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California Editorial Rdp

June 19, 2019

June 17

Southern California News Group on poll suggesting warning signs for California Democrats’ agenda:

California is a one-party state where Democrats have supermajorities in the Legislature and control every state constitutional office, but a new statewide poll by a well-respected research institute offers some potential warning signs for state Democratic officials.

Despite newly elected Gov. Gavin Newsom’s landslide victory in November, he only receives a 45% approval rating among adults. That’s far better than Californians’ rating of President Donald Trump (34, but it’s a lackluster number nevertheless.

State lawmakers’ reputations fared worse. The Public Policy Institute of California survey pinned the Legislature’s overall support at 39% among all adults. That, too, is higher than Californians’ public support for how Congress is handling its job (30. It’s typical for voters to think poorly of legislative bodies even if they really like their own representative, but the low numbers should better inform lawmakers’ approach to issues.

For instance, the Legislature recently killed Senate Bill 50, a controversial measure that would have let the state pre-empt local zoning ordinances to promote the construction of high-density housing. But Californians polled by PPIC endorse that general concept: “62 percent favor requiring local governments to change zoning for new development from single-family to multi-family housing near transit and job centers,” according to the poll.

The poll offered another warning sign for Newsom: Only 28% of likely voters approve of the way he’s handling the issues regarding last year’s wildfires and the bankruptcy of PG&E. This complex issue understandably is vexing to most people surveyed. Thirty-seven percent of likely voters don’t know enough to have an opinion, but 78% of adult Californians “say they are concerned about rising electricity bills” as a result of wildfire costs.

Californians clearly are worried about the high cost of living, which is driving not only their support for looser housing regulations but affecting their outlook about the economy and their personal finances. PPIC terms Californians’ financial outlook as mixed, “with 44 percent of adults saying we will have good times financially in California in the next 12 months and 47 percent saying we will have bad times.”

But that average obscures a wide gap. Californians’ view of their economic future varies widely by geographic region. Nearly half of San Francisco Bay Area residents are financially optimistic, while only 39% of Inland Empire residents (40% in the Central Valley) have such sunny views. Residents in Orange County/San Diego and the Los Angeles area are in between (44% and 46%, respectively).

Not surprisingly, Californians with lower incomes are less optimistic about their personal finances than those with higher incomes, with Inland Empire residents viewing their personal-financial situations most negatively. Newsom and lawmakers need to pay careful attention to such disparities. Republicans have long criticized California Democrats for emphasizing progressive politics that play well in tony San Francisco Bay Area communities, while downplaying bread-and-butter economic issues that are of particular concern in rural and exurban regions.

The survey also reminds us that while the state’s Democrats at no risk of losing their political power anytime soon, they’re well-advised to pay more attention to the less-rosy views many Californians provided. The governor and legislators might find that their legislative priorities are not as popular as they believe them to be.

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June 16

The Press Democrat on adopting a management plan for the Russian River:

Here’s a safe prediction: Generations to come will be thankful for everything done today to protect the Russian River.

Here’s another: Restoring and preserving the river’s health will become more challenging and expensive each time action is delayed.

As reported in The Press Democrat by Staff Writer Mary Callahan, delay has been a central feature of the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board’s efforts to adopt a plan to protect and improve the Russian River’s water quality. The delay so far has been excusable — earlier drafts of the plan needed refinements, and California’s water quality regulations have changed — but now it’s time to move forward.

The third iteration since 2015 of the regional water board’s staff report and draft action plan for the Russian River are now out for review and comment. Public comments will be accepted through June 24 by email at NorthCoast@waterboards.ca.gov or by writing to the Regional Water Quality Control Board at 5550 Skyline Blvd., Santa Rosa, 95403.

The board hopes to adopt the plan after a public hearing at its Aug. 14-15 meeting in Santa Rosa. The federal Clean Water Act requires states to prepare water quality protection plans, and state regulations adopted last year are designed to protect the public against waterborne bacteria from human and animal waste. The plan now under review is intended to comply with those requirements.

From its headwaters in Mendocino County to its mouth on the Sonoma County coast, the Russian River provides drinking water to 600,000 people and recreation for several times that number. Those and other uses are threatened by pollution from a variety of sources, ranging from riverfront development to streamside homeless encampments.

Since the start of its planning effort four years ago, the regional water board has heard plenty from those whose interests may be affected by such regulations as mandatory septic system upgrades or limits on runoff from livestock operations. These responses have resulted in a more tightly focused document, as detailed in the regional water board’s summary of plan revisions, that is likely to be both more effective and less intrusive.

But it’s important that the board hear from the general public as well. The Russian River courses through the very heart of the economy, environment and quality of life for everyone in its 1,484-square-mile watershed.

In the dry language of water regulation, the river is considered “impaired” by “human-specific contaminants” in many of its reaches. The impairment can become so severe that stretches of the river are closed to swimmers, as occurred two summers ago at Monte Rio Beach.

Pollution can be traced to sources large and small, but the biggest problems include the 19,000 parcels of land in the Russian River watershed that lack sewer connections. Some have failing septic systems. A sound plan can guide the region in identifying the worst threats to water quality, setting priorities for improvement and finding sources of financial assistance.

Protecting the Russian River’s water quality may be costly, but a failure to act would ultimately be much more expensive and disruptive. The regional water board needs to know that the public supports — indeed, demands — a clean and healthy Russian River.

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June 14

San Francisco Chronicle on Bay Area housing trends:

This spring, Bay Area housing prices flattened out for two months in a row. After years of heady, month-over-month price appreciations and rental spikes, this rare break created an opportunity for price-exhausted communities to take a closer look at the trends of our local housing crisis.

Sadly, those trends are as grim as they ever were.

On Thursday, Curbed SF released the results of its compilation of five years’ worth of reported median rents in San Francisco from five rental platforms. It found that San Francisco’s median rent on all of them reached its highest-ever height at some point in 2019.

On Zumper, a platform that also tracks national rents, the most recent median rent in San Francisco — $3,700 a month for a one-bedroom apartment in June — is the highest it’s ever recorded for any city in the country.

The results varied for each site, and no single source represents a full picture of San Francisco’s market rental prices.

Still, the overall trend was both clear and stark: Rent has never been higher in San Francisco, and it’s going to take a lot more than a couple of months of flat prices for the Bay Area to dig out of this historic housing crisis.

It’s going to take courage, vision and a keen understanding of how the region reconfigures its balance between housing and jobs.

On the latter, there are deep concerns brewing in San Jose after a new economic analysis this week showed that Google’s proposed expansion in downtown San Jose could cost that city’s renters an additional $235 million in higher rents every year without a significant increase in both affordable and market-rate housing production.

The analysis, conducted by Beacon Economics on behalf of a San Jose nonprofit, Working Partnerships USA, found that Google and San Jose would need to subsidize 5,284 affordable housing units and help produce 12,450 market-rate units to prevent these dramatic rent hikes.

What adds to the depressing nature of this report is the fact that San Jose voters recently rejected a $450 million affordable-housing bond.

City officials have said that San Jose provided housing for the rest of the region while other cities, particularly on the Peninsula, attracted corporate campuses without building their fair share of homes. This claim has merit.

Unfortunately, we now need every city in the region to focus on home-building, and there are still too few that are willing to do so.

For this week’s example, we need look no further than Berkeley.

UC Berkeley has been trying to build two new buildings for classrooms and housing on its campus. In exchange for this perfectly sensible and badly needed project, it was sued by a neighborhood group on Wednesday.

The group’s contentions read like a “Greatest Hits” NIMBY compilation: neighborhood character, supposed California Environmental Quality Act violations, the terror of increased trash and noise.

But the unoriginality of their gripes shouldn’t detract from the very real problems this behavior has brought to the Bay Area — this crisis affects us all, and no local governments are fighting hard enough to make a difference for their increasingly stressed residents.

Small wonder the last two months of “flat prices” haven’t felt like a reprieve.

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