Durable Growth, Government

Moving forward after the vote

141105001 I VotedAt long last, Election Day has come and gone.  The decisions with which we must live for the next few years have been made.  It’s time to ponder the next steps, particularly with regard to the tax measures that were proposed to pull our cities back from the brink of fiscal breakdown.

Once again, I’ll view the tax measure landscape through the telescope of Petaluma’s Measure Q.  However, I expect that the observations will provide at least a few insights to similar tax measures elsewhere.

However, you have an advantage on me today.  You know whether Measure Q passed.  I don’t.  I’m working on this post while keeping an eye on the early returns, with the decision on Measure Q unclear.

So today will be a do-it-yourself blog post.  Pick the heading below that matches the headline in your morning paper and read on.  (If the “Yes” and “No” ballots ended nearly equal, perhaps you should read both.  You’ll have plenty of time as the County election officials sort out the tally.) Continue reading

Durable Growth, Government

It’s time to be smart about water, not politically expedient

1410190001 Dry FountainDuring recent candidate forums, several contenders for the Petaluma City Council suggested that the City consider a moratorium on building permits until the drought eases.  I’ll speculate that other North Bay cities are entertaining similar thoughts.

I support the need to respond to the drought.  The water shortfall is significant, may not slacken during the coming winter, and could be indicative of a systemic change.  But a blanket moratorium is the wrong tool for several reasons.

First, a moratorium without simultaneous regulatory adjustments is tantamount to considering the drought a normal and random element of the climate cycle, thereby supporting a position taken by climate change deniers.

I’m not saying that candidates who suggested a moratorium are climate change deniers.  I’m sure that few if any of them are within that camp.  But they’ve mistakenly offered a position that aligns with a key proposition put forth by deniers.

(I won’t delve more deeply into a climate change discussion because I don’t want this post to be sidetracked into a discussion on the validity of the theory.  It’s a worthy topic, but not for today.)

Another problem with a blanket moratorium is that it doesn’t reposition our communities for when the drought may ease.  If we get enough rain to believe the drought is over and begin issuing new building permits without a change in the water use standards, we’d have wasted an opportunity to make our communities more resilient. Continue reading

Durable Growth

Urbanism and senior living: The cases for and against mobile home parks

141016007 Villa Capri Mobile Home ParkFor several years, I was on the board of a local Rebuilding Together affiliate, a non-profit organization that provides free home repairs for low-income homeowners.  Like most affiliates, our biggest event of the year was an April workday when several hundred local citizens volunteered a day of labor.

One year, a project captain invited a group of volunteers to her home for post-workday beverages.  I found myself in her kitchen, sipping a beer and chatting with a city councilmember who had worked on a project.

I assume the councilmember had worked on a mobile home because the discussion quickly turned to the role of mobile homes in our city.  His view was that mobile homes were a temporary aberration and that the long-term goal of the city should be to replace them with stick-built homes.  His principal argument was the longer life of well-maintained stick-built construction, although he also noted the horizontal spread of single-story mobile homes and the opportunity for more compact living with stick-built residences.

With that memory in mind, it was interesting to read the suggestion by Lisa Margonelli in Pacific Standardthat mobile home parks might have an essential role in the housing future of all of us, particularly seniors.  She looks in depth at the Pismo Dunes mobile home park, near Pismo Beach, California. Continue reading

Durable Growth, Government

No matter who designs it, the sack won’t be big enough

Heavily patched Petaluma street

Heavily patched Petaluma street

With the election looming today, I’ll offer yet one more perspective on Petaluma’s Measure Q, the proposed one percent sales tax measure that would run into perpetuity.  I apologize for my continued focus on Measure Q instead of touching upon other tax measures in the region, but I’m in a place where Measure Q insights and weaknesses are regularly paraded before me.  And I expect that the lessons from Measure Q are applicable to other tax measures.

In broad brushes, Measure Q is expected to generate an additional $10 million annually in City revenue.  The City Council, in planning for the allocation of the funds, is looking at a 30-year window.  So the total revenue to be spent is $300 million.

In rough numbers, $100 million would go toward infrastructure repairs, largely street work, another $100 million toward emergency services, and the final $100 million toward the Rainier Connector.  (The most frequently published funding need for the Rainier Connector is $88 million, but there are a number of assumptions behind that estimate, some of which may be optimistic, so rounding to $100 million is reasonable.)

Let’s look more closely at the $100 million for infrastructure repair.  A City official has described the sum as sufficient to improve the streets, not to perfection, but to a good level of pavement condition as measured by regional standards.  (To ensure that I’d heard correctly, I confirmed this repair philosophy with another City person.)  I concur with the decision to target good instead of excellent. Continue reading

Durable Growth, Transportation

Urbanism and senior living: Getting around on foot

Napa sidewalk, luckily still in good repair

Napa sidewalk, luckily still in good repair

A theme of this election season has been strategic decision-making around the varying approval thresholds for different forms of tax measures.  Is it better to seek a general tax measure, which requires only 50 percent plus one for approval, even if it means battling skepticism about how the revenues will be spent?   Or is better to specify the uses of the revenue, even though that would bump the approval standard to two-thirds when the electorate might not be able to muster a two-thirds majority over whether the sun will rise in the east tomorrow?

Or perhaps the 55 percent rule will apply, although that option is limited to certain types of school bond measures.  (If someone wants a legal summary of the various California approval standards, the Legislative Analyst’s Office provides one here.  The flowchart is nicely done.)

Also, during my years in Oregon, I watched the double-majority standard in action, a rule that was so perverse in its unintended consequences that the voters finally repealed it in 2008.

But what if I wrote that there was a type of infrastructure for which 100 percent voter approval was required?  It may seem surprising, but it’s nonetheless true.  In large areas of our cities and towns, sidewalk upkeep, and therefore walkability, requires 100 percent participation from property owners. Continue reading

Durable Growth, Transportation

Urbanism and senior living: After the driver’s license is gone

Petaluma Transit bus

Petaluma Transit bus

A few years ago, my wife and I sat down one evening to continue planning our retirement.  Our goal was to decide upon a town in which we wished to spend our later years.

Like any couple, our desires didn’t fully align.  We had different visions of what would be important to us in retirement.

Nor, until our later-in-life marriage, had our lives been spent in the similar communities.  Although we both grew up near Sacramento, I’d lived 18 years in the Pacific Northwest, while she’d spent most of her adult life in California cities from Redding to Laguna Niguel, so we brought different visions of the good life to our conversation.

But we worked through our differences and reached a mutually acceptable conclusion.  We wanted to live in a place just like Petaluma, but with a Nordstrom and a transit system that would allow me to ride to and from a Cal basketball game, even if the game went into triple overtime.  (Exactly what city met that definition remained an open question.)

In our focus on transit, we were foreshadowing the concerns of an increasing number of seniors. Continue reading

Durable Growth

Urbanism and senior living: Shedding the extra bedrooms

Typical suburban development

Typical suburban development

In recent weeks, I’ve been writing about the intersection of urbanism and senior living.  Thus far, I’ve largely focused on the forms that senior living can take in urban settings and the steps needed to encourage downtown senior options.

But I’ve also written that many seniors, even if they find walkable urban life appealing, are nonetheless stuck in drivable suburbia because there are few suitable urban options or because they can’t sell their current homes at a price adequate to support a move downtown.

Today, I’ll begin writing about how to bring touches of urbanism to those living their final years in drivable suburbia.

I don’t recall the speaker, but there was a particularly insightful moment on the subject of senior living at CNU 22, the most recent annual meeting of the Congress for the New Urbanism.  The speaker was digging into the statistics showing that many seniors prefer to “age in place”.

The aging in place sentiment is generally understood to mean that seniors wish to remain in the homes where they raised their families.  This understanding has launched many businesses focused on modifying homes with grab bars, providing essential in-home services, and otherwise facilitating seniors remaining in their long-time homes.

But as the speaker dug more deeply into the statistics, he found that many seniors weren’t necessarily thinking about the homes as the “places” where they insisted on “aging”.  Instead, they didn’t want to leave behind the neighbors with whom they had long friendships, the coffee shops where they spent Saturday mornings, or the butchers who cut their Christmas prime ribs.  Perhaps not all, but many seniors no longer cared about the five bedrooms and quarter-acre of grass where they’d raised their families.  They didn’t want to leave their neighborhoods.   Their neighborhood was their “place”. Continue reading

Durable Growth, Government

Urbanism and senior living: Making downtown options happen

Downtown building in Padua, Italy

Downtown building in Padua, Italy

In recent posts, I’ve been writing about how walkable urban settings can be good places to live one’s later years.  Most recently, I offered a few insights about senior lifestylesthat might find a home in downtowns.

It’s a subject of both general and personal interest to me.  I think having more seniors living downtown will make our downtowns and our cities healthier.  Also, I’m currently assisting a family member in a search for a new senior living situation.  I’m disappointed that there aren’t more urban options for her to consider.

Lastly, I know that there is a time when my wife and I will need alternative housing.  By then, I’m hopeful that more urban options will be open to us.  In thinking about my octogenarian self, I can conceive few prospects more pleasant than the possibility of walking to a hardware store to complete a small household repair or ambling to a bookstore to spend an hour browsing the options.  (Yes, I’m confident that printed books will still exist when I’m in my eighties.)

So, the topic for today is how to facilitate more downtown senior living options. Continue reading

Durable Growth

Urbanism and senior life: Sketching out the downtown options

Walkable setting in Paris

Walkable setting in Paris

In previous posts, I’ve written that many current options for senior life, specifically the common American model of large facilities in non-walkable settings and an observed Venetian arrangement that may have lacked adequate social contact, may not be meeting the needs of seniors.  I then suggested that urbanism, even if imperfectly applied in the Venetian example, offers good opportunities for fulfilling and contented senior years.   (I also wrote that many seniors are trapped in suburbiaby market forces, but that’s a thread that I won’t continue until later posts.)

So the question for today is if we want to provide more opportunities for seniors to live in urban places, what should the housing options be?

(Several responses to earlier posts highlighted the specific need for affordable senior housing.  I understand and appreciate the perspective, but note that there are also few urban options for more affluent seniors.  I agree that any new development should include affordable elements, but the challenge should be urban options for everyone, including all seniors.  Also, I’ll note that a city with a strong urbanist focus and a tax structure in which the municipal costs are allocated fairly may have less need to create affordable housing.)

In some ways, the question above about senior living options isn’t well-framed.  Seniors aren’t a species apart.  There’s not one type of urban housing that fits the needs of all seniors any more than there is one type of housing that fits the needs of all middle-aged folks.  But we can talk about a range of options, including the points on which the housing needs of seniors may differ from others. Continue reading

Durable Growth

Urbanism and senior living: Another downside to drivable suburbia

Suburban home near Santa Cruz

Suburban home near Santa Cruz

In the spring of 2009, I attended a series of public lectures about urbanism on the University of California, Berkeley campus.  Among the speakers was a representative from Calthorpe Associates, the firm founded by leading edge urbanist Peter Calthorpe.

I’ve forgotten the name of the Calthorpe person, but one of his comments stuck with me.  In looking at the long-range market for American housing, he and his associates had calculated the number of large-lot single-family homes that would be needed in 2037.  It was fewer than the number of large-lot single-family homes that existed in 2009.  We could have immediately stopped building homes in that category and, assuming that we preserved much of the current stock, still met demand thirty years in the future.

Among the professionals with whom I attended the lecture series, several were openly skeptical of the projection, noting the urbanist slant of Calthorpe Associates.  Personally, I found the forecast intriguing and would have appreciated the opportunity to dig into the data and assumptions behind it.  I thought the prediction might well have been accurate.

But I didn’t foresee that the implications of a reduced demand for large single-family homes would begin impacting seniors within only a few years.  Indeed, it is one of the largest stumbling blocks to finding a better solution for senior life in the U.S., a topic that I began considering in my previous post. Continue reading