Category Archives: California Blog

Jerry Brown Blames the Feds for Wildfires Too

 

Four days ago, former California governor Jerry Brown testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Oversight Committee panel on the environment. Here is what he said,

California’s burning while the deniers make a joke out of the standards that protect us all. The blood is on your soul here and I hope you wake up.

His point was that climate change is the primary cause of California’s devastating wildfires, and the Trump administration is not interested in either the state’s plight or in California’s leadership in fighting climate change.

The governor’s specific reason for visiting Washington DC was to testify against the Administration’s plan to suspend the federal waiver that allows California to impose vehicle emission standards more stringent than those mandated by the federal government. The state views strict emission standards as essential in lowering CO2, the focus of California’s climate fight.

Let’s Review California’s Wildfire Scenario

Indeed, climate changes, and with change comes the need for adaptation. But the governor’s words when stacked up against some obvious facts sound more like prescribed rhetoric than a call for solutions. Here are some variables that are absent from the governor’s rhetoric.

* California wildfires have always been a fact of nature. Forest fires naturally take care of overgrowth and help seeds explode and propagate. However, while in the old days early inhabitants suffered smoky air and heat from the conflagrations today’s inhabitants are faced with tragic destruction of life and property.

* Recent poorly-managed population growth force people seeking room to build to locate in fire zones next to tinder-dry forests.

* An exploding number of homeless individuals and their campfires have spread out into fire-prone zones, just like their housed neighbors.

* Overzealous environmentalists have succeeded in stopping the culling of trees and trimming of underbrush.

* Nature-loving homeowners understandably enjoy forests, rendered deadly by droughts, right by their backyards.

* California’s perennial distaste for investor-owned utility companies such a PG&E and Southern California Edison preclude peaceful and efficient transition to renewable sources of energy.

Blood in Whose Soul?

Jerry Brown made headlines with his “blood is on your soul” accusation. But his climate change blame game sounds unconvincing when other factors affecting the destruction caused by California’s wildfires are ignored.

The former governor’s words brings to mind an image of another unraveling society of long time past, where someone fiddled as the city burned. Whose soul was tainted with blood then? And now?

More on the Subject

*  For a more scathing opinion of California fires, the Just Vote No Blog recommends

California is Becoming Unlivable, Atlantic, October 2019 issue

*  Picture: Note the dry dead branches in the center of this tree grove in a northern California residential community.

Trees 2

San Francisco – Slouching Toward Gomorrah

Drug injection needles on the street

San Francisco, once a lovely city, is now a poster child for urban decay. The Drug-Homeless Complex rules this once home to strong retail stores, industry, and port activity. What San Francisco has now is a cadre of tax-benefitted app makers, a gargantuan government bureaucracy, and Poop Patrols tasked with washing human feces from sidewalks. What happened?

The Just Vote No Blog recommends a beautiful opinion piece by Lee Edwards, Heritage Foundation Fellow, that appeared in the Washington Times on October 14, Is San Francisco the Future of America?  In this piece, Dr. Edwards speaks of visiting The City after some time of absence. He vividly describes a society that no longer believes in right or wrong, accepts a premise that the purpose of government is to rectify every injustice, and that disdains the universal benefits of the limited government our Founders envisioned.

The vividness of Dr. Edwards’ opinion piece is enhanced by his alluding to the fact that in an uncontrolled spiral, things fall apart. Also, the whole of America might have plunged into the spiral.

What has happened? Why is America slouching like some rough beast — not toward Bethlehem, but Gomorrah? Beyond dispute, things feel as if they are failing apart, and the common rules of a civil society no longer seem to apply.

So true that once civil society starts disintegrating, salvaging individual liberties, personal privacy, private property, and opportunity for upward mobility of all people becomes increasingly challenging. At this point halting and reversing San Francisco’s march towards Gomorrah – as well as halting the national tendency to march along – will require that responsible people pay attention to another admonition in W.B. Yeats often quoted poem The Second Coming.

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

The Founding Fathers envisioned a limited government hopefully free of special interests such as San Francisco’s Drug-Homeless Complex. Halting the slouching away from such a vision will require responsible people to acquire conviction and the same passionate intensity as those who espouse anarchy and decay.

Transportation Funds Suffer Some Major Bait & Switch

Bait and Switch

Central Valley State Assembly Member Jim Patterson made news a few days ago by calling attention to funds being diverted from lane widening on Route 99. Patterson attributed the halting of road work to Gavin Newsom’s Executive Order N-19-19 signed September 20, 2019, which states in part:

The California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA) is directed to invest its annual portfolio of $5 billion toward construction, operations and maintenance to help reverse the trend of increased fuel consumption and reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with the transportation sector. CalSTA, in consultation with the Department of Finance, is also directed to align transportation spending, programming and mitigation with the state’s climate goals to achieve the objectives of the state’s Climate Change Scoping Plan, where feasible. Specifically the Governor is ordering a focus for transportation investments near housing, and on managing congestion through innovative strategies that encourage alternatives to driving.

With uncharacteristic speed, the State Transportation Agency published on October 4 its 2020 Interregional Transportation Strategic Plan (ITSP), proposing to repurpose “uncommitted funds” from several current projects, including Highway 99 work, and retain “$61,331,000 in uncommitted 2020 ITIP programming capacity to be held in reserve for priority rail projects and other priorities aligned with Executive Order N-19-19.”

Since Assembly Member Jim Patterson’s clarion call, other entities have taken up his warning that California has just witnessed a major case of bait and switch and other cases will soon follow.  For example,

ABC30.com reported Highway 99 expansion funding cuts elicit angry reactions.  This news segment featured Assembly Member Jim Patterson saying,

This is classic bait and switch. We were promised streets, roads and highways and we are getting everything but.

In an Opinion piece in the San Bernardino Sun of October 13, The Gas Tax Bait and Switch, Jon Coupal, President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, said,

In September, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order that has redirected gas tax money to fund railway systems and other projects, rather than repairing and upgrading the state’s broken highways and roads. The governor and Caltrans claim that the diversion of funds is justified by the need to do something about climate change.

Like Assembly Member Jim Patterson, the Just Vote No Blog expects to see a lot more cases of Bait & Switch in the name of climate change.

Proposition 13 Set for Another Jab

 

Howard Jarvis and Paul Gann
Howard Jarvis, Paul Gann and supporters celebrate the victory of Proposition 13 in 1978.

Proposition 13, overwhelmingly approved by voters in 1978, turned out to be not a mere voters’ initiative, but a cultural symbol defended by some and despised by others.

By placing a property tax cap on certain properties, Proposition 13 significantly reduced sources of revenue for a state that considers taxes lifeblood itself.

Never mind that the state devised a myriad other sources of revenue, and today stands #11 out of 50 in level of taxation – the focus remains on the loss of property taxes resulting from Proposition 13. Never mind that a 1976 court decision removed fiscal responsibility from school districts – the narrative remains that Proposition 13 destroyed local control of schools.

Because Proposition 13 enjoys some fierce defenders, the opposition has settled for incremental jabs rather than outright repeal. A significant blow will be attempted in the November 2020 election. The proposal would leave the cap on residences but remove it from commercial and industrial buildings in what has been called split-roll property tax assessment.

The California teachers’ union and others who view Proposition 13 as abhorrent are building a campaign war chest to support the 2020 proposal. Their narrative remains as it was in 1978.

The Just Vote No Blog recommends an article on California Political News and Views that provides a different narrative – Proposition 13 News: Split-Roll Proposal, Again.
If voters are to vote wisely, they need to acquaint themselves with the opposing views inherent in all proposals.

Fear As a Tool For Control

Fear is a good tool with which to implement control. California did a great job successfully passing hundreds of mandates removing voter control of housing by utilizing concerns about climate change. The point here is not to engage in unwinnable arguments whether climate change is man-made or not, but to observe a transformation, some say not for the good, driven by constant talk of climate change.

California Political News and Views is an on-line publication popular among conservatives.  “Conservative” includes ideas such as protection of private property and displeasure with government supported or controlled housing.

An article in the Political News and Views issue of September 16, observes the connection between California’s continuous talk of climate change and draconian housing legislation. Of special note is the morphing of climate change into climate justice, which led to massive taxation of the state’s residents to support subsidized housing.

Here is a link to the article: The Ascent of Big Government in the Guise of Climate Change

California-Capitol-Money

 

Tech Villas-Not Your Old Company Towns

Scotia a company town
Pacific Lumber Mill company town of Scotia, CA, called “The Last Company Town.”

Nobody likes to pay almost half of one’s wages for housing, but that is what is happening to so many California residents. Reasons for the astronomical housing costs vary according to whom one asks. However, regardless of reason, the situation is now promoted as a “crisis,” and duly exploited as such.

Of concern to the Just Vote No Blog is that the housing crisis is at the heart of today’s central planning, which renders residents and voters increasingly powerless in land use and housing decisions.

A Brief Background

In The Curious Case of Housing Legislation, the Just Vote No Blog noted the history behind today’s network of housing bills. The state’s evolving efforts to remove land use and housing decisions from voters is one of the evident aspects of such history. Here are some reminders:

The seminal Assembly Bill 32, The Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, started the ball rolling by mandating the reduction of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

Climate crisis soon morphed into a land use crisis that required dense job/housing development along narrow corridors throughout the Bay Area, ostensibly to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions produced by workers commuting from homes in the suburbs.

Predictable pushback from neighborhoods, cities and counties not wanting to lose their chosen quality of life encouraged increasingly stronger state mandates. SB 330 and AB 1487 are the latest high-profile bills bent on removing housing decisions from cities and counties.

SB 330, the Housing Crisis Act of 2019, introduced in February by Senator Nancy Skinner and approved by the legislature September 6, has the general objective to “prohibit a county or city, including the electorate exercising its local initiative or referendum power, in which specified conditions exist, determined by the Department of Housing and Community Development as provided, from enacting a development policy, standard, or condition, as defined…..”  Thus, the electorate is summarily dismissed.

AB 1487, the San Francisco Bay Area Regional Housing Finance Act of 2019, introduced in February by Assembly Member David Chiu is currently active and in desk process.  This bill is a game changer.  Voters, no matter how disempowered by mandates such as SB 330, at present can still vote down tax proposals that finance mandates they do not like. AB 1487 makes that strategy more difficult. This bill establishes a new agency, the Bay Area Housing Finance Authority, run by bureaucrats removed from the wrath of voters, with the power to place tax proposals on region-wide ballots, and to determine pass/fail on an aggregate region-wide basis.

Progression Towards Powerful Public-Private Partnerships

The plethora of housing bills in the style of SB 330 and AB 1487 passed into law during the past few years calls for a good deal of cash, perhaps more than the creative financing that could be achieved by the Housing Finance Authority would be able to raise on its own. Thus, enter powerful private players interested in housing development for reasons of their own, willing to forge partnerships with public entities. As one would expect, tech companies like Google and Facebook are becoming major players.

Google, Facebook and other deep-pocketed tech companies are at present investing in housing, a dream come true for housing advocates. They are also encouraging the California legislature to pass legislation that will streamline housing production (more on this later), since investors do not like lengthy bickering over what or where housing is built.

Of course, private influence in public affairs is nothing new. Neither is privately-funded housing developed with government blessings — company towns like Hershey, Marktown, and Pullman are examples. However, today California is witnessing not just tech-towns developed for tech workers, but also the much broader endeavor of using tech money to fund housing for the general population.

Recommended Articles on Public-Private Partnerships

A San Francisco Bay Area publication, 48 Hills, has been deeply concerned about the waning power of voters in land use, housing and transportation decisions. A series of articles by researcher and journalist Zelda Bronstein, published in 48 Hills, explains in great detail how a private entity, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, is poised to affect housing policy. In the first two installments published May 29, 2019 and August 29, 2019 of the series (there might be more to come), Ms. Bronstein zeroes in on Senate Bill 330 and Assembly Bill 1487.

The articles are rich with information that Bay Area residents will find useful in understanding who is becoming in charge of their neighborhoods.

Continue reading Tech Villas-Not Your Old Company Towns

AB 1487 is Scheduled for Some Lipstick

Assembly Member David Chiu, author of AB 1487, and his colleagues in the California legislature have removed all hint of what the bill would specifically do if signed into law. Now, in essence, the bill simply says that a new agency is being created with power to raise, administer, and allocate funding as it sees fit for affordable housing in the San Francisco Bay area.

Not much of what was said of Assembly Bill 1487 when it was first introduced in February 2019 applies. “Stakeholders and local leaders” are at present meeting with legislators to re-construct the peripherals of the bill. Of course, the core feature remains: Establishment of the Bay Area Housing Financing Authority, an agency that will initially share staffing with the Bay Area’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission, and that will have power to raise tax money from all counties in the Bay Area.

BAHFA as MTC’s Other Self

The proposed new agency will serve as the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s other self, with the additional coveted ability to raise funds.

MTC, the Bay Area’s version of a federally-mandated Metropolitan Planning Organization, has what one might call a checkered past. Its major feats are finalizing the construction of a span of the Bay Bridge damaged by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake after years of delays and billions in costs overruns, and implementing central planning via Plan Bay Area (approved in 2013 by MTC Commissioners, but never by voters). Today, MTC doles out considerable sums under its various centrally-planned transportation and housing projects, but it does not have power to raise fund. It will indirectly should AB 1487 pass.

So, now the prospects are excellent for MTC’s other self, the Bay Area Housing Financing Authority, routinely to raise taxes regionally in the fashion of Measure AA.  As the Just Vote No Blog noted in With AB 1487 There is No Opt Out, in 2015 Measure AA passed by the aggregate votes of all counties without possibility of any county opting out.

An Alternative to Putting Lipstick on AB 1487

AB 1487, last amended July 11, 2019, is currently an active bill in Floor process. A third reading in the Senate is scheduled for August 26, 2019.

Individuals and organizations concerned about BAHFA’s undue influence in the operation of their city or county should remember that the agency’s success in raising money depends entirely on the willingness of taxpayers to part with their hard-earned cash.

The possibility of residents becoming aware of how much control they will cede to a regional agency such as BAHFA and deciding to vote “No” on BAHFA funding proposals might give legislators some pause in moving forward with their plans. For those opposed to mandated central planning, aiming for such pause might be more effective than accepting BAHFA as fait accompli and merely attempting to negotiate damage control with legislators.

Putting lipstick on a piggy will not make it any pettier.

Addendum:  The Transformation of NeighborhoodsParkmerced - CopyParkmerced, a traditional privately owned residential community in the heart of San Francisco that houses over 3,000 residents, has developed Parkmerced Vision.  Under the plan, the garden homes surrounding green spaces will be demolished to make room for taller, denser buildings.  Some applaud the plan, others despise it. The transformation of neighborhoods is occurring for good or bad all over the state.  A regional housing agency such as the proposed Bay Area Housing Financing Administration is intended to accelerate the process by injecting public funds for subsidized housing.