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


YOUR POWER RESIDES AT THE BALLOT BOX

Vote at the Ballot Box

The Nine-County Coalition was formed to address concerns about legislation that reduces residents’ control of their cities and counties.  There have been many such pieces of legislation within the past few years, and NCC participants have expressed concerns over many of them, as exemplified in several articles on this website.

The June 5, 2018 ballot will see a particularly questionable proposal:  Regional Measure 3.  Concerns over this measure are so plentiful that we have collected some of them under the “Regional Measure 3” tab on the navigation menu!

Senate Bill 827: Right Problem But Wrong Solution

What is SB 827?

SB 827, Planning and Zoning: Transit-rich Housing Bonus, was introduced by California Senator Scott Wiener on January 2018.  Principal co-authors are Senators Nancy Skinner and Assembly Member Phil Ting.  The bill is currently in committee process.

Because the bill declares that its provisions address a matter of statewide concern, i.e. a housing crisis in all areas of the state, the bill applies to all cities and counties in the state, and imposes a state-mandated program in all cities and counties in the state.

What Does This Bill Do?

* Authorizes a height bonus for any housing project located within ½ mile radius of a major transit stop or a ¼ mile radius of a bus route.  Bonuses will allow heights of up to 85 feet (at about 8 feet per floor, 85 feet would mean 10 floors).

* Exempts projects with specified number of below-market units (i.e., those awarded a housing opportunity bonus) from city and county zoning regulations, such as floor area, parking, design standards, and height.

* Specifies that “notwithstanding any local ordinance, general plan element, specific plan, charter, or other local law, policy, resolution or regulation, a transit-rich housing project shall receive a transit-rich bonus…”  

Would This Bill Help Solve the Housing Crisis?

Critics of this bill have been pointing to some holes in the bill’s strategy:

* The bill refers to “fixed route bus service.”  This sentence is either a typo, a sincere delusion that bus routes do not change (or that housing can move to follow new bus routes), or a strategy to keep building as bus routes change.

* If neighborhoods are really opposed to mandates from above, all they have to do is decrease their public transit service.  No transit, no density.

* The major concern for many residents is displacement.  The bill offers height bonuses to any housing near transit.  Certainly a taller, market-rate building would be a lot more profitable than a rent-controlled shorter one.  Therefore, the bill produces a great incentive to gentrify neighborhoods.  Senator Wiener denies this; however, he has promised to amend the bill to include anti-displacement controls.  

* Major proponents of this bill, Silicon Valley companies that claim they have difficulty hiring employees because of the lack of an affordable housing stock, should have foreseen such a challenge.  They could have spread out throughout the Bay Area and/or built their own neighborhood-appropriate employee housing, as Google, Facebook and LinkedIn are doing right now.

"The lack of homebuilding in California imperils our ability to hire employees and grow our companies,” the leaders wrote. “We recognize that the housing shortage leads to displacement, crushing rent burdens, long commutes, and environmental harm, and we want to be part of the solution."

Hopefully, the “solution” is not to blanket neighborhoods with buildings that amount to little more than sore thumbs.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission and Ice Tea

Regional Measure 3 (RM3), on the June 2018 ballot of all nine Bay Area counties, if passed would increase tolls on state-owned bridges by $3.  Enabling legislation is Senate Bill 595 signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown on October 10, 2017.  SB 595 says,

To improve the quality of life and sustain the economy of the San Francisco Bay area, it is the intent of the Legislature to require the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to place on the ballot a measure authorizing the voters to approve an expenditure plan to improve mobility and enhance travel options on the bridges and bridge corridors to be paid for by an increase in the toll rate on the seven state-owned bridges within its jurisdiction.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) has developed a spending plan and placed RM3 on the ballot.  With MTC running the show, Nine-County Coalition participants cannot help by worry!

MTC’s forever growing bureaucratic power and its spendthrift tendencies have been the subject of numerous articles on this website.  Also often mentioned on this website are MTC’s origins as a product of Plan Bay Area, Senate Bill 375- “Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008,” and Assembly Bill 32- “California Global Warming Solutions Act.”  

However, it might also be useful to discuss MTC’s role as the official federal Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) tasked with promoting “sustainable development” as envisioned by federal legislation.

Birth of the Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs)

A fascinating article on the Federal Department of Transportation website tells the tale of the birth of federally-encouraged intra-state urban planning, which eventually morphed into the federal mandate for Metropolitan Planning Organizations -- apparently ignoring the Constitutional requirement that the Federal government’s jurisdiction is limited to inter-state matters.

Federal Highway Administrator Rex Whitton vigorously revived and grew the Federal Highway system.

Federal Highway Administrator Rex Whitton vigorously revived and grew the Federal Highway system.

The story goes that President John F. Kennedy inherited a federal highway system in disrepair, so he set out to fix things.  The result was The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1962, which stated that after July 1, 1965, the Secretary of Commerce

...shall not approve under section 105 of this title any program for projects in any urban area of more than fifty thousand population unless he finds that such projects are based on a continuing comprehensive transportation planning process carried on cooperatively by States and local communities…

To address the new planning requirements, State and urban officials formed ad hoc planning committees to reflect the "cooperative" element of the 3C process [comprehensive, continuous, coordinated] and hired consultants to gather and process data. Neither Section 9 nor the BPR's [Bureau of Public Roads] instructional memorandum on implementing it required formation of a permanent planning organization; however, the metropolitan planning organizations of today, required by the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1973, would evolve from these early efforts to comply with the 3C requirement.

ISTEA – Pronounced “Ice Tea”

The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) was signed into federal law by President George H. W. Bush in December 1991.

It focused on improving transportation, not as an end in itself, but as the means to achieve important national goals including economic progress, cleaner air, energy conservation, and social equity. ISTEA promoted a transportation system in which different modes and facilities—highway, transit, pedestrian, bicycle, aviation, and marine—were integrated to allow a "seamless" movement of both goods and people. New funding programs provided greater flexibility in the use of funds, particularly regarding using previously restricted highway funds for transit development, improved "intermodal" connections, and emphasized upgrades to existing facilities over building new capacity—particularly roadway capacity.

Things Always Roll Downhill

ISTEA set the stage by tying federal funding to a prescribed type of urban planning based on “comprehensive, continuous, coordinated” plans that promote clean air and energy conservation, and give equal emphasis to all modes of transportation, including public transit, biking and walking.  

Thus we see the birth of California Senate Bill 375 and of Plan Bay Area.  Senate Bill 375, signed into law by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, approaches the requirements of ISTEA via statements of efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change.  SB 375 is the legislation that enabled the establishment of Plan Bay Area.

Are We Stuck With the MTC?

Did ISTEA’s mandate for MPOs seal our fate to be stuck with an expensive gigantic bureaucracy attempting to rule where we live, what our neighborhoods look like, and how we get where we want to go?  Yes! If we refuse to understand that the money MTC squanders telling residents what to do can only come from one source:  taxpayers.  The federal government said no money unless you have MPOs.  Taxpayers could say no tax increases will be condoned or approved by voters until the Bay Area MPO becomes more financially responsible and more accountable to residents. 

What Could Accountability Look Like?

Accountability is impossible under the constant tsunami of multi-purpose mega projects forever emanating from the state legislature and from MTC – while potholes get bigger and deeper.  Less wide-ranging projects would help in allowing voters to produce a report card on each project.

Accountability is also impossible when so many unelected bureaucrats are placed in charge of our hard-earned cash.  There is therefore room to argue that the MTC decision makers need to be elected by voters to perform their specific functions on the MTC.  The downside would be that such an idea legitimizes regionalism.  A region is not a jurisdiction such as a city, a county, or a state.  A better idea would be to change the structure of the MTC into a Council of Governments (most of the 18 California MPOs are either Councils of Governments or Associations of Governments, not commissions such as the MTC).  The Council could then negotiate Join Powers Agreements to accomplish inter-county projects.

But the ultimate guarantor of accountability is scrutiny by a vigilant and educated citizenry.

Regional Measure 3 On the June Ballot

Nine-County Coalition participants have concerns over Regional Measure 3 (RM3).  The measure will most likely appear on the June 2018 ballot of the nine Bay Area counties.  As in the case of 2016 Measure AA, RM3 depends for passage on the combined approval of voters in all nine Bay Area counties.  Unlike Measure AA, RM3 will only require a simple majority of “Yes” votes to pass, since RM3 is a toll not a tax.  Details of RM3 were devised by the Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission, on authority from California Senate Bill 595 (authored by Senator Jim Beall, and signed by Governor Jerry Brown in October 2017).

RM3 is preceded by two other toll increases of the recent past, Regional Measure 1 in 1988 and Regional Measure 2 in 2004.

Here is a brief description of RM3, followed by some concern for the measure.

What does RM3 Do?

*  Raises the toll of Bay Area’s state-owned bridges by $1 in 2019, another $1 in 2022, and another $1 in 2025, to a maximum of $3.  The toll increase would raise $4.45 billion intended for transit improvements in the toll bridge corridors and their approach routes.

*  Establishes an independent oversight committee to ensure the toll revenues generated by the toll increase are expended consistent with a specified expenditure plan.

*  Provides discounts for vehicles that pay for tolls electronically or through other non-cash methods and charges differential rates based on the chosen method.  Provides a 50% discount on the amount of the toll increase on a second bridge crossing for those using a two-axle vehicle and pay in non-cash methods.

*  Creates an Independent Office of the BART Inspector General within BART, appointed by the Governor from nominees provided by BART for 4-year terms, funded by an allocation of $1,000,000 from bridge toll revenues for the first year, increasing in subsequent years.

What would RM3 Revenues Be Used For?

Allocation of RM3 funds is detailed in the Regional Measure 3 Expenditure Plan.

*  $60 million of revenues generated by the toll increase will be made available annually for funding operations of the Transbay Terminal ($5 million), ferries ($35 million), and regional express bus ($20 million).  This amount is "another component of the Regional Measure 3 expenditure plan."

*  $1,965 million to fund regional capital projects, such as BART cars, express lanes, San Francisco Bay Trail/Safe Routes to Transit (grant program to fund bicycle and pedestrian access improvements on and in the vicinity of the state-owned toll bridges connecting to rail transit stations and ferry terminals), ferry enhancement, BART to San Jose, SMART Rail Transit, Clipper system.

*  $2,485 million to fund corridor-specific capital projects, such as Caltrain Downtown Extension, MUNI fleet expansion, AC Transit improvements, I80 transit improvements, planning and preliminary engineering of a second rail tube,Tri-Valley transit access improvements, San Jose Diridon Station, Dumbarton Corridor improvements, Highway 101/Route 92 improvements, I680 reconstruction, Solano County I80/I680/Route 12 improvements, Route 34 improvements, San Rafael Transit Center.

It is worth noting that “traffic mitigation” in the context of RM3 means funding for public transit and bicycle safety, as well as funding for highway construction.  Capital expenditures directly related to highway improvement total $1,720 million, and expenditures related to public transit improvements and bicycle safety total $2,730 million.  Expectations are that transit and biking improvements will get people out of cars, thus mitigating traffic congestion for those who drive.

What are Poll Results So Far?

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission says a poll conducted December 2017 shows strong support for toll increases.  Respondents from all nine Bay Area Counties showed support for both amount of increase and for projects to be funded.  Responded included both frequent bridge users as well as infrequent users.

So What are the Concerns?

Equity:  RM3 accelerates the pace of transforming bridge tolls from user fee to tax disguised as user fee; those who commute by BART, ferry, and MUNI Metro benefit from the toll increase, but do not pay tolls.  Counties like Santa Clara with a large population of voters but fewer bridge toll payers have the same say at the ballot box as everyone else.  Higher-income residents are concentrated in Santa Clara, San Mateo and San Francisco, counties with the lowest rates of bridge toll payers; while relatively less affluent counties like Alameda or Contra Costa have higher number of residents who pay tolls – a case of the less affluent funding the more affluent.  Increases in bridge tolls are less painful to higher-income residents than to lower-income ones.  Public transit is not a realistic option to the many parents needing to drop off small children in daycare before heading off to work; so they will probably drive, pay bridge tolls, and subsidize the child-free taking the ferry to work.

Relatively fewer residents of Santa Clara pay bridge tolls, but will benefit from RM3.

Relatively fewer residents of Santa Clara pay bridge tolls, but will benefit from RM3.

Chart shows residents' primary mode of transportation during commute hours.  Good to compare this chart with the chart indicating percentage of residents that pay tolls.

Chart shows residents' primary mode of transportation during commute hours.  Good to compare this chart with the chart indicating percentage of residents that pay tolls.

*  Track Record:  The 2016 “first of its kind” Regional Measure AA promised wonderful projects that would restore the Bay.  One year later, KQED News reported that,

Measure AA will raise $500 million over 20 years, providing a third of the total $1.5 billion needed to reach the restoration goal. But even with the help of an assortment of other grants, the project is currently less than 30 percent funded…additional funding is needed if adequate restoration is to occur before the 2030 deadline.

*  Accountability:  Multi-purpose proposals that promise improvements in numerous fronts (highways, buses, ferries, fixed rail, terminals, payment systems) make it difficult for voters to hold legislators and agencies accountable for inefficiency and waste.  The challenge is compounded in the age of  “regionalism,” when voters are dealing with a massive regional agency such as the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.  More accountability can be obtained with local control and inter-agency collaboration, such as existed prior to the regionalization of Bay Area government. 

*  Voter Control:  The trend towards creation of offices of appointed inspectors general to do the work residents would have expected from elected boards continues with RM3.  BART will receive its appointed inspector general with this measure, at a cost of $1 million the first year to increase in subsequent years.  

*  Use of Funds:  The high taxes Californians pay do not buy them good services.  WalletHub contrasted state and local taxation with quality of services in each of the 50 states in areas of education, health, safety, economy, infrastructure and pollution.  In the resulting Taxpayer Return on Investment chart, California ranked 47 out of 50 (1= Best).  Whatever black hole other taxes go, perhaps the bridge toll increase will also go.

Conclusion

Bay Area residents currently need improvements in transportation infrastructure and traffic flow.  RM3 promises to mitigate both needs.  However, given the concerns listed above, residents might ask by what means can voters demand performance improvements in their state and local government – by continuing to vote “Yes” or by taking this opportunity to send one highly touted measure back to the drawing board.

Handout

RM3 Handout

If you would like to share the information on this post with those who might be interested, you can download a two-page handout.  One page describes RM3, and the other lists concerns.   Download

Housing as Infrastructure, Or Tales of the New Colonizers

The Transformation of Housing

Housing is undergoing a relentless transformation from private property to infrastructure --  a phenomenon vigorously discussed and pursued by legislators, organizations, housing-rights advocates, and whoever else stands to benefit.  

Affordability and high home values are incompatible goals – therefore public policy should be based on viewing homes as places to live, not as investments.  Housing is infrastructure.  The primary community benefit of new housing is the housing.  East Bay for Everyone, Platform

Admittedly, housing isn’t what comes to mind when most people think about infrastructure, but it should be. By definition, infrastructure is the buildings, networks, and other physical structures that are necessary for the economy to function. At the most basic level, in order for America’s workers—our teachers, our nurses, our mechanics, our clerks—to stay productive, they need both a stable place to call home and a reliable way to get to their jobs.  The Hill, "The Key Economic Issue Missing from Trump's Infrastructure Plan"

Infrastructure is the physical structures and networks that are necessary for the economy to function. Too often federal infrastructure investments are limited to roads, bridges, trains, airports and waterways. Yet in order for America’s workers to stay productive, they need not just reliable ways to get to their jobs but also a stable place to call home. It is within that context that incorporating investment in much-needed housing infrastructure is warranted.  Enterprise Community, "Bang for the Buck: Investment in Housing Infrastructure is Smart"

Reasons why such transformation is necessary abound:

* Housing became infrastructure when federal programs of the 1930s-1940s populated suburbs.

* Owning a home where others cannot afford to live is unfair.

* A jurisdiction’s economic health depends on housing near jobs for modest-income workers.

* Climate change calls for preventing people from commuting long distances to jobs.

* Density, especially near transit corridors is a good thing.

* People who like dense urban living should be afforded that choice.

The "Unfair" Reason

The mission of the Rockridge Council is to "Preserve and enhance the unique character of the Rockridge neighborhood of Oakland, California."  We wish them luck.

The mission of the Rockridge Council is to "Preserve and enhance the unique character of the Rockridge neighborhood of Oakland, California."  We wish them luck.

Perhaps the reason that drives all others is viewing ownership as inherently “unfair.”  Once declared unfair, ownership can be severely controlled or even totally eliminated in the name of equality, justice, or whatever other variable the aggrieved choose to cite.  

“When I first move out here,” she said, “I looked at Rockridge, and thought, ‘Wow, this is so great. … I wish I could afford to live here.’”… Yet while urbanists are cheering on the current housing construction boom in downtown and Uptown Oakland, they’re also sensitive to the impacts of gentrification. They say it’s unfair that nearly all the new housing is concentrated in certain areas of the city, while higher-income neighborhoods like Rockridge have effectively walled themselves off with special rules that ban large apartment buildings and condo complexes. Alameda Magazine, The Real Cause of Gentrification.

Obliging Legislation

So, as vocal constituencies demand, legislators oblige.  Senator Scott Wiener has been especially prolific in this regard.  On January 3, 2018, Senator Wiener introduced three more pieces of legislation that override local planning and zoning laws, as well as further the concept of houses for whoever wants them vs. whoever can afford them.

SB 827 – Declares that “transit-rich housing projects” within a one-half mile radius of a major transit stop or a one-quarter mile radius of a high-quality transit corridor shall receive a transit-rich housing bonus, exempting the project from maximum controls on residential density or floor area ratio, minimum automobile parking requirements, and any design standard that restricts the applicant’s ability to construct the maximum number of units consistent with any applicable building code.

SB 828 - Requires the Department of Housing and Community Development to address the historic underproduction of housing by completing a comprehensive assessment on unmet need for each region and including the results of the assessment in regional allocations for the next housing element cycle. Establishes a methodology for assessment of unmet need that includes alleviation of need by rapidly increasing housing supply 1) for moderate and above moderate income households in any area where median rent or home prices exceed median income, 2) for households at all income levels in communities with high rates of income growth.  Authorizes the Department of Housing and Community Development to challenge the methodology for local housing allocations made by a council of government or regional planning agency.  Requires a local jurisdiction to plan and accommodate for 200 percent of the local housing allocation for every income category in its housing element.

SB 829 - Expands the Employee Housing Act:  to further incentivize the creation of farmworker housing in agricultural communities, to authorize the Department of Housing and Community Development to partner private agricultural operators with independent nonprofits that will manage and operate residences, and to preserve and protects the civil rights of tenants living in employee housing.

These three bills are pretty open-ended!  Any neighborhood can be subject to the mandates of SB 827 if parties to benefit simply move bus routes and stops.  If the Department of Housing and Community Development can override plans provided by other agencies under SB 828, the department could do whatever it chose to do.  (By the way, are the Bay Area’s twin-planners ABAG and MTC included in agencies whose plan can be ignored by the state under SB 828?)  SB 829 gives no details whether partnering with non-profits to manage employees housing would be mandatory, or what protecting and preserving the civil rights of employee-residents means.

Aggrieved Parties on all Sides and End Results

Scott Wiener's contributors

The "housing crisis" has reached shouting-match proportions, with parties on all sides virtually calling one another names, like "unfair!" on one side and "colonizers!" on the other.   The latter term feels novel and applicable -- colonizers did succeed admirably in changing the character of neighborhoods.  Here is a quote from a scathing article on SB 827,

Like the Colonizers before them, YIMBYs claim the 'Hood as Theirs!

The bill is backed by group that calls themselves YIMBYs, which stands for "Yes in my backyard." Like the colonizers whose agenda they seek to replicate, it takes a certain entitlement/supremacist mindset to call a community they didn't grow up in, don't live in or are new to as "theirs." It's NOT their backyard - it's ours. And we're not about to give it up. WE SHALL NOT BE MOVED!  The Berkeley Planet, "SB 827 Will Destroy Local Land Use Control"

The chart accompanying The Berkeley Planet article is posted here without comment for your enjoyment.

Forcefully increasing the supply of housing to provide houses for whoever wants them entails a high degree of control of property.  It also entails subsidies from taxpayers and/or developers.  Once controls and subsidies are in place, private property loses its original meaning as envisioned by our Founding Fathers. 

Regional Videos: Hearing from the Horses' Mouth

A Nine-County Coalition participant suggested this article regarding the hundreds of meetings that take place at the palatial Metropolitan Transportation Commission Headquarters, most of which are on video, and worth watching.  

The NCC website navigation tab “Happenings” has a link to Metropolitan Transportation Commission meetings, but an easier way to pick and choose the most interesting goings on is on a website called Regional Videos

Here is a taste of what the treasure trove of videos has to offer:  MTC meeting of July 26, 2017, discussing Regional Measure 3, soon to be on a ballot near you.

Mayors Signed the "Climate Charter" - Now What Happens?

Thank you to a Nine-County Coalition participant for suggesting a discussion about Mayors of U.S. and other cities signing the “Chicago Climate Charter” on December 5, 2017.  We appreciate her communicating the following concerns:

Cities Participating in Climate Charter

* A map of U.S. partaking cities shows most espouse progressive views, which often include central planning.  Major California cities are partakers.

* Partaking big cities such as Chicago, New York, San Francisco and San Jose have failed to successfully control their unemployment, failing schools, public assistance, drug addiction, cost of living, and other ills.  Yet, they have pledged to successfully control how Mother Earth behaves.

* Mayors partaking in the Chicago Climate Charter may have ulterior motives and misguided beliefs that will affect all urban and rural residents:  “These 51 mayors may truly want to provide good air and good health for their residents; but they are being distracted with an allure of power that they can conquer the ‘greatest danger’ to the USA, according to some thinkers. The mayors may believe that they are serving their constituencies. In fact they are serving the cause of global governance thru the UN's advocacy for regional groups which purposefully avoid the legitimate nation-state governments.

What is the Chicago Climate Charter?

Here is a description from the Chicago Office of the Mayor website:

"At the North American Climate Summit, cities are taking action to articulate commitments to the Paris Agreement and highlight the scope and scale of city climate action in the United States following the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement."

In case readers fail to grasp the meaning contained in the Mayor's prose, let us clarify:  Signers of the Chicago Climate Charter pledged to abide by the mandates of the Paris Climate Agreement.

Powers Behind the Chicago Climate Charter

The Climate Charter is the result of a plethora of players too numerous to mention in any one article.  However, here are the main protagonists:

* Former Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg, now United Nations Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change:  Placed special focus on role of cities after the United States withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord.

* The Global Covenant of Mayors:  “The Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy is an international alliance of cities and local governments with a shared long-term vision of promoting and supporting voluntary action to combat climate change and move to a low emission, resilient society.”

* United States Conference of Mayors:  “The United States Conference of Mayors strongly opposes President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord and has vowed that the nation’s mayors will continue their commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to alleviate the impacts of global warming.”

C40 Cities:  “C40 is a network of the world’s megacities committed to addressing climate change. C40 supports cities to collaborate effectively, share knowledge and drive meaningful, measurable and sustainable action on climate change.”

* Rahm Emanuel, Mayor, City of Chicago, host of the North American Climate Summit, where the Chicago Climate Charter was signed:  "Rather than burying our heads in the sand, Chicago is working with cities across the country and around the world to address the threat of climate change."

* Jerry Brown, Governor of California:   “July, 12, 2017. Today, California Governor Jerry Brown and Michael Bloomberg launched America's Pledge on climate change, a new initiative to compile and quantify the actions of states, cities and businesses in the United States to drive down their greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement.”

Any More Concerns?

We know the purported objectives and we know the partakers.  But we don’t know the costs to our pocketbooks, to residents’ control over events, or to our country sovereignty.  Living in California, where climate change initiatives abound, we have had a taste of costs via high taxes and mandates from above.  Is there more to watch for now?  Yes,

* Were the Charter truly intended to empower residents, via their elected officials, to implement whatever they considered protection from whatever they viewed as climate change, we would be witnessing a democratic approach to a perceived threat.  However, is that what is happening in the San Francisco Bay Area under Plan Bay Area?  Or are we witnessing bureaucrats empowering themselves?

* A special red alert might go up in the minds of resident who understand why President Donald Trump withdrew from the Paris Accord.  As we noted above a principal player in the signing of the Charter is the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy.  We need to pay attention to the “global” on the organization’s title.

Here is quote on the Covenant of Mayors website:  “Werner Hoyer, President of the European Investment Bank:  After the recent launch with the European Commission of URBIS at the 2017 Cities Forum, the European Investment Bank is proud to partner with the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy and join efforts in closing the urban financing gap currently preventing many cities globally from implementing ambitious climate programs.”

Here is an announcement from the World Bank:  “Paris, France, 12 December 2017 – Today, at the One Planet Summit in Paris, the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy and World Bank Group, the world’s largest multilateral development bank, announced a new partnership to provide technical and financial assistance to 150 cities across the world undertaking aggressive climate action programs.”

Dying Polar Bears, L.A. Smog, and California Fires

Pretty soon your baby’s teething woes will be blamed on climate change. Why not, since it seems everything else is – which causes skeptics to redouble skepticism.  Such a scenario is hardly conducive to helping polar bears, eliminating the smog hanging over highways, or keeping homes from being consumed by devastating drought-induced fires.  

On December 12, Governor Jerry Brown delivered yet another impassioned climate change speech at the Two-Year Anniversary of the Paris Agreement.  This from the Governor’s website:

"We can't wait for the White House to wake up," said Governor Brown in keynote remarks on the acceleration of local and regional climate action. "We in America are operating from the grassroots - from the cities, from the states, from corporate leaders, from universities and from civil society."

Pointing to the state's nearly year-round fire season - and the blazes still raging in Southern California - the Governor also sounded the alarm on the costly and destructive global impacts ahead unless we rapidly decarbonize.

Not very helpful of the Governor, in our view, since the focus on climate change precludes discussion on homes now being built at the edge of tinder forests, conservation preventing cutting back trees where homes are built, or CalFire policies emphasizing suppression rather than prevention of fires.

By the Way….

The next Global Climate Action Summit will take place on September 2018 in San Francisco, California. How about we form a committee to require all attendees to travel to the conference on bikes?

San Francisco Neighborhoods Honor a "Clean-Water Warrior"

In June 2017, the Nine-County Coalition posted an article called Water Wars and the Frog in Boiling Water, which listed a number of legislative changes, going as far back as 2002, that could be described as equivalent to the fable of the Frog in Boiling Water. Very slow changes are imperceptible. Although such changes are missed by the majority, some people are born with their ear to the ground, they do not miss anything, and are willing to fight not only on their own behalf but also on the behalf of all those affected by a harmful change.

Chris Bowman.JPG

One such fighter is Christopher Bowman.  On December 6, Chris was honored at a dinner presented by a whole set of fighters, the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods!  Chris received a plaque for his continuing efforts to stop the absurd and unnecessary mixing of San Francisco’s clean, healthy water from Hetch Hetchy with the not so clean, unhealthy groundwater from the Westside Aquifer.  

As the event’s keynote speaker, San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim said, neighborhood and other groups that work to improve quality of life are crucial, because Supervisors and other officials come and go, but coalitions and their fighters remain.

We at the Nine-County Coalition thank and congratulate Chris Bowman.  Our neighborhoods, cities, and counties need a lot more folks like him.

If you reside in the City & County of San Francisco, and would like to keep your water free from the unhealthy level of contaminants found in the S.F. groundwater blend, we suggest you sign, or better yet sign and circulate, Petition to the Board of Supervisors:  No Groundwater in our Drinking Water!  You can print the petition from the website of the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods' section Issues: Blended Drinking Water for San Francisco.  The petition demands that,

* All San Francisco drinking water must meet or exceed the current Hetch Hetchy water quality.

* Groundwater should not be used for drinking water.

* Use groundwater for irrigation, firefighting and street cleaning.

* The SFPUC must develop a plan to provide an adequate supply of high-quality drinking water during an emergency until full service is restored.

The CFSFN Blended Water section also has fact sheets and other information on the perils of the type of groundwater in question; for one thing, it is minimally treated.

Voters Need to Weigh in on the "Gas Tax"

California roads are a maze of potholes.  City streets and highways often look like parking lots.  Public transit could use improvements in frequency and cleanliness.  Ah, but California has lovely hiking trails, bike paths and racks, “walkable streets,” and sustainable development.  So, when politicians ask taxpayers to fork over money to fix long-neglected roads and transportation, what do taxpayers say?  Do taxpayers believe potholes will be fixed, or traffic flow improved?  Apparently a lot of people have no such belief, and are ready to use the only tool at their disposal to say so:  The Voter Initiative.

California’s voter initiative process provides some balance of power in a state that is so overwhelmingly one sided.  The dominant tax-and-spend, sustainable-development legislators in Sacramento need to contend with voters that do not cave in but fight back via the initiative process.

Senate Bill 1 May Have Gone Too Far

As the Nine-County Coalition indicated in its review of Senate Bill 1, the transportation bill Governor Jerry Brown approved April 2017, the bill may have gone too far.  Californians pay one of the highest per capita baskets of taxes in the nation, and the state has one of the biggest well-paid bureaucracies. SB1 increases taxes some more, and adds another layer of bureaucratic management to transportation.  Also this transportation bill is set to spend a whole lot of money in what most Californians do not view as transportation, such as state parks, boating programs, and trains to nowhere.

Of course, not everyone is opposed to the provisions of SB1.  Those who stand to benefit substantially from the bill, such as construction companies, would be supporters.  Many businesses, such as those with heavy transportation costs, will have to weigh the promised benefits of better roads against the higher costs of gasoline and diesel fuels.

However, there are plenty of voters who are ready to fight back against the provisions of SB1.  Of those provisions, the ones that galvanized voters into action are the taxes and fees that came with the bill, especially the $0.12 per gallon increase in the gas tax.  The November 2018 ballot will likely see two voter initiatives proposing repeal.

For reference, the website of the Office of the California Attorney General has a list of initiatives submitted for the 2018 ballot in the section “Initiatives:  Active measures.”  The website of the California Secretary of State has a list of initiatives ready to circulate for signatures, “Initiatives and Referenda Cleared for Circulation.”   

Gas Tax Initiatives Likely to be on the November 2018 Ballot

Initiative #17-0004

* Type:  Statute

* Proposal:  Repeals sections of Senate Bill 1 that increase gas taxes by $0.12 per gallon, diesel fuel taxes by $0.20 per gallon, sales taxes on diesel fuels by 4%, and vehicle registration fees by $25-$175;  and sections that require a $100 registration fee on zero-emission vehicles and establishment of a new Independent Office of Audits and Investigations.   

* Submitter:  Travis Allen, Incumbent California Assembly Member and candidate for Governor.

* Principal Supporter:  Travis Allen.

* Qualifying Requirements:  365,880 signatures of registered voters submitted by January 8, 2018.

* Website and Petition:  No Gas Tax

Initiative #17-0033

* Type:  Constitutional Amendment

* Proposal:  Amends the California Constitution to require that any gas tax or vehicle license fee imposed after January 1, 2017, be suspended until presented to voters and approved.

* Submitter:  Thomas W. Hiltachk

* Principal Supporters:  John Cox, businessman and candidate for governor; Carl DeMario, former San Diego City Councilman; Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Association.

* Qualifying Requirements:  585,407 signatures of registered voters submitted by May 21, 2018.

* Website:  Reform California      * Petitions:  Stop the Car Tax

* Volunteer or request full-size petitions (15 signatures or more):   http://blockthegastax.com

Perspective on the “Long-Neglected Roads” Argument

Supporters of Senate Bill 1 argue that California's infrastructure has been long neglected, and now it is time to raise funds to fix the disrepair.  Forgotten in this argument are the many "transportation" bills that passed during the last five or so years.  Here are sample bills and a sample plan.

Senate Bill 99

SB 99 was approved by Governor Jerry Brown on September 26, 2013.  The bill amended Section 164.56 of the Streets and Highways Code to create the “Active Transportation Program” and allocate $7,000,000 annually to the Environmental Enhancement and Mitigation Program Fund.  The bill stated that “The Legislature finds and declares that the construction of bikeways pursuant to this article constitutes a highway purpose under Article XIX of the California Constitution and justifies the expenditure of highway funds therefor.”

Senate Bill 1204

SB 1204 was approved by Governor Jerry Brown September 21, 1014.  The bill created the “California Clean Truck, Bus, and Off-Road Vehicle and Equipment Technology Program, to be funded from cap and trade revenues, to fund zero- and near-zero emission truck, bus, and off-road vehicle and equipment technologies and related projects, as specified, with priority to be given to certain projects, including projects that benefit disadvantaged communities.”

The California Transportation Plan 2040

Developed by the California Department of Transportation, starting around 2014, this plan lays out goals for a multimodal, environmentally oriented, and socially equitable transportation system to which residents must adapt. The plan offers “three transportation scenarios that utilize a cumulative process where each builds upon the prior scenario.”  In scenario number three, to be achieved by 2050, greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by 80% below that of 1990.

It would appear that if this plan is serious about a multimodal system, a miracle needs to happen at some point in some area of the plan, including materializing baskets full of taxpayer cash to develop zero-emission everything. 

California Transportation Plan 2040

Obviously, California is littered with potholes not because of lack of taxpayer funds, but because allocation of funds has gone to build other than roads.   Does the California Transportation Plan 2040 promise anything different?

Bay Area Transit Ridership: Track Record and Future Outlook

Following a glut of transportation-related bills passed by the California legislature during 2017, many in the media are presenting their view on the current conditions and future outlook for the state’s roads and transit.  Although commentators agree that roads and transit are in poor shape, some are skeptical about the proposed remedies.  The Nine-County Coalition is extremely skeptical.  

The proposed remedies address how planners want people to travel, not how current residents of California want to travel.  Since the passage of Assembly Bill 32 – California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, planners have been spending time and treasure devising ways to get people out of cars.  How successful have they been so far?  The quotes below contain the answer; emphases are ours.

 The Track Record:

* Metropolitan Transportation Commission: Transit Ridership

“On a typical weekday in 2016, Bay Area residents boarded buses, trains and ferries approximately 1.8 million times. While ridership has surpassed pre-recession levels – growing robustly for the fifth consecutive year – the region is still just shy of its modern historic peak of weekday boardings, which was reached in 2001. On a per-capita basis, transit use is well below the levels of the early 1990s. The average resident boarded transit 79 times per year in 1991, while in 2016, this had fallen to 70 trips per year – an 11 percent decline over 25 years.

* Metropolitan Transportation Commission: Commute Mode Choice

“Regional mode shares have been changing for the first time in decades. While three-quarters of residents still drive to work, the share of residents making this choice has declined by over 5 percentage points since 2000. This trend accelerated in recent years, with nearly half of the shift occurring between 2010 and 2014. Despite this progress, 2015 marked a slowdown, as the year-over-year decrease in the share of driving was modest compared to the preceding four years.

* Plan Bay Area 2040 Strategies and Performance

“Plan Bay Area 2040 develops a blueprint for short- term and long-term transportation investments to support the plan’s focused growth strategy. Investment priorities for the next 24 years reflect a primary commitment to “Fix It First,” a key emphasis area in the original Plan Bay Area as well ... approximately 90 percent of Plan Bay Area 2040’s investments focus on operating, maintaining and modernizing the existing transportation system. Plan Bay Area 2040 also directs almost two-thirds of future funding to investments in public transit, mostly to ensure that transit operators can sustain existing service levels through 2040.”

BART Ridership

“Despite crush-loads of passengers during peak commute times, the number of people riding BART is actually falling, forcing the transit agency to begin tough conversations about how to make up for lost revenue … After six years of growth, staff anticipated a similar increase in the number of riders during the 2016-2017 fiscal year, which began July 1. Instead, the agency is reporting that ridership through December was 5.2 percent below what it projected. Weekend trips took the hardest hit, coming in at 9 percent lower than projected, compared with 4.2 percent for weekday trips.”

The Big Picture:

The picture shows Bay Area residents' preferred mode of transportation since 1960.  Rides by automobile are represented by the orange portion of the chart.  Everything else is crowded at the very bottom.  An slight uptick is shown in the past three years. 

The picture shows Bay Area residents' preferred mode of transportation since 1960.  Rides by automobile are represented by the orange portion of the chart.  Everything else is crowded at the very bottom.  An slight uptick is shown in the past three years. 

The Outlook:

Apparently, a decade of effort has done little to budge people out of their car.  There are many reasons offered for the Bay Area’s decline in ridership: the popularity of ride-share like Uber and Lyft, unreliable service, uncomfortable and crowded buses and trains, high fares, and unrealistic “improvements.”  To an average rider, removing bus stops to speed up transit and removing seats to fit more passengers hardly constitute improvements.  Another challenge contributing to high fares that discourage ridership are the Bay Area’s prevailing wages for transit operators.  Prevailing wages are generous union wages that either riders or taxpayers must fund.  And of course with those generous wages come generous pensions that also must be funded.

With the passage of the 2017 transportation bills there might be more money.  But will there be good planning?  Will planners’ vision continue to override people needs?  Since 2006 planners have expected lifestyles to adjust to their vision.  Seniors are expected bike to their favorite supermarket.  Working parents, squirming children in tow, are expected to walk or take buses to daycare and schools on the way to work.  Alternatives might include severely limiting one’s choices of work, children’s schools or daycare, and shops – like moving to a transit village and utilizing whatever services are there.

Given the planners’ track record so far, perhaps more money is not what is needed to get us efficiently where we want to go, but different planners with different plans.

Senate Bill 595: Are You Ready for $8 Bridge Tolls?

Central planning has a tendency to consume considerable resources solving problems it creates.  Some of the problems occurring in the San Francisco Bay Area have morphed into “crises,” such as the housing crisis.  Other problems are viewed as major inconveniences that must be treated as forcefully as one would a swarm of locusts.  Presently, in the latter category is traffic congestion.  Central planning encouraged concentrations of employers in relatively small areas, called for concentrations of housing and accompanying housing subsidies in prescribed corridors, and neglected transit.  The result is traffic congestion, a problem now in need of solution.  

In central planning, solutions come in the form of more legislation.  On October 10, 2017, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 595, Metropolitan Transportation Commission – Toll Bridge Revenues – BART Inspector General – Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority – High-occupancy toll lanes.  As the topic of this bill indicates, this regional legislation calls for administrative changes as well as funding.  The bill contains provisions for treatment of different kinds of vehicles, types of toll payments, occupancy, and peak traffic.  Here we will briefly mention two clauses in Senate Bill 595.
 
* SB 595 Creates the Office of the BART Inspector General, upon voter approval, and prescribes its roles and responsibilities.

The Nine-County Coalition has repeatedly offered examples of the trend towards bureaucratic rather than legislative management.  Tax payers are increasingly paying for elected officials who should be responsible and accountable for efficient management of their jurisdictions and also paying for unelected bureaucrats to oversee the elected officials.  As a result, cost of governing California keeps increasing and voters’ power at the ballot box decreasing – all without any guarantee that the oversight bureaucracies would be any more efficient or accountable than the elected officials.  

This clause was requested by Senator Steve Glazer, who has been critical of BART’s union-management issues. We certainly appreciate his concern.  However, a less expensive solution might be for voters to directly hold BART’s elected board accountable by voting incumbents out until the message is clear:  Do a good job or you are out.  

* The centerpiece of Senate Bill 595 is a toll increase of up to $3 on all Bay Area state-owned bridges, soon to appear in all nine county Bay Area ballots.

The bill states:  “To improve the quality of life and sustain the economy of the San Francisco Bay area, it is the intent of the Legislature to require the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to place on the ballot a measure authorizing voters to approve an expenditure plan to improve mobility and enhance travel options on the bridges and bridge corridors to be paid for an increase in the toll rate on the seven state-owned bridges within its jurisdiction.”

It will be up to the MTC to decide what the increase will be, as long as it is up to $3.  So, we need to wait to see whether we can afford the toll or not.

CA Highway Ranking

The up to $3 increase is not an increase in a user fee.  The spending plan calls for funds to be allocated to several transportation projects, such increasing the BART fleet, enhancing ferry service, funding BART to San Jose Phase 2, extending Caltrain to downtown San Francisco, expanding the SMART rail system.  Additionally, “the bill also includes a $150 million grant program to improve bicycle and pedestrian access to regional transit hubs and to close gaps in the San Francisco Bay Trail.”

Certainly, if residents choose public transportation systems, tax dollars are needed to fund those systems adequately.  The question here is what is adequate.  Do we simply pay until we see results, no matter how expensive that gets?  Do Californians insist on user fees rather than transportation taxes as means of determining true costs  – BART riders pay for BART, bridge users pay for bridges, bikers pay for bike lanes and bike trails, Caltrain riders pay for trains, etc.

The Reason Foundation Annual Highway Report is often quoted to show how California stacks up against other states.  In the 22nd Annual Highway Report, published September 2016, Reason ranked California 42nd out of 50 in overall state highway cost effectiveness, with a rank of 1 being the best and a rank of 50 being the very worst. 

Does Your Mayor Support Sustainable Development Programs or Local Control?

Post by:  Liz Froelich

...your community could belong to one of these groups that believe that the most important action its citizens and residents can take is to reduce their carbon footprint and carbon emissions.  That equates into fewer car lanes, more bike lanes, and concentrated, high density housing developments known as transit villages in downtown areas

Global Covenant of Mayors Co-Chairs Michael R. Bloomberg, former New York City Mayor (center) and European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic (far right) pose with other speakers at the Sustainable Energy for All event in New York.

Global Covenant of Mayors Co-Chairs Michael R. Bloomberg, former New York City Mayor (center) and European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic (far right) pose with other speakers at the Sustainable Energy for All event in New York.

We often use the term local control with regards to education and governing groups.  We may prefer to promote and support local city or county programs over state issues.   We like the ability to elect our local representatives to city and county.  Some of us may live in cities that actually vote for the mayors.  We probably take for granted this right.  Are we aware of what our mayors, city councils, and county boards of supervisors are doing or not doing on our behalf?  Perhaps using our tax dollars in pursuit of programs which we might not support.

Have you heard of the Global Covenant of Mayors?   One of its goals is: Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Fostering Local Climate Resilience.  Would you want your mayor and council to advocate these goals that mirror the United Nations Sustainable Goals under Agenda 21 or Agenda 2030?  

Mayors have many opportunities to involve our cities in furthering these goals.  Perhaps you have read about the Mayors’ Innovation Project and your mayor’s participation. Then some of our mayors may have even attended the Hemispheric Summit of Mayors on August 23-26 in Mexico.  If mayors missed out on that, there was the Smart Cities Expo World Forum in Australia from August 31-Sept. 1.  Your city officials may have budgeted for your mayor or city official to attend the Cities and Climate Conference 2017 in Potsdam, Germany mid September.

One other event was Smart Cities Week in D.C. Oct. 3-5 or there is the Climate Summit of Local and Regional Leaders in Bonn, Germany mid November. This last event is held during the UN Climate Change Conference known as COP 23 (November 6-17).  December 4-5 will be Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy North American Climate Summit in Chicago.

In 2018 is planned a landmark conference on cities and climate to be held in Edmonton, Canada from March 4-7.  Your mayor may be planning to participate in the IPCC Cities and Climate Change Science Conference.  Your city may have even planned to have a representative attend the ICLEI World Congress in Montreal, Canada June 19-23, 2018.
One other worldwide event the California Summit will be held here in California in September, 2018 with Jerry Brown leading the conference.  

9.3% of the world’s population belongs to some of these little known groups. That equates to 7,477 cities.  The people in these cities may be unaware of this involvement.  However, this does not sound like a large enough number of people to constitute very powerful groups.   Yet, your community could belong to one of these groups that believe that the most important action its citizens and residents can take is to reduce their carbon footprint and carbon emissions.  That equates into fewer car lanes, more bike lanes, and concentrated, high density housing developments known as transit villages in downtown areas

One of the main groups reaching out to local city, county, and regional officials to adopt the UN Sustainable Goals is ICLEI.  It was once called the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, is now known as Local Governments for Sustainability.  ICLEI is there to show the city officials how to engage its community in committing to “climate adaptation” or “climate mitigation.”  These are the terms that reflect the steps a city or community could take to fully involve the citizens in the chosen action plan.

You might be wondering how a city, even your city, could adopt such a plan without voter approval.  It appears that the mayor may announce an executive decision or the city council could pass a supporting resolution to commit to adapting or modifying the city’s local planning strategies.  

In the Bay Area nine counties, 17 cities and one county have signed onto the Global Covenant of Mayors.  San Francisco and Oakland have pledged to the four programs: Commitment, Inventory, Target, and Plan.  To date the other cities have agreed to #1 Commitment.  They include Alameda, Benicia, Berkeley, Cupertino, Emeryville, Fremont, Hayward, Palo Alto, Piedmont, Richmond, San Jose, San Rafael, Santa Cruz, and San Leandro. Sonoma County Regional Climate Protection Authority is also shown with #1.   

President Trump’s action in withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord has prompted the many groups to work more feverishly and more directly with the local officials in states, by-passing any federal connection.  ICLEI recently conducted a webinar to provide tools and guidelines to cities to act on their own to acknowledge the need for a Paris Accord.  This Paris agreement is at the international level, but the local entities are encouraged to advocate for climate change policies by making their commitments visible to the public and work to share their progress with other cities.   Has your city signed on to a similar agreement?

Advocates for climate change propose to promote healthier cities and happier residents. In the future these cities may not ever become healthier and happier, but the promoters and bureaucrats in the non-government and governmental agencies are definitely enjoying healthier bank accounts.  Ultimately, we local citizens may discover that our precious right to vote is in jeopardy, as other entities are actually controlling what is happening in our cities.

Check out your city and others and take action to block your city from unwittingly giving up our local control: http://www.globalcovenantofmayors.org/about

Other references:  www.citiscope.org / for calendar of world meetings and info on the New Urban Agenda.  www.technocracy.news  for Internet of Things and People/AI

Liz Froelich   Nov., 2017

Time to Tear Up California's Credit Cards!

Rich man full of debt

Suppose your household found itself with more credit card debt than you could handle.  That is a scenario not unfamiliar to most households that experience sudden increases in spending, such as college tuition or medical expenses.  Now suppose you took action.  You refinanced your mortgage to include pay down of most of your credit card debt and successfully convinced your boss to give you a substantial raise.  Would your household be better off financially?  Sure – for a while.  In the long run you might be in the same spot you were before, if your coveted salary increase placed you in a higher tax bracket and your expenses remained the same or increased under illusions created by your higher salary.

These days government at all levels practices this kick-the-can-of-reckoning-down-the-road strategy.  California Governor Jerry Brown runs hot and cold regarding debt.  He frets over California’s “wall of debt” but signs debt increases into law.  Witness the bond proposals in the “affordable housing package” recently enacted.  

How about California’s huge gross state product or GDP?  Like the household example above, the relevant question is how much real total debt as a percentage of earnings you have.  If you are flush with assets that you purchased with debt, you might find yourself in sad straights should suddenly your circumstances change.  Remember those sudden medical expenses you had.  Or remember the dot-com bust, or the sub-prime crisis?

And what do we mean by “real” debt?  Certainly not the debt Jerry Brown and other legislators quote.  Real debt includes hidden liabilities such as retirement pensions and health care that public-sector employees are promised.  Here are figures from a California Policy Center article dated January 10, 2017, estimating real debt as of fiscal year ending June 30, 2015.

State and local bonds, loans, and other contractual debt: $574 Billion
Underfunded pensions official estimate:   $258 Billion                            
Additional underfunding used by Moody’s:  $455 Billion

Total State and local debt:   $1,287 Billion

Gross State Product (GDP):   $2,481 Billion

Real Debt to GDP:  52%

This whopping 52% real debt as a percentage of GDP of course does not include the plethora of bonds approved after June 30, 2015.  Neither does it include the tsunami of debt proposed by legislators to finance the September 2017 "affordable housing package." All this debt needs “servicing,” taxpayer funds going to pay interest and support huge administrative bureaucracies. Is there any wonder why in spite of California’s tax increases during the last few years, you are still fuming over potholes?

SB 166 Takes One More Bite Out of Private Property

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Senator Skinner's SB 166

More on SB 166

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

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

Action Item: Phil Ting's Community Coffee

Event:  California Assemblymember Phil Ting’s Community Coffee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unsustainable Sustainability Strategy: Tax, Subsidize, and Build

The Projected New Normal

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

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

The Perils

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Failing On All Fronts, but No Plan B

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

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

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

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

The Problem

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

The Flawed Response

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

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

Alternative Strategies

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

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

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

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

Call to Action

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

Update on California's "Housing Bills Package"

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

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

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