Tag Archives: California

Homelessness – Is Housing the Problem?

homelessness

When we see so many people with no other place to call home except a piece of sidewalk or a tent, we need to ask whether our leadership is choosing the appropriate solution to challenges at hand. In the case of homelessness in numbers such as we see in purportedly rich California cities, the answer is probably “no.”

When we routinely see drug injection needles discarded in sidewalks, parking lots, and our kids’ playground, we really need to think whether the current narrative of gentrification and housing shortage as the primary cause for homelessness makes sense.

We need to ask what role the drug industry, facilitated by political leaders, may play in such a scenario. The folks in question here are not the usual small-fry drug dealers, but the legitimate barons of an industry not shy about prices.  Injection needles and other drug paraphernalia cost serious money, so does the increasingly ubiquitous naloxone.

Naloxone maker Kaleo has an injection treatment called Evzio that has a list price of $4,100. The company plans to release a generic version of Evzio with a retail price of $178 for a two pack this year. A two-pack of Narcan, a naloxone nasal spray, has a retail price of about $125. Generic naloxone costs about $40 per dose.  FDA Clears the Way to Increase Access and Lower Cost of Life-saving Opioid Overdose Treatment Drug.  CNBC. January 28, 2019.

The increase has cost the federal Medicare and Medicaid health programs more than $142 million since 2014, according the Homeland Security permanent subcommittee on investigations.  Drug Company Raised Price of Lifesaving Opioid Overdose Antidote More than 600 Percent USA Today November 19, 2018.

The Just Vote No Blog recommends the article Homelessness: Housing is not the Problem, in the California Political News and Views of August 4, 2019, for more on this unfortunate homelessness situation. 

 

The Coming of Nemesis: Kopp vs. Wiener

Hubris is interesting, because you get people who are often very clever, very powerful, have achieved great things, and then something goes wrong – they just don’t know when to stop. Margaret MacMillan

On July 31, Quentin Kopp, a fearless fixture in California politics, announced that he intends to challenge incumbent Scott Wiener for the state Senate seat in District 11 representing San Francisco, Daly City, Colma, Broadmoor, and parts of South San Francisco. The 90-year old Kopp seems mad as heck and is not going to take it any more.

The last straw for Kopp of Wiener’s schemes was Senate Bill 281, hearing of which scheduled for May 6 was canceled at Wiener’s request. SB 281 was the most recent in a long line of attempts to transfer management and/or ownership of the iconic Cow Palace from the current board to a local county joint-powers authority.

The 78-year old exhibit hall sits on 68 acres of coveted land owned by the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s Division of Fairs and Expositions. Although its days of glory are over, when the Cow Palace hosted headliners like the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Elvis Presley, the hall still has audiences that enjoy shows and fairs like the San Francisco Sport & Boat Show, Golden Gate Kennel Club Dog Show, Dickens Christmas Fair, and the Horse Show & Rodeo. The Crossroads of the West Gun Show will end after 2019 by decision of the Cow Palace Board.

Thanks to revenue from these exhibits, the Cow Palace receives very little funding from the California state budget.

In an interview with San Francisco Chronicle’s Phil Matier, Quentin Kopp indicated that he felt SB 281 was a land grab to build more highrises in residential neighborhoods. Apparently, he is correct according the the text of SB 281:

This bill would authorize the authority to, among other things, enter into contracts or agreements for the development of the property for affordable and market-rate mixed-use housing and establish minimum local zoning standards, including, but not limited to, standards for height, density, parking, and floor area ratio, that apply to a project on the property that are different from those adopted by any other affected local jurisdiction.

Quentin Kopp is no lightweight in California politics. His resume is impressive:
San Francisco Supervisor 1971-1986, representing the West Portal neighborhood. State Senator 1987-1994, representing the southern part of San Francisco and the northern part of San Mateo County. San Mateo Superior Court Judge 1994 -2004. He retired after leaving his Court post.

After retirement from the Court, Kopp was appointed in 2006 to the California High Speed Rail Authority, a post he held until 2010. As Chair he was instrumental in the passage of Proposition 1A, which authorized a $9.95 billion bond to develop a high-speed rail system that would zip passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in less than three hours. The project received $2.5 billion from the Federal Railroad Administration. So far, construction can only be seen in California’s Central Valley, for an estimated cost to completion of $20 billion. Today Quentin Kopp rants against how the Rail Authority mishandled the bond money every chance he gets. The Federal Railroad Administration is angry too, and wants its money back.

In September 2016, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors appointed Quentin Kopp to the City’s Ethics Commission. He resigned from the post in March 2019, noting the uselessness of the Commission in denting its backlog or tackling important reforms in its job of enforcing governmental ethics laws.

Term limits might keep Quentin Kopp from serving once again in the California Senate. His argument is that since his previous service occurred before passage of legislation implementing term limits, the rule would not apply to him. And, as is Kopp’s stand-up-and-fight nature, he declared that he will sue if the Secretary of State decides he is not eligible.

Today’s Gen X and Millennial voters, accustomed to undistinguishable politicians forever uttering prescribed sound bites, might want to get acquainted with Quentin Kopp, who might soon turn out to be nemesis to Scott Wiener’s hubris.

His column in the neighborhood newspaper, the Westside Observer, appears monthly.

With AB 1487 There is No Opt Out

What is California Assembly Bill 1487?

Authored by Assembly Member David Chiu (D-San Francisco), this bill enacts the San Francisco Bay Area Regional Housing Finance Act, which authorizes the creation of a region-wide housing authority with powers to “raise, administer, and allocate funding for affordable housing in the San Francisco Bay area.”

Thus, the Bay Area Housing Finance Authority (BAHFA) would act as a permanent agency, the purpose of which would be to place on the ballot of all nine Bay Area counties concurrently identical ballot measures proposing fees, taxes and bonds to finance construction of affordable housing, preserve existing rent-controlled housing, and to provide tenant protections.  BAHFA would be one more regional agency operating under the wing, and sharing staff with, the Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

CA Housing JuntaThe passage by the California legislature of numerous housing-related bills during the past four or so years made it possible for developers to receive ministerial stream-lined approval of housing developments throughout the state – regardless of city or county zoning rules.   (Pictured are Senator Scott Wiener, Assembly Member David Chiu, and Senator Nancy Skinner, the more prolific affordable housing advocates in the California State Legislature.)

Fees, taxes and bonds approved regionally by voters under AB 1487 would help finance development projects regionally – regardless of whether voters in each individual county voted to approve such measures or not.

Examples of the success of such region-wide measures enabled by state legislation are Measure AA (enabled by AB 746) approved regionally by voters June 2016, and Regional Measure 3 (enabled by SB 595) approved regionally by voters June 2018.

AB 1487 is currently housed in the Senate Appropriations Committee. As of today, no hearing date has been indicated. Perhaps legislators are having second thoughts about the viability of AB 1487? After all, the Appropriations Committee was the one that summarily placed Senate Bill 50 (the bill some have labeled WIMBY – Wall Street in My Back Yard) in hibernation.

Highlights of AB 1487

* The findings and declarations in Section 64501, i.e. why the bill’s author thinks his bill should be enacted, follow the by-now required mantra that there is a grand housing crisis due in essence to cities and counties failure to provide “enough” housing, and therefore, legislation needs to be enacted overriding local laws and regulations.

The housing crisis in the San Francisco Bay area is regional in nature and too great to be addressed individually by the region’s 101 cities and 9 counties.

However, the current process is anything but regional; instead each city and county is each responsible for their own decisions around housing …

Regional funding is necessary to help address the housing crisis in the San Francisco Bay area by delivering resources and technical assistance at a regional scale …

* The version previous to amendments made to AB 1487 on July 10, listed in great detail the powers of the Bay Area Housing Finance Authority. The current version does not. In other words, the door is left wide open as to what the Authority would be empowered to do. Here is what is left of the list of powers, in Section 64514, including the bills applicability to any other agency that might replace the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

The board may make and enforce rules and regulations necessary for governing the authority, the preservation of order, and the transaction of business.

In exercising the powers and duties conferred on the authority by this title, the board may act by resolution.

It is the intent of the Legislature that the powers granted to the authority and the executive board under this title shall be transferred to a future regional agency if an agency is established to replace the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments and integrate regional transportation and housing funding and policy decisions within the San Francisco Bay area under one governing board, subsequent to a robust public engagement process at the regional level.

* Because California legislators have labeled the current high-cost housing in the state a crisis – not state and regional land-use policies unbeneficial to the general public – they can enact legislation that overrides any and all local laws and regulations. For example, AB 1487 specifically indicates the bill is not subject to either the orderly reorganization of city and county governments, or the relative independence of charter cities.

The formation and jurisdictional boundaries of the authority are not subject to the Cortese-Knox-Hertzberg Local Government Reorganization Act of 2000 (Division 3 (commencing with Section 56000) of Title 5).

The Legislature finds and declares that providing a regional financing mechanism for affordable housing development and preservation in the San Francisco Bay area, as described in this section and Section 64501, is a matter of statewide concern and is not a municipal affair as that term is used in Section 5 of Article XI of the California Constitution. Therefore, this title applies to all cities within the San Francisco Bay area, including charter cities.

California’s Acme Co.

Acme CoRemember Willie E. Coyote? He tried so hard to defeat the Road Runner, but he consistently used products manufactured by the Acme Co. that failed to operate at all, exploded prematurely, or otherwise caused Willie Coyote the worst of harm. Some folks just don’t learn….

If after half a dozen or so years, say from the implementation of Plan Bay Area, and after numerous state mandates purportedly intended to make housing more affordable, California still sports the most unaffordable housing in the nation, then it would appear the state is facing a Willie E. Coyote vs. The Road Runner struggle.

The main characters in the struggle: On one side homeowners who worked hard to purchase a single-family home in a nice and quiet neighborhood, and wish to keep their neighborhood nice and quiet, as well as their home values astronomical. On the other side newcomers who want to live in those neighborhoods, whether the neighborhoods remain nice and quiet or not, and whether they can afford the market cost of those neighborhoods.

The supporting characters: Legislators at all levels of state government understand that clustering job-creating businesses as well as homes within narrow areas increases the value of both, which translates into higher state GDP and higher revenue from property taxes. Couple that with residents in the quiet nice neighborhoods that do not want job-creating businesses anywhere near them.

So, everybody in California seems to be a fan of the Acme Co. Will AB 1487 reach the finish line and thus change the entire character of city and county land-use planning? Will California residents realize AB 1487 offers no opt out for cities and counties?

The Ballot Box is the Ultimate Decider

AB 1487, as all affordable housing bills, will surely come with a price tag, because somebody has to pay for somebody to benefit.  In the case of AB 1487, the price tag will be in the billions,

The San Francisco Bay area faces an annual funding shortfall of two billion five hundred million dollars ($2,500,000,000) in its efforts to address the affordable housing crisis.  Section 64501 (e)

So far, legislators have not succeeded in doing away with voters’ rights to weigh in on tax proposals. Therefore, the expectedly huge amount of taxes needed to fund AB 1487 would have to be approved at the ballot box.

Since the bill does not offer residents an opt out, the ballot box will become the only venue available to those opposed to the bill to just say no.

Update July 13, 2019

It now has surfaced that on July 9, two days before the scheduled hearing before the Senate Governance and Finance Committee, the sponsors of AB 1487 wrote a letter “To Whom it May Concern” saying they are “temporarily hitting the pause button…” on AB 1487 to allow for more time for feedback from the two main Bay Area bureaucracies deeply involved in land-use issues, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments.  The Marin Post has a good article about the letter.

Good time for voters to use the “pause” to provide their own feedback.

California AB 1054 Says PG&E is TBTF

California is once again divided.  This time it is over state Assembly Bill 1054, which opponents call a bailout of the utility company PG&E and supporters view as necessary if the state is to enjoy stable and increasingly “clean” power.  The bill is presently in committee process and will be heard at the state Senate Appropriations Committee on 07/08/19.

By Way of Background

PGE TruckPacific Gas & Electric is facing liabilities that could exceed $30 billion as a result of law suits arising from California’s devastating 2017 and 2018 fires.  PG&E has been cleared of responsibility for the 2017 Tubbs fire, but residents that suffered losses in that fire can sue PG&E anyway. Conversely, PG&E was found culpable in the 2018 Camp Fire.

As a deep-pocket presence, PG&E is vulnerable when losses of lives and property occur in areas serviced by PG&E; even though other factors today contribute to the intensity and destructiveness of wildfires, mainly, warming due to climate change and housing development increasingly closer to fire-prone areas.

To deal with the onslaught of liabilities, PG&E filed for bankruptcy protection on January 2019.  In June, the bankruptcy judge decided the court has sole jurisdiction over PG&E’s disposition of its contract obligations, including obligations with major clean-power energy suppliers.

Fiscal instability of a major utility company like PG&E places billions of dollars in retirement accounts in jeopardy, individuals and families invested with PG&E stock as part of their savings might see no dividends and maybe no stock, energy suppliers may not get paid, lenders that financed nascent clean power-suppliers might not see repayment.  So, California is facing a too-big-to-fail situation which no doubt was the catalyst for AB 1054.

Highlights of 1054

Assembly Bill 1054 applies to utility companies in California.  Language, however, refers to “certain electrical corporations,” among which PG&E would be included.  The bill is especially convoluted, so here are a few very basic highlights of AB 1054:

*   Creates a California Wildfire Safety Advisory Board consisting of 7 members appointed by the Governor, Speaker of the Assembly and Senate Committee on Rules, who would serve 4 year terms and make recommendations related to wildfire safety.

*   Establishes a Wildfire Fund to pay eligible claims arising from a wildfire.

*   Creates a Department of Water Resources Charge Fund, and requires proceeds and revenues from bonds, which the Department of Water Resources are at present authorized to issue, to be deposited the Charge Fund.  Monies from the Charge Fund can be transferred to the Wildfire Fund.

*   The Wildfire Fund will be replenished by money from the Charge Fund, contributions by PG&E, and charges to ratepayers.

Here is Just Vote No Layperson’s View

PG&E is under bankruptcy protection.  All claims against PG&E will be filed before the general bar date of October 21, 2019.  After that date, the Court will sift and mull over those claims and eventually decide who is entitled to what, based on merit of each claim and funds available for payment.

Meanwhile, pretty much nobody gets paid and PG&E has a chance to build some reserves.  Therefore, AB 1054 would seem an effort to make sure everybody gets paid and contractors are not dropped (think the clean energy folks) by spreading the cost of payments.  Taxpayers will pay for the expanded bureaucracy and for servicing the bonds issued by the Department of Water Resources.  Ratepayers will pay a “nonbypassable charge” intended for the Wildfire Fund.

During the proceedings, the Court will decide whether PG&E is to remain a going concern, able to continue its job of providing energy to its customers, or be mortally hobbled by a Court order that it must sell assets to satisfy creditors.  One might expect significant battles between supporters and opponents of either choice.

 

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

Gentrification: One Way it Happens

A neighborhood butcher shop, Avedano’s, in an old and beautiful neighborhood in San Francisco, Bernal Heights, has made news, mostly because its owner, Angela Wilson, gave such a clear and empathetic description of how neighborhoods change.  Her story is happening in countless neighborhoods throughout the nation.  Her story is one variable in the dreaded word “gentrification” that is often left out when politicians, activists, homeowners, and renters talk about fear of being priced out.

According to Wilson, the fact that she has a new landlord with plans for massive construction and renovation isn’t the real problem, though that project would effectively end their access to a kitchen for the foreseeable future. “It has more to do with the demographics of the city and the fact that people buy things online and want to use stores to supplement what they buy online,” says Wilson. “We’ve created two market places for the same amount of people.”

“The neighborhood wants to blame somebody else rather than themselves and they want to blame the bad landlord,” said Wilson. “My old landlord had the building since 1955, so my rent did increase but it’s not the new landlord’s fault. The community doesn’t shop here, they love to have it and it makes their houses worth a lot of money but they’re going down to Safeway.” 

Without a New Plan, Bernal Butcher Shop Avedano’s Will Close in June, Eater, MSNBC, May 10, 2019.

Avedanos Shop 2

In a previous article Just Vote No talked about California Senate Bill 50, which would greatly facilitate the replacement of older buildings with new much more expensive ones.  A reader raised the question, how would a new building take the place of an old one to begin with?

Changes in demographics, lifestyles, and consumer preferences is one way.  When in older times families would shop at the neighborhood butcher shop, now they shop at Costco for several days’ or weeks’ worth of supplies, order whole dinners on line, or stop by their favorite take-out shop on their way from work. So, the butcher shop has difficulty staying open.

Add to that scenario, aging landlords who decide to sell their buildings and retire.  Most likely their buildings will be purchased by deep pocketed developers, who, incentivized by legislation such as Senate Bill 50, might want to tear down old buildings and replace them with denser, more expensive ones that yield higher profits. Rents double and renters already struggling leave unable to afford the new rent.

Just Vote No hopes Angela Wilson’s shop will survive in some manner.