The Death of SB 827 (increased density around transit) applaud or mourn?

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A Sacramento reporter called me the other day to ask me how I thought the Bay area was feeling about SB 827, the Wiener-Skinner bill that would wrest some level of local control from communities that use zoning and other more imaginative strategies to prevent dense development, that is, high-rise and even low-rise housing in transit zones. download (3)

But before the article even came out, my prediction that the bill would die, came suddenly true. And it died an ignominious death-it didn’t even get out of its first committee hearing at the capital-but this is not before it had animated heated discussions in every hamlet and city disguised as a suburb across the expanse of the golden state.

Those who feared SB 827 may not want to dance on its grave just yet as the original author, Senator Scott Wiener of San Francisco claims he’s not giving up. “I will continue to work with anyone who shares the critical goals of creating more housing for people in California, and I look forward to working in the coming months to develop a strong proposal for next year.”  http://sd11.senate.ca.gov/news/20180417-senator-wiener%E2%80%99s-bill-allow-more-housing-near-public-transportation-stalls-senate

Wiener also said (in the above statement) that he was “heartened by the conversation it has started, both with those who support the bill and with critics of the bill.” And there I agree with him. We need to have this conversation and we need to have it among friends since we all live in a state that has almost no really affordable housing AND no  comprehensive transit systems that compare with those in cities like New York, Boston, DC, Chicago, Philly, you know, real cities.  NoLita

I grew up on the outskirts of a small town near a big East Coast city that was rapidly transforming into a suburb-this was the 50’s and early 60’s-so I regularly find Californians’ ideas on a number of things to be odd and somewhat removed from reality (my definition of that, of course.) For instance, you will often hear Californians say, we can’t have a festival, a picnic or whatever in March or April, because it might rain! But it rains whenever it feels like it in most of the country and people still plan festivals, barbecues, etc despite the likelihood of actual weather, you know, more than foggy-in-the-morning-clearing-with-sun-in-the-afternoon.

images (1) And so it is with our understanding of transit. Californians think that driving to a parking lot and getting on a sort of subway that takes us to one or two parts of town is transit. No wonder our cars clog the streets of our  downtowns. In fact, how many real downtowns where jobs, entertainment and retail all coexist within walkable blocks can you find in the entire state, one, two, maybe three?

Political Perception makes Ornery Bedfellows

The Wellstone Democratic Club tried to debate the bill at a recent meeting and lots of folks I have never seen before showed up. Some said they were there to support affordable housing and anti-gentrification measures, still others feared their quaint neighborhoods would be transformed into concrete canyons.

Rarely does the Right join with the Left or if you don’t like those characterizations, the wealthy homeowners join with the anti-gentrification folks something which by definition happens outside of their high-priced enclaves, like they did in opposing SB 827. It would have been amusing if not so worrisome, because in this case, there interests do not overlap.

So at the Wellstone meeting most spoke about the problems with the bill, all the things it left out (I for instance felt sad that I didn’t get promised a pony-something I’ve always wanted) all the things it might change inalterably and all the folks who might be driven out by luxury, that is, market rate housing.

I know that the authors  went to great lengths to tweak it, alter it and promise more goodies if only you clapped your hands 3 times. The bill’s bland scale was a mind boggling readjustment or an overreach, depending on your point of view, of our state’s zoning rules and even the vision we have of the California dream….

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Burned out 1000 sq ft house selling for $800k in San Jose

But one younger person, not a white-haired liberal like the rest of us, wanted to know why we opposed folks his age being able to live somewhere much less own a home. Good question and it encapsulated the growing generation gap between those of us who’ve obtained a corner of the American/California dream and those who are lugging along student debt while hoping that at some point in their lives, they won’t have to scan craigslist for Housing-Share any longer.

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Private room in Berkeley, $1175

But according to Katy Murphy’s story in the Mercury News, ” Anya Lawlor of the Western Center on Law and Poverty, argued that it was too simplistic of a solution, ignoring decades of research and advocacy on the preservation of affordable housing and development near transportation hubs….that legislation of this scope can take years to become law.”  https://www.mercurynews.com/2018/04/18/why-did-californias-major-housing-bill-fail-so-quickly/

Maybe that’s why, skimming my local pages on Nextdoor, many of my neighbors reacted to this proposal as they would a terrorist threat. Yes there were some who suggested we were in a housing crisis but they were quickly driven away by the fear mongering. In fact when I suggested on social media that the bill could be amended to consider these concerns and to add affordability requirements, some of my closest allies questioned my judgement and maybe my morals too.

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Apartment building next to single family home near Piedmont Ave

While the bill was in hospice, Senator Wiener tried intubation by adding an inclusionary zoning clause (requiring affordable housing be included which matters a lot in Oakland since that policy is NOT in place here) and lowering the height demands of the bill, but it barely took another breath before it keeled over from the weight of confusion, consternation and out-right hate from all of its anxious would-be relations. The will has yet to be read on this blockbuster (get it?) bill before we are all fighting over the remains or rather attempting to put a stake through its heart.

Issues raised, my take-

1) Subsidized housing

Housing is not or should not be a privilege though it obviously is here in Oakland where tent cities expand daily. Housing should be seen as a necessity, a public utility and subsidized to the tune of whatever is necessary to house our workforce, our families, our future and that includes the poor to the middle class like they do in many other countries where owning a home is not perceived as synonymous with being grown or successful and lifelong renting is a comfortable solution not a prediction of PTSD. 20180422_200927

Some of the affordable housing folks object to this bill because market rate developers could not be pressured into offering community benefits like subsidized units and local retail on the ground floor. That’s likely true but it’s a hell of way to get affordable housing built and not a sustainable approach over the long term. We also want prevailing (union) wages, of course, cause we don’t want out-of-town workers sleeping in their cars much less homegrown workers who have to live in tents while constructing luxury housing for newcomers.

Sounds like we all still want a pony —but but–we live in a wealthy state and if we can’t afford to subsidize housing for our folks, we shouldn’t expect to have a growing economy. Fix Prop 13, pass oil depletion allowances, tax professional services, but get something built since the Feds apparently won’t anytime soon.

2) Comprehensive mass transit

But that’s not all, who are we kidding with transportation hubs, we live in a state that has little to no dependable public transit capable of serving the majority of our everyday needs. And no, RM3 will not fix that. It won’t shorten the headways between BART trains or provide many more AC Transit buses on busy routes, much less expand those routes. Folks love to fuss about Uber, etc (me included) but it’s there because we simply cannot get around on our local transit and we can’t all ride bikes, not that there’s anything wrong with bikes-yeah, more bikes, more scoooters, whatever, please.

I can walk out of my house in the morning on time but that doesn’t mean the bus will arrive and mine is not the only street where this happens. You can’t reconstruct California around transit hubs if they aren’t there. We need transit choices like you find in other, less expensive, less wealthy cities. I’d even give up my pony for that! So Scott and Nancy and Governor Whoever, can you get on that too??

3) Dense cities & active downtowns

So here’s the last point I want to make which, damn, may be the most important one. Look around you please Californians. This whole state is one giant suburb. Is that what you really want? Do you want to be wedded to your cars and crabgrass, especially knowing that your children will be moving away or living their lives like Russians in old movies, multiple families to an apartment? 20180423_205440

I have the benefit of having some young people in my life, but not so young that they shouldn’t be able to have an apartment or house or condo without checking the housing wanted, apartment-to-share listings, who allow me to see things in a different way. Also I like to travel and I appreciate cities. Some of them are full of low-rise apartments like Paris whose average buildings are 5 or 6 stories high although that’s about to change. https://www.treehugger.com/sustainable-product-design/newly-freed-from-height-limits-paris-skyline-ready-to-rise.html

20180423_205722Some cities like New York and Chicago and now Atlanta have apartment and condo buildings with many more stories but, of course, some of their chicest, most expensive neighborhoods are similar to Paris. Even the Piedmont Avenue area is more like Paris and less like Rockridge, Crocker Highlands, or North Berkeley. I’m not even bringing Piedmont of Orinda into this discussion. They’re different animals.

But areas like Rockridge and North Berekeley near BART were once surrounded by working class cottages whose owners are now house-millionaires while their offspring move away or yeah, wait for them to die before they can hope to live in their pristine California craftsman cottages (with additions, of course, for those 6 burner stoves, ginormous fridges and farmhouse sinks, but don’t get me started.)

20180422_200843 City living can be convenient and attractive, public transit doesn’t have to try so hard to reach it, eating out, which is now a national pastime for the young, is closer and a bit cheaper. Yes, I am betting that young families wouldn’t mind living in a fourplex with a shared backyard or nearby park if it meant not moving to Sacramento or Omaha.

For those families living in old lead-filled homes or crowded into small apartments, many might prefer newer family sized buildings that could be built with subsidies, rather than subsidizing their children’s learning problems later on. Pay now, pay later but pay anyway.

What is so wrong with building up a bit and not insisting that the California dream is a picket fence with grass we can’t afford to water (and why should we? It’s not sustainable.) Rockridge wouldn’t have to be a canyon but a well-designed low-rise urban landscape with occasional high-rises in their midst. Crocker Highlands could easily sustain duplexes and triplexes along Lakeshore and even higher. The problem on my narrow little street isn’t too many dwellings but too many cars. Only reliable transit can fix that. I can imagine a triplex on our little lots with an occasional empty lot transformed into a mini park.

20180422_201215 Most of us when we travel prefer these kinds of cities where gleaming downtowns alternate with five to eight story side streets and cafes and street vendors encourage us to entertain and shop in public, where civic life is not limited to fighting on twitter but watching people’s children frolic while sipping a glass of locally made wine. These activities do not have to be limited to the gentrification class if we subsidize housing, transit, and promote local business. And if we do not, it won’t be long before our booming economy (not to mention confounding climate change, already here) will sputter and die.

Let’s rethink California! Si se puede….

 

 

 

The Upside Down, Welcome to Oakland

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If you haven’t heard of the series, Stranger Things, you’re missing out but you can attend Oakland City Council meetings, no subscription required, and find yourself in another dimension – The Upside Down- in which one thing may mean its opposite but not always…..there often is no logical explanation for how our city plays fast and loose with their stated goals and even their lawful resolutions. But don’t worry, unlike the evil critters in Stranger Things, they don’t mean anything by it.

Item 7.13 Oak Knoll final Vote

On the agenda tonight are some interesting discussions/votes. The City Council will finally dispense with the Oak Knoll property, a large parcel of formerly publicly owned land that the city managed to lose long ago. They had one final chance to make it work for more than the 2% of Oaklanders (that’s a generous estimate) who got their way. But no, with a vote of 5 to 3-Kalb, Guillen, and Gallo voting no- they are sending it to the cheerful world of wealthy Nimbiism. Never forget-not one unit of affordable housing will be built in this project.

Item 17–Stop ICE Complicity

Please sign up to speak or just listen to the mind boggling excuses our Chief of Police, Anne Kirkpatrick, has given that allowed OPD to assist ICE and Homeland Security Investigations while they arrested a Guatemalan refugee last August. He awaits deportation hearings now as a result of this activity.

Here’s an op-ed Seven Days” Robert Gammon in the East Bay Express:

https://www.eastbayexpress.com/oakland/why-oakland-should-cut-off-ice/Content?oid=11028169

In the agenda packet for tonight, you can view this report from the city administrator which contains a copy of one of the council’s resolutions against assisting ICE in civil investigations or apprehensions. Civil in this case means, immigration laws rather than criminal, which means the person or persons may be engaged in criminal activities that have nothing to do with immigration violations-got it?

“Further Resolved: That, in accordance with state and federal laws, City employees
including members of the Oakland Police Department shall not enforce federal civil
immigration laws and shall not use city monies, resources, or personnel to investigate, question, detect or apprehend persons whose only violation is or may be a civil violation of immigration law; and be it
Further Resolved: That, in accordance with state and federal laws, the Oakland Police
Department will continue to cooperate with federal immigration agencies in matters involving criminal activity and the protection of public safety:”   

Also from the city administrator’s report:
OPD has fully complied with all City of Oakland resolutions concerning the status of Oakland as a sanctuary city in immigration actions. Two of the three relevant resolutions prohibit city departments and employees from assisting or cooperating with ICE (formerly INS, Immigration and Naturalization Service) in relation to civil provisions of immigration law. The two more recent relevant resolutions both specifically state that OPD “will continue to cooperate with federal immigration agencies in matters involving criminal activity and the protection of public safety.”

Since the city can aid in the investigation of criminal activity, did ICE and/or HSI lie to the police chief  and if so, why would she not admit she had made a mistake in believing them or had not read the charge or did she go ahead anyway because…well.. the language of sanctuary is riddled with loopholes and she used one. However, the majority of Oaklanders have been pretty clear that they don’t want to be complicit in criminalizing refugees or terrorizing our hard working immigrant communities.

This is What OPD is offering as a Fix:

In order to provide greater transparency in operations with ICE, OPD will modify its
immigration policy to include the following language:
As a follow up to all cooperation OPD provides to ICE in criminal investigations,
the Department will publish an after-action report on its website within 15 days of
the operation. The public report will include:
• The date, time, and unit-block location of the operation
• The number and cost of OPD personnel involved”

It’s pretty easy to pass ordinances that say we won’t hire firms who help build the border wall but, it turns out to be much harder to really provide sanctuary to our otherwise law-abiding immigrant community. That doesn’t mean that socially conscious Oaklanders won’t continue to push the envelope and demand accountability on this and other forms of tangible resistance to our rogue government in Washingtion DC.

Come out tonight and again on December 5th to the Public Safety Committee Meeting if you want to continue closing those loopholes or, as they say in Stranger Things, closing the gate to the Upside Downimages (9)

Help Wanted: An Oakland Planning Director for Equitable Development

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“We write to reflect the concerns of those who have historically been marginalized and bear the burden of unjust planning decisions that have destroyed vibrant local economies and neighborhoods of working class communities of color for over a century in our town.”

Guest blog by Lailan Huen-edits from the original are mine-for brevity only.

Dear Mayor Libby Schaaf, City Administrator Sabrina Landreth, Assistant City Administrator Claudia Cappio, and Hawkins Company:

We represent eight community-based groups impacted by the Planning Department’s decisions and policies in Oakland, and we demand inclusion of community stakeholders in the hiring of the new Director of Planning and Building.

Specifically, we write to reflect the concerns of those who have historically been marginalized and bear the burden of unjust planning decisions that have destroyed vibrant local economies and neighborhoods of working class communities of color for over a century in our town.

It is these Oakland neighborhoods that are now being most impacted by new development, and the current planning processes are insufficient for protecting these neighborhoods at risk of displacement.  Additionally, we see that the lack of safe and affordable spaces for our arts and low-income communities, as exemplified by the GhostShip warehouse fire, is of life and death.

As residents and stakeholders who have been advocating for equity for decades, we have seen the disproportionate power held by developers looking to make more profit without much regard for the residents of Oakland in the political process.

We understand that many developers have been consulted in this process, but only a small handful of community-based stakeholders have been invited to participate.  The City of Oakland must include the voices of those who are most impacted and at risk to achieve its equity goals.

Therefore, we have gathered requests for candidate criteria and stipulated the process below:

  • A planner with a track record in community engagement and participatory processes for neighborhood planning that provides meaningful time for feedback beyond minimal-17 day-notices.
  • Prioritizes equity and understands how institutional racism and environmental injustice have caused harm to working class communities of color in Oakland, including tools to mitigate past harms and create targeted opportunities in these neighborhoods.
  • Has a balanced approach to considering residents and neighborhoods in decisions-in addition to developers.
  • Has a proven track record with preservation of vulnerable historic, cultural and arts districts in phases of gentrification and new development.
  • Recognizes that city staffers with traditional planning backgrounds are less likely to understand the impact of institutional racism, and will hire more representative staff.
  • Comprehends the challenges facing the arts community currently being displaced, and brings experience to support and create safe affordable spaces for Oakland’s vital creative culture.
  • Knowledge of finance in regards to affordable housing programs and a willingness to look at innovative and non-traditional approaches to fund it.
  • Commits to planning tools such as specific plans, zoning changes, density bonuses, and incentives to leverage developer contributions for community benefits to include affordable housing, community retail space, local hire, and public open space.
  •  And to using public land for affordable housing and community benefits and openness to working with Community Land Trusts to secure permanent affordable spaces.
  • Willingness to implement innovative models such as Planning Leader Institutes, Neighborhood Planning Liaisons, Registered Community Organizations, and an Equitable Development Scorecard to assess how projects will meet the city’s equity goals.

Building an Equitable Process

  • At least 3-4 community seats on a candidate review and interview committee, including from these areas of expertise: 1) affordable housing, 2) historic preservation, 3) environmental justice, and 4) arts and cultural district anti-displacement.
  • Inclusion of sample work, design guidelines, as part of the application review process.
  • An opportunity for the public to be invited to hear from potential candidates.
  • Consider recruiting applicants from cities with equitable processes such as: Seattle, Portland, Twin Cities, Philadelphia or a planning applicant familiar to Oakland and has the requisite experience to advance equity as stated above.

Oakland is at a crossroads. Our community desperately needs a Planning and Building Department that is at the forefront of innovative, equitable, sustainable and participatory policies, such as the above listed cities already have.

We are tired of being left out of the process, disregarded when we do participate, and given lip-service without follow-through.  We want real accountability from the next leader who will make bold decisions to protect what we love about Oakland: our cultural and economic diversity, our thriving creative arts life as a key to our local economy, and a democratic process that includes the voices of residents.

We support positive community development and truly smart growth for transit-oriented development which can provide needed housing that is equitable and involves long-time residents. In order to develop a planning regimen which can expedite the process, all stakeholders-including residents and workers- must be included in a meaningful way with public standards for equitable development.

Please share with us the timeline, process, and opportunities for input, and kindly provide a response to our requests within two weeks.  2016-03-25 22.08.15 (640x360)

Thank You,

Block by Block Organizing Network

Oakland Creative Neighborhoods Coalition (OCNC)

Oakland Chinatown Lodge of the Four Family Associations

Black Arts Movement Business District (BAMBD)

Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN)

The Dellums Institute for Social Justice

East Bay Asian Youth Center (EBAYC)

People of Color Sustainable Housing Network

The Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club