originally applied exclusively to military operations, but has recently been applied to many different fields. Wikipedia

The Scope and Forcefulness of AB 2923

Here is what AB 2923 says it does:  “Requires the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) to adopt transit-oriented development (TOD) zoning standards on specified parcels of land it owns, and requires affected cities and counties to update zoning to be consistent with BART’s zoning standards within two years.”  

More specifically, the bill states among several of its clauses,

* Requires, where local zoning is inconsistent with the TOD zoning standards, the local jurisdiction to adopt an ordinance that approves the application of the TOD zoning standards within two years of the date that the TOD zoning standards were approved by the board.

* Requires the local zoning ordinance to conform to the TOD zoning standards without the application of any bonuses or waivers allowable under any state or local density bonus provisions.

* Requires the board to make a finding as to whether the local zoning ordinance is consistent with the TOD zoning standards.

In other words, you will have transit oriented development in your neighborhood whether you like it or not.

How Deep Does AB 2923 Go?

The bill authors' comments as quoted on the bill's Analysis, Assembly Committee on Local Government:

* BART committed itself to fully building out the land it owns around its stations by 2040 to produce over 20,000 new units of housing, of which 7,000 will be affordable, and 4,500,000 sq. ft. of office and commercial space, including child care and educational facilities.

* Historically, TOD projects have taken too long - often more than a decade - with jurisdictions demanding less housing and too much parking for transit adjacent development.

The Committee's own comments contained in its Analysis, verbatim:

* BART is also authorized to use eminent domain to acquire property, and can also dispose of property when it is in the best interest of the transit system… and hold and enjoy, real and personal property of every kind within or without the district that is necessary for transit-oriented joint development projects on property within ½ mile from the external boundaries of a BART facility to use for TOD.

* TOD projects on BART land will meet a minimum net residential density standard of 75 units per acre, reduce auto use by lowering parking requirements below one space per unit on average and 1.6 spaces per 1,000 square feet of office space, and strive to provide incentives to take transit, bike and walk.

Roadblocks expressed in the Analysis:

* The California Constitution, pursuant to Article XI, Section 7, states that a city or county may make and enforce within its limits all local, police, sanitary, and other ordinances and regulations not in conflict with general laws (special districts do not have land use authority). This power is often referred to as the ‘police power…’ One way that cities and counties use this authority is through zoning…

* Cities with voter-approved charters have additional home rule authority over their municipal affairs…  The provisions of a city charter and ordinances adopted by a charter city prevail over general state law in areas that a court determines are municipal affairs.

* Government Code 53096 contains provisions that allow the board of a local agency, by vote of four-fifths of its members, and in spite of the provisions above, to render a city or county zoning ordinance inapplicable to a proposed use of property if the local agency at a noticed public hearing determines by resolution that there is no feasible alternative to its proposal… In this manner, it may be that BART has the authority to exempt itself from local zoning by the affected city or county, but only for its own facilities, and not for private projects like TOD mixed-use developments.

And suggestions how to overcome those roadblocks, again all verbatim:

* Override of Police Powers Delegated to Cities and Counties

* Establishes Precedent for Future Diminishing of Local Land Use Planning.

* Charter cities enjoy supremacy over their municipal affairs. This bill does not contain any provisions declaring that the contents of the bill are a 'statewide affair' – which would then apply the requirements of the bill to charter cities in addition to all general law cities.

* The Committee may wish to ask the author about his intent to include charter cities in the bill. The Committee may also wish to note that while the Legislature can declare its intent to apply provisions of a bill to charter cities, the true determination of whether a specific area is a municipal affair or a matter of statewide concern will be determined solely by the courts.

BART position as contained in the Analysis:

* BART has a ‘Neutral’ position on the bill, and notes that the bill ‘could benefit BART’s TOD program by accelerating the rezoning of sites for residential and mixed-use development…however, this approach this bill takes poses a shift in the working relationship between BART and its local jurisdictions.’

Quote from the Analysis' section, Why BART-owned parcels only?

* The bill deals specifically with parcels of land that BART owns, near existing BART stations. The Committee may wish to consider why increasing density in this manner should only occur around BART stations, as opposed to parcels that are NOT owned by BART that are near existing BART stations.

Conclusion

According to the bill Analysis by the Assembly Committee on Local Government, the affected parcels of BART-owned land are located in the following cities:

Charter Cities:  Berkeley, El Centro, Hayward, Oakland, San Francisco (City and County of), and San Leandro.

General Law Cities:  Fremont, Pleasanton, Dublin, Antioch, Pittsburg, Lafayette, Concord, Union City, and parcels in Alameda County.

So, California legislators have proposed a bill they know infringes on cities’ police powers and charter cities’ home rule authority, but are ready not only to override those constitutional rights, but also to expand the mission of the bill beyond BART-owned land.  Mission creep at its best.

Read More

Read More:  The basics on BART Transit Oriented Development in our article Meet Your New Landlord: Bay Area Rapid Transit. 

TOD Pleasant Hill/Contra Costa

Pictured:  Pleasant Hill/Contra Costa Transit Center TOD.  The first phase of this project is completed, with more to come. 

An obvious challenge:  During peak hours, BART cars are crowded, yet a considerable number of additional riders should be expected with expansion of Transit Villages.  State legislators and the BART Board are counting on hoped-for future sources of sufficient revenue to fund fleet growth.

"Traffic Plans" and Fundamental Laws of Congestion

Legislators, planners, experts, and advocates have identified plenty of cures for ridding highways and roads of the slow traffic that robs commuters of their time.  Here we offer some random observations.

Cure All:  Generous Investments in Public Transit

 Best:  Redfin Survey 02/21/18                                   Worst: Inrix Global Scoreboard

Best:  Redfin Survey 02/21/18                                  Worst: Inrix Global Scoreboard

The chart on the left shows 2017 ranking of the top 10 U.S. cities with populations of more than 300,000 for public transit.  The chart on the right shows 2017 ranking world-wide of U.S. cities with the worst traffic congestion.  The highlighted cities could claim that were it not for their considerable investment in public transit, traffic would be much worse than it is.  Others could claim adding transit does little to affect automobile traffic.

Ridership Trends

Of the 10 cities ranked as best for public transit in the chart above, only Seattle gained in transit ridership from 2016.  It appears that being among the “best” does not guarantee being effective.

How Much Would You Pay to Ride the Bus?

Somebody Has to Pay

If you take public transit in Los Angeles, you probably need to spend around 8.69% of your income to purchase your monthly transportation pass.  That is a considerable percentage.  However, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti seems to be looking for ways to raise that percentage even further.  On a 2016 interview with Newsweek, Garcetti laid out his vision of what Los Angeles transit would look like by the time he leaves office.

The centerpiece of Garcetti’s vision is Mobility Plan 2035, released last summer, its name a subtle allusion to the immobility that now grips every corner of this huge and restless city. The new mobility would come at the expense of the car. There is also Vision Zero, an initiative to eliminate traffic fatalities modeled on Stockholm’s program of the same name. Los Angeles also has Great Streets and Complete Streets and People St, all different plans to fight the same four-wheeled enemy. There will be a subway to the sea, finally. There are now bus shelters with smartphone chargers.

Sounds like cost of transit as a proportion of personal income is about to climb higher than the current 8.69%.  Or maybe Garcetti plans to have automobile commuters across the Los Angeles River bridges pitch in?

The Fundamental Law of Highway Congestion

Way back in 1962, transportation researcher Anthony Downs declared that the fundamental law of highway congestion would cause any empty or near empty highway lane to soon fill up with automobiles.  You build an extra lane, and extra cars will soon populate it to capacity. 

In 2011, a team of three researchers declared that Anthony Downs’ law could extend to roads around and within cities, and the fundamental law of road congestion was discovered.  If a newly-built lane that starts out empty is soon filled up with cars, then an old lane made nearly empty by government edict will also soon fill up as well.

Say, legislators and bureaucrats succeed in getting everybody walking, biking, carpooling, and taking public transit; then the presence of single-occupancy automobiles would decrease, leaving room for walkers, bikers, carpoolers, buses and rail transit to zoon by.  Given the fundamental rule of road congestion, it would not be long before single-occupancy cars also started zooming by, taking advantage of the now empty spaces.

You Can Lead of Horse to Water, But...

Transit advocates say that the pesky laws of traffic congestion can be eliminated by changing people's behavior.  Maybe, but past experience shows us differently.  Here is a recent Los Angeles experience, reported in the Los Angeles Times, that should give some pause to Mayor Garcetti and others on a mission to eliminate cars:

Despite a growing population and a booming economy, the number of trips taken on Los Angeles County's bus and rail network last year fell to the lowest level in more than a decade….

Experts and officials have no firm answers, but have attributed the decline to a combination of factors, including changes to immigration policy, competition from Uber and Lyft and more people buying cars — as well as perceived problems with existing transit service and security.

It appears that although a segment of residents in any city will always be committed to walking, biking, and riding public transit, what we see in majority behavior is that as soon as people can, people will ride cars. 

So Are We Stuck With Gridlock?

If the type of central planning now in vogue - primarily shabby transit oriented development, accompanied by the concentration of jobs in a few locations - persists, it will be difficult to improve the traffic situation. 

Beyond Senate Bill 827

SB 827 and Beyond

Thank you to the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods for presenting on April 28 SB 827 and Beyond.  This excellent panel discussion included four long-time advocates of neighborhood activism: Art Agnos, former Mayor of San Francisco; Zelda Bronstein, former Berkeley Planning Commissioner; Calvin Welsh, educator and affordable housing advocate; and Sophie Maxwell, former San Francisco Supervisor. All spoke ardently of the need for neighborhoods to be aware of events occurring at the state level, decide what planning makes sense for their neighborhood, organize, and oppose what does not make sense.

The purpose of this panel discussion was to point out that the demise of Senate Bill 827 was only a blip in the barrage of bills emanating from Sacramento intended to remove control of land use from cities and counties.  Therefore, neighborhoods need to organize and form coalitions far and wide to redefine the terms of the housing argument.

Defining the Argument is Winning the Argument

The current argument is that a certain number of housing units determined by an all-knowing entity must be built in each and all cities and counties.  This argument depends on our accepting the definition of the state having absolute control over land use.

A redefinition of the current argument would state that an informed electorate has ultimate control.  Voters not only have the basic rights of summarily kicking people out of office who perform against constituents’ best interests, but also have the power of referendums and initiatives.  

Remember Washington 8?

Way back in 2012 developers were all set to build Washington 8, a luxury 12-story high-rise on The Embarcadero, San Francisco’s beloved waterfront.  The project was labeled by opponents "Wall on the Waterfront." 

 Fontana Towers at the end of North Point, San Francisco

Fontana Towers at the end of North Point, San Francisco

Memories of views lost when Fontana East and West went up on the waterfront at the end of North Point surfaced in the minds of those around in the 1960s.  Nob Hill residents who paid premium for their properties were not happy either with the Washington 8 developers or with the City’s Board of Supervisors who changed height limits to allow for the development of Washington 8.  Neighborhoods across the City decried “Manhattanization” of the Waterfront.

So, coalitions were formed, and opposition to the Wall on the Waterfront grew.

Sensing resistance, Washington 8 developers placed an initiative, Proposition B, on the November 2013 ballot:  Shall the City allow a development project at the 8 Washington Street Site that would include new housing, retail and recreational facilities, and open space, and would increase the legal building height limits on a portion of the site?  Nobody was fooled, and Proposition B was soundly defeated.

Also down in flames went Proposition C, a referendum presented by opponents of Washington 8 in the form of this question:  Shall the City ordinance increasing legal building height limits on an approximately half-acre portion of the 8 Washington Street Site along Drumm Street take effect?   Voters just said NO.

Art Agnos and the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods signed fiery Opposition Arguments on Propositions B and C.  Mr. Agnos firmly reminded the audience at SB 827 and Beyond that the Washington 8 saga can serve as a model when the majority of voters are not happy with legislation.

Where Are the Facts?  Where is the Spirit?

Zelda Bronstein spoke about the avalanche of legislation whittling away city and county control of land use, and the dearth of journalists writing about it.  As a journalists herself, Ms. Bronstein does write about such matters as the growth of unelected bureaucracies, unaccountable to voters, that carry out the details of state legislation.  Information is a vital tool necessary to make informed choices at the ballot box.

Calvin Welch, educator and housing advocate, presented intriguing statistics showing how housing prices increased, not decreased, while supply increased in San Francisco.  Mr. Welch noted that in order for the principles of supply and demand to work, markets need to be free, and populated by willing buyers and sellers possessing equal power to influence price.  Therefore, a market like San Francisco’s, or any other not possessing the needed characteristics of a free market, must allow for intervention if housing at all levels is desired.  Mr. Welch suggested interventions must include not demolishing viable existing housing and requiring large businesses to provide housing for their employees.  

Sophie Maxwell made clear that neighborhood leaders must incentivize residents to be active participants in planning processes.  Everyone should be welcomed in the dialogue, differences worked out, exclusion avoided.  Ms. Maxwell noted that although arguments must be made clearly and forcefully, they must also avoid negative influences such as ageism and other divisive methods.  

The Takeaway

Reach out, organize, because SB 827 has not really gone away but is only waiting to return.

Update: SB 828 Sails Right In

Today, Tuesday 24th, Senate Bill 828, containing and enforcing essentially the same housing strategy as SB 827, sailed right through the Transportation and Housing Committee hearing.  While during last week's hearing several committee members expressed opposition to SB 827, the silence today from most committee members was deafening.  Senators Beal, Allen, McGuire, and Gaines spoke of their "concerns," such as the fact that Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) is unfunded -- we need money there!  If it sound that legislators are back to business as usual, they are. 

Time for Change

The takeaway might be that if the big concern according to those who spoke at the hearing is that money is needed to fund RHNA mandates, then opposition strategy could include ensuring that not a penny goes towards RHNA funding!

Populations grow and wane.  Cities and counties need to adapt to growth and contractions.  But why all this angst?  Why the strategies set in stone that do not achieve their expressed objectives?  Is it time for residents to demand different approaches?

Demise of SB 827 But More to Come in SB 828

California Senate Bill 828 will be heard by the Transportation and Housing Committee on Tuesday, April 24, 2018.

For a quick summary of the bill and concerns over it, see article Now There is SB 828.  A good reason why we need to pay special attention to this proposal is here:

Demise of SB 827

The alliance of otherwise disparate groups in the “local control” movement enjoyed a major triumph on April 17, when Senate Bill 827, introduced by California Senator Scott Wiener in January 2018, suffered a compassionate but swift demise before the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee.  While bemoaning the state’s astronomical housing costs and thanking Senator Wiener for his aggressive proposal, committee members killed the bill with a 6-4 vote (3 members did not vote on this bill).

The lineup up of members of the public speaking for and against SB 827 at the April 17 hearing might be categorized as developers, real estate professionals, and big business in the YES corner vs. neighborhoods, lower-income housing advocates, and representatives of elected city officials in the NO corner.  

Senator Wiener, as well as his pro-development supporters, vowed to continue their fight for high density along transit corridors.

The Crisis That Will Not Go Away

Issues have a tendency to enjoy their five minutes of fame then fade from public consciousness.  However, California’s housing crisis seems to be here to stay.  Not only has this issue been long lasting, it has also been intense. Redevelopment, which aimed to tear down certain neighborhoods and build lots of new stuff was implemented in the 1950s.  The strategy suffered a crippling blow with its razing of San Francisco’s Fillmore District, and died an ignominious death upon discovery that the millions intended for low-income housing instead financed high-end golf courses and other amenities.  Although California’s Redevelopment Agencies officially died in 2011, redevelopment goes on, apparently eternally, as fixes to the equally seemingly eternal housing crisis.  

Observe the major concerns over legislation such as SB 827 expressed by housing advocates:  displacement and gentrification.  Ask any old timer that remembers what happened in the 1950s and 60s to The Fillmore:  displacement and gentrification.  It is one thing for neighborhoods to evolve organically via gradual market forces. It is another thing for central planning to force change through fervent mandates in order to achieve whatever policy is in vogue at the time.  

A Pretty Good Formula

Money and climate change

The San Francisco Bay Area has been especially adroit in manipulating housing policy through Plan Bay Area, but similar policies prevail throughout California.  Ask 100 people what are Plan Bay Area’s objectives, and there will probably be 100 different responses, including clean air, conservation, stopping climate change, globalism, power over we the people, abdication of power by elected officials, or a combination of all of the above.  Included in such responses should be the tendency of government entities to benefit the more powerful, pay some bills, and show economic growth.

“Follow the Money” is a frequently stated aphorism. There is money fighting climate change, for instance, but a lot more money to pass around in economic growth. 

If legislators can combine fighting climate change with promoting economic growth, they have a pretty good formula.

The Formula: Density!

Companies participating in national or global marketplaces benefit from being able to locate near existing pools of workers with relevant skills who they can hire. Workers benefit from being able to live in places where multiple employers need to compete for their labor…The deeper labor markets provided by density allow people to find jobs they are better at and that make them happier, while people being in proximity to one another allows them to be more innovative and productive.  There’s No Good Alternative to Building More Homes in Expensive Cities, by Matthew Yglesias, Vox 4/20/18

*  Walkable neighborhoods, parks and open spaces can generate economic benefits to local governments, home owners and businesses through increasing property values and related property tax revenues.

*  Open spaces such as parks and recreation areas can have a positive effect on nearby residential property values, and can lead to proportionately higher property tax revenues for local governments.

*  Compact, walkable developments can provide economic benefits to real estate developers through higher home sale prices, enhanced marketability and faster sales or leases than conventional development. 

**From Economic Benefits of Open Space, Recreation Facilities and Walkable Community Design, by Lilly Shoup and Reid Ewing, March 2010, abstract reproduced in American Trails.

We point to legislation as well as Plan Bay Area's strategies of building dense Priority Development Areas while enforcing vast Conservation Areas.  We also point to a massive budget (something for everybody), ever-increasing public pension unfunded liabilities, widespread homelessness and other public assistance challenges that necessitate considerable economic growth that can generate high taxes, fees, and other venues for California's public funding.  Sounds like density might be a formula for increasing rather than decreasing housing costs.

Density, Growth, and the Housing Crisis

If density is viewed as a significant engine of the economic growth necessary to support California’s spending, then draconian legislation that forces all cities and counties to build in severely restricted areas seems likely to continue unabated.  

Thus, we have seen numerous bills mandating counties to build their “fair share" of housing, a war on cars and parking spaces, Conservation Areas that prevent outward growth, taller buildings unwelcome in single-family neighborhoods, and super-tall construction in unstable land fill areas (exemplified by San Francisco’s sinking and leaning Millennium Tower).  

And there is more to come.  On April 24, 2018, the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee will hear SB 828, also introduced on January by Senator Scott Wiener.  

By expanding the duties of local governments relating to the housing element program and the final regional housing need plan, this bill would impose a state-mandated local program.

The opposition to SB 828 has not been as forceful as opposition to SB 827, an understandable situation since residents fighting against gentrification or for control of their neighborhoods have day jobs and few deep pockets to sustain such prolonged fights.  However, the outcry over SB 827 might have placed legislators on notice that residents have the last word come election time.  Also, alliances formed to oppose SB 827 hopefully will continue, to show opposition to SB 828 and similar mandates sure to come.

Senate Bill 827 is Dead for Now

The Senate Transportation Committee met today to consider Senate Bill 827, the bill that proposed to solve California’s housing shortage by preempting the zoning laws of cities and counties.  Transportation Committee members were willing to say there was a housing problem; however, by 6-4 they understood SB 827 was not a rational solution. 

Cities and counties were not willing to give away to the extent SB 827 required their right to determine what gets built where, so a veritable movement emerged and won.  The San Francisco Examiner published one of the first articles right after the NO vote: Bill Allowing Taller Buildings Near Transit Dies in Committee.

Plan Bay Area 2050 Coming Your Way

Plan Bay Area 2050

 

Plan Bay Area has become a way of life since its adoption in 2013.  This housing, transportation, resiliency, social justice, climate-governing regional plan is intended to evolve through its regularly-scheduled review and update process.  As the Plan evolves the laws of nature will cause it to become increasingly centralized, complex, and outsized.  Necessarily, as that progression occurs cities and counties will gradually leave behind their decision-making responsibilities as well as their duty to respond to residents’ wishes and concerns.  Such progression can already be detected in differences between Plan Bay Area 2013 and the current 2040 version.  Now, Plan Bay Area 2050 is on its way to your city and county.

MTC Public Participation Plan  

As the San Francisco Bay Area’s Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), the Metropolitan Transportation Commission is tasked with developing and conducting Plan updates.  One of the first chores to be accomplished in the update process is implementing a “Public Participation Plan,” and first on the list is getting public participation on the Public Participation Plan.  This from the MTC website.

What are the best ways to encourage Bay Area residents to participate in planning for the region’s future? You can tell us by reviewing and commenting on MTC’s Draft 2018 Public Participation Plan…

MTC’s Draft 2018 Public Participation Plan highlights opportunities for Bay Area residents to engage in the range of the agency’s planning work and funding allocations.

Therefore, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission is looking for public participation on the “Draft Public Participation Plan for the San Francisco Bay Area.” Deadline for comments is May 7, 2018. Please send comments to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission:

By mail:
Metropolitan Transportation Commission
Attn: Public Information Office
Bay Area Metro Center
375 Beale Street, Suite 800, San Francisco, CA 94105

By email:  info@bayareametro.gov

The Interesting Part of the Participation Plan

MTC’s Draft Public Participation Plan lists all ways residents can participate -- by accessing documents from the MTC library available at 375 Beale St or on the MTC website, attending public meetings, joining workshops, etc.  

Also the Participation Plan lists federal and state mandates that govern MPOs, the planning process, and plan objectives.  Emphasis on such mandates implies MTC can listen, but it really cannot substantially act on any of what it hears!  Here are three such mandates.

*  Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act:  This federal act requires metropolitan planning agencies such as MTC to “provide citizens….with a reasonable opportunity to comment” on transportation plans and programs.  Thus, the MTC must go through the public comment ritual.

*  EO 12898 Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations:  State agencies created under federal requirements, such as the MTC in its role as the Bay Area’s Metropolitan Planning Organization, must make achieving environmental justice part of their mission.

*  Senate Bill 375 Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act:  This state law “calls on MTC and the Association of Bay Area Governments to develop a Sustainable Communities Strategy — as part of the Regional Transportation Plan — to integrate planning for growth and housing with long-range transportation investments, and to reduce per-capita Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions from cars and light trucks.”

Planning for Plan Bay Area 2050

Development of Plan Bay Area 2050 will take place over the next three years.  Public participation is critical to ensure an open process, in which all interested residents have the opportunity to offer input and share their vision for what the Bay Area will look like decades from now.

Given that the Public Participation Plan so frequently mentions that MTC must operate under numerous federal and state mandates, it appears the Plan might perceive residents’ vision for what the Bay Area will look like in the future as limited to what is already on the Plan.

However, that is no reason to remain silent.  Forceful indication that there are residents not happy with regional planning would encourage moderation in MTC's behavior.  Forceful and organized displeasure expressed towards all levels of centralized governance – federal, state, and regional – is bound to invoke reversal of the current planning trend.

Cynicism and Brazenness?

MTC’s Draft Public Participation Plan contains the following introductory sentiment – verbatim:

Metropolitan Transportation Commission
Public Participation Plan

"I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but
the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to
exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to
take it from them but to inform their discretion."
— Thomas Jefferson

How is all that people power working out for you?

Regional Measure 3: Empty Promises

By: Linda Koelling, Former Mayor Foster City

It can be said, that when the government is careless with the money of its citizens, it is careless with their future. You may be familiar with Regional Measure 3, which states that if approved by voters, a pot of money will be used to mitigate traffic congestion. Like many previous measures, it is a misleading and egregious narrative.  When you look at the countless number of tax initiatives and fees that have been brought before the taxpayers for the past several years and continue coming, you can't help but wonder where the money is really being spent.

Regional Measure 3, on the June ballot, is deceptive and bureaucracy out of control. Its multi-purpose promises regarding a variety of improvements will make it difficult to hold legislators accountable.  This laundry list of various promises is being created for each of the nine bay area counties. So, the question is, which county will see any or all fulfilled?  

It’s noteworthy that $1 million dollars of this money, will go toward creating an unelected group to have authority over these funds. A group who does not have to answer to the voters. Ask yourself, how will the rest of the money get divided, in which area and in what time frames?

Let’s consider the commuter who works in San Mateo, Santa Clara or San Francisco counties but must live across the bay because he/she can’t find housing or afford to live here. These are the ones who will have to pay the price with the bridge tolls up to $9 plus a recent 12 cents a gallon gas tax increase. How long will it be economically feasible for an employee to continue working in the area with these increases?

In addition, how will the company who employs that commuter continue to stay in business given that salaries will need to be raised to keep those employees and in turn those costs get passed on to consumers. Small businesses will not last.

Not a commuter? Those who live in San Mateo, Santa Clara and San Francisco Counties may not think this toll increase will affect them. It will! You will still pay the high price because truckers who use the bridges to bring food, clothing and other goods to market will also have to pass along higher rates to YOU, the consumers.

Consider the messages of previous fees and taxes that were passed by the voters. They all said the revenue would go towards fixing streets, roads and transportation. But has it? It’s time to follow the money. These promises sound good but rarely come to fruition. Be prepared for more sales tax increases coming soon and being sold for the same reasons. By the way, if this initiative is passed, the state can continue raising bridge tolls based on inflation and without voter approval in the future.

We are definitely not steering a common-sense course for the Bay Area when it comes to growth and development in our cities and communities. Raising bridge tolls through RM 3 is only a band aid solution to a bigger problem, a lack of appropriate infrastructure to accommodate the massive push to urbanize all the suburban areas in the Bay Area. Lawmakers put the cart before the horse with all the building in the area. It is a flawed attempt to control the masses of people in the name of economic growth and sustainability.

It’s time to make the government in Sacramento accountable to the people they serve. Don’t listen to the continued empty promises. Follow the money! Vote NO on raising the bridge tolls. NO on RM 3.


RM3 Flyer

New RM3 Flyer for printing and distribution or posting on your website.  Contributed by a Nine-County Coalition participant.  Download.

RM3 Opposition: Quieter Than it Should Be

Regional Measure 3 on the June 2018 ballot is in the same position as was Regional Measure AA in 2016 -- enjoying the strong support of large businesses in general and of technology giants in Silicon Valley and San Francisco in particular.  From the website of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group,

To assist in carrying out an impactful effort to pass RM3, the coalition has selected a seasoned campaign team, who recently ran the successful nine-county Measure AA campaign. Measure AA was a ballot initiative to restore wetlands throughout the Bay Area generating $500 million over 20 years for critical tidal marsh restoration projects around the Bay Area.

The campaign money being poured into promoting RM3 to ensure its success at the ballot box is as impressive as it was with Measure AA. Here are some figures from a Matier & Ross article in the SF Chronicle.

The Regional Measure 3 campaign — whose backers include Facebook, Salesforce, Google and a number of other businesses — had its informal kickoff the other day, when Sen. Dianne Feinstein announced her support during a “fireside chat” hosted by the tech-boosting Silicon Valley Leadership Group... So far, the campaign has amassed a $2 million war chest, including $350,000 from Facebook, $250,000 from Kaiser Permanente Health Care, $125,000 from Dignity Health Care and $125,000 from Salesforce.

As with Measure AA, passage of RM3 would greatly benefit Silicon Valley.  Measure AA promised to protect the South Bay perimeter against sea level rise, and RM3 promises to increase transit choices to Silicon Valley (BART to Silicon Valley).  Outlying counties like Solano or Napa might not benefit as much from RM3.  But even if all voters in several counties vote NO, RM3 could still pass, since passage depends on an aggregate simple-majority YES vote from of all counties combined.

So we have a measure that lacks equity, fiscal restraints, and perhaps the legal authority to call itself a user fee rather than a tax or to include an inflation adjustment.  We have big names like the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, the Bay Area Council, and SPUR generating big money and good vibes for the measure, all while the article from Matier & Ross quoted above indicates "there has been no organized opposition."  Well, except there is some opposition.  The article does mention that U.S. Representative Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) and State Assembly Member Catharine Baker (R-San Ramon) do oppose.

The projects they are talking about are all over the place and are based more on political relationships than on transportation engineering.  Mark deSaulnier

State Assemblywoman Catharine Baker, R-San Ramon, is also opposed, largely because the measure allows for automatic toll increases in the future based on inflation.  “And they can do it without any vote of the people or the Legislature,” Baker said.

We cannot help but wonder why such big "power players" are willing to spend so much time and treasure on ensuring the passage of RM3 -- as they did with Measure AA -- if indeed "there has been no organized opposition." 

Maybe it is because they know other legislators besides Mark deSaulnier and Catharine Baker are questioning the efficacy and transparency of RM3.  This from another Matier & Ross article,

Even with the sweeteners, there was opposition from Contra Costa County, with state Assembly members Jim Frazier, D-Brentwood, Tim Grayson, D-Concord, and Catharine Baker, R-San Ramon, all voting “no.”  Frazier, who chairs the Assembly Transportation Committee, said that while there was a need for transportation improvements, “adding another tax on commuters is not the answer.” He likened an $8 toll to “highway robbery.”

Or maybe it is because they know there is opposition from small players like smaller businesses that need to truck goods across California's state-owned bridges, or lower-income folks whose realities of life prevent them from taking public transit to and from their workplaces, or people who see through a poorly managed RM3 plan.  These smaller unorganized players are the quiet threat to the big and powerful. 

Now There is Senate Bill 828

While we fret over Senator Scott Wiener’s Senate Bill 827 – Transit Zoning , his SB 828 – RHNA Reform is moving right along, and is now in the Senate’s Transportation and Housing Committee since March 21.  SB 827 has been languishing in the T & H Committee since March 1.

As in the case of the “housing package” passed by California legislators in 2017, which included SB 35 – Streamlined Approval Process, SB 828 is intended to significantly increase housing production, including low and very-low income housing.  Theoretically, nothing but a substantial mandated increase in housing production at all income levels in all neighborhoods will bring down housing costs, allow workers to live closer to their jobs, and reduce greenhouse gases by reducing travel distances.  

Critics of SB 828 and other “housing first” legislation recently passed or introduced, point not only to the costs associated with such legislation, but also to the flaws inherent in the legislations’ assumptions.  For example, The American Planning Association position letter regarding SB 828 states,

Beyond the more positive changes to RHNA [Regional Housing Needs Allocation] distribution, however, the bill contains a number of new RHNA requirements that simply can’t be met and would set up local governments to fail.

Perhaps we need to widen our view when judging the pros and cons of SB 828 and review the performance of other state and regional mandates.  How is Plan Bay Area performing in its stated goals of equitable access to housing, efficient cost-effective transportation systems, and traffic-jam free city streets.  Also, we might want to consider whether failure to achieve targets can be cured by increasing the forcefulness and penalties for failure.  How are state and city laws designed to lessen housing evictions working out?

Highlights of SB 828

*  Doubles the percentage of very low and low-income households that cities and counties must plan to accommodate from the current 100% to 200%.

*   Mandates cities, counties and regions take “all possible actions” to ensure housing production quotas are met, “including embracing and promoting all applicable reforms and incentives in Section 65582.1” [Code Section 65582.1 enforces mandates under Senate Bill 35, “by right” streamlined production approval process].

*  If median rent or home prices available for rent or sale exceed median income, communities must produce more housing to alleviate the imbalance.

*   Communities with high rates of income growth must “also have a high rate of new housing production for households of all income levels, in particular low-income and very low-income households, to ensure equity and to stabilize home prices and communities.”

*  Council of governments cannot use past underproduction of housing as measure for future production.  If there is a deficit in allocated production, the deficit must be rolled over to the next production cycle.

*  There will be no excuses for a housing production deficit.  “This housing deficit shall be considered a binding and nonnegotiable obligation, and this assignment shall be considered an administrative action by the department.”

Concerns

*  Requirements for housing needs allocation have been in force at least since the 1960’s.  After more than half a century, these requirements have yet to achieve their stated objective of providing affordable housing for all.

*  What the requirements have achieved is a tsunami of increasingly forceful mandates transferring control of land use and planning away from cities and counties.  Under such mandates substantially the same state rules apply to all communities, removing residents’ ability to help plan for their own cities and counties

*   Assumptions underlying SB 828 ignore significant possibilities:

      Residents and city councils might reach a tipping point and simply refuse to accept housing production allocations, choosing instead to sue in court – for any possible reason – anyone who attempts to act under such allocations.  We have seen a comparable scenario with the use of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

      Planning for 200% of forecasted housing needs, including need for low and very-low income housing, is expensive.  Money to produce lower-income housing needs to come from somewhere.  Most likely money would come from a combination of market-rate buyers/renters and taxpayers, who might also reach a tipping point, refuse to buy/rent in California, or vote “no” on tax proposals

      Higher income residents living in high-value neighborhoods are unlikely to sit still while SB 828 works to reduce the value of their property.  More likely such residents will sell and leave the state before the full force of the bill takes effect.

      There is very little in life that is “binding and non-negotiable,” and some say only death and taxes truly fall under that category.  Everything else can be ignored, stonewalled, or litigated forever.

Deeper Questions

California legislators subscribe to a particular set of beliefs:  the state needs to foster economic growth, growth necessitates workers, workers need to have housing they can afford, housing needs to be close to where workers work to spare workers from long commutes and reduce greenhouse gases.  The only solution being discussed is forcefully-mandated dense housing near mega job centers and along the state’s anemic transit corridors.  Are we lacking competing solutions, or even competing assumptions?

Some Things Better Not Be Messed With

Single family neighborhood
Haight Ashbury in San Francisco

Plan Bay Area: Etched in Stone But Growing

Suggestions from the Nine-County Coalition:

*  If you are not familiar with Plan Bay Area, read on to get a feel of how the Plan was conceived.

*  If you are already familiar with the Plan, you may skip the article and take a survey on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s new website section called Horizon.  The survey will be available until March 31, 2018.

The birth of Plan Bay Area

Thousands of hours of public meetings marked the gestation of Plan Bay Area.  During such meetings, Metropolitan Transportation Commission and Association of Bay Area Government officials sat patiently with vacant eyes as they listened to hundreds upon hundreds of members of the public express their views on the Plan.  The public persisted in offering views, as the Plan marched on toward completion.  

At 6:30 pm on the evening of July 18, 2013, MTC/ABAG commissioners, along with a room-full of Bay Area residents, sat in the Oakland Marriott Hotel Ballroom, ready for yet another public meeting, more discussion, more public comment, and finally a vote from commissioners on the adoption of the Plan.  And comments abounded.  This is from a news article published on July 19, 2013 by SF Gate,

Critics showed up at Bay Area Plan meetings in increasing numbers as the plan rolled forward, and they dominated the crowd of about 400 at Thursday's meeting at the Oakland Marriott. Groups of opponents from Marin and San Jose chartered buses to the session. Many of them waved signs reading: "No Plan Bay Area," "One size doesn't fit all" and "Marxist Transportation Commission doesn't speak for me."  More than 120 people spoke at the hearing, most of them to blast the plan. Several insulted the commission and board members or pleaded with them to reject the plan, which they called unconstitutional and socialist.

Plan Bay Area adoption

After nearly six hours of discussion and testimony, at 12:15 am on July 19, 2013, commissioners voted and adopted the plan, as expected.  It was obvious then, as obvious now, Plan Bay Area was etched in stone from conception.

Stones don’t grow, but Plan Bay Area does

Plan Bay Area was etched in a special kind of stone called central planning.  This kind of stone remains basically rigid and unchanged, as stones do (unless there is a significant seismic event), but it grows.  Plan Bay Area 2040 is more encompassing than the original PBA 2013.  As we noted in previous articles,

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.

Focus on “Equitable Access” to housing is now greater than in 2013.  There is more reliance on policy changes and compulsory legislation, rather than dependence on market incentives.  Emphasis on mapping the Bay Area into “subregions” – “Big 3 Cities,” “Bayside”, and “Inland, coastal and Delta” – is also new.”

Difference Between Growth and Results

We also noted the following on the article quoted above:  “Performance means achieving a stated objective.  Result means solving an obvious problem.”  Has Plan Bay Area delivered results by improving the Bay Area quality of life, reducing traffic congestion, reducing the drumbeat of “housing crisis!,” provided inter-city transportation that enticed commuters?  If the answer is “yes,” wonderful.  If “no,” then it might be time for a seismic change.

Change comes with concerted effort by those who want change.  Remember the hours MTC/ABAG officials sat, glassy eyed, through interminable public meetings all the way up to adoption of Plan Bay Area 2013.  Think of the massive outreach by MTC/ABAG.  Look at the beautiful MTC website.  That’s what it takes.

Those who want results rather than performance are already doing quite a bit – for example, Citizen Marin, Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods, Contra Costa County Taxpayers’ Association, San Mateo Residents Speak, Save Marinwood, Solano County Taxpayers’ Association.  Every opportunity to provide alternatives to Plan Bay Area needs to be taken.

The Horizons Survey:  An opportunity to suggest change

MTC recently announced a new planning tool, Horizon.  The current caption on the Horizon website is,

When we plan for the future, what sort of future are we planning for?

Unfortunately, what MTC means is what sort of future within the constraints of Plan Bay Area might expect.  The Horizon site offers the opportunity for residents to take a survey through March 31, 2018.  The survey mostly asks how survey takers visualize jobs, housing, transportation, and the environment in 2050.   We suggest you take the survey, but consider not feeling constrained by Plan Bay Area strategies.

Taking the Horizon survey might be a small effort, but if more and more of us who want results in improving our quality of life in the Bay area persist in small efforts, we might expose the flaws of Plan Bay Area sufficiently to bring about change.

Does Senate Bill 827 Even Make Sense?

By now most Bay Area residents know what California Senate Bill 827 is, and what its authors Scott Wiener and Nancy Skinner say they want to accomplish.  Most residents are also aware that there is opposition to the draconian nature of this bill.  

 The purported objective of SB 827 is to force all cities and counties in California to build lots of housing along all transit routes.  Theoretically, the increased supply would bring prices down; while proximity to bus and rail routes would encourage residents to ride transit, not drive their cars.  Do these objectives ring true in the context of today’s California housing “market.”  Does proximity to transit translate into increased transit ridership?  Does SB 827 even make any sense?

Would SB 827 bring housing prices down?

We all know that ample supply brings down prices.  That is a rule of a free market.  The California housing market is barely free, given the myriad of laws that require rent control, developer-financed subsidized housing, substantial tenant compensation in the event of eviction, payment of prevailing (union) wages in construction, and buyers/renters accustomed to astronomical prices. It would stand to reason that 1) landlords would have to charge high rents when they can to make up for what they forego under controls and compensations; and 2) developers would need to build a lot of high-priced housing in order to make up for high construction costs and mandated subsidies.  This scenario does not appear to be conducive to lower housing costs.

Would SB 827 get people to take public transit?

Proximity to transit could increase ridership, especially since those likely to move into the denser transit corridors that offer smaller units might be single and/or “child-free,” and those folks may not be as encumbered by day-care or school drop-offs as multi-kid families.

On the other side of the coin, SB 827 would fail in accomplishing its transit objectives if 1) most of the units built along transit routes are market rate and therefore affordable only to higher-income residents, and 2) higher-income residents don’t take the bus.  

What is the elasticity of SB 827?

The Kaden Tower

Beautiful views of the Bay in San Francisco, desirable exclusive neighborhoods in Marin, family-friendly single-family homes in Alameda, affordable house sharing in quiet residential neighborhoods, as well as an oversized cluster of labor-intensive companies in Silicon Valley are all magnets.  Thus, places like the San Francisco Bay Area are experiencing too many people chasing too few homes.  SB 827 in full bloom would most likely undermine the first four variables.  At what point do residents who want the views, the tranquility, and the small enclaves of affordable housing start leaving – or even arriving?

Pictured: The Longaberger headquarters in Newark, Ohio.  Such a building coming to your neighborhood transit corridor soon? 

Would SB 827 work with flexible transit schedules?

SB 827 ties mandated housing to transit corridors.  Not just fixed rail such as BART, but all transit, including neighborhood buses.  

Say, your neighborhood bus makes frequent trips to the mega store where so many of your neighbors work and shop.  Under SB 827, your neighborhood must allow any developer to build multi-story housing along that bus route.  Most of your new neighbors are the more affluent people who can afford to rent or purchase the new high-priced units, they certainly do not work at the store, and they prefer not to take the bus.  Then, the mega store closes, and the bus is re-routed to serve other transportation needs.  We know that the new buildings cannot move to the new bus routes.  Therefore, we need to ask whether SB 827 aims to just build anywhere by using whatever gimmick sounds good, or it expects to ossify transit routes for as long as the buildings along the route stand.

An even worse case scenario arises if a city council becomes concerned that their more affluent residents (who most likely do not take the bus and who most likely pay goodly amounts in property taxes) will not be pleased with tall dense buildings marring the character of the neighborhood. Their solution might be to simply remove the bus service, thereby leaving many less affluent people who take the bus to their work in the more affluent neighborhoods without transportation.

Quotes readers might find useful:

Not since the "Urban Renewal" projects of the 1960s (most appropriately characterized as "Negro removal" by James Baldwin) has something so radical and detrimental to the stability of urban communities of color in California been proposed. It will undoubtedly lead to the massive demolition of the limited affordable housing stock we still have in L.A. (rent-controlled apartments, like the two-story buildings that line King Blvd and Leimert Blvd, and almost all of Baldwin Village, which are increasingly being bought by Wall Street investors) to be replaced by 5-8 story market-rate housing, where the average rent will go for $3,500/month or more. The Crenshaw Subway Coalition  January 2018

Americans who are lower-income, black or Hispanic, immigrants or under 50 are especially likely to use public transportation on a regular basis, Pew Research Center data show.  Who Relies on Public Transit in the U.S.? April 2016

…if a bus route were shifted from one street to the next, or lines truncated or consolidated, it could significantly affect zoning. Furthermore, it could create pushback from jurisdictions or neighborhoods who oppose increased density to suspend already planned transit service enhancements or avoid planning for increased transit service altogether. San Francisco Planning Department March 2018

SB 827 is not a housing bill; it’s a real-estate bill. It is intended to monetize real estate. This bill is not about YIMBYs vs. NIMBYs; it’s about WIMBYS: Wall Street in My Backyard. The Planning Report, Triumph of the WIMBYs  March 2018

…in response to hostile questions, Senator Wiener said, “I do not advocate a state takeover of housing policy. I’m advocating looking at a balance, where the state sets basic standards that are enforceable, and local communities [have] control within those standards—just like public education.” Triumph of the WIMBYs

I suggest we all get to know the chief bus scheduler at Metro, because he or she will determine what gets built and where. Who’s the genius who thought that scheme up?  Triumph of the WIMBYs

SB 827 Flyer we hope you also find useful

SB 827 Flyer