The biggest problem in California: Housing

State Senator Hannah Beth-Jackson came to Ojai recently, and visited with the Ojai Valley Green Coalition, where I volunteer, and met with the board of directors. We discussed many topics but ended up on the issue that has been dividing the state: housing — affordable housing — and the lack thereof. The New York Times this weekend had an excellent explainer (with anecdotes from Berkeley) on the issue. Here’s the nut:

The affordable-housing crunch is a nationwide problem, but California is the superlative. The state’s median home price, at just over $500,000, is more than twice the national level and up about 60 percent from five years ago, according to Zillow. It affects the poor, the rich and everyone in between.

In San Diego, one of the worst hepatitis outbreaks in decades has killed 20 people and was centered on the city’s growing homeless population. Across the state, middle-income workers are being pushed further to the fringes and in some cases enduring three-hour commutes.

Then there is Patterson + Sheridan, a national intellectual property law firm that has its headquarters in Houston and recently bought a private jet to ferry its Texas lawyers to Bay Area clients. The jet was cheaper than paying local lawyers, who expect to make enough to offset the Bay Area’s inflated housing costs. “The young people that we want to hire out there have high expectations that are hard to meet,” said Bruce Patterson, a partner at the firm. “Rent is so high they can’t even afford a car.”

From the windows of a San Francisco skyscraper, the Bay Area looks as if it’s having a housing boom. There are cranes around downtown and rising glass and steel condominiums. In the San Francisco metropolitan area, housing megaprojects — buildings with 50 or more units — account for a quarter of the new housing supply, up from roughly half that level in the previous two decades, according to census data compiled by BuildZoom, a San Francisco company that helps homeowners find contractors.

The problem is that smaller and generally more affordable quarters like duplexes and small apartment buildings, where young families get their start, are being built at a slower rate. Such projects hold vast potential to provide lots of housing — and reduce sprawl — by adding density to the rings of neighborhoods that sit close to job centers but remain dominated by larger lots and single-family homes.

Neighborhoods in which single-family homes make up 90 percent of the housing stock account for a little over half the land mass in both the Bay Area and Los Angeles metropolitan areas, according to Issi Romem, BuildZoom’s chief economist. There are similar or higher percentages in virtually every American city, making these neighborhoods an obvious place to tackle the affordable-housing problem.

“Single-family neighborhoods are where the opportunity is, but building there is taboo,” Mr. Romem said. As long as single-family-homeowners are loath to add more housing on their blocks, he said, the economic logic will always be undone by local politics.

bay_area_housing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Steve Lopez had a typically excellent, human column on the topic this weekend for the LA Times:

Like other transplants I spoke to in Nevada, Herndandez didn’t want to leave California. It’s home. It’s where she went to school and where her parents still live in the house she grew up in. But unless you choose a career that will pay you a small fortune to manage costs driven higher by a stubborn shortage of new housing, California is not a dream, it’s a mirage.

Moving to get a better job or move up the workplace chain is nothing new. But what’s going on here seems different — people leaving not for better jobs or pay, but because housing elsewhere is so much cheaper they can live the middle-class life that eludes them in California.

After college, Hernandez worked as a congressional staffer in Washington, D.C., and then went to Chicago for a few years. But the West drew her back. Not California, but Nevada, where she worked on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in Las Vegas and then joined the staff of a state legislator in the state capital.

“I started looking at the bigger picture in Carson City, where I was able to pay the rent, have a car and a comfortable life and put some money into a 401(k),” Hernandez said. “Would I be able to do that in California? Probably not.”

It’s a generational conflict, essentially, and it’s painful for me to contemplate how poorly once again my generation has prepared for those to come, including the creative young people of the golden state.

Full Story » Add Comment

Southern California 2017

 

 

L.A FreewayLAFreeway

Full Story »

“Our reverenced god” — Moloch and The Gun

Four dead in NorCal — at least four. Another deranged gunman, armed for combat, targeting the innocent. This one tried to break into an elementary school and slaughter children but was foiled by a lockdown.

Brian Flint told a group of reporters that a man staying in his house was one of those killed and that some of his neighbors were among those who were shot.

He said that the gunman was a neighbor and said that he had threatened him, and had stabbed another neighbor, a woman, in a dispute earlier this year, and “I believe he was on bond because of that.” The authorities said the woman, whose name has not been released, was among the deceased.

“As far as we know he was, you know, crazy,” Mr. Flint said. “He shoots a lot of gunshots at night, in the morning, like a hundred rounds.”

The word “crazy” is not strong enough. But in an evergreen essay published a few years back, Garry Wills, one of our greatest historians, found language commensurate to this on-going horror. He compared the American faith in the gun to a primitive worship of the cruelest of pagan gods, Moloch, that god that demanded the sacrifice of children.

In the New York Review of Books, Wills poured his molten rage into the forms of scholarship and logic.

He writes:

The fact that the gun is a reverenced god can be seen in its manifold and apparently resistless powers. How do we worship it? Let us count the ways:

1. It has the power to destroy the reasoning process. It forbids making logical connections. We are required to deny that there is any connection between the fact that we have the greatest number of guns in private hands and the greatest number of deaths from them. Denial on this scale always comes from or is protected by religious fundamentalism. Thus do we deny global warming, or evolution, or biblical errancy. Reason is helpless before such abject faith.

2. It has the power to turn all our politicians as a class into invertebrate and mute attendants at the shrine. None dare suggest that Moloch can in any way be reined in without being denounced by the pope of this religion, National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre, as trying to destroy Moloch, to take away all guns. They whimper and say they never entertained such heresy. Many flourish their guns while campaigning, or boast that they have themselves hunted “varmints.” Better that the children die or their lives be blasted than that a politician should risk an election against the dread sentence of NRA excommunication.

3. It has the power to distort our constitutional thinking. It says that the right to “bear arms,” a military term, gives anyone, anywhere in our country, the power to mow down civilians with military weapons. Even the Supreme Court has been cowed, reversing its own long history of recognizing that the Second Amendment applied to militias. Now the court feels bound to guarantee that any every madman can indulge his “religion” of slaughter. Moloch brooks no dissent, even from the highest court in the land.

He never mentions Allen Ginsberg, but the poet’s bitter Howl of “Moloch! Moloch! Moloch!” haunts this excoriating essay like a ghost. So many of us have had it with the bloody stupidity of American gun worship.

The answer to problems caused by guns is more guns, millions of guns, guns everywhere, carried openly, carried secretly, in bars, in churches, in offices, in government buildings. Only the lack of guns can be a curse, not their beneficent omnipresence.

Bullet emerging from a handgun, on black

Bullet emerging from a handgun, on black

Full Story »

TEN EXCELLENT CLIMATE STORIES/LINKS

A New York Times primer on the 17 biggest questions people ask about climate change:

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/climate/what-is-climate-change.html

A New York magazine story about climate change and the dangers of extreme heat.

http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/07/climate-change-earth-too-hot-for-humans.html

A Vanity Fair article about climate change and the danger of extreme heat.

https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/06/extreme-heat-global-warming

A Scientific American story about the great California megaflood.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/atmospheric-rivers-california-megaflood-lessons-from-forgotten-catastrophe/

A PBS Newshour primer on climate change and the civil war in Syria.

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/economy/making-sense/a-major-contributor-to-the-syrian-conflict-climate-change

Daniel Swain’s superb and popular blog on California weather: Weather West.

http://weatherwest.com/

Top Eight climate change stories in the Washington Post this year:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/04/29/here-are-our-top-8-climate-change-stories-of-2017/?utm_term=.1ff05120d9a0

New Yorker story on why facts on important matters such as climate may not change our minds.

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/02/27/why-facts-dont-change-our-mind

Stories by Andrew Revkin, of ProPublica and the NYTimes, on climate:

https://www.propublica.org/people/andrew-revkin

And, for a moment of hope, a Mother Jones story on why flying is less damaging for the atmosphere than it once was:

Why Flying Home for the Holidays Might Be Greener Than Driving

 

 

Full Story »

Free falling from disgrace: team Trump

The New York Times hired a new right-wing columnist about six months ago, and a couple of weeks of weeks back added a new leftist for the first time in a while, Michelle Goldberg, and what can I say but wow. She throws down almost as well as the recent Newsweek cover:

So here’s where we are. Trump put Manafort, an accused money-launderer and unregistered foreign agent, in charge of his campaign. Under Manafort’s watch, the campaign made at least two attempts to get compromising information about Clinton from Russia. Russia, in turn, provided hacked Democratic emails to WikiLeaks.

Russia also ran a giant disinformation campaign against Clinton on social media and attempted to hack voting systems in at least 21 states. In response to Russia’s election meddling, Barack Obama’s administration imposed sanctions. Upon taking office, Trump reportedly made secret efforts to lift them. He fired the F.B.I. director James Comey to stop his investigation into “this Russia thing,” as he told Lester Holt. The day after the firing, he met with Russia’s foreign minister and its ambassador to America, and told them: “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

We’ve had a year of recriminations over the Clinton campaign’s failings, but Trump clawed out his minority victory only with the aid of a foreign intelligence service. On Monday we finally got indictments, but it’s been obvious for a year that this presidency is a crime.

PruittinfallfromTrumpadmindisgrace

Full Story »

Nerve gas for Ventura County, thanks to the Trump EPA

As Lily Tomlin has pointed out, “No matter how cynical you become, you can’t keep up.” Especially in these days of Donald Trump.

Last week (was it only last week?) a meticulously sourced story in the New York Times by Eric Lipton (Why Has the EPA shifted on Toxic Chemicals? An Industry Insider Calls the Shots) detailed how a smart advocate from the American Chemistry Council, Dr. Nancy Beck, was given broad authority to take over the agency’s regulation of toxic chemicals and personally rewrite the rules. It’s a tremendous story with one particular angle of great importance to Ventura County.

To keep it as succinct as possible…last year, after decades of controversy, a bipartisan bill revising the rules of chemical regulation passed Congress and was signed into law. Lipton’s story frames what happened to that legislation under Scott Pruit, the new EPA administrator appointed by Trump, as a polite but edgy dialogue between a scientist named Wendy Hamnett, who spent her career at the agency, and was contemplating retirement, and Beck, who was given unprecedented rule-making authority by the new administration.

Hamnett wanted to believe the EPA would continue to conscientiously regulate chemical use under the new bill, but was taken aback to discover that one of the most dangerous of chemicals on the market — the pesticide Chlorpyrifos, which had been slated to be banned — would not be regulated.

“It was extremely disturbing to me,” Ms. Hamnett said of the order she received to reverse the proposed pesticide ban. “The industry met with E.P.A. political appointees. And then I was asked to change the agency’s stand.”

The E.P.A. and Dr. Beck declined repeated requests to comment that included detailed lists of questions.

“No matter how much information we give you, you would never write a fair piece,” Liz Bowman, a spokeswoman for the E.P.A., said in an email. “The only thing inappropriate and biased is your continued fixation on writing elitist clickbait trying to attack qualified professionals committed to serving their country.”

Hamnett tried to keep the faith in the agency and the 2016 bill, the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act for the 21st century, but…back to the Lipton story: .

That would translate into a rigorous crackdown on the most dangerous chemicals, regardless of the changes [at the agency].

But her confidence in the E.P.A.’s resolve was fragile, and it had been shaken by other actions, including the order Ms. Hamnett received to reverse course on banning the pesticide chlorpyrifos.

The order came before Dr. Beck’s arrival at the agency, but Ms. Hamnett saw the industry’s fingerprints all over it. Mr. Pruitt’s chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, instructed Ms. Hamnett to ignore the recommendation of agency scientists, she said.

The scientists had called for a ban based on research suggesting the pesticide might cause developmental disabilities in children.

Photo

Farm workers in a field picking berries. Chlorpyrifos, a pesticide blamed for developmental disabilities in children, is still widely used in agriculture. In March, Mr. Pruitt overrode agency scientists’ recommendation to ban it. CreditJim Wilson/The New York Times

To keep the pesticide on the market, under E.P.A. guidelines, the agency needed to have a “reasonable certainty” that no harm was being caused.

“The science and the law tell us this is the way to go,” Ms. Hamnett said of a ban.

But the reaction from her superiors was not about the science or the law, she said. Instead, they queried her about Dow Chemical, the pesticide’s largest manufacturer, which had been lobbying against a ban.

The clash is recorded in Ms. Hamnett notebook as well as in emails among Mr. Pruitt’s top political aides, which were obtained by The Times.

“They are trying to strong arm us,” Mr. Jackson wrote after meeting with Ms. Hamnett, who presented him with a draft petition to ban the pesticide.

Mr. Jackson, Ms. Hamnett’s notebook shows, then asked her to come up with alternatives to a ban. He asserted, her notes show, that he did not want to be “forced into a box” by the petition.

Photo

Ms. Hamnett recorded Mr. Jackson’s reaction to a pesticide ban in her notebook.

“I scared them,” Mr. Jackson wrote in an email to a colleague about his demands on Ms. Hamnett and her team.

As a possible compromise, Ms. Hamnett’s team had been talking to Dow about perhaps phasing out the pesticide instead of imposing an immediate ban. But Dow, after Mr. Trump’s election, was suddenly in no mood to compromise, Ms. Hamnett recalled. Dow did not respond to requests for comment.

She now knew, she said, that the effort to ban the pesticide had been lost, something Mr. Jackson’s emails celebrated.

“They know where this is headed,” Mr. Jackson wrote.

A couple of years ago an equally great (and award winning) story by Liza Gross for The Nation detailed the fact that Ventura County is one of the most pesticide drenched lands in the state and the nation. To wit:

Oxnard and surrounding Ventura County grow more than 630 million pounds of strawberries a year, enough to feed 78 million Americans. But that bounty exacts a heavy toll: strawberries rank among California’s most pesticide-intensive crops. The pesticides that growers depend on—a revolving roster of caustic and highly volatile chemicals called fumigants—are among the most toxic used in agriculture. They include sixty-six chemicals that have been identified by the state’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment as the most likely to drift through the air and cause harm. Studies in laboratory animals and humans have linked many of these chemicals—including the organophosphate chlorpyrifos and fumigants 1,3-Dichloropropene (1,3-D), metam sodium, methyl bromide and chloropicrin, all used in strawberry production—to one or several chronic health conditions, including birth defects, asthma, cancer and multiple neurodevelopmental abnormalities.


Dayane Zuñiga

Use of many of these sixty-six pesticides has fallen statewide since 2007. But a handful of communities saw a dramatic increase. By 2012, the most recent year for which data is available, more than 29 million pounds of these chemicals—more than half the total used in the state—were applied in just 5 percent of California’s 1,769 census ZIP codes, according to an independent investigation by this reporter. In two ZIP codes that Zuñiga knows well—areas that include the Oxnard High neighborhood where she trained and south Oxnard, where she lives—applications of these especially toxic pesticides, which were already among the highest in the state, rose between 61 percent and 84 percent from 2007 t0 2012, records at the California Department of Pesticide Regulation show. Both are among the ten ZIP codes with the most intensive use of these pesticides in California. And both have sizable Latino populations—around 70 percent—thanks, in part, to the large number of farm jobs in the area. The great majority of the people who work in the strawberry fields in Oxnard, which hosts the largest population of farmworkers in Ventura County, come from Mexico.

As so often is the case, the wonky details and the fact that brown people bear the brunt of these chemical impacts means very little discussion of the continued use of Chlorpyrifos has ensued. One notable exception comes from Nicholas Kristof, who at least once a year points to the danger of chemicals in his Sunday Times olumn. This past Sunday Kristof was especially blunt in an interactive column called: Trump’s Legacy: Damaged Brains.

The pesticide, which belongs to a class of chemicals developed as a nerve gas made by Nazi Germany, is now found in food, air and drinking water. Human and animal studies show that it damages the brain and reduces I.Q.s while causing tremors among children. It has also been linked to lung cancer and Parkinson’s disease in adults.

brain_0016_Layer

The colored parts of the image above, prepared by Columbia University scientists, indicate where a child’s brain is physically altered after exposure to this pesticide.

And now the Trump administration is embracing it, overturning a planned ban that had been in the works for many years.

What recourse can citizens who care about health — especially the health of people who live near strawberry fields — have except not to eat commercially-grown strawberries? I wish I knew.

Full Story » Comment (1)

“Biology we haven’t discovered yet”

Ever stumble across something — even something you’ve not thought much about — and then suddenly see it everywhere around you?

This strange stumbling-into-obsession has caught me in the last couple of weeks with the concept of consciousness. What the hell? What is it? When do we have it? When do we have too much of it, or not enough? All questions I’ve assiduously avoided for god knows how many years.

It all began with a podcast: Sam Harris interviewing genius primatologist/neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky. The Biology of Good and Evil. The conversation can’t be summarized in a sentence or two — it’s too rich — but the quote of the nearly two-hour interview was Sapolsky declaring:

I believe free will is what we call biology we haven’t discovered yet.

If true, of course, this means that we are all fundamentally unconscious. At least in the sense that we do not realize or cannot see how powerfully we are being driven by biology. Driven perhaps even against our own beliefs, or what we think we believe.

How about that? Makes a fellow feel small, and foolish. And maybe that’s why I’ve noticed a few things as of late.

From Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground [part one, chapter nine]:

Suffering — why this is the sole cause of consciousness. 

And from poet W.S. Di Piero‘s lovely little Table Talk essay in the latest Threepenny Review:

In Hardy’s “The Self-Unseeing,” he visits the remains of his childhood home and recalls where the door was, how the floor felt, how his mother sat “staring into the fire” while her fiddler husband “bowed it higher and higher.” The last two bittersweet lines, “Everything glowed with a gleam/Yet we were looking away” remind him that they couldn’t possibly have been aware of the harmonious moment while living it. We’re always late for consciousness, the neuroscientists say.

Does it follow then that happiness requires a kind of un-consciousness? A life inside our biology?

What would Fyodor say?

dostoevskyday

There’s more, but I haven’t found it yet…

Full Story »

“There will be no food in Puerto Rico”

…for a year or more, says an orchard owner who saw every one of his thousands of his trees killed in a matter of hours.

plaintaincropinPuertoRico

From the New York Times, well down the front page, far below the latest Twitter tweetstorm:

“Sometimes when there are shortages, the price of plantain goes up from $1 to $1.25. This time, there won’t be any price increase; there won’t be any product,” [grower] Mr. Rivera said. “When I heard the meteorologist say that the two had turned into a three and then a four, I thought, ‘Agriculture in Puerto Rico is over.’ This really is a catastrophe.”

Full Story »

Greatest hurricane movie ever? Key Largo

Key Largo has to be the greatest hurricane movie ever, and one of starriest pictures of all time. The cast will knock you out: Beginning with Bogart and Bacall, and including Lionel Barrymore, Claire Trevor and Edgar G. Robinson, for crying out loud, who dominates the picture as a gangster threatened by the power of the storm.

This one frame from Key Largo tells that story:

“You don’t like it, do you Rocco, the storm? Show it your gun, why don’t you? If it doesn’t stop, shoot it.”

Image may contain: 4 people, people sitting

Can’t you just hear the harsh grain in Bogart’s voice, as he forces the brazen gangster to face a truth bigger than he can handle? Where are the heroic truth tellers of today? Where have you gone Humphrey Bogart? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

(In fact the inevitable “Shoot at Hurricane Irma” Facebook group formed in Florida in 2017 as Irma churned its way towards Florida — but forget all that, the movie is so much better. And so much better than the filmic Sharknado fare of today, or so it seems with the benefit of eighty years of hindsight.)

 

Full Story »

Toles on climate denial in the White House

The great Tom Toles has been struggling a bit (it seems to me) with the obdurate nature of this White House, but found a way to make a climate point amusingly today…as 1.4 million in Florida face evacuation.
thepharohandclimatechange

Californians shouldn’t be crowing: Superfloods happen here too.

Full Story »