In the spirit of this brief, earlier post, I want to memorialize the winter of 2011-2012 that’s about to end (even though it feels like that it’s already over).
This was the winter where San Francisco had an L.A. winter. There were a few, scattered cold days, but there were far too many sunny days, even in the Outer Sunset, where the fog usually reigns. This was the winter when I did not bother to go up to Tahoe even once, since there was no snow. This was the beautiful, warm, dry winter that will lead us to ration water later this year, or next. This is the winter when it did not rain on my birthday, even though it always rains on my birthday.
Today, I attended SPUR’s fantastic lunchtime forum on the Death of Redevelopment (agencies) in California. By way of background, last year, Governor Brown pushed through the legislature, AB 26, a bill that abolished the 400-plus redevelopment agencies in California to free up money for the state budget. Municipalities challenged AB 26 in the courts, but the State Supreme Court ruled in favor of the State, and the redevelopment agencies in California were abolished on February 1, 2012.
The panel focused on how San Francisco and Oakland had different approaches to dealing with the end of the redevelopment agencies, which provided a powerful funding tool for affordable housing and economic development projects through tax increment financing (where proceeds from property tax increases are funneled to a specific geographic area). Tiffany Bohee, the ED for the successor agency to the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, and Fred Blackwell, the Assistant City Administrator for the City of Oakland spoke on the panel. A summary of their talk is organized below into 3 sections: 1. San Francisco’s approach, 2. Oakland’s approach, and 3. interesting bits on redevelopment in California as a whole.
After the abolition of SF’s Redevelopment Agency (SFRA), the Mayor’s Office of Housing absorbed all of the housing units in the SFRA’s purview, including the existing pipeline. All of the SFRA staff was transferred to the City Administrator’s office. San Francisco got the lone carve out to AB 26, a 7-person oversight board, where the Mayor’s office has 4 appointees, and the taxing entities have 3 appointees. This oversight board has 2 roles, a fiduciary role to oversee the wind down of the SFRA and a land-use authority role.
In terms of on-going projects, it will be more difficult to do the mid-Market revitalization, with loans to small businesses. For instance, the type of redevelopment agency loan that allowed Pearl’s Burgers to open on 6th and Market is no longer available.
Ms. Bohee was unsure what the future affordable housing mechanism would be, but commented that it would likely be decided at the ballot box. Funding options include bonds, transfer taxes, lease revenues, and certificates of preference and participation.
For economic development, multiple levels of financing are required. New market tax credits will provide $40 million in federal financing for distressed projects. Special tax districts and infrastructure financing districts, such as the ones used for Mission Bay and Transbay, were other financing options.
The structure of Oakland’s Redevelopment Agency (ORA) was radically different from the SFRA. In Oakland, there was no firewall between the ORA and the City, the ORA staff was integrated into the city staff, and Oakland used ORA money to fund part of the mayor’s salary and the police. When AB 26 passed, Oakland scrambled to reorganize the city financing structure in 2-3 weeks to make up for the lost funds.
Projects such as the Oakland Army base redevelopment project and affordable housing already in the pipeline will continue to go forward. Other development projects, such as facade improvement on commercial corridors in Oakland’s flatlands would go away, due to lack of funding.
Oakland also transferred $800 million in property from the ORA to the city during the short 2-3 week reorganization period. This led to speculation about the liabilities Oakland assumed along with this property.
The state redevelopment agency laws also provided a legislative framework for affordable housing in Oakland, and this framework is no longer in place. While San Francisco has inclusionary zoning for affordable housing, Oakland relied on the state laws that required 20% of the tax increment financing money to go towards affordable housing.
Before the abolition of the ORA, Oakland’s Community and Economic Development Agency had very little power. Now, the City Administrator’s office has the general fund and the Economic Development Agency is within its control. Mr. Blackwell stated that now that redevelopment money is no longer earmarked for poor areas, there may be more class and geographic in-fighting within Oakland for these general funds.
Miscellaneous Thoughts on Redevelopment Agencies in California:
- The moderator (whose full name I did not catch) introduced the talk by comparing the abolition of redevelopment agencies to the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978; city budgets were restructured overnight.
- Without redevelopment offices, city planning offices need to step up, but the moderator pointed out that “Planners plan, and redevelopment agencies do.” The entrepreneurial spirit of redevelopment agencies may be lost, but the Mayor’s economic development office may fill the role of the redevelopment agencies.
- With the abolition of the redevelopment agencies, an entire industry has gone away. “People didn’t just lose jobs, they’ve lost careers.”
- In the Q&A, Mr. Blackwell offered this 5 reason post-mortem for why California got rid of its redevelopment agencies:
- There were too many redevelopment agencies; over 400 in the state, and LA County alone had 70!
- Redevelopment agencies were created to eliminate “blight,” which in and of itself is a loaded and political term.
- There were some abuses within redevelopment agencies.
- This was a $2 billion fiscal issue for the state, where the state had to make up the shortfall to funding schools, when property taxes were allocated to redevelopment districts. (Personally, I believe this was the bullet that killed off the redevelopment agencies).
- We’ve never been able to answer the question, “Would redevelopment have happened without the redevelopment agency?” This is the “but for” causation question.
As my mom’s eldest child, the question that I hear the most from her, is “When can I retire?” My response always revolves around her savings, the mortgage that we share, and budgeting her expenses out for post-retirement life. She wants to retire earlier that what I think is currently feasible, and I try to emphasize that there may be no money left in my wallet, when she’s in her 80’s and her grandchildren de-camp for college at $422,000 a pop. She seems to believe that she only needs to plan until she’s 85 (and to be fair, the average life expectancy in the States for a Chinese American woman is 86.1 years).
There have been a couple of essays circulating lately written by Boomers taking care of their Greatest Generation parents, and even though I dislike the tone of these articles, I think about them pretty often. The writers’ parents thought they too would go quickly and cheaply, but this was not the case. My own grandmother spent nearly 2 years in hospice care at the price of $10,000+/month.
I see these essays and my grandmother’s case as cautionary tales for what happens when you live beyond of the number of years that you anticipate. Thus, I sent my mom the brief email below (I purposely put the Sandra Tsing Loh essay first, thinking my mom would identify with her more easily):
From: E Chan
Subject: Long term planning
Here are a couple of essays written by children of elderly parents who are around your age. I think you will find them interesting. You need to plan for 90.
In keeping with my tradition of annual round-ups, here are my noteworthy shows of 2011, a year, where I saw everyone from Prince to St*rF*ck*r, and Arcade Fire twice. I didn’t cry tears of emotional joy at any of the 2011 shows, but the band that took the top spot very nearly put me into concert retirement with their performance at the Greek Theatre. So, in ascending order of how much I enjoyed myself:
8. Cut Copy at the Regency – This is the runner-up in the dance party category, simply because it was the most energetic. It took me forever to steady my phone to take a picture because people were jumping so hard on the dance floor. Oonce oonce oonce.
7. The Kings of Convenience at the Fillmore – Based on Erlend Oye’s past work with Royksopp, this show was in some ways a companion piece to entry #5 below. This was a two-man acoustic guitar and vocal set, which definitely emphasized, loud audience aside, that quiet is the new loud.
6. Thao and the Get Down Stay Down – Miss Thao always gives her all, in her full messy glory for her shows. She’s definitely my favorite local musician.
5. Royksopp at the Regency – This won the dance party category by the sheer force of Royksopp’s sound.
4. Foster the People at Outsidelands – I went to the festival for Arcade Fire, but on day one, Foster the People stole the show. I didn’t think of them their album as all that dance-y beforehand, but I had fun doing the indie bop in Golden Gate Park during their set. Plus, it helps that like everyone else on Spotify, I spent a few weeks listening to their album non-stop.
3. Fitz and the Tantrums at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass – Such stage presence! I boogied! I shook! Hands down my favorite act of HSB. Thank you, Mr. Hellman.
2. Erasure at the Fox – Oh, L’amour, I broke out my gold suspenders for this show, and it was worth it.
1. Portishead at the Greek – Half of the number 1 spot was earned through anticipation alone, but Beth Gibbons’s and her haunting presence earned the rest. It was nice to see that they moved beyond the screaming banshee rendition of Sour Times, into a more jazzy, lounge-y mode. After waiting over a dozen years for this show (and after having checked off all of the other acts on my list), I felt very satisfied after this show to enter into concert semi-retirement (I had a very long post-Portishead show lull in ticket purchases). In 2012, I’ll probably halve, if not quarter, my show going habit, but I’m looking forward to Radiohead and M83 at Fauxchella.
Other honorable mentions:
Washed Out at the Great American – This originally made the list above, but I couldn’t remember anything from this show, other than it was good.
Ellie Goulding at Outsidelands – Her music is not quite my cup of tea, but an excellent set, plus the sunglass scramble added to the fun.
Best Coast at the Regency – Along with Thao, this goes into the messy, drunken, emotional vocalist category, and I mean this in a good way.
Beach House at the Fillmore – I was worried about this show because Toastyken had told me that seeing Beach House live was one of his least enjoyable concert experiences, but despite the droning vocals, I liked this show, and the teepee stars were a neat touch.
I was born and raised in SF, and with the exception of my academic exile on the East Coast, and the past 9 months down in the foggy D.C., I’ve always lived in SF.* During and after law school, I’ve toyed with the idea of moving to Brooklyn West, since it’s sunnier there and the real estate is shiny and a few hundred thousand dollars less than San Francisco. My friends there are cool and open-minded, and generally politically and socially engaged. Plus, there’s stuff going on over there, unlike the sterile strip malls and quaint small towns of the South Bay, or the sleepy homogeneity of Marin. Before this week, the three things that held me back were:
1. Fear of earthquakes. I constantly ask which is scarier, being in the Transbay Tube or on the Bay Bridge when the Big One hits, and both options terrify me equally.
2. Fear of crime / lack of policing to deter crime. I’m not sure that I feel comfortable living in a place where the Police Department doesn’t investigate property crimes. You’re house got burgled? You got mugged? Tough luck!
3. I don’t really drive, and BART doesn’t run late enough. I’d hate to constantly look at my watch at a Fillmore concert to make sure that I made my last BART train home.
But the brutality of the police response to Occupy Oakland this week has sorta sealed the deal against me moving to Oakland. When a City Administrator can issue orders for brute force to be used on peaceful protesters, something is wrong. When the Mayor, Jean Quan, can claim ignorance to the plans to raid Occupy Oakland, something is very very wrong. Between the Oscar Grant protests and now this, my dominant image of Oakland isn’t of art crawls or Children’s Fairyland, but of police in riot gear and people in wheelchairs being tear-gassed, and that’s not the type of city where I want to live. And my head has been trying to tabulate how much of the City’s budget is going to pay out settlements for police brutality related to this week’s clearance of Occupy Oakland.
A huge part of me is trying to understand how the City of Oakland, which prides itself on incorporating the language of social justice and addressing inequality, had one of the most violent reactions (that I know of) to the Occupy movement. I know part of this is rooted in the OPD’s sense of impunity and their past scandals, but until there is some progress on this front, Oakland goes onto the “places where I won’t live” list. I’m not sure how much the Planning and Police Departments talk to each other, but the image of a police department is key to attracting new residents to a city. A police department that terrorizes residents, instead of doing any actual policing, does all of your realtors a huge disservice.
*This is a total aside, but in case you didn’t know already, I’m moving back to SF next week.
I wouldn’t want to re-live my high school experience, but I appreciate these wise words to kids from David Eagleman (interview here):
What advice would you give to a smart kid who’s now in high school?
Watch TED talks: smart people will distill their life’s work down to 20 minutes for you. Follow links through infinite trajectories of Wikipedia. Watch educational videos on topics that resonate with you.
There are a million ways to waste time on the net; reject those in favor of ways that teach you exactly what you want to know. Never before have we enjoyed such an opportunity for tailored, individualized education.
And be sure to get off-line often, to take digital sabbaths. As much as the net provides a platter of mankind’s learning, there is a different kind of learning to be had from a hike in the woods, the climbing of a tree, an afternoon building a dam in a stream.
This is a quick fire post, but I wanted to transcribe my notes, at least in bullet-point form from Monday’s Ferran Adria talk at the Castro. This was definitely my favorite talk of the year, if not of the last five years. I walked away completely mesmerized.
- Adria is no Anthony Bourdain. He is not there to make you laugh with funny anecdotes or foul language. Adria is there in his messianic way to: 1. guide you to create, and 2. point you towards the future of food.
- Adria opened up by stating, “In order to cook well, you must think well, and in order to think well, you must be humble.”
- Adria used the fable of the omelette and the mini-skirt to illustrate that it’s not important to be the first person to create something, but to be the person who conceptualizes it. We don’t know who invented the first omelette, but now most cookbooks devote 5% of their content to omelette recipes. Similarly, miniskirts date back to ancient Greece, but it took Mary Quant in the 60s to pair it in such a way to emphasize the female form. The evolution of the recipe is key.
- We know nothing about cuisine and everything about food is subjective. The Spanish eat the second most fish per capita, but they hate raw fish. Adria’s own parents did not like sushi, when he brought them to a Japanese restaurant.
- Back before his restaurant was big in the 90s, chefs guarded their recipes. But recipes are meant to be shared, so that people can improve them. Essentially, Adria was advocating open source cooking.
- Fruits are an alphabet. When you cook with them, you create a language.
- Adria showed us a clip of how his kitchen can make 2 meters of cheese spaghetti. When we eat a plate of spaghetti, we eat 60 meters of spaghetti.
- I can’t find a good video online of the El Bulli Foundation masterplan, but it’s going to be on a nature preserve, and it definitely puts forth Adria’s utopian vision.
- Finally, this event was also a book signing party of Adria’s The Family Meal. This is simply one of the most stunning cookbooks that I’ve ever opened.
Here’s my first post for a little blog on urbanism that grew out of my summer program. Check out the other writers too.
One of my law school section-mates succinctly summed up my feelings about Elizabeth Warren in a Facebook status update:
I love this woman. I know her from law school and I love her. The end.
But one reason why her little video resonates with me so much is that it succinctly explains what I wish I could tell every relative who thinks that the government takes their money without giving them anything back.
A month or so ago, I was engaged in a conversation with an aunt whom I admire, but who is an exec at one of those giant infrastructure and defense companies. She complained about the millions of dollars the government was “throwing away” to protect desert tortoises near a solar project her company was building. She said, “The government has never spent any money on me.”
My jaw dropped. I pointed out that she went to public school and to the UCs. Her kids went to public schools and the UCs. She’s used public transit and the roads. But she was stubborn; she felt that she contributed to her kids schools via the PTA, not through her taxes. And she was angry that she was still paying for other people’s kids to go to school for free. My inability to reason with her, despite my best efforts makes me want to flyer her car (and the cars of my other similarly minded relatives) with the image below.