Making housing more expensive to build won’t make it more affordable

Housing apartmentOnly a politician could believe that making housing more expensive to build will create more affordable housing.

But in Los Angeles, that’s what Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council are asserting. In December, they approved a new “linkage fee” on new development aimed at raising $100 million per year toward a goal of building 1,500 units of new affordable housing annually.

Don’t bother with the math. They didn’t.

The idea of a linkage fee, which exists in some other cities, is to get money from developers whose projects will displace residents in existing housing or generate a need for additional housing, something that could happen if a new workplace was built.

Hardly anybody is building a new workplace in Los Angeles unless it has a drive-through, but play along.

The “linkage fee” in Los Angeles won’t specifically be linked to the impact from a project. It’s simply a new fee for building in the city.

The early draft of the linkage fee, which has been on Mayor Garcetti’s wish-list since 2015, would have imposed the same fee for similar developments regardless of where they were located in the city. But some council members objected to the one-size-fits-all charge.

So the final version divides the city into “high-market” areas like downtown, Venice and Brentwood, and “low-market” areas like South Los Angeles.

The linkage fee for office, hotel, retail and other commercial buildings is $3 per square foot in low-market areas, $5 per square foot in high-market areas.

For residential developments, the fee is even higher: $8 per square foot in a low-market area, $15 per square foot in a high-market area.

The money will go into the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, and city officials say they’ll spend it to build hundreds of units of affordable housing.

Unfortunately, the number of Los Angeles residents who are in need of affordable housing is in the tens of thousands, and those are just the people sleeping on the sidewalks.

Meanwhile, the cost of all other new housing will go up, because developers have to pay these huge new linkage fees just to be allowed to build it.

There are two ways that residential developers can avoid the fees. One is by reserving a percentage of units in their projects for low-income renters. The other option, which is also available to developers of commercial projects, is to get out of Los Angeles and build somewhere else.

Many cities in the Southern California region don’t have linkage fees and don’t treat the construction of a commercial or residential building as a sin that requires some sort of political or financial penance.

In some places, local governments even offer incentives for developers and businesses, to encourage building and hiring.

That’s rare in Los Angeles, where the breathtaking decay of the city is considered incentive enough.

The state Legislative Analyst’s Office has done extensive research into the problem of housing affordability in California, including a detailed report released in the spring of 2016 titled, “Perspectives on Helping Low-Income Californians Afford Housing.”

“The scope of the problem is massive,” the report said, “Millions of Californians struggle to find housing that is both affordable and suits their needs. The crisis also is a long time in the making, the culmination of decades of shortfalls in housing construction. And just as the crisis has taken decades to develop, it will take many years or decades to correct. There are no quick and easy fixes.”

The LAO concluded that while “affordable housing programs are vitally important to the households they assist, these programs help only a small fraction of the Californians that are struggling to cope with the state’s high housing costs.”

To build public-subsidized affordable housing for the 1.7 million low-income California households that spend more than half their income on rent would cost more than $250 billion, by the LAO’s estimate.

But the problem is not just math, it’s logic. When it becomes more expensive to build housing, then less housing is built, and what is built is more expensive.

The LAO report said the real solution is more housing construction, and the scale of the problem can only be matched by privately built, market-rate housing.

“Doing so will require policy makers to revisit long-standing state policies on local governance and environmental protection, as well as local planning and land use regimes,” the report concluded.

So there really is something the government can do about housing affordability. It can get out of the way.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

L.A. County Wastes Nearly Half-Billion Dollars on ‘Trash Train’ That Hasn’t Left the Station

They call it the trash train, billed as the answer to a waste disposal crisis looming in the late 1980s and ’90s that, if left unaddressed, would leave tons of garbage rotting on Los Angeles County streets.

But the crisis never materialized: Literally and metaphorically, no train has ever left the station. A reduction in municipal waste tonnage from increased recycling, combined with a plethora of nearby landfills with decades of remaining space, have made an empty remote landfill at the end of the line unnecessary, placing the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County’s expensive trash train project on hold indefinitely.

Also known as waste-by-rail, the trash train will not leave the San Gabriel Valley for the desert — or anywhere else for that matter — until at least 2027, and maybe even later, said Chuck Boehmke, head of the districts’ solid waste management department, during a recent interview from the Districts’ North Whittier headquarters. …

Click here to read the full article from the L.A. Daily News

California ‘Road Diet’ Antagonizes Drivers Still Stuck in Traffic Gridlock

traffic-los-angelesQuick, name the place where drivers suffer through maybe the worst traffic on Earth while policymakers are committed to making it altogether intolerable. Yes, of course it’s California.

Earlier this year, Inrix, a transportation analytics firm, ranked Los Angeles as the city with the worst traffic in the world, as measured by annual “peak hours spent in congestion.”

Southern California drivers who commute regularly to Los Angeles experience this gridlock every day. They spend an average of 104 hours “in congestion in 2016 during peak time periods.” Inrix says that sitting in traffic costs the average driver in the Southland $2,408 a year in lost productivity, and fuel burned while idling or creeping along in slow-moving parking lots.

Los Angeles also had “10 of the 25 worst traffic hotspots in America,” according to Inrix, “costing So Cal drivers an estimated $91 billion over the next 10 years.”

While California drivers slog through grueling traffic, policymakers have been putting them on a “road diet.” Joel Kotkin of Chapman University says “the notion animating the ‘road diet’ is to make congestion so terrible that people will be forced out of their cars and onto transit.”

The governor’s office has pursued road diets, as well as the cities of Los Angeles and San Jose. San Francisco has been putting its drivers on various, and often costly, road diets since the 1970s. The Reason Foundation says that in addition to its Vision Zero effort “to eliminate all traffic deaths by 2025,” Los Angeles “is still planning to implement over 40 road diet projects” across the city.

Further antagonizing California drivers is the $52 billion fuel tax hike that lawmakers passed to repair the state’s cracked and battered infrastructure. Is there a dime available for expanding highway capacity to open gridlock? Apparently not. But don’t be surprised if considerable portions of the revenue are spent on “transportation” projects that will not improve automobile travel. Transportation analyst Wendell Cox says that California lawmakers “don’t have any problems spending money on roads” as long as the funds aren’t used “to make drivers’ experiences any better.”

It’s not out of the realm to imagine that lawmakers will also try to siphon off some of the revenue to repair the high-speed train wreckage.

In addition to increasing the typical California family’s financial burden by nearly $800 a year, according to Reform California, the fuel tax hike is also organizationally incoherent, as are other elements of the state’s transportation policies. Consider:

  • How much of that $52 billion will be raised over 10 years if policymakers are able to eliminate vehicles with internal-combustion engines that burn the fossil fuels subject to the tax hike and replace them with electric vehicles? As the forced transition to EVsthat Brown and Democrat Assemblyman Phil Ting favor overlaps with the final years of higher fuel taxes, revenue will fall.
  • If the objective of road diets is to get drivers off the roads, won’t that also hurt revenue?
  • And if it’s a policy goal to remove cars from California roads, won’t the mandatory transition to EVs actually require a less than one-for-one replacement ratio? In other words, replacing every internal-combustion vehicle with an electric vehicle won’t decrease the number of cars. Will policies change from efforts to subsidize EV sales to discouraging them?

Public policy should be consistent, coherent and just. Not muddled, contradictory and heavy-handed. It should never be used to herd people, to compel them to conform to politically favored behaviors. But this is what we get from the government we have in California. It’s as lousy as the traffic congestion.

Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

California Sued by Students & Parents for Failing to Teach Literacy

School educationA group of parents and students has filed what it hopes will be a landmark lawsuit against the State of California for its public schools failing to teach literacy.

Public Counsel and the prestigious Law Firm of Morrison & Foerster sued the State of California, the State Board of Education, the State Department of Education, and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson for their collective failure to provide every child in the state access to literacy as required under the California Constitution.

The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court on behalf of parents of students at two Los Angeles schools and one Stockton school, alleges that it is an urgent civil rights crisis that California has the three worst-performing schools and 11 of the 26 worst-performing public school districts in the nation for the ability of students to read and write.

Based on California’s testing standards, the suit states that “under-performing schools throughout California have student bodies consistently achieving less than 10 percent, and frequently less than 5 percent, proficiency in core subjects like reading and math.” To put the crisis in perspective, only 8 children out of the 179 students tested at Los Angeles’ La Salle Elementary were found to be proficient by state standards.

A Los Angeles Unified School District report from an attendance task force found that 800,000 students, or about one out of every seven enrolled students, was “chronically absent” for at least 15 days per year and at risk of dropping out.

Lead attorney Mark Rosenbaum stated that California has 13 percent of the worst-performing U.S. school districts. He added: “Public education was intended as the ‘great equalizer’ in our democracy, enabling all children opportunity to pursue their dreams and better their circumstances. But in California it has become the ‘great unequalizer.”

Rosenbaum referred to the state’s own literacy experts’ report, which concluded in 2012 that “there is an urgent need to address the language and literacy development of California’s underserved populations…”. Despite continuing concerns over the last five years, Rosenbaum argued that the state took no meaningful corrective actions.

During the five-year period following the grim literacy report, per-student spending on California K-12 educational programs did jump by 66 percent, from $9,370 per student in 2012-2013 to $15,521 per student for the 2017-18 school year.

But that concerted effort to improve student literacy was torpedoed in late 2015 by President Barack Obama’s signing of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), requiring school evaluations to include at least one “non-academic factor.” ESSA replaced the No Child Left Behind Act, which relied almost exclusively on regular student testing for grade-level reading and math skills.

Unable or unwilling to improve literacy test scores, the California Board of Education in September of last year voted unanimously to undermine the testing by incorporating other non-academic factors in rating schools that include graduation rates, college preparedness, and rates at which non-native speakers are learning English.

Under the new educational evaluation system adopted by the Board of Education, each California school will not receive an overall literacy rating, but rather receive year-to-year comparative results for how it performs across categories of different student groups.

The Los Angeles Times called the vote the end of a long philosophical shift away from judging schools using only their test scores, “as more people agree that numbers alone can never capture the complexity of classrooms.”

This article was originally published by Breitbart.com/California

Sexual harassment scandal at state Capitol causing headaches for other state Democrats

Raul BocanegraThe far-reaching reverberations from the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment scandal continue to roil the state Capitol more than two weeks after 147 women released a letter denouncing a culture of pervasive male harassment and abuse in the Legislature.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Daily News published an editorial that said the only sitting lawmaker known to have been formally rebuked for sexual harassment – Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra, D-Los Angeles (pictured) – should resign.

“While Bocanegra has apologized for his conduct, we believe the best way for him to serve the public at this point is to resign from office,” the Daily News editorial concluded.

The Los Angeles Times story that revealed Bocanegra’s rebuke could also portend headaches for Democratic lawmakers who knew about the incident that got him in trouble but who either kept quiet or actively helped Bocanegra’s career. The story was based on an interview with his victim, Elise Flynn Gyore, who provided a copy of the Assembly Rules Committee letter rebuking Bocanegra.

The incident that led to the complaint to the Rules Committee came at a 2009 Sacramento event in which Bocanegra – then the chief of staff for then-Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes, D-Los Angeles – allegedly reached down the blouse of Gyore, then a staffer for state Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello. Bocanegra also acted in a way Gyore characterized as stalking.

A subsequent Sacramento Bee story detailed how Bocanegra’s rebuke didn’t get in the way of his political ascent. He was elected to the Assembly in 2012. Among those who helped him with donations or endorsements: then-Assemblyman Isadore Hall, D-Compton, who served on the Assembly Rules Committee while it reviewed the allegations against Bocanegra, and then-Sen. Calderon, whom Gyore said knew about what Bocanegra had done.

Hall went on to serve in the state Senate before losing a bid for Congress last year. In January, Hall was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown to the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board, with an annual salary of $142,095. Hall, 45, is expected to seek elected office again in coming years.

Calderon was convicted in 2016 of federal corruption charges and is now serving a 42-month prison sentence.

Gyore is now chief of staff for Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside, who has been among the leading advocates in the Legislature for holding lawmakers accountable for their bad behavior.

Villaraigosa, Newsom may face questions over their past scandals

The Bocanegra case has many insiders wondering what California politician might next come under fire for inappropriate behavior or worse. But the increasing focus on politicians’ treatment of and attitudes about women could eventually lead to tough questions for the two Democratic frontrunners to replace termed-out Gov. Brown in the 2018 election.

In 2007, when he was mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa revealed that he was involved romantically with a much-younger TV journalist, leading to his marriage’s collapse and his divorce in 2010.

The Los Angeles Times reported then that Telemundo reporter-anchor Mirthala Salinas, 35, apparently began her affair with Villaraigosa, 54, while she was covering the mayor for her network.

Villaraigosa got remarried in 2016.

Also in 2007, then-San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom was involved in a messy office scandal. Alex Tourk, Newsom’s campaign manager and former deputy chief of staff, abruptly resigned “after confronting the mayor about an affair Newsom had with his wife while she worked in the mayor’s office,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Ruby Rippey-Tourk had been Newsom’s appointments secretary for two years.

The New York Times gave national coverage to what it described as “a fast-unfolding scandal with all the sex and betrayal of a tawdry novel,” noting that the affair came while Newsom was “in the throes of a divorce.” But after Newsom repeatedly apologized, his political career continued, seemingly unaffected.

In 2008, he got married for a second time.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Plan to divide California into 3 new states clears first hurdle

A plan to split California into three separate states has cleared its first hurdle. Supporters are set to begin collecting signatures to qualify for next year’s ballot.

The plan is being funded by Bay Area tech billionaire Tim Draper, who previously funded a similar proposal back in 2014 to divide the state up into sections.

That plan failed.

Draper argues that citizens would be better served by three smaller state governments, rather than one large one.

The three-way split goes like this: Northern California would include the Bay Area all the way to the Oregon border, Southern California would begin in Fresno and cover most of the southern state.

A new California would begin in Los Angeles county and cover most of the coastal areas.

Opponents say the plan would create chaos. …

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CA bill would bar landlords from reporting immigrant tenants to ICE

As reported by the L.A. Daily News:

A Spanish-speaking tenant recently asked the landlord of a Los Angeles slum building for a key to its new laundry facility when the landlord reportedly snapped: “We don’t rent to undocumented Mexicans anymore.”

In another case, a landlord threatened to call immigration authorities on a family after they complained to Los Angeles building officials in December of slum conditions with the illegally converted garage they were living in, according to a letter sent Wednesday to Gov. Jerry Brown from the Inner City Law Center, which is based on L.A.’s Skid Row.

City officials had ordered the garage vacated and the landlord had tried to evict the family without paying the required relocation-assistance payment, according to the nonprofit law firm. …

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L.A. City Council replaces Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day

As reported by the L.A. Times:

The Los Angeles City Council voted Wednesday to eliminate Columbus Day from the city calendar, siding with activists who view the explorer as a symbol of genocide for native peoples in North America and elsewhere.

Over the objections of Italian American civic groups, the council made the second Monday in October a day in L.A. to commemorate “indigenous, aboriginal and native people.” It replaces a holiday that served as a touchstone for Italian Americans, marking the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Caribbean.

Italian Americans voiced anguish over the proposal, telling council members it would erase a portion of their heritage. Some said they supported the creation of Indigenous Peoples Day as long as it is held on a different date.

“On behalf of the Italian community, we want to celebrate with you,” said Ann Potenza, president of Federated Italo-Americans of Southern California, speaking in a room packed with Native American activists. “We just don’t want it to be at the expense of Columbus Day.”

That idea was unacceptable to Chrissie Castro, vice chairwoman of the Los Angeles City-County Native American Indian Commission. She argued that …

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High-speed rail service to Vegas? Merely a Desert Mirage

Photo courtesy disneybrent, flickr

Photo courtesy disneybrent, flickr

In 2014, Governor Jerry Brown infamously promoted California High-Speed Rail as the best way to travel between San Francisco and Los Angeles. To justify the estimated $68 billion price tag, the governor tried to play the funny guy, asserting that “old people who shouldn’t be driving … should be sitting in a nice train car working on their iPad, having a martini.”

Now imagine high-speed rail between Southern California and Las Vegas. Instead of enduring the drive on I-15 across the Mojave Desert, people could sit in a nice train car getting a head start on a weekend of inebriation, having five martinis. As a bonus, taking the train instead of driving would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the effects of global climate change.

How compelling is the idea of high-speed transportation between Southern California and Las Vegas? In a July 10, 2017 opinion piece published in various California newspapers, political commentator Joe Mathews declared that building major transportation infrastructure to improve travel connections between the two regions “might be the most powerful current idea in California.”

Actually, the idea is neither current nor powerful. Politicians have touted it for decades, particularly since Amtrak terminated direct service between Los Angeles and Las Vegas in 1997 because of insufficient ridership. And so far the idea has failed to attract enough funding (public or private) to achieve it.

Mass transit between Southern California and Las Vegas is a vision similar to the planned high-speed rail system to connect Northern California and Southern California. Politicians and corporate executives make visionary statements – driven by professional public relations – that get overblown news coverage lacking in critical evaluation. Studies are done to prove the viability and feasibility of the project. Money is poured into planning and review. Then nothing substantial happens to overcome obvious hurdles to the vision.

California High-Speed Rail is a model for how visionary boondoggles get started. A coalition of corporations and unions teams up with politicians. They support a campaign asking voters to authorize government to borrow money and raise taxes to pay off that debt (including the interest). Voters then see well-tested rhetoric in the title of the ballot measure. Each voter takes five seconds to vote YES for imposing another tremendous debt burden on future generations.

It’s likely that one massive Joint Power Agency will eventually consolidate the ambitions of other Joint Power Agencies and ask voters to approve a massive bond measure to fund a passenger rail project between Southern California and Las Vegas. Before this campaign gets moving, the public needs to know the recent history of this idea.

Standard Passenger Rail Service

The most reasonable and achievable recent proposal for passenger rail service between Southern California to Las Vegas began moving forward in 2009 under the direction of Las Vegas Railway Express. The company has promised an adult-only experience called “the X Train,” or colloquially known as “the Party Train.” Originally the company planned to begin service in mid-2011. Eight years later the company is still promising to start soon.

In 2012, Las Vegas Railway Express Inc. reached an agreement with Union Pacific to use its existing track. The company now claims to be currently working with government agencies to “secure the necessary rights, equipment and facilities required to commence charter services in late 2017.”

As the company notes on its website, “there has been no regular passenger rail service between the Los Angeles and Las Vegas areas for over 18 years.” Amtrak operated direct passenger rail service between Los Angeles and Las Vegas until 1997, when it shut down the “Desert Wind” line because of declining ridership and cuts in government subsidies. Reportedly the service was unpopular in part because the trip sometimes lasted as long as eight hours. The train often had to yield to freight trains operated by the owner of the track, Union Pacific.

In weighing decisions about cost, convenience, and time, travelers had chosen instead to drive or fly via Southwest Airlines. Congress provided direct funding in 1999 to resume service, but it never started back up. Amtrak has no public plans to resume service to what is now described as a “shuttered, worn-down depot.”

Very High-Speed Passenger Rail Service (Maglev)

The empty desert would seem to be a relatively easy place to build a high-speed or very-high-speed rail alignment. In fact, there have been two proposals over several years to do this.

In the early 2000s, the Southern California Association of Governments and its individual member governments began considering public-private partnerships to plan, build, and operate a Maglev (magnetic levitation) train between Anaheim and Las Vegas. Congress even dedicated $45 million in 2006 for project planning, but three years later the Federal Railroad Administration had not released the funding. The private partner in the plan, a company called American Magline Group, had failed to raise enough money to qualify for the grant.

Today American Magline Group estimates a cost of $12-15 billion to build the complete project.  It had estimated a cost of $12 billion in 2008. People suspect – with good reason – that the cost estimate for maglev is too low.

Remember that in 2008 supporters of Proposition 1A claimed in official voter information that a complete statewide high-speed rail system in California would cost $45 billion. Today, the Authority claims a line between San Francisco and Los Angeles – sharing track at times with commuter rail – will cost $64 billion.

High-Speed Passenger Rail Service

In 2009, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada shifted his allegiance from the maglev proposal to a more traditional high-speed rail proposal called DesertXpress, a privately-owned operation that would run from Las Vegas to Victorville. Advantages of this proposal included a lower cost (then estimated at $6.9 billion) and a more familiar and tested technology. Supposedly DesertXpress would eventually extend to Palmdale to connect with a planned California High-Speed Rail station.

In the end, DesertXpress could not qualify for a loan of $4.9 billion or $5.5 billion from the federal government to build the project, ostensibly because it would not or could not abide by a federal requirement to purchase train sets built in the United States and could not obtain an exemption. In 2015, a consortium affiliated with the People’s Republic of China became a partner and potential funding source for DesertXpress (renamed XpressWest in 2012), but the partnership ended a year later.

Why the Failure to Move Forward?

Backers of all three of these proposals claim that people will ride their system and operators will thus make money on them. The Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada Las Vegas to Los Angeles Rail Corridor Improvement Feasibility Study sees the maglev proposal as feasible and desirable. The High Desert Corridor Joint Powers Authority High Desert Corridor: Investment Grade Ridership & Revenue Forecasts projects similar success. And the X Train is sure to be a winner, if you believe the public relations over the last eight years.

Why are investors leery of pouring their money into these long-term projects? As shown when the California High-Speed Rail Authority has sought private funding (as required by voter-approved Proposition 1A), potential investors want assurances from the government to reduce their risk before getting involved.

Just like California High-Speed Rail between San Francisco and Los Angeles, the profitability of a passenger train between Southern California and Las Vegas will depend on travelers evaluating transportation options and choosing the train from among them. Ridership projections – even if they are “scientific” – have limited value because of unknown objective criteria (for example, the future cost of driving or flying) and unmeasurable subjective criteria (for example, the willingness of people to travel captive with an inebriated crowd for five hours).

The end of Amtrak passenger service in 1997 and subsequent failures to initiate three modes of intercity mass transit are warnings that trying to connect Southern California and Las Vegas may end up as another government-driven scheme to enrich special interests at the expense of everyone else. Voters need to be wary when the politicians, corporations, and unions ask them for money to make this powerful vision come true.

This article was originally published by the CA Policy Center


Kevin Dayton, a frequent contributor to CPC’s Prosperity Digest, is the President & CEO of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC, and is the author of frequent postings about generally unreported California state and local policy issues at www.laborissuessolutions.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaytonPubPolicy.

Los Angeles approves plan to pay homeowners to house homeless

As reported by the L.A. Daily News:

A pilot program that pays some Los Angeles County homeowners to build a second dwelling on their property to house homeless people was approved with a 4-0 vote Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors.

Homeowners in unincorporated communities who qualify can receive up to $75,000 to build a second dwelling in areas zoned for such structures, while others may get $50,000 to update and legalize an existing dwelling.

The program was introduced last year as part of Los Angeles County’s set of 47 strategies to solve homelessness. The office of Regional Planning will work with several departments countywide with an allocated $550,000 in part to be used to offer subsidies.

Unlike a guest house, second dwellings include kitchens. …

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