Posts by Author: Rachel Dovey

San Diego Cracks Down on Short-Term Rentals

San Diego’s short-term rental market could be in for a sea change. On Monday, the city council voted to outlaw vacation rentals in secondary homes, theoretically limiting short-term stays to primary residences. The new law (borrowing from similar regulations in Boston and New Orleans) is much stricter than short-term operators had expected — and is being hailed by labor and housing advocates as a means of reclaiming valuable local rental stock.

From the San Diego Union-Tribune:

The action, following a more than six-hour-long, sometimes emotional hearing, marks a striking departure from the centerpiece of a compromise proposal crafted by Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s office over the last several months…. His plan would have permitted vacation rental hosts to rent out their primary residences while they are not present for up to six months a year — plus one additional home with no limit on the number of days annually.

The new council-approved plan, however, nixes the allowance of an additional home. And while the council was expected to exempt the Mission Beach neighborhood, where an estimated 44 percent of the housing stock is short-term rentals, they decided not to grant it any special allowances, the paper reports.

“Today’s vote by the San Diego City Council is an affront to thousands of responsible, hard-working San Diegans and will result in millions of dollars in lost tax revenue for the City,” Airbnb said in a statement to the Union-Tribune. “San Diego has been a vacation rental destination for nearly 100 years and today’s vote all but ensures activity will be forced underground and guests will choose alternative destinations.”

The council members who voted in the new legislation, however, expressed their frustration with the city’s supply-demand imbalance.

“I wasn’t elected to serve the interests of out-of-town investors but our District 2 constituents who have spoken for years of abuses of short-term rentals in their neighborhoods,” said Zapf, who represents many of the beach communities. “Our neighborhoods should not be treated like a game of Monopoly … while our long-term residents suffer. This is by no means the ideal solution but it’s as close as we’ve gotten to getting some relief.”

As Next City has covered, cities that regulate short-term rental companies generally fall into two camps: those that tax, and those, like San Diego, cracking down on rentals that aren’t owner-occupied. Often, the idea behind the latter strategy is that short-term vacation units take homes off the market that would otherwise be long-term rentals. The diminished supply makes prices go up overall. In response, one common regulatory strategy involves limiting the number of nights an owner can rent out their space — in New Orleans and Boston, for example, a cap is set at 90 days.

“We’ve been seeing a lot of whole units and whole buildings turned into short rentals that used to house long-term residents,” Karen Chen, Chinese Progressive Association’s executive director, told Next City earlier this year, speaking of Boston’s Chinatown. “People who lived in Chinatown for many years and relied on doctors and social services here are being displaced.”


Looking to Skirt State Preemption, Seattle Passes Gun Storage Bill

Protesters assemble for Seattle's "March for Our Lives" on March 24, 2018. (Credit: davidjlee)

Seattle will require gun owners to lock up their firearms and fine those who don’t comply under legislation passed by City Council last week. Beyond the monetary penalties, the new law will allow local courts to build negligence cases, which has become nearly impossible in many states under constitutional carry laws.

After a small grace period, storing a gun outside a locked container will be a civil infraction punishable with a fine of up to $500, the Seattle Times reports. And when an owner knows that a minor or “at-risk person” could reasonably access their weapon — and then that second party does access it and causes some kind of harm — the owner can be charged with a similar infraction in the ballpark of $1,000 (for access) and $10,000 (if the minor hurts someone or commits a crime).

“While we can’t prevent every gun death or injury, we can take steps to help prevent future tragedies,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said in a statement, as reported by the Times. “Requiring that gun owners responsibly store their guns can help make our communities safer places to live.”

The Seattle Stranger points out that it’s still unclear “exactly how — or how strictly — Seattle will enforce the new law.” But the legislation has the potential of helping courts charge violators with negligence — at least as far as the weapon’s storage. As the New Republic has covered, any kind of negligence charge is increasingly difficult to come by.

From a 2015 article:

Every year many gun owners … unintentionally cause death and injury yet face no legal consequences. In criminal and civil courts, the legal system often fails to hold negligent gun owners accountable for such harm. Gun Violence Archive, a non-profit effort that combs through more than a thousand media sources to collect information about gun violence, has verified more than 1,500 accidental shooting incidents in 2014. Data on the legal outcomes of these shootings is sketchy, but many cases of unprosecuted unintentional shootings are available — dozens from the first two months of 2014 alone remain unprosecuted.

Like other cities trying to curb gun violence within their municipal borders, Seattle is constrained by state preemption laws. Washington law prevents local policymakers from regulating the “registration, licensing, possession, purchase, sale, acquisition, transfer, discharge, and transportation of firearms, or any other element relating to firearms or parts thereof, including ammunition and reloader components,” according to the Stranger.

The new law appears to skirt the state regulation — which could spell victory for local gun control advocates since other state preemption laws are much stricter. In Florida, for example, state law —with more than a little financial help from the National Rifle Association (NRA) — forbids cities and counties from enacting any of their own gun laws. Officials who craft or enforce such laws face up to a $5,000 fine and removal from office. That includes seemingly innocuous measures, like codes banning guns in libraries and parks and laws limiting celebratory shots or gunfire in dense urban areas. (More Next City coverage of state preemption laws, including plastic bag ban bans and measures forbidding paid sick leave can be found here, here and here).

But the state, and the NRA, could retaliate in Seattle, too. According to the Stranger, City Council passed a law to tax guns and ammunition sold within the city in 2015. Gun rights advocates did end up challenging that law, claiming it violated the state’s preemption. The Washington State Supreme Court sided with the city, however, and upheld the tax — a move that likely gave city officials courage to push back against the preemption once again.


Land Trust Helps Oakland’s Hasta Muerte Coffee Stay Put

(Credit: Hasta Muerte Coffee)

The Oakland Community Land Trust is at it again. After helping to save the building housing Peacock Rebellion — which serves queer and trans people of color in Oakland — along with several other grassroots organizations and low-income housing units, the organization has teamed up with Hasta Muerte Coffee to deal another blow to the city’s ever-encroaching gentrification market.

The worker-owner collective that runs Hasta Muerte announced last week that it had successfully purchased its mixed-use building, after learning that it had been put on the market earlier this year, the East Bay Express reports.

“TGIF WE BOUGHT A BUILDING,” the collective wrote on Instagram. “After 45 or so days of fundraising, fundraisers, loan negotiations, generous donations of all kinds, bombarding you on social media, meetings, and meetings we are excited, anxious, nervous and *happy* to share that on [J]uly 11th the sale closed….”

Hasta Muerte successfully crowdfunded upwards of $50,000, according to the paper, and the land trust served as the initial buyer. It plans to eventually transfer the building to the collective, and keep the deed to land that it sits on in trust for perpetuity, to ensure the building isn’t sold at market rate. That’s customary for land trusts, as Next City has covered — and similar to the deal the nonprofit made with the building housing Peacock Rebellion earlier this year. The tenants of that building also plan to purchase the building outright from the land trust, in that case within a period of 15 years. In the meantime, land trust staff plan to train them in building management best practices.

Hasta Muerte has become a community hub since its opening, although one worker’s refusal to serve a uniformed police officer earlier this year — protesting what the collective referred to as Oakland Police Department’s “history of corruption, mismanagement, and scandal” and “legacy of blatant repression” — earned it a flurry of negative online reviews and alt-right media coverage.


Fifteen-City Bike-Share Launches in Massachusetts

(Photo by Mike Licht)

In the Boston area, city-based bike-share is so 2016. Last year, the Metropolitan Area Planning Council announced that it would create a regional system involving more than a dozen small towns and cities. Earlier this year, it signed contracts with two private dockless bike-share operators. Now, that synched-up system has finally begun rolling out, the Boston Globe reports.

So far, the program is up and running in the towns of Malden, Everett, Chelsea, Winthrop and Arlington, all with the help of LimeBike, according to the paper. By the end of summer a total of 15 small cities will be actively participating, meaning that residents in those cities will be able to rent bikes from their smartphones or with cash and ride anywhere within the towns’ collective borders. The Massachusetts cities participating include Arlington, Bedford, Belmont, Chelsea, Everett, Malden, Medford, Melrose, Milton, Needham, Newton, Revere, Waltham, Watertown, and Winthrop.

“Dockless bike sharing brings another transportation option to residents that offers both convenience and a method to reduce one’s carbon footprint,” Arlington Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine said recently, according to the Globe. “As this new program grows we hope to find cost-efficient means to expand the region.”

Bike-share start-ups like LimeBike, Spin and Ofo are increasingly attractive to small, cash-strapped cities because, unlike the public-private partnerships built up in cities like Chicago and New York, they don’t require tax-payer funding upfront. That doesn’t mean they’re universally beloved — a number of policymakers have expressed fear that the start-ups’ venture-funded model incentivizes quick, cheap roll-outs without adequate consideration of the transportation system as a whole or equity-planning to reach already transportation-starved areas. And then there’s the fact that the systems themselves are dockless — and could potentially create a whole lot of sidewalk clutter.

Still, as Marc Draisen, executive director of Metropolitan Area Planning Council, pointed out last year, the model is promising for inter-agency partnerships, particularly in suburban communities where municipalities bleed together.

“These recent rapid changes in the bike-share industry have created a unique opportunity for Boston’s suburbs to launch a large-scale regional bike-share system without having to raise large amounts of public capital,” he said at the time, according to WickedLocal Concord. “Our goal is to have high-quality bikes that will be well maintained, in a system that is easily accessible throughout the participating communities — and we want a seamless experience for riders crossing municipal lines.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that the start-ups have a patent on inter-jurisdictional partnerships. As Next City has covered, established P3s like the Bay Area’s Ford GoBike and New York’s CitiBike have also had some success with multi-city expansions.


Pew: Income Gap Now Widest Among Asian Americans

(Credit: Pew Research)

Income inequality is often presented as a study in socioeconomic or racial difference — the racial wealth gap, for example, or comparisons of household income in rural vs. urban America. But, as Pew Research Center recently pointed out, another “important part of the story of rising income inequality is that experiences within America’s racial and ethnic communities vary strikingly from one group to the other.”

Take America’s Asian population — which now has the widest gap between its top and bottom earners, according to a new report from the research center.

From the report:

From 1970 to 2016, the gap in the standard of living between Asians near the top and the bottom of the income ladder nearly doubled, and the distribution of income among Asians transformed from being one of the most equal to being the most unequal among America’s major racial and ethnic groups.

In this process, Asians displaced blacks as the most economically divided racial or ethnic group in the U.S….

Asian Americans, of course, aren’t alone. According to Pew, the income gap between ALL Americans at the top and the bottom of the income distribution widened a whopping 27 percent over that same 46 years.

But the widening gap within the country’s Asian population is part of a story of several immigration laws, according to the research organization. Immigrants accounted for 81 percent of the growth in the adult Asian population from 1970 to 2016, following the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. That law favored family reunification, and, together with the end of the Vietnam War, it brought a wave of refugees into the U.S.

“One result was that the share of new Asian immigrants working in high-skill occupations decreased from 1970 to 1990, and the share working in low-skill occupations increased,” according to the report.

More recently, however, the Immigration Act of 1990 (which sought to increase the inflow of skilled immigrants to the U.S.) coincided with a tech boom that brought a new wave of Asian immigrants from India under the H-1B visa program.

“Thus, since 1990, there has been an increase in the share of Asian immigrants employed in high-skill occupations,” according to the report.

The new data will likely be helpful for equity-focused policymakers — who haven’t always seen Asian Americans included in large research projects. Even when they are, “Asian” is itself a broad category that masks many historic ethnicities with differing median hourly wages and household incomes.

That variation, as Next City has covered, is a particular challenge for both the Asians and Pacific Islanders because of the “model minority” myth.

“On educational attainment or disconnected youth, they’re doing better as a group than others, but it’s really masking a lot,” Sarah Treuhaft, director of equitable growth initiatives at PolicyLink, told Next City in 2016. “It’s detrimental to the groups who aren’t doing as well.”

Pew’s report can be viewed here.


Davis, California, is Still One of the Safest Cities to Bike

(Credit: Flickr user velo_city)

If you’re looking for safe cycling, don’t go to Iowa. Five of the 10 most dangerous cities for bicyclists can be found in the midwestern state — Webster City, Waterloo, Sioux City, Johnston and Des Moines — according to a new report from security company ADT. The company also lists Los Angeles, New York and Houston among the finalists for that dubious category.

Most dangerous cities for cyclists. (Courtesy of ADT)

ADT considered the number of bike commuters, protected bike lanes and cyclist-friendly laws, while factoring in the number of fatal crashes, the WCF Courier reports. And while some of the company’s findings overlap with previous bike safety reports, it’s a helpful look at many of the smaller cities that more well-known organizations often overlook.

Davis, California, for example, tops the list of safest cities for cyclists (no surprise there, considering Davis is essentially built around a massive employment center, UC Davis, that’s closed to cars). Eugene, Oregon; Boulder, Colorado; and Palo Alto, California, also made the cut.

Safest Cities for Cyclists. (Courtesy of ADT)

The company’s data also highlights some interesting and previously under-reported trends — for example, that Missoula, Montana, reports that more than 7% of residents use cycling as a main method of transportation to work (this ranks #6 out of the cities researched). However, statewide Montana scored 0 in bike-law categories.

In Iowa, cyclists have a legal right to roadways, but must adhere to the same traffic rules as vehicles, according to The Courier. Some cities have been trying to educate cyclists as to just what those traffic laws are, but, as Next City has covered, such education is rarely as effective as comprehensive bike infrastructure. One reason: Infrastructure brings out more cyclists, who create what’s often referred to as the “safety in numbers” principle.

As one well-known safety-tracker has put it: “The ‘safety in numbers’ research indicates that more bikers on the road makes drivers more aware of bikers — and more drivers have had the experience of biking.”


Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative Throws Weight Behind Affordable Housing

(AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

Facebook is voting ‘yes’ on California’s Proposition 1.

The “Housing Programs and Veterans’ Loans Bond,” which will appear on the state’s ballot in November, would authorize $4 billion in general obligation bonds for housing-related programs, loans, grants, and projects, and housing loans for veterans. On Monday, the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative — helmed by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan — announced that it will donate $250,000 toward the campaign for the ballot measure, the Santa Cruz Sentinel reports. The donation is the largest the Proposition 1 campaign has received so far.

“The measure will help more workers live in the same communities where they work, provide below-market interest rates with low- to no-down payment for veterans to buy homes and help low and very low-income households have access to affordable housing,” according to a press release issued by the Initiative.

Veterans have been particularly hard-hit by the Bay Area’s notorious housing crunch, the Sentinel reports. Last year Santa Clara County recorded 660 homeless vets (according to data from the All the Way Home Campaign), making it one of the counties with the highest number of unsheltered veterans in the nation. Nearby Alameda County recorded 531 the same year.

This isn’t the first time Facebook has entered the housing sector. Last year, the company made public its plans build a new Menlo Park campus complete with (at least) 1,500 new housing units. The idea was to build mixed-use density into the company’s new employment center, as Next City covered at the time. But some critics fear the units aren’t enough, and with a continuing influx of new employees, the regional jobs/housing imbalance will remain a problem.

At the state level, meanwhile, California legislators have been getting both aggressive and creative about the housing shortage this year. Senator Scott Wiener’s SB 827 — which proposed a radical up-zone of apartment buildings near transit state-wide, whatever local zoning codes say — died at its first committee hearing earlier this year, but the conversations and debates (and all-out fist fights) it spawned will likely echo into 2019’s legislative session. And Proposition 1 isn’t alone in addressing housing on the 2018 ballot — other measures tackle homelessness and rent control.


King County Gets in on the Equitable TOD Game

Seattle's skyline. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Taking advantage of a new Washington state law, King County will donate a portion of county-owned land to a nonprofit developer for affordable housing, the Seattle Times reports. The land abuts the future Northgate light rail-station.

The county’s decision to forgo what could have been a profitable RFP process (one of the rejected bids offered $20 million for the land, according to the Times) was made possible with the 2018 passage of HB 2382, which allowed public agencies to discount the price of land if that land would be developed “for public benefit.”

“The new proposal will make it clear that the land for the affordable housing component must be provided to the nonprofit developer at no cost,” Casey Sixkiller, the chief operating officer of the King County executive’s office, wrote, according to the paper. Both King County and the City of Seattle have committed $10 million to the project.

In a region increasingly squeezed by high rents and low supply, King County isn’t the only agency forgoing profit in the name of housing affordability. As Next City has covered, Sound Transit — which used to sell surplus land to the highest bidder to recoup project expenses — now has to follow the legislature-mandated 80-80-80 policy, meaning that it has to offer 80 percent of suitable surplus property to affordable housing developers that make at least 80 percent of units on site affordable to people earning 80 percent or less of area median income. (One beneficiary of that policy, Capitol Hill Housing, broke ground on a new development last month.)

For the Northgate development, the county plans to issue an RFP by the end of July, the Times reports. The development was initially supposed to include at least 200 units of affordable housing, but with the land being donated that number will likely go up.


In S.F., Data Gaps in Ride-Sharing Are an Obstacle to Basic Planning

An Uber driver in Bogotá, Columbia (Photo by Alexander Torrenegra) 

Much has been made of ride-hailing companies’ screeching zoom into the scooter marketplace — especially in San Francisco. But even as Uber teams up with Lime to boost the emissions-free transport, the company is withholding data about its vehicles from city planners, which could compromise San Francisco’s ability to meet state greenhouse-gas targets.

Ride-sharing operators are declining to share data about the number of cars on the road, where they’re going or how often they’re running fares in the California city, Mission Local reports. That’s not exactly surprising — as Next City has covered, Uber has challenged city policy around disclosing drop-off times in New York City and has been fined for failing to provide data to state regulators in California. But according to a draft report from the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, the companies’ tight-lipped status quo is no longer just a headache for city planners — it’s become crippling, affecting everything from congestion to safety and equitable planning. And it’s certainly not helping the city sync with either its own goals or with the state’s targets for lowering greenhouse-gas emissions, as required by AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006.

From Mission Local:

Fully 85 percent of all possible “outcome metrics” were not reported by any company, Uber and Lyft included.

And that’s no mere oversight. In a 2012 filing to the California Public Utilities Commission, Lyft argued that trip data was a “closely guarded trade secret” that guaranteed Lyft’s ability to raise capital investment and compete in a market dominated by Uber, which Lyft characterized as “ruthless.”

In a 2017 document filed with the CPUC, Lyft laid out the type of information it collects, according to the news site, including trips completed, time and location of pick-ups and drop-offs and miles and hours traveled by drivers.

That data would allow the city to move forward with what the draft report calls the city’s Guiding Principles for long-range planning: goals such as equitable access, transit patterns that work with first-last mile technologies and fair-labor policies for transit operators. Without it, though, the planners behind the report begin to sound like broken records.

“The city does not have adequate data from enough emerging mobility companies to fully evaluate how well emerging mobility services are aligned with our Guiding Principles,” they write in the executive summary. And later: “ecause we have inadequate data, we do not fully understand how this sector is impacting travel-mode choice behavior and congestion.” Or: “San Francisco is a Transit-First city, but inadequate data means we do not have comprehensive information on how the emerging-mobility sector is impacting transit ridership or our capital investments.”

While the “trade-secret” argument has long been brandished by both Uber and Lyft, Uber, at least, has shown some willingness to work with city officials with crowdsourced information. Last year it debuted “Movement,” which curates GPS data from its drivers’ smartphones. It also began offering real-time public-transit info so that riders could transfer from ride-shares to fixed modes more seamlessly.

But that still leaves much to be desired in San Francisco, according to the draft report, which will be resubmitted to the Transportation Authority later this summer.

“We really want to know about the tens of thousands of Uber and Lyft trips,” Andy Thornley, a senior analyst in the Sustainable Streets Division of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, told Mission Local. “We really need that basic operational data.”


To Stop Fatal Police Shootings, Cities Should Look to the 1980s

(Photo by Daniel Schwen)

What do airplane crashes, surgical errors and nuclear power plant meltdowns have in common? According to a paper from criminologist Lawrence W. Sherman, as “rare events in complex systems,” they hold valuable lessons for city police departments — particularly in the area of reducing fatal shootings.

Sherman’s research, published in the 2018 Annual Review of Criminology, takes a detached and wide-lens look at fatal police shootings, in what he terms a “system-crash prevention approach.” Particularly of interest to municipal leaders, as the Washington Post recently pointed out, is the now mostly-forgotten fact that cities dramatically reduced police gun violence through a series of training and legal reforms throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s — and if the political will were there, history could repeat itself.

From the paper:

From 1970 through 1985, 50 cities of more than 250,000 residents each took actions that cut in half the annual total count of citizens killed by police in those cities from 353 to 172 per year (Sherman & Cohn 1986). The major change during this period was a growing ban on shooting nonviolent fleeing suspects. This now-forgotten change in police-citizen violence saw both killings by and killings of police fall dramatically, by 51 percent and 65 percent, respectively.

Reform-minded police chiefs such as Patrick Murphy in Washington, D.C. (who later moved to New York City), played a big part in those reductions as well, according to the Post. Murphy implemented changes in the areas of training, supervision and monitoring, even going so far as to establish what Sherman terms “the equivalent of a National Transportation Safety Board” to conduct inquiries on each firearms discharge.

But police killings went back up in the ‘90s, when big-city homicide rates spiked and, in response, many law enforcement agencies switched from revolvers to semiautomatic pistols. A Supreme Court decision around the same time made the now-infamous ruling that officers could justify their gun-fire if they reasonably believed a life were in danger.

“Although many leaders of black communities in cities both large and small seemed well aware of the continuing police killings they faced, by the mid-1990s the national good news of declining general homicide rates became the dominant long-term crime story,” according to the paper.

Of course, using criminology to deter police brutality isn’t a new idea — it’s just a chronically under-funded one, particularly since President Trump slashed funding for the COPS community policing program earlier this year. (Even before the cut, that program was sometimes criticized for fostering too many buzzwords and team-building barbecues and too few actual reforms.)

But the paper takes aim at several real-city examples — the Cleveland killing of Tamir Rice (a 12-year-old holding a toy gun), for example, contrasted with what could easily have been another slaying in Camden, New Jersey. In Camden, however, officers formed a circle around a man wielding an actual knife, followed him around, cleared traffic and had tasers at the ready, but eventually de-escalated the situation instead of using force.

“Note that this case does not require the re-engineering of an entire police agency,” Sherman writes. “All it required was a focus on patience. What Camden did can arguably be attempted in any police agency of any size in the United States …”

The paper can be read here.


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