Desperation Growing in Bay Area’s Housing Market

Fears that heavy housing costs could undercut Silicon Valley and the Bay Area’s economy have grown steadily in recent years as gains in wages have been outstripped by soaring rents and home prices.

Now a poll of 1,568 registered voters in the region done on behalf of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and Bay Area News Group paints one of the starkest pictures yet of public dissatisfaction.

Those polled were nine times as likely to say life in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley had gotten worse over the past five years than to say it had gotten better. Forty-four percent of respondents said they wanted to move out of the region because of housing costs, bad traffic and declining quality of life; 6 percent intended to leave in the next year. African-Americans and Latinos were those most likely to want to move elsewhere.

But even 64 percent of homeowners – normally much more content than others in surveys on life satisfaction – said their lives had gotten worse.

The results produced yet another warning from the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, which has cautioned for years that the region will struggle to attract workers for tech and blue-collar jobs alike unless housing costs stop spiraling upward. The group’s CEO, Carl Guardino, told the San Jose Mercury-News that “not working at our weaknesses will come at our own peril.”

School districts launch own projects

Most of the cities in the region haven’t come close to meeting state goals for either affordable or market-rate housing. Recent new state laws meant to spur more housing construction have yet to pay off.

Meanwhile, school districts in and near San Francisco and Silicon Valley are increasingly impatient with the status quo and open to new approaches. Three districts which struggle to keep teachers from leaving for cheaper communities are going into the housing business to ensure teachers have affordable rents.

In Mountain View, the city plans to meet its state affordable-housing mandates by working with Los Gatos-based developer FortBay to build a 144-unit subsidized apartment building for use by Whisman School District teachers and other employees.

The Whisman district’s board backed a $56 million agreement that commits the district to lease the building for at least 55 years. The project could be finished by the end of 2021, depending on the pace of city approvals and other factors. Long-term funding options include bonds or certificates of participation (bond-like measures that don’t require voter approval).

District Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph has also voiced the hope that substantial gifts from philanthropic groups could reduce the cost to Whisman.

In Daly City, the Jefferson Union High School District is using a $33 million voter-approved bond to build 116 apartments for teachers and other employers.

The Palo Alto Unified School District is evaluating how to fund a 120-unit project for its employees.

Legislation signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2016 allows the districts to give housing preferences to their employees. It also gives them access to state and federal low-income housing credits.

Can districts afford housing subsidies?

A recent UC Berkeley study of teacher housing issues in Berkeley Unified showed strong support from employees for a similar approach in their district. More than half reported difficulty paying rent.

But to date, no study has examined the long-term financial feasibility of having districts provide subsidized housing, as is contemplated by the three districts pursuing construction plans.

Employee compensation already consumes 85 percent or more of most school districts’ general fund budgets. With districts’ pension contribution rates more than doubling from 2014 to 2020 as part of the bailout of the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, dozens of districts are pleading poverty.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Proposed Homeless Shelter in the Heart of San Francisco Sparks Community Outrage


sanfranciscohomelessThe prospect of a 225-bed homeless shelter on the Embarcadero, one of San Francisco’s most scenic and economically vital areas, took residents by surprise. Only eight days earlier, the proposal had been unveiled to turn what is now a parking lot — Seawall Lot 330 — into the largest homeless shelter of its type in the city. Neighbors arrived en masse at the Port Commission hearing to express their views. It was standing-room only, with people crowded on floors and in aisles, and spilling out the door.

After a brief presentation by Jeff Kositsky, executive director of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, who touted the merits of the “Navigation Center” — as the new shelters are called — local homeowners, renters, and workers were granted two minutes each at the mic. All spoke passionately about their ties to the neighborhood and how the shelter would erode safety and quality of life. They worried that it would intensify drug use and other illegal activity and draw additional homeless people onto their property, leaving more needles and feces behind. Several described how their toddlers have already been poked by discarded syringes and had to take HIV tests. A father explained that his baby stroller was stolen as he was placing her in her car seat; a senior citizen recounted being chased by “a crazy person.”

Their testimonies were often agonizing. A few broke down as they pleaded with the commissioners to reject the proposal. Many emphasized that the waterfront is a jewel of the city. Placing an enormous homeless shelter in the center of it, in such close proximity to the prized Ferry Building, is bizarre. The location, they pointed out, is also a poor choice because few amenities like hospitals or grocery stores are nearby, and police response time in the area is slow. With no requirement for shelter residents to be sober, drug dealing, overdoses, and crime would proliferate.

Port Commissioners Kimberly Brandon, Willie Adams, and Doreen Woo Ho sat poker-faced. The Port of San Francisco owns Lot 330, and the proposal depends on their consent, which seems likely. Mayor London Breed supports the idea. The site itself was likely chosen for expediency, because the Port of San Francisco oversees the location, and commissioners are appointed by the mayor and approved by the Board of Supervisors.

“The community is feeling blindsided and shortchanged in regard to public process or a sincere desire for public input,” says Jamie Whitaker, who lives a block away from the site. “They cast us as millionaires who don’t care about the homeless, which is completely wrong. We just do not have faith in the city to provide the right kind of place for them and us. For example, there should be serious talk of building a mental hospital. It’s clear we have schizophrenic people in this city and they need help.”

After community members expressed their objections, a small contingent of homeless-rights activists spoke, trivializing their neighbors’ concerns as NIMBYism, and, predictably, accusing them of hating the poor. Most of the residents, however expressed compassion and praised the nearby Delancey Street Foundation, a self-supporting residential community for ex-convicts, addicts, and homeless people, because it provides vocational and social skills training in a drug and alcohol free setting. It’s a critical difference but the activists are deaf to nuance and unconcerned about anyone with homes, children, or businesses.

More crucial, though, is the attitude of city leaders and the media. The San Francisco Chronicle ran an editorial headlined, “San Francisco Neighbors are Wrong to Fight A New Homeless Facility,” dismissing the concerns of residents as “the magnetizing fear of a homeless influx,” and implying that elitism fueled their protest. But the Chronicle also admitted that those living on the streets are “often struggling with addiction or mental illness.” The proposed Navigation Centers are neither psychiatric hospitals nor substance-abuse facilities, both of which the city desperately needs.

Further, the Navigation Centers have not reduced homelessness. At last count, approximately 7,500 people were living on the city’s streets on any given night; shelters aren’t making a dent because so many homeless people are “service-resistant.” No one is required to go or stay, and many don’t. Tents and illegal activity mushroom around the shelters, despite so-called good-neighbor policies that are supposed to maintain a modicum of safety in the surrounding area.

The city, however, refuses to guarantee that there will be no uptick in crime and vagrancy. “We feel swindled,” says Wallace Lee, a retiree living in the area. “Something strange is going on. I used to be a lawyer and how this city works is confusing even to me. What I do know is that city officials don’t care about our concerns. I’ve been coordinating people to show up at these meetings. We will challenge the legislation. I’ve made this my full-time job, I stay up until midnight. I heard from a lot of people who want to continue to fight and I’m encouraged.”

And now Mayor Breed claims that she is “ready for battle over housing, homeless.” Her attitude is making enemies of tens of thousands of San Franciscans. An us-versus-them approach is counterproductive. At worst, she’ll get what she’s preparing for: a war with the people who care most profoundly about the city. The commission vote is expected on April 23.

California Sitting on $9.3 Billion in Unclaimed Property, Funds

money bagThe state may owe you cash!

California is currently sitting on $9.3 billion of unclaimed property and forgotten funds. Visit the state controller’s website and fill out the form to search if you are owed any money.

If that money is less than $5,000, you can file that claim right away.

Last month, the California State Controller’s Office said over 33,000 people were reunited with over $23 million. In addition, more than 800 properties were reclaimed in San Francisco alone. …

Click here to read the full article from NBC News

California bill would seal 8 million criminal convictions


Police carA Northern California lawmaker and district attorney announced Thursday a proposed law that would automatically clear some 8 million criminal convictions eligible for sealing but that remain public records.

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon and state Democratic Assemblyman Phil Ting of San Francisco said the bill if passed would help millions of offenders take advantage of an often overlooked law allowing convicted drunken drivers, burglars and other low-level offenders to seal their records.

Gascon at a press conference in San Francisco with Ting said fewer than 20 percent of eligible cases are cleared and that most eligible offenders are unaware they can seal their criminal records and are “living in a paper prison.”

Sex offenders and any offender who served time in prison are ineligible. …

Click here to read the full article from the Associated Press

Proposed Bill Would Let 17-Year-Olds Vote in All California Elections


VotedCalifornia doesn’t have a particularly high opinion of the maturity of 18-year-olds, who can join the military but who can’t legally buy alcohol, tobacco, marijuana or firearms until they’re 21.

But Assemblyman Evan Low (pictured), D-San Jose, wants to go in a different direction on voting. He has introduced Assembly Constitutional Amendment 8, which would lower the voting age from 18 to 17. First it needs to get two-thirds support in both the Assembly and the Senate, then approval of a majority of state voters.

Twenty-three states allow 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections if they will be 18 on the day of the general election. Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-San Mateo, has introduced Assembly Constitutional Amendment 4 to allow such voting in California.

But according to a San Francisco Chronicle analysis, no state allows voting at age 17 in general elections.

“Lowering the voting age will give a voice to young people and provide a tool to hold politicians accountable to the issues they care about. Young people are our future, and when we ignore that we do so at our own peril,” Low said in a statement provided to the Sacramento Bee.

Last year, Low’s similar proposal got 46 votes in the Senate – eight shy of the two-thirds threshold. He believes with Democrats now holding 61 of the Assembly’s 80 seats and 29 of the Senate’s 40 seats, his chances of making the ballot are much improved.

Republicans have been generally opposed to Low’s measure at least partly for partisan reasons. Polls in recent years have shown younger voters lean strongly to the left – to the point where a Gallup survey from last August found more of those aged 18 to 29 had a favorable view of socialism (51 percent) than capitalism (45 percent).

San Francisco nixed 2016 measure lowering voter age

But it’s not clear if Democrats will see the change as a way to gain a political advantage or are even enthusiastic about the idea. In May 2016, in San Francisco – where Democrats outnumber Republicans by 8 to 1 – the Board of Supervisors put Measure F on the November ballot, which would have lowered the voting age to 16 for local elections. But voters rejected it 52.1 percent to 47.9 percent, a 15,000-vote spread.

The debate over the measure likely foreshadowed the debate to come in the Legislature over Low’s bill.

Supporters said 16- and 17-year-olds were as capable as adults of making smart, informed election choices. They also said the voting change would promote awareness of civics at a time when polls show many young people are unfamiliar with basics about democracy.

Critics questioned why the measure had such a different view of young people’s maturity when it came to voting than with other adult privileges.

The close election may have been swung by a critical Chronicle editorial in September 2016.

“Young people must wait until the age of 21 to drink alcohol and, in California, smoke tobacco. They must wait until the age of 18 to serve their country,” the newspaper’s editorial board wrote. “It makes no sense for San Francisco to send the message that voting is a responsibility any less serious than these are.”

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

San Francisco will remove more than 9,300 marijuana-related crimes from people’s records

Marijuana smokingSan Francisco prosecutors announced Monday they would move to expunge 9,300 marijuana-related convictions dating back decades, part of a sweeping effort to rethink “the war on drugs” now that pot is legal in California.

The announcement culminated a year-long review of marijuana convictions in San Francisco, which critics say disproportionately punished minority communities and made it more difficult for those with criminal records to get jobs and other essentials.

Other California counties, including Los Angeles, are considering similar efforts, though none have gone as far as San Francisco. The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office estimates there have been 40,000 felony convictions involving pot-related offenses since 1993, but prosecutors have not said how many of those could be eligible for being expunged. …

Click here to read the full article from the L.A. Times

San Francisco Embraced a New Religion: Drug Normalization


San Francisco, CA, USADrugs are destroying San Francisco’s most densely populated and desirable neighborhoods, as more and more addicts, many of them homeless, fill the streets. Politicians and activists are pushing “harm reduction,” which, in a clinical sense, means a “set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with drug use,” such as overdose or the transmission of disease. But in a contemporary context, it also means “a movement for social justice built on a belief in, and respect for, the rights of people who use drugs.”

Harm reduction, originally a controversial public-health measure, has become a religion among advocates, even as fears that the practice would normalize drug use have been borne out. Organizations like the San Francisco Drug Users Union demand “a safe environment where people can use & enjoy drugs” and a “positive image of drug users to engender respect within our community and from outside our community.” True believers dominate City Hall as well as a network of affiliated, politicized nonprofits that operate in the city with little oversight or accountability. In this environment, questioning harm reduction or its effects borders on heresy. But are the programs actually helping impoverished addicts? And what is the impact on the community?

The Department of Public Health distributes 4.45 million needles each year to the city’s 22,000 intravenous drug users. Heroin and prescription opioids are the most injected substances, though use of methamphetamines and Fentanyl is on the rise. It’s true that sterile needles reduce the transmission of blood-borne infections, and injecting narcotics under supervision can lower the risk of overdose and death. But harm reduction goes far beyond promoting these kinds of needle-safety measures. For example, At the Crossroads, a nonprofit, assembled “safe snorting kits” for at-risk and homeless youth. Baggies were filled with straws, chopping mats, plastic razor blades, and instruction sheets. Other groups offer crack-cocaine “safe-smoking” kits. A proposal to open “safe injection” sites, opposed by Jerry Brown, is favored by Governor Gavin Newsom, and is likely to succeed.

Harm-reduction efforts are sometimes sold as ways to connect with addicts, offer them other services, and help them get off drugs. But those laudable goals are not really what motivate advocates, who want mostly to remove the stigma surrounding drug use. Addicts may eventually pursue treatment or stop using on their own, but a central principle of harm-reduction theory is accepting and respecting drug use. As a result, an astonishing number of addicts on San Francisco streets hover on the edge of death, despite a continuous supply of clean needles.

Visit city neighborhoods ranging from the iconic Union Square and the Financial District to historically troubled areas such as the Tenderloin, Civic Center, and South of Market, and the unintended consequences of harm reduction become hard to ignore. The advocates have certainly succeeded in reducing stigma—it’s easy to find people openly injecting into their arms, legs, toes, and necks. Their exposed flesh shows infected sores; they stumble, fall, and pass out. There seem to be more of them, and in worse condition, every day. Addicts congregate on sidewalks, in parks, subway stations, and outside businesses. They die in school doorways.

As for the needles, addicts are encouraged to take as many as they want. The city program does not involve needle exchange, so it offers no incentive properly to dispose of used needles. San Francisco’s streets and transportation system are littered with discarded syringes. After massive public outcry (and streams of embarrassing media reports) about the proliferation of hazardous medical waste on the streets and sidewalks, the city contracted with the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, at approximately $1 million per year, to hire a cleanup crew. Roughly 60 percent of the needles now get collected.

Meantime, quality of life in the city continues to erode. Tourism is threatenedretailers close, and families leave. Yet harm-reduction zealots remain adamant in their views. During public discussions about safe-injection sites, they dismiss legitimate concerns about increased drug-dealing, burglaries, violence, and vagrancy. In community meetings, Department of Public Health representatives disregard residents’ misgivings. Typical complaints—“Why are you doing this? Bloody needles are everywhere, people are injecting in front of my kid’s preschool, I’m afraid to take my dog for a walk”—are met with responses that usually begin, “This is harm reduction.” In San Francisco’s brave new world, there is no room for the skeptic.

San Francisco Car Break-In Epidemic Continues


Police carIn September, when the FBI released national crime statistics for 2017 that showed San Francisco had the highest rate of property crimes per capita of any of the 20 largest U.S. cities, officials were quick to say the problem was getting better.

Last year saw about 54,000 property crimes in the city – about 150 car break-ins, burglaries and thefts a day. But the San Francisco Police Department depicted the city as having turned the corner on the problem, using better coordinated responses to cut car break-ins by 14 percent. They said the criminal gangs who were behind most of the break-ins were less active.

Yet a San Francisco Chronicle story printed earlier this month suggests that police have exaggerated their progress.

“Politicians and police have bragged repeatedly that property crimes and car break-ins are down from last year’s epic high. But what they don’t mention is that they’ve actually gone up in the area patrolled by the Central Station, which includes most of San Francisco’s major tourist destinations: Union Square, Fisherman’s Wharf, Lombard Street, North Beach, Nob Hill and much of the Embarcadero,” the Chronicle noted.

“Through October, Central Station had seen 9,106 property crimes, a 13 percent increase from the same time period last year. Car break-ins are up 4 percent, and burglaries, which include home break-ins and shoplifting, are up a whopping 48 percent.”

Overall, the city is averaging 144 property crimes a day – only a slight drop from 2017.

Yet residents’ anger over the property crime epidemic goes far beyond the numbers and the criminals responsible. Letters to the editor and online posts show disbelief at how few consequences there are for the break-ins. In 2017, only about 1 in 60 cases ended with an arrest. Even cases where stolen credit cards are used illegally – a crime that usually provides investigators with strong, clear evidence – rarely end in prosecution.

Failure to use signs to warn tourists blasted

And citizens who try to help police report deep frustration and a belief the “smash and grab” break-ins are not taken seriously. In February, the NBC Bay Area television station interviewed a car break-in victim who provided police with videos of at least 50 car breaks-in near his home, with none apparently leading to criminal prosecution. His frustration with the police was backed up by a spokesman for San Francisco District Attorney George Garcon (pictured) who said officers needed to make more arrests.

But the visitors industry – which generates $9 billion a year – is also frustrated with Mayor London Breed and city supervisors. As Chronicle columnist Heather Knight wrote recently, the best insurance against a vehicle break-in is having literally nothing of value in sight within a car – the everyday practice of locals who drive. Yet instead of getting this message across by requiring that car rental agents directly verbally warn customers, the city merely requires that a warning be part of rental paperwork. Knight also called the city’s failure to put up warning signs at the most popular visitor sites “incredible.”

TV crew reporting on problem itself victimized

The national media has been reporting on the crime wave in San Francisco since 2017. In September, the “Inside Edition” show staged a sting in which valuables with GPS trackers were left inside a car at a tourist site. It was soon broken into, leading reporter Lisa Guerrero to later confront one of the two thieves.

But later that day, as Guerrero was interviewing a car break-in victim who complained about police indifference,  “a car belonging to the ‘Inside Edition’ crew was broken into, resulting in two broken windows and the theft of thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment,” according to the show’s website.

Crime in San Francisco isn’t as severe in other categories, according to the FBI. The city had the 75th worst rate of violent crimes out of the 298 cities the agency tracked.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

San Francisco Becoming a ‘Sanctuary City’ for the Homeless


homelessWhen San Franciscans went to the polls on Nov. 6, they knew in advance what the consequences are likely to be if an initiative to tax corporations to fund services for the homeless was approved. Yet they passed it anyway.

Nearly 61 percent voted for Proposition C, which imposes a tax on businesses in the city and county to raise as much as $300 million a year to “help homeless people secure permanent housing,” for “construction, rehabilitation, acquisition, and operation of permanent housing with supportive services,” and for “programs serving people who have recently become homeless or are at risk of becoming homeless.”

They will find that, rather than reducing the number of homeless in San Francisco and helping those who remain on the streets, what is being called the biggest tax hike in city history will only increase their numbers and do little to nothing to improve their plight.

The approval of Proposition C stands in stark relief to the views of Mark Farrell, who was briefly San Francisco mayor. Earlier this year Farrell told the San Francisco Chronicle that he was weary of facilitating homelessness.

“Enough is enough. We have offered services time and again and gotten many off the street, but there is a resistant population that remains, and their tents have to go,” he said.

“We have moved as a city from a position of compassion to enabling (unacceptable) street behavior, and as mayor I don’t stand for that.”

The new mayor, London Breed, is left with the the urban equivalent of a cleanup on aisle five. She opposed Prop C because she knew there would be “the inevitable flight of headquarter companies — and jobs — from San Francisco.” She also acknowledged that the initiative will make the homeless problem worse. Yet due to the will of the voters, Breed is now saddled with it, and, according to local television news, is “working with City Attorney Dennis Herrera to validate voter-approved Proposition C in court so that the city can begin gathering funds from the measure.”

It will be a failing enterprise. Additional funds will do nothing.

If San Francisco is to begin moving the homeless off its streets, it needs to start with adding more housing. Much more. But expanding the housing stock isn’t an option when the costs of building are staggeringly steep, and policymakers have done little to alleviate the construction hurdles that have created the shortage.

In the meantime, the city will become a magnet for more homeless, having become a “sanctuary city” for them through Prop C. If residents think they have a problem now with people on the streets, just wait until even more homeless make their way there in search of the promise of housing that will never materialize.

San Francisco voters could have also looked up the road to Seattle for some insight before they approved Prop C. There the city council voted to tax businesses within the city limits $275 per employee to fund homeless programs, then turned around and repealed the tax less than a month later. Critics of the repeal said the council went back on the tax hike because members were bullied by big companies opposed to it. Or maybe they simply realized that the company line from Starbucks — “Together we must work to bring families inside, once and for all” — made more sense than a coercive and punitive program straight from a central planner’s desk that would worsen the homeless problem and hurt the city’s economy.

San Francisco has to do something about its homeless crisis. It is swimming in human feces and urine, awash in used hypodermic needles, and flooded with litter. Proposition C, which the San Francisco controller estimates will cost $200 million to $240 million a year in city GDP, and 725 to 875 jobs over 20 years, is far from being the answer. Given government’s poor record in eliminating homelessness, there’s little alternative but to turn to the private sector for help.

This article was originally published by the Pacific Research Institute 

Nation’s Sixth Largest Company Moving Corporate HQ from California to Texas


leaving-californiaMcKesson Corp., the nation’s largest pharmaceutical distributor, announced today that it will relocate its headquarters from San Francisco to Irving in April.

The company, which delivers prescription drugs and medical supplies, has more than 75,000 employees globally and had revenue of $208 billion last year. It ranks sixth on the Fortune 500 list, behind only Walmart, Exxon Mobil, Berkshire Hathaway, Apple and UnitedHealth Group.

With its move, McKesson will become the second-largest company by revenue to be based in North Texas, surpassing AT&T Inc. The largest, Exxon Mobil, is also headquartered in Irving.

Dallas-Fort Worth had 22 Fortune 500 company headquarters this year. That’ll grow next year with the addition of McKesson and another California transplant, San Francisco-based Core-Mark Holding Co., which is relocating to Westlake. …

Click here to read the full article from the Dallas News