In the Heart of the High Density Housing Echo Chamber

In the Heart of the High Density Housing Echo Chamber

Sometimes the best way to deal with an adversary is to go behind enemy lines and find out what they’re thinking. So today, together with Susan Kirsch, I attended the ABAG and MTC hosted event “Calling the Bay Area Home: Tackling the Affordability and Displacement Challenge” at the Oakland Marriott. The Marriott is an impressive venue, attendees were provided with muffins, cake and Starbucks coffee for breakfast and an assortment of lunch boxes – this was no Plan Bay Area public meeting. Our regional transportation and housing planning bodies, MTC and ABAG had truly rolled out the red carpet for this select audience. While not up to Oscars standards, in regional political terms the cast was star studded. The north bay was well represented with Jake Mackenzie, ABAG vice chair and Rohnert Park Vice mayor resplendent in a Famous Grouse rugby shirt just in case his strong Scottish accent was insufficient to drive home his characterful identify. Also in attendance were Marin Supervisor Steve Kinsey, Napa County Supervisor and former ABAG president Mark Luce, Novato Mayor Pat Eklund and supervisor candidate Susan Kirsch with whom I carpooled to the event. So Where’s ABAG’s Forum for Homeowners? What Susan and I found most remarkable was how special interest groups of affordable housing advocates and developers had their own dedicated forum laid on at a 4 star hotel. Where, we asked, was the forum for the other major stakeholder – the homeowners and residents whose taxes paid ABAG and MTC’s salaries and office rent? Where we asked was our forum also paid on our dime – the one that might be called “Calling...

The Flawed Concept of “Workforce Housing”

Listening to the Marin County Supervisors we would be led to believe there is no higher priority than to provide “workforce housing“. “We can reduce the impacts of in-commuting by…building workforce housing would enable people working in Marin to live closer to their jobs.” Supervisor Sears, Feb 21st 2014 Facebook page “It’s important that we build healthy and sustainable communities by allowing those who work in Marin to also live here,”  Supervisor Arnold, Sept 2011 “To increase the stock of affordable housing, especially workforce housing, the Marin County Board of Supervisors enacted the Affordable Housing Impact Fee.” This is a $5 or a $10 per square foot fee imposed on new builds and remodels. An existing 1,800 square foot house with a 700 square foot addition or conversion will be assessed $2,500. Source. The concept of providing workforce housing underpins stated policy not just from Marin County Supervisors but also the Association of Bay Area Governments’ Plan Bay Area: “The job growth forecast was adjusted based on the difficulties in supplying sufficient housing in the Bay Area to meet the needs of workforce housing within reasonable commute times. ” Source: Plan Bay Area, page 15, Employment Forecast Workforce Housing – The Premise & Alleged Benefits The concept presumes that by building affordable housing in a county: more county workers who used to live outside the county will be able to live in the county traffic congestion will be reduced greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced. A quick Google search constrained to the Marin County website references the term “workforce housing” in 340 separate documents. The same term appears in 160 documents...

Save Taxpayers Money – Offer Limousine Shuttles for Cyclists

MTC’s response to Planning for Reality’s Public Records Request for the costs of the Richmond Bridge bike path includes a remarkable expense. As most folks know the bike path will cost $68m – but will likely be used by fewer than 156 cyclists over a 3 hour commute if usage is consistent with Marin bike paths (source: Walk Bike Marin, see table on page 23), meanwhile restoring an already built third car lane will cost $15m: The remarkable item appears on page 9: Relocation Assistance (Shuttle for Bikes) $1,095,000 Escalated value 2015: $1,161,685.50 Further into the breakdown it clarifies: Relocation Assistance Assume 8 hours a day Shuttle operation, 365 days a week, at $75/hr for 5 years $1,095,000 This appears to be a temporary shuttle bus that for five years will drive cyclists back and forth across the bridge! The ~156 cyclists don’t even have to wait for construction to complete, unlike the tens of thousands of motorists who will remain stuck in traffic until the work is completed. Limousines Cheaper than $1.2m Bike Shuttle It would be cheaper to taxpayers to rent limos for cyclists. You could rent a limousine for less than $75/hour, even before negotiating a discount for 5 years of service! Here is a list of multiple San Francisco limo services in SF that cost less than $75/hour (even before negotiation): http://www.sftodo.com/limousine_san_francisco.html Note: Planning for Reality anticipates receiving MTC’s response to its second records request on Richmond Bridge bike path costs by Feb 10th 2015. This original MTC response provided Nov 6th 2014 clearly showed the bike path cost of $68m, yet MTC’s spokesman Randy Rentschler stated...

How Many Riders Will SMART Really Have?

There has been a great deal of speculation about how SMART will reduce 101 congestion or greenhouse gas emissions. But these claims all pivot on the assumption that SMART will attain a certain number of riders. Previously the author has run figures and worked out that to breakeven on CO2 emissions SMART will need something north of 60 to 80 average riders. But how many riders will SMART really get? Could this be realistic? A Look at Other Hybrid Rail Ridership Numbers 2012 is the most recent national data available from the Federal Transit Administration; here is a table showing average train ridership for the four operators that reported “hybrid rail” data for that year. The New Jersey “River Line”, opened in 2004. This line is 8 years into operation before it attained am average of  as many a 46.8  riders. This line connects Trenton and Camden, going down the East Side of the Delaware River.  There are connections to New York City (long commuter rail) and Philadelphia which is pretty much right across the River. While stations along the River Line do not directly serve a major business district, New Jersey is this most densely populated state in the nation. (i.e. far more dense than Marin, so it would be near impossible for SMART to hit a ridership of 46.8). North San Diego County doesn’t go into the major city of San Diego, but it does serve the city center of Oceanside, population 172,000 – that’s over 3x the population of San Rafael, along with a number of other smaller cities and college campuses. It commenced operation in 1995 – 17...

The Supervisors Priority of Convenience: Climate Change

On December 31st 2014 the Marin IJ posted an article: Starting 2015: A Chance to Reboot Priorities that shared that the Marin County supervisors have decided “Topping their list are local priorities aimed at climate change”. My response – how very very convenient for a group of people with an agenda of rapid development and pet transit projects such as extending SMART. I ask, why isn’t one of the following the #1 priority: Dealing with the unfunded pension crisis Dealing with increasing traffic & congestion (an issue affecting the most people, with SMART Sonoma County is planning 25,888 new housing units, placing even more burden on highway 101) Drought (we may have rain now, but we are in a long term extreme drought) Dealing with / helping the  homeless If the #1 Priority is Climate Change Why Don’t Agendas Align With This? If climate change is indeed the supervisors #1 priority then we should expect the Marin IJ article and the supervisor’s focus to be about the #1 method of abating greenhouse gases according to Marin County’s own Climate Action Plan Update: Promoting the use of solar panels. However far better to tie the #1 priority to a “sounds right” we have to fight climate change to save the planet policy, and not mention solar panels. Why? Because then the supervisors can tie their favorite projects du jeur to priority #1 – climate change – and many uninformed sheeple will go along with it. Just look at the county’s own draft climate action plan analysis of how we can make the biggest difference to climate change and assess if they are...

UK to Invest $78 Billion in Roads

We’re told by Sacramento politicians, by county supervisors, by cyclists and transit advocates we need to accept high density housing near transit. We are sewn a story that we can be just as quaint as those progressive, green Europeans. Only here’s the reality check – the UK government just announced a $78 billion road building program. See if any of this  sounds familiar. Over here in the US you may have heard the same rationale made for investing in transit. Here’s what the UK Transport Secretary has to say on the matter: Roads are key to our nation’s prosperity…Better roads allow us to travel freely, creating jobs and opportunities, benefiting hardworking families across the country. The British Government Transportation Whitepaper Read the British government white-paper. This is not some site run by a blogger, not some mere county, this is the British national government recognizing that if one sticks ones head in the sand and bets all the chips on transit, as they had done, it significantly inhibits economic growth and jobs. Excerpt – by the UK Secretary of State for Transport: We need to maximise every one of our economic advantages, and deal with every factor that holds us back if we are to succeed in the global race. Transport is one of the most important factors in making our country prosper. As a densely-populated island, we should benefit from being better connected and more compact. This government has already committed to a major transformation of the rail network. However roads remain the most heavily used mode of transport for people and businesses and we need to give...