CASA Compact - Where do Voters Fit In?

We Told You So

 Is your kid’s playground in peril. See Compact #8 and decide.

Is your kid’s playground in peril. See Compact #8 and decide.

Way back in 2016, when Measure AA was on the ballot of all Bay Area Counties, Nine-County Coalition participants forcefully expressed concern. Measure AA was regionalism’s advance into its next phase: normalizing region-wide tax proposals and other ballot measures that do not take into account the wishes of voters in individual cities and counties.

Now we have an exponentially bigger case of the Measure AA syndrome – MTC/ABAG’s Committee to House the Bay Area (CASA), and the CASA Compact: An Emergency Policy Package to Confront the Housing Crisis in the San Francisco Bay Area.

This title alone reveals CASA’s intent of implementing regional policy over city and county policy in the name of a crisis that CASA has declared an emergency. The compact further declares that the emergency will last 15 years.

How the Bay Area acquired its housing crisis has passed into a history not to be considered by the new deciders. We are told we now must focus on the narrative that for decades, the Bay Area failed to build “enough” housing. Now, we have a crisis, the crisis could be called an emergency, and all the provisions of CASA need to be enabled by state law.

On December 12, 2018, the 21-member steering group of CASA approved the CASA Compact, as expected.

Extremely Brief Summary of the CASA Compact

Here is a brief summary of the 10 provisions of CASA, called compacts. We will refrain from calling them commandments.

#1. Just Cause Eviction Policy: Specifies what is a just cause eviction, and provides for landlords to pay tenants evicted through no-fault of their own (e.g. Ellis Act) a relocation fee (amount not yet determined).

#2. Emergency Rent Cap: Establishes a Bay Area-wide emergency rent cap that limits annual increases in rent to a reasonable amount, and can be extended after the emergency period. (Note this is a Bay Area-wide mandate. Voters rejected repeal of Costa-Hawkins in the November 2018 election.)

#3. Emergency Rent Assistance and Access to Legal Counsel: Provides an amount capped at $5,000 to $10,000 per tenancy to individuals facing eviction that have an urgent, temporary “financial gap.” For low-income tenants facing eviction, provides access to free legal counsel. (Note that non-payment constitutes cause for justified eviction.)

#4. Remove Regulatory Barriers to Accessory Dwelling Units: Extends current Bay Area “best practices” regarding accessory dwelling units (Granny apartments, backyard house extensions) to every jurisdiction in the region. Amends existing state ADU law to remove regulatory barriers. Allows for multiple ADUs in multi-family homes.

#5. Minimum Zoning near Transit: Along high-quality bus service, residential uses up to 36 feet tall within ½ miles of bus stops. Along major transit stops, residential uses up to 55 feet (75 feet with density bonus) within ¼ mile radius of rail stations and ferry terminals. (Note this sound amazingly similar to SB 827.)

#6. Good Government Reforms to Housing Approval Process: Establishes standards for the entitlement and permitting of zoning-compliant residential projects. Requires transparency and consistency in how residential impact fees are set and enforced.

#7. Expedited Approval and Financial Incentives for Select Housing: Ensures timely approval of zoning-compliant housing projects. Creates financial incentives for developers to offset cost of providing income-restricted housing and of paying higher wages to construction workers. Incentives could include 15 years of property-tax increment abatement, density bonus up to 35%, reduced parking up 50%, relief from strict liability standards for ownership housing.

#8. Unlock Public Land for Affordable Housing: Requires response to issues of charter cities and creation of definitions of surplus and underutilized land. Requires all cities, counties, and state agencies to create a full inventory of publicly owned sites and report them to the California Department of Housing and Community Development. Requires HCD to enforce a revised State Surplus Land Act. (Note that the definition of “publicly owned land” could change to place land owned by cities and counties under the control of the state, as happened to the definition of charter cities.)

#9. Funding and Financing of CASA: Estimates the need to raise 1.5 billion in new revenue annually from taxes on vacant property, taxes on property owners, parcel taxes on residential and commercial property, commercial linkage fees, employer gross receipt taxes, employer head taxes, ¼ cent sales tax, and general obligation bonds.

#10. Regional Housing Enterprise: Establishes a regional agency through an act of legislation to seek voter approval to impose taxes for housing, collect new revenue, disburse the revenue, purchase, lease, and hold land.

Conclusion

The CASA Compact pushes up one more rung regional governance in which cities and counties have little or no say. Voters still do have a say when time comes to vote for or against the taxes necessitated by CASA. However, as we noted both in the case of Measure AA and in the case of Regional Measure 3, it has now become acceptable for tax proposals to pass based on the combined vote of all nine counties. So, expect an avalanche of taxes unless different approaches to housing are developed and successfully promoted.

People-Helping Networks: FEMA Does Not Approve

California wildfires rain not only glowing embers but also misery – losses of life, property, means of livelihood, and economic resources. The most recent source of this type of misery in our vicinity is the Butte County Camp Fire. Thankfully, according to CalFire, this incident is 100% contained. But not before it burned 153,336 acres; destroyed 13,972 residences, 528 commercial buildings, and 4,293 other buildings; killed 86 civilians and injured 3 firefighters.

The underlying or immediate reasons for the Butte County Camp Fire could be the subject of another article. Here, we focus on private initiative of ordinary people, too often thwarted by top-down rules. Top-down rules that counter the wishes of residents are a subject near and dear to the hearts of Nine-County Coalition participants.

When disaster strikes, people networks often form organically to provide rescue, help, comfort and information. Miracle City was one such network, formed by Ken Donnell and manned by many volunteers to distribute food and supplies to residents displaced by the Camp Fire. However, as Ken relates in his article The Brief But Beautiful Life of Miracle City, private initiative bumps against bureaucratic regulations more often than not. So FEMA evicted Miracle City from the Toys R Us long-empty building and parking lot Miracle City was using as its people-network base.

As an aside, Ken sent around an email sharing why the name Miracle City. Well, we have all experienced such rare moments.

A friend commented on the choice of Miracle City as the name for our fire refugee relief center at the old Toys R Us facility in Chico. The decision to use the name Miracle City was a spontaneous outburst that involved several persons at one precious moment in time out in the parking lot. It was a most magical moment, because we each recognized the accuracy and honesty of this name to describe our work together. We were creating a miracle of hope and recovery for those who were at extreme risk to lose all hope. As I reported, we always managed to created a larger miracle than the day before.

We heard about Miracle City from a Nine-County Coalition participant who herself is spreading much needed information to and about those affected by the Camp Fire. She sent us Ken’s story. So here it is.

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The Brief But Beautiful Lifespan Of Miracle City

By Ken Donnell – November 29, 2018

Miracle City

The story in the 11-28-18 edition of local papers about our work at the Miracle City Recovery Center in Chico is an accurate representation of the status of this great work at the time when the local papers closed their editorial work during the holidays for this edition. But, much has changed in the past week, and I am writing now to provide an update.

Miracle City ended up with a very brief life span. Soon after we began operations inside Miracle City, I was contacted by FEMA representatives requesting that I return control of the facility to Butte County and FEMA. We arranged for a smooth and orderly transition between our volunteer relief operations, and the hand over to FEMA on Sunday, November 25 at 3 pm. At 2 pm on that same day, we held a closing ceremony to celebrate our many wonderful accomplishments in the previous 2 weeks.

During our 8 days of operation inside Miracle City, and the 6 days previous when we were outside in the parking lot, we received and distributed, by my rough estimation, approximately 140 tons of relief supplies directly to fire refugees. Plus, we received stored an additional 100 tons of supplies which were warehoused inside the facility at the time FEMA took control.

Over 400 volunteers contributed thousands of hours of labor to keep Miracle City operational. We served approximately 8,000 fire refugees during our 14 days of operation inside and outside of the facility. We provide essential survival supplies to these refugees, plus counseling and referral services for needs we could not meet ourselves. We rented porta-potties and forklifts. We kept a database of all volunteers and fire refugees to pass on to FEMA to help with locating missing persons and recording volunteer work. And we operated safely within this dilapidated facility without any injury, not even a band aid was required. Read More

CASA: Housing Policy and Ideology

An integral part of Plan Bay Area 2040, was CASA – the Committee to House the Bay Area – a set of specific recommendations intended to address the Bay Area’s housing needs. Early this month, the CASA Steering Committee released a revised CASA Compact. Bob Silvestri, founder and president of Community Venture Partners, wrote a comprehensive and engaging analysis that appeared in the Marin Post on December 9. Some observations contained in Bob Silvestri’s report are worth highlighting:

The argument that unlimited growth will create affordable housing boils down to a belief that big government-controlled solutions are the best solutions, but that belief lacks any real world, post-World War II evidence. It claims that in order to help those who need affordable housing, we need more economically oppressive and highly regressive taxes and fees and fines collected from everyone, including those very same people they claim to want to help.

… the newly proposed CASA Housing Compact still doesn’t stop at taxing homeowners. It goes after all types of development and businesses and finally turns its sights on local government itself.

For developers of commercial space CASA will add $5 to $20 per sf for commercial development (depending on size) plus another $10 per sf new construction tax. Then if you put a business in that building, you will pay another $40 to $120 per person head tax (depending on the number of employees), plus another .1% to .75% tax on gross receipts. And your customers will also pay an additional 1/4% sales tax.

But not only is none of the CASA windfall going to go to your local government and agencies, but your town will also have to pony up.

CASA expects to raise $100 million from cities and counties by requiring them to share 20% of their future property tax incremental revenue growth. They also expect to reap another $200 million by requiring municipalities to create a “redevelopment revenue set aside” that takes away another 25% of that incremental revenue growth “for affordable housing” – though it’s not specified who will spend that money or how.

I’m compelled to ask, where do the drafters of the CASA Housing Compact think money to pay taxes comes from, and how do increased taxes help those most in need?

Excellent question! The article points to several other CASA proposals that would fail to pass an aptitude test. Enjoy the article:

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CASA CVP site

CASA's Housing Compact – How ideologically-driven policies will make housing less affordable

 By Bob Silvestri - December 9, 2018

Lately, it seems as if we are only being offered only unacceptable choices, regarding growth and planning and how to address our affordable housing challenges.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, we are at risk of drowning in the politically correct view that embracing big government and a no-holes-barred, hyper-growth agenda built on preposterous regional plans, is our only hope. This ideology claims that increased taxation and top-down control of growth and planning, combined with the removal of local zoning laws will unleash powerful market forces that will magically solve all our affordable housing problems.

In reaction to this big government agenda, the opposite view claims that the only solution is the deconstruction of all government on all levels: that less is more.

Unfortunately, both ideologies are clouded by emotion: the former being that life feels “unfair” and the latter by a longing for a past time that never actually existed – let’s call it the “fabulous 50s” fantasy.

But framing the argument in terms of more government versus less government entirely misses the point, which is that we need better government and more efficient and effective government. Size is not the issue so long as it is delivering bang for the buck and positively impacting the greatest number of people, which sadly, our present government at all levels is not.

Still, California’s uber-progressives led by San Francisco Senator Scott Wiener and his YIMBY shock troops, self-interested major tech corporations trying to off-load their needs onto the public ledger, academic think tanks, and an increasing number of powerful, “off ledger” quasi-governmental, unelected committees such as the Bay Area Council and CASA, The Committee to House the Bay Area, are united in their unwavering belief in centralized power and the market’s ability to produce socially equitable solutions. Read More

California Senate Bill 50: SB 827 Redux

Scott Wiener

California Senator Scott Wiener introduced on December 3, 2018, Senate Bill 827 Redux, as promised. This time around the bill is called Senate Bill 50.

SB 827, Planning and Zoning: Transit-rich Housing Bonus, was rejected earlier this year at its first committee hearing for being too aggressive, for not offering enough protections against displacement of old-time residents, and for being a venue primarily for the kind of luxury housing that affords developers maximum return on their investment. Also, voters who prefer that each neighborhood or local jurisdiction develop its own land-use plans, objected to SB 827’s contention that housing is a matter of state-wide concern requiring state intervention. Senator Wiener was not deterred by defeat of SB 827, and promised a redux, which he delivered on December 3 under the name of SB 50.

As in the case of SB 827, SB 50 is sponsored by California YIMBY. The bill includes wording that could protect existing tenants and that could ensure new dense housing is not limited to lower-income neighborhoods. The bill also contains labor wage protections. Such wording makes SB 50 less perturbing to neighborhood, tenants, and labor advocates.

However, nothing in the bill changes the basic premise contained in SB 827 and other recent housing bills: copious amounts of housing must be built, and local jurisdictions have little or no say as to the amount and location of such housing. Also, nothing in the bill changes, or could possibly change, facts of the market: as everyone else, developers want to derive maximum return from their investment, commensurate with their ability to do so. High-end market-rate housing in the Bay Area is very profitable.

As is the case with current housing legislation, SB 50 suffers from – or enjoys, depending on point of view – extreme micromanagement. There are eligible developments (and by extension ineligible ones), and eligible developments are described meticulously.

Apparently, SB 50 was introduced on December 3 as a work in progress, since requirements for percentage of units affordable to middle, low, and very low income residents are not specifically defined in the bill. Perhaps this lack of definition was intended to allow for negotiation with interested parties until the time the bill is schedule for action on January 3, 2019.

The Basics of SB 50

The bill would require a city or county to grant “equitable communities incentive” to developers who propose construction of residential housing that meets specific criteria, such as:

* Location in a “transit-rich” area. The residential development must be located within a one-half mile radius of a major transit stop or a one-quarter mile radius of a stop on a high-quality bus corridor.

* Location in a “job-rich area.” The residential development must be within an area identified by the Department of Housing and Community Development and the Office of Planning and Research as an area of high opportunity close to jobs, based on indicators such as proximity to jobs, high area median income relative to the relevant region, and high-quality public schools.

* The site does not contain or has not contained housing occupied by tenants within the seven years preceding the date of a developer’s application to build new housing on the site.

* The site does not contain parcels on which an owner of residential property has exercised his or her rights under the Ellis Act (Chapter 12.75, Sec 7060-, Div 7 of Title 1) to withdraw accommodations from rent or lease within 15 years prior to the date of a developer’s application to build new housing on the site.

* The residential development complies with all applicable labor, construction employment, and wage standards required by law.

* The residential development complies with requirements regarding the approval process and the California Environmental Quality Act.

Equitable communities incentive goes beyond density bonus, and includes developer incentives such as:

* Waiver from maximum controls on density.

* Waiver from maximum automobile parking requirements greater than 0.5 automobile parking spots per unit.

Eligible residential development located within a one-half mile radius, but outside a one-quarter mile radius, of a major transit stop and includes no less than ____ percent affordable housing units shall receive additional waivers:

* Waiver from maximum high requirements less than 45 feet.

* Waiver from maximum floor area ratio requirements less than 2.5.

Eligible residential development located within a one-quarter mile radius of a major transit and includes no less than ____ percent affordable housing units shall receive additional waivers:

* Waiver from maximum height requirements less than 55 feet.

* Waiver from maximum floor area ratio requirements less than 3.25.

If passed, all clauses of this bill will become law. However, the bill allows for “sensitive communities,” i.e., residents vulnerable to displacement, to delay implementation until July 1, 2020, if such communities devise plans that meet community needs but accomplish the same objectives of SB 50. The bill also allows local jurisdictions to opt for a community-led planning process aimed toward increasing residential density and multifamily housing choices near transit stops that abides by the minimum standards set forth in SB 50.

Incentives and Activist Fatigue

Backlash against SB 827 was intense and sustained. Whether SB 50, which contains essentially the same core provisions of SB 827, succeeds where SB 827 failed could be the result of Senator Wiener’s inclusion of what he views as increased tenant protections, or the result of activist fatigue.

Form, Function, and Eyesores in Contemporary Architecture

Sullivan and Form Follows Function

Louis Henry Sullivan famously said, “Form follows function,” meaning that the architecture of a building needs to abide by the building’s intended function. Interestingly, Sullivan intimated that “form” was his job, while “function” was not. External forces determine circumstances, and architects build buildings to fit those circumstances.

For example, the height of a building is influenced by population growth, costs of labor, laws and regulations, and generational preferences. Louis Sullivan referred to such externalities as “social conditions.”

The architects of this land and generation are now brought face to face with something new under the sun,-namely, that evolution and integration of social conditions, that special grouping of them, that results in a demand for the erection of tall office buildings. It is not my purpose to discuss the social conditions; I accept them as the fact, and say at once that the design of the tall office building must be recognized and confronted at the outset as a problem to be solved,-a vital problem pressing for a true solution. Louis Sullivan, The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered, 1896.

Churchill and the Commons Chamber Debate

Louis Sullivan was an architect who accepted social conditions. Winston Churchill was a politician who viewed molding such conditions as part of his job.

The building that housed the British Commons Chamber was destroyed by incendiary bombs during World War II. A debate soon followed as to whether to rebuild the Chamber in its old rectangular shape or a new semi-circular shape. Churchill insisted on keeping the old shape, since he felt it was conducive to Britain’s two-party system which he favored. Living Heritage, Churchill and the Commons Chamber, quotes him as saying,

We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us.

If legislators for whatever reason want lots of open space, they promote dense housing, and architects find ways to build tall buildings in a variety of soils and weather conditions. After that, people adapt to density as their new reality.

Rem Koolhaas and Latent Authoritarianism

The Los Angeles Times recently carried an interview with Rem Koolhaas, in which the architect spoke of the climate challenges of our times. He expressed concern that delayed action brews “latent authoritarianism” and the exclusion of humans from building objectives.

We are facing together a critical moment, simply because we’ve delayed for such a long time all the measures that we know we will eventually have to take,” he says. “The longer we delay everything, the more drastic those measures that could be imposed on us. I’ve very curious of what will be the outcome. It could be a wave of authoritarianism in the name of saving the world … In many of the structures we’ve researched, the human being is not the center of attention. I find that a fascinating situation. For the first time, other issues might be more important than how human beings feel or think.

Rem Koolhaas’ Upcoming Wilshire Boulevard Temple Expansion Will Balance Openness With Security, Los Angeles Times, November 20, 2018.

Architecture and the Fundamental Challenge

Ned Cramer is editor-in-chief of Architect and group editorial director of design and commercial construction at Hanley Wood Media. He views climate chance as the fundamental architectural issue of our time. He wrote in Architect (October 4, 2017),

Climate change is the fundamental design problem of our time. Not style, not fees, not education, not community, not health, not justice. All other concerns, many of them profoundly important, are nonetheless ancillary. The threat climate change poses is existential, and buildings are hugely complicit—even more so than that stock culprit, the automobile. As every architect should know, buildings consume some 40 percent of the energy in the U.S. annually, and they emit nearly half of the carbon dioxide (CO2), through greenfield development, cement production, and the burning of fossil fuels such as oil, gas, and coal.

Such focus might be difficult for a populace to accept, and results might include the “wave of authoritarianism in the name of saving the world” of which Mr. Koolhaas spoke.

Eyesores

Brianna Rennix and Nathan J. Robinson exhibited their intense displeasure with new buildings. They wrote in their article, Why You Hate Contemporary Architecture - And if You Don’t, Why You Should, Current Affairs Magazine, October 31, 2017,

The fact is, contemporary architecture gives most regular humans the heebie-jeebies. Try telling that to architects and their acolytes, though, and you’ll get an earful about why your feeling is misguided, the product of some embarrassing misconception about architectural principles. One defense, typically, is that these eyesores are, in reality, incredible feats of engineering. After all, “blobitecture”—which, we regret to say, is a real school of contemporary architecture—is created using complicated computer-driven algorithms! You may think the ensuing blob-structure looks like a tentacled turd, or a crumpled kleenex, but that’s because you don’t have an architect’s trained eye.

If addressing climate change is to take place above all else, including style, then “blobitecture” might be a likely result.

Our Green High-Tech Buildings

In forward-looking cities, like San Francisco for example, there are many buildings that could be classed as incredible feats of engineering. They are the green buildings topped with roof gardens, surrounded by solar panels, and featuring the latest in brown-water recycling.

Row Houses and the Salesforce Tower

Because offices are also a physical expression of our values, Salesforce is committed to integrating green building practices into our real estate strategy, including office design, construction and operations.

We’re proud that we have achieved or are actively pursuing green building certification in 64 percent of global office spaces and LEED Platinum certification, the highest possible achievement, for three buildings in our San Francisco headquarters. Additionally, we have achieved net-zero greenhouse gas emissions as a company, 33 years ahead of our original commitment.

Equipping our Salesforce Tower with a state-of-the-art water recycling system continues our environmental stewardship and offers a blueprint for how other companies looking to make a positive impact in the world can harness sustainable innovation.

Salesforce Tower Innovative Water Recycling System, Salesforce.com, January 2018

YIMBYs and the Dismal Science

Affordable Housing for All?

Among the vast collection of data in the Vital Signs section of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission website, is a chart showing the number and percentage of low-income Bay Area residents at risk of experiencing housing displacement 1990-2015. This is an abbreviated version of the chart:

Note the steady increase in the percentage of residents at risk, until 2015. Although the decline in 2015 could be attributed to increase in housing supply, the more likely story is out-migration of low-income residents. High-income earners move in and low-income residents move out.

Can We Trust YIMBY Basic Economics?

The foundation of YIMBYism is said to be basic economics: increase supply by saying Yes in My Back Yard and housing prices will drop. Unfortunately, life is not that simple.

Economics is generally regarded as a social science, although some critics of the field argue that economics falls short of the definition of a science for a number of reasons, including a lack of testable hypotheses, lack of consensus and inherent political overtones. Investopedia, Is Economics a Science, 08/30/18

Here are some possible examples of the above applied to YIMBYism:

* Lack of testable hypothesis. A Forbes article discussing a Federal Reserve Bank study says, “Researchers at the Fed found there were no ‘direct estimates of the rent elasticity with respect to new housing supply in the literature.’ No one knows how much housing you'd have to add to have any significant impact on costs.”

* Lack of consensus. The YIMBY battle cry is affordable, accessible housing for everyone. Old-time residents displaced by gentrification arising from new housing construction no doubt question the sincerity of that logic. So should middle class and upper middle class young families looking for homes. In Gentrification and Housing Affordability, The Antiplanner says, “Cities can require developers to dedicate a certain number of their new units to low-income renters, but that just forces developers to raise the price of the rest of the units they build, reducing overall housing affordability.”

* Inherent political overtones. When referring to the economics of housing supply and demand, “political overtones” is a colossal understatement. Affordable or inclusionary housing are today’s polite words for subsidized housing that is loaded with government (political) regulations and mandates.

Distortions of Political Economics

Of these three condemnations of economics trying to pass for a science, the most relevant to YIMBYism and the housing shortage is the third one.

* Building costs, especially in areas dominated by progressives such as California, are high largely due to political considerations. Urban boundaries that result in limited and expensive land, requirements for numerous building permits, prevailing wage rates for construction workers, environmental regulations, developer fees, affordable housing quotas all need to be covered in one way or another.

* High costs necessitate government (political) incentives like tax breaks and free or cheap land for private builders to build. And they necessitate government owning plenty of land to use as bargaining chips or upon which to build government-owned, taxpayer subsidized housing.

* In many instances, the only way developers can access land upon which to build is by agreeing to absorb the cost of a certain number of below-market units – covered by high-priced market-rate units.

* Even in an imaginary world devoid of political variables, supply and demand never achieve the permanent balance YIMBYs and bureaucrats envision: housing supply goes up, prices go down, demand goes up as more people take advantage of the lower prices, prices goes up, and so forth. The cycle continues until crowding acts as a natural finale.

Repeat Anything Often Enough and It Becomes Truth

Given the laundry list of politically-generated market distortions, it would seem unlikely that simply increasing supply will bring housing costs down. Especially dubious is the strategy expressed in a recent appeal by California YIMBY.

“There are no simple solutions to the housing crisis. But we are determined to build a grassroots movement to fix it, one bill at a time … Add your name to support affordable, accessible housing for all and work together as neighbors to create change through pro-housing legislation.”

Sounds like a lot of mandates coming our way, in spite of the fact that the incessant mandates already produced by the California legislature as well as by regional bureaucrats have not made any visible dent in the affordability of housing. As the Federal Reserve report mentioned above says, “No one knows how much housing you'd have to add to have any significant impact on costs.”

California General Election November 6, 2018

Election Day is November 6, 2018. Polls are open 7:00 am to 8:00 pm. Whether your favorite candidates or causes have or have not a chance to win or lose is irrelevant. If you don’t vote, you are saying it’s OK for others to determine your future.

The Nine-County Coalition does not officially endorse or oppose candidates or propositions. We leave it to NCC participating groups to do that and reflect the preferences of their members.

However, there are three California state proposals that elicited strong views from NCC participants: Proposition 13 Portability, Gas Tax Repeal, and Repeal of Costa-Hawkins.

Read More

MTC's Transformative Projects Could be More Transformative

And the Winners Are!

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments announced on October 22 the 12 finalists, out of 500 participants, in the Horizon Transformative Project, a public competition that solicited “big, bold and billion-dollar (or more) project ideas” for improving mobility across the Bay Area. Plan Bay Area 2050 will incorporate submissions that best fit the Plan’s objectives.

The 12 winning ideas fall into two categories, capacity-increasing projects and operational strategies projects, with 6 ideas in each. Here is a list of the ideas. Visit the Horizon website for names of the authors, a brief description of each project, and a list of all submitted projects.

Capacity increasing:

  • Optimized Express Lane Network and Regional Express Bus Network

  • Bus Rapid Transit on All Bridges

  • SMART to Richmond via a New Richmond-San Rafael Bridge

  • Interstate 80 Corridor Overhaul

  • Regional Bicycle Superhighway Network

  • Bay Trail Completion

Operational Strategies:

  • Integrated Transit Fare System

  • Free Transit

  • Higher-Occupancy HOV Lanes

  • Demand-Based Tolls on All Highways

  • Reversible Lanes on Congested Bridges and Freeways

  • Freight Delivery Timing Regulation

The list of winning projects, as well as the brief description of each on the Horizon website, provides a good hint of what each idea entails, but judgment would be difficult. For example, transit express lanes, rapid transit on all bridges, and bicycle superhighways sound good, but what would be left for those who want or need to drive their private vehicle? Free transit needs a lot of explanation as to who will pay for “free.” Demand-based tolls on all highways should call to mind that taxpayers pay to build the highways and then pay once again to ride them.

A Good Idea Not Explored

Congratulations to the 12 winners and to the 488 folks who did not get picked this time around but made the effort.

One idea that could be considered particularly transformative that was not selected by MTC/ABAG was alternative ways to work. Twenty project submissions suggested ideas such as alternate business hours, telecommute programs, staggered work start times, tax breaks and incentives for employers participating in alternative work environments, and tools for designing work schedules.

As in the case of projects that were selected, it is difficult to judge these alternative work scenarios that were not selected by MTC/ABAG without their full descriptions. For example, it might be important to know whether some of these projects involve mandates with which employers and/or employees must comply regardless of burden.

Granted, these alternative work schedules are not directly related to road design or infrastructure policies, but they certainly are related to traffic congestion. MTC/ABAG pride themselves on partnering with stakeholders and working with communities (seems to be their favorite phrases), so encouraging alternative hours for businesses as well as government agencies might be in order. People working from home do not commute back and forth daily, and thus do not help clog the roads.

Here are some reasons alternative working schedules should be considered:

Working from home

* This is the age of working parents who value time to take care of their children’s needs. Flexible days and hours help.

* Millennial workers make up a large percentage of the U.S. workforce. They are known for changing jobs often in search of what suits them best, including alternative work scenarios.

* The Bay Area is a high-cost, high-tax locale, that depends on high earners to pay the region’s bills. Millennial workers are high earners compared to others in the workforce. It behooves employers to keep millennials happy.

* Within the last couple of years, a few large employers with presence in the Bay Area reversed their trend of allowing their employees to work from home. Yahoo, Bank of America, Aetna and IBM reduced or completely eliminating their telecommuting programs. The move was ostensibly prompted by the companies’ belief that innovation has become essential and having everyone interacting in the same place helps innovation. Perhaps these companies were not aware of the plethora of remote conferencing software and hardware now in the market?

Bay Area Companies Free From the 9-5 Ritual

While Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer famously banned working from home, Automattic (the technology company that owns WordPress.com) closed its San Francisco Office. In the words of CEO Matt Mullenweg,

We got an office there [140 Hawthorne in San Francisco] about six or seven years ago, pretty good lease, but nobody goes in it. Five people go in it and it’s 15,000 square feet. They get like 3,000 square feet each.

WordPress has 59.4% market share, with other giant content management systems like Joomla and Drupal training behind, according to Digital.com. Seems like their employees working from home are pretty innovative.

Other large companies with a presence in the Bay Area that allow for alternative work scenarios of one form or another are Deloitte, Glassdoor, McKesson, and Oracle. Other companies such as Google do not have a specific WFH policy, but say they are generous in allowing flextime when employees need it.

The Petroleum Industry in Green California

Jerry Brown’s California takes pride in its quest for mitigation of climate change. Legislators pass laws that encourage everyone to walk, bike, or take the bus; live in efficiency dwellings adjacent to the roar of BART trains; and wipe out the dream of new families ever owning a single-family home with a back yard – all in the name of climate change.

However, clouding this picture are the oil wells in Kern County, San Joaquin Valley, and the Los Angeles Basin

Although California’s energy sectors are in flux, ostensibly moving from reliance on fossil fuels to “renewables,” the state’s petroleum industry is way too big to simply disappear within the time frame envisioned by legislators without draconian legislative mandates and economic upheaval.

How Big is California’s Petroleum Industry?

Let’s consider the significance of California’s petroleum industry. These statistics are from a report produced in 2017 by The Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation (a private, nonprofit, public-benefit organization).

* Governor Jerry Brown’s administration issued more than 20,000 new drilling permits to oil companies.

* California is the fourth largest oil-producing state in the U.S., behind Texas, North Dakota and Alaska.

* Petroleum industry’s direct output is estimated at more than $111 billion. It generates more than $148 billion in direct economic activity and contributes 2.7% of the state’s GDP.

* The industry generates $26.4 billion in state and local tax revenues and $28.5 billion in sales and excise taxes.

* The petroleum industry is a major employer, responsible for 368,100 jobs, or 1.6 percent of California’s employment.

* User industries of refined petroleum products, like transportation, manufacturing and agriculture represent 1.7 million jobs in California, with an associated $111 billion in labor income. User industries account for 8.4 percent of the state’s GDP.

Moving to Renewables

California legislators have been cranking out climate change bills since the seminal Assembly Bill 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. Since then, Californians have been dealing with moving targets in CO2 reduction policies, stack & pack supposedly to reduce miles traveled, proliferating potholes as taxpayer money is diverted to public transit, and irate bird lovers who want a solution to wind turbines shredding innocent birds.

However, it appears that from the woes listed above the only policy that significantly contributed to the decrease in CO2 reported on July 2018 by the Air Resources Board are the wind turbines, which help generate electricity.

Electricity generation had the largest decline among the sectors. Emissions from this sector declined 18 percent in 2016, reflecting continued growth in renewable energy – such as solar, wind and geothermal – as a result of the state’s Renewables Portfolio Standard, and a corresponding drop in natural gas generation. Solar electricity in all forms, including rooftop generation, grew 33 percent, while natural gas fell more than 15 percent.

The transportation sector, the state’s largest source of greenhouse gases, saw a 2 percent increase in emissions in 2016 because of increased fuel consumption.

Emissions from the industrial sector – including refineries, oil and gas extraction, cement plants, and other stationary sources – fell 2 percent from 2015 levels, though emissions from refineries increased slightly. Climate Pollutants Fall Below 1990 Levels for First Time.

One could interpret from the Air Resources Board report that climate change policies had no effect on how people need to travel, but nevertheless success was derived from ways California generates electricity.

Exporting our CO2

The Air Resources Board report mentioned above quotes three especially interesting statistics: emissions from transportation increased, extraction of petroleum products decreased, and emission from refineries increased. This chart might explain the enigma.

California crude oil sources

Foreign oil largely compensated for the decrease in California crude oil extraction. Does this strategy qualify as exporting our pollution while taking credit for greening our state? Or does it qualify as acceptable globalization where countries produce and sell what they are best at producing and selling.

Environmentalists’ Plan of How to Get Rid of California’s Petroleum Industry

Environmentalist and progressives are proud of Green California. They are also painfully aware of the state’s significant petroleum industry, and call for shutting down oil wells. In a May 2018 report, Oil Change recommends ceasing issuing permits for new oil and gas extraction wells, developing a plan for the managed decline of the entire fossil fuel industry, and developing a transition plan that protects workers affected by the decline including raising dedicated funds via a Just Transition Fee on oil production.

To its credit, the Oil Change report does mention oil imports that replace domestic production.

By establishing complementary oil supply and demand transition measures, California can show global leadership while reducing its own oil imports over the long-term. If the state meets its goal of cutting oil use in vehicles by 50 percent by 2030 and enacts the policies described in this report to limit production, California can significantly reduce its imports of oil by 2030 as well.

California’s petroleum industry is an embarrassment to environmentalists and progressives, and they would like to see the industry vanish.

There is room for concern about air quality, especially in counties where private vehicle usage is high and in counties where petroleum extraction and refining takes place. Residents sharing that concern might want to encourage legislators to focus on the way electricity is produced, since that is what contributed to the state’s reduction in harmful emissions. Such strategy places action where action has proven most effective, rather on efforts that appear to have had no effect on private automobile use.