A year ago I was finishing my second Steve Ramsey build. Or first, if you count the workbench as a “bonus” … I had fun doing the miter cuts and setting up a jig for square angles, sanding, gluing, assembling, screwing … the finishing and sanding and finishing and sanding and finishing was a drag, especially because it was cold out and I had to do the smelly stuff indoors and even put a little space heater in the garage just to keep the gooey stuff warm enough.
At the end of the day, I had a nice table. It has been sitting out in my yard all year, and the tabletop is still smooth as silk.
But as I finished that project, a mob attacked the US Capitol and tried to kill Congress, and we let it happen. We barely managed to keep our Democracy that day. I stayed up late to watch Congress certify the damn vote count. And a few weeks later I listened to Amanda Gorman’s poetry.
I look forward to rekindling my enthusiasm for woodworking. That’s been deferred a bit as I slowly erect a bike shed / fun fort in the back yard to store the bicycles so I can once again putter around the garage workshop.
We bought our home in Northern California in 2012, which was great timing because that was about the last time after the mortgage crisis that we could reasonably afford a home, at a mere $605,000. At that time, the home had a floor/wall furnace from 1949 that had a hole that made it a carbon monoxide risk. We upgraded to central heating shortly after. Guys came out and ran ducts all over the attic and hooked them all up to an efficient gas furnace with an air filter. Topped it all off with a shiny Nest thermostat. It gets chilly out here on winter nights, and it used to be only a few days in the summer that anyone needed air conditioning, at which point you go to the office during the week or to the mall on the weekend.
In 2016 I added an air conditioner to the system. The local contractors seemed not quite comfortable with heat pumps, and the furnace was new, and we only run the air conditioner, well, now maybe a total of a few weeks each summer. A major construction project across the street involved asbestos mitigation, and we were having a baby, so the ability to shut the windows on bad days had some appeal. (I later gifted our old box unit AC to another expectant couple who had concerns with construction dust.)
Most of the time, we enjoy having windows open, day and night. Most of the time, our climate is blessedly mild—most of the time. The past few years have had a lot more smoke from all the fires in California. 2020 had an apocalyptic vibe when the plague was joined by a daytime sky turned orange. Shut the windows, run the AC, praise the air filter in the HVAC. For the Pandemic, I also set the air to circulate 15 minutes every hour during off-peak energy hours. (We’re on a Time-of-Use plan.) The idea is that if we had COVID-19 in our air, we would filter some of it out and help improve our odds.
This year has been less awful. The winds have been mostly blowing the fire smoke from the hellscape experienced elsewhere in the West, away from the Bay Area. As a result, AQI has stayed mostly under 200. But as I had gotten back in the habit of checking purpleair.com to figure out if the windows need shut, I got curious to better understand the air quality inside our house, so I ponied up $200 for an indoor monitor. It has a bright LED that changes color based on what it measures, and the boys think that’s a pretty great night light.
My first revelation was that indoor AQI was spiking overnight, starting around midnight. Since I first installed it near the dishwasher, I figured that was the culprit. After a week of A/B testing, I had ruled out the dishwasher and figured out when the wife goes to bed, she likes to run a humidifier, and the water droplets in the air can look like pollution to a laser. Mystery solved!
The other thing I noticed while keeping an eye on purpleair.com to see if it was time to shut the windows is that our indoor AQI would tend to have a lower (better) score than outdoor sensors nearby. That’s good news. Zooming in, I could see a jaggy pattern where the AQI would drop when the furnace fan circulated our air through the MERV 16 filter in the attic, then it would spike back up. The upshot is that we could have open windows most of the time and cleaner air inside the house, but how to run the fan on an efficient schedule?
Well, it is tied to a thermostat … I could implement an “AQI-o-stat” with a Python script that scrapes the AQI reading and tells the Nest to run the fan. The script took about 3 hours to write. 10 minutes to scrape purpleair.com, 2.5 hours to figure out Google/Nest’s authentication API, and 20 minutes to figure out how to set the Nest fan. The authentication part took only 2.5 hours because Wouter Nieworth posted a bunch of helpful screenshots on his blog.
I implemented the “AQI-o-stat” on the afternoon of Sep 3, at which point CatHouse A now keeps AQI around 60 or below, while the neighboring Zinnias outdoor sensor reads in the low hundreds.
There was some tweaking, but I now have a Python script running out of cron that checks the indoor AQI, and if it is above 50, it triggers the timer on the fan. I started polling at 15-minute intervals but found 5-minute intervals made for a steadier outcome. The result is that we can leave the windows open, and the indoor air quality hovers around 60. One less thing to worry about. (There are plenty of things to worry about.) I have been thinking that, in the “New Normal” (which really means there is no “normal” because the climate systems have been thrown into turbulence) that having an air sensor as an input to your smart thermostat will probably just become a standard feature.
A few months back, everyone was talking about what it was like a year ago to enter the Pandemic. I never was much for that kind of nostalgia. I’ll say the Shelter in Place order came in on a Saturday and the boys cried because it meant their birthday party on Sunday was completely canceled after all. That’s metaphor enough to last me a few years.
I remember that early on, someone asked how long: 6-8 weeks? I suggested that we were looking at 12-18 months because that’s the fastest we could conceivably develop, test, approve, manufacture, and distribute vaccines. I didn’t want to be a bummer so I didn’t bring up my pessimism much. Everyone figured a couple of months.
When things opened up in June, I got us a plane trip to Chicago. We had a big party planned the year before that couldn’t happen, and the youngest had never been, and the older kid I really owed a fireworks show. I had worried about the logistics and whether everyone would have a good time but the trip was so immensely enjoyable.
“We need to have our fun now, before the next wave,” had been my thinking. Of course, I was thinking of the vaccine-resistant strain that has yet to evolve, not the wave that is currently hitting the vaccine-resistant population.
During the Pandemic, my employer figured out that our staff are really productive working from home, and the lease was up on the office so we took the opportunity to downsize. The new location is right next to the train, and on days when family obligations allow, I really love taking the train to the office. I think this is a pretty ideal commute: walk fast to the station, sit down, read a book, walk sorta fast to the office. Some light exercise for the body and relaxation for the mind built right into the schedule.
Lately, I’ve been coming into the office any chance I can get. As I explain, I really like working from home, and I have a good setup, but it also reminds me of the Pandemic, which I am happy to forget. Yesterday came the Public Health Order that we now wear masks in the office. I am here today and tomorrow. There is definitely a feeling of setback.
We had the technology and the money to free our country of the Pandemic this year. What we lacked was a cultural consensus that rolling up sleeves and getting a shot was worth everyone doing. I think this is just a warm-up for how our century will go. The planet is on fire again this year. Portland fried like it was Death Valley. We have, so far, been lucky in the Bay Area. No orange skies, no smoke … I haven’t run the air conditioner in weeks. Just the ongoing drought. This year, the Salmon fry will all be cooked in their natal streams.
We never took action to prevent the Climate Catastrophe beforehand. Even now, we have tools like electric cars and induction stoves and any number of ways we can reduce our Carbon emissions and … we make excuses. The new budget stimulus adds some money for public transportation, but the big money is in building more roads. In a few years, maybe, they say, there will be a few more electric cars you can buy. (And don’t bring up bike lanes.) The power grid is getting cleaner, at least.
I caught the opening of the impeachment trial today. The video from the House Impeachment managers was harrowing and damning. As a friend said last night, the US Capitol is sacred ground. Then Trump’s lawyers got up and rambled aimlessly. Bargain bin guys who came in unprepared to defend a guy who incited a mob to try and kill Congress. I wanted to feel that the case was so one-sided and the defense such a sham that the Senate would see through it and convict him and set a precedent that the United States will not tolerate anyone trying to take the government by force but I know better.
President Trump doesn’t need any defense better than a farce because we all know exactly what will happen. A majority of the Senate, all the Democrats, and some Republicans will vote in favor of Democracy. But not enough. Republicans are loyal to their party. Their Fascist will run again. He’s got a lot more charisma than Ted Cruz.
When the Insurrection happened on January 6, I was impressed that Congress picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back into session. I watched until they certified the vote. Every time the objections to the count were withdrawn for lack of Senate support, I cheered, and for the few hours that objections were required to be heard, I rode it out. Congress certified the vote towards 3 am in Washington, and I counted it fortunate that I only had to stay up towards midnight in California. I explained that as a SysAdmin, when the system crashes and people get upset, I feel like I need to keep an eye on the systems as they get back to normal.
I feel optimistic that Joe Biden could well turn out to be a great President. He’s got a lot of experience, a lot of rapport, and the challenges are substantial. I also feel dread that our flirtation with autocracy is only going to get worse.
Here’s a bit from an interview I enjoyed with Eileen Crist from the December 2020 issue of The Sun magazine, which you can read online. I appreciate that folks have done the math to figure out what a good population would be and how we could very reasonably get there. This would be an effort across generations, and who knows what will really happen anyway? We can all chip into a vision that we ourselves will never see.
Tonino: You said earlier that there are approximately 7.8 billion humans on the planet. What would be an ideal number of humans?
Crist: Many analysts are thinking of a provisional goal of around 2 billion. This figure is for a human population enjoying roughly a European standard of living, sustained by organic food production, and eating far less fish, meat, and animal products than the average Western consumer.
Of course, there is no “optimal” population number in an absolute sense, because a lot depends on the level of consumption people gravitate toward, their dietary choices, and unknown variables having to do with technological developments. But 2 billion is more optimal than where we are now and where we are headed. Two billion is what the global population was about a hundred years ago. It is a big-enough number to enable a connected global civilization to continue, with achievements in the sciences, humanities, technology, and so on. In other words, 2 billion can sustain a lively “conversation of humanity.” But it’s a low-enough number to enable the substantial protection of nature that we are discussing.
According to Cornell agronomist [the late] David Pimentel and his colleagues, 2 billion people is the estimated number that can be sustained on organic, diversified, mostly regional agriculture, with farm animals living on the land and people eating a mostly plant-based diet. This way of eating would not only be wholesome for people but good for the planet and for all other animals as well.
You might say: “Fine, 2 billion sounds good, but how do we get there?” We get there by fast-tracking two important human rights: One, full gender equity and schooling for all girls, through at least secondary education. And, two, affordable and accessible family-planning services for all. If we could bring the global fertility rate — voluntarily: I do not support coercion of any kind — to an average of one child per woman, the human population would start to approach 2 billion within four generations.
Tonino: The ecophilosopher Arne Næss said that he was pessimistic about the twenty-first century but optimistic about the twenty-second. How do you think about the future?
Crist: What Næss meant, I think, is that in the twenty-first century there will be a reckoning with how we’ve lived, what we’ve done to the planet and ourselves, and that reckoning will set in motion an awakening: a different way to go about things, a different relationship between Earth and humanity. It’s quite possible that things will play out that way — get bad, then better. In some respects it’s an optimistic prophecy. But obviously there’s no guarantee that the future will follow this trajectory. We don’t even know where we are with respect to climate change. If runaway heating happens — or a nuclear war or some other unimaginable disruption — this trajectory that Næss outlines will be impossible.
The president had often talked about fortifying a border wall with a water-filled trench, stocked with snakes or alligators, prompting aides to seek a cost estimate. He wanted the wall electrified, with spikes on top that could pierce human flesh. After publicly suggesting that soldiers shoot migrants if they threw rocks, the president backed off when his staff told him that was illegal. But later in a meeting, aides recalled, he suggested that they shoot migrants in the legs to slow them down. Thatâ€™s not allowed either, they told him.
—New York Times
Mr. Jeanâ€™s brother took the stand to address Ms. Guyger, he offered only forgiveness.
â€œI wasnâ€™t going to ever say this in front of my family or anyone, but I donâ€™t even want you to go to jail,â€ said his brother, Brandt Jean. â€œI want the best for you.â€
When he finished, he turned to the judge: â€œI donâ€™t know if this is possible, but can I give her a hug, please?â€
When the judge agreed, Ms. Guyger stood up, walked toward Mr. Jeanâ€™s brother and threw her arms around him. As the two embraced, sobs filled the courtroom.
—New York Times
I want your best name for ADUs! Anything and everything would be appreciated!!!
A homelet is a smaller home that lives alongside your single family home. The homelet can house your family, or if you have a homelet to let, the rental income can help support your family.
Does your town have homeless? Consider building homelets!
On a chilly morning, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a fresh omelet fried on the stove in the modest kitchen of your homelet.
Single-Family Rental Bonds
Corporations bought up cheap houses during the Great recession, and rent them to families. “These large companies frequently charge higher rents and are more likely to evict tenants.”
But wait, there’s more:
These homes are not just properties that are rented out to house families; they have been transformed into a new class of financial asset and investment vehicle. According to the NBER study, the homes have been capitalized into single-family rental bonds, which has grown into a $15 billion-plus market.
—Richard Florida, CityLab
You can buy shares in being an oppressive landlord.
I wonder if anyone has the right soul to be a cop. It is a hard hard job and I assume every cop is going to come up short to some degree. Some cops are better and some cops are worse. I try to respect these folks doing their hard work, and I want the failing cops off the streets.
The [Asian Art Museum] showâ€™s lead curators and education staffers Iâ€™d metâ€”all but one of whom were white …
. . .
[The founder of the Asian Art Museum] was â€œthe preeminent American apologist for Nazi Germany,â€ in the words of author Jeremy Schaap.
. . .
Just a few years ago, the British Museumâ€™s Twitter account revealed as much when it shared how it decides to label artwork, tweeting: â€œWe aim to be understandable by 16 year olds. Sometimes Asian names can be confusing, so we have to be careful about using too many.â€ (Dang, sorry to all those 16-year-old Asian kids with funny names.)
. . .
At one point, a draft of the marketing material [for #WhitePeopleDoingYoga] referred to my work as an â€œamusingâ€ and â€œlightheartedâ€ collection.
. . .
One of the museumâ€™s staff members, who was white, came to my defense in that boardroom. He exposed the museumâ€™s hypocrisy by holding up its own branded tote bag that bore only the word â€œAsianâ€ on it, and as I remember it he said, â€œIâ€™m a white man walking around San Francisco with this bag that just says â€˜Asianâ€™ on it, without â€˜museum,â€™ and itâ€™s completely â€˜out of context.â€™ Why is our bag okay but Chiraagâ€™s is not?â€ The marketing chiefâ€™s response: â€œWell, thatâ€™s our brand, so itâ€™s okay.â€
. . .
The opening parties featured Indian classical music performed by white people, acro-yoga performed by white people, a chanting group mostly compromising white people, and a white couple from Marin teaching yoga for an hour. There was a sprinkle of Brown acts, but the headlinerâ€”wait for itâ€”was a white rapper named MC Yogi, who spit about yoga and Indian culture over a beat dropped by DJ Drez, a white DJ with dreads. (Reminder: the largest institution of Asian art in the United States.)
. . .
After more than a month of fine-tuning our plans, the curator said there was one last â€œhurdleâ€ to clear before approval: The Cleveland museum planned to invite the cityâ€™s commercial yoga studios to teach classes and had to make sure the studios felt comfortable in the same space as an installation titled #WhitePeopleDoingYoga.
Not that anyone is going to ask me, and, why should they, anyway? But if anyone asks: white people, we have got to step it up. And sometimes that means shutting up and stepping aside.
My mom fainted the first time she set foot in an American supermarket. I stood transfixed in the cereal aisle. After six long years on Earth, here was a place that understood me. These were cartoon characters, made of pure sugar, that you could eat as a meal. Every box had a toy inside. How could I possibly choose just one?
I ask forgiveness of Hong Kongers if at times I am still that six year old kid, dazzled by what to you is ordinary. You live in a kind of city we Americans can only aspire to, and itâ€™s no wonder you love your home so much you will take any risk to save it.
A man driving a dump truck the size of a house put my sonâ€™s life in danger.
The details of what happened unfortunately arenâ€™t that remarkable. It was a perfect storm of road rage, reckless driving, terrible street design, and total lack of any kind of recourse, so basically a normal Tuesday on a bicycle in DC.
The dump truck driver drove aggressively and blasted his airhorn over many blocks on R Street NW. He was just feet from a half dozen other people on bikes who could do nothing but cringe and hope he didnâ€™t mash us into pulp.
Oliver was terrified, asking me if we can ride on the sidewalk, asking me if we can stop, almost in tears.
After we turned up 18th Street and jumped the light at S Street to get away from this reckless man, Oliver turned and asked, â€œCan we take the Metro instead?â€ And that was it. I decided I canâ€™t subject my son to this traffic violence anymore.
The most infuriating thing about this particular incident and many others is that this is how itâ€™s supposed to work. R Street is supposed to be shared by cement trucks, tractor trailers, monster SUVs, dump trucks, and squishy fleshbags on two wheels.
They call it an unprotected bike lane, but in practice, itâ€™s a little bit of extra space that people on bicycles can use as long as no motor vehicles are using it. Itâ€™s a design that squeezes us into sharing a narrow road with literal dump trucks.
No protests were authorised in China, the world’s biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions, but Zheng Xiaowen of the China Youth Climate Action Network said Chinese youth would take action one way or another.
“Chinese youth have their own methods,” she said.
On Children Kahlil Gibran
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children are living arrows sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.
Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’
I took Tommy down to the San Jose Climate Strike on Friday. He enjoyed reading the various signs and trying to make sense of everything. When we got to City Hall, he quickly lost interest, and after a pee break and some ice cream, we headed home.
I’ve been to a lot of protests that blocked a lot of street traffic. The Climate Strike is the first time I recall any motorists Freaking The Hell Out. We were near the head of the march and cars had to sit through a light at a four-lane off-ramp. (Because the South Bay is the kind of place with four-lane off-ramps…) A dude slammed on his horn, we all raised our fists in solidarity, then he jumped out of his car and came running, maybe four car lengths down to the crosswalk, and started arguing with people.
I didn’t stick around for details, as I was with a six-year-old who wanted to read signs further up.
I was thinking. Don’t Go to War? Don’t Hate Gays? Most protests I have been to haven’t asked much of the public. Climate Change is a different beast: if we’re going to make it work, we’re all going to have to make adjustments to bring our energy use into a sustainable place. Some folks find this threatening. But does it have to be threatening?
It does have to feel threatening, not out of necessity for stopping climate change but in order to avoid making systemic changes. We need to make big changes at the level of national policy and international treaty. If you find that threatening, then you need to shift the discussion to the tragic impractical sacrifices the climate extremists are asking of you. Greta Thunberg is looking down on you sternly, in your internal combustion car, getting off the freeway. These youngsters waving signs about saving the Earth are Your Enemy.
The way I describe it: we need to change our policies so that people can live closer to work, and to give them the option to walk or bike or take transit. Sure, we need to electrify our buildings and raise energy prices to discourage careless consumption. When Greta gives us a stern disapproving look she isn’t getting on Your case about Your sloppy recycling habits, her stare is fixed at Donald Trump, and the myriad other world leaders who want to keep strip-mining the planet to burn the carbon out of the ground and into the atmosphere, who want to keep you buying cars and driving on wider and wider roads and highways to get anywhere because that is where the money is at. She’s looking down on shitty land-use policies that perpetuate wealth inequality.
We have to do our parts. For regular folks, it is merely a question of trying to live better. The heated rhetoric is for the Powers That Be that Profit from The Status Quo who are willing to fight stern-faced teenage girls in the name of the Almighty American Dollar.
Save your ire for the protestors, Off-ramp Dude. It ain’t about You. It is about all of Us, and especially the High and Mighty, who will need to surrender some Power and Convenience for the sake of our Children.
Last night, the Mountain View City Council enacted an RV ban.
If I were a Mountain View resident I would make a mental note to "toss all the bums out" at the next election. https://t.co/KM8gdN96OY
… millions of decision variables that affect any solution, including varying road widths, differing bus infrastructures (for example, the presence of wheelchair lifts or child safety restraint seats), students who require the same bus driver every year, students who have monitors, and students who have been in fights and, therefore, need to be on different buses … Emma Coleman
The Anthropocene Is a Joke
There’s an idea kicking around that humanity has created its own geological era, characterized mainly by the rapid change in the atmosphere’s CO2. I like this idea, primarily because it emphasizes the degree of change that is happening, and quick change on a geologic scale is dangerous. The shift we are undergoing now rivals the meteor strike that killed the dinosaurs. I am simultaneously hopeful and skeptical that we will survive.
Yes, the rapid change in atmospheric Carbon is a Big Deal, but on a geological time scale, it is at best an “event” that may one day puzzle some intelligent species. It certainly isn’t a new “era,” and in the grand scheme of geological time, we don’t register and if we were to go extinct in the next few millennia, we would disappear without a trace.
If one wanted to know what a particular 10-, 100-, or 1,000-year span was like, buried in this vastness of time (or, even worse, in some particular region of the continent), good luck.
This astounding paucity can be explained by the fact that there just arenâ€™t that many rocks that survived these extreme gulfs of time, over this vast province. And even among those rocks that did survive, and which are exposed today, the conditions for fossil preservation were rare beyond measure. Each fossil was its own miracle, sampled randomly from almost 200 million years of historyâ€”a few stray, windblown pages of a library.
If, in the final 7,000 years of their reign, dinosaurs became hyperintelligent, built a civilization, started asteroid mining, and did so for centuries before forgetting to carry the one on an orbital calculation, thereby sending that famous valedictory six-mile space rock hurtling senselessly toward the Earth themselvesâ€”it would be virtually impossible to tell. All we do know is that an asteroid did hit and that the fossils in the millions of years afterward look very different than in the millions of years prior.
The Promethean fire unleashed by the Manhattan Project was an earth-changing invention, its strange fallout destined to endure in some form as an unmistakable geological marker of the Anthropocene. But the longest-lived radioisotope from radioactive fallout, iodine-129, has a half-life of less than 16 million years. If there were a nuclear holocaust in the Triassic, among warring prosauropods, we wouldnâ€™t know about it.
Plastic, that ubiquitous pollutant of the oceans, might be detectable by analyzing small samples of sedimentâ€”appearing, like many organic biomarkers in the fossil record, as a rumor of strangely heavy hydrocarbons. Unassuming peaks on a chromatograph would stand in for all of modernity. Perhaps, perhaps, if one was extremely lucky in surveying this strange layer, across miles of desert-canyon walls, a lone, carbonized, and unrecognizable piece of fishing equipment may sit perplexingly embedded in this dark line in the cliffs.
Dinosaurs in space. All that has passed has passed. If humanity is doomed, or if humanity has a bright future ahead, this will happen. I have a tiny vote in my tiny lifetime, and I vote that my species adapt to the challenges of its time. I want us to survive and thrive, and reach out into space and find the rest of the life that I hope is abundant in the Universe beyond our local star. The final tally of this poll will be smeared into a layer of ash, eroded by wind and rain and crushed by rocks and wholly forgotten in time.
If I am piecing this together correctly: 1) Orange Skull starts trade war with China 2) China stops buying US soybeans 3) China says hey Brazil got any soy 4) Brazil says yeah hold on a sec we just gotta burn down the Amazon real fast 5) That McKinnon Hillary skit was on point pic.twitter.com/exYhEIU9Dz
Asked whether the person who is believed to have opened their door into the cyclist’s path had been charged, a police spokesperson responded: “It’s not a crime to open your car door.” Per section 1214 of the vehicle and traffic law, it’s illegal for motorists to illegally open their doors into moving traffic. The spokesperson later clarified they were “joking around.” Jake Offenhartz
If you’re wondering how I could leave Google after nearly 10 years, here’s this article. Claire Stapleton sent out e-mail every week about the all-hands meeting, and they were erudite and funny and creative and deeply weird. She was a valuable and important part of the old Google, the place I loved to work and would not shut up about. And because management went into the hands of a Wharton MBA, who hobnobs with fellow alums Ivanka and Donny Jr., whose spreadsheets about profitability don’t have any columns for ethics or culture or valuesâ€¦Google is now HP. The company that used to be a great place to work.
Schneider notes that in Chicago, where 80% of the city is off-limits to multifamily housing, downzoning has been heavily concentrated in white, wealthy neighborhoods. Under Mayor Bill de Blasio, New Yorkâ€™s zoning changes have followed a similar pattern: Poorer neighborhoods get upzoned, allowing for more development, and wealthier ones get downzoned. That means people who are already relatively advantaged have been legally absolved of their responsibility to share their neighborhoodâ€™s resources. In DC, Lanier Heights residents organized to ban more housing in their neighborhood by asking the city to downzone it in 2016.
One-size-fits-all solutions are often knocked as ignorant of the concerns of local communities. But localities have a stronger track record of keeping people outâ€”often via zoningâ€”than building enough homes for the people who live there or want to live there. Recent maps from DCâ€™s Office of Planning show how the cityâ€™s neighborhoods that are disproportionately zoned single-family are also the neighborhoods that have seen the least amount of new housing.
Plus, as Chicago and New York show, twiddling only particular knobs in certain places says that development is OK in some places (typically disadvantaged neighborhoods) and off-limits in others (typically wealthy ones). Spot or selective upzoning isnâ€™t equitable and wonâ€™t make housing more affordable.
A one-size-fits-all upzoning increasingly looks, at this point in time, like a necessary reset button that we will have to push if we are serious about both affordability and climate.
In January, Warren announced what may be the defining idea of her campaign thus far: a proposed wealth tax of two percent on the assets above fifty million dollars of the seventy-five thousand richest families in the country. (Thereâ€™s a surcharge for billionaires.) She calls this the Ultra-Millionaire Tax, and, during campaign events, she jokes about it in ways that most candidates wouldnâ€™t, for fear of being accused of fomenting a class war. At an event in Salem, New Hampshire, she pointed out that most middle-income voters are already paying a form of wealth tax, through property taxes. â€œAll I want to do thatâ€™s different is include the Rembrandt and the diamonds!â€ she said. A man called out from the audience, â€œAnd the yacht!â€ Warren replied, â€œAnd the yacht with the Imax theatre!â€
To illustrate how the tax would work, Warren describes a schoolteacher who has no savings and an â€œheirâ€ who has five hundred million dollars in â€œyachts, jewelry, and fine art.â€ If both of them made a fifty-thousand-dollar salary, they would pay the same amount in federal income taxes. Raising income-tax rates would do nothing to fix this disparity, Warren says, and the very wealthy have numerous tax-sheltering strategies to protect them anyway. Based on estimates by two economic advisers, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, of U.C. Berkeley, Warrenâ€™s wealth tax would generate $2.75 trillion in revenue over ten years by having the I.R.S., in the words of her plan, chase down â€œall household assets held anywhere in the world,â€ including â€œresidences, closely held businesses, assets held in trust, retirement assets, assets held by minor children, and personal property with a value of $50,000 or more.â€ Warren proposes using the money to fund universal childcare and pre-kindergarten, to forgive student-loan debt, and to finance infrastructure projects. She frequently says that, even after these initiatives are paid for, sheâ€™ll have two trillion dollars left over.
In polls, a majority of voters have expressed support for the wealth tax, including half of Republicans. At events, the idea reliably draws cheers from the audience. â€œListen, you got a chance to build a great fortune, and good for youâ€”or inherit a great fortune, O.K., itâ€™s O.K. You got a chance to do that. Good for you,â€ Warren said in Dubuque. â€œBut, remember, you built that fortune in America, where the rest of us helped pay for the education of all your employees, where the rest of us helped pay for the roads and the bridges so you could get your goods to market, where the rest of us helped pay for the police and the firefighters who were there to keep you safe. We were all glad to pay. We understand thatâ€™s how America works. But, when you build one of those great fortunes, just take a little and pitch it back in the kitty . . . so every kid gets a chance in this country.â€
Unsurprisingly, the demographic least thrilled with the idea of a wealth tax is the one that would have to pay it. Howard Schultz, the former Starbucks C.E.O., who is contemplating a Presidential run, called the proposal â€œridiculousâ€ and accused Warren of cynically using a sensational idea to generate headlines. Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire and former New York City mayor, suggested that taxing wealth, as opposed to income, could violate the Constitution.
Question 6 makes me feel cheap. “Walk/Bike” like these are the same marginal thing? I spent a bunch of money to get a family bike with e-assist, so that I can drop off my young children and make the 20 mile round trip commute through your district every day. A lot more people would bike, especially thanks to e-bikes, which extend range, but riding on our roads, with no protection, is terrifying.
For a very modest investment, we could build a network of protected bicycle paths, which would allow residents to ditch their cars, substantially drop their CO2 emissions, and enjoy better health. For those who keep driving, the roads will be less congested. It is a win-win for a very light investment.
The greatest thing that is needed is some imagination on the part of our public leaders.
I am not a spandex-clad bike jockey. I am just a father who feels pain at handing my boys a car-dependent suburbia in the face of climate catastrophe, and I want to help them enjoy a better future. Please, Assembly Member Berman, champion the cause of allowing regular folks, young and old and in between, enjoy the possibility of getting around on two wheels and no tailpipe.
Yesterday I was touched by a NextDoor post, entitled “Speedy man, killed all baby animal!” A woman stopped her car for a Mama Duck crossing the street with her babies. She took a short video, which, fortunately, did not capture what happened next. A man drove through at high speed and killed the babies. The woman cried, and shared her story on NextDoor. The man is universally condemned among the comments left by the neighbors. And of course, the next day, I learn of yet another road atrocity.
Meanwhile, in Nebraska, a man hit a kid on a bicycle, backed up, ran over him again, gave the kid a chance to climb out from under the truck, then drove off with the bicycle still stuck under the truck.
We live our lives in boxes: houses, offices, cars, smartphones, TVs … technologies that are supposed to make the world smaller and more connected, but too often we find ourselves disconnected from each other, and isolated. Some of us “act out” our rage …
I feel like cars are helping to make us lonely rage monsters and that it is great to make an effort to get away from the box, and walk or bike or take transit whenever that is a good option. I try to cast my lot with Mama Ducks and bicycle kids.
What happened here is horrible and yet it happens every day. I am glad many of us stopped to take note and commiserate with Veronica. I hope we can all try to be a little kinder.
Warren is bursting with what we might call â€œcharismaâ€ in male candidates: She has the folksy demeanor of Joe Biden, the ferocious conviction of Bernie Sanders, the deep intelligence of fellow law professor Barack Obama. But Warren is not a man, and so those traits are framed as liabilities, rather than strengths.
Itâ€™s significant that the â€œI hate you; please respondâ€ line of political sabotage only ever seems to be aimed at women. Itâ€™s also revealing that, when all these men talked about how Warren could win them over, their â€œcampaignâ€ advice sounded suspiciously close to makeover tips. In his article, Payne advised Warren to â€œlose the granny glasses,â€ â€œsoften the hair,â€ and employ a professional voice coach to â€œdeepen her voice, which grates on some.â€
Warren really is an intellectual, a scholar; moreover, she really is running an exceptionally ideas-focused campaign, regularly turning out detailed and exhaustive policy proposals at a point when most of the other candidates donâ€™t even have policy sections on their websites. Whatâ€™s galling is the suggestion that this is a bad thing.
The â€œschoolmarmâ€ stereotype now applied to Warren has always been used to demean educated women. In the Victorian era, we called them â€œbluestockingsâ€â€Šâ€”â€Šunmarried, unattractive women who had dared to prioritize intellectual development over finding a man. Educators say that 21st-century girls are still afraid to talk in class because of â€œsexist bullyingâ€ which sends the message that smart girls are unfeminine. Female academics still report being made to feel â€œunsexual, unattractive, unwomanly, and unnatural.â€ We can deplore all this as antiquated thinking, but even now, grown men are still demanding that Warren ditch her glasses or â€œsoftenâ€ her hairâ€Šâ€”â€Što work on being prettier so as to make her intelligence less threatening.
Warren is accused, in plain language, of being uppityâ€Šâ€”â€Ša woman who has the bad grace to be smarter than the men around her, without downplaying it to assuage their egos. But running in a presidential race is all about proving that you are smarter than the other guy. By demanding that Warren disguise her exceptional talents, we are asking her to lose. Thankfully, sheâ€™s not listening. She is a smart woman, after all.
On average, cars left 10 inches (29 cm) less room when cyclists were using painted cycle lanes, 12 inches (30cm) less room when there were rows of parked cars along the curbs, and 15.7 inches (40cm) less room when a road had both parked cars along the curb, then a painted cycle lane. (In other words, cars left cyclists the most room on stretches of road with no painted cycle lanes and no parked cars.)
“We know that vehicles driving closely to cyclists increases how unsafe people feel when riding bikes and acts as a strong barrier to increasing cycling participation. Our results demonstrate that a single stripe of white paint does not provide a safe space for people who ride bikes,” said Dr. Ben Beck, lead author of the study.
Over time, my husband and I started to suspect that Samâ€™s musings on doxxing and other dark arts might not be theoretical. One weekend morning as we were folding laundry in our room, Sam sat on the edge of our bed and instructed us on how to behave if the FBI ever appeared at our door.
Mr. Smart Phone sized me up â€” an elderly, decently-tailored gentleman with a walking cane â€” and thought I would immediately be on his side. He walked towards me and started to complain about how the gray-haired man and his hippie van were parked overnight on the street.
â€œOkay,â€ I said, â€œbut why are you surveilling him?â€ It was a loaded question for Mr. Smart Phone. He knew â€œsurveillanceâ€ was still not totally cool in San Francisco. As he was continuing towards me, his jaw hardened and his eyes grew cold. He said nothing. So I asked him another question, even though I knew it would be even more provocative. Like I said â€” Iâ€™m an idiot. We live in times when even the most everyday altercations can turn deadly. But I couldnâ€™t keep my mouth shut.
â€œIâ€™m curious â€” Iâ€™ve lived in this neighborhood for a long time and I donâ€™t recognize you,â€ I said. â€œHow long have YOU lived here?â€ Since he was applying residency standards to the man in the hippie van, I thought it was a legitimate question. But Mr. Smart Phone didnâ€™t. â€œFuck you!â€ he exploded, just a few feet from my face. Here I was trying to calm things down and they were quickly spiraling out of control.
Just then a neighbor whom Iâ€™ll call Maria, whose fluffy little dog often plays with Brando, came to the rescue. â€œWhy are you bothering people with your phone?â€ she bravely asked the menacing man. â€œWe donâ€™t like that sort of thing in our neighborhood.â€ And with that show of neighborhood solidarity â€” that clear expression that Mr. Smart Phone was violating our more tolerant community standards â€” he sheepishly backed down and walked away.
The hippie van-owner then hurried over to Maria and me and thanked us profusely for our intervention. â€œThis gives me hope about our city,â€ he said. â€œYou canâ€™t treat people the way this dude was treating me â€” like I donâ€™t belong here â€” like I donâ€™t have a right to exist. Iâ€™ve lived in San Francisco for 35 years. I was a social worker, but I lost my home. Iâ€™m only going to park here for a couple more days, then Iâ€™m leaving the city.â€
The spate of milkshake attacks in the United Kingdom follow on from the story of Australia’s “Egg Boy,” a swoopy-haired teenager who cracked an egg on the back of far-right lawmaker Fraser Anning’s head at a news conference in March. Following the attack, Egg Boy was punched in the face by the senator, as security officials scrambled to control the situation.
Last month, political eggings continued in Australia. Prime Minister Scoo Morrison was hit on the head with an egg – although on this occasion it failed to crack.
In Britain, it is believed that milkshakes have become the preferred weapon of choice as attackers sipping shakes appear far more inconspicuous than bystanders clutching eggs.
The trackball was invented 11 years before the mouse, in 1952. It was invented by Tom Cranston and Fred Longstaff as part of a computerized battlefield information system called DATAR, initiated by the Canadian Navy. It used a standard five-pin bowling ball as its trackball, which is smaller than the more common 10-pin bowling ball.
“And then there is the ever annoying parking in the cycle lane.”
AT LAST! A bit of Dutch infrastructure that sucks in a way that an American can relate to!
I love watching these vehicles but it also makes me frustrated that the most cutting edge American bicycle infrastructure is already obsolete in the Netherlands. :)
In late 2014, Lieutenant Graves said he was back at base in Virginia Beach when he encountered a squadron mate just back from a mission â€œwith a look of shock on his face.â€
He said he was stunned to hear the pilotâ€™s words. â€œI almost hit one of those things,â€ the pilot told Lieutenant Graves.
The pilot and his wingman were flying in tandem about 100 feet apart over the Atlantic east of Virginia Beach when something flew between them, right past the cockpit. It looked to the pilot, Lieutenant Graves said, like a sphere encasing a cube.
The near miss, he and other pilots interviewed said, angered the squadron, and convinced them that the objects were not part of a classified drone program. Government officials would know fighter pilots were training in the area, they reasoned, and would not send drones to get in the way.
â€œWe have helicopters that can hover,â€ Lieutenant Graves said. â€œWe have aircraft that can fly at 30,000 feet and right at the surface.â€ But â€œcombine all that in one vehicle of some type with no jet engine, no exhaust plume.â€
Lieutenant Accoin said only that â€œweâ€™re here to do a job, with excellence, not make up myths.â€
The ambulance arrived, and the paramedics started treating the bleeding man for shock. A police officer took my statement, and the knife. I washed my hands at some point. Then my date and I got in a Lyft to the Palace Hotel.
We walked into a scene reminiscent of Versailles. A pair of models in red gowns stood in banded hoops from which one could pluck a champagne flute. There was food, dessert, wine, music. Dancing pandas. Live bands. A silent disco. Women in gowns, men in suits and tuxedos. A casino, with the buy-in going to a local charity. The night glittered. This time next year, I whispered, our heads will all be in baskets.
In many ways, the train crews practice railroading as it was done a century ago, from assembling the train in the yard and coupling one car to another, to climbing down to the tracks to maneuver heavy hand switches. As they lumber along through the dense urban landscape, passing highways, parks, cemeteries and shopping centers, the freight trains draw curious stares.
â€œThe surprise on peopleâ€™s faces when we go through their L.I.R.R. station â€” theyâ€™ve never seen anything like it,â€ said Alex Raia, a 50-year-old engineer, as he worked the throttle and brake on a 2,000-horsepower diesel locomotive to thread it between tight rows of sooty freight cars in the Glendale yard. He likened the task to â€œplaying a game of chess every day.â€
The railway also handles so many cars of flour and beer that Mr. Bonner has nicknamed it â€œthe pizza-and-beer railroad.â€
During peak beer drinking times â€” think St. Patrickâ€™s Day and the Super Bowl â€” that can mean 30 rail cars of beer a week â€” each car can hold 3,500 cases â€” including Modelo Especial and Corona that has rumbled by train all the way from Mexico.
I would prefer if I could take a bus to work, because then I would have a great swatch of time for reading. I have instead, on the bicycle, been listening to podcasts, which is sometimes difficult amid heavy traffic, but whatever.
On 99% Invisible, I was digging on the story of Froebel’s Gifts. Froebel pioneered the idea of kindergarten in the 19th century. Along the way, he developed the first educational toys. Starting with a soft ball of yarn at 6 weeks old, and progressing to more and more interesting objects, along with an educational curriculum where the objects could help teach a kid important concepts of how the world works. Before Froebel’s gift, kids basically played with whatever leftovers the adults had: the carpenter’s kid played with scrap wood, for example. When the idea was brought to America, our Capitalists seized upon this idea that parents and schools might be willing to pay money for objects that children would play with. Froebel gifts are cool and all, but how about an endless buffet of TOYS!?
Anyway, they claimed that early 20th-century design was influenced by Froebel, as Frank Lloyd Wright, Buckminster Fuller, and Le Corbusier each learned important geometric concepts in Kindergarten. Fuller conceived of the buckyball in kindergarten and Wright kept a set of blocks on his desk to inform his creativity.
The fact that I most dug is that around the time kindergartens were taking off, the very first playgrounds were created. And the very first playground was a “sand garden” where they got a huge pile of sand and dumped it in a vacant lot for the kids to play with over the summer. Over time, the “sand garden” became a smaller component in playgrounds which featured other things like swings and slides. Today the giant pile of sand is maybe a sandbox. When Tommy was a baby, there was a sandbox down at Murphy Park. I found it a nice place to lie down as I was often sleepy back then. They took the sandbox out when they fixed up the park. We have come so far … but, I feel that in one respect, Max has been cheated.
With Regard to Uncle Joe . . .
The last election seemed to go “choose between the politics of the late 90s, where we are super careful not to take any positions based on strong principles, just middle of the road stuff that doesn’t offend or inspire anyone, or vote for the guy who will tell you whatever you want to hear, lie to you with a straight face, while he grabs your pussy.”
Why did that second guy do far better than anyone believes he deserved? Because he speaks “straight” to the concerns of a lot of Americans and he doesn’t give a fudge whether his solutions offend your delicate moderate middle of the road do nothing sensibilities.
Now we have Warren and Bernie and AOC and dozens upon dozens of other Democrats who have taken the clue that the electorate is hungry, not for some kindly sooth-saying grandparent, but for someone who is willing to speak up for their beliefs, even if they make some folks feel uncomfortable.
I voted for Clinton. Both of them. But even in the 90s, I yearned to vote not for some warmed-over middle-of-the-road do-nothing compromise, but for leadership that spoke to and acted from convictions. Uncle Joe used to appeal in those days, but now he’s the warmed-over establishment.
I’ll vote for him in the general, if that is what we got, but Trump is good at beating up on the establishment, and I think we’d do better to ride with someone who isn’t afraid to speak truth to power, to have a point of view that doesn’t focus test well with every last median-income household in Nebraska, someone who has plans to make up for all the time America has lost bending over backward to accommodate the right wing.
Remember Obamacare? That’s Romneycare. The uninspiring mush of consensus. It is adequate for liberals and hated by conservatives. Well, you know what? Screw those ungrateful jerks. If we’re going to have a system of universal healthcare that offends them, we might as well have at the very least a Public Option. (For example.)
I’m tired of compromise. Tired or compromise with right-wing extremists. And when it comes to the collapse of our planet’s climate stability, there’s no room for compromise and consensus anyway. We are decades behind on preventing a disaster that is beginning to truly unfold upon every last man, woman, and child on the planet and we have to stop Appealing to the Middle for the Politics of the Possible and engage instead in Policies of Necessity to make our planet and our country better for everyone.
The thalidomide tragedy was averted in the United States because Dr. Kelsey, alone and in the face of fierce opposition, did her job. Her perspective was educated, fresh and unique. If there had been no thalidomide crisis, the United States, with the rest of the world following, would still at some time have brought pharmaceutical regulation into the 20th century. But thalidomide created one of those moments when something had to be done. It could not be ignored in 1961-62, and it led immediately to a better and stronger regulatory system. Maybe someone else would have stopped thalidomide in the United States had Dr. Kelsey not been assigned the NDA, but, interestingly, no one else stopped it anywhere else until it was too late. Dr. Kelsey was the only person in the entire world who said no. She said no to a bad drug application, she said no to an overbearing pharmaceutical company and she said no to vested interests who put profits first. She was one brave dissenter. In the end, the question is not what made Frances Kelsey, but why aren’t there more like her?
I don’t know what to do to help. There’s an informal memorial at the corner. You could leave some flowers there. A family member passing by will have another sign of love.
I think that driving with a bit of love, as posted above, is good advice. As a bicycle commuter who carries kids on a bike in mixed traffic, seeing the pictures of twisted bicycles and backpacks in an intersection I travel often was really disturbing. We need better bicycle infrastructure in Sunnyvale so that people can get around safely. Until then, when you’re behind the wheel of a car please do take a moment to appreciate the folks around you. Slow down and in a moment of frustration try to take a deep breath and count your blessings.
The girl in the coma, and all the victims, and I think even the perpetrator are all carrying different kinds of wounds. Please share your prayers and compassion with them and also for everyone on the road.
A note I posted on NextDoor
The Earth’s climate is usually very erratic. Decades of drought, then decades of flood, for example. Humans have existed for a few hundred thousand years but only after the last Ice Age, when the planet hit an unusual period of climate stability, did humans manage to achieve agriculture and civilization.
I keep trying to rationalize an optimistic outcome, but as best I can read the situation, we are at a crucial point in history where humanity understands that we have an existential challenge that can be solved only through a spirit of shared sacrifice and cooperation. We know what adaptations we need to make to maintain these stable climate patterns, but so far we have not demonstrated a collective will to make these adaptations. The window of opportunity is shutting more and more rapidly. Mainly due to complacency, we’ll miss the opportunity, the climate will continue to deteriorate, agriculture will fail, and the long and delicate supply chains required to sustain technological civilization will fail. All in the next few decades.
Maybe I am wrong. Maybe civilization will make it through the century. The last century was pretty dire, too, but we managed to avoid the worst outcomes. But my feeling is that civilization will collapse, in my lifetime, and that most of humanity will die, at first through war and tyrannical government but mostly of starvation. Humans, as a species, will survive. A few of the remaining hunter-gatherer tribes will adapt to the crisis. They will be joined by several new tribes peopled from refugees of our failing civilization.
Humanity will muddle through on a hostile planet amidst a mass extinction. Tens or hundreds of thousands of years will pass before the Earth enters a new stable phase. Agriculture and civilization will re-emerge, perhaps a bit faster due to whatever technological clues we leave behind, perhaps a bit slower and more sustainably, due to our having robbed them of the easiest fossil fuels. Perhaps there will even be a memory, perhaps uncovered through archaeology, and an understanding of The Fall of our First World Civilization. If we fail to survive this century, it is my hope that our distant descendants will avoid repeating our mistakes.
We have young children, which makes travel expensive and cumbersome. I traveled alone, arranging my flights in order to minimize disruption to the family routine. Thus, instead of flying through Long Beach airport, I went through LAX, on Southwest, because the flights worked out to allow me to participate in morning drop-off and return to San Jose to be picked up just after the baby finished Daycare.
The conference was held at the Queen Mary, which is a classy 1930s era cruise ship now moored permanently at the Port of Long Beach. Lyft gave me a discount on a direct ride to the Queen Mary, compared to a shared ride, so I took it. The driver was a Kenyan, who told me that the countries of East Africa were making steady progress towards open borders and economic union. He explained that the Chinese were building a network of passenger railroads in the region. He was in town for a while to help his brother with some personal affairs, and in the meantime he was able to make some money driving for Lyft. The car, he explained, was rented through Hertz or somesuch, who had arrangements for Lyft drivers. He said the rate wasn’t great, but it suited his needs better than buying his own car.
I arrived in time to catch the opening afternoon session. Jason Roberts, an IT Guy living in Houston, shared stories of his unorthodox methods of community improvement. He is an inspiring guy and these are some notes I scribbled down:
“There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.”
A typical response to folks who want to promote outdoor activities is that the idea might work better in some other city with a more agreeable climate . . . but “not here.” For example, in Houston, it is really hot. So, he cited the above proverb and then shared pictures where people manage to enjoy the outdoors in all kinds of weather, including New Orleans, which I guess might be hotter than Houston. As a man who recently discovered the miracle of Rain Pants and how they can make a bicycle commute decently comfortable in the rain, I agree.
He arranged to get the kids in the local school punch cards: each day they rode their bike to school, they got another hole punched in their card. He didn’t mention any rewards for filling out a card, but he said this simple program got a lot of kids riding to school.
He detailed several instances where instead of waiting on the city to conduct a traffic study, &c. to put in a crosswalk or a bike lane, folks in the community would build their own such infrastructure. White duct tape is an excellent stand-in for white thermoplastic. They did some illegal street narrowing and then hosted a festival, making sure to invite the mayor.
“Break every law possible; document it; invite the mayor”
“Wear an orange vest.”
I can vouch for this. When I encounter vehicles obstructing the bike lane, I place a flyer under the windshield, hand a flyer to the driver, and if there’s been a lot of violations that day, I tweet a note to the local police. On more than one occasion, folks have come back to their cars in a panic, assuming the man in the bright yellow jacket slipping a paper under the windshield is a cop.
betterblock.org details his efforts and ideas, and wikiblock is a resource for 3D printed furniture, which can be used to provide street furnishings on the quick and inexpensive. His topline advice:
1) Show up at every community/organization meeting. Meet the folks who are out for civic improvement. 2) Give your idea a name, a logo, and a web site. 3) Set a Specific Date in the Near Future: say there’s a meeting in 2-3 weeks and the objective is to build something within 2-3 months. Having a deadline forces action.
I next attended a session on the Nuts and Bolts of Planning. I noted that California Cities are required by the state to have a General Plan for the next 20-30 years and that the General Plan is composed of various Elements, like the Housing Element, which are each revised every several years. Then there are more specific Specific Plans and zoning standards . . .
I did appreciate learning that “Euclidian Zoning,” where zoning is separated by use (Residential vs. Commercial, &c.) was not, in fact, a reference to Geometry, but a reference to a court case where one of the parties was named Euclid. An alternative to Euclidian zoning is to define the allowable form of buildings without prescribing their use.
I sought a late lunch. Dining options are limited on and near the Queen Mary. I finally settled on an overpriced cheeseburger, which was dry, and had an egg that had been thoroughly fried, so the yolk did not run. This was sad. After this I drifted back to the conference, hearing a bit about the basics of CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act.
Finally, on my third attempt at check-in, the staff of the Queen Mary agreed that my room was at last available, but first they had to hammer away on the computer for several minutes and take my keys in the back. It wasn’t personal: the place was filled up and everyone’s check-in was an exercise in patience. I suspect the place is run by folks who are more excited at the prospect of managing a historical ship than they are with efficient hotel logistics, or the correct preparation of overpriced cheeseburgers.
The room was spacious, by the standards of a contemporary American hotel built near the freeway, and especially in comparison to my limited cruise ship experience. Not all of the ship is in use as a hotel, and I assume they took the higher-class rooms for this purpose. On a modern cruise ship, a patio seems standard fare, but in the 1930s all you got was a porthole. Because all of the room lights are on a single switch, I used the porthole as a night light. I was charmed by the vintage desk that folded flat against the wall.
I considered skipping dinner, by subsisting on some dry chicken skewers, vegetables, and cheese from the networking event. The wife suggested I find a way to town and I found that there is a free bus that departs every fifteen minutes. I hiked up Pine Street a ways, past the light rail that was closed for reconstruction. I found an inexpensive but tasty Indian kebab place which seemed a good choice because last time I was alone roaming the streets of a foreign city at night after a conference, I was in Dublin, where they were also building light rail, and where I also ended up eating inexpensive Indian food.
The return bus was delayed, so I signed up for the Razor scooter service. The app made sure I was wearing a helmet, as everyone who rides a rental scooter always does. I felt a little shaky at first but got the hang of it, and before long I was back at the Queen Mary for under $5. The app warned me that I shouldn’t park in forbidden zones: apparently, the area around the Queen Mary is forbidden, but if you park next to the ship you’re okay. Other scooter services do not have this restriction.
The Razor scooter was the nicest I tried during my trip: the deck is wider, and the tires are fatter than the competition. My only grouse is that the handles are lower than is comfortable for a tall guy like me.
Upon returning to my room, I opened the door and heard a young boy sigh or mumble. This was most likely one of the ghosts who reside upon the Queen Mary. I concede that an alternate possibility is that when I opened the door, it created negative pressure in the room, and the air made a funny noise squeezing through the porthole.
Although the walls on the ship are thin, and engines no longer muffle the neighbors who inhabit the ship’s various astral planes, I slept well. Throughout the morning, my brain adjusted to the idea of inhabiting a cruise ship while not feeling the movement of the sea.
Breakfast was rich in protein, and I chatted with a Planning Commissioner from Solvang. He explained that they were working to fix up the business district, which I have heard is a Swedish-themed tourist town. He hoped they could get an Apple Store since the nearest is a 40-minute drive. An Apple Store strikes me as an odd thing to wish for. I tried to adapt my impression of a glass cube to Old-Timey Sweden Town. He explained that the building codes would continue to specify a particular architectural style, but some of the run-down hotels could be replaced with nicer amenities.
Later the notion of autonomous personal passenger aircraft came up. The same Planning Commissioner was excited at the idea that people would prefer to own a private plane, maybe a sporty cherry red Jetsons car that could take off from the back-yard heliport, take them directly to work, then return home to park. Someone suggested the FAA might be slow to embrace this vision. Another suggested that folks might be happy to trade off the safety implications for the incredible convenience. I shared a criticism I have seen of the Boring Company, which so far hasn’t seemed to account for safety. In the hyper tunnel, a wheel may come flying off someone’s private car. The vehicles behind would have to break at eight times the force of gravity. The result could well be a Lithium Fire in a tunnel which has no emergency access, that kills a few hundred people, and burns for a week or two. People might accept that as the price for convenience, even if a government regulator might find the idea to be insane.
The morning session covered the legal powers and obligations of Planning Commissioners. The big idea to understand is that there are contexts where Planning Commissioners help to set policy, but that much of the time, Planning Commissioners are tasked with reviewing projects and applications within the context of the policies. You may not like what you see, but the job isn’t to approve of things based on personal opinion, but because the plans comply with policies.
There was also a fair amount of the Brown Act, which is always a concern for any public official in California. We touched again on avoiding closed meetings, where a quorum of a public body ends up discussing an issue outside of a public meeting. The bottom line is to make the decision-making process open to the public at large, to disclose any meetings, typically with an applicant, that have taken place, to provide a fair process, and not to demonstrate bias in decision-making.
The next session was the relationship between the Planning Commission, City Council, and city staff. The City Council decides what policy should be, and the staff determines how to achieve that policy. The Planning Commission serves in between, giving advice on policy to the City Council, and deciding whether applications which the city staff have worked on comply with the policy.
Next, I attended a panel discussion on Building Density.
If you have a single family neighborhood, of one and two-story homes, an apartment complex at 4x the density doesn’t mean four to eight-story buildings. An apartment building fits units closer together than single-story homes, and the units are usually smaller than comparable single-family homes. Scott Lee, from Livermore, showed a housing complex developed there at a higher density, that ran two and a half stories, with the height stepping down further towards the neighborhood. The development was an example that we see in Sunnyvale sometimes, where the middle of the building is a parking garage, and then the housing units are built around the garage so that, from the street, all you see is housing. He called that style a “Texas wrap.”
Peter Noonan, of West Hollywood, then dove deep into the economics of providing higher density housing to accommodate mixed incomes. My notes may not be accurate here, but West Hollywood has been pretty successful at rent stabilization, and they require new development to provide 20% of units to be affordable to families at 80% of the Area Median Income. (Many jurisdictions have had some success at providing housing at the market rate, and for the poorest residents, while missing targets for middle income.) He explained that their inclusive housing requirement triggers State Density Bonuses that permit developers to build additional units, which means that West Hollywood’s Inclusionary Housing Requirement ends up forcing developers to build more market-rate units than they would otherwise.
He then went on to illustrate how building denser developments brings down the per-unit cost of building new housing, which is critical to our ability to meet the housing needs of California’s residents.
Lunch was good. The salads came wrapped in a shaved cucumber. The chicken was somewhat dry but came with a sauce. The dessert was a form of Black Forest Cake, of which, thanks to a couple of Folsom Planning Commissioners, I had three servings. I chatted with a Yuba City Planning Commissioner. They are housing refugees from Paradise, and she shared word of another town that is housing refugees, that has sought a share of Paradise’s Property Tax revenue, in order to pay for the increased city services from housing Paradise residents. Our mutual feeling was sympathy towards the plight of a town that needs to cover unavoidable new expenses, but less sympathy for the strategy of trying to shake down a town that is in crisis.
There was a Survival Guide for using Twitter and Social Media. As my city’s resident Tech Savvy, Scooter-Renting, Millenial-by-Proxy Planning Commissioner, I went ahead and tweeted my notes. Here is the thread:
So, what has two thumbs and likes to geek out on the methodology of studying the Environmental Impact assessment on traffic flow? This guy!
Let’s talk internal combustion. When a vehicle is moving along at a steady rate, the engine helps to keep the wheels turning, and a relatively modest amount of energy to maintain speed. When a vehicle stops, the engine has to burn more energy than when it is cruising, because the wheels aren’t helping the engine move. Thus, if you want to maintain air quality, you need to design streets to keep cars moving. Therefore, the traditional approach to measuring the Environmental Impact of traffic is a metric called “Level of Service” (LOS) which measures the delay imposed on traffic by different types of development. As development increases, you can mitigate negative impacts on Level of Service by adding more lanes of traffic. Once you run out of room for building roads, any further development incurs a negative impact on LOS that cannot be mitigated.
What could possibly go wrong with this approach?
LOS is a recipe for sprawl. Adding a new greenfield development on an underutilized country road has no negative environmental impact as measured by LOS. Building denser in town where there is no room to add more lanes means the project’s Environmental Impact is Significant and Unavoidable.
Over time, the LOS approach becomes self-defeating. To keep traffic moving, we need to limit the density of development, which means people have to drive further and further to avoid getting stuck in traffic, so they spend more time stuck in traffic.
Because the right-of-way of the roads is built out to support only motorized vehicles, the population density is too low to support mass transit, and the commutes are long, the population loses opportunities for Active Transportation, and the death rates from sedentary lifestyles increase. (Note: in my experience, an e-bike can help make longer-distance commute through The Sprawl more possible, if you can find a sufficiently safe route.)
California has mandated a switch to evaluate Environmental Impact by measuring Vehicle Miles Travelled (VMT) which is cheaper to figure out. First off, if a project is near public transit, the VMT impact is “less than significant” because folks can take the bus. Overall, if a project is going to shorten or reduce trips, it has a favorable Environmental Impact. A greenfield development outside of town where folks are going to have to drive everywhere for jobs and services is going to have a negative evaluation in terms of VMT.
As our development shifts to VMT evaluation, we should be able to save money on road infrastructure, shorten commutes, and improve health by reducing automobile collisions and making Active Transportation a more practical option.
Next, we learned to Make Findings that Stand Legal Challenge. This can be summed up as “show your work” and when making findings, cite policies and explain how a project complies or does not comply.
That was too easy. How about a session on City Finances? I think this session might have gone down better with a beer, but Michael Coleman dove right in.
Thanks to Prop 13, Property Taxes are fixed at 1% of assessed value, and can not increase faster than the Consumer Price Index. The assessed value is reset to market value only when the property is sold. This is why one neighbor’s property tax might be $300, while the young family next door owes $20,000. Also, California has to offset its inability to fund government through Property Tax with high Sales Tax and Income Tax.
Prop 13 also provides an incentive to cities to approve new development, since new development pays property taxes at a contemporary rate, and also contributes substantial fees to cover infrastructure and services.
He also explained that the long-term decline in Sales Tax revenue has less to do with e-commerce and more to do with a broader cultural trend of spending money on services instead of goods. Sales Tax applies only to tangible goods, and not to services. So, there you go.
Then, he dropped a truth bomb on those of us who favor higher-density residential development. On the one hand, higher-density developments bring in more revenue than lower-density properties. But, the costs of providing residential services to the larger population can incur an overall budget deficit. The tax revenue from a family in an apartment comes out to less than a family living in a single-family house, but both families need the same city services.
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t build higher-density housing, but we need to be mindful of the impact on City Finances and balance development with other, more profitable development. (I love “Mixed Use” residential-over-retail, myself.) In the longer term, I like to think that California’s approach to funding government will evolve to the needs of higher density living.
Then there was an explanation of how the lack of a Vehicle License Fee replacement means that annexation and incorporation of cities in California are no longer fiscally viable. Without risking anyone’s sanity trying to explain it, I think it is enough to understand that that problem exists, and that you should support AB 2268.
After trying to understand the implications of the VLF backfill on incorporation and annexation, I decided to take the free bus and a rented scooter over to the Yard House and have a beer, and a cheeseburger with several fellow Planning Commissioners. We had a chance to talk about each other as people instead of the vagaries of government policy. The cheeseburger was juicy and delicious, and I took that as representative of how much better Thursday had gone than Wednesday.
The conference breakfast was a slight improvement on the day before, featuring home fries instead of hash browns, and granola-yogurt cups in addition to the eggs-sausage-bacon-pastries spread. I ate two servings at breakfast, the second one to serve as lunch. They tried to do a Q&A during the breakfast, which didn’t go so well because breakfast is also an excellent time to chat with people at the table. Much of the discussion at the table centered around how the Q&A wasn’t working well, and that this year’s conference had more challenge to it than previous years, because they had fewer rooms available for sessions, because they had had to move hotels at the last minute because the original hotel had construction going on.
Then it was time to go downstairs for the legislative update. We braced ourselves, as the California legislature has 2,700 bills to consider this year. That sounds like a lot, and Jason Rhine, of the League of California Cities, reassured us that this is indeed a lot for a non-election year. 200 bills focus on Housing and Land Use, and another 500 bills are placeholder “spot bills” which will be filled in by their sponsors as the process rolls along.
There was mention of the CASA Compact, which is a policy collaboration in the Bay Area, but most of its suggestions apply to the state in general. (CASA is a whole topic unto itself.) Here are various incomplete notes that I took:
AB 275 is looking to limit new developments to not more than 20% single-family homes.
AB 1279 seeks to identify “high resource” communities, with good schools, plentiful jobs, and mostly single-family homes, and in those communities grant developers “by right” approval for affordable housing projects of up to 100 housing units up to 55 feet in height. This would help bring lower-income folks into more upscale and exclusive towns.
SB 4 would allow up to four-plexes on empty lots near transit, and an additional story of height.
SB 50 is Scott Weiner’s bill. Last year he introduced the controversial SB 827 which did not make it out of committee. This is the sequel to that bill, which would up-zone around transit, put limits on Single Family zoning, increase density based on form, which I understand as “you can build the building to the size allowed in the zoning code, and house as many families as you please, so a 6-bedroom McMansion could just as well be a three-plex.” SB 50 would limit or eliminate parking requirements, and introduce additional Density Bonuses.
Jason Rhine noted that this year, Scott Weiner chairs the committee, so SB 50 would likely make it to a floor vote, and Democrats are generally reluctant to shoot down their colleagues in the same house. Upon arrival in the Assembly, some negotiation could take place. Most of the bills in process are consistent with Governor Newsom’s ambitious goals for housing production, so he’s likely to sign them.
SB 330 would declare the state to be in a Housing Crisis until 2030. During this period, there could be no downzoning, no (new?) parking requirements, no increases to impact fees, no (new?) fees for affordable housing, no housing moratoria, no new design standards that increase construction expense, and no limit on the number of conditional use permits. The gist of this being that for the coming decade, we will make it somewhat easier to build.
AB 11 would bring back the Redevelopment Agencies that were axed during the Financial Crisis.
SB 5 would allocate up to $2 billion for redevelopment.
ACA 1 would be a ballot measure to reduce the threshold for bonds for affordable housing and infrastructure to 55%.
SB 128 would reduce the threshold for EIFD bonds to 55%. (Enhanced Infrastructure Financing Districts . . . wonky enough for ya?)
AB 68 and 69 would repeal the minimum lot size requirements for folks who want to build an ADU. (Sunnyvale has a minimum lot size of 6,000 square feet, so my lot is 300 square feet shy of being allowed an ADU.)
AB 36 is a “spot bill” for “tenant protections” and may be the vehicle for enacting some form of statewide Rent Control this year. This would probably be more permissive than traditional local rent control ordinances and focus mainly on limiting the year-over-year increases that can so easily force long-time tenants from their homes on short notice.
AB 1110 would increase the notice period for rent increases. (You get more time to prepare to pay more rent or move.)
AB 1483 would require cities to post all of their fees on their web site.
AB 1484 would not allow a city to charge a fee not posted on their web site.
AB 891 would require cities over 330,000 population to provide Safe Parking areas for people sleeping in vehicles by 2022.
The last session of the conference was on Land Use and Emergency Preparedness in our new age of increasing disasters. I made a note that 30% of California housing stock is at the Urban Interface Area and that this area is seeing 40% of the growth of housing stock. I then noted “emergency preparedness is YIMBY” as I think it was Eric Nickel, Santa Barbara’s new Fire Chief, who was explaining that folks concerned with fire safety would prefer transit-oriented development in town over sprawl.
As my town is not in the Urban Interface Area and I am already a fan of transit-oriented development, my thoughts drifted to trying out LA’s transit infrastructure to get to the airport. Google was saying 2+ hours by transit compared with a 40-minute Lyft, so I left the Emergency Preparedness session to enact my own study of alternative transportation services in the LA area.
I could have taken the free bus, but I thought I should try a non-Razor scooter. There was a Lime nearby, but some hipster snatched it up before I could get to it. Then I saw a Bird. I signed up, deposited $10, and took off. I made it a couple blocks and just started up the overpass over the water to the main part of Long Beach when the scooter slowed to a crawl and stopped entirely. I laughed at the thought that it lacked the power to bring me up the hill, but the app reported that in the space of two blocks the battery had gone from 20% to empty. I had killed the Bird.
I walked up over the bridge, probably faster than any scooter could get me uphill, and picked up a Lime scooter on the other side. I really appreciated the height of the handlebars! I took it a block or two, and the ride seemed to get bumpier and bumpier. The wheels were either too small or damaged. The ride was awful, so I ditched my tall boy at a rack of Razor scooters, and rode a wide, thick-tired Razor the rest of the way to the bus stop. There was one block with a steep uphill, and the Razor managed to drag me up that hill. Near the end, it had slowed to such a crawl that a tortoise passed me up, with a comment on the side about my lazy character. I couldn’t help but grin at my own absurdity.
Ordinarily, a transit ride from the Queen Mary to LAX is a reasonably straightforward shuttle bus to train to train to shuttle bus. Unfortunately, the Blue Line that runs to Long Beach is shut down for repairs. In its place, I took a free bus, which very slowly made it to the stops served by the Blue Line. The trip counted as scenic if you’re the sort who appreciates a look at lower-income residential and industrial neighborhoods adjacent to freeways. After Martin Luther King hospital we passed a Denny’s, and I got off at the Rosa Parks Metro stop. I didn’t see any ticket machines, so I followed everyone else through the open fare gate and past the sign that said we needed Proof of Payment.
I caught a Green Line train toward the airport. It was the most overtly drab utilitarian train I can remember riding. It felt like Ronald Reagan had tried to describe Socialism and the designers built to his specification. I appreciated the huge windows, which afforded an excellent view of the highway, as we zipped efficiently along to the Airport stop, where we all went down to wait for the bus.
There was nowhere to buy a bus ticket, and no fare posted, just that you needed to have proof of payment for the Green Line. Of course, since it is an airport shuttle bus, everyone got on and off at both doors, and nobody bothered about proof of payment. The end result is that had I not bothered with the scooters, my trip from the Queen Mary would have cost me nothing, aside from the risk of a fine. (For what it is worth, I also experimented with an alternate bus along the way, and so paid $2 of the $1.75 standard Metro fare, so my conscience is clean on that account.)
The flight home was delayed a bit, but my family picked me up at the airport, and we had Birthday Cupcakes when we got home.
This Sunday, Tommy and his Mom went to see the new Lego movie. I took the baby to a train show. He alternated between wanting to be carried and wanting to push the stroller around the crowd. We had fun.
A lot of the layouts on display are modular, and each at a different height. Some are up high, where an adult can comfortably manipulate the trains while standing, and others are down low, where kids can more easily see. The lower ones often have plastic barriers around the edge, or are roped of, to reduce the fingerpoking. I steered Max toward the lower trains, where there was also more room for him to push the stroller around.
I got to chatting with one of the guys running a large-scale railroad that was about two feet off the ground.
“Back when we started, back in the 80s, we had it at a height that was comfortable for old men. (I was young back then.) We went to a show and a bus full of kids in wheelchairs got out and they couldn’t see the trains. We felt awful about that. So, we got out the saws and have had shorter legs ever since.”
“You don’t have plastic barriers along the edge?”
“Well, the biggest thrill for the kids is to put their face on the track and pretend the train is going to run them over. We’ve also found that the manufacturers really understand that train shows are the best marketing they have, so when a train hits the concrete, they’ll often replace the damaged equipment, no questions asked.”
“Oh that’s nice! Still, maybe you run the more expensive trains on the inside track? I mean that one looks like it cost a few bucks.”
“That’s the theory. Though, at the end of the day . . . its only a toy.”
The gist of this is: restrictive zoning makes housing more expensive. The folks who can afford expensive housing tend to be college educated. College educated people tend to be more liberal, and vote Democratic.
If you restrict the amount of housing that can be built in a city, you squeeze out poor folks, and the folks who can afford to buy in are the “Liberal Elites.”
More restrictive counties tend to shed Republicans and become more Democratic over timeâ€”a pattern that seems to have accelerated since 2012. And, more restrictive counties tend to gain more college-educated people and shed fewer educated ones, which contributes to their partisan shift. As Sorens notes, college education may causally mediate a substantial part of the relationship between zoning and partisanship at the county level. In other words, a countyâ€™s becoming more educated as a result of building restrictions makes it more Democratic.
I think our policies, especially in the privileged suburb where I live, need to allow and facilitate more housing. As a Liberal Democrat, I do not want to live in a bubble community. While I take some pride in the idea that education leads to progressive politics, I am disappointed that a party that prides itself as a champion of the working class and the poor, gains a partisan advantage when the working class and poor get squeezed out of our communities.
As a Democrat in a Blue City, I think we owe a debt to our communities to correct restrictive zoning in order to redress the damage done to our own working class, who can not afford to live here.