Posts by Author: Rachel Kaufman

Uber Adds Emissions Fee to London Rides to Help Drivers Switch to Electric Cars

Traffic around London's Leicester Square. (Photo by Fastily)

Uber is pushing for its London fleet to go all-electric, CNBC reports, by tacking on a 15-pence-per-mile surcharge on every trip booked in London and providing incentives to drivers.

It appears to be a more aggressive extension of its U.S. and Canada pilot, announced earlier this year, in which drivers on the platform already using electric cars would earn incentives per ride, but without charging riders more.

London has aggressive air-pollution charges; drivers in older, more polluting gas and diesel vehicles (roughly, those manufactured before 2005) already pay a £10 emissions surcharge on top of the £11.50 congestion charge when entering the central zone of the city; in April of next year, the emissions surcharge rises to £12.50. By 2021, the zone under which drivers must pay an emissions charge expands to cover much more of the city.

So it’s no wonder that Uber wants its drivers to be able to switch to electric cars. The company will pay London-based drivers incentives to upgrade to an electric vehicle, saying that a driver using the app for about 40 hours a week for two years “could expect around £3,000 of support towards an EV.” The company hopes 20,000 drivers will upgrade to electric vehicles by the end of 2021, and that every one of its 45,000 drivers in London will transition to electric by 2025. If a driver doesn’t use the money to purchase an electric car—because they’ve stopped working for the company or because they still cannot afford one—the money will go back into a central fund Uber will use for other green initiatives. “We won’t bank it,” Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber’s chief executive, told the Guardian.

The company is also offering £1,500 in ride credit to the first 100 Londoners who agree to scrap their old diesel vehicles, the Guardian reported.

“It’s our goal to help people replace their car with their phone by offering a range of mobility options – whether cars, bikes, scooters or public transport – all in the Uber app,” Khosrowshahi said in a statement.

The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain, which represents private hire drivers and Uber drivers, told the Guardian that the surcharge was a “PR move.”

“We are very concerned that this …will lure drivers deeper into debt, as they struggle to finance expensive vehicles on below minimum wage income. The answer to London’s growing congestion and pollution problem is for the government and the mayor to resolutely commit to capping minicab numbers in London,” the union said. The IWGB was the union that got the UK employment tribunal to agree that Uber drivers are employees, not contractors. Uber is appealing the decision, with a hearing on October 30.

 

Charlotte Struggling to Build Affordable Housing for Its Most Vulnerable

(AP Photo/Chuck Burton, file)

The city of Charlotte, North Carolina, has spent $124 million to build affordable housing in the last 16 years, but the city’s most poor still struggle to find safe and affordable housing, a paradox that Charlotte is certainly not alone in facing.

In Charlotte, reports the Observer, population growth and rising land costs have contributed to the city’s 34,000-unit affordable housing shortage, double the number needed a decade ago. But, the Observer says, city decisions have also contributed to the problem.

As the newspaper reports: more than 70 percent of the units built using the $124 million of city Housing Trust Fund aren’t affordable to those with “extremely low” incomes, which HUD classifies as 30 percent of AMI. Some buildings that received subsidies contain no units for extremely low-income households, and in one case the Observer found a building that received subsidies but will charge “roughly” the same rents as market-rate apartments nearby.

Further, city officials counted homeless shelter beds as housing in its accounting, according to the Observer.

Charlotte is hardly alone in struggling to create housing for its most vulnerable. Michael Anderson, director of the Housing Trust Fund Project for the Center for Community Change, told the Observer that trust funds in many cities fail to deliver those units. According to the Housing Trust Fund Project, in 2007, about half of the housing trust funds surveyed target households making 60 percent of area median income or lower; about two-thirds (60 percent) of those funds actually target a lower income range. But only 37 percent give priority to projects that serve the lowest-income households.

This also glosses over the way area median income is calculated: the AMI in the Washington, D.C., metro area in 2017 was $110,300 for a family of four, but that includes the wealthy suburbs. The area median income for the District of Columbia proper is much lower, at $75,506. The District’s Truth in Affordability Reporting Act of 2014 requires the city to report how affordable housing units are based on both the regional AMI and the District’s AMI. Other cities with have similar concerns, as Next City has also written. In other words, stating a project is affordable for people making a certain percentage of “the” area median income may still exclude the city’s poorest.

Anderson says that even if Charlotte’s housing trust fund does not target the very poor, voters should still support the addition of $50 million to the fund, an issue appearing on ballots this November. The fund serves a need and creates jobs in construction, he told the newspaper. But policies that ensure money goes to the very poor would be an improvement, he said. Some cities, like Pittsburgh, require that half of the money from its Housing Trust Fund goes to housing for extremely low-income people.

The city, for its part, says that the concern “is a little overstated,” according to councilmember Ed Driggs, speaking to the Observer. “At 60 and 80 percent of area median income, rents are rising faster than incomes. We tried to take a broad spectrum approach.” However, a consultant for the city told Charlotte last year that its biggest gap is for affordable housing for people with extremely low incomes. The National Low Income Housing Coalition found that for every 100 extremely low-income households in the greater Charlotte area, there are only 34 units of housing, 1 unit less than the national average.

 

Speculators Already Gambling on Amazon’s HQ2 Location

(Credit: Amazon)

Amazon has not yet announced the location for its controversial second headquarters, but investors are already buying up properties based on where they think the retail and cloud-computing giant will land.

A report in the Wall Street Journal says that speculators are buying shares of a real-estate investment trust that owns most of the real estate in the Northern Virginia neighborhood thought to be a leading contender. A landlord in Pittsburgh says he has received “many more calls” from buyers since Amazon announced its finalist list, and that the offers have never been higher.

Other investors are quietly gathering cash. Bryan Copley, co-founder of a real-estate startup, told the WSJ that he has “proprietary software” that can, he says, identify the most underutilized properties in any city in five minutes. Once Amazon announces a winning city, he’s going to make offers on as many multifamily properties as he can.

Meanwhile, the WSJ says, home prices among 10 of Amazon’s shortlist counties are rising faster in 2018 than they are in 2017. That by itself, however, doesn’t necessarily signify Amazon-related speculation; in its shortlist, Amazon clearly gravitated toward already pricey and desirable urban areas.

Or maybe the Amazon effect is real. The deal has the potential to affect the local housing market “for years,” according to an analysis by Realtor.com published in Forbes.

“We’ve seen prices rise and inventory shrink” in the cities where Amazon is a consideration, Javier Vivas, director of economic research at Realtor.com, told Forbes.

The HQ2 deal has galvanized city leaders into offering massive tax incentives in an effort to attract what Amazon says will be up to 50,000 tech jobs, and those incentives have led to backlash from residents in the finalist cities. Maryland approved a $5.6 billion package, the largest such in the state’s history, to lure Amazon to Montgomery County. New Jersey offered $7 billion to lure Amazon to Newark.

The company is expected to bring billions of dollars in economic activity to whatever location is chosen, but will also likely mean cities or counties will spend more on such necessities as infrastructure investments and school construction.

The Northern Virginia area — where investors are buying stock in JBG Smith Properties, the landlord of most of NoVa’s Crystal City neighborhood — is considered the “overwhelming” favorite by many; Amazon execs have made new visits in the last months to New York City, Newark, Chicago, Miami and the D.C. area, the WSJ reported. A decision is due by the end of this year.

 

Parks, Trails in Michigan and New York Get a $200M Boost

A rendering of the design intended for Detroit's West Riverfront Park. The park will get nearly all of the funds for the proposed redevelopment, thanks to an award from the Ralph C. Wilson Foundation.  Image courtesy of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy.

Parks and trails in Michigan and New York are receiving $200 million from a foundation funded by the former owner of the Buffalo Bills.

The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation announced today that the greater Detroit area (Wilson’s hometown) and the Buffalo area (where he founded the Bills) will each get $100 million. In each region, $40 million goes to creating a “signature park” and $10 million into an endowment to support the park’s future. Also in each region, $40 million will be allocated toward projects that expand each region’s trail network, with $10 million additionally set aside for operations.

In Detroit, the West Riverfront Park, which was already slated for (re)development, will receive the money, which is 80 percent of what the park needs to be completed, Curbed Detroit reports. The park’s plans call for a “cove with a beach,” for wading in summer and skating in winter, a “whimsical” playground, an area for outdoor concerts, and a sport house, Next City reported in May. It will be a big change for the park, which Next City called “pretty desolate” and which wasn’t even open to the public until 2014 after the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy purchased the parcel of land.

In honor of the donation, the park will be renamed Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park.

The trail money will go toward completing parts of the Iron Belle Trail and build connections across Southeast Michigan, ultimately building at least 250 miles of trails, Curbed Detroit says.

“This is a transformative …, incredible investment in the future of the riverfront,” Mark Wallace, CEO of the Riverfront Conservancy, told the Detroit News. The park could be open by 2022.

In Buffalo, LaSalle Park, which has “languished for decades,” according to Buffalo Rising, will be renovated and also renamed Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park. Plans for LaSalle Park are not as far along as West Riverfront. The city of Buffalo is just going through the community engagement processalso funded by the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation — now, Buffalo Rising says.

It’s the biggest single grant in Western New York’s history, according to the philanthropy community there, the Buffalo News reports.

Officials at the foundation hope that construction for the park renovation can begin in 2020, after a 12- to 18-month design process.

Trails under consideration for expansion in the Buffalo area include the Shoreline Trail in Erie and Niagara counties, Erie Cattaraugus Rail Trail in Erie and Cattaraugus counties and Genesee Valley Greenway Trail in the Genesee River Valley, the Buffalo News says.

It’s not the foundation’s first investment in parks and trails by any stretch. In September, the foundation also gave Buffalo $6.5 million to complete a trail network from Buffalo to Youngstown.

“Ralph was committed to exercising, staying active and enjoying life,” said Mary Wilson, widow of Ralph Wilson, in a statement. “It would make Ralph so happy to see people of all ages enjoying these enhanced parks and trails for years to come.”

The foundation started in 2015 with, as the Detroit News says, “no stationery, one employee, and a core of four friends of Wilson as life trustees.” Its mission is to spend down all of its $1.2 billion by Jan. 8, 2035. But because of the growing economy, the Detroit News reports, the foundation is worth more than when it first opened its doors.

 

San Francisco MTA Passes Reforms Aimed at Helping Taxi Medallion Holders

A taxi navigates curvy Lombard Street. Photo by Romain Fliedel.

The San Francisco MTA board voted to approve changes aimed at reforming the city’s taxi medallion system, a plan that had drivers honking in protest outside City Hall, ABC7 News reports.

The changes involve restricting lucrative airport pickups to certain classes of medallion holders and loosening up restrictions on other medallion holders. Taxi drivers say that the changes will hurt cabbies more and do nothing about what they say is the core problem: the rise of Uber and Lyft.

“You are killing us, you are destroying us,” Sukma Widjaja, a driver since 2011, said to the board, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “You will make some of us homeless. One of them is going to be me.”

Between March 2012 and July 2014, the Chronicle noted, the average number of monthly trips per taxi fell from 1,424 to 504. Transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft make 170,000 vehicle trips daily within San Francisco, 12 times the number of taxi trips. Some drivers say they have to work 12 to 15 hours a day to make the same amount of money as they did pre-Uber, driving an eight- to 10-hour shift.

San Francisco supports three types of taxi medallions. The first type, called “pre-K” medallions, cost a nominal fee and could be purchased by individuals and corporations. “Post-K” medallions, instituted after 1978, also only cost a nominal fee, but came with the requirement that medallion holders drive 800 hours a year, and resulted in a decades-long waiting list. In 2010, the city created a third class of medallions, “purchased medallions,” which sold for $250,000.

Holders of the purchased medallions are suffering, drivers say. As Uber and Lyft have risen, 150 of the 700 drivers who took out loans to buy the medallions have defaulted on their loans, NPR reported.

The regulations approved Tuesday limit airport pickups to holders of purchased medallions. “Those medallion holders have invested the most and gotten the least,” Kate Toran, director of taxis at the MTA, told the Chronicle. “I think it makes the most sense that they be the focus.”

The new regulations also allow drivers and companies outside San Francisco to purchase medallions and waive a 5 percent transfer fee for medallions. They also allow companies to own up to 50 medallions, in the hope that drivers who hold unwanted medallions would be able to sell them to such companies more easily.

“Too little, too late,” San Francisco Federal Credit Union CEO Jonathan Oliver, whose credit union financed most of the medallion loans, told CBS SF. “The elephant in the room is still the medallion price. No one will buy a medallion at $250,000, even with these changes.” The SF FCU is suing the city, Curbed SF reported, arguing that the city had promised to “do everything in its power” to protect the value of the medallions, which instead have become toxic assets. By not regulating Uber or Lyft (which SFMTA says it does not have the power to do) and not modifying the medallion-sales program since the last sale in 2016, SFMTA has “constructively terminated” the program, the credit union alleged in its lawsuit. Earlier this year a judge found significant grounds for the breach-of-contract claim, CBS SF reported, and the suit is moving forward.

For their part, drivers argue the regulations don’t go far enough, and those holders of non-purchased medallions decried the new airport restriction.

“At this time, the airport is the only one which really helps us to survive,” explained one driver at the meeting, according to CBS SF.

Even the MTA board is skeptical that its reforms will have an effect. “We don’t know that this will work,” board member Mark Heinicke told the Chronicle.

 

Milwaukee’s Proposed Complete Streets Practice Already Paying Dividends

Milwaukee's city council is poised to pass a complete streets bill. (Photo by Nate V via Flickr)

The city of Milwaukee hasn’t yet formally adopted a complete streets policy, but already its efforts to make the city more bike and pedestrian-friendly are paying off, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports.

South Fifth Street was recently rebuilt to include wider sidewalks and bike racks, which has led to more outdoor seating for restaurants like MobCraft Beer’s brewery and taproom, and more pedestrian traffic, owner Henry Schwartz told the Journal-Sentinel.

“People are moseying around in the neighborhood,” Schwartz told the newspaper. “That walking traffic definitely didn’t exist beforehand.”

Vanessa Koster, the city’s planning manager, added that larger numbers of cyclists and pedestrians give visitors the idea that “this looks like a great place that I’d like to visit,” and traffic-calming measures entice motorists to slow down and notice shops and restaurants.

Scott Richardson, of developer Linden Street Partners, told the paper that the redesigned South Second Street was a factor in the developer choosing to build a five-story apartment building there, rather than leaving Milwaukee.

Economic development is, of course, not the only reason the city is pursuing safer streets. The advocacy group MilWALKee Walks has found that pedestrian deaths are on the rise in the city, with the majority of them occurring in low-income communities.

“There is [sic] not many crosswalk signals, the painted lines are faded, and drivers do not respect pedestrians,” Hector Alvarez Santiago, a pedestrian safety advocate, said at a safer streets community meeting earlier this year, according to Strong Towns. Research has found that in Milwaukee, drivers yield for pedestrians only rarely, even when the pedestrians are following traffic rules or had the right of way.

This is not exactly Milwaukee’s first try at complete streets. The Wisconsin state legislature passed a Complete Streets Law in 2009, the Wisconsin Bicycle Federation explained in a 2015 blog post. But Gov. Scott Walker repealed the policy in 2015. Walker’s office said that the move was designed to “reduce the regulatory burden on the Department of Transportation,” according to the Journal Times, and estimated that the repeal would save $3.7 million annually (a nonpartisan estimate pegged it closer to $1.2 million)

Even with the new complete streets policy, Milwaukee’s hands are somewhat tied, Urban Milwaukee reports. Many road projects in the city are actually state highways, and so the state Department of Transportation has final say on those roads.

The city’s Public Works committee unanimously supported an ordinance to adopt a Complete Streets Policy in early October, reports Urban Milwaukee. The full council has yet to vote on the ordinance, but committee chair Alderman Robert Bauman told Urban Milwaukee that he expects the full council to unanimously support the proposal when it goes up for vote Tuesday.

If passed, Milwaukeeans can expect more widened sidewalks, protected bike lanes, and bump-outs coming to a (complete) street near them.

 

Denver’s Revised Green Roof Ordinance Takes Root

The green roof at the Denver Botanic Gardens. Photo by JohnGiez via Flickr.

A revised version of Initiative 300, Denver’s ambitious green roofs ordinance, may be enacted into law — spurring actual green roof construction, Denverite reports.

Last year, a grassroots effort spurred the passage of Initiative 300, requiring that new buildings 25,000 square feet or larger devote some portion of their roof space to greenery or solar panels.

Green roofs capture and filter stormwater and, by absorbing sunlight, reduce the urban heat island effect. The plants on a green roof can also suck pollutants out of the air. Local restaurant manager Brandon Rietheimer got the initiative on the ballot in 2017 after realizing that the city was not doing much to meet its 2020 sustainability goals.

But Initiative 300 was hotly opposed by real estate and development interests, and Mayor Michael Hancock said that the ordinance went “too far,” Denverite wrote in 2017. Opponents said the ordinance would drive up the costs of construction “and make Denver’s [real estate] market even more expensive.”

Despite heavy opposition — opponents outspent proponents by a factor of 11 — Initiative 300 took effect on January 1, 2018, for new buildings, additions to buildings that expanded them over the 25,000 square foot threshold, and replacement roofs for existing buildings. But it wasn’t a smooth implementation. A city-convened task force found that many roofs of existing buildings in Denver weren’t actually strong enough to handle green roofs and that the costs of adding green roofs were prohibitive in some cases. (According to Denverite, green roofs cost about 2.5 times as much as a traditional roof, but last four to five times longer.) In the first four months of 2018, the ordinance resulted in not one green roof in the city. 9News reported that building owners instead opted to freeze construction.

Enter a revised ordinance, approved 7-0 by a special city council committee.

Under the new ordinance, which will be voted on by the full council later this year, all buildings covered by the original ordinance must at least have a cool roof — a roof painted white to reflect heat rather than absorb it. Then building owners must either add a green roof or solar panels on the roof or lot. If neither of those options are feasible, buildings can instead agree to purchase renewable energy for the building, achieve LEED Gold certification, or pay a per-square-foot fee. The fees would go into a fund for the city to buy and improve green space and fund other green roofs, urban forests and solar panels.

According to Denverite, Rietheimer, who got the original green roof initiative on the ballot, is happy with the compromise, and so is Kathie Barstnar, executive director of the Colorado Commercial Real Estate Development Association.

“I have to say that the work done by the stakeholder task force should be a shining example of what can be accomplished when people are willing to come together and work to make something happen in a compromised format, rather than protecting sacred ground,” she told Denverite.

When the initiative initially passed, Denver became only the second city in the U.S. to mandate green roofs. The revised ordinance, if passed, would still be fairly unique among U.S. cities. Only San Francisco requires new construction to include green roofs; Washington, D.C. has a “de facto” requirement for large buildings through its stormwater regulations, National Geographic reported.

 

NYC Pilot Program Hopes to Beautify Miles of Scaffolding

This work of art covering a construction fence is "Color Mesh," by Mauricio Lopez. (Credit: Courtesy NYC Department of Cultural Affairs)

A constant of New York City life—besides MTA delays—is scaffolding. Last year, the city had 280 miles of scaffolding, according to a city map (and a New York Times story) released last year. Today, there are more than 300 miles of construction fences and scaffolds, also known as sidewalk sheds. The oldest one is 20 years old.

While the fences and sheds aren’t going away any time soon, they might start to look a little more attractive: Artnet reports that the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, Department of Buildings and Office of the Mayor are amending city codes to allow art on those sidewalk sheds and fences.

The initiative is called City Canvas, and it’s a 24-month pilot to “improve the pedestrian experience” by adding art and “increase opportunities for cultural organizations and artists” to present art.

The program kicked off last month with an open call for proposals from local nonprofits, which closes today. Proposals must be site-specific, Artnet says, and should identify artists from the area near the site, if possible.

The city isn’t providing funding for the artists or organizations; the selected nonprofits will bear the cost of producing and installing the works. All the works must be printed or painted on vinyl, the application says—no 3D sculptures allowed for this pilot.

“Sidewalk sheds are unattractive, but they keep us safe,” said buildings commissioner Rick D. Chandler, PE, in a statement. “We’re proud to work with our partner agencies on this innovative program. If anyone can bring some love to the sidewalk sheds New Yorkers love to hate, it’s our city’s artists.”

Sidewalk sheds have been required on NYC buildings any time the facade is being worked on, the New York Times noted in 2016, ever since a Barnard College student was killed by a falling piece of terra cotta in 1979.

“City Canvas is an innovative way to support local artists and build community, all while beautifying otherwise unattractive construction sites,” Council Member Robert Cornegy, Jr., said in a statement. “I hope the many great cultural non-profits that serve our city take advantage of this great opportunity, and that it becomes a lasting initiative that brightens our public spaces for many years to come.” Cornegy represents Bedford-Stuyvesant and northern Crown Heights.

In 2016, frustrated with the scaffolding mushrooming around the city, Councilmember Ben Kallos, who represents the Upper East Side, proposed legislation that would put a timeline on how long scaffolding can stay up. He reintroduced the legislation in early 2018. Building owners say the legislation is unfair because sometimes building owners don’t have the money to make needed repairs.

During the City Canvas pilot, the city is hoping to get proposals for at least one location in the city. With 300 miles of the stuff, it shouldn’t be hard to find at least one space to enliven with art.

 

California Will Vote on 11 Ballot Initiatives This Fall

Among the initiatives on the ballot this fall in California is Proposition 3, which would authorize $8.8 billion in bonds for water infrastructure, dam repairs, watershed improvements and habitat protection, among others changes. Photo by Gabriel Rocha/Flickr

California voters will have 11 ballot initiatives to decide on when they head to the polls this November. The propositions deal with funding for housing, water infrastructure, hospitals, and tax breaks for seniors. They propose laws capping fees at dialysis clinics, regulating private ambulance companies’ work rules, expanding rent control and changing how livestock are housed.

Here’s a look at the propositions that most affect cities.

Prop 1

Prop 1 would allow the state to issue $4 billion in bonds to support low-income residents, veterans and agricultural workers. In July, the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, founded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and wife, Priscilla Chan, announced it would donate $250,000 to support the ballot initiative, Next City reported at the time. It was the largest donation to the Prop 1 campaign to date.

The $4 billion would help provide below-market interest rates with low- to no-down payments for veterans to buy homes, the Initiative said, as well as allocate $1.8 billion to build and renovate rentals, according to nonprofit journalism venture CALMatters.

Prop 2

This initiative allows the state to shift revenue from an existing tax that finances mental health programs to a project to build housing for people with mental health issues. In 2004, California passed Proposition 63, the so-called “millionaire’s tax,” an additional 1 percent tax on people with incomes over 1 million. That money was used to fund mental health services and has raised around $2 billion per year, CNN reports. Then, in 2016, the state legislature authorized a $2-billion bond to build housing for people suffering from mental illness who were also experiencing homelessness, or at risk for becoming homeless. The state planned to pay down the bond using money from Prop 63. But a lawsuit said the state couldn’t move money from Prop 63 that way, so now it’s being put to the people.

Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative also supports this proposition, but the National Alliance on Mental Illness Contra Costa opposes it, calling it the “Bureaucrat and Developer Enrichment Act.”

Prop 3

CALMatters calls this bond “the big one” as it authorizes $8.8 billion in bonds for water infrastructure, dam repairs, watershed improvements and habitat protection, among others. The bone-dry state may need the funding to continue to supply reliable clean water to agriculture and cities, but the San Diego Union-Tribune points out that this is the third water bond in four years, and that “more than half the money raised to promote the measure came from business groups and farmers seeking specific improvements…This ‘pay to play’ approach to ballot initiatives is not new, but it should still not be rewarded.”

Prop 4

This initiative would authorize $1.4 billion in bonds to build, expand, renovate and equip children’s hospitals in California.

Prop 5

This initiative would change how property tax affects seniors and other groups. According to ABC7, the measure would allow homebuyers over 55, the severely disabled, or those who have contaminated or disaster-destroyed property to transfer their tax assessments from their old home to their new home, no matter how many times they have moved or the value of the new home. The California Association of Realtors, which sponsored the measure, says it could help seniors who want to downsize into a smaller home who are worried about rising property taxes. The California Teachers Association and state Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco) oppose the measure, saying it will not make more housing available and could cost local governments $150 million in lost property taxes.

Prop 10

A “yes” vote on this initiative would abolish the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which prohibits most forms of rent control in California. It’s supported by the Coalition for Affordable Housing, the California Democratic Party, and L.A.Mayor Eric Garcetti, to name a few, and opposed by both candidates for governor, business and real estate groups, the California State Conference of the NAACP and a number of other government officials.

Not appearing on the ballot this year, Prop 9, which would have split California into three distinct states. After venture capitalist Tim Draper collected enough signatures for the initiative to appear on the ballot, the state Supreme Court ordered it removed in July. “Significant questions have been raised regarding the proposition’s validity,” the court said.

California is among the heaviest users of ballot initiatives; only Oregon has posed more propositions to its citizens, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. In the 2016 election, the state posed 17 ballot measures to voters, and cities added another 650 local measures—enough to overwhelm many voters, NPR reported. It was enough for the California Voter Foundation to create the “Proposition Song,” an educational musical number that went semi-viral. (No voter song for 2018 yet, it appears.) If you live in California and have questions about what initiatives to support, CALMatters created a nonpartisan “game” to explore the issues.

 

Transit-Oriented Development Comes to Fort Worth

Rendering of the "Grapevine Main" project, a $105-million multi-use transit-oriented development in the downtown district of Grapevine, Texas, which will include a four-story train station with retail and office space and a 121-room hotel. (Credit: JQ)

Texas’s newest commuter rail project, which is set to open in late 2018 and will connect Dallas Fort-Worth International Airport to downtown Fort Worth, is also bringing more than $300 million in transit-oriented development to the corridor.

The Fort Worth Business Press reports that TEXRail crosses through three cities, and “the potential for development around the stations is enormous.”

In south Fort Worth, the planned terminus of TEXRail and the existing TRE commuter line is known as T&P Station. There, the Business Press writes, plans are moving forward for a $94.2-million mixed-use building with 236 apartments and retail. A future hotel is planned for the site as well. The so-called Katy Station Lofts, still in the planning process, will be the first transit-oriented development in Fort Worth, news station NBCDFW reports.

About half of the apartments will be set aside for households earning 60 percent or less of the area median income, and 15 will be Rental Assistance Demonstration units—a federal program that allows cities to convert public housing into private-sector management through Section 8 contracts.

Many of the subsidized housing units are set aside for residents being relocated from Butler Place, the city’s largest public housing complex, Next City reported earlier this year. The city is in the process of relocating residents; 15 families moved last year to a new mixed-income development. The goal, Next City reported at the time, was to relocate everyone by the end of 2020.

Elsewhere, the city has asked for help from the Urban Land Institute of North Texas to create a development strategy for the Northside/Stockyards area, the city’s historic district.

Downtown, Texas A&M University purchased parking lots near its law school, and the Convention Center is scheduled to be redeveloped, the Business Press reports.

In North Richland Hills, which is getting two TEXRail stops, the city is building a $150-million project with hundreds of apartments and townhomes, plus retail. And in Grapevine, Texas, the third city on the TEXRail line, a notable project is “Grapevine Main,” a plaza, four-story train station with retail and office space and a 121-room hotel.

“We’re excited to see all these developments around the station, it shows us that we’re doing the right thing,” Bob Baulsir, Senior Vice President for Trinity Metro, told NBCDFW. Trinity Metro is the transit agency that operates TEXRail, it also operates bus service and partners with Dallas Area Rapid Transit to operate the TRE.

“We’re gonna connect folks with employment, with transportation to really anywhere in the world,” Baulsir added.

The TEXRail line was announced in 2016, according to Bisnow, approved a year ago, and will open in December. It uses existing freight tracks, hence the quick delivery. TEXRail is projected to have 8,000 daily riders when service begins.

 



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