Thursday, March 01, 2018

"You're not a progressive if you're also a NIMBY"

Scott Wiener

The above is the title of an article by Robert Gammon in the East Bay Times. No need to summarize his argument, since that hed is essentially it, though Gammon also has an muddled account of federalism and local control:

Democrats, of course, have long been the party of Big Government — and thus opposed to local control. Liberals cheered the power of the federal government to end segregation in the South and outlaw discrimination in the workplace. We cherish the fact that local governments can no longer discriminate against same-sex marriage. We celebrate the fact that, through the power of the federal government, Obamacare gave health care coverage to millions of Americans. Indeed, the list of liberal Big Government victories over conservative "local control" is long.

But "segregation in the South" wasn't ended when the Civil Rights Act passed Congress in 1964, which began what is clearly an ongoing national political process based on constitutional legal arguments, especially on voting rights, not mentioned by Gammon. 

The notion that that historical process is somehow analogous to state legislation under SB 827 and the traditional right of counties and cities to control their own zoning and development is ludicrous.

In a comment to the article, Rob Wrenn shows a better understanding of Scott Wiener's legislation:

Robert Gammon fundamentally misunderstands the impact that SB 827 would have at least in cities like Berkeley. He talks about zoning being used to exclude people from single-family home neighborhoods, with the implication that SB 827 would somehow address that. In fact, in Berkeley, the most affluent single family neighborhoods, located in the hills, would not be affected. The impact would fall most on Berkeley majority tenant lower and moderate income neighborhoods, because those are the neighborhoods closest to higher quality transit. 

On residential streets in these areas, SB 827 would permit 7 story buildings (55' + 35% state density bonus) where housing currently ranges from one to three stories. There are very very few vacant residential lots in these neighborhoods, so either the new law would have little impact or it would, more likely, encourage some owners of 1-3 story rental properties to push out their tenants in hopes of being able to demolish and replace the existing housing with something much larger. 

SB 827 would encourage "demolition by neglect", letting buildings deteriorate to provide a pretext for demolishing them. Berkeley has already had to deal with a case like this. SB 827 contains no protections against demolition of existing rental housing and resulting displacement. SB 827 would give a huge windfall to owners of commercial property. By allowing 10 stories on wider commercial streets (85' + 35% state density bonus), it would increase the value of that land in these areas overnight without demanding any community benefits in return. 

It would undermine city land value recapture policies that allow cities to get some benefits from upzoning. With SB 827 in its current form, all the benefits go to the one percenters who own the commercial property. SB 827 also creates a perverse incentive to oppose transit improvements. Since better transit would trigger upzoning under SB 827, people who don't want 7 story buildings on their neighborhood street would have an incentive to vote against any measure to increase transit funding that might lead to better service near them and trigger SB 827 height increases.

Gammon: "But Skinner and SB 827's primary author Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, aren't conservatives. They're diehard liberals."

I don't know about Nancy Skinner, but calling Wiener a "diehard liberal" is way off the mark to describe someone who tried to undermine the initiative and recall rights of city voters early in his career here. 

Wiener also simply lies---especially about CEQA---when a project he supports faces any kind of public review.

Gammon's ideas about progressives, conservatives and local political issues are what I've been writing about since the beginning of this blog in 2004---that is, those labels are useless when analyzing local issues, including planning and development.

One of the first posts to this blog was about a successful "progressive" push to privatize the old UC Extension site on lower Haight Street, a property that had been zoned for "public use" for more than 50 years. The project has now shoehorned more than 400 new housing units into the middle of an already densely-populated neighborhood.

See Housing uber alles and Planning and the English language.

In Progressive ideology in SF: Basic principles, I discuss what it means to be "progressive" on local issues. 

One of the things that made me question Gammon's notions of progressivism on this blog was the homeless issue. Back in 2002 the progressive position on homelessness was essentially do nothing. Instead, rely on Food Not Bombs and the pie-throwers for guidance, since the homeless were simply local folks who could no longer afford the rent.

Then-Supervisor Gavin Newsom threw SF politics into a tizzy and local progs have never recovered. He insisted on actually doing something about homelessness by putting Care Not Cash on the ballot and then getting himself elected mayor by campaigning on the homeless issue.

See The intellectual failure of SF's left from 2007.

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