Coronavirus: Nine Reasons to be Reassured

The coronavirus epidemic plainly poses an exceptionally serious global problem: in a few short weeks, it has spread from China to more than 80 countries, infecting more than 100,000 people so far and causing more than 3,400 deaths.

But as we are hit with minute-by-minute updates from around the world, experiencing the advance of Covid-19 in real time – news alerts, huge headlines, social media hysteria – there’s a risk that we might lose some essential context.

Yes, this virus is obviously a massive challenge: medical, political and – perhaps most strikingly at present – social and economic. But it is worth remembering the world has never had better tools to fight it, and that if we are infected, we are unlikely to die from it.

Here, courtesy of a number of scientists but mainly Ignacio López-Goñi, a professor of microbiology and virology at the University of Navarra in Spain, are what might hopefully prove a few reassuring facts about the new coronavirus:

  • We know what it is. As López-Goñi wrote for the Conversation France, the virus causing cases of severe pneumonia in Wuhan was identified within seven days of the official announcement on 31 December, and, three days after that, the gene sequence was available. HIV, by contrast, took two years to identify after it first appeared in mid-1981, López-Goni noted. We also know the virus is natural, that it is related to a virus found in bats, and that it can mutate, but does not appear to do so very often.
  • We can test for it. By 13 January – three days after the gene sequence was published – a reliable test was available, developed by scientists at the department of virology at Berlin’s Charité university hospital with help from experts in Rotterdam, London and Hong Kong.
  • We know it can be contained (albeit at considerable cost). China’s draconian quarantine and containment measures appear to be working. On Thursday 120 new cases were reported in Wuhan, the lowest figure for six weeks, and, for the first time since the start of the outbreak, none at all in the rest of Hubei province. Several Chinese provinces have had no new cases for a fortnight and more are reopening their schools. In many countries, infections are in defined clusters, which should allow them to be more readily contained.
  • Catching it is not that easy (if we are careful) and we can kill it quite easily (provided we try). Frequent, careful hand washing, as we now all know, is the most effective way to stop the virus being transmitted, while a solution of ethanol, a solution of hydrogen peroxide or a solution of bleach will disinfect surfaces. To be considered at high risk of catching the coronavirus you need to live with, or have direct physical contact with, someone infected, be coughed or sneezed on by them (or pick up a used tissue), or be in face-to-face contact, within two metres, for more than 15 minutes. We’re not talking about passing someone in the street.
  • In most cases, symptoms are mild, and young people are at very low risk. According to a study of 45,000 confirmed infections in China, 81% of cases caused only minor illness, 14% of patients had symptoms described as “severe”, and just 5% were considered “critical”, with about half of those resulting in death. Only 3% of cases concern people under 20, children seem barely affected by the virus at all, and the mortality rate for the under-40s is about 0.2%. The rate rises in the over-65s, reaching nearly 15% in the over-80s, especially those with pre-existing heart or lung conditions. Calculating mortality rates during an ongoing epidemic is hard because it is not clear how many mild or asymptomatic cases have been tested for, but the best estimate we have for the coronavirus so far is 1.4% – somewhere between 1918 Spanish flu and 2009 swine flu.
  • People are recovering from itAs the daily count maintained by the Johns Hopkins CSSE shows, thousands of people around the world are making confirmed recoveries from the coronavirus every day.

Coronavirus updates

  • Hundreds of scientific articles have already been written about it. Type Covid-19 or Sars-19 into the search engine of the US national library of medicine’s PubMed website and you will find, barely five weeks after the emergence of the virus, 539 references to papers about it, dealing with vaccines, therapies, epidemiology, diagnosis and clinical practice. That’s an exponentially faster publication rate than during the Sars epidemic, López-Goñi notes – and most publications’ coronavirus articles are free to access.
  • Vaccine prototypes exist. Commercial pharmaceutical and biotechnology labs such as Moderna, Inovio, Sanofi and Novavax, as well as academic groups such as one at the University of Queensland in Australia – many of which were already working on vaccines for similar Sars-related viruses – have preventive vaccine prototypes in development, some of which will soon be ready for human testing (although their efficacy and safety will of course take time to establish).
  • Dozens of treatments are already being tested. By mid-February, more than 80 clinical trials were under way for antiviral treatments, according to Nature magazine, and most have already been used successfully in treating other illnesses. Drugs such as remdesivir (Ebola, Sars), chloroquine (malaria), lopinavir and ritonavir (HIV), and baricitinib (rheumatoid polyarthritis) are all being trialled on patients who have contracted the coronavirus, some as a result of the application of artificial intelligence.

• This article was amended on 7 March 2020. An earlier version wrongly stated that “a solution of ethanol, hydrogen peroxide and bleach will disinfect surfaces”. It is dangerous to combine such substances. It now states correctly that “a solution of ethanol, a solution of hydrogen peroxide or a solution of bleach” will disinfect surfaces.

North Bay Leadership Council’s Ballot Measure and Candidate Endorsements

NBLC’s Ballot Measures Endorsements

SUPPORT:  Measure I:  SMART Train Sales Tax Extension

In 2008, voters Marin and Sonoma counties had the foresight to create SMART.  They voted to build a modern train system to bridge county lines and connect to the ferry in Larkspur.  They wanted a green transportation system, a way to travel without sitting in traffic and fewer cars on Highway 101.  SMART has delivered on that promise – despite serious obstacles.  When the recession hit in 2009, the floor dropped out of the bond market, slashing the projected $455 million in revenue to $298 million over the last 10 years.  Despite this setback, SMART still got a world class transportation system up and running by leveraging $328 million in regional, state and federal matching funds.  So far, SMART has carried over 1.7 million passengers, including over 6,300 passengers who require wheelchair access and 164,000 bicyclists.

In December, SMART opened the Larkspur station to connect to the ferry. In January, SMART revamped the commuter schedule to run trains every half hour. Now, SMART is at a crossroads. Measure I is critical to SMART’s future.  Measure I would extend SMART’s ¼ of one cent sales tax with NO TAX INCREASE.

Measure I would ensure SMART’s financial survival and allow restructuring of construction debt. This would save $12.2 million annually, fully funding operations from Larkspur to Windsor for the next 30 years.

Vote YES on Measure I to:

  • Take hundreds of thousands of car trips off Highway 101 every year
  • Support SMART service to additional cities
  • Increase the frequency of SMART trains
  • Fund safety enhancements along the rail line
  • Add additional parking to SMART stations
  • Build more bicycle and walking paths connecting SMART stations

We finally have a modern train system for Marin and Sonoma counties. Please don’t let one family with a fat checkbook dictate the future of transportation in the North Bay.   Vote “Yes” on Measure I to keep SMART rolling and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

SUPPORT:  Measure C – Marin Wildfire Prevention Authority

Fire safety improvements are needed as climate change impacts the North Bay.  The tax being proposed would amount to 10 cents per building square foot for improved residential and commercial space. An exemption would be provided for low-income seniors. The tax could be increased up to 3% annually to adjust for inflation.  Perhaps most vital to its broad support, the tax, which is estimated to bring in $19.3 million annually, would sunset in 10 years.

Sixty percent of the revenue generated by the tax would be dedicated to core functions such as vegetation management, wildfire detection, evacuation improvements, grants and public education. Twenty percent would be used for annual defensible space and home hardening evaluations, and another 20% would be used for wildfire prevention efforts designed for specific locales. The authority will divide Marin into five zones: Ross Valley, San Rafael, West Marin, Novato and Southern Marin. Its board will consist of a representative from each of the 17 participating agencies.  Another provision assures that at least 80% of the revenue generated for vegetation management by each operational zone shall be allocated within the respective zone.  The measure’s proponents pledged that the authority would utilize an “environmental/climate change lens” while doing its work.

SUPPORT:  Measure G – Sonoma County Fire Safety and Emergency Response Improvements

Again, the ability to fight and prevent fires is of tremendous importance in the North Bay.  The measure will generate approximately $51 million annually, which will be distributed across the county’s more than 30 fire districts, with the aim of improving alert, warning, and siren systems; vegetation management inspection and mitigation programs; replacement of aging infrastructure and equipment; and the recruitment and retention of firefighters.

“We need more firefighters,” Mark Heine, Sonoma County Fire District Fire Chief, told the supervisors. Heine pointed out that there are about 375 firefighters in Sonoma County, but it took a force of about 4,000 firefighters, some coming from as far away as Washington and Arizona, via statewide mutual aid agreements, to stall the Kincade Fire. The new sales tax would provide funding to hire 200 additional full-time personnel across the county, including firefighters and battalion chiefs. The increase in firefighters is a top priority as districts aim for three-person staffing on engines, which is closer to the national standard of four people.In addition, the tax will provide the funding for the installment of seven new fire inspectors to carry out a more robust vegetation management program throughout the county. Local fire agencies will also receive an influx of funding so their staff can provide vegetation inspection and remediation in their jurisdictions. Additionally, the sales tax will fund a 10- to 12-person regional “fuels crew” to perform vegetation management, reinforce evacuation routes, and construct fuel breaks throughout the county. The home location of the regional crew has not yet been decided.

The resulting funding from the measure will be divided by percentage, based on district size and need. Fire districts that have specific challenges recruiting and retaining full-time firefighters will receive additional funding to help those efforts. A portion of monies raised will go to the county’s Department of Emergency Management to improve the county’s alert and warning systems, not just for wildfire, but any natural disaster including earthquake, tsunami and flood. Funds will be dedicated to improving digital technologies like the Wireless Emergency Alert system, SoCo Alert, and Nixle notifications, and to construct, operate and maintain a network of emergency sirens.

Overall, the measure would raise funds to build nine new fire stations throughout the county, move the location of eight existing fire stations, and retrofit or remodel another eight existing fire stations.

Current jurisdictional boundaries may also be going away soon. One and one-quarter of the proposed sales tax will provide funding to incentivize fire district consolidation, a move Kenwood, Glen Ellen, Mayacamas and Schell-Vista are currently studying.  As long as a district is “working toward consolidation,” it will receive funding – although that can be modified after three years.

NBLC’s Candidate Endorsements

Marin, Napa and Sonoma Counties have primaries for Board of Supervisors’ races in March.  NLBC has recommends the candidates below.  If the race is uncontested, we are taking no position.  If candidates have taking a voting pledge, we have a policy of not endorsing as we fear that means that votes have been promised before hearing from the public.  And in some races, we didn’t endorse because there was no candidate that reflected NLBC’s commitment to supporting fair and balanced voices that support more workforce housing, improved transportation, support for business and economic competitiveness and the development of a workforce whose skills and talents match the jobs our members are creating.

Napa County:

District 5 – Belia Ramos (Inc.):  Support    Ramos grew up in St. Helena, worked as an attorney and founded Raise The Bar to help prepare applicants for the California Bar Exam.  She was elected Supervisor in 2016.  Ramos was recently elected  as vice president of the Association of Bay Area Governments which focused on housing issues.  During her supervisor term, Ramos has drawn attention to various issues she said are important to her district, among them housing, traffic in the south county and noise heard in American Canyon and other areas from bird-scaring propane canons in vineyards.  Ramos said her focus during a second term would continue to be on such things as housing availability and affordability, land use and transportation.

District 4 – Alfredo Pedroza (Inc.):  Support   Pedroza has been a balanced voice on the Napa Board and is a rising star.  He is pro-business, against accelerating the minimum wage and didn’t sign any union pledges.  He is a housing advocate and called for streamlining the approval process and building on surplus County land.  He is currently the vice chair of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.  Pedroza is a problem-solver and results-oriented.  He used to work for Redwood Credit Union.

Sonoma County:

 District 5:  Lynda Hopkins (Inc.):  Support   Hopkins has been working hard in her first term and deserves a second one.  She is a strong supporter of housing and finding solutions to address homelessness and mental health services.  As a small business owner, she supports business and a strong economy.  As a parent, she is a great advocate for children, child care and education.  Hopkins is balanced, fair and hard-working.

Marin County: 

District 3:  Stephanie Moulton-Peters:  Support   Moulton-Peters served on the Mill Valley City Council for  2 years and has been chair of the Transportation Authority of Marin (TAM).  She supports more housing, currently serving on the Mill Valley Housing Advisory Task Force, and continuous improvement of the transportation infrastructure.  Moulton-Peters also is a champion of addressing the impacts of climate change and a healthy economy.

Getting Serious About California’s Housing Crisis Means Moving SB 50 Forward

Senate Bill 50 is back — new, improved, still controversial and definitely worth consideration.

A bold bill that could radically reshape housing in California by, among other things, doing away with single-family zoning across the state, SB 50 was gaining traction last spring when it was shelved unceremoniously in the Senate Appropriations Committee. There was no debate. No opportunity for compromise. It was just put on ice, with the promise by legislative leaders of more discussions in the future.

Now, eight months later, its author, Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) has returned with a revised bill that is more sensitive to local concerns and has a better chance of success — that is, if lawmakers vote to keep it alive for more discussion and compromise.

SB 50 has to pass the state Senate by Jan. 31. If it does, it can still be amended and revised, or voted down in the Assembly. If it doesn’t, it dies. Though the bill is not perfect, it deserves to be moved forward.

It should be abundantly clear by now that California has a drastic housing shortage that is exacerbating poverty and homelessness and driving up costs for all California residents. Poll after poll shows that homelessness and the cost of housing are the most pressing issues in the state and that more and more residents are considering fleeing the state because of the housing crisis.

The roots of the shortage are simple: California has failed to construct enough housing to keep up with population growth. The state must build 180,000 units of housing each year just to keep up with demand, but it has averaged only 80,000 a year over the last decade, according to the California Department of Housing and Community Development. One big reason? Zoning restrictions dramatically limit the number of homes that can be built.

SB 50, as initially proposed, would override local zoning laws in certain areas, allowing mid-rise apartment buildings to be constructed within a half-mile of subway stops or within a quarter-mile of high-frequency bus stops, or in “jobs-rich” communities. This would be true even in neighborhoods currently zoned for single-family housing. The bill would also allow property owners to convert single-family houses anywhere in the state into four-unit apartment houses, although they would have to work within the same general size and shape of the existing structure.

Last week, as the Legislature started work for the new year, Wiener unveiled a change in the bill designed to assuage one of the biggest concerns about the original proposal: that by overriding zoning rules, the bill usurps local authority and denies well-intentioned communities the chance to spur housing on their own terms and in their own manner.

Wiener says he heard from mayors and city officials that they supported the goal of the bill — to encourage more affordable and market-rate housing near transit and jobs — but that they wanted the flexibility to decide where the density should be. The revised SB 50 allows cities two years to adopt their own plans; if they fail to, the bill’s one-size-fits-all zoning takes effect.

The local plans would have to zone for as much housing as would be allowed under the original SB 50 requirements, without increasing car travel or concentrating the new homes in low-income areas. For example, a city could allow taller apartment buildings in one neighborhood but only smaller apartment buildings in another that seemed less suited to greater density. Communities deemed to be at risk of gentrification and displacement would have five years to develop their alternative plans.

The local option is important. It’s generally preferable to have the state set housing targets and let local officials — who are closest to the people most affected by land-use decisions — figure out how to meet them.

There is still a lot more work to be done. Some community groups worry that the bill gives away too much to real estate developers and has too few protections for low-income people. Are the tenant and community protections sufficient to limit gentrification and displacement? Should the state demand more affordable housing from developers that take advantage of upzoning? Is two years enough time for cities to develop and adopt a local plan? What exactly is a “sensitive community” or a “jobs-rich” area?

Still, there has been significant progress made since last year. And the only way to make the bill better — and to get serious reform to ease the housing shortage — is to keep it moving beyond Jan. 31.

Now is the time for Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) and Gov. Gavin Newsom to show they’re serious about addressing California’s housing crisis by moving this bill on to the Assembly.

Marin Among Counties With Population Declines

Marin County’s population fell by 699 residents during the last fiscal year, one of the largest declines among California counties, according to the state Department of Finance.

Only Humboldt, Ventura, Sonoma, Los Angeles and Butte counties had greater population declines between July 1, 2018, and July 1, 2019, the state said. Butte County lost nearly 15,000 homes in the Camp wildfire, displacing about 38,000 people.

Marin’s rate of decline, -0.27%, was the 12th highest in the state for the year. The finance department said 22 of the 58 counties posted net population losses.

The county’s population loss was its second year-over-year decline in the past decade. The other was in the 2016-17 cycle.

The state finance department released the data last week, reporting a net statewide increase of 141,300 people, to 39.96 million.

“This represents a growth rate of 0.35%, down from 0.57% for the prior 12 months — the two lowest recorded growth rates in state population since 1900,” the department said.

The preliminary population for Marin for the 12-month period was 261,627, the department said. It was 262,326 in the prior year.

Marin’s population changes for the recent fiscal year included 2,119 births, 1,929 deaths and a net migration of -1,485.

Robert Eyler, chief economist for the Marin Economic Forum, said he saw “little economic implication” in the county’s population decline. He noted that the state data provide no demographic details on the lost residents or whether they were still working.

“Such a small population change is (unlikely) to have any effect,” said Eyler, a professor at Sonoma State University.

Mina Martinovich, the county’s assistant finance director, said Marin’s birth and death data “have remained fairly consistent.”

“However, the rate at which individuals and families are moving out of the county is significantly outpacing the population that is moving in,” Martinovich said. “While there are a variety of factors that would explain this, I am sure we can all agree that cost of living and the sharp decline in affordability within the state of California, the Bay Area, and Marin County is significant.”

Martinovich said the county’s budget managers expect slowing growth over the next five years.

Across the rest of the nine-county Bay Area, Napa County’s population declined 0.36%, while Sonoma County declined 0.40%.

Cynthia Murray, president and CEO of the North Bay Leadership Council, said “the housing crisis is very real in the North Bay.”

“It is forcing out our younger workforce to live where housing is more affordable,” she said. “It is also driving out seniors who want to ensure that their retirement funds are not consumed by housing alone.

“The lack of housing is causing serious issues with employers not being able to fill job openings. The labor shortage is begat by the housing shortage which in turn is threatening the North Bay’s economic vitality. Companies can’t afford to keep raising wages to compete so they are looking at more automation or expanding elsewhere or leaving.”

The population of Alameda County grew 0.68%; Contra Costa, 0.50%; San Francisco, 0.31%; San Mateo, 0.22%; Santa Clara, 0.26%; and Solano, 0.49%.

Eddie Hunsinger, a demographer with the state Department of Finance, pointed to increasing death rates from an aging population and a declining birth rate as causes for the slow population growth. Although more Bay Area residents are moving out than moving in, he says the region and state continue to attract new arrivals.

“There’re still hundreds of thousands of people moving to California each year,” he said.

Climate Change Impacting Housing in New Ways

Evidence on the increasing impacts of climate change is growing.  A new report by the Federal Reserve of San Francisco underlines the heightened financial risks we face as climate change worsens.  According to the New York Times in “Bank Regulators Present a Dire Warning of Financial Risks From Climate Change,” (Link), the Federal Reserve published a “collection of 18 papers by outside experts which amounts to one of the most specific and dire accountings of the dangers posed to businesses and communities in the United States – a threat so significant that the nation’s central bank seems increasingly compelled to address it.”

The research “calls on lenders and other businesses involved in community development ‘to take a leadership role in preparing vulnerable regions most at risk for a new abnormal … that is already here.” Researcher Asaf Bernstein found that “properties likely to be under water if seas rise on foot now sell for 15 percent less than comparable properties with no flood threat”

The decline in property values is “likely to ripple through the financial system, scaring banks and other lenders away from those areas,” according to another researcher, Michael Berman.  Berman said this could lead to a practice called “blue-lining: where banks would avoid lending to flood-prone areas – a reference to the practice known as redlining, in which banks discriminate against African-American neighborhoods by not lending there.”

Another paper notes that “coastal cities are already unable to pay for the types of projects that could protect them from the growing effects of climate change.”  It advises that new steps may need to be taken that “would impose new restrictions or incentives on banks.” Such steps could be to “penalize banks that lend money in areas that have been hit by disasters, yet have not taken steps to protect themselves against similar future disasters. Another could be to reward banks for financing projects that leave communities less vulnerable to flooding or other hazards. And it was proposed that lenders create a common standard for measuring flood risk and use it to set mortgage rates.”

Jesse Keenan, editor of the collection of papers, encouraged the private sector to “assume a greater role in preparing for the effects of climate change.  He said, “The private sector has always adapted.  One either adapts to new markets, products or services, or they go out of business.”

While the article focuses on flood risks, for the North Bay, we could easily see the same proposals for new steps to be taken by lenders for being in the fire zones.  With repeated wildland fire disasters, and now the power shut-offs to help prevent new fires, we may see lenders changing their practices as we have seen from the insurance companies.  And it is likely, new land use regulations will also come into play which could create new barriers to housing being built when it is so desperately needed.  And of course, all of these reactions to climate change will impact property values.  What we have prized as paradise may become less so with the increasing effects of climate change.

We do well as a region to heed the advice above about the private sector taking a greater leadership role in addressing climate change given the new abnormal in which we live.

North Bay Leadership Council’s Poll on SMART Tax Renewal Shows 69% Voter Support



Data also shows SMART has a very positive image overall and is most popular among its riders

PETALUMA – Nearly 7 in 10 voters in Sonoma and Marin Counties support extending SMART’s 1/4 cent sales tax for an additional 30 years, according to a North Bay Leadership Council poll released today.

By a 69% to 21% margin, Sonoma and Marin County residents both registered and likely to vote in next year’s March primary election say they would support a ballot measure extending the SMART ¼ cent sales tax an additional 30 years. Democrats (58% of poll respondents) overwhelmingly support the extension 77% to 15%, while Republicans (19% of respondents) support it 60% to 30%, and Independents (17% of respondents) back it 54% to 28%.

“It doesn’t matter what sub-group of the electorate you look at, voters across-the-board support the 30-year ¼ cent sales tax extension for SMART,” said North Bay Leadership Council’s President and CEO Cynthia Murray. “Voters know the SMART train is an intelligent green transportation alternative that has reduced greenhouse gas emissions, taken cars off of Highway 101, and is a valuable public asset that should continue to be taken care of and invested in.”

The poll shows SMART enjoying high name recognition and favorability. SMART’s total name identification among all voters is 88%; with a favorable/unfavorable rating of 59% to 15%.  SMART is most popular among its riders: 88% of riders rate SMART favorably, 90% say they are satisfied using the train, 60% give SMART an excellent or above average job rating; and by an 87% to 8% margin support the 30-year extension of the ¼ cent sales tax.

“Voters who know SMART best, and ride the train, like SMART best,” said Murray.


Over the past two years SMART trains have carried 1.4 million passengers, over 5,000 who require wheelchair access, and 133,000 bicycles. If the existing sales tax is renewed, without increasing the rate, it would generate $40 million annually, allow SMART to restructure its construction debt saving taxpayers $12 million a year, and fully-fund rail operations from Larkspur to Windsor for 30 years.


This poll was fielded September 5-10, 2019 by The Wickers Group LLC among 500 residents of Sonoma County and Marin County both registered and considered likely to vote in next year’s March primary election. At .95 confidence level this data carries a margin of error of +/- 4.35%. A 52% female/48% male quota was enforced for this study.

Change the Zoning, Change the Housing Crisis

As the housing crisis continues, with no end in sight, it is time to look at why it is so difficult to build new housing and what can be done to change that situation.  There are many reasons proffered on why new housing is being built in the North Bay (and much of California) such as the abuse of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA); lack of construction workers; increase in building materials; neighborhood opposition  — the list goes on.  But one thing that has been getting more attention is the fact that current zoning makes building the housing we need illegal.

Let’s look at the arguments that if you change the zoning to allow for higher densities, taller buildings and reduced parking, you will be on the right path to build the much needed housing needed to end this crisis.

Some housing advocates are calling for an end to single-family zoning, meaning allowing only apartments and townhouses to be built, and no detached, single-family houses.  This push to “upzone” is a response to years of communities “downzoning” the land in their jurisdiction, reducing the development potential and “converting land that allowed courtyard apartments to just fourplexes, fourplexes to duplexes, large-lot single-family homes to even larger-lot single family homes,” said Emily Badger (The Upshot) Link.

“It was death by a thousand cuts,” said Greg Morrow, executive director of the Real Estate Development and Design program at Berkeley. “You’re just taking a little bit out each time. If you look back at early attempts to downzone, they really were almost driven by this naïve belief that if you just downzoned, you could stop population growth.”

But downzoning didn’t stop population growth.  The population kept growing while new housing did not keep up with that increase.  At the same time, the cost of housing, due to the scarcity, also skyrocketed.  Rents increased forcing many renters to pay well beyond the one third of their income for their monthly rent.  The UCLA – Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies (Link)  found that zoning restrictions triggered these increases.  The Lewis Center also found that conversely low-density zoning “excludes multi-family housing with due to higher rents so low and middle-income families are not able to live in neighborhoods with quality public services, particularly high-performing schools, as well as amenities such as parks.  Barring families from high-opportunity neighborhoods entrenches inequality and reduces social mobility in the long run.”

The Center’s research showed that “low density zoning also hurts the regional economy.  Less housing makes it harder for workers to find a place to live.  The city, unable to house workers, becomes less appealing to firms that rely on a local labor pool.  Pushing people elsewhere incentivizes firms to locate elsewhere.  A city that can’t house workers stunts its own potential for economic growth and dynamism.”

So who benefits from keeping the zoning low-density?  Existing property owners, who are able to reap the returns on their properties’ increasing value.  Another researcher, urban economist William Fischel (Link) has studied the homeowner voter or home voters and developed the home-voter hypothesis.

Fischel predicted that California homeowners’ opposition to new housing is consistent with their desire to “prevent any development that might devalue their homes, which are usually a household’s primary source of wealth. For example, if a multifamily building is proposed in a municipality otherwise characterized by single-family housing, we may expect a homeowner to resist the development on the premise that an influx of new families could overburden public schools or worsen traffic congestion, or express fears that the new rental housing might threaten “community character” – thereby lowering home values.

Which brings us to the reaction to upzoning.  Sen. Scott Weiner’s SB 50– Homes for All bill – was killed in committee by suburban homeowners pressuring their representatives to not not allow change to their neighborhoods that they feared would threaten their property values.  Local governments also opposed the bill fearing that it would diminish their “local control.”  Weiner’s bill would have upzoned land near public transit and in job-rich areas to allow high density, taller buildings with less parking. Polling indicated that the public supported key provisions of the bill.

In looking to gain support for upzoning, there is recognition that there is a lack of political will at the local level to take on these development fights.  Some people like Christopher Elmendorf (Link) have proposed a “compact between state and local governments in which the state would set quotas for housing growth, but the municipalities would choose their own zoning reforms to meet them.  Once a municipal plan gets certified by the state, it would supersede the adoption or enforcement of any contrary zoning provisions.  Any municipality that fails to comply with its own plan would face financial penalties.

Other proposals also look at shifting land use decisions away from the local agencies to the regional or state governments. The Lewis Center found that decisions made at the regional or state level were “less exclusionary and reduce socioeconomic segregation. Housing markets, like labor markets, operate at the regional level, yet land use decisions are made at the city level.  As a result, each municipality is incentivized to limit its housing supply to exclude new residents of the region even as that municipality reaps the collective benefits created by the region’s dynamism. “

The proposed Housing Alliance of the Bay Area that would be formed if AB 1487 (Chiu) is passed, is an example of housing advocates trying to jumpstart that process in the Bay Area.  This new housing authority would be authorized to raise money to build new housing, provide rental subsidies and finance planning by local jurisdictions for new housing development

Fuller and Gray say, “in the end, SB 50 is no more dead than its predecessor bill, SB 827, which similarly sought to permit multifamily housing near transit lines.  Neither the coalition built by Senator Weiner, nor the crisis that it aims to address are going away. But if housing reformers are serious about addressing the root causes of the home-voter impulse, they’ll need to plan for contingencies.  SB 50’s foes are already rallying to introduce a ballot initiative aimed at entrenching local control of land use in the state constitution – an amendment that would all-but ensure that California’s housing crisis becomes permanent.”  After decades of failing to build housing to keep up with the growing jobs and population in California, one wonders if the crisis isn’t already permanent.

Census 2020 – Undercount Could Be Worst in 30 Years

In NPR’s 2020 Census Could Lead To Worst Undercount Of Black, Latinx People In 30 Years, by Hansi Lo Wang, June 4, 2019, (Link), features a new report by the Urban Institute that found that “challenges threatening the upcoming 2020 census could put more than 4 million people at risk of being undercounted in next year’s national head count. Based on the institute’s analysis, the 2020 census could lead to the worst undercount of black and Latino and Latina people in the U.S. since 1990.”

“Miscounts of this magnitude will have real consequences for the next decade, including how we fund programs for children and invest in our infrastructure,” says Diana Elliott, a senior research associate at the Urban Institute who co-wrote the report released Tuesday.

Nationally, black residents could be undercounted by as much as 1.7 million people (3.68%); 2.2 million Latinos (3.57%); and 1.3 million children (6.3%).

“All of these projections are based upon what the Urban Institute considers a “high-risk” scenario. Still, John Thompson, a former Census Bureau director who reviewed the report, says that these estimates “may be a little bit on the conservative side. It could be as bad as 1990. It could be worse.”

“Census Bureau researchers have warned that including the citizenship question would very likely scare households with noncitizens into not responding to the census. In a separate study, the bureau concluded the question was a “major barrier” to full participation in the head count, especially at a time of increased immigration enforcement and rising anti-immigrant rhetoric around the U.S.”

“The Supreme Court is expected to rule by the end of June on whether the Trump administration can include the citizenship question. Newly disclosed documents belonging to a major GOP redistricting strategist involved in the administration’s push for the question are complicating the legal battle.

Regardless of how the court rules, the Urban Institute researchers say all of the public attention on the question has created a chilling effect on census participation among Latinx and immigrant groups — a factor they included in their projections for a “high-risk” scenario.”

“The report also points out new ways of conducting the U.S. census that have not been thoroughly tested and could pose another risk to the count’s accuracy. These methods include allowing all households to complete an online form and expanding the use of existing government records to help complete questionnaires for households that don’t respond themselves. Uncertainty in funding in recent years has led the Census Bureau to cancel field tests for the 2020 census, including test runs designed for rural and Spanish-speaking areas.”

“Not only are these new additions insufficiently tested in a decennial census environment,” write the report’s authors, “but the best evidence suggests they will disproportionately improve the count of those who are already easiest to count, leaving the hard-to-count population a lingering challenge.”

“At the state level, these trends mean that states with more historically undercounted groups — including people of color and renters — are more likely to have inaccurate population counts in 2020. While California, Texas and Nevada face high undercount risks, states with older populations that are more likely to be white and owning homes — including Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and West Virginia – have the greatest potential for being overcounted, according to the institute’s analysis. In the 2010 census, for example, white homeowners were overcounted because some with multiple homes were counted incorrectly at multiple addresses.”

“Whether it’s an overcount or undercount, the concern is that political representation and federal funding will not be fairly shared after the 2020 census. The new population numbers will determine how many congressional seats and Electoral College votes each state gets, as well as guide the distribution of around $880 billion a year in federal tax dollars for schools, roads and other public services.”

“Despite their report’s dire warning about potential undercounts, the Urban Institute’s researchers emphasize there is still an opportunity to overcome these challenges by driving up public interest and participation in next year’s count.”

California is expected to face many of the challenges outlined in the report.  The Public Policy Institute of California (Link)  says, “An undercount could affect California’s political representation in Congress:  The decennial census is the sole basis for reallocating the 435 seats in the US House of Representatives. Given recent population trends, California is likely to maintain its 53 seats. But if the census does a poor job of reaching hard-to-count populations and immigrant communities, it could miss more than 1.6 million residents—and the state could easily lose a seat. The census will also be used to redraw district lines; its accuracy is essential to correctly representing local communities.”

The 2020 Census will realign political representation based on areas of population growth.

“The US government uses the census count to distribute billions of dollars every year: The census count lays the foundation for many federal programs to deliver resources on a per capita basis or to specific populations, such as young children in poverty. In fiscal year 2016, California received an estimated $115 billion in federal funding tied to the state’s population count. For some programs, such as Medi-Cal (the state’s Medicaid program), California’s base federal funding allocation is subject to a strict minimum level. But for others, like the Children’s Health Insurance Program, an undercount could put funding at risk.”

“Large segments of California’s population are historically hard to count: In 2017, about 72% of all Californians (29 million) belonged to one or more groups that the census has historically undercounted, including renters, young men, children, African Americans, and Latinos. Those living in nonstandard housing—conditions exacerbated by the state’s housing crisis—may also be hard to reach. Meanwhile, adding a question about citizenship status may make immigrants and others more reluctant to share information with the government. A number of states, including California, have taken legal action to prevent the addition of this question, with arguments now headed to the Supreme Court.”

“State and local partners are essential in ensuring an accurate count: To prepare for the census, state and local governments help verify the Census Bureau’s address lists, an effort that will conclude by summer 2019. These agencies also play a critical role in encouraging participation. California’s budget for census outreach—$100 million in 2018–19, with another $54 million proposed for 2019–20—exceeds that of any other state. These funds are allocated according to the location of hard-to-count communities, with options for local governments, community-based organizations, media, and schools to receive funding. Community and philanthropic organizations are also contributing to outreach efforts.”

Getting an accurate count in California is critically important for our future.  NBLC appreciates the Governor and State Legislature’s commitment to funding the Census and has high hopes that Attorney General Becerra’s court challenge of the addition of the citizenship question prevails in the Supreme Court.

Housing Crisis Must Mean Something Different in Sacramento

North Bay Leadership Council sent a delegation to our State Capitol on May 22nd to advocate for more housing and the bills that would enable us to achieve that goal.  It was very dismaying to see that our urgency about building new homes was not apparent in the Legislature.  The Senate Appropriations chair killed the most important housing bill of the year, SB 50 (Wiener) More Homes for All, without even giving it a vote in the committee.  Without even a vote in the committee, made up of senators who would have passed the bill out of that committee and moved it forward.

The response in the Capitol gives you a sense that the legislators don’t feel there is a housing crisis.  They say, “Let’s just make SB 50 a two year bill and look at again in 2020.”  How could this be an acceptable response when our state is underhoused for decades, when we are generating lots of jobs without adding new housing, and when we are experiencing housing losses from fires? How could the Senators not do their part to enable more housing to be built THIS YEAR?  Do they not care about the increase in greenhouse gases from more commuters having to commute greater distances to work?  Or homelessness is growing throughout the state?  Or companies are leaving because they can’t hire workers who can afford to live here?  Or the increase in poverty due to the high cost of living caused mostly by the high cost of housing?

NBLC members left Sacramento shaking our heads, but with renewed fervor to keep pushing our housing agenda.  We are part of a large coalition pressing Senate Pro Tem Atkins to move some kind of major housing bill this year.  We told the Governor’s staff that we want him to push harder for action this year.  All the elected officials and their staffs were given an earful about our housing concerns and urged to treat this housing crisis as the crisis it is.

NBLC will keep working with other housing advocates to keep the support we need at the state, regional and local levels so that new housing of all types is built at the earliest possible opportunity.  SB 50, or a bill akin to it, needs to pass.  The future of the North Bay depends on it.

Leaders of the North Bay Awards Luncheon Call for Nomination

Do you know an outstanding leader in our community? Please nominate them today!

Nomination form link Link