Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Housing: ADUs & In-Law Units

An interesting 'News from City Hall' article appeared this week in the Glen Park News, a San Francisco neighborhood publication.
Written by Scott Wiener, a District Representative on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, it advocates a viable method of encouraging more affordable housing in existing neighborhoods.
I think its worth a read, so here it is, quoted verbatim:
I'm soliciting feedback from Glen Park residents about possible legislation to allow Glen Park property owners to add secondary units - also known as in-law units or accessory units - into the existing envelope of their buildings. The legislation also includes Noe Valley, (another nearby neighborhood) and would track successful legislation I authored earlier this year to allow new in-law units in the Castro. (another nearby neighborhood) I'll be attending the January Glen Park Association meeting to discuss the proposal. 
San Franciscans disagree about many issues, but one fact on which we all agree is that our city is in the midst of a housing crisis. Rents are through the roof, and home prices are increasingly out of reach for middle and working-class people. We need to employ various strategies to address this problem, including building more housing in general, creating affordable housing and keeping people stable in their existing housing. 
One strategy to address our city's housing needs is to allow and encourage people to add in-law units in their existing buildings - for example, by converting garages, large storage areas or partially above-ground basements into living units. 
According to various studies, in-law units are the most affordable type of non-subsidized housing, since they tend to be modest in nature and on the ground floor. They're also ideal for seniors and people who have trouble getting up and down stairs. They can be a good option for housing family members or simply for creating new rental units. 
San Francisco has historically been hostile to in-law units, but that dynamic is changing as more and more people recognize that we must create additional, diverse housing opportunities for our residents. The Board of Supervisors recently passed legislation I authored to allow existing illegal in-law units to be legalized, and also passed legislation I authored to allow for the creation of new in-law units in the Castro. I'm currently authoring legislation for owners of buildings undergoing seismic retrofits to add in-law units while they're at it. 
The Castro legislation, on which the Glen Park-Noe Valley legislation will be based, allows owners to add either one or two in-law units into their buildings, depending on the buildings' size. The units must be within the existing envelope of the building - that is, a building's height or bulk cannot be expanded to create the unit - and must be created from spaces not currently being used for residential purposes. An existing residential unit cannot be divided to create an in-law unit. 
The Building Code will be applied flexibly, similar to the treatment of historic buildings under the State Historic Building Code, except for life safety issues. In-law units in rent-controlled buildings will also be rent-controlled. Under our City code, if a garage is converted into living unit, the associated curb cut must be removed and the full curb restored, which usually creates a new street parking space. 
I look forward to receiving feedback from the community and to discussing the proposal at the January Glen Park Association meeting.

Hopefully, this concept can be used in Bellingham, notwithstanding that our housing problems are nowhere near as severe as San Francisco's.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

GPT: It's Never Over, 'Til It's Over

It was probably someone like Yogi Berra who stated the obvious quote above, but he was right, not only above baseball, but other things as well.

The proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal [GPT] and the well-financed folks behind it are an example of something many people oppose for good reasons that seems to have a momentum all its own.
Our community and others have expressed serious concerns about this project and the impacts it will have should it ever come to fruition. Yet, like a ravenous stalking predator, it keeps coming back.

It's quite possible that the only solution to the dangers GPT represents can only be the purchase of the property and physically removing it from consideration as a major coal export site.
Depending upon the cost, that solution could well be much cheaper than the cumulative myriad costs of social and environment harms that would certainly be externalized to the public should GPT ever be permitted to operate.

But GPT is only one such self-serving venture, albeit the one closest to our community. There are many others, known and in planning that could impose similar harms.

Several months have elapsed since I last blogged on the subject of GPT and related topics, but fortunately several others have been following it closely and reporting what they've found.

Today's Crosscut carries Floyd McKay's latest report, entitled 'Coal exports from Bellingham could ramp up rapidly'.

I strongly suggest reading it.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

US Constitution: A Mix of Six Fixes

After an almost 8-month hiatus from publishing any blog, I must proclaim any rumors of my demise are premature.

Now, after several months of reading and study, I especially recommend a short, clearly written book by former US Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, entitled ‘Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution’.

Of the the six proposed Amendments; 'the first four would nullify judge-made rules, the fifth would expedite the demise of the death penalty, and the sixth would confine the coverage of the Second Amendment to the area intended by its authors.

Because each suggested 'fix' is explained in terms of its judicial history - and the entire US Constitution appears as an Appendix - understanding Justice Stevens' arguments is readily facilitated.
Also, the 'fixes' suggested are relatively terse, fitting easily into existing Constitutional context. 

1. The "Anti-Commandeering" Rule
FIX: The Constitution should amended by adding four words to the Supremacy Clause in the second paragraph of Article VI, to wit:

"This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges and other public officials in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding."

2. Political Gerrymandering
FIX: The Constitution should amended by adding the following paragraph:

“Districts represented by members of Congress, or by members of any state legislative body, shall be compact and composed of contiguous territory. The state shall have the burden of justifying any departures from this requirement by reference to neutral criteria such as natural, political, or historic boundaries or demographic changes. The interest in enhancing or preserving the political party in control of the state government is not such a neutral criterion.”

3. Campaign Finance
FIX: The Constitution should amended by adding the following paragraph:
[in part prompted by concerns with the chain of US Supreme Court decisions leading up to “Citizens United’]:

“Neither the First Amendment nor any other provision of this Constitution shall be construed to prohibit the Congress or any state from imposing reasonable limits on the amount of money that candidates for public office, or their supporters, may spend in election campaigns.”

4. Sovereign Immunity
FIX: The Constitution should amended by adding the following paragraph:

“Neither the Tenth Amendment, the Eleventh Amendment, nor any provision of this Constitution, shall be construed to provide any state, state agency, or state officer with an immunity from liability for violating any act of Congress, or any provision of this Constitution.”

5. The Death Penalty
FIX: The Constitution should amended by adding five words to the text of the Eighth Amendment, to wit:

“Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments such as the death penalty inflicted.”

6. The Second Amendment (Gun Control)
FIX: The Constitution should amended by adding five words to the text of the Second Amendment, to wit:

“A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms when serving in the militia shall not be infringed.”


Now that we know what fixes are needed, all we have to do is to convince Congress to allow state ratification of these changes. Just a little detail......

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Elections Thoughts

For some time, I've felt a declining joyousness about our local elections process and the growing obstacles that threaten it, but today's local results have helped reverse that trend.

Even though about 5000 ballots remain to be counted and certification isn't until 1/26, I'm happy with the direction Whatcom County voters have taken, to wit:

• All four progressive candidates for County Council lead by substantial margins
     [Weimer, Mann, Browne, Buchanan]

• Both progressive candidates for Port of Bellingham Commission also lead
     [McAuley, Kowalczyk]

• Two first-time City Council candidates, both young women, have wide leads
     [Vargas, Murphy]

• Initiative 517, another Tim Eyman exercise, is failing statewide

Despite all that is right in our system, there are some glaring flaws that need to be fixed to ensure that principles of fairness, equity and openness are always evident.

Here are a few:

• The Citizens United SCOTUS decision that corporations are persons and money is speech needs reversing!

• PACs and other corporate gimmicks badly need the -timely- light of day

• The role of 'outside' money in local elections needs serious questioning

• Gerrymandering needs to be curtailed by redistricting to ensure no 'safe' seats

• Notwithstanding the 1st Amendment, political speech needs to be more accurate and truthful, especially in mass media and mass mailings

• Candidates should agree, in advance, to attend Forums and answer Questionnaires to demonstrate their comprehension and explain their positions on Issues

• PDC [Public Disclosure Commission] rules and guidelines need to be strengthened and enforced

• Wider voter awareness and participation

There are probably other flaws that need fixing, too.

Today's Gristle is a good read that weaves some political contemporary history into these latest election results.
Don't you agree that the incoming County Council ought to address the egregious current Planning Commission very soon?
I believe new appointments such be undertaken as a first order of business, in the interest of decent planning in compliance with the Growth Management Act!
That would give reasonable certainty for all citizens, plus reduce the unnecessary costs of continuing to deny that GMA guidelines need to be followed.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A Sad Day For America

George Washington's Farewell Address *[see below] warned against certain dangers to our Constitution by political factions;

While Washington accepts the fact that it is natural for people to organize and operate within groups like political parties, he also argues that every government has recognized political parties as an enemy and has sought to repress them because of their tendency to seek more power than other groups and take revenge on political opponents.
Washington goes on to acknowledge the fact that parties are sometimes beneficial in promoting liberty in monarchies but argues that political parties must be restrained in a popularly elected government because of their tendency to distract the government from their duties, create unfounded jealousies among groups and regions, raise false alarms amongst the people, promote riots and insurrection, and provide foreign nations and interests access to the government where they can impose their will upon the country.
Our governmental shutdown is inexcusable and hurts everyone.
That a few political ideologues have conspired to inflict this calamity on our -and their- country is incredibly stupid. There is no other word to describe it.

House Speaker John Boehner has shown such a lack of leadership and courage that he has literally become a parody of a power broker, worthy of disdain. 
Small wonder Congress's 'approval' rating is 10% or less.
Care to guess who is included in that 10%?
Mr Boehner, why won't you even allow a simple vote on the budget?
Be honest now and try not to engage in self-serving spin; is holding onto your job title more important than having the courage to buck those radicals who covet it?

But, what goes around, comes around. 
Republicans have made their nest and now must live in it.
Maybe, these self-styled Tories will come to see the error of their ways, do their job and let our government return to normalcy, but don't count on it!
The 'my way or the highway' attitude exhibited against nearly every goal or achievement advocated by President Obama since his election, has no useful place in a representative democracy.
It is a juvenile, divisive and ultimately self-defeating strategy that should not be rewarded, but instead discouraged.

Hopefully, the current impasse will soon be over, but how can anyone claim victory?
George Washington would likely shed a tear.

* Reading in Congress

In January 1862, during the American Civil War, thousands of Philadelphia residents signed a petition requesting the Congress to commemorate the 130th anniversary of Washington's birth by reading his Farewell Address "in one or the other of the Houses of Congress.” First read in the United States House of Representatives in February 1862, the reading of Washington's address became a tradition in both houses by 1899.
In 1984, however, the House of Representatives abandoned the practice. The Senate continues this tradition into modern times, observing Washington's Birthday by selecting a member of the Senate, alternating between political parties each year, to read the address aloud on the Senate floor.

Monday, September 30, 2013

When Right Is Wrong

What's in a word?
Multiple meanings, spellings, pronunciations, nuances.
Right or Wrong, Right or Left, etc.

Right-wing politics -euphemistically called 'conservative- does not easily support change, especially so-called 'progressive' change. 
That is largely the case with the current threat of shutting down government unless 'ObamaCare' is repealed. 
Wishful thinking at best by those more interested in silly political posturing!

I hope Congress does the 'right' thing, and they probably will, eventually. 
However this exercise turns out, it is an example of putting selfish interest above the common good, at least in my view.
A representative democracy is generally accepted as a proven way -if not the best way- to insure that the will of the people is reflected in law and policy. 
But, this is not guaranteed; it depends upon those elected doing their best to the benefit of not only their 'constituents', but the entire population. 
Unfortunately, not every elected representative has received this memo, much less honored it both in spirit and deed. 
That is not a new problem and is likely to be unresolved unless we make known our expectations of those we chose to represent us. 
Freedom is not free, especially unrestricted freedom. Certain constraints are necessary in the name of fairness, equality and civility. 

Our founders were amazingly prescient about governance, especially practical and sustainable governance that continually seeks to reflect the will and best interests of people - all people. 
But, they weren't perfect in defining which people are to be included; which is why our Constitution has always been subject to change by adjustment to include non-property owners, blacks and people of color, women as well as those with diverse beliefs, religions and lifestyles. 

But, these changes have not come easily and remain subject to debate among those who prefer to keep those special privileges enjoyed by our 'prescient' founding fathers, mostly wealthy white male property owners. 
Are today's elected representatives much different? 
Yes, and no. 
While our current Congress is more diverse, there remains a large contingent who are very wealthy and many others who seek to become so in currying favor from the hordes of lobbyists and 'special interests' who crowd Washington, DC. In such an environment, the temptation must be strong to represent selfish interests above all others.

If government is to be of the people, for the people and by the people, then it is necessary to have every person's needs, aspirations and rights equitably addressed, not just a favored few among many. 
But, that has become increasingly problematic with the ideological stances being taken lately by those who seem to value their own election/reelection goals above those of the good of the entire population. 

The founders intended to have a 'virtuous' government and to encourage 'virtue' in its citizens. 
Is this happening? 
Will it likely happen without continuous effort? 
How will this effort be generated? 

If our government is intended to reflect us, the citizens, is this actually happening? 
If our current government does actually reflect its current citizenry, what does that say about us? 
Are we so occupied with distractions that we allow our representatives to act as they are, then play the blame game when things don't go to suit us? 

If that is the case, the founders might not be very happy with us, unless with subliminal thought, they expected a future return to their era, where only rich, white property owners controlled things for their own selfish interests. 
Doesn't it seem that the rich and powerful have much more clout than they deserve in our government?

Without the tyranny of a foreign monarch, the threat from foreign enemies, the fear from foreign terrorists, the competition from foreign economies, the inconvenient menaces of nature itself, we are left with the troubling dilemma of just dealing with ourselves. 
As Pogo said, 'the enemy is us.'

I hope that Americans, collectively, will reclaim our rightful role in determining what is in our best interests, then require those who represent us to seek reasonable, effective means to achieve it.
That includes providing the US Government the adequate means to maintain its essential services, despite any ideological obstacles that arise.

Our representatives need to be held responsible and accountable for their votes and non-votes!

Friday, August 2, 2013

GPT: Footsteps to Oblivion?

August has already provided welcome news to all who have experienced serious reservations about the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal to export coal.
Of course, consideration of that proposal must still go through due process, but now the playing field has been leveled considerably and a much more balanced weighing of pros and cons is likely.

Whether the current proposal fails won't determine what future proposals may come forward.
Even if the GPT site itself is eventually purchased and turned into a park or other restricted use, increased rail traffic to bring petroleum feedstocks to local refineries may become a reality.

Here are links to several articles that announce and explain recent developments:

• Crosscut Article by Floyd Mckay: http://crosscut.com/2013/08/01/coal-ports/115793/coal-port-faces-new-level-environmental-scrutiny/

The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.