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......