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.

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):

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:

Other references: / for calendar of world meetings and info on the New Urban Agenda.  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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mello-Roos Property Taxes: Taxation Without Representation

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

What is Mello-Roos?

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

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

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

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

But Mello-Roos Grew and Grew

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

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

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

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

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

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

Extent of the CFD Network

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

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

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

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

Action Item: Senate Bill 35

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Climate Change Crisis Strikes Again

Electric car.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inconvenient Challenges of AB 1184

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

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

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

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

Can California Afford its Largesse?  

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

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

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

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

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

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

Legislators Pass the Laws

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

But Voters Pass the Money

Just Vote No

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

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

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

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

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

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