Up Sucker Creek

Up Sucker Creek
Photo Courtesy of the Lake Oswego Library

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Two days late

happy (late) thanksgiving

Enough' is a feast.

Buddhist Proverb

When a city over-regulates land

No amount of land-use regulation will ever be enough - that would mean government would have reached a state of perfection - which doesn't exist.  What we are left with is an increasingly aggressive regulatory environment that is chasing an ever-decreasing rate of return.  When is enough enough?  Where will we end up?

In every civilized society property rights 
must be carefully safeguarded; ordinarily 
and in the great majority of cases, 
human rights and property rights are 
fundamentally and in the long run, identical.

-- Theodore Roosevelt

Land use regulations exist because some people want to be sure their neighbors act in a way they find appropriate.  Some regulations are good. But when the general public's freedoms are too restricted, people may not want, nor be able to afford to keep up with increasing requirements.  The value of all of the land in the city is subject to a decrease in value when property upkeep and maintenance deteriorates and potential buyers perceive there is an overly-controling regulatory environment.

Who can afford all of the government's rules and requirements?  Why would one willingly subject themselves to an additional cost burden to live in one town if there were better alternatives?

If Lake Oswego wants to be considered desirable and competitive, for residents and business, it needs to examine its regulatory controls over private property and lifestyle choices.  Even the most wealthy resident will not stand by and watch their cost of living go up and up when they can choose to live elsewhere.   Many of Lake Oswego's most onerous land use regulations are "self"-inflicted by our own staff and political leaders.

Be informed about what is going on in City Hall and speak up and vote accordingly.

From PERC:  Property Environment Research Center
By Matthew Turner, Fall/Winter 2014

A new study says a little less may be more

WITH THIS IN MIND, our results are striking. There is a clear decrease in land values as we cross into more heavily regulated municipalities. There is also a steep decline in the share of land developed in more regulated municipalities. In short, the own-lot effect of land-use regulations is clearly negative and sufficiently large to warrant concern.
More surprising, we find that prices drop slightly as we move further into the interior of more regulated municipalities. That is, land-use regulations seem to be having a negative external effect. This suggests that the regulatory burden may be high enough that it reduces people’s willingness to maintain or improve their properties. In this case, as we travel into more regulated municipalities, we are likely to be traveling into neighborhoods that are less well maintained.
The potential upside of land-use regulations—and the reason they are so pervasive—is that regulations might reduce the irritations that your unregulated neighbors cause you. Our data, however, suggest that the external benefits of land-use regulations do not outweigh the costs of regulations, particularly if we account for the decrease in the total amount of land developed. That is, at the margin, land-use regulations are even more irritating than your neighbors would be if they were given a little more freedom.
The implications of our research are straightforward. The benefits from a modest reduction in land-use regulations are likely to be greater than the benefits landowners receive from regulating their neighbors.
Read more: “Land Use Regulation and Welfare,” by Matthew A. Turner, Andrew Haughwout, and Wilbert van der Klaauw. Econometrica, Vol. 82, No. 4 (July 2014).
- See more at: http://www.perc.org/articles/economics-land-use-regulations#.dpuf

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Raining on our parade

The stormwater police are gearing up to expand their (work)force and fire power.  This time it's city engineering staff that wants to pick your pocket, take part of your yard, and load you with odious regulations related to rain water.  Remember, it's the government's water.
 Oh no! People covered with large, impervious surfaces!    
Why the extreme rules? What problems are the staff trying to solve?  
According to the Lake Oswego Review, city Stormwater Manager, Anne MacDonald, said that the streams and lakes in the city do not meet water quality standards. But that is not what the TMDL Report says.  Oswego Lake has a problem with phosphorous and a couple of streams are too warm. Did I miss something?  Another lake perhaps?  
Are the proposed regulations required by the state or federal government?
Some. A lot of the proposed new rules go way beyond what are required by DEQ.  The proposed codes don't separate the two.  
How many new city employees and consultants would it take to create, administer, inspect and enforce the new rules and how much would it cost?
Good question, but it's obvious that MacDonald cannot do everything herself. The head of the engineering department, Erica Rooney, said they were being run ragged as it is. As time went on, the sheer volume of installations to administer, inspect, follow and enforce would be enormous.  All those new deed restrictions are to track compliance.
“A big part of the city has never been looked at for stormwater management — older sections and subdivisions never had requirements 40 or 50 years ago,” says Planning Commission Vice Chairman John LaMotte. “The city has to catch up (to stormwater requirements) in these areas.”  

"LaMotte says the proposed changes to the city’s Stormwater Management Manual implement “more modern” techniques for addressing runoff." (LO Review)
Older sections of town have to "catch up"?  Be "more modern"?  There will always be newer, "more modern" methods to do everything.  How far will our regulatory machine go?  
What is happening to our property rights? 
Why would the citizens, Planning Commission and City Council allow these over-the-top rules to be approved?  
Another good question.  In times past (and not that long ago), the city adopted the least restrictive regulations that the state required so as not to impose undue hardship and rules on citizens.  This made for a happier town.  At some point, about 13 or so years ago, it became the fashion to follow Portland's decent down the rabbit hole of smart growth.  This resulted in a new age of eco-zealotry, over-bearing, neighbor-spying-on-neighbor, regulatory hell.  There are thousands of citizens who want their city back and don't want to have it run by "staff" and NGO activists. This IS a HOME RULE city.  Just do it!
Who is making policy and running this town?  
We'll see.  The Stormwater Management Manual is mainly a policy statement with code language.  Will the Planning Commission and City Council misinterpret (with staff help) as a required regulatory necessity, or understand that they get to decide what direction this town goes in?  Code follows policy, so get the policy right.  Once approved, the combined policies and code, written by staff, would be difficult or impossible to change.  
On Monday night, there will be a Public Hearing on new policies and codes that will establish the conditions and methods property owners will have to follow to take care of rain water that has the audacity to fall on their land.  Uninvited, like a bad party guest.  But now that it's on your property, it's your responsibility.  Maybe.  

I know of a couple of developments where the stormwater systems installed per the new dictates don't work. Downhill neighbors are getting more than their share of water and grief.  It isn't supposed to be their problem, but the codes are final, so what are they going to do?  (Downhillers who complain are called "whiners" - don't listen to them.)

Planning Commission
Public Hearing for Stormwater Management Manual
Monday, November 23, 2015
5:30 PM at City Hall 

There is every reason to disapprove this SMM.  A delay of a decision so that the public can have meaningful (advertised and solicited) input is ideal.  At the Open House in October, MacDonald explained that the schedule for work sessions and public hearings was the shortest possible timeframe possible as this document was being fast-tracked.  When that happens, it is typically done to avoid close scrutiny.  There is no magic behind the concepts in this book.  The main points are the minimum triggers for when a property owner would be swept up into the program, and what would be the extent of the new regulations.  In both cases, the minimum limits go way beyond what DEQ requires.  

Is the kind of city you want to live in?
Whose city is it?  

Monday, November 16, 2015

It's that time of year

It's November

It's the start of the rainy season in the Northwest  

But who's rain is it? 

The forecast for winter 2015-2016 is for a lot of precipitation, so get out those rain barrels and fill them up!  So far, you don't need a permit to harvest rain in Oregon, but you never know how long that free rain will last.  It appears that rain, like the air we breathe, is a free resource, but once it hits the Earth (or your roof) it becomes part of the Waters of the U. S.

About rain barrels - will someone please tell me how useful they are?  In the rainy season you don't need to capture water, and in the dry season, a barrel (or two or three) of water won't do very much.

With the price of water going up (and up), a well would be nice, but the city collects most of its money from fees assessed on a per household basis, not on water use, so having one's own water source would not cut down on those water fees by much.

And then there is the monthly storm water fee. Will new construction be able to catch a break on their monthly fees since property owners will have to put in their own infiltration systems?  Not likely.  The existing stormwater system must be maintained for existing development, and now for all of those private infiltration systems that don't work.

Rain - you can't live without it, but when the government gets involved, you might wish you could!

By the way, did you hear about the guy in Clackamas County who.....

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Housing shortages mean new rules

Housing shortages incite local governments to control rental market

Is it right for cities to dictate how private homes are used in order to solve a city-wide, government-created, social problem?  

Some cities want to limit or ban short-term home and apartment rentals for different reasons.

Traditional vacation towns like Cannon Beach have struggled with tourists overtaking  neighborhoods where full-time residents live and have limited total days a house can be rented to restore neighborhood stability.  Next on the list may be Gearhart.

The newest category of cities to restrict short-term housing rentals are those with housing shortages.  The feeling in these cities is that homeowners are taking homes that would normally be sold or used as long-term rentals off the market in order to rent to tourists.  Rent for just a few days or weeks can easily bring in what one month of normal rent would be, but with the supply of housing low, affordable housing is hard to come by.
  • What is causing the housing shortage (and high prices) in some cities besides the obvious popularity of the area?  
  • Are government smart growth policies to blame for the high cost of housing with artificial limitations on the supply of buildable land and other land use requirements? 
  • Behind all the regulations, who promoting smart growth in small towns, and why?

Have you heard of these firms (see below) before?  This is the planning team for a study of the urban growth boundary for the Hood River School District.  At least 4 of the firms (that I know of) have worked for Lake Oswego.  They are representative of the consultant cog of the government/industrial machine that is keeping housing so expensive.  These firms work regionally and nationally and all work from the same script.  Is there any wonder why all comprehensive plans (and other local land use plans) look the same?   See how many people made money just from the (small) Hood River School District:

Project Team
Angelo Planning Group
Archeological Investigations Northwest
Cogan Owens Cogan
Kittelson and Associates
Turnstone Environmental

Here is how it works:
1.  Government creates an artificial shortage of buildable land with an urban growth boundary (see map above).  The price of land goes up when demand exceeds supply.  Housing prices rise with the high cost of land.

2.  Smart growth (high density) land use strategies are employed to deal with the [artificial] housing crisis.  (The crisis is real, but the cause is artificial and can be reversed quickly.). "Never let a good crisis go to waste."  And if there isn't a crisis to further your cause, create one.  

3.  New housing types are planned, but because land is still in short supply, even new,  smaller, denser housing units are pricey.  

4.  Repeat #2 and 3 indefinately, add public housing and increase regulations on private residential property.  The crisis is here to stay.  High housing prices, loss of property rights and class warfare ensue.  

Why can't houses be built beyond the UGB in this 9k-person town?  

When will politicians get smarter than the Central Planners and consultants who concoct and profit from these bad plans?

Hood River, dealing with housing affordability issues, tackles short-term rentals
Oregonian, Novembr 1, 2015

City Council holds hearing on strategies for housing
Hood River News, August 7, 2015

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Back from Texas

Landing in Dallas, besides the weather change from rain to warm sunshine, we realized we had entered a new territory with an entirely different mindset.

Before we even left DFW, we were surprised to

see the amazing array of SUVs available for rent:  BIG SUVs, small SUVs, crossover SUVs, luxury SUVs, 4WD trucks and vans, and more.  Regular cars were clearly in the minority.  Texas is not apologetic about using SUVs the way greenies want us to feel on the West Coast.  Automobiles (and personal freedom) rule in Texas - especially trucks.

Toll roads are everywhere and are heavily used.  The Interestate Freeway system is alive and well, but to siphon off excess congestion, toll roads were built and funded by the users.  When points of congestion appear to be unmanageable, the regional transportation agencies plan (ahead) for ways to keep auto traffic moving.   Conditions in Texas demonstrate that personal-mobility is unnecessarily difficult in our blue state where government doesn't just allow congestion, but works hard to create it.      

Texas is an economic powerhouse drawing newcomers from all over the country; Texas has four of the top ten largest metropolitan areas in the U.S.: Houstin, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Austin, San Antinio. Housing is in short supply, and the apartment boom is in full swing there too.  However, in all cases, homes are still a lot more affordable than in West Coast cities where land use (and land supply) regulations take their toll on housing affordability.  (Below: homes in Dallas' north suburbs from $199k to $400k - from 3 to 5 bedrooms, all with pools).  Austin is losing its affordability.

Austin is a blue city in a red state.  Some things work well, but the growing emphasis on smart growth and light rail is telling.  It's just not persuasive.  You want vibrant?  Go to 6th Street.  But don't go the ground-floor, mixed-use, walkable developments near transit.  These new place-making places are so generic they feel like just another Olive Garden or Chili's in another mini-mall.  You can't "make" "vibrant" without lots and lots of free alcohol.

* San Angelo is the largest city in the U.S. that
Isn't served by an Interestate freeway.  I guess someplace had to have the title, and San Angelo is it.

* Highway speeds limit on the cross-state freeways are (officially) 80 mph.  Great for making that trip to Far Far West Texas.

* The Marfa Mystery Lights are real, but what are they really?

* The stars and galaxies in Dark Sky communities like Ft. Davis are breathtaking!  (Clear skies help too.)

* Texans love their BBQ, chili cook-offs, cowboy culture, football and independence.  I hope the influx of newcomers does not change the essential character of Texas like it did Oregon.

Back home in Lake Oswego.  It's good to be in one's own space, even if it raining and cold.  But the general feeling of oppression that hangs over our state and city - unnecessarily - is disturbing.  We need to learn a few old-fashioned lessons on freedom and mobility from Texas, and they should be looking to Portland for lessons on how their dreams can go astray, even with the best of intentions.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A godless religion for alarmists

In a Wall Street Journal commentary, the author, Brett Stephens wonders about the motivations of people willing to believe and act on failed "big ideas" of an apolyptic future.  He cites Paul Erlich's dire predictions of mass starvation due to population overkill (we should be all be dead by now), and the Chinese experiment with the one-child policy that resulted in forced sterilization and now a dearth of young workers to support the elderly.  Mass starvation has not occurred because of overpopulation but from political unrest, poor farming practices and weather-related crop failures.  But predictions of a doom-and-gloom future by mainly liberal thinkers continues.  Why?

The writer, like many others, concludes that "as the alarmists fed the hysteria, the hysteria fed the alarmists."  It's a religious movement for the Godless: Apolyptic end times are nigh unless we repent and change our wicked ways.  Who is attracted to these beliefs, and why?

Wall Street Journal, November 3, 2015  By Bret Stephens
The Tyranny of a Big Idea
Modern liberals are best understood as would-be believers in search of true faith.

Power is se­duc­tive, as are fame and wealth, and it’s easy to see how be­ing a sci­en­tific prophet of doom af­forded ac­cess to all three. So long as the alarmists fed the hys­te­ria, the hys­te­ria would feed the alarmists—with no end of lu­cra­tive book con­tracts and lav­ish con­fer­ences in ex­otic des­ti­nations to keep the cy­cle go­ing. It’s also not sur­pris­ing that some­one like Mr. Ehrlich, trained as an entomologist, would be tempted to think of hu­man be­ings as merely a larger type of in­sect.

But the real ques­tion isn’t what dri­ves peo­ple to be lead­ers of a new move­ment. That’s easy enough to under­stand. It’s why so many peo­ple—usu­ally well-ed­u­cated, ur­bane lib­er­als—would wish to be fol­low­ers.

It isn’t the strength of the ev­i­dence. The idea of a pop­u­la­tion bomb was al­ways pre­pos­ter­ous: The world’s 7.3 bil­lion peo­ple could fit into an area the size of Texas, with each per­son get­ting 1,000 square feet of per­sonal space. Food has never been more abun­dant. As for re­source scarcity, the frack­ing rev­o­lu­tion re­minds us that scarcity is not so much a threat to mankind as it is an op­por­tu­nity for in­no­va­tion.

What mat­ters, rather, is the strength of the long­ing. Mod­ern lib­eral­ism is best un­der­stood as a movement of would-be be­liev­ers in search of true faith. For much of the 20th cen­tury it was faith in His­tory, es­pecially in its Marx­ist in­ter­pre­ta­tion. Now it’s faith in the en­vi­ron­ment. Each is a comprehen­sive be­lief system, an in­struc­tion sheet on how to live, eat and re­pro­duce, a story of how man fell and how he might be re­deemed, a tale of im­pend­ing cri­sis that’s also a moral cru­cible.

In short, a re­li­gion with­out God. I some­times won­der whether the journal­ists now writ­ing about the fail­ure of the one-child pol­icy ever note the sim­i­lar­i­ties with to­day’s cli­mate “crisis.” That the fears are largely the same. And the po­lit­i­cal pre­scrip­tions are al­most iden­ti­cal. And the lead­ers of the move­ment are cut from the same cloth. And the con­fi­dence with which the alarmists pre­scribe rad­i­cal cures, their in­tol­er­ance for dis­sent­ing views, their in­sis­tence on “global solu­tions,” their dis­dain for de­mo­c­ra­tic in­put or tech­no­log­i­cal adap­ta­tions—that every­thing is just as it was when bell-bot­toms were in vogue.