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.

What a Dump! Movie Line as Sustainable Development

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

Dumpster Building is Not New

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

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

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

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

Problems With Landfill are Not New Either

Marina District building during earthquake

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

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

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

Buyer Beware

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

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

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

Traces of the Wild West

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

State Legislation: Sustenance for Plan Bay Area 2040

Plan Bay Area Action Plan

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

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

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

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

Read More

Have a Happy and Safe 4th of July!

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

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

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

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

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

Lady Liberty

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

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

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

State Board of Equalization: Voters Lose Again

CA SBE.JPG

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Water Wars and the Frog in Boiling Water

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What this Article is About

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

Taking Advice From an Expert

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

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

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

SFPUC On Groundwater

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

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

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

Read More

Global Climate Agreements and Plan Bay Area

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Governor Jerry Brown vs. The Freeloaders

We're All Freeloaders Now

On April 28, 2017, Jerry Brown changed the meaning of the word freeloader – it now means taxpayer!  

This is what the governor said in Orange County about road users, during a speech supporting both the recent gas tax increase and State Senator Josh Newman (D-Fullerton), who might be facing a recall for voting in favor of the tax:

 "The freeloaders—I've had enough of them…Roads require money to fix.  You want to borrow money and pay double? Or do nothing? Or take money from universities?”

In his speech, Governor Brown talked about pay as you go, deferred road maintenance that needs immediate attention, and not adding to California’s already substantial debt.  What he did not spell out is how much money from Senate Bill 1 -- a $52-billion transportation package that increases gas and vehicle registration fees -- will go to other than road maintenance and improvements over the next 10 years.  

Estimated allocations to cities and counties:

* $7.5 billion for transit operations and capital.
* $2 billion for the local partnership program (state money that matches money raised by cities and counties to fund transit systems like BART or other transportation projects).
* $1 billion for the Active Transportation Program (program aims to increase the proportion of trips accomplished by biking and walking).
* $250 million for local planning grants (the Sustainable Transportation Planning Grant Program)

Estimated allocations to state programs:

* $800 million for parks programs, off-highway vehicle programs, boating programs, and agricultural programs.
* $70 million for transportation research at the University of California and the California State University.
 
SB1’s text reveals other clues that basic penny-pinching road maintenance and improvement are hardly focused objectives of this tax increase:

* The bill advances greenhouse gas reduction objectives and other environmental goals by focusing on “fix-it-first” projects, investments in transit and active transportation, and supporting Senate Bill 375.

* Projects within the boundaries of a metropolitan planning organization must be included in an adopted regional transportation plan that includes a sustainable communities strategy determined by the State Air Resources Board to achieve the region’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets.

* The bill would require the department to update the Highway Design Manual to incorporate the “complete streets” design concept by January 1, 2018.  (Note:  According to Caltrans, “A complete street is a transportation facility that is planned, designed, operated, and maintained to provide safe mobility for all users, including bicyclists, pedestrians, transit vehicles, truckers, and motorists, appropriate to the function and context of the facility.”)

Tragedy of the Commons

No Tragedy of the Commons Here

Governor Brown would like to frame opposition to the gas tax as a tragedy of the commons (aka the free-rider problem).  However, to opponents, SB1 looks more like reaching a taxation breaking point.  Californians already pay the highest gas tax in the nation. 

Is it not time for legislators to curb their enthusiasm for “complete streets” and other frills of central planning, and focus on the basics, such as proliferating potholes and crumbling bridges?

MTC and ABAG - Napoleons Amongst Us?

Billions of dollars spent by folks not elected to the position.  They got the job to spend your money, tell you how to live and how much it will cost to live in the Bay Area—one of the world’s most expensive region.  Government decides how you get to work, how much it costs for water—and if you have water—and is trying to determine whether you can build homes, commercial property or have government control the use of your property.  Freedom?  Not in the Bay Area.

Dictatorship comes in the form of a Bureaucratic State, a state in which regional governmental agencies — all run by unelected, unaccountable officials — rule arrogantly over taxpayers.  The two most powerful dictators are the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG).  No MTC or ABAG director has ever been directly elected by voters. 

The first quote comes from Steve Frank, editor and publisher of California Political Review News and Views, introducing the article by Richard Colman, author of the second quote.  The point both commentators make is that agencies, managed by unelected people, have the power to make decisions that substantially affect all of us.  Such power should be in the hands of officials directly accountable to the people, that is, voters. 

The extent of the power exercised by agencies often depends on the aggressiveness of those running such agencies.  Richard Colman gives the example of Robert Moses, the Parks Commissioner who on his own authority determined New York City’s infrastructure from the 1930s to the 1960s.  A visit to the MTC website will show that MTC is not shy or diffident.  Neither is ABAG or the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority or the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.  These agencies have slick websites containing lots of pictures and information, designed to both inform and indoctrinate.  Note he happy people on "Bike to Work Day," especially the senior gentleman who is there to show that "everybody" can bike to work instead of driving or expecting efficient transit systems. 

Bike to Work Day

However, we are not doomed to live under the dictatorial yoke if we do not wish to do so.  At present, these agencies still depend on 1) enabling legislation passed by elected representatives, and 2) tax money to implement their plans.  Both of these variables are in the hands of voters. 

Note:  Steve Frank will be in San Francisco June 11, 2017.  He will be one of the guest panelists in “Sanctuary Cities: Pros and Cons,” a panel discussion hosted by the Libertarian Party of San Francisco.

Assemblyman Phil Ting Town Hall May 11, 2017

"He who frames the question wins the debate" (quote by Randall Terry).  In the Bay Area, it seems that one side is framing a lot of debates.  Here is a chance to modify questions, and maybe even bend a debate or two.

            The beautiful County Fair Building in Golden Gate Park

            The beautiful County Fair Building in Golden Gate Park

Next 10 Budget Town Hall

Hosted by California Assemblyman Philip Y. Ting
Thursday, May 11, 2017, 6:00 – 7:30 pm
County Fair Building, Golden Gate Park
1199 9th Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94122

“Next 10” is an interactive set up whereby participants contribute their input to scenarios.  In this case, participants collaborate in allocating revenues and expenditures to the California budget. 

If participants are progressives, the resulting budget will reflect their liberal-leaning choices.  A different budget will result from a liberty-leaning fiscal-conservative audience, or even a mixed audience.  It might be good for Assemblyman Ting not get the impressing that he is ruling over a monolithic progressive base.

Here is the link to Mr. Ting’s website where you can RSVP for this event:  https://a19.asmdc.org/event/next-10-budget-town-hall-0

Thank you to Golden Gate Liberty Revolution (aka The Ron Paul Meetup Group) for alerting the Nine-County Coalition regarding this event.

We added a summary of Governor Brown's proposed budget, as well as our own brief comments in an additional blog article.

California 2017-2018 Proposed Budget

Budget Highlights:

“The proposed 2017-18 state budget is $179.5 billion.  It includes $122.5 billion General Fund, $54.6 billion special funds, and $2.4 billion bond funds.”

“State revenues, which had surged during several years of the recovery, are now beginning to lag expectations. Consequently, the budget — which remained precariously balanced even in the strongest revenue years — now faces a deficit of almost $2 billion if action is not taken.”

“The state has $240 billion in long‑term costs, debts, and liabilities. The vast majority of these liabilities — $236 billion — are related to retirement costs of state and University of California employees.”

Governor Brown’s Main Proposals to Balance the Budget:

Adjust Proposition 98 (Approved by voters in 1988; requires a minimum percentage of the state budget to be spent on K-12 education):  Redirect $1.7 billion from Proposition 98 expenditure to general operations expenditure, bringing the school expenditure to its mandated minimum level.

Recapture 2016 Spending Allocations:  Eliminate the authority to spend $0.9 billion from the one-time spending package approved in the 2016-1017 budget; mainly, eliminate a $400 million set-aside for affordable housing and a $300 million transfer to modernize state office buildings.

Slow spending growth by $0.6 billion:  Pause rate increases for child care, eliminate Middle Class Scholarships to new students, and discontinue submission of a variety of spending proposals from state departments.

______________________________________

Suggestions Not in This Budget:

California budgets skirt around the edges of deficit problems.  This is in part because legislators do the same, by failing to take decisive action on key issues that drive precarious budgets.  Two of these issues public employees' expenditures and proliferation of state agencies.  Remedies would require tough action, such as:

Restructure public employees’ salaries and pensions to completely eliminate the state’s $240 billion in long-term costs, debts, and liabilities, the vast majority of which ($236 billion) are related to costs of state and University of California employees.

Do more than shuffle projected revenues between thousands of programs.  Eliminate programs that do not constitute essential services.  This will slow the state’s insatiable need for taxing its residents, as well as leave more money in the private sector that can be used for business investments and job creation. 

Budget Summary:

Main expenditures from the operating budget are Proposition 98 and Non-Proposition 98 expenditures.  Proposition 98 expenditures cover the vast California public education system, and Non-Proposition 98 cover most everything else.  California's numerous "capital funds" cover the rest of the rest.  Here is a summary, in millions:

Prior Year Balance                                          $1,027.00
Revenues and Transfers                             $124,027.00
Total Resources Available                          $125,054.00
 
Non-Proposition 98 Expenditures              $71,169.00
Proposition 98 Expenditures                        $51,351.00
Total Expenditures                                      $122,520.00
 
Fund Balance                                                   $2,534.00
Reserve for Liquidation of Encumbrances      $980.00
Special Fund for Economic Uncertainties     $1,554.00
Stabilization/Rainy Day Fund                       $7,869.00

Plan Bay Area 2040 and the Coming Seas of Taxes

With Plan Bay Area 2040 on the loose, a projected California budget deficit of $1.6 billion, Washington talking about funding cuts, and an aversion to spending reductions afflicting state and county leaders, we should all expect a tsunami of tax proposals. 

Taxes per se are a necessary inconvenience acknowledged by our founding fathers in the U.S. Constitution (Article I, Section 8).  However, what taxes are used for is the issue we at the Nine-County Coalition constantly pick on!  If taxes were limited to “pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare” of any jurisdiction – federal, state, county, or city - there would be no need for this and other websites concerned about the perils of economic or land-use central planning.  Most of us would willingly pay for the solvency of our jurisdiction, protection of our private property, and basic government services such as the maintenance of courts. 

The Nine-County Coalition and others have expressed concern about Plan Bay Area 2040 and the plan’s clearly enunciated goals of focusing on largely government-funded transit-oriented development, forced allocation of housing including subsidized housing in all existing neighborhoods, and taxpayer funding to accomplish these objectives.  The last objective is the key to all others, and that objective is still at present in voters’ hands. 

However, taxes come in so many forms that they easily sneak up on payers.  A good website on this subject is California Tax Foundation (CalTax). The website’s Tax Watch provides a summary of the major taxes and fees introduced by California’s legislature.  Among the reports currently featured are California Tax Facts, an overview of the state’s tax structure; and Piecing Together California’s Parcel Taxes, which discusses the sheer volume and assortment of taxes on pieces of land.

One of the many interesting subjects discussed in California Tax Facts is Proposition 26, a state initiative constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2010.  Proposition 26 defines a tax as any source of revenue that does NOT fall into the following specific categories:

*  Benefit or Privilege:  Example is a zoning fee.
*  Government Service or Product:  Example is a vehicle registration fee.
*  Reasonable Regulation:  Example is an inspection fee.
*  Use of Government Property:  Example is an event space rental fee
*  Fine, Penalty, or Monetary Charge:  Example is a parking ticket.
*  Property Development:  Example is a developer fee.
*  Property Related:  Example is a street lighting assessment.

Proposition 26 says that whatever does not fall in any of the categories above is a tax.  Unlike implementation of a fee, implementation of a tax is limited by restrictions imposed by Proposition 13 (1978) and Proposition 218 (1996).
 
Keeping up with so much information just to protect our property, our pocketbooks, and our liberties seems unreasonable.  But eternal vigilance has always been the going price.

The Case of the Vanishing Middle Class

In this present crisis:  government is the solution or the problem?

“While all four household income groups, as defined by income categories, are expected to grow, it is the lowest and highest groups we expect to see relatively more households by 2040.  The 'hollowing out' of the middle is projected to continue over the next 25 years.”

“Household growth will be strongest in the highest income category, reflecting the expected strength of growth in high wage sectors combined with non-wage income (interest, dividends, capital gains, transfers). Household growth will also be high in the lowest wage category, reflecting occupational shifts, wage stagnation, as well as the retirement of seniors without pension assets. Slowest growth will be in the lower middle category, highlighting concerns about advancement opportunities for lower wage workers."

These rather obvious lamentations that the Bay Area middle class is vanishing are from Plan Bay Area 2040 Regional Forecast – Jobs, Population and Housing.

Planners ascribe this unfortunate situation to occupational shifts, wage stagnation, and retirement of seniors without pension assets.  However, are these reasons for the vanishing middle class or the results of deeper events?  Plan Bay Area 2040 believes the former, but let’s look into the latter.

Organic vs. Planned Cities

The Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) website published an interesting article in August 2014, Smart Growth?  U Cities vs Galaxy Cities.

"San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland are generally considered progressive cities. Well in advance of other cities, they implemented 'smart growth' policies. Now, there is a lot to recommend about these cities, but if you’re not rich, you’ll probably just want to visit."

"To understand how wealth disparities worsen in cities like these, we have to look at clusters of policies that go under the name 'smart growth.' They aren’t the only policies that create U cities, but these three areas drive the U city pattern…:  strict zoning regulations and building codes, rent control and low-income housing subsidies, rail investments preferred over roads."

Why are these three factors main culprits in U cities? 

"The wealthier folks snap up the dwellings in limited supply. Middle-class folks look for housing outside the city, if they can stay in the area at all. The poor, however, stay. They are subsidized to do so."

And, voila, the middle class vanishes.

"Now what about inverted-U cities? We could call these 'fried-egg' cities, but that’s not terribly sexy. I prefer 'galaxy cities' for obvious reasons. The idea behind galaxy cities is that, all things equal, you’ll not only get a fat bell of a middle class on the graph, but you’ll also get a galactic distribution of housing options if you look from above. Some call this sprawl, because more affordable housing extends outward from a denser core, phasing out at the periphery after the suburbs and exurbs."

"Galaxy cities are participatory cities. That is to say, their people participate far more in their evolution than do town planners. They are emergent cities."

So, in the galaxy city model you have people who feel free to search for opportunities, not feel stuck by zoning regulations.

Time for a Fresh Start?

Galaxy cities

Ah, but then won’t you have all these people driving their cars long distances to work, raising the level of greenhouse gases?  That is the scenario presented by Plan Bay Area.  Might we not create a different scenario, one in which cities that evolve organically avail themselves of ride sharing, driverless cars, hot lanes, private van services, and even incentives to bring jobs to them so folks end up working where they live?

U cities are by any standard not a good place to live.  Not for the rich who have difficulty finding good middle class care givers and educators for their children, and not for the poor who are lulled into staying in "poverty traps." It is time to review the real causes of U cities, and stop the unsuccessful treatment of the symptoms. 

Transit-Oriented Development: What Does It Take to Make It Work?

Developing a New Methodology for Analyzing Potential Displacement is 415 pages long; and cost a pretty penny, according to the Berkeley Institute of Urban and Regional Development.  This study on transit-oriented development (TOD), published in March 2017, was prepared for the California Air Resources Board and the California Environmental Protection Agency by U.C. Berkeley and U.C. Los Angeles.  In spite of its length, complexity, and cost, this study comes to the same conclusion about TOD as anyone could have done by simply looking at a map.  What is useful to the study's target audience, metro-planning agencies in Los Angeles and in the Bay Area, are the suggestions for greater bean counting that can provide these agencies with ammunition for doubling down on "mitigating strategies" for displacement:  land use control, transportation control, fiscal policies, and taxation.

TOD is one of the responses to California state mandates to reduce greenhouse gases (GHG) by reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT).  TOD promotes population density in corridors ½ mile from rail transit.   For a quick view of TODs see the Nine-County Coalition’s article, Meet Your New Landlord: Bay Area Rapid Transit.  Our conclusion was the same as that of the ARB study:  TODs make housing expensive, folks who cannot afford to pay move away, and folks who can afford to pay move in.  Of course, there are token housing subsidies, which claim to do some good.

                     Map of Transit-Oriented Development in the San Francisco Bay Area.

                     Map of Transit-Oriented Development in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The study is divided into background, study and conclusions, and mitigating remedies.  We readily admit we did not go over the 415 pages with a fine-tooth comb (we are unpaid volunteers with day jobs), but managed to cull some highlights from each of the study’s sections that we hope are of interest.

Background (Abstract):

“This report examines the relationship between fixed-rail transit neighborhoods and displacement in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area... Overall, we find that TOD has a significant impact on the stability of the surrounding neighborhood, leading to increases in housing costs that change the composition of the area, including the loss of low-income households. We found mixed evidence as to whether gentrification and displacement in rail station areas would cause an increase in auto usage and vehicle miles traveled (VMT).”

The bottom line here is that the study could not really tell whether TOD succeeds in reducing VMT, but succeeds admirably in displacing lower-income residents.

Residential and Commercial Gentrification:

These bullet points on the report provide a very brief overview of study and conclusions.

"Neighborhood decline results from the interaction of demographic shifts, public policy, and
entrenched segregation, and is shaped by metropolitan context."

"Gentrification results from both flows of capital and people. The extent to which gentrification is linked to racial transition differs across neighborhood contexts."

"Commercial gentrification can also transform a neighborhood’s meaning, but research is mixed on whether it is positive or negative for existing residents and businesses."

"New fixed-rail transit, inasmuch as it has a positive effect on residential and commercial property values, may also affect neighborhood stability and composition."

The study discussed the many variables that can result in gentrification and subsequent displacement, such as quality of schools and parks, and includes proximity to rail transit as a significant factor.

Mitigating Policies:

As its title indicates, the point of this study was to look at methodologies for analyzing displacement given the status quo.  Nothing in the study suggests that the status quo itself could be (and perhaps should be) revisited and modified.  Therefore, the study simply reiterates that TOD contributes to displacement and summarizes current mitigating polities. 

Here is a chart from a streamlined presentation of the study by the Air Resources Board.  One side of the chart lists production strategies:  fiscal, taxing, land use controls, and assets and investments.  The other side lists preservation, tenant protection and support, asset building and local economic development.

Strategies to address displacement

The study also discusses "barriers at the state level [that] include changing voter thresholds for communities that want to raise their own funds.”  In some cases, the study indicates that strategies such as rent control and affordable housing bonus plans do not work as well as they should because they are not applied forcefully enough.

In summary, Transit-Oriented Development may or may not reduce greenhouse gases by reducing vehicle miles traveled when displacement is factored in, it contributes to the astronomical housing costs in California’s metro centers, and it promotes displacement of lower-income residents.  If TOD contributes to those negative effects, then so do Priority Development Areas and Priority Conservations Areas, which also concentrate population along transit corridors.

California's metro-areas are likely to see more inventory and control of land and transportation as a result of this study.  However, the study also provides evidence that TOD, and by extension other features of the current central planning, come with consequences.  What price mitigating strategies?  Time to scrap the current central planning itself? 

Plan Bay Area Has Not Fixed Anything Yet.

The recent unveiling of Plan Bay Area 2040 provides a nice reason to revisit one of the most comprehensive public comments on Plan Bay Area 2013, submitted to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) by Thomas A. Rubin, a consultant with over four decades of experience in planning and transportation. Although Mr. Rubin’s comment letter dated May 16, 2013, is listed along with many others on a Plan Bay Area Archives list, links to these documents return a “Page Not Found” message.  However, Orinda Watch, thankfully, provides good links to excellent reports submitted to MTC testifying to the foibles inherent in Plan Bay Area, among those reports is Thomas Rubin’s.

In Comments on ABAG’s and MTC’s Draft Plan Bay Area and Environmental Impact Report Plan Bay Area Draft, Thomas Rubin presents massive amounts of figures and graphs to demonstrate that,

 “…the Plan’s and DEIR’s [Draft Environmental Impact Report] transit components will not only fail to achieve their stated objectives, but there is a very significant chance that they will be counter-productive.  The Plan’s transit components are simply a continuation of the Bay Area’s past emphasis on expensive fixed guideway [trains, monorails, streetcars] transit projects, an emphasis which has not increased transit ridership over the past thirty years.” 

“The housing elements of the Plan, by eliminating almost all of the small remaining potential for new Bay Area residents to achieve their ‘American Dream’ of a single family detached home in the nine Bay Area counties, and attempting to force them into high-density developments, will instead drive many of them to locate outside the Bay Area counties and commute – primarily by driving – to jobs in the Bay Area.”

“…the capital and operating costs of such undesirable, but expensive, housing will require large taxpayer subsidies, making the already extremely high cost of doing business, and living, in the Bay Area far higher still.”

Plan Bay Area 2013 was implemented without much heed to what many experts were saying.  Now four years later --  No more traffic jams? We all have nice affordable homes?  Folks have short easy commutes to their jobs?  No, not really.  Maybe it is time to revisit Tom Rubin’s suggested alternatives:

“…emphasizing those modes [of transportation] that can be implemented quickly and with relatively low capital cost, including improvement of motor bus and vanpool services…, plus expanded transit service on new high-capacity automated vehicle lanes.”

“Major fare reductions, particularly for those types of services utilized primarily by the transit-dependent and economically-challenged.”

…”carpooling…to both reduce vehicle miles traveled by increasing average passenger load and provide additional transportation opportunities for the transportation disadvantaged.” 

The May 2013 report was followed by others that questioned the Plan’s methodology, such as that used to determine the decrease in greenhouse gases needed for the Bay Area to abide by the mandates of Assembly Bill 32, Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. For example, the Air Resources Board adjusted upward its green house gasses inventory method to conform to new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change protocols and other change factors, but it did not revise the 1990 GHG emissions figure.  The level of GHG in 1990 is the target called for by AB 32.  This from one of Mr. Rubin's articles in Reason magazine,

“Crucially, however, ARB has not revised the 1990 GHG emissions figure upwards to reflect the new methodology. The effect of this is to increase the amount of GHG emission reduction required to meet the statutory target.”

Looks like Bay Area residents are dealing with a moving target, adjusted at will that could demand increased levels of central planning in land use and transportation.  In the mind of the average central planner, that usually means a lot more of the same regardless of results.  Think more density along transit corridors, higher taxes to subsidize astronomical housing costs, no parking, and seemingly never enough money left to fix potholes.

California's Fly Over Counties - Neglected By Design

"We don’t have seats at the table,” laments Richard Chapman, president and CEO of the Kern Economic Development Corporation. “We are a flyover state within a state."

Fresno, Bakersfield, Ontario and San Bernardino are rapidly becoming the Bantustans — the impoverished areas designed for Africans under the racist South African regime — in California’s geographic apartheid. Poverty rates in the Central Valley and Inland Empire reach over a third of the population, well above the share in the Bay Area.

Kern County’s economy is largely based in agriculture and oil extraction, but water is scarce and oil is a commodity subject to market fluctuation and whims.  Manufacturing, once major employer of the county’s workforce, has dwindled.  The county has large unincorporated areas mixed in with incorporated areas, as well as federal and state-owned lands.  Challenges are many.  However, the stark disparity between employment and income levels of coastal communities and inland communities such as Kern County is exacerbated by state legislation and policy.  Orange County Register article, The Other California-A Fly Over State Within a State, is worth reading.

This disparity has worsened in recent years. Until the 2008 housing crash, the interior counties served, as the Kern EDC’s Chapman puts it, as “an incubator for mobility.” These areas were places that Californians of modest means, and companies no longer able to afford coastal prices, could get a second shot.

But state policies, notably those tied to Gov. Jerry Brown’s climate jihad, suggests Inland Empire economist John Husing, have placed California"at war” with blue-collar industries like homebuilding, energy, agriculture and manufacturing. These kinds of jobs are critical for regions where almost half the workforce has a high school education or less.

By curtailing new housing supply, California is systematically shutting off this aspirational migration. Chapman University forecaster James Doti notes that, in large part due to regulation, Inland Empire housing prices have jumped 80 percent since 2009 — almost twice the rate for Orange County. Doti links this rapid rise to helping slow the area’s once buoyant job growth in half over the past two years. Population growth has also slowed, particularly in comparison to a decade ago.

California central planning at its best!  Give mobility a bad name by calling it “displacement,” prevent organic housing growth by mountains of zoning, push up housing costs by limiting development to concentrated areas, tax most industry to death and reward a few.  Non-anointed counties struggle while California preaches environment and equity.

Kern County

Plan Bay Area 2040: Regionalism Marches On

On April 3, 2017, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments released Plan Bay Area 2040.  This is an update of the regional plan implemented by MTC and ABAG in 2013.

The objectives are as they were in the original plan – a transportation and land use roadmap for the Bay Area’s future growth that implements the two mandates of 2008 Senate Bill 375.  The mandates are: 1) Climate protection by requiring the Bay Area to reduce CO2 emissions, and 2) Adequate housing by requiring the region to house 100 percent of its projected population growth by income level.

The methodology also remains basically the same as in 2013:  1) Most population and job growth concentrated in Priority Development Areas, and 2) Little or no growth outside PDAs or in Priority Conservation Areas.  Language continues to refer to the plan as “voluntary guidelines.”  As in PBA 2013, the 2040 plan makes no explicit mention of the increased outmigration of Bay Area residents, and how that will affect plan projections. 

What has changed from 2013 is emphasis on the different plan components, prompted by results of the plan’s Target Assessment.  Of its 13 targets, Plan Bay Area is moving towards meeting or exceeding five, is making progress toward achieving four, and is moving in the wrong direction in four.  Some of the misses are significant. Decrease in the share of lower-income residents’ income spent on transportation and housing is targeted at 10%, but is expected to increase by 13 percentage points.  Share of low- and moderate-income renter households at risk for displacement it targeted not to increase, but is expected to increase by 5 percentage points.  A Plan Performance chart in the Strategies and Performance section of Plan Bay Area 2040 is very helpful in summarizing plan successes and failures.

As expected from Plan Bay Area, its action plan to address the missed targets doubles down on the methodology used to try to reach those targets.  Also as expected, “voluntary guidelines” always have a way of nudging compulsory mandates.  A note of drastic urgency also helps hopes of targeted results:

“…there is no more time to wait. Failure to establish regional consensus and take concerted action will put the region’s historic economic, environmental and transportation accomplishments at risk. Unlike many other policy areas, housing policy is something local governments have significant control over.
The Bay Area must therefore pursue a multi-pronged strategy that emphasizes the construction of new homes for residents of all incomes, the protection of the region’s most vulnerable households, and the need to advocate for more financial resources to pursue local and regional solutions.”

“Given existing real estate market conditions, land use controls, and infrastructure needs, many PDAs may not be able to accommodate forecasted growth and may require additional policy interventions to increase their development potential.”

Besides the general calls to action, PBA 2040 also outlines specific proposals: 

Plan Bay Area subregions

* Mapping of the Bay Area cities into three “subregions,” 1) “Big 3 Cities” (San Jose, San Francisco and Oakland); 2) “Bayside” (cities directly adjacent to the San Francisco Bay, including Hayward, San Mateo, San Rafael and Richmond), 3) “Inland, Coastal and Delta” (cities just outside of Bayside, such as Walnut Creek, Dublin, Santa Rosa, Antioch, Brentwood and Fairfield).

* Concentration of household and employment growth in the Big 3 Cities and Bayside, projected to contain 72% of the Bay Area’s total household and 77% of total jobs.

* Increased “local” funding of projects, such as a multi-county fee or bond measure, as well as dedicated sales taxes, fares and tolls.

* Establishment of a regional Economic Development District to make the Bay Area more competitive for federal economic and work-force development funding under the U.S. Economic Development Administration programs.

* State legislation to incentivize housing production and increased housing policy capacities.

* Bringing together diverse interests to develop strategies for housing production and preservation; and recommendation of legislative, regulatory, financial and market-related measures needed to provide regional housing at all income levels.

By its own admission, Plan Bay Area is on its way to significantly miss four of its 13 targets and barely reach another four.  The plan fails to deeply assess the increase in outmigration of Bay Area residents, simply ascribing the trend to high housing costs.  Although the plan gives ample lip service to its pronouncements being only “voluntary guidelines,” it ably prods compulsory legislation.  Although the plan loudly assets its recommendations do not diminish “local control,” it forcefully promotes regional solutions to challenges, as if all Bay Area counties experienced the same preferences. 

Plan Bay Area has made noteworthy achievements in the two mandates of SB 375 – reducing per capital CO2 emissions from cars and light trucks by 15%, and housing 100% of the Bay Area region’s projected growth by income level. One could consider the mission accomplished.  However, obviously the peripheral goals of PBA are nowhere near achievement: so-called “equitable access” to housing, efficient cost-effective transportation systems, and traffic-jam free city streets.  No wonder.  Can anyone seriously assert that concentrating population in dense transit-rich corridors is not a prescription for excessive housing cost, questionable quality of life, and certain outmigration?  Can anyone seriously believe that taxpayers can spend their way out of plan-created unaffordable housing without unacceptable draconian mandates?  Perhaps further efforts in such a large-scale integrated strategy will only result in diminishing returns, as well as mountains of restrictive legislation. 

Maybe it is time to refocus, and re-direct taxpayer funding into development of first-rate transit and roadway systems that serve counties that want them and are willing to contribute funding.  Such systems would take folks where they want to go -- not where a plan dictates they need to go, maintain clean air, reduce traffic jams, and distribute population more evenly.

Land Use Planning Agencies - Give them an inch and they will take miles

Today’s land use planning bureaucracy manifests itself everywhere.  The Bay Area hosts two major players in the planning arena, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments.  These two behemoths gave birth to Plan Bay Area, under whose meticulous and all-encompassing planning residents attempt to live a normal life.

How did land use planning become so pervasive?  Bureaucracies are like ants.  You ignore one or two strolling in your kitchen counter or garden at your own peril. You will wake in the morning to find your cookies gone or your favorite rose bush bare. 

        Give them an inch, and they will take all your rose bushes.

        Give them an inch, and they will take all your rose bushes.

Until 1969, land use and circulation (transportation) were the only elements of local general plans required in California law.  Housing, along with other topics such as open space, was sometimes dealt with in optional general plan elements by ambitious cities and counties.(Paul Lewis, California’s Housing Element Law: The Issue of Local Noncompliance)

The first ant in the rose garden was then-Assemblyman Pete Wilson’s 1969 bill requiring that each city and county in California include a housing element in its planning.  In 1971, legislators passed a bill requiring local jurisdictions to follow the guidelines of the California Department of Housing and Community Development, and Jerry Brown, during his first tenure as California Governor strengthened the DHCD.  In 1977 the guidelines were extensively revised to include ample details and also to require a regional “fair-share housing plan,” under which jurisdictions within a certain region needed to absorb a fair share of projected population moving into the region.  In 1980, Assembly Bill 2853 enshrined the guidelines into statute, and put DHCD in charge of reviewing plans of local jurisdictions. 

Embellishments followed, including passage in 2006 of Assembly Bill 32, Global Warming Solutions Act, and passage in 2008 of Senate Bill 375, Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act.  These two optimistically-named bills added a new dimension, and new sets of mandates, to housing element plans.  Housing - as well as transportation, economic development, and population movement – became a centrally-planned bundled service.

[R]educing greenhouse gases is only one part of the equation for California. As we build our clean energy future, we must also ensure that our efforts to fight climate change continue to meet clean air standards and benefit community and ecosystem resilience. Achieving these intertwined goals requires a multi-pronged strategy that also delivers reductions in criteria and toxic pollution especially in disadvantaged communities that are disproportionately burdened by the impacts of pollution. In addition to regulatory measures, investment in communities through the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities Program, the Transformational Climate Communities Program, Low Carbon Transportation Program and the Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program, result in reduced pollution, increased jobs and improved conditions in communities throughout California that are the most impacted.

The excerpt above is from the CA Air Resources Board 2017 Climate Change Scoping Plan Update.  In the old days, such mandated “intertwined goals” and “multi-pronged strategy” were called “central planning,” something considered bad form in a democracy.  Today, it thrives and grows.

California Senator Scott Wiener’s SB 35 is now being reviewed by the Senate Governance & Finance Committee.  His press release on the bill says,

The Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) is the state-mandated process that sets the number of housing units that must be included, at all affordability levels, in each local jurisdiction’s housing element. Under SB 35, if cities aren’t on track to meet those goals, then approval of projects will be streamlined if they meet a set of objective criteria, including affordability, density, zoning, historic, and environmental standards, and if they pay prevailing wage for construction labor.

Modest government policies such as Pete Wilson’s 1969 housing element guidelines usually turn into unstoppable and often draconian forces.  Then people fight or take flight.  Although California is not yet experiencing net outmigration, the state’s migration rate per 1,000 residents has decreased from 2.1 in 2012 to 0.9 in 2016.  Some who stay choose to fight by forming action groups such as Citizen Marin , Orinda Watch and the Nine-County Coalition.

Trump's 2018 Major Agency Budget Proposal: Cutting Up the Credit Cards

There is a White House 2018 agencies budget proposal on the table.  The Nine-County Coalition’s primary focus is on city, county, and state matters.  However, we also opine on federal issues that significantly influence local events.  Therefore, we list some points from the Major Agency Budget published by the Office of Management and Budget on March 16, along with our comments. 

Budget – Highlights:  “…the Budget eliminates and reduces hundreds of programs and focuses funding to redefine the proper role of the Federal Government.”

Comment:  Amendment X of the United States Constitution - “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”  What is not specifically enumerated is the responsibility of the States or the people.  Fiscal year 2016 federal budget $3.871 trillion; national debt $18 trillion; federal deficit $537 billion; 430 departments and agencies; 4,185,000 federal civilian and military employees.  Given these gargantuan figures, it would seem the federal government is tackling more than its enumerated duties.

Budget – Department of Agriculture:  “Reduces funding for lower priority activities in the National Forest System, such as major new Federal land acquisition; instead, the Budget focuses on maintaining existing forests and grasslands."   

Comment:  The Federal Government owns 46% of California land.  Most of us would not welcome building private homes on cattle grazing lands, given the economic contribution of ranchers to the state.  However, we need to choose between expensive transit-oriented development and reasonable reduction of protected areas.

Budget – Department of Commerce:  “Zeroes out over $250 million in targeted National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) grants and programs supporting coastal and marine management, research, and education, including the Sea Grant, which primarily benefit industry and State and local stakeholders.”

Comment:  Although the 2016 Bay Area-wide Measure AA established a $12 parcel tax to help fund the Bay Area Restoration Authority, the Authority was certainly depending on federal grants. It is questionable whether there is a national interest in “restoring” the San Francisco Bay. The $12 parcel tax “benefits industry and State and local stakeholders,” especially the technology industry with its campuses bordering the South Bay.  The Budget will encourage NOAA to return to core functions such as surveying, charting, fisheries management, and providing forecasters with weather data.

Budget - Environmental Protection Agency:  "Eliminates funding for specific regional efforts such as the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the Chesapeake Bay, and other geographic programs...The Budget returns the responsibility for funding local environmental efforts and programs to State and local entities, allowing EPA to focus on its highest national priorities."

Comment:  The "specific regional efforts" would include continued funding for the Bay Restoration Authority.  Industry campuses that border the Bay would need to fend for themselves if they fear flooding.  Environmentalists would need to rely on private donations to save their favorite fish or seaweed.  Consumers would need to vote with their feet and refuse to do business with companies that harm the Bay.

Budget – Department of Housing and Urban Development:  "Eliminates funding for the Community Development Block Grant program"…"The Federal Government has spent over $150 billion on this block grant since its inception in 1974, but the program is not well-targeted to the poorest population and has not demonstrated results.  The Budget devolves community and economic development activities to the State and local level…"

Comment:  Cities and counties have come to depend of federal block grants, and these grants come with strings attached.  The NCC has discussed the drawbacks of the 2015 Executive Order “Affirmatively Funding Fair Housing.”  One of the requirements of receiving block grants is establishing the AFFH program in every neighborhood, and filling out reams of forms affirming that progress is being made in achieving neighborhoods wholly integrated by race and income.  AFFH and many other HUD programs are certainly far removed from HUD’s core mission of helping the poorest populations.  We note that AFFH was a Presidential Executive Order on which neighborhood residents of any race or income never voted on.

Budget – Department of the Interior:  “Eliminates unnecessary, lower priority, or duplicative programs, including…National Wildlife Refuge fund payments to local governments that are duplicative of other payment programs.” “Reduces funding for…new major acquisitions of Federal land.”

Comment:  The core responsibilities of the DOI are to protect and manage federally-owned land and waterways, provide information about natural resources, and meet national trust responsibilities to American Indians, Alaska Natives, and U.S.-affiliated island communities. Investing in maintenance of existing national parks, refuges and public lands is a good use of scarce resources.

Budget – Department of Transportation:  “Limits funding for the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Program (New Starts) to projects with existing full funding grant agreements only.  Future investments in new transit projects would be funded by the localities that use and benefit from these localized projects.” 

Comment:  Residents of Oklahoma and Kansas are helping to fund Bay Area’s BART and California’s High-Speed Rail.  Regarding the High-Speed Rail project, the Federal Railroad Administration is currently funding 69 HSR projects in 22 states totaling $8.6 billion; California’s share for initial planning, and construction of the initial Central Valley section is $2.6 billion or 30%.   

Loss of federal funding for many plans and projects, coupled with the financial strain placed upon Bay Area cities and counties intent on providing housing and a plethora of benefits for all, is not a pleasant prospect.  However, this might be a good time for voters to wrestle control back from profligate agencies, authorities, and irresponsible representatives, who seem to be doing everything in their power to either hoodwink voters or keep voters out of the decision-making process altogether. 

CalTrain.jpg

Caltrain Electrification

The Orange County Register of 02/17/17 reported that federal funding for Caltrain electrification was placed on hold in February, pending a new federal budget.  Caltrain spokesman Seamus Murphy called the delay a disappointment and added, “It really isn’t about the Caltrain project or any question about controversy surrounding our project. It’s about billions of dollars of projects that are already in the pipeline,” he said. “I think this is more a question about whether the administration is going to continue to invest in transit projects in the way that federal investment has occurred in the past.”  Probably not, since the proposed 2018 budget shifts responsibility for new capital investment to the localities that use and benefit from the investments.