Monday, May 06, 2013

Is Big Brother Coming to a Neighborhood Near You?

So, everyone's in a state over Big Brother planning our futures, telling us where and how much to develop.  While this could be an alarming scenario and put the brakes on local control, the hyperbole with which both sides have reacted is the most alarming aspect.

Let's acknowledge there are a few crazies on both sides looking to manipulate and exploit the process for their own gain and sucking up the press coverage.  Tea-Partiers and race baiters have no place in this dialogue. Also, let's see how fear is used to keep intelligent civilized dialogue from happening.

Do we need affordable housing in Marin County and other Bay Area locations? Yes, we do, but what that looks like, who controls it and where it is located are the issues.

Some see the phrase "local control" as buzzwords for NIMBYism. Some go so far as to call others racists, climate change deniers and spend an inordinate amount of time demonizing their neighbors.

Yeah, this is a great way to open a dialogue, boys.

And some on the other side see conspiracies and U.N. backed plans to impose a one world government, something I thought went out with the Eisenhower Administration.

Sadly, tin hats are worn by people on both sides to this equation.

Our 40 plus year old environmental laws are in danger of being gutted so new housing and jobs can be created with little review. Who benefits?

Democrat Darryl Steinberg, the President Pro Tem of the Senate offers what he sees as a compromise bill, to "streamline" CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) for projects in PDAs (Planned Development Areas.)   While not so Draconian as some of the bills the Republicans are offering, this bill would remove consideration of aesthetic qualities (among others) from the discussion. No one is happy about this bill, but the hope is, it fends off some more drastic Republican proposals.

But you might ask why? Why should poor people be made to live in warehouse style boxes? Aren't the aesthetics and the quality of life important to them, as well as those who don't want to look at big box housing any more than big box retail.

The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) driving these new development numbers through its Plan Bay Area is using the rationale that we are under a mandate from the legislature to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and that the best way to do that is infill housing.

All well and good so far as it goes. But what is infill? Near transit, near downtown?  All good too.  But who is asking some basic questions, like why do we think just because we build near transit, people will give up their cars? I suggest they won't do any such thing.  More people, more cars, more congestion on the already crowded freeways.

And where are the supposed jobs going to materialize from that these new residents will be working in near their homes? Are we looking at more Superstores? Walmarts? Fast food places? 

Why not bring up the standard of living for all, with true living wages, with stronger unions, and yes, stronger environmental regulations, that keep so-called infill housing out of flood plains and away from Bayland areas, when we all know the sea levels are rising?

Why not allow and encourage co-housing projects, for seniors as well as families; housing and land trusts to take the profit out of the housing market. Yes, a radical notion: Housing for people, not for profit.

While speculators and foreign investors are gobbling up land, foreclosed upon homes and apartment buildings, rent rises at an alarming rate.  What ever happened to rent control? And how about reclaiming some of those McMansions before the Chinese grab them all or Corporate America buys them for their CEOs, and repurpose them for housing people already here and in need?

Mixed use development in already developed areas like shopping centers and downtowns do not have to be developer-driven boxes for warehousing people, and maximizing profits.  Cities, Counties and maybe event the State has to be involved.  Non-profits, shared ownership, and stabilized rents can go far to easing the housing crunch.

And do you really have to worry about your property values sinking because poor people move in nearby? Or is that a groundless fear?  Fear has been used to fuel the gun debate, and now the housing debate. Fear of gangs, of lowered property values and always, always of the "other."  Let's out the fear mongers; let's stop calling our neighbors names.  Let's look at what's best for our communities, our residents, our environment.  

For a more measured approach to sustainable planning in Marin, see Community Marin, a years' long project to protecting Marin's environment and community character while providing for needed affordable housing.