San Francisco Board of Supervisor John Avalos, along with co-signing Supervisors David Campos, Eric Mar, and Jane Kim, sponsored the above proposed resolution. The Board voted on July 8, 2014, to postpone a decision. This proposal has been around since September of 2013, when Supervisor David Campos urged the Board to adopt a similar measure. You can see our analysis of that 2013 proposal in our article, Supervisor Campos to Explore Underwater Property Eminent Domain.
The idea of seizing underwater mortgages from private lenders is not going away. To the contrary, according to what Supervisor Avalos indicated during the meeting of July 8, he is looking forward to working with the rest of the Board, the Controller’s Office, and the City Attorney to craft a Joint Powers Authority Ordinance to be introduced later in 2014 – note the reference to an ordinance, not a mere resolution.
The forging ahead with this proposal is occurring in spite of investors giving every indication that they stand ready to flood every entity involved with lawsuits. Wells Fargo, Deutsche, and Mellon banks have already sued, although, as the court decided, prematurely, since the plaintiffs had not yet been harmed. No doubt, everybody will be back in court as soon as any actual seizing of mortgages is attempted!
Although these investors are powerful corporations, they are not voters, upon whom Supervisors depend at election time. Therefore, as always, we encourage voters - ordinary citizens - to get acquainted with the issues, contact their government representatives, and vote wisely.
File No. 140709 starts out by proposing that San Francisco commend the City of Richmond for “their work on creating a Local Principle Reduction Program…” – emphasis ours – and gets worse with each “Whereas.” Here are our primary concerns with Supervisor Avalos proposal:
Applies only to homeowners who are still making payments on their mortgages. It does not apply to borrowers who are no longer able to pay, and are truly facing foreclosure.
Applies only to securitized mortgages. Traditional mortgages still being held by original lenders are not included, no matter how underwater they are.
“Priority Development Areas” are a bureaucrat’s dream. Not just any bureaucrat, but one with lots of time and taxpayer money in his/her hands. Once upon a time, town and cities developed organically. People settled where it best suited their tastes, their imagination, their talents and abilities. As they settled, leaders rose to develop amenities and facilitate commerce – Romans built aqueducts, settlers built general stores, skilled folks provided factories to produce goods, others offered services. Then came “Planning.” As manual work and basic private services decreased, bureaucracy increased. Now we have reached the pinnacle of up-side-down bureaucratic meddling, when planning micromanages population flows.
This map shows San Francisco’s Priority Development Areas. Red and pink are "priority areas." Since around 70% of amenities, services and commerce are to be shoehorned into these two areas, good luck if you live outside of them. Of course, if you live outside of a Priority Development Area, you are not as done for as if you live inside a “Priority Conservation Area,” which will be the subject of another post later.
However, “Life is what happens to us when we are making other plans,” and that goes for bureaucrats too. The red and pink areas on the map indicate where bureaucrats wish to move the greatest number of folks, by building tall buildings and concentrating commerce. These areas also happen to be where the City’s most magnificent views are. Therefore, the bureaucrats are experiencing some unexpectedly strong push back from current residents and visitors.
The gray areas on the map, outside of the priority areas, will by necessity suffer neglect. What is not a “priority” is shoved aside. Residents in those areas can either lament their fate, or seize the opportunity to acquire greater autonomy for their neighborhoods. Obviously Libertarians encourage the latter.
We at the Libertarian Party of San Francisco have been talking for a long time about the negative consequences of Plan Bay Area. We will continue to point out how we the people abdicate control when we allow unelected bureaucrats to be placed in charge of where we live and how we live. We encourage you to think about how your neighborhood will be impacted by the Priority Development Areas. Then organize neighborhood groups that include property owners, renters, merchants, school teachers, parents, and other neighborhood participants to ensure the local neighborhood vision prevails.
Further reading on unelected officials:
“California Senate Bill 33, Infrastructure Financing Districts Voter Approval Repeal,” amends or repeals several sections of the Government Code relating to infrastructure financing districts (IFD). The bill was introduced by Senator Lois Wolk of California’s 3rd Senate District.
The crucial highlights of this bill are as follows:
Repeals the voter approval requirements to form an IFD, issue bonds, and set the appropriations limit.
Allows an IFD to contribute to the cost of maintaining facilities, and adds several types of projects an IFD can finance: watershed lands, flood management, habitat restoration, clean up and development of contaminated properties, projects that implement a transit priority project, regional transportation plan, or other projects that would achieve greenhouse gas emission reduction targets.
In other words, infrastructure financing districts would pop up to do just about anything without any voter approval, and would establish their financing including bond issuance equally without any voter approval. SB33 needs a majority vote to pass, so a lot of logrolling is essential. Meanwhile the bill is languishing in the inactive file, placed there on September 11, 2013 at the request of Assembly Member Toni Atkins.
San Francisco has plenty of old projects forever waiting for money, such as the Bayview redevelopment; new plans, including the grandiose Priority Development Areas under Plan Bay Area; and enough deferred maintenance to blanket the City with IFD.
It seems that our legislators feel that the people’s vote is just a cumbersome obstacle they must do away with. We encourage all voters who would prefer to keep control over their own destiny by way of the ballot box to keep a watch on what happens to SB33. We certainly will.
For more information see California Legislative Information Bill Analysis
08/29/13 Assembly Floor Analysis
The Housing Crisis and the City’s Miracle Workers:
We at LPSF have written and spoken ad infinitum about how San Francisco politicians are committed to performing the miracle of attracting folks with money that will pay high property taxes and astronomical business fees, while keeping the lower-income population in place. This is not an easy feat, since any rational human being would rather rent or sell at market rates to a newly arrived higher-income worker than keep a middle class family in a rent controlled space. It appears that the easiest path to accomplishing this feat is to encourage frequent use of a catchphrase, housing crisis, as if this economic event were the result of evil capitalism that just appeared, unwanted, on the scene, and then follow up with proposals on the November ballot to “strengthen renter protections.” One such proposal will be to encourage state legislators to place restrictions on the Ellis Act, since landlords of unprofitable rent-controlled housing are predictably evicting tenants in order to seek newly emerged opportunities. Perhaps Mayor Lee and the Board of Supervisors are counting on the newly arrived better paid workers to scoop up any formerly rent-controlled buildings abandoned by landlords who find themselves prohibited from making the most out of their investment? Of, course, if that is the case, we must ask how this scenario helps the lower-income families at all.
Income Inequality and Pretending to Fix it
When there is a rapid change in technology – say, automobiles replacing horse-drawn carriages – those who do not adapt to the new realities are left economically behind. The more disincentives there are to adaptation, such as long-term unemployment benefits, “job training” for activities that are one generation behind, and rental controls that render lower-income individuals fearful of moving in search of better economic opportunities, the more income inequality there will be. The progressive solution is to raise the minimum wage, which will affect a relatively small number of workers and will not affect those without a job at all. Mayor Lee and the Board of Supervisors are expected to predictably place such a minimum wage proposal on the November ballot. Their argument is that one can’t live in San Francisco on the current minimum wage. Indeed, one cannot.
Expect our Equally Predictable Response in November
The way we see it, politicians will buy votes in exchange for the illusion of safety. The subject of this post is the illusion of safety from displacement. When economic conditions change structurally and drastically, the only way safety from displacement can be guaranteed is to render individuals who do not adapt to the new conditions dependent on public assistance. Libertarians do not see that situation as real and meaningful safety. We would prefer that City government were honest about the consequences of giving tax and regulatory incentives to picked and chosen industries.
Regionalism is growing like crabgrass. It quietly removes ballot-box control by citizens. It makes it impossible for citizens to correct abuse, greed, or plain stupidity by recalling those in charge. Yet, when we ask folks whether they are aware of growing regionalism, their response is usually either “No” or “What’s regionalism?” These responses are completely understandable, since regionalism is sold to the public as innovative ideas that will benefit us all, while the downsides are not part of the conversation.
In an effort to bring more awareness to regionalism’s downsides, we offer this article, based mostly on the work of Trish Cypher, a Bay Area activist and author of several research publications on government structures:
Background: Regional “governments” – better described as regional “governance” - are created by forming joint powers agreements among jurisdictions such as cities and counties. The concept of joint powers between jurisdictions has existed since the 1920’s, and has produced beneficial results such as fire management, water management, and bridge construction. However, the vast expansion of these powers, especially in California, has produced downsides that should be of concern to all of us.
Downside #1: Once formed, regional governance is immune from voters’ powers of recall, petition, initiative, or referendum. Nothing can be done if voters detect lack of representation, illegal actions, or bad decisions.
Downside #2: Taxation without representation was the battle cry of this Republic. Yet regional governance has the authority to tax without any input from voters or any say at the ballot box. Cities need to go to voters for any increase in financing; regional governance does not. Thanks to incremental financing preset in regional governance, increased tax revenues derived from increased property values are automatically sucked up. Regional governance can sell bonds at will, without voter approval.