Tag archive for California

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

last morning in California

I’ve now been hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in sections since 2012, and have reached Oregon. I’ve been sorely remiss in posting of my progress, which I regret, and will in some measure redress. For the sake of beauty at this site if no other.

This shot comes from my last morning in California, as the sun rose.

lastmorning

Full Story »

The madness of Trump’s “alternative facts”

A tsunami of derision has attached itself to the President Trump’s best explainer/apologizer KellyAnne Conway’s assertion last week that the President’s press secretary was offering alternative facts to explain the President’s obviously wrong belief regarding the (small) size of the crowd at his inauguration. Even some of the best coaches in professional basketball, led by Steve Kerr of the Warriors, have joined in the mockery.

When asked about his [Houston Rockets] team struggling, going 3-5 over their last eight games, [Coach Mike]D’Antoni told reporters: “Actually we won all those games. I’m going with that alternative fact thing.”

The best column I’ve seen on the subject of the new administration’s um, assertion of untruths, comes from Dana Milbank, the most popular newspaper columnist in the country, who points out that President Trump is “barking mad.”

“It was almost raining,” the new president told CIA workers in Langley, recounting his inaugural address, “but God looked down and he said, we’re not going to let it rain on your speech. In fact, when I first started, I said, oh, no. The first line, I got hit by a couple of drops. And I said, oh, this is too bad, but we’ll go right through it. But the truth is that it stopped immediately. It was amazing. And then it became really sunny. And then I walked off and it poured right after I left. It poured.”

Really sunny? I was there for the inaugural address, in the sixth row, about 40 feet from Trump, and I remembered the exact opposite: It began to rain when he started and tapered off toward the end. There wasn’t a single ray of sunshine, before, during or after the speech. Was my memory playing tricks on me?

No, of course not — the current President of the United States has so little regard for fact that he will without a second’s qualm lie about even the weather, even about the same weather experienced by thousands of his fellow Americans, and millions more watching on television. Many professionals are saying in public that he is in fact clinically mentally ill.

But this week along with the derision and the psychoanalysis I heard some words of wisdom (methinks) from a much-loved California public official, John Laird, California Secretary for Natural Resources, who told a packed crowd of hundreds of cientists, bureaucrats, and advocates at the California Climate Change Symposium that we must not be distracted from their work in the environment and on climate change by “alternative facts.”

I quote Hunter Thompson, who said in the Nixon years “when the going gets tough, the weird turn pro.” It’s tempting to want to do all things but if we’re going to be pros we’re going to have to focus. It means people need to work on one or two or three issues. Being scattershot is not the right response. I think people sort of get this: if I care about reproductive rights I get with Planned Parenthood. I join the ACLU to defend immigrants rights. But the question [I have for you] is, how do I plug in on climate change? What I want to do in closing is pass that challenge on to you. I think that there is a ready and willing public and it’s not enough for government agencies to say this is what we’re doing, even though I think we’re doing our best work in years.

I’ve gone this far without mentioning “alternative facts.’ There’s a nuance here. If you focus totally on alternative facts you’re allowing someone else to drive the debate and it’s on us to focus on the real facts…That means not going down ratholes and that we really focus in a way that is meaningful and not scattershot. I think we are to up to it and we are going to drive this debate. So don’t get deterred. We are going to be pros.

Yes, we are — and it starts with believing our eyes. Shouldn’t be impossible, as Orwell reminds us.

Full Story »

Trump denies drought exists in California

The Donald, as he is known in tabloid reporting in New York, told Californians that their drought doesn’t exist. It’s not a problem, it’s just a government snafu.

From USA Today:

California suffered one of its driest years in 2015. And last year the state hit its driest four-year period on record.

But Donald Trump isn’t sold. The presumptive GOP nominee told supporters in Fresno, Calif., on Friday night that no such dry spell exists.

Trump said state officials were simply denying water to Central Valley farmers to prioritize the Delta smelt, a native California fish nearing extinction — or as Trump called it, “a certain kind of three-inch fish.”

“We’re going to solve your water problem. You have a water problem that is so insane. It is so ridiculous where they’re taking the water and shoving it out to sea,” Trump told thousands of supporters at the campaign event.

But even if you redistributed all the water from the Sierra and the Californi Water Project, that still would not solve what a certain politician calls “the water problem” in coastal Southern California, as this map via the LA Times and the U.S. Drought Monitor from May 17th shows.

droughtincaMay172016

Chart goes from “abnorally dry” (yellow) to “exceptional drought” (brown). Red is “extreme drought,” the second worst category.

Full Story »

Here comes the super-hot summer of 2016

This year has been off the charts hot. Lots of graphics to that point:

superhotstart2016

The February heat anomaly this year [as charted by NOAA] is scary to me.

february2016anomaly

Already we are in the fifth year of drought, which has only slightly lessened, and not at all in central SoCal.

droughtCAmarch2016

And now models pointed are calling for an especially hot summer on the West Coast. Oh great.

Full Story »

Thinking about wildness in CA: Daniel Duane

Daniel Duane first came across my media screen last summer with a spectacular essay in the NYTimes Sunday Review — My Dark California Dream — in which he thought through some of the problems that have hit California lately, from wildfire to drought to traffic to the devastation of sea life off our shores.

But it was not a litany of horrors, nor a blaming, it was a wrestling with the issue(s), including the issue of one’s own lost paradise, one’s own inevitable self loss.

Confusing one’s own youth with the youth of the world is a common human affliction, but California has been changing so fast for so long that every new generation gets to experience both a fresh version of the California dream and, typically by late middle-age, its painful death.

Tremendous. Now Duane brings another top of the Sunday Review section essay, a long thoughtful look at what is known, in a somewhat Orwellian way, as “wildlife management.”

Duane puts it more vividly, in the opening of The Unnatural Kingdom:

If you ever have the good fortune to see a Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep, the experience might go like this: On a sunny morning in Yosemite National Park, you walk through alpine meadows and then up a ridge to the summit of Mount Gibbs at 12,764 feet above sea level. You unwrap a chocolate bar amid breathtaking views of mountain and desert and then you notice movement below.

Binoculars reveal three sturdy ewes perched on a wall of rock, accompanied by two lambs and a muscular ram. The sight fills you with awe and also with gratitude for the national parks, forests and, yes, environmental regulations that keep the American dream of wilderness alive.

Unless your binoculars are unusually powerful, you are unlikely to notice that many of those sheep wear collars manufactured by Lotek Wireless of Newmarket, Ontario. You will, therefore, remain unaware that GPS and satellite communications hardware affixed to those collars allows wildlife managers in distant air-conditioned rooms to track every move made by those sheep. Like similar equipment attached to California condors, pronghorn antelope, pythons, fruit bats, African wildebeest, white-tailed eagles, growling grass frogs, feral camels and countless other creatures, those collars are the only visible elements of the backlot infrastructure that now puts and keeps so many animals in the wild.

Phenomenal. Part of a book Duane is working on about the Sierra. That’ll be good…

Theunnaturalkingdom

Full Story »

CA leading on climate as well as water: LA Times

Yesterday the NYTimes’ lead op-ed in the Sunday Review was about how California is Winning the Drought (as discussed here a couple of days ago) from a respected author on water issues.

Today the lead op-ed in the editorial pages of the LATimes comes from a well-known expert on drought, who argues that California is leading the way for the nation when it comes to mitigating climate change damages such as drought. It’s called Get Ready for the New Normal: Dry and Drier.

If California points the way to dry times ahead, it also gives us a glimpse of how a responsible society can adjust to a warmer future. In general, the state’s individual consumers and water districts are meeting conservation goals, thanks to a range of innovations and sacrifices.

Perhaps most impressively, the state has adopted its own pioneering cap-and-trade program aimed at rolling back greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels. Emissions are capped and emitters are assigned a certain number of carbon permits. If they emit less, they can sell their extra permits in a state auction, creating incentives to cut carbon pollution.

Will cap and trade enable the state to meet its greenhouse gas goal? That’s unknown, but there is no debating its positive effect on the state treasury. In fiscal year 2015-16, the permit auction will net about $2.2 billion for mass transit, affordable housing and a range of climate-adaptation programs. And by the way, the warnings of naysayers and climate deniers that cap-and-trade would prove a drag on the economy have proved groundless.

California a “responsible society!” Doesn’t fit our flaky image does it? Columnist Joe Matthews wrote about our flaky image for Zocalo Public Square a couple of years ago, and pretty much blew it out of the water.

It’s true that in our personal lives, Californians can tend toward the unreliable. But in our work lives, we have never been flakes. If we’re social flakes, we have a good excuse: It’s because we’re working too damn hard.

While the federal government doesn’t break out productivity by state, academics have found California to be among the top places in the country in worker productivity, right up there with New York. If you want to find flakes in the workplace, try Alaska or Louisiana—or the big slacker, Texas. (No wonder Texans find so much time to criticize our business climate).

[edit]

Our state attracts more venture capital than the rest of the country combined. We lead in agriculture revenues, high-wage services, fastest-growing companies, patents and inventions (more than 20,000 a year), job creation (at least recently), initial public offerings, and (by any measure you want to use) in innovation. We’re paying more in taxes, and getting back less, than virtually every other state. If you’re reading this in another state, odds are we’re subsidizing your flakiness.

So there. Here’s the image that went with the “Winning the Drought” op-ed.

winningthedroughtimage

Full Story »

It’s the fourth year of drought in CA. How are we doing?

It’s the fourth year of drought in California. We’re suffering big fires in Northern California, employment drops and spikes of poverty in the Central Valley, and asking for unprecedented conservation in Southern California. We’re also seeing huge impacts on groundwater and to wildlife statewide. We’re hurting.

But is it possible that despite our losses the state as a whole has weathered this slow-motion disaster with some grace, and possibly even shown some leadership?

So argues Charles Fishman in the NYTimes:

For California, there hasn’t ever been a summer quite like the summer of 2015. The state and its 39 million residents are about to enter the fifth year of a drought. It has been the driest four-year period in California history — and the hottest, too.

Yet by almost every measure except precipitation, California is doing fine. Not just fine: California is doing fabulously.

In 2014, the state’s economy grew 27 percent faster than the country’s economy as a whole — the state has grown faster than the nation every year of the drought.

California has won back every job lost in the Great Recession and set new employment records. In the past year, California created 462,000 jobs — nearly 9,000 a week. No other state came close.

The drought has inspired no Dust Bowl-style exodus. California’s population has grown faster even as the drought has deepened.

More than half the fruits and vegetables grown in the United States come from California farms, and last year, the third growing season of the drought, both farm employment and farm revenue increased slightly.

Amid all the nervous news, the most important California drought story is the one we aren’t noticing. California is weathering the drought with remarkable resilience, because the state has been getting ready for this drought for the past 20 years.

Fishman is talking about the changes agencies and farmers in particular have made to adapt to life in our mostly semi-arid environment, and he’s not overlooking what still must be done.

It’s the work of a man with years of experience, and a contrarian, audacious argument to be recommended.

By chance, I expect, today also a noted UC San Diego scientist named Mike Dettinger posted this:

Updated (thru 7/15) Calif “reservoirs” status plot…still 39% more water than in July 1977. http://t.co/mfwKQ1xq2v pic.twitter.com/LMp84kJHtT

Full Story »

Not again! Meteorologists abuzz about El Nino in drought

Last year at this time a huge wave of heat was detected propagating as the scientists say through surface waters from east to west across the Pacific. Ultimately a series of such "Kelvin waves"  went on to warm much of the tropical Pacific, and waters along the West Coast, resulting in huge changes in sealife.

Once in a while, on a schedule seemingly impossible to predict, what happens in the Pacific can drive a series of meteorogical events leading to great floods of rain along the West Coast. A big big El Niño.

"The great wet hope," as Bill Patzert of NASA likes to say. 

It didn't happen last year, and meteorologists this year, such as Daniel Swain of Weather West, sound a little abashed discussing the possibility again for this year. 

Well, as most of us are aware by now, that didn’t happen, and the projections from winter/spring 2014 represent a considerable forecast failure on the part of the models typically used to make long-lead ENSO [forecasts. Instead, the world bore witness to an El Niño event that barely reached the threshold for a marginal event–and, for the most part, didn’t exhibit the kind of ocean-atmosphere “coupling” we might typically expect. Persistent weakening of the easterly trade winds simply didn’t happen, and the incipient event just couldn’t sustain itself through the winter.

In short you can't trust the models. No matter how smart the researchers may be. 

As I reported recently, Jeanine Jones, a high-ranking official in the California Department of Water Resources also questioned the usefulness of those models in a long talk at a high-level national drought conference last month.

Further, she pointed out that the mere mention of the speculation of "the great wet hope" substantially reduces water conservation. 

Swain concedes that May is still too early to observe an El Niño event and alludes to a

Spring Predictability Barrier–the period during which long-lead ENSO forecasts remain challenging due to the chaotic nature of the ocean-atmosphere system.

Again Swain points out that — in short — you can't trust the models. As if to say, don't even roll that dice. 

Yet and still, he cannot help but be tantalized by the magnitude of the changes in ocean temperature that are being charted by a host of different research teams:

ENSO20152016

They're literally off the charts. Not to mention the strong westerly wind bursts, and the typhoon connection. Turns out the Pacific is in record-setting mode when it comes to creating Category 5 typhoons. We've had five already, and the first was an all-timer, with sustained winds of 160 mph. 

Here's what it looked like from the International Space Station. Super Typhoon Maysak:

SuperTyphoonMaysak

The last time we had this many typhoons this early in the year? Jeff Masters

The global record for Category 5 storms is held by the El Niño year of 1997, which had twelve Category 5 storms–ten of them in the Northwest Pacific. The third Cat 5 of 1997 in the Northwest Pacific occurred on July 22, so we are more than two months ahead of that year's record pace. 

And of course, the El Niño of 1887-1998 was a Godzilla that literally changed the world.

Hmmmm. 

Full Story »

The new California criminal: a waster of resources

From Ted Rall's weekly 'toon in the LATimes:

DroughtinCArall

Reference is to new fines announced this week for water wasted, for as much as $10,000.

Full Story »