Prop. 54: A Ballot Initiative That Worked

By Atlas Novack : smmirror – excerpt

There’s nothing politicians and lobbyists in this state hate more than the ballot initiative process to which they all pay hypocritical verbal homage every chance they get.

It’s easy to see why they don’t like lawmaking by the public, the essence of initiatives: The process takes important issues out of their hands. It can alter their working conditions in ways they don’t like.

Sure, politicians will occasionally make use of initiatives, as Republican businessman John Cox and Orange County GOP Assemblyman Travis Allen are doing now in making pet initiatives the centerpieces of their underdog campaigns for governor. Cox is pushing a measure to multiply by 1,000 the number of state legislators, while Allen has virtually appropriated the effort to repeal the state’s new gas tax increase…

But politicians generally hate ballot initiatives unless they’re making such use of them. Brown, for example, opposed the landmark 1978 Proposition 13 property tax cuts because they interfered with his own efforts at tax reform. Most legislators fought tooth and nail against Proposition 20, which created the Coastal Commission and has limited development near beaches and view areas.

But it’s hard to find an initiative that has affected legislators more than Proposition 54, which passed just over one year ago and requires that proposed laws cannot be passed unless they’ve been available in print or via the Internet for at least 72 hours before passage.

Because of Prop. 54, voters could see the final form of Brown’s proposal for California to join a Western regional electricity grid before it actually passed, rather than having to react after the fact as has happened with many last-minute bills in recent years. Because of that notice and the possibility this plan might cause a new energy crunch, opponents could organize loud protests and the proposition died – for now…

No one can be sure just how many lousy measures Prop. 54 spared Californians, because the notorious gut-and-amend proposals that have been common in recent decades were drastically lessened this fall. In that process, legislative proposals which already have a name and number have often been totally changed to cover subjects unrelated to those affected by the original bill. When that’s done at the last moment, the public has no chance for any input… (more)

 

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Oregon Organic Farm Threatened With Forced Herbicide Use Reaches Settlement With County

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by Darren Smith : jonthanturley – excerpt

Last weekend we featured two articles (HERE and HERE) describing a controversy involving the forced use of chemical herbicides on an organic farm that according to County officials was out of compliance in controlling noxious weeds that were threatening neighboring farms and crops.

The 2,000 acre organic farm in North Central Oregon is facing what could be a be an existential threat to its operations after county weed control authorities sent notice mandating that the farm use chemical herbicides to eradicate weed growth.

I attended the public hearing held at the Sherman County seat located in Moro, Oregon. Due to a very high volume of interest expressed by residents and those outside the community, the venue was changed from the County Courthouse to a gymnasium at the Sherman County High School. There was a great deal of uncertainty manifest in this hearing with strongly held opinions on many sides and one can say with near certainty that the publicity generated caused turmoil in this small community. In fact, the concern was so great, that a number of law enforcement officials were dispatched to the area to provide security to address a worry that things might get out of hand. But in the end the two sides reached an agreement that precludes the forced use of herbicides–and offered both a carrot and stick for both parties to strongly consider…(more)

How much damage can the government do before the public reacts? It appears we had two good outcomes in two states this week that prove when the public protests buildings casting shadows on parks and forced use of poisons on organic farms the government sometimes still listens.

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Villaraigosa convenes experts to debate California Environmental Quality Act

BY Matthew Kredell : news.ucs – excerpt

The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the focus of much discussion about development since its enactment in 1970, was front and center at a recent debate at the Galen Center.

The California Central-USC Villaraigosa Initiative at the USC Price School of Public Policy hosted the event, which convened leading practitioners in environmental law and urban development on Dec. 10.

The CEQA was adopted in the spirit of environmental protection and is a big part of why California is known for its environmental leadership. However, critics argue that the CEQA may be abused to hinder much-needed infill and transit development.

 

“The governor continues to look at this issue, and so does the legislature,” former Los Angeles MayorAntonio Villaraigosa said in his introduction. “We wanted to bring together a group of experts from across the spectrum who can help us have an intelligent conversation about it.”

CEQA’s purpose

Paula Daniels, executive director of California Central, provided the context that the CEQA requires that state and local agencies assess and publicly disclose environmental impacts of proposed projects, then minimize or mitigate those impacts to the greatest extent possible. It creates public accountability and a transparent process… (more)

 

Achieving Better Architecture in the Eastern Neighborhoods

by Annie Fryman : sfhac – excerpt

One thing was clear at the New Challenges for Eastern Neighborhoods forum: everyone is begging for better architecture in the Eastern Neighborhoods.

The 2009 Eastern Neighborhoods Plan carefully rezoned the Mission, Potrero Hill, Dogpatch, and parts of Soma with more liberal height and bulk restrictions, but architectural design standards were never addressed. Residential development elsewhere in San Francisco must abide by residential design guidelines, which are (to some, overly) strict prescriptions intended to maintain the architectural rhythm and historicism of the early and mid-20th century.

On Wednesday night, the Potrero Boosters Neighborhood Association teamed up with an eager collection of architects, planners, and neighborhood leaders to collaborate on developing thoughtful guidelines for the quickly changing district. Ron Miguel, a veteran Planning Commissioner, Potrero neighborhood activist, and early member of SFHAC, so succinctly put it: “The Eastern Neighborhoods are the last frontier for creating an inspiring architectural spirit in San Francisco.

Stanley Saitowitz (Natoma Architects) brought an intriguing slideshow of urban buildings from other international, historic cities, emphasizing the need to re-empower the architect in a place where it’s tough to build. “World-class architects come from outside and see this city with immense clarity, but they don’t have the stamina to see their visions through. The forces against architects are enormous.”

These forces against architects were a common thread throughout the forum, attributed at points to everything from the Planning Department, to state mandates like CEQA, to scattered neighborhood inputs and internal reviews watering down design vision. And, in response, the forces against neighbors were also addressed. Fears about developers not considering the communities they’re entering; fears about the city enabling development at scales not fit for neighborhood character. Saitowitz, however, politely responded that “We need to face the fact that we are building a city now – we can’t continue just building little houses on little lots.”

Although a clear set of residential design guidelines was not decided by the end of the evening, the conversation between neighbors and architects was an actionable start to what will likely be a long dialogue. Here are some key conclusions:

Community can – and should! – offer design inspiration…
A team of inspired designers should lead Eastern Neighborhoods guidelines…
Design guidelines can, however, be prescriptive in ground-floor programming…
Neighborhood input should happen as early in design process as possible…
(more)