The Death of Density?

By Richard Schwartz : cityjournal – excerpt

Homeless living in tents in an alley that once held a food market in SOMA next to a once lively bar.
They are all under pressure by the state density bills that are still being pushed through Sacramento
the politicians who have not caught up with the “new normal” the rest of us are living in.

To survive and thrive, cities will have to overcome a number of formidable trends.

After vanquishing everything from newsprint to retail stores, the pulverizing, inescapable power of the Internet has its sights set on cities, or, more precisely, density—aided and abetted by its accomplice, Covid-19.

If this future—call it the death of density—comes to pass, it spells the unraveling of physical urbanity as we know it, placing cities, especially high-cost cities, in grave danger of descending into a vicious circle of depopulation, followed by de-commercialization, de-monetization, declining services, and so on.

The events of 2020 crippled the machinery that undergirds density. Taxpaying workers, revenue-generating shoppers, free-spending tourists—the people and activities that finance the infrastructure, mass transit, and municipal workers—are disappearing. And as they head for the exits, we’re left with an urbanism that’s coarser, less forgiving, more dangerous, more radical, and more expensive. If cities won’t dematerialize overnight, they risk, like General MacArthur, slowly fading away.

The fallout would be profound. If the demand for density declines—with consequent declines in population, commerce, and tax revenues—cities will operate in a perpetual state of fiscal crisis. Once the federal stimulus subsidies and stop-gap measures run out, how will cities fund mass transit, to say nothing of capital construction, schools, police, and the multitude of other services city dwellers rely upon? The service-laden system of governance that has long defined the American metropolis is in for a cataclysmic unraveling…

In January, the New York Times speculated that the “defining characteristic” of the creative workforce “may not be where it lives, but its ability to live anywhere it wants. . . . Buildings in many traditional employment districts will have to compete more fiercely, and a small but significant percentage of office space will most likely have to be repurposed into housing, e-commerce fulfillment centers, delivery-only kitchens, health care centers, meeting spaces, event spaces and other uses. . . . The main office will remain important for most companies, but fewer employees will be expected to be there all day, every day.”…(more)

2021 Land Use, Environmental & Natural Resources Update – excerpt

With the end of the first quarter of 2021 approaching, we thought it timely to issue an update on selected recent developments and proposed changes in law and policy touching environmental, land use, and natural resource issues. At the national level, with the new Biden administration, federal policies already have undergone a significant sea-change from those of the Trump administration. And the Golden State continues to lead with a protective agenda on land use, environmental, and natural resources legislation and regulation.

We present here a diverse set of selected snapshots on the federal and state of California policies, laws, regulations, and judicial opinions that have been adopted and issued in 2020 through the first quarter of this year on these topics of key concern to our clients. In the coming months, we look forward to offering more detailed accounts of new decisions and policies as they arise In the meantime, we hope you will find the below highlights to be of interest…


City of Coronado et al. v. SANDAG et al., San Diego Superior Court, Case No. 37-2020-0033974, was filed by four small cities in San Diego County against the Board of Directors for the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) to challenge SANDAG’s allocation of housing under the State Housing Element Law. The trial court recently issued a minute order granting SANDAG’s demurrer in what appears to be an early victory for pro-housing forces…


In February 2020, the California Environmental Protection Agency and two of its constituent agencies, the Department of Toxic Substances Control and the State Water Resources Control Board, working with the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, jointly issued their “Supplemental Guidance: Screening and Evaluated Vapor Intrusion” (Supplemental Guidance) for public review and comment. The agencies, which received 575 comments on the draft, have announced that they expect to issue a final version of the Supplemental Guidance in the Spring of 2021…

Climate Change and Renewable Energy


During his campaign, President Biden articulated a “Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice,” (Clean Energy Plan) outlining ambitious goals to achieve 100% clean energy economy and net-zero emissions by 2050. The Plan outlined target areas to meet the net-zero emissions goal, including:…


As California continues to grow its renewable energy capabilities, State Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, has introduced legislation that would require state regulators to set a planning target of at least 10 gigawatts of offshore wind production by 2040, with a short-term goal of 3 GW by 2030. The legislation, AB 525, also directs state agencies to begin securing necessary federal permits and planning for port upgrades and other infrastructure projects…


To much ado, California water futures began trading in December 2020 on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, a development causing many to compare water to other commodities subject to futures trading, like gold or oil, and causing much hand wringing about moving water, a necessity and basic human right, based on price change contracts. Although in the West, the popular adage about water is grounded in historical truth, “Water flows uphill towards money.”…(more)

This is an excerpt of the full article. If federal issues concern you, read the rest of the article. I only picked a few subject headings. There are a lot more mentioned.

Big Los Altos housing development suffers loan default

By George Avalos : mercurynews – excerpt

Default occurs for Los Altos property were nearly 200 homes were proposed

LOS ALTOS — A big residential development in Los Altos that would have added nearly 200 homes in the posh Silicon Valley city has stumbled into default on its mortgage, raising the specter of foreclosure on the property.

The default notice has been filed on a loan for a property where a high-density housing project totaling 196 units has been proposed on El Camino Real in Los Altos.

This sort of high-density residential development is considered to be unusual — even unique — for the upper-crust city of Los Altos.

An office building totaling 76,500 square feet that currently occupies the 5150 El Camino Real property would be bulldozed to clear the land for the residential development…(more)

Landowners Sue SMART Over Land Obtained For Biking, Hiking Paths

cbslocal – excerpt (includes video)

SANTA ROSA (BCN) — In a federal lawsuit filed last week in San Francisco, dozens of landowners from Sonoma and Marin counties accused Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit of a land grab.

At issue is the “multi-use pathway” that SMART is building on a 43-mile stretch between Airport Boulevard in Sonoma County and San Rafael in Marin County. According to a progress report on its website, SMART has completed 24 miles of pathway and another 8.8 miles are “fully funded and planned for construction.”

SMART was created in 2002 to develop and operate a commuter rail line parallel to U.S. Highway 101 in Sonoma and Marin counties. Train service began in 2017 and SMART controls the railroad right-of-way that runs through private lands adjacent to the railroad tracks.

The plaintiffs in the suit filed March 15 allege that SMART’s rights under the right-of-way are derivative of the rights obtained by predecessor railroads through condemnations going back into the late 1800s. According to the complaint, those railroads only obtained authority to use the land in the right-of-way for “railroad purposes.”…

The plaintiffs are represented by Sacramento attorney Stuart Talley, and a Kansas City, Missouri law firm, Stewart, Wald & McCulley LLC, that has developed a specialty legal practice of bringing such claims against trail projects on railroad rights-of-way throughout the country…(more)

Misguided Housing Bill Bans Single-Family Zoning Forever

by: Sharon Rushton : marinpost – excerpt

A fundamentally flawed housing bill, Senate Bill 9 (Atkins) is fast-tracking through the State legislature. SB-9 is a reiteration of Senate Bill 1120 from last year. Like its predecessor, the bill is an unprecedented taking of local planning powers that hands county, city and community decision-making directly to market-rate and luxury housing developers. Worse still, the bill could ruin treasured single-family neighborhoods…(more)

Battlefield ‘Burbs

By Joe Kotkin : newgeography – excerpt

America’s political culture has been shaped by its rural and urban environments, each of which tends to be dominated by one party. Urban Republicans are now as rare as rural Democrats.

Yet the political future of the country lies in the suburban and exurban rings that dominate every metropolitan region. These voters are made up predominately neither of woke city hipsters nor gun-toting rubes, the stereotypes that dominate our competing cultural memes. The suburbs are the last contestable geography in the country.

Since 1950, suburban population growth has expanded more than ten times faster than core cities. Overall, suburb-dwellers account for more than half the population of the country, and 90 percent of the overall population of metropolitan America. Over the past decade, they have accounted for well over four-fifths of all new job growth (and the bast majority of all new patents). As one political analyst put it, “Suburbs are the new Florida.”.

These trends were expanding before the pandemic, but as realtors attest, Covid has accelerated city residents’ movement to suburbs. Manhattan and San Francisco rents have been falling some, but prices in the periphery have been rising. A new national poll from the Los Angeles Times and Reality Check Insights, held after the November 2020 election, found that most residents of big cities want to relocate…(more)

The COVID Class War Heats Up

By Michael Lind : tablet – excerpt

It isn’t only about the virus, and will continue even after the lockdowns are lifted

The bitter debate over lockdowns and mask mandates in America is not just another polarizing culture war between left and right. It also has elements of a class war. But it’s not the class war you might think it is…

Many small firms have been destroyed during the pandemic by government-mandated bans and social distancing rules, while some bigger firms have had an easier time. According to, between mid-March 2020 and February 2021, the wealth of U.S. billionaires grew by $1.3 trillion. But the wealth gains for the rich have come mostly from their disproportionate representation in the stock market, not from their ability to steal customers from small companies that have gone under…

The major debate over lockdowns has been between small-business owners, who form the political base of the Republican Party, and professionals, particularly in the educational, government, and nonprofit sectors, who provide the political base of the Democrats. Compared to the multiracial working-class majority of the United States, both small-business owners and professionals are in fact elite minorities—though clearly less elite and much more numerous than billionaires and the executives of major multinational corporations and banks and media companies and foundations…(more)

Interesting article, though over-simplified. Small business owners are more independent than corporate workers and independence breeds a certain disdain for government interference. A lot of entrepreneurs I know are Libertarian, Anarchists or Republicans.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra Seeks to Intervene in Litigation Over Wildfire Risk of San Diego Development Projects

goldrushcam – excerpt

March 18, 2021 – SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra on Wednesday filed motions to intervene in lawsuits challenging the County of San Diego’s approval and certification of Environmental Impact Reports (EIRs) for the proposed Otay Ranch Resort Village 13 and Otay Ranch Village 14 and Planning Areas 16/19 Project (collectively, Otay Ranch) projects. The projects, located in a very high fire hazard severity zone, are part of a 23,000-acre residential development, the largest in San Diego County’s history. In today’s filings, Attorney General Becerra argues that the EIRs do not adequately analyze the impacts of increased wildfire risk created by bringing thousands of new people and significant development to an undeveloped area – and that the projects fail to mitigate or avoid such impacts in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act.

“On the heels of another dry winter, Californians are looking toward wildfire season with a familiar pit of dread in their stomachs,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Devastating wildfires have become the norm in recent years, with dozens of deaths and whole towns forced to evacuate. That’s why local governments must address the wildfire risks associated with new developments at the front end. It is imperative for public safety – and required by the law. Today’s action aims to ensure that the County of San Diego does all it can to mitigate the risks of the Otay Ranch projects before they are built.”…

In today’s filings, Attorney General Becerra argues that the EIRs fail to adequately:

  • Analyze the extent to which the Otay Ranch projects could increase wildfire risk;
  • Assess the cumulative wildfire impacts of the 23,000-acre Otay Ranch residential development; and
  • Analyze and address the Otay Ranch projects’ individual and cumulative greenhouse gas impacts.

A copy of the motions to intervene can be found here and here.

Source: CA. DOJ…(more)

The legal status of the Section 201 tariffs on solar panels, which expire in 2022

By Nithya Nagarajan and Isaac Idicula : SPW – excerpt

Due to various trade remedy actions taken over the course of the past few years, solar panels are 45% more expensive in the United States than in Europe and Australia, and panels are 50% more expensive in the United States than the global average. SEIA believes tariffs are largely responsible for the high price of solar panels in the United States. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) estimates that 98% of solar panels and their components are manufactured outside the United States, as a result solar panels have been the subject of several ongoing trade disputes…(more)

Cheaper solar panels could help get more installed. More that need protection from shade. We need to pass laws now to ensure they will be a viable means of producing alternative energy once they are installed.

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