Letter from Sacramento: Sometimes Friends Are So Disappointing

By Newsroom America Feeds : newsroomamerica – excerpt

Dear Eric,

This letter begins with a sigh.

A large, loud sigh that implies disappointment. The kind of sigh that follows the news that a friend, someone you expected to be on your side, somebody who always had your back, does something disappointing and inexcusable.

It’s also the kind of sigh that says “Here we go again.”

In the last few weeks, one of the most important environmental laws for many Californians, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), has been under attack at the legislature – again. That law requires developers to honestly disclose the environmental impacts of proposed development projects.

Some developers, including public agencies that build roads, clean up toxic waste, or plan the future, view CEQA as an inconvenience.

Honestly, they’re right. It’s inconvenient to tell the people who live near a freeway or the site of a new high rise exactly how much pollution that freeway or high rise might create or attract. It’s inconvenient to then suggest and put into place measures to make sure that pollution from that road or building is reduced or mitigated.

Honesty and responsibility that take into account that other people share the commons are simply inconvenient.

It would be a much easier world if there was nobody else who mattered and each developer or city government could just build whatever at a whim. Much easier, that is, for the builder.

It wouldn’t be much easier for the rest of us, the ones who have to breathe the air near the freeway or walk on the sidewalk near the giant parking garage attached to the high rise. It would be anarchy – polluted anarchy, at that… (more)

Continue reading “Letter from Sacramento: Sometimes Friends Are So Disappointing”

Staying In Business: What To Do To Survive Soft-Story Seismic Retrofits

by Shane Downing : hoodline – excerpt

From the Planning Department web site: The Mandatory Soft Story Program provides a weekly update on the status of properties identified as soft story. Should you have any questions on the status of your property or would like more information on the Soft Story Program, please contact (415) 558-6699 or email softstory@sfgov.orglink to commercial soft story map and
View Soft Story Properties List (Excel)

With the city’s mandatory soft-story seismic retrofits having an impact on local businesses, we collected the resources and information that commercial renters need to stay afloat.

We’ve used the words “seismic” and “retrofit” with increasingly more frequency in recent months. This is due to a mandatory soft-story seismic retrofit law that the city passed back in 2013.

Back in February, we focused on how this law is impacting residential tenants. Landlords are able to pass along one hundred percent of the cost, including interest, on to tenants.

However, with beloved neighborhood businesses like Bibliohead, Rooky Ricardo’s Records, Tantrum, Merch, and Bean There Cafe all being affected by these same mandatory soft-story seismic retrofits, we decided to take a closer look at the commercial side of this program’s impact.

The Law

As we previously reported, the 2013 retrofit law is proactively trying to strengthen soft-story buildings with three or more stories and five or more units: wood-framed buildings, built before 1978, that have large openings — such as storefront windows or garages — at the ground-floor level and usually residential units above…

Advice For Commercial Renters

“There are 700 plus properties that have ground floor commercial spaces,” said Dick-Endrizzi.” According to her, depending on the property’s size, multiple ground floor commercial spaces can be located in the same building.

“Businesses will be impacted [by this program] and each building is a bit different,” said Dick-Endrizzi. “Some retrofitting is able to be done with the business still in operation, but, we are seeing a fair number where the businesses have to close or the property owner is doing it in between leases.”

This is mainly what we’ve been reporting…

Resources for Small Businesses and Commercial Renters

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area offers legal services for small business owners and entrepreneurs. The Bar Association of San Francisco also offers  lawyer referral and legal information services to commercial renters.

Amy Anderson welcomes commercial renters and small business owners to contact her directly with questions.

Here’s a map of identified properties that are mandated for seismic retrofits put together by the Department of Building Inspection. If you have any questions on the status of your property or would like more information on the soft-story program, contact (415) 558-6699 or email softstory@sfgov.org.

If you’re looking for more information on the mandatory soft-story seismic retrofit program, plan on attending the 2016 Earthquake Retrofit Fair on Monday, April 18th. The event is free to the public and will be held from 3:00-7:00pm in Bill Graham Civic Auditorium… (more)

Metropolitan Water District’s Delta Islands Purchase Challenged by Lawsuit

by Dan Bacher : indymedia – excerpt

“People need to understand that MWD is not acting in the best interest of Southern Californians – it is only furthering their position as a water broker to import water to cities and utilities,” said Adam Scow, the California Director of Food and Water Watch, at the noon rally. “In fact, the Cities of Los Angeles and Santa Monica both voted against the deal.”

On the lawn of Cesar Chavez Park in downtown Stockton on April 14, representatives of environmental groups, two Delta counties and Delta farmers gathered to announce the filing of a lawsuit challenging the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) of Southern California’s purchase of four Delta islands to facilitate the construction of Governor Jerry Brown’s Delta Tunnels.

Food & Water Watch, the Planning and Conservation League, San Joaquin County, Contra Costa County, the Contra Costa Water Agency and the Central Delta Water Agency filed suit in San Joaquin Superior Court Thursday afternoon, alleging that MWD’s claim of complete exemption from environmental review for the proposed purchase of 20,000 acres of Delta islands and farmland is “illegal and unjustified.”

The lawsuit asks the Judge to enjoin the powerful Southern California water agency from purchasing the property unless and until it completes the environmental review required under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), one of the state’s landmark environmental laws.

The lawsuit was filed several days after MWD announced that it was spending $175 million to buy the islands. The lands being purchased include Bouldin Island, Bacon Island, Webb Tract, most of Holland Tract and part of Chipps Island. They cover 20,000 acres in San Joaquin, Contra Costa and Solano counties in the heart of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas. .

The complaint states, “MWD has identified Bouldin and Bacon Islands within the proposed path of the state of California’s unapproved tunnel construction project (‘California Water Fix’) undergoing separate review, and promoted its ownership to facilitate the tunnel construction.” (http://restorethedelta.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/MetropolitanComplaint.pdf)

“It’s not surprising that Metropolitan avoided a proper review, as the land purchase is not in the interest of Southern California ratepayers and taxpayers,” said Brenna Norton, Senior Organizer for Food & Water Watch, in a statement. ““This purchase would promote Metropolitan’s effort to build the $67 billion tunnels that will only benefit MWD ‘s bottom line—while costing Southern Californians billions and not providing one drop of new water.”’

At the noon rally, Adam Scow, the California Director of Food and Water Watch, said, “People need to understand that MWD is not acting in the best interest of Southern Californians – it is only furthering their position as a water broker to import water to cities and utilities. In fact, the Cities of Los Angeles and Santa Monica both voted against the deal.”

The plaintiffs allege that MWD’s controversial land purchase is part of an attempt to divert more water from the Delta for the district’s use – and that the environmental impacts resulting from that activity would be “significant” and outside any exemption from CEQA.

Responding to questions about the lawsuit, Catherine Stites, MWD’s senior deputy general counsel, told the Sacramento Bee, “We are simply buying property. We’ve identified a number of potential future uses, but we have not identified any particular use or change in the use of the property yet. Our board has not given us authority to do anything with the property except buy it.”

She also said, “If and when we decide on a particular use, further environmental analysis will be done as required. It would be speculative to do CEQA (a state environmental review) now,” she stated.( http://www.sacbee.com/news/state/california/water-and-drought/delta/article71889957.html#storylink=cpy)

However, Mark Myles, County Counsel for San Joaquin County, said that MWD is in fact taking “brazen steps” to bypass state law in order to approve the purchase.

“A twin tunnels project has yet to be approved, and Metropolitan Water District has taken brazen steps to bypass CEQA requirements in order to approve the $175 million Delta island purchase and begin a staging zone for twin tunnel construction,” said Myles.

“MWD’s actions to sidestep CEQA in its deal to purchase the islands illustrates the lengths that MWD is willing to go to acquire water for its own purposes without any regard for CEQA laws, environmental review and public input,” Myles emphasized. “San Joaquin County is not going to stand idly by and allow MWD to circumvent California environmental laws and make up its own rules in order to bulldoze its way through the Delta. MWD should immediately rescind its decision to purchase the islands and perform the environmental review required by CEQA.”

Roger Moore, the attorney representing the Planning and Conservation League and Food and Water Watch, said Metropolitan’s “outrageous claim” that its Delta island purchase is “too benign for environmental review” can’t be reconciled with its own promotional materials that portray the island purchase as clearing the path for construction of the Delta tunnels. “California’s residents and ratepayers deserve a higher standard of candor and accountability,” he noted.

Moore pointed out that the twin tunnels project has no final Environmental Impact Report by the State and no financing plan. Nor have the MWD Board of Directors member agencies approved financing for the project.

Contra Costa County Supervisor Karen Mitchoff said the County “adamantly opposes” Metropolitan Water District’s attempt to go around CEQA rules,

“CEQA protects everyone from blatant attempts to destroy environmental requirements, and MWD’s flagrant disregard of CEQA in this instance continues to demonstrate how little it values the Delta and its critical ecosystem,” said Mitchoff. “Contra Costa County is a petitioner in this litigation because our citizens understand the importance of everyone having to follow the rules. MWD leadership should be ashamed of this unbelievable tactic, which reflects its ongoing unwillingness to deal with Delta concerns fairly.”

“MWD board members need to overturn this illegal decision pressed on them by their general manager,” added Jonas Minton, Water Policy Advisor for the Planning and Conservation League.

At the rally in support of the lawsuit, Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta, called on the MWD Board of Directors to reverse the vote that they made, at their General Manager’s urging, to purchase the Delta islands.

“Clearly, the purchase of the Delta islands is Met’s attempt to anchor the Delta tunnels in our region so that construction could begin, despite the fact that the plan is still not approved or financed,” she said.

“The $175 million purchase price for the Delta islands does not count the costs to Southern California ratepayers for the inevitable litigation that begins with today’s filing. If Met loses in court, they will not be able to ever sell these islands for the same price. That means Southern Californian water users will become owners of a very expensive duck habitat hundreds of miles to the north. Met will also be on the hook for maintenance of hundreds of miles of Delta levees, an ongoing cost that will be paid year after year by Southern California ratepayers,” she stated.

“Our 35,000 members from throughout California agree there are better ways for Southern California water agencies to plan for their water future. More than 7500 area residents have already signed letters that will be sent to Metropolitan Water District’s Board of Directors urging them to drop the Delta islands purchase and to instead invest the $175 million in solutions that build sustainability in Southern California like storm water capture and water recycling,” said Barrigan-Parrilla.

She noted that the Met has already spent nearly $100 million on Delta tunnels planning, but the process at the State Water Board has recently ground to a halt.

“There no financial plan between Met and agricultural water districts, like the SEC-fined Westlands, as to who will pay what proportion of the $15.5 billion construction costs,” she concluded.

Jay Sorenson, the founder of the California Striped Bass Association, who held a sign proclaiming “Save the Delta Islands – Stop the Tunnels” at the rally, commented about the irony of MWD purchasing land for “wildlife restoration” when it is really using the land as a staging ground for the Delta Tunnels.

“To support wildlife habitat on the Delta, you need tidal water,” said Sorenson. “These islands would be instead a haven for mosquitoes in the stagnant water. MWD would end up putting bad water back into the good water of the Delta, especially when the tunnels are going through the two islands.”

The lawsuit was filed just four days after the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) revealed that the Department of Interior’s Inspector General has opened an investigation into the possible illegal use of millions of dollars by the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) in preparing the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Delta Tunnels, called the “California Water Fix” by the Brown administration. The investigation resulted from a complaint PEER filed on the behalf of a Bureau of Reclamation employee on February 19, 2016. (http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/04/12/feds-to-probe-misuse-of-state-funds-for-jerry-browns-delta-tunnels/)

Delta advocates say the “California Water Fix” would be the most environmentally destructive public works project in California history. The construction of the Delta Tunnels would hasten the extinction of Central Valley steelhead, Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon, Delta and longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other fish species. The project would also imperil the salmon and steelhead populations on the Trinity and Klamath rivers… (more)

Any guess as to whether or not this has anything to do with the parcel tax they want from the 9 county property owners to “clean the bay”?

Metropolitan Water District

Does California Really Need Major Land Use and Transportation Changes to Meet Greenhouse Gas Emissions Targets?

By Thomas A. Rubin : reason – excerpt


California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32, Nunez) requires the California Air Resources Board (ARB) “to adopt a statewide greenhouse gas emissions limit equivalent to the statewide greenhouse gas emissions levels in 1990 to be achieved by 2020.”[1] In other words, the Act requires the state of California to ensure that its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2020 must be no higher than they were in 1990.

Subsequent legislation has emphasized the role that policymakers expect transportation and land use policies to play in reducing GHG emissions. SB 375 (Steinberg, 2008) said: “Without improved land use and transportation policy, California will not be able to achieve the goals of AB 32.” Accordingly, SB 375 assigned responsibility for achieving its emission-reduction objectives primarily to the respective metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) for each major region in the state.[2]

But how significantly do GHG emissions need to be cut to meet the targets set in the Global Warming Solutions Act? And what role might transportation and land use policies really play in reducing emissions?

How significantly do GHG emissions need to be reduced?

The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) are currently well along in the preparation and adoption of the state-required regional transportation plan (RTP), titled Plan Bay Area.[3] The plan is currently out for review in draft form, along with an accompanying Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR).[4]

The Bay Area’s previous RTP—Change in Motion – Transportation 2035 Plan for the San Francisco Bay Area (2009)—claimed that emissions needed to be cut by 15% by 2020 to hit the 1990-level target.[5] The 2013 update goes even further, suggesting that a 25 to 35% reduction in GHG emissions is now needed from current levels.[6]

Plan Bay Area uses this as justification to shift surface transportation expenditures from roads to transit,[7] impose restrictions and new costs designed to reduce driving,[8] limit construction of single-family detached homes in the Bay Area[9] and require that the majority of new residential construction be multifamily in designated areas around transit centers.[10] Indeed, the Plan anticipates that in 2040 multifamily and attached/townhouse residences will be so popular that prices of existing single family detached homes will drop.[11]

Yet data from the California ARB and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) paints a very different picture of California’s GHG emissions than ABAG and MTC’s Plan:

Figure 1: U.S. and California Greenhouse Gas Emissions, 1990-2011


Based on the most recent ARB report, GHG emissions in 2010 were 447.87 million metric tonnes.[12] This would only require a reduction of 4.7% to meet the 1990 target level—427 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents (MMTCO2E).[13]

That is a significantly smaller reduction than policymakers in the Bay Area are calling for. Yet for various reasons, even this 4.7% may still overstate the actual remaining GHG emission reduction requirement.

Methodological Problems

For starters, notice that the red line on the graph above (which covers 2000–2010) sits slightly higher than the blue line (which covers 1990–2004) for the period they both comprehend.[14] The more recent report is 1.84%, 2.12%, 3.11%, 2.86% and 1.78% higher than the earlier for the five years, respectively, for a simple average of 2.34% higher.

The reason for this disparity is that ARB has adjusted its current GHG inventory method to conform to new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) protocols and other change factors.[15] This means that a given amount of GHG emissions will be recorded as higher in the report covering 2000–2010 than in the report covering 1990–2004.

Crucially, however, ARB has not revised the 1990 GHG emissions figure upwards to reflect the new methodology. The effect of this is to increase the amount of GHG emission reduction required to meet the statutory target.[16]

If we assume that the simple average 2.34% increase for the 2000–2004 year also applies to the 1990 level, to put all data on the same playing field, then the 2020 GHG emission target should actually be approximately 437 million metric tonnes. This would only require a 2.5% reduction from 2010 GHG emission levels.
Has this target already been met?(more)

Continue reading “Does California Really Need Major Land Use and Transportation Changes to Meet Greenhouse Gas Emissions Targets?”

Housing Affordability Hits a Crisis Level

By builderonline – excerpt

The growing lack of affordable housing for America’s middle class could harm the economic health of the country, according to the author of a new report.

America’s Housing Crisis, by the Houston-based Center For Opportunity Urbanism (COU), says that a growing crisis in housing supply is driving middle-class families out of many high-priced areas of the country, notes COU Executive Director Joel Kotkin.

Here, BUILDER talks with Kotkin about the ramifications of the high price of housing and what can be done about it…

Q: Is this housing crisis reflective of the country’s income inequality as a whole?
A: Housing, notes scholars in both Europe and the United States, has become the biggest driver of inequality in recent decades. As housing prices go out of reach, it becomes increasingly difficult for middle and working class families to purchase a home, or even find a place with affordable rents. The result has been to drive many working families into poverty; in California, where high prices are largely the result of regulations, upwards of one in four people lives in poverty, the highest rate in the country…

Q: How should public officials “make it easier for U.S. housing developers to produce more starter and other homes to accommodate the demand,” as you say in the report?
A: Very simply, by reducing greenfield land regulation, so that houses can be built on land that represents a more reasonable share of the land and house price. That share has normally been around 20 percent, but has been driven much higher in recent years in markets with urban containment policy and related restrictive land use policy, such as California, Portland, Seattle, Denver and Washington DC. There is no higher domestic priority than a better standard of living and lower poverty rates. Housing is the largest expenditure item in household budgets. By unnecessarily driving up land prices through unreasonable regulation, public policy wrongly favors planning goals over human and social goals… (more)

This sounds like something we have heard before. Limiting building to PDAs (Priority Development Areas) based on transit oriented development that opposes sprawl is the root cause of the affordability crisis. Now that we know the SFMTA plans to force people out of their cars is a bust, (more families own cars now than before) maybe it is time to re-think the rest of the plan. Especially since our air quality has improved without eliminating the cars. The cars got a lot cleaner and the use of non-fossil fuels for other purposes has escalated. See the graph below that illustrates the point.


According to the Planning Department that tracks such things, the number of families in the Mission with cars increased from 37% to 64%.



Seismic risk found in San Francisco’s waterfront foundation, report shows

By : sfexaminer – excerpt

A major earthquake could significantly impact the foundation of San Francisco’s waterfront more than previously thought, perhaps even rendering The Embarcadero nonfunctional, a new report shows.

Invisible to the thousands of people who enter and leave The City each day via the three-mile stretch of the northern waterfront, the seawall is a critical piece of infrastructure that, at more than a century old, is in dire need of billions of dollars of repairs.

About $2 billion alone is needed to fix the seawall that stretches between Fisherman’s Wharf and AT&T Park, an area that contains some of the most valuable land in the world, according to the “Earthquake Vulnerability Study of the Northern Waterfront” report.

“We can definitely say a large earthquake, [magnitude] 7 or above, on the San Andreas fault will likely cause movement of the seawall,” said Steven Reel, a project manager for the Port of San Francisco.

The impact of such a quake could move the seawall several feet, which could lead to cracks in The Embarcadero, possibly impacting transportation, damaging buildings and leaving utilities vulnerable.

“The Embarcadero roadway may or may not be usable after that event,” Reel said of a major earthquake.

Commissioned for $500,000 in 2014, the report is the most extensive study the Port has conducted on seismic safety of The City’s waterfront. A team of geotechnical and civil engineers used existing data to create a three-dimensional picture of the subsurface beneath the seawall to examine its durability…

The study didn’t conclude exactly which areas along the waterfront may be most vulnerable, but Reel noted there are possible “hot spots” near Piers 27, 29 and 31(more)

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