Category Archives: California Blog

The Curious Case of Housing Legislation

California is littered with billionaires, mansions, 2 million-dollar shacks, and the highest number of souls who call the state’s grimy streets their home. Meanwhile, state legislators are on a mission to pass legislation that result in the tearing down of older more affordable buildings, destruction of traditional neighborhoods, out-migration of the middle class, and in-migration of both the well off and the destitute.

A Background Worth Reiterating

Sacramento has been generating buckets full of high-profile real estate bills (which legislators call housing bills) for the last half a dozen years or so. At first, the reason behind the earlier bills was the “climate crisis,” a “matter of state-wide concern” that required the state to implement drastic mandates whether such mandates overruled local land-use laws or not.

The seminal piece of legislation behind these bills was California Assembly Bill 32, The Global Warming Solutions Act, signed into law by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on September 27, 2006. AB 32 mandated a reduction of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

California Senate Bill 375, The Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act, signed into law by Governor Schwarzenegger in 2008, zeroed in on cars as the primary culprits in the imminent demise of Mother Earth. SB 375 mandated 1) the California Air Resources Board set regional emissions-reduction targets from passenger vehicles, and 2) the Metropolitan Planning Organization for each region develop a Sustainable Communities Strategy that integrated transportation, land-use and housing policies.

Bingo! SB 375 earned its spurs by 1) pulling in land use and housing policies into the climate change crisis, and 2) shifting responsibility for land-use policies from cities and counties to state-enabled regional agencies. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (the San Francisco Bay Area region Metropolitan Planning Organization) enshrined SB 375 in recognition of the bill’s stature:

375 Beale St

Headquarters of the Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission. From the MTC’s website:   “The building’s address — 375 Beale Street — is a nod to Senate Bill 375, the landmark state law passed to foster a more sustainable future for California’s metro areas.”

After SB 375, transit-oriented development bills, created in the name of reducing green-house gas emissions produced by commuters, encouraged housing clusters within permissible areas and discouraged sprawl.  Housing prices within narrow transit corridors skyrocketed.  Speculators poured in, developers came seeking customers for luxury housing, and construction unions clamored for their piece of the already high-cost pie.

The Enabling Legislation

Recently, three pieces of real estate legislation garnered nation-wide attention:
Senate Bill 827, introduced by Senator Scott Wiener, focused on inserting dense housing in any and all transit corridors, regardless of local zoning. The bill was so ferociously opposed by counties, cities and neighborhoods that it was mercifully killed in the legislation’s Transportation Committee in April of 2018. SB 827 was brazen, but it was also bizarre. The transit mentioned in the bill included bus routes, which could conceivably disappear overnight before SB 827 glommed on to the route.

The demise of SB 827 spawned Senate Bill 50, also introduced by Senator Wiener. SB 50 was even more brazen than SB 827, since it not only mandated density in any and all transit corridors regardless of local zoning, but mandated the same in “job-rich” areas. Job rich meant any neighborhood in any corridor leading to any business cluster that provided jobs. So, a neighborhood of single-family homes adjacent to transit that takes residents to jobs is job-rich and open by mandate to developers that want to build multi-unit housing. Opposition again mounted. SB 50 was tabled by the legislation’s Appropriations Committee on May 16, 2019.

Now Californians have been presented with Senate Bill 330, the Housing Crisis Act of 2019, introduced by Senator Nancy Skinner on February 2019. The bill is currently active and pending referral.

SB 330 consists of 24 pages of minutia that purportedly aims to “temporarily,” until 2025, enhance the ability of developers to obtain building permits regardless of local rules. In the process, SB 330 obliterates county and city land-use and zoning rules enacted since January 1, 2018 that the bill’s authors view as impediments to nearly unfettered housing development.

Like SB 827 and SB 50, SB 330 transfers by edict land-use decisions from cities, counties and neighborhoods to the state, even curbing the ability of cities’ and counties’ electorates from placing initiatives or referendums on ballots.

And, of course, SB 330 contains the obligatory clause featured in legislation that nullifies local rules, including rules enacted by charter cities. Charter cities are protected from outside meddling by the California State Constitution, unless the meddling is a matter of “statewide concern rather than a municipal affair.”

Here are some clauses of SB 330

* Prohibits retroactively from January 1, 2018 any city or county from imposing or increasing any requirement that a proposed housing development include parking in excess of specified amounts, and prohibits any city or county from charging approval fees in excess of specified amounts.

* Prohibits retroactively from January 1, 2018, any city or county from disallowing a proposed housing development project that has been given a conditional use permit if that project would have been eligible under a city’s or county’s general land-use plan and zoning ordinances in effect on January 1, 2018.

* Prohibits retroactively from January 1, 2018, any city or county, or any voter initiative or referendum, from a) changing the land use designation or zoning of a parcel of property to a less dense use or reducing the parcel’s density; b) imposing or enforcing a moratorium on housing development; c) imposing or enforcing new design standards that are not objective design standards; d) establishing or implementing certain limits on the number of permits issued.

* Requires enforcing agencies to grant to owners of substandard housing delays up to 7 years for correction of violations or nuisances if owners submit an application for such delay and if the enforcing agency determines that correction or abatement of the violation or nuisance is not necessary to protect health and safety.

Check out the California Political Review for a more passionate post on the perils of SB 330.

Rules for Radicals

One could almost think that Saul Alinsky’s Rule #10 could be found somewhere in California’s State Constitution, judging by the relentless tsunami of housing-related legislation generated by state legislators purportedly in their effort to fix a crisis they themselves help create. Rule #10 says,

The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition.

Update on who California legislators work for

Dogpatch Neighborhood - CopyCalifornia Senate Bill 50, authored by Senator Scott Wiener, was tabled today by the Appropriations Committee until “at least 2020.”  In a previous post Just Vote No asked Who Are California Legislators Working For?  After all, if Senator Wiener states that “everyone hates SB50”, then why, pray tell, would he continue to hawk that bill?  Are legislators not supposed to represent their constituents?

SB 50 has been put to sleep, it has not been done away with.  So, the pressure against it needs to continue.  This is a bill universally despised by just about every city, including San Francisco and Los Angeles, simply because SB 50 shamelessly attempts to remove control of land-use planning from every singly city and county in California.

Here are a couple of articles announcing the news:

California transit density proposal SB 50 on pause until 2020, L.A. Curbed 05/16/19

High-profile California housing bill dies without a vote.  Sacramento Bee 05/16/19

Who Are California Legislators Working For?

California claims multiple bragging rights – environmental leader, 4th largest economy in the world, highest GDP in the U.S., and lots of sunshine. Astronomical living cost, highest homelessness in the nation, and jewel cities like San Francisco noted for not-so-clean streets all are challenges legislators are working on…and on. However, California has an especially worrisome condition: legislators that do what they determine is good for their constituents, regardless of what those constituents want.

Prime Example: Senate Bill 50

The desire of California legislators to remake the state in their own image is exemplified by Senator Scott Wiener’s proposed Senate Bill 50 which is relentlessly winding its way through legislative committees. The bill claims it aims to fix the state’s notoriously high housing costs by requiring that all cities in California allow developers to build multi-family housing by receiving “communities incentives” in any neighborhood adjacent to transit or adjacent to “job-rich” hubs, regardless of local zoning laws.

This bill would require a city, county, or city and county to grant upon request an equitable communities incentive when a development proponent seeks and agrees to construct a residential development, as defined, that satisfies specified criteria, including, among other things, that the residential development is either a job-rich housing project or a transit-rich housing project, as those terms are defined… Senate Bill 50

Thus if a bus line runs along main street in your single-family neighborhood, multi-family housing – luxury or non-profit, containing any number of subsidized units, and casting whatever shadow it wants onto your yard — shall be built whether you like it or not. The same will occur if your neighborhood is considered by the state to be in an area that offers jobs, such as Silicon Valley or Walnut Creek.

As an aside, SB 50 is a remake of SB 827, which went down in flames at its first committee hearing in 2018. However, this time around the bill offers some tenant protections in an effort to pacify residents that fear being priced out of their neighborhoods; and it requires “labor protections,” such as prevailing (union) wages.

Everybody Hates SB 50

CDogpatch Neighborhood - Copyalifornia is home not only to a lot of homeless and housing insecure people, but also home to rich people. Recent statistics say California is #1 in the nation in the number of resident billionaires. Also, the state boasts some lovely single-family and/or low-density neighborhoods – seaside, suburban, and urban – that few would want to give up.

Thus, there is a nearly universal aversion for SB 50.

Local governments across the state have lined up against SB50, including the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and Los Angeles City Council. There is widespread opposition along the Peninsula and in the South Bay, in Palo Alto, San Mateo, Cupertino and Sunnyvale, which like the East Bay suburbs could see their zoning rules upended because of their designation as “jobs-rich areas.  Wealthy Bay Area Suburbs Could Have a Whole New Look Under California’s Housing Bill, San Francisco Chronicle, May 10, 2019

“Everyone hates SB 50—everyone hates it,” said California state Sen. Scott Wiener at a recent forum on the state’s housing crisis. “You hear people getting upset about it, yelling about it, coming down to City Hall and yelling.” Flanked by real estate developers and housing rights advocates, Wiener, a Democrat who represents San Francisco, had come to discuss his ideas for solving the problem—which meant talking about the heated reaction to his signature piece of legislation, Senate Bill 50—the housing bill Californians seem to love to hate.  Everyone Agrees California Has a Housing Crisis. Trying to Fix It Has Become a Battle, Mother Jones, May 3, 2019.

Who Does Your Legislator Work For?

In a representative type of government, legislators supposedly represent the majority of their constituents without neglecting the minority. In California, legislators increasingly ignore their constituents’ wishes in favor of determining on their own what is best for those constituents.

Senator Scott Wiener says “everyone hates SB 50,” yet he is on a mission to get that piece of legislation passed. Who is Senator Wiener working for?

“Ballot Harvesting” in California

California is a one-party state. At present, that political party happens to be the Democrat Party. The party is so entrenched that its political views permeate all sectors of California living. The Just Vote No Blog is non-partisan, but liberty-leaning, and therefore categorically opposed to a political system dominated by only one set of views.

Liberty requires dialog, exchange of ideas, choices. Nothing resembling that exists in the Sunshine State. One way to change that status quo is for ordinary people to find the time, will, and courage to support alternative political parties, be they American Independent, Green, Libertarian, Peace and Freedom, or Republican.

When a group – any group – becomes entrenched, too powerful, then bad things happen. People start feeling emboldened to take questionable action. One example of such scenario is “ballot harvesting.” Ballot harvesting occurs when individuals, often associated with political organizations, go door-to-door and offer to pick up absentee ballots from voters and deliver them to the county registrar of voters. Often seniors and the disabled are targeted. Sounds like a caring thing to do, right? The problem is that there is no chain of custody for the ballot that gets picked up. What proof is there that the ballot was indeed delivered to the registrar of voters? What proof is there that the voters’ voice was heard at all at the polls?

Fighting the actions of entrenched power one law suit at the time is sometimes the only way to regain a measure of liberty. The Just Vote No Blog recommends you read this article on The California Political Review, Need Help to End Absentee Ballot Harvesting, by Steve Frank, published on April 29, 2019. These folks happen to support the Republican Party, but perhaps other political parties might want to join in their effort.  Here is what needs to happen for this step in ending ballot harvesting to succeed according to Steve Frank:

In California the attorneys are looking for the following type of Plaintiff and situations, for a proposed lawsuit. We need the information as quickly as possible.

  • If you gave your ballot to someone who came to the door, was it counted? Check with your registrar of voters
  • Were you harassed the last thirty days of the November, 2018 by unknown people coming to your door, day after day, demanding your absentee ballot
  • Did you receive an absentee ballot when you did not ask for it?
  • Did you get the name of the person or organization that was sponsoring the door to door pick up of absentee ballots?
  • Did someone offer to help you finish filling out your ballot?

If you have experienced any of the situations listed above, please consider contacting Steve Frank at stephenfrank@sbcglobal.net.

ChooseLibertyAccepting California’s status quo in order to simply get on with our lives is fine, but perhaps we might consider going beyond that and choosing liberty.  Perhaps we might consider taking action to change the that status quo.

Bay Area IPO’s Coming to Raise Your Rent

The San Francisco Bay Area seems to be on a housing treadmill. Just as housing inventory started to grow and prices responded accordingly in some areas, tech companies are planning to go public. Airbnb, Lyft, Pintrest, Slack Technologies, and Uber are expected to issue initial public offerings in 2019. This will mean an infusion of cash into the pockets of the many tech workers who own their company’s stock. The logical thing to expect these workers to do is to use the cash to purchase a home. No more growing housing inventory and possible growing housing prices.

IPOs and Housing Prices

Doubt the correlation between IPOs and housing prices? Market Watch has a good article on the subject.

Zillow examined the link between Facebook’s IPO in 2012 and rising home prices across the Bay Area and found that home values rose more quickly in neighborhoods with higher concentrations of Facebook employees after the social network became a publicly-traded company.

Specifically, every 10 Facebook employees living in a given U.S. Census tract at the time of the IPO were associated with an extra 1.6-percentage-points increase in home values over the following year, the report said.

In dollar figures, the median value home in a neighborhood with a high concentration of Facebook workers rose by an extra $20,800 between May 2012 and May 2013.

Business Clusters 

In the Bay Area, companies highly valued by market standards, as well as startups hoping to join the value crowd at some point, are concentrated in close proximity to one another.  They comprise the world-famous Silicon Valley hub. This concentration affords the most return on investment for the companies, for their host government jurisdiction, and for homeowners in the community.

Clusters and cluster strategies cannot be seen as the answer to every economic challenge faced by a community or region. However, they do represent a valuable tool that economic development stakeholders should have at their disposal. A cluster approach may be most useful in helping officials and practitioners to see a community’s economy in a new way—not as a collection of individual firms, but as a system in which interventions can assist companies, industries, and the entire community.  Cluster-Based Economic Development Strategies, International City/County Management Association, March 29, 2012

Business clusters are the in thing, and the Bay Area has jumped on the bandwagon with two feet. But, when cluster advocates say clusters benefit “the entire community,” are they including those folks in the community’s lower and middle-income brackets who rent their homes? Those community residents might be employed by fast-food restaurant, or might be the people educating your kids in neighborhood schools or caring for your toddlers. Chances are they will never get their hands on IPOs, do not own a home, and never will own a home in the Bay Area.  But as prices increase due to the IPO infusion of cash, their rents will go up.  And forget about rent control, since everybody pays for that by way of taxes or prices.

Is There a Line of Defense?

The Bay Area has chosen to engage in an endless tug of war between developers and slow-growth advocates, high-income workers and lower-income workers, landlords and renters, YIMBYs and NYMBYs.  Meanwhile, housing costs are transforming the Bay Area into a poster child for unaffordability.  Maybe it is time for all sectors to give in a little by balancing housing and business spaces in every community.

Jeff Adachi – A True Believer

San Francisco lost a true believer on February 22, Jeff Adachi. The City’s Public Defender died unexpectedly at 59. His professional life was dedicated to defending whoever needed defending, no matter what. To that end, he did not observe political niceties, and preferred instead to go after the likes of powerful unions and their potentially unsustainable public pensions, City officials that did not hold police accountable for unwarranted shootings, and Board of Supervisor members who wavered on funding to defend the undocumented when necessary.

Perhaps a less publicized side of Adachi were his California Bar exam guides and books, and the time he spent selflessly preparing both traditional and non-traditional students for the grueling California Bar exam. His dedication to ensuring that everyone had the tools to succeed on a notoriously difficult test was unwavering; so much so that many California lawyers often credit Adachi for being the sole reason they passed the Bar.

Jeff Adachi took seriously one of the basic principles of this republic – Justice is blind. Justice should not look to whether your wallet is full, your skin is of a certain color, or your papers are in order. Justice’s only job is to review the case of any accused and determine what needs to be done under the law.

Adachi’s Public Defender’s Office was not the usual staid lawyer’s den. It was a place where questions were raised, public officials were called into account, and the rich or powerful got the same treatment as the downtrodden.

We will see who takes Adachi’s place. Matt Gonzalez, Deputy Public Defender, an equally true believer who is not know for running away from a good fight? Let’s hope that the Chief Public Defender that follows Jeff Adachi truly defends and does not merely appease the powerful. Let’s hope he or she is as dedicated in providing a level playing field.

Adachi protest 2
Jeff Adachi leads a “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” rally in San Francisco in 2014

Progressive Cities: We Have a Problem

San Francisco is one of California’s jewel cities.  Prized not only for its magnificent views, but also for its progressive populace.  There is not a tax the City does not love, or a compassionate deed that is left undone.

Yet, the City’s vistas, cable cars, resident technology giants, multi-million dollar mansions, as well as its busybody Board of Supervisors have taken a back seat in the City’s consciousness to its streets littered with human feces, discarded needles, and homeless misery. San Francisco has 7,499 unsheltered and sheltered individuals, in the streets or in temporary living arrangements. This number is not surprising, since one-quarter of homeless people in the United States live in California, even though Californians make up only 12% of the U.S. population.

Once Far Back In Time and Now

CableCarTurstile

San Francisco was once called “The City That Knows How,” where streets were clean and safe. Those were the days before the immense tragedy of the AIDS epidemic, before liberals took over City Hall, before developers – for profit or not – joined forces with corporate think tanks to redraw the City, before environmentalists hit upon the gold mine of climate change, and before the City’s Department of Public Works had a Poop Patrol or the City’s Department of Health had free injection needles.

Now Downtown, and increasingly the neighborhoods, is a place where one walks gingerly in order not to accidentally step of human faces or on discarded needles. In spite of the talk about placing children’s playgrounds in every neighborhood, parents are cautious least their children are inadvertently injured by drug paraphernalia on the ground.

Why the Descent Into Hades?

Unfortunately, no one agrees on the cause of the City’s descent; therefore, remedies are irrelevant and ineffective. The laundry list of culprits is varied:

* High-income technology workers that bid up housing costs and displace lower-income residents.

* Out-of-towners attracted by relatively balmy weather that allow for outdoor living, generous public assistance, a permissive population, and free injection needles.

* A welfare-homeless cabal that profits from the homeless trade. Think social workers, non-profit organizations, shelter operators, food banks.

* Legislators that seem to work to attract and keep the homeless. For example, the City is working hard to establish “safe-injection sites,” where homeless addicts can shoot up under the supervision of medical professionals. Another example, the City’s Mayor has proposed legislation that would forcefully place homeless individuals who cannot take care of themselves into conservatorships administered by the City’s Public Guardian. Once plugged into a conservatorship, no legal escape from the City is possible without a Court order.

From the Experts

The health implications of the mounting trash are stark. Discarded needles may be contaminated with diseases like Hepatitis B and C and HIV, infectious disease scientist Lee Riley told NBC Bay Area back in February. Dried feces, he added, can release viruses into the air … Riley, a University of California, Berkeley scientist who has researched the effects of extreme poverty on the health of some of the poorest groups in the world, said the contamination in San Francisco was “much greater than [in] communities in Brazil or Kenya or India.”  Newsweek 08/02/18

Mohammed Nuru, the director of San Francisco Public Works, told Boston’s NPR-affiliated WBUR station the waste is tied to the San Francisco’s high rates of homelessness. People often live in tents with little access to sanitation facilities or trash collection, he said … “Our city has been a magnet for providing services, and you know a large number of the people we see on our streets are not necessarily from San Francisco,” Nuru told WBUR. “They’re coming from surrounding counties and in some cases even from across state lines.”  Newsweek 08/02/18

San Francisco has a ‘Poop Patrol’ to deal with its feces problem, and workers make more than $184,000 a year in salary and benefits.  Business Insider 08/24/18

The main reason that so many people in San Francisco, and other cities like Los Angeles, are living on the streets is that the cost of housing over the past two decades has vastly exceeded the amount of income that people earn making minimum-wage jobs or bring in from modest pensions, disability, or welfare … Before Reagan took office and destroyed the American safety net, and San Francisco decided to be the West Coast Manhattan, you could live on SSI or a low-wage job and still pay rent in this town. When that changed, people who were formerly housed became homeless.  San Francisco Tenants Union 06/07/18

Bad and Beautiful

As one approaches the City for the first time as a tourist, a convention attendee, or a prospective resident, one might notice two breathtakingly beautiful bridges, as well as an ugly as sin structure visible for miles from all parts of the City. The dichotomy is made readily clear.