A Bay Area writer, Kim-Mai Cutler, writes what she supposes is the definitive analysis of why housing in San Francisco is so expensive. Unfortunately, she left a few things out.
She blames expensive San Francisco housing on Google’s refusal to build housing on its own campus in Mountain View–which Google says it can’t do because of the need to protect a rare owl. But Cutler defends the right of “anyone–rich or poor–the chance to transform or be transformed by” living in San Francisco. How can the City of 800,000 people achieve that when there are another 2.5 million people at its doorstep most of whom wish they could live in the Paris of the West?
Cutler’s solution is to build “affordable housing.” That means subsidized housing. If everyone in the nation has a right to live in San Francisco regardless of income, who is going to pay the subsidies? It also means high-density housing. Just how attractive and hospitable will San Francisco be after all of its single-family neighborhoods have been replaced by mid- or high-rises?
Yonah Freemark, a writer over at Atlantic Cities–which normally loves any transit boondoggle–somewhat sheepishly admits that light rail hasn’t lived up to all of its expectations. Despite its popularity among transit agencies seeking federal grants, light rail “neither rescued the center cities of their respective regions nor resulted in higher transit use.”
Not to worry, however; Atlantic Cities still hates automobiles, or at least individually owned automobiles. Another article by writer Robin Chase suggests that driverless cars will create a “world of hell” if people are allowed to own their own cars. Instead, driverless cars should be welcomed only if they are collectively owned and shared.
The hell that would result from individually owned driverless cars would happen because people would soon discover they could send their cars places without anyone in them. As Chase says, “If single-occupancy vehicles are the bane of our congested highways and cities right now, imagine the congestion when we pour in unfettered zero-occupancy vehicles.” Never mind the fact that driverless cars will greatly reduce congestion by tripling roadway capacities and avoid congestion by consulting on-line congestion reports.
Why is it that cities that consider themselves most progressive also tend to have the most segregated schools and the greatest income inequality? UCLA economist Matthew Kahn offers one possible answer: “Educated liberals are tolerant people who are willing to live in racially integrated areas even if the minority neighbors are poor,” suggests Kahn. “Such liberals are more willing to vote for redistributionist policies and this may attract poor people to collect such transfers.”
This off-the-cuff answer sounds unlikely. The Antiplanner has a different suggestion. Progressives are more likely to give government power to try to control people’s lives. The planners who get that power are all middle-class people who use their power to try to design cities for middle-class people like them. This prices low-income people out of the market, putting them in inferior housing and neighborhoods with poorer schools.
Kahn’s own research finds that blacks are more likely to own their own homes in lower density urban areas (“sprawl”). Regions that try to control sprawl end up making housing unaffordable. In most of these regions, the liberals already own their own homes and don’t mind policies that keep others out of the housing market.
Streetcar skeptic John Vihstadt won a seat on the Arlington County (Virginia) board this week, the first Republican to do so in 15 years. One of the main issues in his campaign was the board’s plan to spend $250 million on a streetcar in this suburb of Washington, DC.
The election took place less than two weeks after the release of a consultant’s report that concluded a streetcar would dramatically boost economic development in the county (a claim disputed by the Antiplanner. Some people believe the report was timed to influence the election. If so, it didn’t work.
The election also took place after the unveiling of Arlington’s $1 million dollar bus stop that doesn’t even provide decent shelter from the elements. This served to raise voter awareness of the county’s free-spending ways when it comes to transit.
Life is about trade-offs. Some people act as though solar and wind power are somehow free, but of course they aren’t–and the cost goes beyond just the dollar cost of erecting wind turbines or putting solar cells in the desert.
A yellow-rumped warbler singed by the reflecting mirrors of a solar power plant. Fish & Wildlife Service researchers say the area above solar mirrors can easily reach more than 400 degrees Celsius (750° F).
A study reported just a few months ago found that wind turbines kill between 140,000 and 328,000 birds per year. A more recent study from the Fish & Wildlife Service found hundreds of bird carcasses around three solar energy facilities in Southern California. The report added that, “The numbers of dead birds [found] are likely underrepresented, perhaps vastly so,” partly because birds carcasses attract more birds, creating a cycle of death.
Property rights activists are irate that the federal government has seized the cattle of a Southern Nevada rancher who has allowed his herd to graze on Bureau of Land Management lands. Back in 1993, the feds limited rancher Cliven Bundy to 150 animals in order to protect the desert tortoise. He responded that his family began grazing the area decades before the BLM was even formed in 1935. In protest, he stopped paying grazing fees and continued to graze 500 or more (by some accounts as many as 1,000) cattle on the land.
Bundy has lost several court cases since then and the BLM says he owes $300,000 in grazing fees. More than two decades after the dispute began, the agency finally sent armed agents in to remove the offending cattle. In the course of doing so, they arrested–and apparently roughly treated–Bundy’s son for stepping off an area the feds had set aside as a “free speech area” in order to videotape the federal action.
Nevada, of course, is ground zero for the Sagebrush Rebellion, a movement the began in the 1970s promoting privatization of federal lands. There’s a good reason for that: something like 89 percent of all the land in Nevada is federal, which definitely impedes growth in the state. On the other hand, rancher Bundy’s pre-1995 grazing allotment covered nearly 160,000 acres, suggesting the land must be pretty poor quality (at least for cattle grazing) to handle just a few hundred cattle.
Transit agencies are quick to claim that new rail transit lines generate all sorts of new developments, particularly so-called transit-oriented developments, meaning high-density, mixed-use housing. But an objective study of Minneapolis’ Hiawatha light-rail line from economists Sarah West and Needham Hurst found that “neither construction nor operation of the line appears to affect land use change relative to the time before construction.”
Unfortunately, the paper itself is behind a paywall, but it is summarized in this article from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. An earlier version of the study is also available.
Hurst’s and West’s findings are obliquely affirmed by a recent article in the Journal of the American Planning Association that finds that people living in transit-oriented developments may drive a little less than other people, but it’s not because of the presence of rail transit. Instead, “Housing type and tenure, local and subregional density, bus service, and particularly off- and on-street parking availability, play a much more important role.” Another way of putting it is that people who choose to live in places with limited parking probably didn’t want to drive much anyway.
Those crazy planners at Smart Growth America are at it again: issuing another report all about how urban sprawl is bad and people are better off living in compact communities. Most news reports take it for granted that sprawl is evil and something ought to be done about it. But the report does devote all of three out of 51 pages to repeating claims about how sprawl makes housing unaffordable, transportation expensive, people fat, and lives shorter.
Almost all of these claims cite another report written back in 2010. Most of the claims are readily dismissed for several reasons.
First, some of the claims are based on models the planners made of cities and how they affect people, not on real life. For example, claims that transportation is less expensive in compact areas are based on models, not actual measurements. (They also fail to account for the huge differences in subsidies between transit and driving.)
Loyal Antiplanner reader MSetty let me know about a Tennessee proposal to spend $200,000 studying the idea of building a monorail from Nashville to Murfreesboro. The irony is that the proposal comes from a tea party member of the state senate. Senator Bill Ketron is a social conservative, not a libertarian, but he should know better than to think that giving a government agency a bunch of money to do a study recommending whether to give that agency even more more money will lead to a reasonable outcome.
Take, for example, Florida’s Pinellas County transit authority, which has spent $800,000 on “public education” regarding a proposed $1.7 billion (but likely much more) light-rail line that will be on this November’s ballot. Critics question whether it is legal for the transit agency to use “taxpayer money to engage in political advocacy leading up to a referendum vote.” The agency, of course, says it isn’t advocating anything, just educating people.
LaVonda Atkinson, the cost engineer for San Francisco Muni‘s $1.6 billion Central Subway project, has found so many problems with the project–and so little interest within Muni or the Federal Transit Administration in fixing those problems–that she has given hundreds of pages of budgetary and internal documents to the San Francisco Weekly. “Your article” about these documents “is going to get me fired,” she told the Weekly‘s reporter.
Politicians such as then-San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom (center) love to have their photos taken breaking ground or cutting ribbons, in this case for the Central Subway project.
As just one example, Muni told the San Francisco city controller that it spent $110 million on preliminary engineering, when it told the Federal Transit Administration that it spent only $70 million. The extra $40 million went into a slush fund for other stuff.