Tag Archives: government agencies

PG&E Shuts Off Power for Non-Payment – Who Would Have Thunk It!

A bus stop at Bayview neighborhood

Sometimes it is difficult to tell whether folks in San Francisco, especially its public officials, are serious in what they say or spoofing.

A graduate student recently produced an “equity report,” which was presented to the City’s Local Agency Formation Commission.  The report’s primary concern was how PG&E, the City’s embattled utility company was handling the billing of San Francisco’s community-owned CleanPower.  The report contained data on where and how often PG&E shut off power for non-payment.

To everyone’s astonishment, distress, and concern, the data showed that more power shut offs for non-payment occurred in poor neighborhoods where people of color live than in more affluent neighborhoods (where supposedly more white people live?).

According to one of the City’s principal newspapers, the San Francisco Examiner, Sandra Fewer, chair of the Local Agency Formation Commission, also one of the City’s Supervisors and recently responsible for spearheading the formation of an Office of Racial Equity said that she had not thought of power shut-offs as an equity issue (presumably now she does?).

When viewed as an equity issue, the fact that poor people sometimes do not have enough money to pay their bills prompted a predictable response:  implement rebates or debt forgiveness and implement prohibition of shutoffs in household where there are children 12 years of age and younger.

In other words, CleanPower could spread customer costs across more well-off sections of the city so that poorer sections can have power even when residents do not pay for it.

On second thought, perhaps it is evident that San Francisco residents and officials are not spoofing.  As newly-elected District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston, a self-described Democratic Socialist says,

We need to rethink what’s possible for San Francisco. We need a Green New Deal for San Francisco starting with clean public power instead of PG&E.

Pictured above: a busy transit stop in San Francisco’s Bayview neighborhood from a SFGate 2011 article on efforts to revitalize the area.

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.

 

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.

Time for Congress to Go Back to Work?

Now that the Mueller report has been completed is there a chance that our Congress people might go back to work? Or maybe it’s only us working stiffs that need to produce at our jobs? Congress folk make around $180,000 with benefits. You, dear taxpayers, pay for that. You, yes, you who maybe have a job without benefits.

For nearly 16 months now, it seems that Congress has been doing nothing but foaming at the mouth – or campaigning for re-election. Meanwhile, somebody out there, maybe the Deep State, maybe the vast bureaucracy, maybe the status quo that does not want real change has been busy whipping the populace into a frenzy.

Have you tried to ask a “resister” what he is resisting? Is the response word-for-word what the media has been feeding her? If the response is a well-thought reason, a reason that involves a realistic perception that the current situation presents a real danger to oneself or to our Republic, then, of course, a fight is essential. But, is that danger really present, or the only danger is that presented to an entrenched bureaucracy that has ceased to be By the People and For the People.

Is it time for we the people to start wondering if the bickering among us is natural or engineered? Time to question whether the bickering among class, race, gender, or political belief is really beneficial? How about asking if what we are being told is true? For example, Congress is now clamoring for the Mueller report to be released to the public. Congress is full of lawyers; surely one of them must be aware that there are legal reasons why the report cannot be released immediately. For one, nothing can be released that contains reference to on-going investigations, and probably the report has much of that. So, some manipulation going on?

Resistance

Green Deals and Watermelons

WatermelonThere is a saying among “climate deniers” that “climate alarmists” are like watermelons – green on the outside and red in the inside. The watermelon people might not be entirely red, at least not yet. However, with all their talk of democratic socialism, social justice, income inequality, and 70% taxation, they are certainly getting there.

Whether the Earth is getting warmer or not is irrelevant for the purposes of discussing the watermelon people. They have been implementing their plans across the globe since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, and have not decreased greenhouse gasses in any meaningful way. But their strategy is to keep ratcheting up what has not worked so far.

What has not worked so far is the reduction of greenhouse gasses in a meaningful way – the green part. What has worked quite beautifully is what critics call the real motives behind the actions of the watermelon people – the red part: raising revenue for social programs, redistributing wealth, and herding people into controllable zones.

The plans of the watermelon people are all handled pretty much in the same way; they are enabled by legislatures and implemented by regional planning agencies. For an example of a powerful regional planning agency, read about Priority Development Areas implemented by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission in the San Francisco Bay Area.  MTC administers transportation and housing through “Plan Bay Area.”

Whether you are convinced that climate action and wealth redistribution in the name of social justice are essential for our survival, or you are still a bit dubious, you might enjoy the transcript of a 2010 interview with Ottmar Edenhofer, co-chair of the United Nations working group Mitigation of Climate Change from 2008 to 2015. This passage is especially interesting:

Edenhofer: First of all, developed countries have basically expropriated the atmosphere of the world community. But one must say clearly that we redistribute de facto the world’s wealth by climate policy. Obviously, the owners of coal and oil will not be enthusiastic about this. One has to free oneself from the illusion that international climate policy is environmental policy. This has almost nothing to do with environmental policy anymore, with problems such as deforestation or the ozone hole.  The Daily Signal, Nov. 19, 2010

European Union: No Way A Country

eu flagThe press is all atwitter over the U.S. State Department’s decision made late in 2017 (nobody knows when) to return the European Union to its pre-President Obama status of international organization – a downgrading from “state” (i.e., country). Nobody seems to know whether this downgrade is an error, deliberate, temporary, permanent, etc.
The press is emphasizing that the U.S. did not advise the E.U. powers that be that this downgrade had taken place. Maybe the emphasis should be on what constitutes a state, that is, a sovereign country. Maybe this is a good time to think about what is a legitimate jurisdiction and what is not.

In the view of the Just Vote No Blog, the E.U. is a bureaucracy, not a country, and therefore should be treated as a bureaucracy. Putting lipstick on this little ducky is not going to help make it a swan.

A country has a governing body that reflects choices – beneficial or not — of its residents. The residents’ choices might result in a republic such as the United States, a socialist democracy such as Venezuela, or a theocracy such as Iran. Conversely, a bureaucracy has a governing body that reflects the choices of those who appoint the bureaucracy’s leaders; a bureaucracy does not stand directly accountable to anyone.

The current U.S. Administration could ignore the question whether the E.U. is a country, and that would certainly be a good way to maintain amicable relations and not upset any apple carts. However, the results of ignoring the question of what constitutes a real jurisdiction would bring collateral damage, such as a proliferation of unaccountable bureaucracies at the international, national, and local levels (if you are not familiar with your regions’ Metropolitan Planning Organization, google it, and see how much power over your local land use it has).

One must not underestimate the tenacity of bureaucrats.

Challenge “Free Speech Zones!”

Kevin Shaw was not happy when he was told by a school administrator to stop distributing pocket Constitutions outside the campus free speech zone or risk being led out. So, he sued, and won.

On December 12, 2018, the Los Angeles Community College District Board agreed to open the main areas of Los Angeles Pierce College to student expression, revoke a district-wide policy that declared all property on its nine campuses to be “non-public forums,” and pay $225,000 in attorneys’ fees.

The LACCD’s actions did not come about as a result of their suddenly being “woke” to the fact that ensuring free exchange of ideas should be a principal function of an educational institution, judging by an announcement on the LACCD’s website,

In settling the lawsuit, the LACCD agreed to make the designated free speech zone at Pierce College much larger and to make sure all of the nine colleges have similar processes to allow student free speech activities.

No, the LACCD’s actions were the result of a lawsuit that Judge Otis Wright of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California refused to dismiss. The lawsuit moving forward, media picking up the story, and Jeff Sessions (in the days he was still U.S. Attorney General) filing a Statement of Interest in the case put the LACCD in a precarious condition worthy of a fast retreat.

The Lawsuit

The lawsuit in question is Shaw v. Burke (the Burke party refers to Kathleen F. Burke, then president of Pierce College). In November 2016, Kevin Shaw, a member of Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) and student at Pierce College, was distributing copies of the U.S. Constitution outside of the college’s tiny free speech zone (the campus occupies 426 acres, and the free speech zone was 616 square feet). A college administrator warned him that he needed to file a “free-speech permit” and restrict his activities to the college’s free speech zone, or be asked to leave the campus.

In March 2017, Shaw filed the law suit with the sponsorship of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). In January 2018, Judge Wright rejected a motion by Pierce College for dismissal of the case. On December 12, 2018, the Los Angeles Community College District settled.

In light of the District’s attitude towards free speech, the $225,000 in taxpayer money the LACCD paid as attorneys’ fees as part of the settlement was probably the best use of taxes the college made in a while.

The Victory in Shaw vs. Burke is Only a Beginning

Judge Otis Wright’s Order rejecting Pierce’s motion for dismissal of the case lists the strengths and weaknesses of Shaw’s complaint and of Pierce’s response based on prior cases. As a result, the Order denies Pierce’s motion to dismiss the case and grants an injunction in LACCD’s practice of approving (or denying) permits, but cites prior decisions that say exercising one’s First Amendment rights in areas where one is disrupting foot traffic or otherwise interfering with the activities of others is not permissible.

Therefore, the LACCD can say it has made the free speech zones on campuses “much larger,” as opposed to it has eliminated them. But who decides how large such zones need to be, and based on what criteria?

Maybe the next step is for liberty-leaning individuals and/or groups to file lawsuits in an attempt to overturn court decisions that allow for restraints by government agencies imposed prior to a free speech event.  Actually obstructing traffic, interfering with other people’s activities, disrupting the main purpose of education facilities – learning, or engaging in any kind of violence should be the reason for restrictive responses, not the prospect of someone stepping outside a designated zone!

The Bigger Picture

Shaw vs. Burke was filed in the state of California, where the populous coastal cities are epicenters of progressive politics, political correctness, safe spaces, and the “Resistance.” It would not be far-fetched, therefore, to surmise that folks living in these epicenters would prefer restrictive speech rater than open discussion that might disturb the accepted wisdom.

John Stuart Mill, in his epic tome On Freedom, goes beyond laws and formal bills of rights, and observes that government’s restriction of free exchange of ideas is unacceptable, even when done with the full consent and agreement of the populace.

Let us suppose, therefore, that the government is entirely at one with the people, and never thinks of exerting any power of coercion unless in agreement with what it conceives to be their voice. But I deny the right of the people to exercise such coercion, either by themselves or by their government. The power itself is illegitimate. The best government has no more title to it than the worst.

[T]he peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.  John Stuart Mill, On Freedom, Chapter II: Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion.