Q&A Gabrief Metcalf: Is the housing crisis too big to solve?

When Gabriel Metcalf suggested at a forum on affordable housing that cities should be penalized by the state for failing to build enough housing, he drew gasps from fellow panelists.

It’s not that the other panelists disagreed with Metcalf, who as president and CEO of SPUR, is one of the Bay Area’s better-known housing advocates. It’s just that no one else had been willing to make the suggestion.

We talked to Metcalf to discuss the region’s housing crisis and some strategies that might fix it. As the head of SPUR — the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association — Metcalf is in the thick of the housing conversation. That makes sense: Over the decades, SPUR — which has offices in San Jose, San Francisco and Oakland — has helped catalyze some of the region’s critical policy moves, from the founding of BART to the preservation of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area… (more)

This is the beginning of the state-wide pitch for truly repressive legislation that will force communities to hand over their land to developers without any “right” to control it or protect them selves. Wiener is already at work on this in Sacramento.

This is why the country has new leadership. The public is wary of this sort of “sustainable” solution to “climate control” when there are many other ways to protect the planet. Clear cutting trees to make room for more towers and crowding people into cities is SPUR’s way of amassing greater wealth and power for the wealthy and powerful.


Scientific Reports Confirm Catastrophic Climate Change

By Jonathan Turley : Jonathanturley – excerpt

There are new reports confirming not only climate change but escalating losses of arctic ice. US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s annual Arctic report card has found that this is the hottest year on record in the Arctic and it is now twice as fast as any other place on Earth. Another international study found that the rapid loss of glaciers is caused by climate change to a certainty of 99 percent

The impact could well be catastrophic for the planet. The permafrost holds a huge amount of carbon which is released with the melting — releasing more CO2 and methane into atmosphere. That will further speed up climate change . . . which will result in more ice melting in an accelerating downward spiral. .. (more)

One wonders why any trees are being cut to release more carbon into the air if scientists are concerned by carbon release.

SF plan for natural areas likely to draw fire

By Lizzie Johnson : sfgate – excerpt

A comprehensive new plan for San Francisco’s natural areas could anger dog lovers, golfers and nature lovers in one swoop, while protecting delicate habitats and endangered species.

The plan — originally proposed in 2006 — will review the biology and geology of the Recreation and Park Department’s 32 natural areas and trails, including Twin Peaks, Bernal Heights and Mount Davidson. It will also outline maintenance and capital improvements within those areas for the next 20 years. The Recreation and Park Commission and the Planning Commission will vote on the document Thursday.

The biggest impacts that could come are changes in urban forestry management, the removal of off-leash dog areas in sensitive environmental areas and the rejiggering of Sharp Park’s golf course — changes with which the various groups will probably be unhappy… (more)

The public comments for on this EIR lasted for over 6 hours. This is  major project that is highly controversial. Thousands or trees are planned for removal, that will release tons of carbon into the air. People anticipate a lot of herbicides will be used and that this will go into the ground water that is now being mixed into the drinking water. More details can come later. Comments welcome.

There is no money for any of this according to the proponents of the Natural Resources Plan. This is a big messy project that will get approved and then swept under the rug until someone comes up with money and the contract will be approved and then the public will hear about it. That is what happens with these large broad plans.

Warriors win second court decision in S.F. arena battle

By Roland Li : bizjournals – excerpt

The California Courts of Appeal upheld on Tuesday the environmental review of the Golden State Warriors’ San Francisco stadium plan, allowing construction to begin on the $1 billion arena and office development unless another appeal is filed.

The decision stated that the legal challenge by the Mission Bay Alliance, which has been fighting to block the project, didn’t have merit. The Mission Bay Alliance, which includes University of California, San Francisco staff and donors, alleged that the city didn’t properly study the 18,000-seat stadium’s impact on traffic and the environment. The project also includes two 11-story office buildings…

“The Mission Bay Alliance, Jennifer Wade, and SaveMuni are deeply disappointed with today’s court ruling. Our legal team is reviewing the ruling and considering options. We believe that the proposed Warriors’ arena is incompatible with the Mission Bay South neighborhood and would result in blocked access to UCSF hospitals, dangerous air pollution, and traffic gridlock throughout the community,” said the Mission Bay Alliance in a statement…

The group has said it intends to use all avenues to fight the project.

“We are fully committed to ‘Never at 16th and Third,’” Bruce Spaulding, a retired UCSF vice chancellor who is part of the Mission Bay Alliance, told the Business Times in August. “(The Warriors) must relocate to a different site.”…(more)

More than a million people in SF? Did anyone ask you?

By Zelda Bronstein : 48hills – excerpt

New regional plan, adopted with little public input, pushes massive growth for San Francisco – with no promise of money for transit or social equity…

Source: More than a million people in SF? Did anyone ask you?

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)

Op-ed: Jesse Arreguín is right to oppose Jerry Brown’s anti-democratic give-away to the real-estate industry

By Zelda Bronstein : berkeleyside – excerpt

Zelda Bronstein is a former chair of the Berkeley Planning Commission.

In his July 19 op-ed published on Berkeleyside, Garret Christensen slammed Berkeley City Councilmember and mayoral candidate Jesse Arreguín for opposing Governor Jerry Brown’s Trailer Bill 707. Christensen called the legislation “an important state affordable housing bill” that “Berkeley and its councilmembers, especially those with aspirations of becoming mayor should welcome…with open arms.” “[I]t is truly baffling to me,” he declared, “why anyone who calls themselves a progressive is opposed to the governor’s proposal.”

In fact, Trailer Bill 707 is opposed by many people besides Arreguín who call themselves progressives— for example, the representatives of  the 60-plus organizations, including Public Advocates, the Council of Community Housing Organizations, Jobs with Justice San Francisco, the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, and SEIU 1021, who signed a July 8 letter urging the state legislature to reject the bill.

Brown’s proposal, they wrote, “gives developers the power to force approval of projects “’by right’ without public or environmental review.”

For Christensen, the lack of public or environmental review is a boon that would eliminate “Berkeley’s extra layers of approval requirements.” What he deems “extra” is anything beyond the “objective zoning standards” specified in the bill.

The problem: zoning is an essential but limited land use planning tool. A development could meet a city’s zoning and still displace existing tenants, small businesses, and jobs. By removing the right to negotiate with developers over such issues, Brown’s bill puts communities, especially disadvantaged ones, at the mercy of the real estate industry. Meanwhile, as the letter cited above notes, “privileged communities…can merely maintain or redesign zoning restrictions to keep out affordable housing.”

In any case, the amount of affordable housing created by Trailer Bill 707 is piddling, as Christensen himself intimated: “If a multi-family housing project includes a certain percentage of affordable units (the exact percentage depends on the level of affordability, but ranges from  5% to 20%) and meets the city’s zoning laws, the city must grant the permit.” In other words, as much as 95% of the new housing authorized by Brown’s proposal could be unaffordable.

Moreover, a proposed development could meet a city’s zoning and still damage the environment. That’s why Trailer Bill 707 is also opposed by the Sierra Club.

Christensen acknowledges that “[t]here is some environmental opposition to the bill…, since infill developments including the requisite amount of affordable housing would be exempt from CEQA [California Environmental Quality Act] review.” But in his view, “these concerns are misplaced, since any honest accounting shows much lower carbon and water impact from allowing people to live in a denser, transit-rich city like Berkeley instead of making them commute from a far-flung car-dependent suburb.”… (more)

Comments are appreciated on the source as well as on social media sites. This is the most important campaign in the state. The more to remove local control over deciding how to build our cities by removing the options we have now to oppose projects we don’t like. This includes good ones as well as bad ones, but if this goes the state has taken away our options to control our environment. The only way to overturn this is to put new politicians in office who want to decentralize power and protect our rights to choose how we live.

Best comment I have seen on the subject: “If Jerry Brown really wants to help the housing crisis, he would repeal costa hawkins” – good point. How about it Jerry? Let’s repeal Costa Hawkins.

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)

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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%.