Senator DeSaulnier defends myth of local planning at Town Hall

Senator Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord), at his recent Town Hall meeting told communities who believe they are losing local planning control they need not worry. In fact, DeSaulnier insisted that local governments are in charge of the redevelopment process under SB-1. Easy for him to say as DeSaulnier is headed to the next stop of his political career in Washington D.C. next year to replace retiring George Miller. However, the facts show otherwise.

Here’s what DeSaulnier did not tell the audience:

California Senate Bill 1818 (the housing element, which DeSaulnier claims he knows nothing about (sic)) went into effect in 2005. SB-1818 was intended to make it economically feasible for developers to provide up to 25% affordable living space for low and moderate income families primarily in Project Development Areas (PDA’s) where government financing or other subsidies would be provided.

The main vehicle for accomplishing this was providing builders with density bonuses for constructing low income units. This meant exempting builders from having to meet general plan requirements in such areas as parking, setbacks, open space, and increasing height, to enable developers to meet government guidelines.

Since it takes several years to plan, design, award contracts, finance, go through the permit process, and ultimately build, the effects of SB-1818 did not have a major impact with Governor Brown doing away with the State’s Redevelopment program after he was elected to office in 2010.

Currently with SB-1’s almost certain approval in the current legislative session, Redevelopment in California will be resurrected. The ramifications of SB-1818 are now being carefully scrutinized primarily by mid-sized and small cities outside of urban centers such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Orange County, San Jose, and other high population, metropolitan areas.

Local Planning is history in California

There is a growing concern in Contra Costa, that, especially in wealthier cities such as Orinda, Lafayette, Danville, and San Ramon, the combination of SB-1 and SB-1818 will destroy the harmony of their communities. It is thought the “One size fits all” approach just does not fit for these affluent, suburban villages who want to maintain local planning control to maintain the character of their towns. As outlined in a report by the American Planning Association and other critics of SB-1818:

  • Cities and counties must grant more concessions reducing development standards depending on the percentage of affordable housing units provided.
  • When land donation is involved, (which is frequently the case in redevelopment projects) at least 40 units must be built on an acre of land.
  • Parking standards for local development can be reduced, especially around transit hubs such as BART which can greatly affect already congested downtown areas. This does not apply just to the density bonus units but the entire project. Guest parking facilities can also be removed at the discretion of developers
  • Cities and Counties cannot impose design review for density bonus projects even if they object to the impacts on their communities.

If and when SB-1 is approved along with its forthcoming combinations with SB-1818, SB-375 and the One Bay Area Plan passed earlier this year by The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), local planning will be rendered virtually impotent to moderate the State of California’s urban planning model.

If cities do not meet the terms of fulfilling their housing quotas mandated by the State of California, the State will come in and do it for them. This threat was discussed at the Lafayette Planning Commission a couple of months ago as an argument against those who opposed the plans to build high density housing in their congested downtown area. The same line of thinking has been repeated in virtually every other community where city planners have used “It’s the law” approach to quiet critics.

While opposition groups in San Rafael, Corte Madera, Orinda, Danville, oppose the One Bay Area Plan, and in some cases are willing to risk the loss of State funding, it is doubtful they will be able to hold back the coming parade of crony development imposed by Sacramento.

Less prosperous communities both in Contra Costa, Marin, and the parts of the South Bay have experienced much the same conclusion but find themselves between a rock and a hard spot in dealing with the demands of the State. Cities must comply with their mandates or risk losing tax revenues needed for their day to day operation survival.

One place to protect local planning and at slow down the process is the judicial system. Recently, a Superior Court in Alameda dismissed a lawsuit brought by Bay Area Citizens that challenged the ability of ABAG and the MTC to impose their will concerning housing and transportation on local communities.

This lawsuit was thrown out but it is certain more legal challenges in the courts will ensue. It should also be considered that courts are normally reluctant to overturn laws that are passed by the legislature.

The best hope for modifying SB-1 and the other laws passed in Sacramento that obliterate local control under the guise of combating carbon foot prints, climate change, social justice, and income redistribution will likely have to be accomplished in the legislature itself. Such change will only come if the Democratic Super Majority is dismantled and Republicans can once again become a legitimate voice for California;s many “non progressive” citizens.

It is these folks who are more interested in job creation and the quality of life for their families as opposed to fulfilling the utopian visions of central planners, who can make a difference. Ultimately, it is up to this middle class to make their feelings known to their elected officials.

Strangely enough, the major obstacles of holding politicians accountable for faulty urban planning are term limits in the legislature. More often than not, legislators who pass laws that adversely affect their constituents, are not around to face angry voters when the full impact of their votes ravage the communities they were supposed to serve.

As a result elected officials cater to lobbyists and special interest groups who provide monetary support as they move up the political ladder in Sacramento. This is why it is more likely State Senators lose their seats via a Federal corruption indictment than an opponent in an election. Just ask Leland Yee, Roderick Wright, and Ronald Calderon, who were all unceremoniously removed from their positions in 2014.

Even with this sad state of affairs in the legislature, the public in general is not interested in participating in urban planning debates. This issue lacks the sex appeal of boutique inconsequential “Nanny laws” politicians spend so much of their time working on.

Until a building or complex rises in their town that lowers property values, increases congestion, blocks their view or creates a law enforcement issue, the “housing element” will not be a major factor when votes are counted.

Unfortunately, when the day comes it might be too late to hold back the destructive tides of progressive social engineering schemes meant to make improvements to society but that only makes things worse. Sb-1818 and SB-1 are just small steps in State’s road to ruin.

  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

With no real opposition, DeSaulnier disconnects with voters on the road to D.C.

It’s an odd thing to watch. State Senator Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) faces little opposition in the June Primary for the 11th Congressional seat held by George Miller who announced his retirement. Yet, without a credible  foe, DeSaulnier  seems to disconnect  from his constituent’s concerns.

Within the Democratic Party, no viable liberal  is opposing DeSaulnier in the June primary. Insiders point to his huge bank roll and lineup of party officials and stakeholder endorsements. No one dare run against him. This is a shame because democracy works much better when differing views are offered to voters.

desaulnier-millerA similar  sad state of affairs exists on the  Republican side of the ledger. In`Northern California, the GOP holds  zero seats in the legislature and often fail to present viable candidates. Once elected, Democrats have little fear of being unseated which leads to complacency with nothing except term limits preventing them from holding on to their offices.

The same goes for the on-again off-again California Democrat Super Majority in the legislature where there is little incentive to think about the folks back home. This one party rule in California has resulted in over regulation, cap and trade, absurd urban planning, job killing taxation on small businesses, and a general disregard to the economic plight of the declining middle class that has previously been the bulwark of the State’s prosperity.

The State Senator is no exception. The manner in which Desaulnier disconnects from voters is typical of the malaise which pervades California politics these days. He and his ilk, are so intent on saving the world with their latest draconian five year plans centered on reducing carbon emissions through regional planning and punitive land use policy, that they have lost touch with what is really important to constituents.

For example, over a month ago at one of DeSaulnier’s so-called Town Hall campaign meetings, I raised the issue that with the loss of revenue from Redevelopment, gas tax receipts, takeaways and mandates from the State during the recession, many of the cities in his district have had to resort to raising their sales tax (such as Measure Q in Concord), to keep local governments above water. I  then asked that with the State now able to balance its budget, how come legislative leaders including  himself have not returned this lost funding back to municipalities?

The Senator’s answer was that my question was too general and he would be pleased to get back to me if I could get some specific information for him to review. That’s exactly what I did with the assistance of Concord City Manager Valerie Barone. She and her staff researched the data which chronicled Concord’s loss of revenue from the State (See Table nearby). This information was relayed to DeSaulnier in a letter I wrote dated April 14th. revenue loss for city of Concord Two weeks later DeSaulnier’s office sent back a snippy (read the small print) memo from Jonathan Uriarte of DeSaulnier’s Walnut Creek field office. He explained that the loss of redevelopment funds:

As part of the 2011 Budget Act, and in order to protect funding for core public services at the local level, the Legislature approved the dissolution of the state’s 400 plus RDAs. After a period of litigation, RDAs were officially dissolved as of February 1, 2012. As a result of the elimination of the RDAs, property tax revenues are now being used to pay required payments on existing bonds, other obligations, and pass-through payments to local governments. The remaining property tax revenues that exceed the enforceable obligations are now being allocated to cities, counties, special districts, and school and community college districts, thereby providing critical resources to preserve core public services. These funds were provided to locals under the authority provided by the state in the first place. The State compromised and when the cities went to court over it, the Supreme Court has ruled again that the State acted within its authority. In regards to prop. 1A funds, what was borrowed by the state has been repaid per the California Constitution. So again, I am unsure as to what you are referring to when you say the state needs to “return” tax revenue. Redevelopment as it existed is unlikely to return and those funds will not be coming back. There are, however, a number of pending bills to create new economic development tools akin to but more limited than the old redevelopment. They fall into two categories: 1) bills based in part on the old redevelopment law; and 2) bills expanding infrastructure financing districts. The most relevant bills are: Redevelopment-based SB 1 (Steinberg) AB 2280 (Alejo) IFDSB 33 (Wolk) SB 628 (Beall) AB 229 (Perez)AB 243 (Dickinson) If there are any other questions on this regard, please instruct the City of Concord and their City Manager to send us correspondence directly identifying the amount they believe they are owed by the state and the source of that revenue.

Cutting to the chase, Uriarte and previous Office Manager Lupe Schoenberg, all sing the same tune, that the cities were to blame for the loss of redevelopment funds because they went to court rather than be patient for the State to fund them when economic conditions improved. I was also told that DeSauonier and the legislature thought it more important to direct monies to different programs and needs that they felt was more important.

It is becoming painfully obvious that State Senator DeSaulnier and his colleagues in the legislature are out of touch with the needs of their constituents. Fixing pot holes, taking care of buildings, parks, and sewers is a lot more important than their proposals on redevelopment listed above. The above legislation, not to mention SB-1, is a way for DeSaulnier, Steinberg and the rest to say we will spend your money on their Progressive agenda no matter what.

sb1220 desaulnier real estate transaction tax, affordable housing, califonria politicsIn effect they want to fund State and regional agencies such as The Association of Bay Area Governments ABAG. They are taking away funding from cities to bankroll their carbon-foot print-land-use agenda, instead. Heaven forbid local communities use the money to keep police and fire services running, or fix a  sidewalk or two.

Senator DeSaulnier arguably  has good intentions with his new subsidized low-income housing scheme to be paid with a new $75.00 per transaction real estate transfer tax < He also champions a new program to counsel abused women. In addition he has proposed:

  1. SB-1258 to monitor prescription drug distribution.
  2. SB-1372 co-sponsored with State Senator Lonnie Hancock, (D-Berkeley) which is intended to reduce the disparity in pay between CEO’s and workers.
  3. SB-1301 Designed to make it easier to organize socially responsible corporations
  4. SB=1405 Written to insecure safer use of pesticides in the schools

Unfortunately, these Progressive grandiose plans are hardly the priorities of the average middle class family in the Diablo Valley that has seen their standard of living constantly eroding in the past decade? Job creation in high paying fields (other than government and project labor contracts) along with taking care of basic needs in local government would appear to be more important to most people.

It seems DeSaulnier and the Progressive wing of the Democratic Party in California is increasingly focused on boutique issues that have little to do with getting Californians back to work and increasing their prosperity. As DeSaulnier disconnects from voters and their real bread and butter issues, our State and Federal representatives should be reminded that their constituents care more about local matters. Balanced city budgets, safe neighborhoods, jobs, taxes, education, and their homes are far more important to them than the grand designs politicians like DeSaulnier champion.

This disconnect between the next person elected to the 11th district slot in the House of Representatives with average Joes apparently does not seem to matter. Almost all elected officials in the area stand docilely by while Senator DeSaulnier with virtually zero opposition runs his well funded progressive bandwagon on the road to victory this November.

  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

Exposing the Urban Myths of Redevelopment and Sustainable Housing

We all know margarine tastes better than butter. Experts agree Charles Shaw’s “Two Buck Chuck” is superior to vintage wines. Weed was stonier when we were kids compared with the product that comes out of pot clubs these days. Tom Shane is my friend and George Zimmer wants me to dress better. Claims such as these are a tough sell because they are simply not true. A similar “fantasy world” exists today in urban planning. Professional consultants, liberal foundation supporters, regional governmental organizations such as the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) don’t realize that the time has passed for imposing their “urban myths” on a gullible public. Continue reading “Exposing the Urban Myths of Redevelopment and Sustainable Housing”

  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

Avalon redevelopment project at Pleasant Hill BART raises second thoughts

avalon-pleasant-hill-bartIn the world of athletics when the infamous words “We are doing a good job to build character” are spoken, it ususally means the team is losing and the coach is about to be fired. Taking the high ground is not a substitute for being successful. This is how life works. Not so with projects undertaken by the government. Instead of being judged by dollars and sense, government is often evaluated by criteria that does not jive with the balance sheet. Take for example the urban renewal undertaken a decade ago by the Contra Costa Redevelopment Agency (RDA) in the area surrounding the Pleasant Hill BART station. Continue reading “Avalon redevelopment project at Pleasant Hill BART raises second thoughts”

  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

Plans evolve for Concord’s future development

Pixie Playland Concord CADon’t it always seem to go that you don’t know you got til it’s gone. They paved paradise and put up a parking lot” Big Yellow Tax, Friends, ~Joni Mitchell, 1970.

As we get older, the prophetic words of Joni Mitchell seem to become more relevent as we see important parts of our lives dissipate in the name of progress. For those of us living in the Diablo Valley, this seems to be especially true with the development of the old Concord Naval Weapons depot lands. Within the next 25 years, Concordians can expect approximately 25,000 new Concord residents. Continue reading “Plans evolve for Concord’s future development”

  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

OSIP The cost of doing business in Concord

On a cold rainy January evening, I trudged over to Concord City Hall for a briefing on proposed revisions for the city’s OffSite Street Improvement Program (OSIP). In layman’s terms, this means the fees developers pay prior to building new construction to cover road improvements and maintenance. Continue reading “OSIP The cost of doing business in Concord”

  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •