The Housing Crunch Is Our Fault. We Can Fix It.

By Randal O’Toole : cato – excerpt (includes graphs)
(This article appeared in Washington Post on October 13, 2016.)

The only real solution is to repeal the state laws and local plans that created the problem in the first place.

Housing prices are rapidly rising in many urban areas. Prices in the San Francisco Bay Area are higher today — even after adjusting for inflation — than they were at the height of the 2006 bubble. Data from the Federal Housing Finance Agency bears this out:..

Yet this is not a nationwide problem. Prices in many other areas remain quite reasonable. Houston and Dallas/Fort Worth are the nation’s fastest-growing urban areas, yet they remain affordable (which is one reason they are growing so fast). Here are home prices for areas that don’t try to control urban sprawl (again, the data comes from the Federal Housing Finance Agency):…

The difference is that the urban areas with high housing prices have almost all tried to contain urban “sprawl” by limiting the amount of land around the cities that can be developed, using policies such as urban-growth boundaries, urban-service boundaries or concurrency requirements that limit new growth until infrastructure is totally financed. Anyone who understands supply and demand knows that limiting supply in the face of rising demand leads to higher prices…

The only real solution is to repeal the state laws and local plans that created the problem in the first place. That means abolishing growth boundaries and other constraints and allowing developers to build and sell homes outside of existing urban areas.

There is a growing opposition to the dense development theme. SF has ballot initiatives and LA is preparing a moratorium initiative. People do not like living in crowded conditions and do not like being told how to live.
If the Democrats do not take back the Senate maybe they will start to listen to what the citizens are saying instead of telling us how we must change. It is time for Congress to change.





Judge blocks oil development in Central California over fracking

By David R. Baker : sfchronicle – excerpt

A federal judge on Tuesday blocked the U.S. Bureau of Land Management from opening more than 1 million acres in Central California to oil drilling because the agency did not properly explore the potential dangers of fracking.

U.S. District Court Judge Michael Fitzgerald sided with environmentalists who argued that the bureau should have addressed the possible impacts of hydraulic fracturing in an environmental impact statement issued as part of the formal process of opening public lands to drilling.

Instead, the 1,073-page impact statement only mentioned fracking three times and never discussed the controversial practice in depth, according to the judge…

Environmentalists who consider fracking a threat to California’s strained groundwater supplies hailed the ruling.

“The Obama administration must get the message and end this reckless rush to auction off our public land to oil companies,” said Brendan Cummings, conservation director for the Center for Biological Diversity, one of two environmental groups that sued the bureau. “As California struggles against drought and climate change, we’ve got to end fracking and leave this dirty oil in the ground.”… (more)

Not to mention the earthquake potential in an earthquake zone. They are worrying about it in Oklahoma now. We should consider it a potential threat in California.


CEQA: This law has done a good job

by Cesar Diaz and Kyle Jones : capitolweekly – excerpt

The California Environmental Quality Act has long been the punching bag of business interests and some policy makers. It has been blamed for everything from a dearth of affordable housing to a sluggish economy during financial downturns.

Yet, until now, precious little objective research has been conducted to understand the costs and benefits associated with this 46-year-old law…

Recently,  the Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment commissioned BAE Urban Economics to draft an objective report to dig into this sticky question.

Leveraging a combination of rigorous quantitative analysis, a literature review of past research, case studies and a review of recent legislative changes to the law, the report found little evidence of economic harm inflicted by this landmark environmental law.

In fact, the report found that CEQA has done a good job of helping California to grow in an environmentally sustainable way. The state is relying more on increased density to accommodate a growing population and less on agricultural land and open space to accommodate new housing than it has in decades past.

California is now the 11th most densely populated state in the nation, up from its ranking of 13th in 1970. Nearly one-quarter of the most walkable cities in the US are now located in California.

It’s difficult to justify claims that this law impedes environmentally-sensitive development with these facts at hand… (more)

Breed’s planning commissioner pick is Latina with Mission ties

By Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez : sfexaminer – excerpt

Many weeks see Latinos from the Mission lambaste the San Francisco Planning Commission.

From the Monster in the Mission to the Beast on Bryant, the neighborhood is home to some of the most contested housing developments in The City, which, neighbors fear, spur evictions.

Now their voice may grow.

On Guard has learned the Planning Commission’s newest potential commissioner is a Latina woman with decades of experience in Mission District activism: Myrna Melgar.

She’s a recent Democratic Party board candidate and current commissioner at the Department of Building Inspection. Melgar told me, “Planners like to think we’re neutral, but nothing could be further from the truth.”

She added, “We have to be mindful of power imbalances and equity issues.”
Her approval comes by way of Board of Supervisors President London Breed, and is pending approval by the full board.

In a statement, Breed noted that the Mission “is facing such enormous land use pressures right now,” and that “Myrna has two crucial qualities: independence and integrity. She will bring balance. She will serve the whole city.”

There is some worry Supervisor Mark Farrell may not back Melgar, sources tell On Guard, because Melgar ran on the progressive “reform” DCCC slate opposite Farrell.

However, the Board of Supervisors majority may make Farrell’s vote moot, as Melgar has strong progressive ties — perhaps a consideration of Breed in her supervisor race against progressive Dean Preston.

Christina Olague was the last Latina planning commissioner, who left her seat in 2012.
Melgar was born and raised in El Salvador, and her family fled its civil war to San Francisco when she was 14. She worked at activist groups like PODER, Senior Action Network and St. Peter’s Housing Committee (now Causa Justa Just Cause).

Those are serious bona fides…(more)

Ran into one of the Planning Commissioners last night who told me we will like this choice. He appears to be right about that. Thanks Supervisor Breed.



Full speed ahead, and damn the facts! CEQA in operation in Berkeley

OpeEd By Becky O’Malley : berkeleydailyplanet – excerpt

Last weekend I had two more lessons in how powerless the California Environmental Quality Act is to inform politically-based decisionmaking. One was at the Wellstone Democratic Club’s endorsement meeting and the other was the Superior Court hearing on the EIR for 2211 Harold Way.

It was disappointing, but not surprising, to hear both candidates for Berkeley’s District Five City Council seat who spoke at the Wellstone Democratic Club meeting on Saturday endorse the ongoing plan to cut down many of the blue gum eucalyptus trees in the East Bay Hills and kill off the stumps with Roundup. Coincidentally or not, both are trained as lawyers.

This is a controversy that has been going on for quite a while now, all over the country in many contexts. For my money, the best analysis of the politics involved, with a side of science cites, can be found in a story which ace reporter Andrew Cockburn wrote for Harpers Magazine last year: Weed Whackers: Monsanto, glyphosate, and the war on invasive species. It’s well worth reading end to end, and you can do it online for free.

A lot of environmental decision-making is mistakenly based on the Sesame Street principle: Which one of these things is not like the other? When the eucalyptus tree has been scrutinized, a lot of the analysis comes down in the end to personal preference: love ‘em or hate ‘em: natives good, introduced bad—or maybe it’s the other way round. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

We attempt, with inadequate data and cumbersome legalistic processes, to make decisions which are more properly scientific, or would be if the data existed. For a decent view of what facts we have, see Management of blue gum eucalyptus in California requires region-specific consideration in the January issue of California Agriculture.

As near as I can determine, the Achilles heel of the East Bay Regional Park/FEMA scheme is the promised “restoration” plan: what will happen in the park after the trees have been chopped down and the stumps nuked with Roundup. We just don’t know enough to be sure that the lovely native grasslands which preceded the trees can be sure to come back as before, and some park users might prefer woodlands to grass, an even more difficult goal. In situations like this one, the paper’s authors suggest, eucalyptus roots may have altered the soil in which they grow with persistent chemicals which kill other plants.

A professor of environmental studies of my acquaintance tells me that “restoration is a moving target, an evolving field”. It’s frequently a promised mitigation in an environmental impact study, but more often than not it just doesn’t happen as planned, either from unforeseen scientific impossibility or lack of funding. And sometimes it’s cynically promised by governmental bodies with no intention of enforcing compliance. In Santa Cruz there’s a “restored wetland” which was promised to mitigate a building project elsewhere that is routinely clearcut by city officials worried that criminal activity might thrive among those “weeds”.

Another manifestation of the flaws in our environmental decision-making was on view Friday in Oakland in the court of Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch, hearing the challenge to the environmental impact report on the project for 2211 Harold Way in Berkeley, which was approved on December 8 by Berkeley’s clownish City Council. Petitioners were citizens James Hendry and Kelly Hammargren, appearing individually on their own without benefit of lawyers, a Herculean task which they executed remarkably well, all things considered.

Next time you hear Governor Jerry Brown whining that his developer pals are suffering mightily under the heavy burden of the California Environmental Quality Act’s reporting requirements, please laugh out loud with me. Here we have a multi-million-dollar project to construct 18 stories of luxury apartments, tearing down in the process a film center which is a mainstay of the downtown Berkeley economy, tunneling under a historic building which is built on infill on a creekbed with a ceramic foundation.

(Some of you may have seen the reports of a building in San Francisco also built on fill which has started to sink…) .

Despite CEQA, we were in the last round on Friday, and the chances of two private citizens stopping the project were slim.

In the developer’s corner: the Manatt law firm, the great big one which has historically represented all the bigtime Democratic pols.

Representing the public interest: a retired nurse and an economist, doing their damndest to figure out what CEQA should have done to inform the decision-makers adequately.

Here again, it’s a matter of separating the weeds from the flowers. CEQA is supposed to do that, but it fails…

There is an election in November. A better city council might be the only way to prevent future travesties like this one…  (more)

The failure to protect valuable community spaces is seems to often be on the part of the politicians who are still buying into the Plan Bay Area theme that anything new and expensive that increases the value of the property is better than whatever it replaces. Some efforts to stem that reasoning are taking root in San Francisco as artists, cultural institutions and small businesses situated in post-industrial PDR (Production, Distribution and Repair) zones, fight back with Prop X. If you can figure out which candidates agree with your vision of your city you should vote for those people, especially the ones you send to Sacramento and Washington. That is where the damage is being done, as the author is finding out. There are so many bills aimed at tearing down CEQA it is hard to keep track of them. We try to track some of them here:

Transportation expert opines on the Plan Bay Area and other subjects.

americandreamcoalition – excerpt – (videos)

Downloads of Tom Rubin videos and reports:

Thomas A. Rubin, CPA, CMA, CMC, CIA, CGFM, CFM has over four decades of experience in government surface transportation and finance, concentrating on public transit. As a consultant and auditor, he has served well over 100 transit agencies, metropolitan planning organizations, state departments of transportation, the U.S. Department of Transportation, suppliers to the transit industry, and not-for-profits.

He founded and directed the public transportation practice of what is now Deloitte & Touche, LLP, growing it to the largest of its type. He has also served as the chief financial officer of two the largest transit systems in the U.S., including the Southern California Rapid Transit District (now Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority), the third largest.

Since 1996, he has been a sole practitioner consultant, helping government agencies to improve their capital, operational, and financial planning and overseeing contraction projects. He has been named “the world’s funniest transit accountant” (not in reference to transit agency financial statements he has worked on)…

Expertise: Transportation, transit, rail transit, transit systems in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and many other cities

Best way to reach: email to tarubin at

Cost: Travel expenses (from California) plus honorarium based on ability to pay and distance traveled



Brown’s climate bill SB32 not ready for prime time

By Jim Nielsen : sfchronicle – excerpt

The California Legislature’s most contentious bill of the year, SB32, which attempts to establish far-reaching reductions in greenhouse emissions, is in the final stages of the legislative process. It miraculously moved out of a committee meant to hold the line on state spending with very little scrutiny or transparency.

Creating cleaner air is a noble cause. We all want clean air for our children, grandchildren and ourselves.

At issue is the blank check authority that SB32 hands over to faceless, unelected state bureaucrats at the California Air Resources Board. The board has repeatedly failed to produce basic performance reviews of its climate change programs.

The board’s self-proclaimed achievement has been so fuzzy that a bipartisan group of legislators has called for a state audit of its programs. Republican and Democratic lawmakers want to better understand what, if any, emission reductions the programs are achieving. Repeatedly, the board has failed to provide basic information to the Legislature. The audit request has stalled and will not be approved before this legislative session terminates at the end of the month.

No reasonable lawmaker will deny that the very fundamentals of good policy-making require evaluations of whether a program is working, based on sound criteria. When we see where a policy or program is failing or has not met expectations, we need to come to an agreed upon solution before expanding or renewing the program… (more)

The citizens of California deserve to see all the facts laid out in plain English. When this doesn’t happen, the legislature should NOT approve taking action on this measure. Clearly this is a controversial bill that needs a lot of public comment and debate. Sneaking highly controversial language into trailing legislation and last minute bills is dishonest and should also be brought to the attention of the voting public.

If it is a good idea, why are they hiding it from public debate?

Coalition to Preserve LA Praises Conservationists: They Stopped Gov. Brown from Wiping Out Environmental Protections Under CEQA

businesswire – excerpt

“This is a lie designed to kill CEQA, which is used modestly to attack only the worst developments.”

LOS ANGELES–(BUSINESS WIRE)–The Coalition to Preserve LA applauds the Sierra Club, the Planning and Conservation League and scores of groups who fought and today stopped Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to gut CEQA and Coastal Act environmental protections for virtually any urban project where developers agreed to add an insignificant number of affordable housing units.

In June, we urged our supporters, and those who believe developers are the last ones who should decide their communities’ fates, to call Gov. Brown to protest Trailer Bill 707. Brown’s now fully dead idea would have trampled over the California Environmental Quality Act and Coastal Act, handing the wheel to developers who have shown that without environmental oversight they will gladly place thousands of children in harm’s way, create massive surface street gridlock and destroy unique and beloved neighborhood character.

The Coalition is sponsoring the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative on the March 2017 Los Angeles ballot to end developer control over what L.A. becomes. Contact us to attend our events, or to very easily donate and send a message, at…

CEQA is a crucial tool to assure safe housing, but this year a raft of California legislators who take money from developers tried to pass some 30 bills to tear CEQA apart. In USC’s watershed Children’s Health Study of 3,600 children, scientists proved that youngsters living near freeways suffer chronic lung damage. UCLA found a higher risk for premature babies. Experts say this tainted housing cannot be “mitigated” with filters, trees or tight windows — microscopic metal and rubber particles still lodge in the lungs and brain…

The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, which is almost finished gathering more than 62,000 signatures for the March ballot, gives L.A. residents the power to “call a time-out” and shape what L.A. becomes. We believe environmental review is crucial to preserving safety, fighting gridlock and ending the current destruction of neighborhood character to build a luxury housing glut in Los Angeles.

The fight to protect CEQA is not over. Los Angeles city leaders have falsely claimed that CEQA is being abused and has increasingly pushed development disputes into court. Said Stewart “This is a lie designed to kill CEQA, which is used modestly to attack only the worst developments.” A new study from the NRDC shows that CEQA is used very seldom in court, has no effect on development costs, and is a key tool to force healthy out-of-court compromise.

Additional information available at

Please visit us at /

The legislative gut-and-amend season is upon us

By Scott Wilk : signalscv – excerpt

Prop 54 will allow an informed public to hold policymakers accountable for their actions and stop the special interests from hijacking the democratic process.

…Gut-and-amend is a process whereby bills have their original contents deleted and replaced with language completely unrelated to the original subject matter.

On occasion this is necessary because an issue has arisen after the legislative deadline that needs to be addressed…

The Rules Committee simply “waives” the rules and brings the proposal to the floor. The procedure is call Without Reference to File or “WORF.”

The most egregious gut-and-amend happened during my freshman year. Then-Senate Pro Tem Darrel Steinberg. D-Sacramento, had a bill, SB 743, to expedite the building of the new arena for the Sacramento Kings basketball team.

The bill did two things: allowed eminent domain of a downtown property; and expedited the California Environmental Quality Act or CEQA, to ensure the arena would be ready for the 2016-17 NBA season.

Like many legislators I was opposed to the bill. First, I don’t like eminent domain for private interests, and I think everyone should enjoy CEQA reform, not just rich, politically well-connected people.

The final day of session the rules were waived and SB 743 was amended to offer some minor CEQA reforms that applied statewide.

SB 743 was brought to the Assembly floor at approximately 8:30 p.m. Since the bill had statewide CEQA reforms, I joined 55 of my colleagues in voting “aye.” The bill was then sent to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature.

At 11:30 pm, a mere 30 minutes before the close of session for the year, we were presented a bill, AB 852, by Roger Dickenson, D-Sacramento. The bill had been gutted, and the new language inserted into the bill sought to remove the CEQA reform we passed three hours earlier!

So those CEQA reform amendments were simply a Trojan horse to coax the state Assembly into passing the Sacramento Kings arena legislation.

It takes 41 “aye” votes to pass a bill off the Assembly floor. The final vote was 26 “ayes,” 35 “nay,” and 17 abstentions. So we killed the bill and allowed the statewide CEQA reforms to become law.

Clearly, gut-and-amends are an insidious tactic that erode public trust in government and produce results for special interests that often don’t align with the public good.

But on Nov. 8 Californians will have the opportunity to end gut-and-amends by voting for Proposition 54, the Public Display of Legislative Bills Prior to a Vote initiative…

Prop 54 would require that a bill cannot pass until it has been in print and published for 72 hours prior to a vote. This ensures that the public and lawmakers have the ability to fully comprehend and digest the legislation being voted on.

In this digital information age we live in, it is especially appropriate that the initiative also requires audiovisual recordings for all legislative business – excluding closed-sessions – to be posted on the internet for public review.

Finally, Prop 54 would require these recordings be accessible and downloadable for 20 years, further increasing transparency in the Legislature.

As we wrap up the legislative session and approach a busy election year, I encourage you to use your voice by voting to enhance our democratic process and create a more honest, open and accountable government by supporting Prop 54.

We must end the cozy relationship between Sacramento elites and their special interest benefactors. An open, honest and transparent legislative process will forge better public policy and bolster people’s confidence in government institutions.

Prop 54 will allow an informed public to hold policymakers accountable for their actions and stop the special interests from hijacking the democratic process.

Assemblyman Scott Wilk represents the 38th Assembly District encompassing Simi Valley, the northwestern section of the San Fernando Valley and most of the Santa Clarita Valley…(more)


“CEQA-In-Reverse” Case on Remand: First District Holds BAAQMD’s 2010 Air Pollutant Thresholds Not Facially Invalid, But Can’t Be Used For Primarily Intended Purpose

By Miller Starr Regalia : lexology – excerpt

In a published decision filed August 12, 2016, following remand from the California Supreme Court after its landmark “CEQA-in-reverse” decision, the First District Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s judgment and remanded with directions to issue an order partially granting CBIA’s writ of mandate and to consider CBIA’s requests for declaratory relief and attorneys’ fees. California Building Industry Association v. Bay Area Air Quality Management District (1st Dist., Div. 5, 2016)… Cal.App.4th …, 2016 WL…

The opinion reaches the same general conclusion as the Court of Appeal’s previous opinion in the matter (my blog post on which can be found here) – i.e., that BAAQMD’s 2010 Toxic Air Contaminants (TAC) Thresholds of Significance (i.e., for air pollutants including TACs and PM 2.5) are not facially invalid, because not invalid in all their potential applications. However, following the holding of the Supreme Court’s opinion (my blog post on which can be found here), the Court of Appeal importantly clarifies that the TAC Thresholds “may not be used for the primary purpose envisioned by District, namely, to routinely assess the effect of existing environmental conditions on future users or occupants of a project.”…(more)