Tuesday, September 15, 2020

9.15.20 Meeting Summary

Tonight there were two significant items on the agenda.

The first was considering adding "inclusion" to the "Do the Right Thing" program.  This program is primarily administered by our schools as aspirational goals for students.  This idea was brought by Councilmember Wolfe and I think it is a great idea.  Based on how resolutions and motions are brought, we didn't approve this during this meeting, but instead we directed that a resolution be brought forward at a future time.  All were supportive of this.  Related to this, the Council also spoke favorably about adopting "Do the Right Thing, Because It's the Right Thing To Do" as the city's motto.  We haven't previously had a motto before so this would be new.

The second item was related to the upcoming League of CA Cities annual meeting, whether we should send a delegate, and what position we should take regarding the one resolution that is on their agenda.  Councilmember Jim Diaz is the our designated League representative and we agreed that the small fee was worthwhile for him and any Councilmember who wished to attend.  The cost to the city this year is nominal as there is no associated travel due to the conference being online.

The resolution on the agenda is related to civil liability for content hosters (youtube, Amazon, Etsy, etc.) for content that users may post relating to illegal activity.  Currently content hosts are not responsible and immune from lawsuit for content that users may post, though there are requirements for taking down certain material if they are notified.  Because I felt this could be a slippery slope relating to restricting speech, as well as the scope of what is considered can be overly broad, I recommended that our delegate should vote no.  This resolution specifically addresses section 230 of the Communication Decency Act of 1996.  The Electronic Frontier Foundation, one of the leading advocacy groups for free speech on the internet, has taken a position that I agree with here.  

I requested a future agenda item to discuss adopting a resolution in support of CA Citizens for Local Control.  This was a resolution that was sent to us from the City of Torrance CA.  They are soliciting support to resist and oppose legislation in Sacramento that would usurp local control.

We also had a closed session to discuss ongoing litigation relating to the Olivia project.  There was no reportable action from that closed session.

Olivia Redux - Part II

Councimember Catalano talks about chess, but there’s no strategy in simply granting everything a developer wants over the course of many years. That’s not playing chess, that’s the developer playing Heads I Win, Tails You Lose. Apparently 100% affordable housing is what Catalano is most afraid of. I must ask, why? What would be the problem with 100% affordable housing? Wouldn’t it be more inclusive to provide more housing at lower income levels?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m generally opposed to affordable housing mandates, but that’s because they are market distortionary and provide for a less efficient allocation of resources as a matter of public policy. But any individual project is not going to have market wide impacts so I don’t find 100% inclusionary housing to be a negative that must be avoided in this instance. No, the issue that I, and what I find most people who are opposed to this project had, was because it was under parked, and too dense for the space and location. If the project was 2 stories with substantially the same amount of parking, I would expect the resistance to the project would evaporate, regardless of the amount of inclusionary housing.

Catalano likes to link to a 2015 Pioneer article discussing a previous plan saying that residents rejected it. That’s misleading in several ways. First, there’s no mention of how many residents were present and voiced opposition. Second, from the folks that I spoke with, many who are currently opposed were either not here at the time, or were unaware because the city did a poor job of letting them know. Third, the only person actually on record is Kent Ipsen. The article quotes Kent Ipsen who at the time was actually in favor of the project because he saw it was reasonable. Currently Ipsen has voiced public opposition to the current plan because it is not reasonable. Fourth, the plan was never presented to the city so there was no ability for the developer to actually negotiate or to see what could really work in that space. As Catalano well knows, residents do not have the ability to reject a plan, otherwise we wouldn’t be where we are at today.

Foresight matters, so does leadership. Blaming the residents from 2015, blaming the state, that’s not leadership. Even before being elected, I engaged with the developer in trying to communicate what I thought the residents would find reasonable. If foresight matters, why didn’t this happen with our actual elected leadership? If foresight matters, then why did Catalano agree with the developer’s request to exempt this project site from the sensitive use designation that would have limited the number of units able to be built? That’s not foresight, and giving in to everything a developer asks for without seeking compromise is not leadership. It’s an abdication of the responsibility that our residents entrusted its leadership with.

Let’s look at what a reasonable compromise could be. Currently the proposal calls for 81 units, 7 of which are ‘very low income’ (blended unit rate of $2,200 market rate, and $800 very low income rate). Based on the financial information presented, that would yield about $165K/month in rents at approximately $27M in build costs. That’s the status quo.

If the number of units drops to let’s say, 60 units for a two story build, market rate would then yield approximately $132K/month. That’s less than the status quo, however if the project were to go down to two stories, the building costs would be substantially decreased. The administrative cost to the city over time would also decrease if the monitoring for inclusionary units wasn’t present. The financing cost would be lower and financing would be easier because in the current environment financing is not as easy to come by. With a lower build cost, less investors may be necessary, increasing individual return. If we also consider the potential risks that may come out of CEQA review as I’ve suggested, it becomes even more of a reasonable compromise.

We should have that discussion, but our residents are at a severe disadvantage when the Council surrenders at every opportunity. Hopefully we’ll be able to change that after the discussion tonight.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Olivia Redux, What Isn't Required by Law, and a Way Forward

I wanted to expand a bit on my thought process with the closed session at the 9.15.20 meeting tomorrow.

Those that voted in favor of the Olivia say that their vote was required by law, that they were compelled to vote to approve the three story, three separate building high density apartment complex in our downtown. Further, everyone who voted in favor has intimated that they are actually not pleased with the project and would have liked something different. I’m not sure I agree with that, but let’s say arguendo that that is true. Here is a chance to prove it.

After an appeal of the decision to approve the Olivia was rejected, a group of residents brought litigation against the City. Since the City is the one that approved the project, allegations of improper approval are properly directed against the city. The developer is considered a Real Party in Interest. At various stages of litigation, the parties must gather at various times to determine if settlement is possible. Settlement may occur because while the outcome of any litigation is uncertain, the fact that litigation is expensive is all but certain. As a result, if the parties could come to some compromise, the lawsuit may be dropped.

The stronger the position of the residents bringing the lawsuit is, the greater the incentive the developer will have to settle. If this Council truly does not like the project, this is a perfect opportunity for us to demonstrate that. The law does not require us to defend lawsuits against us. In fact, the Council could even agree to help the residents who have initiated litigation by stipulating various assertions they raise in their petition. In doing so, the position of the petitioners would be strengthened and make a settlement for something that is less out of character for our downtown more likely.

We as a Council could do this right now. The Council could direct our attorneys to stop defending the lawsuits, and file briefs with the court stipulating, essentially agreeing, with various aspects of the claims that are being made by the residents who initiated litigation. If we did that, of course the developer could continue the litigation as they are considered Real Parties in Interest. However, if we did concede various points raised by the residents, it would strengthen the position of the residents who brought the lawsuit and make a favorable settlement more likely.

If folks who voted in favor of this poorly conceived project really were against it and only voted in favor of it because they felt the law compelled them, this is a way to demonstrate that and give the residents the best chance to prevail. This is the type of creative steps that a Council may take and why I asked for an agenda item to discuss this very option. This will be the topic of a closed session because it is related to litigation. Unfortunately I will not be able to disclose anything that transpires in closed session, but if the city takes no action then the residents should be able to draw their own conclusions on where the three members of this Council who voted to waive environmental review, and roll out the red carpet for a developer, really stand.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Upcoming Council Meeting 9.15.20

There are two significant items on the agenda for our next meeting.

- The first is about adding "inclusion" as a character trait to the Do the Right Thing program. In addition, there is suggestion of changing motto of the city to "Do the Right Thing".

- The second is whether we should designate a voting delegate to the annual League of CA Cities virtual conference. Only one item is up for vote and that is regarding making sites that host user generated content (facebook, youtube, amazon reviews, etc.) liable for things their users may post.

There is also a closed session in response to my request last meeting to discuss the possibility of discontinuing our defense of the lawsuit regarding the Olivia project.

If you have questions or comments about any of these items please let me know.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

9.1.20 Meeting Summary

 Last night we discussed a few significant items:

There was a presentation by Dr. Chris Farnitano, the health Officer of Contra Costa County discussing information related to COVID-19.  It was good information that I think was worth listening to if you are able to watch the video.

We also heard from all six candidates running for City Council in this November's election.

We had a follow up discussion regarding potential traffic calming actions that could be taken in order to reduce speeds on three areas in town.  Lowering speeds is critical to being able to resurvey traffic and therefore not be forced to increase speed limits.  Background on that was in a previous post here.

The three streets we discussed were:
  1. Eagle Peak Dr from Oakhurst Dr (east) to Keller Ridge Dr.
  2. Clayton Rd from Washington blvd to Oakhurst Dr.
  3. Mountaire Pkwy from Marsh Creek Rd (south) to Mountaire Cir
Potential actions included:
  • "Road diets" (shrinking of lanes, reducing number of lanes, expanding bike lanes) in order to create a smaller space which typically results in drivers slowing down
  • Various forms of restriping that serves similar purpose of the road diets
  • Speed feedback signs which measure people's speed and display it on a sign
  • Regular speed limit signs
  • Changing signal timing to pace the actual speed limit
Of the above options, the road diets were both the most expensive, and the most intrusive.  There was not an appetite to undertake this option right away.  Ultimately, the Council took action to direct staff to do three things:
  1. Install additional speed limit signs where none exist on Eagle Peak Dr. and some other select areas in town.  Each sign has a cost of approximately $300 so this is a relatively low cost option.
  2. Reach out to the Dana Hills HOA asking them to inform the residents that if speeds do not decrease, there will be a  speed limit increase, request their residents to slow down, and to inquire if the residents would be interested in the narrowing of the 4 lane section on Mountaire Parkway (the road diet) in order to slow down speeds.
  3. Adjust the timing of all of the stoplights on Clayton Road and as it turns into Marsh Creek Rd with the primary goal of ensuring drivers do not exceed the speed limit.  As we learned last meeting, 75% of the people receiving tickets on Clayton Rd. are from out of town.  Traffic from east county typically uses Clayton Rd. because it is faster than taking Hwy 4.  I suggested several ways to deincentivize drivers from doing this, including increasing the time lights stay red, defaulting through traffic to stay on red until cars approach, and using the light at Regency and Marsh Creek to essentially meter traffic during commute hours.  We left it to staff to determine what the best options were and will explore any further action as necessary.
We adopted a proclamation declaring Sept 15 - Oct 15 Hispanic Heritage Month recognizing many of the positive contributions from our Hispanic community.

In addition to that, I requested a future agenda item to discuss whether we should direct our legal firm, Best, Best, & Krieger, to stop defending the lawsuit related to the Oliva project.  Since the city is the one who approved the project, the current litigation brought forth by a group of residents is directed at the city.  While the developer may continue to defend the litigation as a Real Party in Interest, there is no obligation for the city to do so.  We'll continue this discussion at a later time.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

SB 1120 Did Not Pass - But Not for Lack of Trying

Last week I wrote about SB1120 and asked people to communicate their opposition to the bill.

Last night was the deadline for bills to pass and fortunately did not pass.  It was only a technical victory however.  This bill was originally passed in the state senate and then went on to the state assembly.  The deadline to pass the bill was last night at midnight.  Several times over the past week, the vote was delayed likely because it did not have enough support.  Just three minutes before midnight, the assembly passed the bill, but because it needed to go back to the senate due to minor amendments, there was not enough time for the senate to vote on it.  

So while this bill failed, it's not for lack of trying.  The Senate had 40 members, and the vote was 39-0 with only one abstention.  The vote in the assembly was 44-18, with 17 abstentions.  Both of our state representatives, State Senator Glazer and Assembly Member Grayson voted in favor of this bill!  Terrible.

So why was SB1120 so bad?  SB1120 would have virtually eliminated single family zoning in the entire state.  All single family zoned lots would be allowed to build two homes instead of one.  It would have eliminated the need for public hearing or review.  In addition, it would then allow these lots to be subdivided into two lots, meaning where previously only one house existed, all the sudden there could be four houses.  Again, no review or public hearing would be allowed.  In addition, SB1120 would have exempted these actions from any environmental review.   Essentially this bill would have gutted local control and changed the utilization of millions of properties and their neighborhoods.

This bill was just the latest in an attempt by State Senator Scott Wiener to have Sacramento take over local control and end single family zoning.  He is the biggest threat in Sacramento to small cities like ours.  He has advanced plans that would cram more and more houses, eliminates local control, eliminates environmental protection, with no regard to neighborhoods.

An organization that Clayton belongs to, the League of California Cities, actually took a "support if amended" position on SB1120.  Why?  This bill was fatally flawed to begin with and no amendment would have made it okay.  The amendments that the League sought were anemic at best.  This is in contrast to other advocacy groups like Livable California who strongly opposed this bill.

We as a city should be advocating against these bad housing bills that destroy local control and would be harmful to the character of our city.  

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Upcoming Council Meeting 9.1.20

There are two significant items on the agenda next meeting: 
  • Discussion of various methods of traffic calming on the streets that were slated for speed limit increases.  Last meeting the Council did not accept the traffic survey of these three stretches (it was four, but two of them were the same street back to back so effectively three).  As a result, we asked staff to come back with options that we could undertake that would allow us to not increase the speed limit.  In addition to education and enforcement, there may be various physical changes that can be made that would reduce speeds.  Background on why this is important and how this impacts the speed limits we are able to set is in a previous post, here.

    Some of the physical changes include road narrowing, speed feedback signs being installed, road striping, increased number of speed limit signs, etc.  Each option has an associated cost, as well as the resurveying of traffic after any changes are made.    
  • We will also discuss a proclamation declaring Sept 15 - Oct 15 Hispanic Heritage Month
In addition to these agenda items, as I mentioned previously for each meeting from now till the election in November, each candidate will have an opportunity to speak for up to 3 minutes so that the community may better get to know them.  This will be towards the beginning of the meeting.

If you have any questions or comments about the above, please let me know.  Also, if you'd like to receive updates by email, you can sign up here.