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- August 23, 2012By Corey Marshall, Good Government Policy Director
It’s not often that the SPUR agenda features so prominently on the ballot in San Francisco. But the November 2012 election hits on three significant issues at the forefront of our work: affordable housing, business taxes and funding for parks. Our policy work has helped shape three important measures on the upcoming ballot, all of which we will support this fall.
Housing Trust Fund (Prop. C)
In the shadow of the governor’s elimination of redevelopment agencies, Prop. C is a Charter Amendment that would create a dedicated source of local funding for affordable housing for the next 30 years. SPUR and other housing advocates spent many months crafting this proposal to create a Housing Trust Fund for San Francisco. The measure would take advantage of the loss of redevelopment to recapture a portion of the local property tax receipts and dedicate up to $50 million annually toward the construction of affordable housing. But the measure goes even further; it would also provide down payment assistance to moderate-income families and it could provide an incentive for building more overall housing in San Francisco by lowering developer requirements for on-site affordable units, a move that could stimulate the production of both market rate and affordable housing.
Business Tax Reform (Prop. E)
Ever since a 2001 legal settlement eliminated a gross receipts tax and left the city’s business tax entirely dependent on a payroll tax, SPUR has advocated to either revise or replace the payroll tax altogether. While the revenue from the payroll tax funds important local priorities, taxing job creation through a payroll tax sends the wrong message and compromises San Francisco’s competitiveness as a city. There are many different ways to incentivize the creation of jobs and attract businesses, and Prop. E is a step in the right direction. Prop. E would transition San Francisco from a payroll-based tax to a gross receipts tax, a structure currently used in Los Angeles and other major cities in California. While retaining any local tax on business may not be ideal (SPUR has long been interested in whether or not environmental taxes could replace the payroll tax), this gross receipts tax proposal will actually result in less volatile revenues than the payroll tax — a key component to stable growth. This reform of the business tax was not put together quickly. It is the result of a process involving literally hundreds of businesses and hours of meetings: exactly the type of collaboration and consensus the city needs for a major transition such as this.
Parks Bond (Prop. B)
Funding for our city’s parks and open spaces has long been an important part of the SPUR agenda. The focus of our Seeking Green report was on finding operating funds to keep the doors (and park gates) open to the public and to properly maintain facilities built or renovated with bond funds. This year’s parks bond is the third in a series to help the department rectify years of deferred maintenance driven by budget reductions. The department has done a lot of work to improve planning and project delivery of bond projects, but much work remains. While we support this one-time bond, our hope is that the department’s next effort will address a more permanent solution to its $30 million annual operating deficit.
While these three propositions are quite distinct, they are in many ways interconnected. We need a healthy business community to provide employment opportunities for our residents and a source of revenue for important local priorities. People flock to San Francisco not simply for its jobs, but also for its quality of life and amazing recreational and cultural amenities. And without adequate affordable housing, too many people will be left out and the entire ecosystem could ultimately crumble. Now we must turn our attention to the November election and ensure that San Francisco voters also understand the importance of the complex ecosystem supported by the measures before them.
Look for the full SPUR voter guide with our in-depth analysis of all San Francisco measures this fall at www.spur.org/voterguide.
- August 9, 2012By Leah Toeniskoetter, SPUR San Jose Director
In January 2010, San Jose passed an inclusionary housing law to help do three things: address the city’s affordable housing needs, meet the state’s requirement for regional fair share housing and promote economic integration. But now a successful legal suit has thrown the future of this law into question. To understand what’s at stake, this post takes a look at how the 2010 ordinance was designed to work and what the lawsuit could mean for San Jose and other California cities.
Before 2010, San Jose’s inclusionary housing policy applied only to redevelopment areas, but the 2010 ordinance expanded the requirements citywide. The ordinance applies to residential developments of 20 units or more and requires that 15 percent of units in for-sale housing developments be made available for purchase by income-restricted households at below market rates. Additionally, 9 percent of the dwelling units in rental developments must be priced for moderate-income households and 6 percent for very low income households. (“Moderate income” is defined as $53,000 for a 1-person household and $75,700 for a 4-person household, and “very low income” is $36,750 for a 1-person household and $52,500 for a 4-person household.)
The ordinance creates an incentive for developers to build the inclusionary units on-site, but it also provides them with other options to fulfill their affordable housing obligations. For example, developers can pay an in-lieu fee that helps to fund future affordable housing initiatives in the city, build affordable units at a separate location or dedicate land for future affordable housing developments. Additionally, the ordinance places deed restrictions to ensure that the inclusionary units remain affordable well into the future. In the event that an owner of an inclusionary unit were to sell the home to a buyer who does not meet the income requirements, the city would capture a portion of the appreciated value of the home. Those proceeds, similar to the developer in-lieu fee, would pay for future affordable housing.
The ordinance is meant to help San Jose reach its housing goal of providing more than 19,000 affordable housing units between 2007 and 2014, as determined by the Association of Bay Area Governments and in accordance with the state-required regional housing needs allocation (RHNA) process. The city had already implemented precedents for this concept in large-scale development plans, including the redevelopment of the former Hitachi industrial campus and North San Jose’s Specific Plan, where a portion of the new homes built would be affordable as a way of ensuring a diverse community.
San Jose’s inclusionary housing ordinance was slated to go into effect in January 2013, but following its adoption the California Building Industry Association (CBIA), with assistance from the BIA Bay Area, filed a lawsuit to overturn it. The plaintiffs argued that the city did not show proof that market rate housing adversely affected the community or created the need for affordable housing. Proving evidence of a relationship between the impacts of a development and the requirements put on the developer, called a “nexus,” has been established as a constitutional standard in previous land use lawsuits. In certain cases cities will undertake a nexus study to prove the relationship before proposing fees or requirements. However, it is very unusual for jurisdictions to do nexus studies to justify their inclusionary housing ordinances. Normally, cities can rely on the “police powers” afforded them under state and federal law in order to enact inclusionary housing laws for the purposes of regulating land use or protecting the health and well-being of their citizens. This is nothing new in California cities: The California Coalition for Rural Housing compiled a database that indexes 145 inclusionary policies in different jurisdictions statewide, nearly half of which are enacted in other Bay Area cities.
In May 2012, the lawsuit against San Jose’s inclusionary housing ordinance prevailed and Santa Clara County Superior Court overturned it. San Jose is in the process of appealing this decision, and the outcome could have implications for any California city that passed similar measures without a nexus study.
Until the appeal is heard, no part of the law can be enforced, and San Jose cannot rely on its inclusionary ordinance to provide affordable housing. Meanwhile, it and other California cities can no longer rely on redevelopment funding that came from tax increment financing, 20 percent of which (and in San Jose’s case, up to 40 percent) was used to fund affordable housing. Since 1988, these funds have helped finance 175 developments in San Jose, providing 13,920 affordable units. The economic meltdown, coupled with these cuts to funding, has left the city significantly behind in meeting its RHNA goals for the 2007-2014 period. (These goals are mandated by state housing law as a way to quantify the need for housing within each city during specific planning periods,) And there is no new source of funds on the horizon.
Meanwhile, the need for housing that is affordable to the local workforce, across the spectrum of incomes in San Jose, remains as high as ever. Affordable housing developers are still trying to pursue projects in San Jose, and the city’s housing department plans on continuing to support affordable housing. Their goal is to provide funding for affordable housing units currently in the pipeline, despite limited funding.
SPUR believes it is important to increase thesupply of housing at all income levels; when designed and located well, housing can become a tool for strengthening neighborhoods and local economies. We also believe that one type of housing need not be built at the expense of another. Instead, we must work collaboratively to obtain the necessary financial resources and regulatory tools to build it all.We hope the city’s inclusionary housing ordinance will be reinstated, and that San Jose will be able to find new resources to help construct badly needed affordable housing.Tags: housing
- July 26, 2012By Sarah Karlinsky, Deputy Director
After many months of work by SPUR and other housing advocates, the Housing Trust Fund, has made its way through San Francisco’s legislative process and been placed on the November ballot. We were very involved in crafting this measure, which would provide a permanent source of funding for affordable housing, encourage the creation of moderate-income housing and stimulate the production of market-rate housing.
This measure is a very big deal for San Francisco, especially now that the State of California has eliminated its redevelopment agencies. Roughly half of all redevelopment funds in San Francisco went to support affordable housing. Without redevelopment, San Francisco’s capacity to produce affordable housing is severely reduced.
The Housing Trust Fund is a general fund set-aside, meaning it would dedicate a portion of San Francisco’s discretionary budget to affordable housing uses. The 30-year fund would receive $20 million in its first year and increasing amounts thereafter, up to $50 million annually. After that, the yearly set-aside would be capped. Over 30 years, the Housing Trust Fund would generate more than $1.2 billion for affordable housing.
Unlike other set-asides, the Housing Trust Fund is largely funded by money that was previously devoted to affordable housing purposes before the state eliminated redevelopment. Under redevelopment, bonds for affordable housing were issued against future gains in property taxes that would result from redevelopment projects, a process known as tax increment financing. As that bond debt is retired, instead of going to a local redevelopment agency, tax increment monies will now flow into San Francisco’s general fund. The Housing Trust Fund recaptures that flow of tax increment that had historically gone to housing, plus roughly 25 percent of the portion that previously went to developing new infrastructure.
San Francisco is unique because it is both a city and a county. Because the tax increment funding not taken by the State of California now flows to the counties, most other cities will not be able to set aside their tax increment money the way San Francisco can.
What will the Housing Trust Fund be used for? The primary purpose of the fund will be to help build new affordable housing. The city typically funds permanently affordable housing for “very low income” and “extremely low income” households (50 percent and 30 percent of Area Median Income, i.e., $51,000 for a family of four and $31,000 for a family of four, respectively). Most of San Francisco’s affordable housing developments have been funded with city money, and the Housing Trust Fund will continue that tradition.
The Housing Trust Fund will also provide down-payment assistance to “moderate-income” families (i.e., a four-person household earning roughly $80,000 to $120,000 per year) and help them stay in their homes by providing foreclosure prevention assistance and funding for upgrades.
Finally, the Housing Trust Fund will help encourage the development of new moderate-income housing. Under San Francisco’s inclusionary housing ordinance, developers of new housing must build a certain percentage of their units as moderate-income housing. Those units can be built within the project itself (called “on-site” housing), or developers also have the option of building the units elsewhere or paying an in-lieu fee. The Housing Trust Fund reduces the on-site inclusionary requirement by 20 percent for most projects, thereby making it more attractive to developers to build the units on site. Additionally, the Housing Trust Fund caps existing affordable housing fees (except for areas benefiting from new upzonings, where new affordable housing fees could be added), making it easier for developers to plan around the existing fee structure.
Many of the groups that have worked on this measure are now turning their efforts toward the campaign to get it passed at the ballot in November. If you are interested in getting involved, please contact SPUR Community Planning Policy Director Tomiquia Moss at email@example.com or Deputy Director Sarah Karlinsky at firstname.lastname@example.org
- March 12, 2011POSTED BY EGON TERPLAN
The Association of Bay Area Governments and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission released their Initial Vision Scenario for growth in the Bay Area at a meeting in Oakland today. By 2035, the scenario assumes the Bay Area will grow by 2 million people (to 9.4 million) and 1.2 million jobs (to 4.5 million). The scenario is the first major milestone in the development of the Bay Area’s Sustainable Communities Strategy, a plan designed to accomodate growth while reducing greenhouse gases from driving, which is required of each region in the state by SB 375, California's 2008 Climate Protection Act.
Highlights of the scenario’s assumptions:
- 97 percent of new household growth is on existing urbanized land
- 60 miles of dedicated bus lines in San Francisco and Santa Clara Counties
- San Francisco adds 90,000 households (26 percent growth rate)
- San Francisco’s jobs grow from 545,000 to 714,000 (31 percent growth rate)
- Achieves a region-wide 12 percent per capita reduction in greenhouse gases. (Note: This is short of the 15 percent per capita goal. But most of the reduction is from the assumption of slow economic growth, not from an urbanist land use vision).
This scenario is a good start, but it doesn’t get us to a truly sustainable vision for the Bay Area. SPUR is interested in subsequent scenarios testing a much more transit-oriented growth pattern for jobs and houses. To get residents out of their cars, many more jobs have to be located within a quarter mile of regional rail and many more households within a half mile of any transit.
Stay tuned to the SPUR Blog for more updates.
- March 2, 2011
Plans for Treasure Island are moving forward to the Planning Commission in March. SPUR is a big supporter of this plan, which will create 8,000 units of housing, 30 percent of which will be affordable, and 450,000 square feet of retail space; rehabilitate historic structures; create 300 acres of open space; and add new ferry service. We especially like the way in which the proposed new development is clustered around the new ferry terminal, as opposed to dispersed across the island. Interested in lending your support to this important project? Contact Sarah Karlinsky at email@example.com. More information is available here.
- November 18, 2010BY FABIANA MEACHAM
[Photo Credit: flickr user Dean Terry]
The post-recession trend toward smaller homes in suburban communities has grown over the past few years – and as the economy continues to lag, it’s likely these more modest homes will only rise in popularity. It remains unclear, however, if Americans have really begun to reevaluate the excesses of 6.5 bathrooms and a “celebrity-style media and screening room,” or whether they’re just putting those dreams on hold for the time being.
The building industry has certainly reacted to the American home-buyer’s current need for a more affordable, pared down lifestyle. A recent New York Times article featured Builder magazine’s 2010 “concept home,” a 1,700 square foot “Home for the New Economy.” A virtual tour of the house emphasizes the house's “roominess and livability,” low energy load and flexible interior spaces.
The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) has also released a report on the changing housing industry, focusing on consumers’ new demands for single-family homes. According to the study, “characteristics of homes started in 2009 reveal a marketplace adapting to tougher economic times with fewer luxuries, but also point to a few amenities that have been on the upswing despite the general retrenchment of consumers.” While new houses are getting smaller and cheaper, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms showed little change. The study also found that while amenities like three-car garages, fireplaces and patios have declined, porches have shown an increase in popularity. (The Home for the New Economy features front and back porches.) One luxury feature that persists in new home construction is the two-story foyer – 30% of homes started in 2009 had one. It appears American homebuyers are willing to give up almost anything before a grand entrance.
But perhaps it is more important to consider whether new communities of smaller homes can make up for the decreased square footage of the houses themselves. In the same New York Times article, New Urbanist founding father Andres Duany posits that “the sprawling homes of the last decade met a need, albeit imperfectly, by reproducing internally what suburban communities lacked: an exercise room substitutes for a park, a home theater for the Main Street cinema.” Regardless of your take on Duany’s special brand of small-town American urbanism, it’s comforting to think that an increased demand for porches (and their tendency to foster social interaction), is the first manifestation of Americans’ newfound desire to reengage with their communities. It remains to be seen whether Americans will continue to appreciate them when they can once again afford larger, more isolated properties.
To better visualize the changing features of new single-family homes, The Wall Street Journal has created an interactive floor plan comparison of boom-era and post-recession luxury homes. Read the accompanying article, “Builders Downsize the Dream Home.”
- August 25, 2010BY TIMOTHEA TWAY
While living in the suburbs often appears less expensive than living in the city, this is often not the case when factoring in transportation costs. The Center for Neighborhood Technology just released an expanded version of their housing and transportation index which provides a comprehensive view of neighborhood affordability. Unlike other affordability indices, the Housing and Transportation Affordability Index takes into account transportation costs associated with neighborhood design and location. Their website allows users to explore neighborhood-level data about housing and transportation prices which include information on auto ownership, transit use, and housing density that can help Americans make more informed decisions about where they want to live.
[Map generated on H + T website comparing affordability in the Bay Area]
The H + T Affordability Index is a product of a collaboration with the Center for Neighborhood Technology, Center for Transit Oriented Development and was developed as a project for the Brookings Institution's Urban Markets Initiative. In the works since 2006, the Affordability Index recently expanded its analysis to cover 330 metropolitan areas in the United States, which accounts for more than 80% of the population in the United States and covers more than 161,000 neighborhoods.
SPUR understands the role that effective and affordable transportation options play in affordability and quality of life. Check out SPUR's article on Transit-Oriented Development in the Bay Area as well as our transportation page for more information on how SPUR is working to encourage better transportation options in the Bay Area visit.
- August 18, 2010- posted by Colleen McHugh
Sprawl, conformity, car culture, ennui, decay. These are a few of the themes Arcade Fire tackles in its third album, The Suburbs, released last week. At times nostalgic and at times cautionary, The Suburbs may be most notable (certainly in the realm of SPUR's blog) as an example of city planning commentary in pop culture.
As an NPR review put it, "the members of Arcade Fire have always been fascinated by the subtle ways geography informs our lives." Their newest album weaves a sense of suburban space and place throughout its 16 tracks. Band front man Win Butler sings of how "First they built the road, then they built the town. / That's why we're still driving round and round." Much of the inspiration for the album comes from Butler's youth spent in the suburbs of Houston in the 1980s. And as with Arcade Fire's other notable excursions into the memories of childhood on its first album Funeral, the tone is often wistful. Butler and wife RÃ©gine Chassagne sing longingly for the "wasted hours" of adolescence spent staring out the window of a car, riding bikes in the night to the nearest park, and waiting in parking lots under freeway overpasses. There are also more melancholic references to the impact of growing up in the built environment of suburbia — "all we see are kids in buses longing to be free."
But The Suburbs is not so much an extended story about suburbia in the "˜80s as it is about returning to those cookie-cutter communities today. Images of suburban decay ring throughout the album, as "all of the walls that they built in the "˜70s finally fall." The few redeeming qualities of growing up in the suburbs seem to be gone. As Butler sings in the song "City With No Children," all that remains is "a garden left for ruin by a millionaire inside of a private prison." Perhaps the most anthemic song on an album that on the whole is less filled with those big communal choruses for which Arcade Fire is known, comes near the very end with "Sprawl II (Mountains beyond mountains)." Sounding like ABBA or Blondie's "Heart of Glass," RÃ©gine Chassagne chants the chorus: "Living in the sprawl / Dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains / And there's no end in sight / I need the darkness, someone please cut the lights."
Certainly, Arcade Fire is not the first band to sing a cautionary tale about suburban life. Rush condemned the stifling conformity of suburbia in the "˜80s with "Subdivisions," Modest Mouse has oft breached the subject on albums like The Lonesome Crowded West and Building Nothing Out of Something, and the Dirty Projectors' "Temecula Sunrise" is supposedly about a hypothetical future in which millionaires in mass move out of their suburban McMansions that then become colonized by bohemian artists. And these are just a few examples. It almost seems a rite of passage in rock music to vilify mainstream suburban culture. Arcade Fire's melancholic nostalgia probably goes easier on suburbia than most.
Nor is Arcade Fire the first notable band to breach urban planning issues and sing critically about our built environments. David Byrne, former front man of the Talking Heads, is a known bike enthusiast and advocate for more livable cities, having recently designed bike rack sculptures around New York City and written Bicycle Diaries about his observations biking in cities throughout the world. (You can also catch David Byrne's "Arboretum" series of drawings on exhibit at Electric Works through August 21st.) Perhaps my favorite Talking Heads song about urban space is "Nothing But Flowers" — a satirical inversion of Joni Mitchell's famous "Big Yellow Taxis." Rather than paving paradise to put up a parking lot, David Byrne sings in horror as our built environment — parking lots, factories, Pizza Huts, discount stores, and highways — gives way to "nothing but flowers."
Pop culture has a way of providing insight into our changing desires about the spaces in which we live. In The Option of Urbanism, Christopher Leinberger uses the example of television shows to portray society's shifting opinion on urbanism versus suburbanism. He suggests that while TV sitcoms in the baby boomer era (The Brady Bunch, The Dick Van Dyke Show) are set in idyllic suburbia, shows beginning in the 1990's take place in cities (Friends, Seinfeld, Sex and the City).
A recent Slate article from Tom Vanderbilt would suggest that Hollywood itself drives popular opinion associated with car (and car-less) culture. In the article, Vanderbilt gives example after example of movies in which characters without cars are portrayed as "losers." An exception (and a possible sign of progress) is last year's 500 Days of Summer — a movie that romanticizes car-less life spent strolling the streets of downtown LA and admiring the prewar architecture. In a memorable scene on a bench in Angel's Knoll Park, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character Tom "Manhattanizes" the view in front of him, using the arm of Zooey Deschanel's character Summer to draw an image of handsome old buildings in the place of existing parking lots. Though the film conveniently ignores downtown's post-1950's iconic architecture, it remains an example of shifting ideals in pop culture. Even beer commercials are starting to highlight other modes of transportation, as Matthew Roth from Streetsblog noted last week in an article about a new Miller High Life commercial in which a blue-collar worker rides his bike through a snowstorm with a six-pack in the front basket.
Arcade Fire's The Suburbs isn't as much about suburbanism versus urbanism, or cars versus bicycles, as it is a question of "What now?" The album's vision of suburbia may not exactly be an ideal place to live — not in the 1980's and certainly not upon returning to it today. But the narrator of the album does return, nostalgic for his wasted hours of youth and fearful of what may remain for his children. If suburbia is no longer necessarily the dream, what is to be made of those communities we built in the 70s?
Arcade Fire's The Suburbs can be listened to in its entirety on the NPR website. But true to its theme, it probably sounds best through car speakers while driving on an empty highway.
- July 13, 2010BY FABIANA MEACHAM
What are the most pressing issues facing California in the next 15 years and how should we deal with them? If only there were one comprehensive PDF document floating around the internet with all the answers.
Policy wonks across the state will now be thrilled to discover the Public Policy Institute of California's recently released CA2025 report, a "briefing kit" covering California's most important long-term policy issues. Outlining policies on topics ranging from water to transportation to the economy, the report acts as a kind of handbook for every major policy concern confronting the state today. While one might expect an insufferably dense document, the text is actually quite accessible, the graphics clear and informative. Some might crave more detail and in-depth analysis than CA2025 provides, but the report still serves as an excellent primer for the key issues facing the state, and presents compelling arguments for how our policy makers might tackle them.
[Graph courtesy of PPIC CA2025]
- October 1, 2009BY MARY
Some of the first calculations of the benefits of green roofs are coming back and they're even better than expected: replacing typical roofing materials with plants across a city the size of Detroit would be the equivalent of removing the pollution of 10,000 SUVs in a year. This study is the first to measure the amount of carbon that could be captured by the extensive use of green roofs.
Meanwhile, The New York Times is reporting the trend in real estate to use green roofs to lure potential tenants. More than the environmental benefits--including catching water run-off, absorbing carbon and providing excellent insulation--that people have become to expect in newer buildings, providing green space for workers is seen as an investment in the well being and health of their workers.