23 Aug 2014
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Don't Blink - Senate Bill 1 is Coming

Senate Bill 1 will give new unelected bodies powers of taxation and eminent domain. Suburban neighborhoods can be deemed blighted to be replaced by high density housing.

Don't Blink - Senate Bill 1 is Coming Don't Blink - Senate Bill 1 is Coming
Last year many of us were shocked by the enactment of Plan Bay Area. Now we face an even greater threat - Senate Bill 1. In the excellent BBC TV show "Doctor Who" one of the doctor's most fiendish opponents are the " Weeping Angels" (pictured). Whenever you blink these fiendish stone statues creep up on you and send you to a different time period.  

Senate Bill 1, if enacted, could send us back to Dickensian London - dark days where those with lower incomes were relegated to living in crowded conditions in inner city high rises. Meanwhile the one percent, the only ones able to afford it, could escape to wealthy suburbs on trains.

Senate Bill 1 is just like the weeping angels. While none of us were looking  on May 28th it was passed by the state senate. Then on September 9th it was passed by the state assembly. After some modifications it has returned to the State Senate whereupon if voted on Governor Brown can enact it.  If we blink - it will become law, unless we act. 

How to Act

You can easily find your state senator using  this website.  If you're in north Sacramento then Darrell Steinberg, conceiver of Senate Bill 1, is your representative and you can send him your thoughts using  this form on his website.

Simply send each senator an email using the form, clearly asking them to vote against Senate Bill 1 and explaining why. (Unelected bodies being given powers of eminent domain and taxation, vague definition of "blighted",  flawed assumptions that transit is greener than cars and light trucks...)

Senate Bill 1 is the work of State Senate leader Darrell Steinberg - you remember, the senate leader who receives campaign donations from the construction industry, developers, builders' unions, train manufacturers...

What's All the Fuss with Senate Bill 1?

Here is a picture of the future under Senate Bill 1... (warning, R rating!)

- A city mayor or county supervisor forms a new joint powers authority called a "Sustainable Communities Investment Authority" (SCIA), they appoint elected officials to serve on the SCIAs board.

- If you live within 1/2 mile of a bus that runs every 15 minutes during peak commutes, or the SMART train or Caltrain in a single family home neighborhood your neighborhood can be targeted by the SCIA as inefficient land use and "blighted" as it is not high density multi-family housing. 

- The SCIA can then wield the power of eminent domain to purchase unused, for sale or even occupied land in order to build high density multi-family housing - that it deems to be efficient land use. 

- The SCIA can then impose local taxes on us to pay not just for the eminent domain purchases but to help the land developer build by subsidizing the building of high density housing.

- In order to meet criteria in SB1 allowing imposition of local taxes the SCIA must impose"a sustainable parking standards ordinance that restricts parking in transit priority project areas to encourage transit use to the greatest extent feasible". Yes you read that right, "to the greatest extent feasible". This could mean anything from reducing available parking, to introducing parking permits and parking meters.

Are you outraged? Can you believe this is even being considered in 2014 America? Don't believe me - the  read the full analysis of Senate Bill 1.

How Can You Help Stop Senate Bill 1?

Unfortunately our state legislators were asleep at the wheel and the State Assembly passed this bill. They blinked. The one remaining act able to preventing enactment is blocking this at the State Senate, or veto by Governor Brown.

This means that in the next few days, if you object, you can do one of the following:

1) Most Effective - Write a Letter to Your State Senator
Take the copy of the letter that I wrote and adapt it. 

Here's the letter that I sent to Governor Brown for you to adapt (Google Docs)

Don't send an identical version:
- put your address at the top
- rephrase it (we don't want dozens of cloned letters)
- shorten it
- be sure to sign it
- MAIL IT QUICKLY before it's passed by the state senate

2) Next most Effective: Call Your State Senator's Office
Here's the phone number of Darrell Steinberg's office: (916) 651-4006

It would be good for your state senators office to be inundated with calls from concerned California voters. Explain your concerns. Ask them to oppose the bill. Demand that this bill is better publicized and that there is proper public outreach.

3) Email - Easiest, but least Effective
Email your state senator. Leverage the content in my letter above. If Darrell Steinberg is your state senator use  this form on his website.

Select "GENERAL CONCERNS". Then in the subject put "Please Oppose Senate Bill 1 (SCIA)".

4) Last Resort: Email Governor Brown
Email Governor Brown at governor@governor.ca.gov and ask that he veto the bill if it appears on his desk.

Cc Your State Assemblyman
I would also encourage you to send a copy of your letter to your state assembly representative. You can find your state assembly representative  using this map of state assembly districts which links you to your representative's website. Their website should have a contact form.

Why On Earth are they Pushing Senate Bill 1?

Senate Bill 1 is being pushed for a range of reasons:

1) To Fight Climate Change
Like other green legislation SB1 is based on the questionable, if not flawed concept of transit oriented development. This is flawed as it presumes transit creates less greenhouse gas emissions than cars and light trucks. However here is the real present day US emissions situation:

- transit achieves 36.2 passenger miles per gallon on average (assumes average vehicle occupancy of 1.67 passengers per vehicle  based on the National Household Travel Survey, 2009)
- cars and light trucks achieve 43.9 passenger miles per gallon

As you may know by now the higher the mpg or passenger mpg the lower the greenhouse gas emissions. So a higher mpg figure is better. 

What's even more important is that not only are cars and light trucks already cleaner than transit, they are getting cleaner at a much faster rate. In the San Francisco region (metropolitan area)  Forbes reports that one in ten new cars sold is a hybrid so the emissions for cars are even better than portrayed by the national figures presented above.

2) To Help the Construction Industry
The construction industry is one of Darrell Steinberg's greatest campaign donators. Steinberg is the author of SB1. SB1 states:

"The construction industry has been one of the sectors hardest hit by the economic downturn of recent years. Creating incentives for construction can help restore construction and permanent jobs, which are essential for a restoration of prosperity."

But if one looks at the actual  US Department of Labor state figures for California in 2013 now one can see that construction industry employment is growing at a near consistent 5% (year on year) - this seems very healthy.  The Associated General Contractors of America 2013 report shows California as gaining the most construction industry jobs of any state.

3) Steinberg's Donors?
While one can never directly join the dots, here's a quick breakdown of  Steinberg's donors:

- Public Sector Unions $587,585; this group benefits as public works helps build the infrastructure (roads, water mains, sewers...) for new high density housing
Railroads $45,000; this constituent group is achieving dividends through a major over-emphasis on rail instead of buses to serve Steinberg's new "sustainable communities". Includes BNSF Railway
Building Trade Unions $445,160; need I elaborate here?
Real Estate $201,929; likely developers
Finance - major donors include Citigroup, Deloitte and Touche, Price Waterhouse Coopers, KPMG

4) Reducing Commute Times for Employees
I have yet to figure out how flooding areas with high density housing, on flimsy evidence that there will be reduced auto usage, will in any way reduce commute times. It would seem that with the road system nearing capacity, and per capita transit ridership dropping despite massive investments in transit since the 1980s, that this is a recipe to really jam up the Bay Area.

5) More Affordable Housing & Transportation
We saw what happened with Plan Bay Area. That plan also sought to achieve the same savings.  However it actually increased the amount of income lower and lower-middle income workers needed to spend on transportation from 66% to 69%. 

It would seem that our legislators just want us to build until they deem housing to be  "affordable". They won't tell us where the finish line is - we should just keep building and building...like boiling the ocean.

A New Years Resolution

So as you and your children write thank you letters for what you received as gifts this year, why not add one more letter to your outbound mail: a letter to our state's governor that not only demonstrates how much value you place on where you live now, but seeks to preserve the quality of life for all of us and our children in the years to come. Perhaps you're already in front of a keyboard right now, start writing...

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