A multi-billion-dollar ‘mega measure’ to fix Bay Area traffic for good heading your way

Imagine a Bay Area with highways that flow instead of grind to a halt. With trains that ring the bay, some running 24 hours a day. With ferries that stop at more than a handful of terminals and autonomous buses cruising in their own lanes, blasting past cars on the freeway.

If that sounds like a fantasy, just wait. The dream may be closer to reality than you think.

A coalition of Bay Area business leaders represented by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and the Bay Area Council, along with the urban planning think tank SPUR, say that dream is the answer to traffic congestion on Bay Area roads, which grew 84 percent between 2010 and 2016. The average commuter now spends more than 29 hours a year slogging through highways at speeds of 35 mph or slower.

“People are wasting hours of their life in traffic,” said Gabriel Metcalf, the president and CEO of SPUR. “Conversations started all over the Bay Area asking the question, can we do something at a bigger scale than we have done before? Big enough to actually solve the problem? Big enough to actually get us a different regional transportation system than we have today?”

Securing passage of Regional Measure 3, the proposed $3 toll increase on most bay bridges, is the first step, Metcalf said. But it’s a small one paving the way for a much bigger ask: A “mega measure” to fix traffic in the Bay Area for good — or at least for the foreseeable future.

For Oakland resident Lynn Hall, relief can’t come soon enough. She commutes to Redwood City and said it’s becoming impossible to get around.

“It’s crazy,” Hall said. “It feels like there are just too many people here. Our roads just can’t handle the capacity of the traffic we have.”

It’s too early to specify what transformative projects Bay Area residents can expect as part of this mega measure, said Carl Guardino, president and CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. However, early conversations have shed some light on the direction it might take.

The plan would almost certainly include a major expansion of train service for BART and Caltrain, said Jim Wunderman, president and CEO of the Bay Area Council. First on the list is a second tube, or bridge, for BART, which would allow 24-hour service, minimize the impact from a massive earthquake wiping out the existing Transbay Tube, and provide relief for trains bottle-necking in West Oakland. That tube could include Caltrain, or there could also be a new bay crossing, likely a bridge, to carry Caltrain, high-speed rail, or both, along with cars, Metcalf said.

There could be a vast network of toll lanes ringing the bay and radiating to the north, east and south, he said. They would run parallel to or even share lanes with buses. In turn, those buses, which will one day likely be autonomous, would cruise along at much faster speeds because they would be separated from single-occupancy cars, Metcalf said.

There could be dramatically expanded ferry service, and better access to the North Bay, he said.

“It’s really important to connect to the North Bay,” Metcalf said, “whether that means expanded ferry service or connecting to the SMART train. It seems like a good opportunity.”

It won’t be cheap.

There’s no price tag, at least not yet, but early estimates indicate it could be in the ballpark of $100 billion. To put that in perspective, the state’s gas tax is estimated to generate $130 billion over 25 years. And the proposed $3 toll hike is expected to generate between $4 billion and $5 billion over the same time period.

It won’t be easy, either.

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Architect Jeffrey Heller is photographed in his office on Monday, May 22, 2017, in San Francisco, Calif. Heller has been working for a year with local and state agencies on a conceptual Bay Region transportation plan. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group) 

Bay Area residents have been asked repeatedly in recent years to fund maintenance and expansion projects. Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties all have existing half-cent sales taxes for transportation improvements. Beginning Nov. 1, drivers started paying 12 cents more at the pump and will soon be paying more to register their cars. And then there are the special assessments for BART and AC Transit in the East Bay, along with a new proposed 1/8th-cent sales tax for Caltrain in San Francisco and the South Bay.

There’s a threshold for how much people are willing to pay, said Congressman Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord. He’s a proponent of expanding the Bay Area’s transportation network and recently joined Sen. Dianne Feinstein in calling for a new bridge across the bay for cars and BART, but he said safeguards should be put in place to ensure any new tunnel, bridge or toll lane project is rooted in data documenting what will move the most people.

“Historically in this country, too many projects have been based on political relationships,” DeSaulnier said. “That part of the system is failing us.”

The Bay Area Council, Silicon Valley Leadership Group and SPUR have already hired SCN Strategies, Gov. Jerry Brown’s campaign firm, for what they expect will be a lengthy public outreach period. They promise no decisions will be made until there’s strong analysis backing any proposed project.

“It takes a lot of public will and the resources to do this,” Guardino said. “This is nine counties, 101 cities, 33 or 34 different transit districts.”

It’s also 7 million people, including suburban and semi-rural residents who take only occasional trips to San Francisco and aren’t particularly interested in 24-hour BART service or ferries far from their inland homes.

But it’s not completely without precedent. Bay Area voters came together in 2016 to approve passage of a $12 parcel tax to fund wetlands restoration in the bay. It was the first regional tax of its kind in the Bay Area. But, Guardino said the measure sought a relatively small amount of money, an estimated $500 million over 20 years.

What SPUR and the two business organizations are contemplating is much larger, he said.

For that, Wunderman cited two recent successes in major West Coast cities as inspiration for the Bay Area’s own mega measure: Los Angeles voters approved a half-cent sales tax to drum up an estimated $120 billion over four decades for a dramatic expansion of the county’s light rail system, bus and rail operations, ongoing maintenance and fare subsidies. And Seattle voters agreed to a mix of sales, property and motor vehicle excise taxes to generate approximately $27 billion over more than 20 years to help pay for a nearly $54 billion expansion of the region’s light rail, bus rapid transit and train network, including a new transit tunnel below downtown Seattle and ongoing maintenance.

Central to both measures was a unified vision and a relatively small number of very large projects. They also both included future maintenance needs as part of the cost of building new infrastructure.

The last time the Bay Area did anything that big was the creation of BART, said Randy Rentschler, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the region’s transportation planning agency. Then, like now, it was the business community leading the charge, he said.

Jeff Heller, a prominent local architect who sits on the Bay Area Council’s transportation committee, acknowledged convincing the paying public will be the largest hurdle.

“The voting public has got to connect the dots that if they want the transportation issues solved, if they want access to housing solved, they’ve got to do this,” he said. “And they should want to do it, and they should even be excited about it.”

Article source: http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/12/17/bay-area-traffic-fix-mega-measure/

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Bay Area’s soaring housing costs: Wealthier arrivals pushing out …

Reporting about the rising real estate and housing costs in San Francisco and the Bay Area isn’t exactly breaking news. But a new study published this week demonstrates just how much pressure high-income new arrivals have placed on the region’s real estate market, and how wealthier and wealthier individuals are getting pushed out by the seemingly inexorable rise in housing costs.

Last year, the income of those leaving the Bay Area reached $81,500, while the average household income of new arrivals hit $90,000. These stats make the region a significant outlier on a national level, and offers more proof of the region’s accelerating real estate values, its affordability crisis, and the claim that wealthy former San Franciscans are putting pressure on a number of nearby cities.

The research and report, conducted by Issi Romem, chief economist at BuildZoom, and published by SPUR, a Bay Area urban planning and research non-profit, shows how rising prices are impacting migration. It suggests that those feeling deterred from moving to the region due to high prices, as well as those who leave the area because of the same high housing costs, are at a higher income level that some may have expected.

“By dampening the flow of newcomers and tipping the scales so that more residents leave, the rising cost of housing prevents the population from exceeding what the current housing stock can accommodate,” Romem writes. “This price driven mechanism has implications with respect to the identity of who moves to the Bay Area, who stays and who leaves, however.”


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Issi Romen

Romem examined 12 years of data from the American Community Survey and found that the incomes of those moving in and moving out rose faster than the area average. That suggests a few things. In-migration is becoming more financially selective, and attracting those employed in high-wage sectors of the economy, likely the tech sector (61 percent of new arrivals have a college degree, versus 47.7 percent of current residents). Increasingly higher incomes are needed to make a move here financially viable.

In addition, higher and higher costs have changed the calculus for even wealthier segments of the current Bay Area population, making it more attractive to sell homes in this hot market and use the proceeds to move to a less expensive city. Those on higher rungs of the socio-economic ladder are also feeling shunned, and see greener pastures elsewhere. Romem found that while those leaving the Bay Area saw their salaries drop from $81,500 to $68,200 once they left, on average, even that new, lower paycheck was better than the median salaries in most major U.S. cities, including Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas, and Atlanta.

The Bay Area is still a relatively dynamic regions. Roughly 1.7 million people left and nearly 2 million moved in between 2010 and 2016, Romem found, indicating one-fifth of the population changed. New residents aren’t all high flyers, either: more than half a million migrants with income below $50,000 arrived during that period, 337,000 of whom came from elsewhere in the U.S.

But as these migration figures make clear, the population is increasingly skewed towards high earners, making the Bay Area less hospitable to those with lower salaries. “The human cost is real,” he concludes, noting that “Those leaving the area or deterred from moving to it pay a price in terms of lost opportunity. It is ironic that for many Bay Area homeowners, realizing the gains from escalating property values requires leaving the Bay Area.”

Article source: https://www.curbed.com/2017/12/15/16780358/san-francisco-unaffordable-real-estate-migration-study

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As GOP nears final tax deal, here’s the Bay Area impact

Despite a few eleventh-hour wrinkles, Republicans in the House and Senate hope to vote as early as Monday on their ambitious tax plan that will cut individual and corporate rates — while impacting Americans in different parts of the country in decidedly different ways.

On Friday Republicans said they had lined up the support to pass the plan out of the Senate; a winning margin in the House of Representatives was already all but certain. Assuming those votes play out as planned, it’ll be just a presidential signature away from reality.

So what does this all mean for the Bay Area, a place where taxpayers rely on mortgage-interest and property-tax deductions in a red-hot housing market and companies like Apple are looking for tax breaks that might help them bring back billions stashed overseas? Earlier versions of the GOP tax bills — one each in the House and Senate — had a cornucopia of controversial and differing provisions on issues critical to those of us who live here, including mortgage-interest and state income tax deductions. Now all of those differences have been resolved in a combined bill.

Remember that in addition to rewriting particular provisions of the tax code, the GOP tax reform cuts corporate taxes across the board, and trims income tax rates for many Americans. So it isn’t a simple matter to say how the loss of one tax break or the addition of another will affect any individual tax bill.

But based on what we know about the plan so far, here are some of the ways the GOP’s final tax package might impact the Bay Area and the rest of the Golden State:

The Sizzling Real Estate Market

The GOP tax plan may throw some cold water onto the very hot fire that is our local home market. This news organization recently reported on a warning from a prominent group of Realtors that both the Senate and House proposals would slash home prices and values in California and beyond. The cuts to real estate-focused tax deductions under consideration might trigger a price drop between 8 and 12 percent, leading to a loss in home value of between $37,710 and $56,550 for the typical homeowner, according to the National Association of Realtors. Of course, that’s a blessing or a curse, depending on whether you’re a homebuyer or a homeowner. Which deductions, you ask? Read on.

Mortgage-interest Tax Breaks are Capped

Currently, if you itemize your deductions, you can write off qualifying mortgage interest for loans of up to $1,000,000, along with an additional $100,000 for that home-equity line you’ve enjoyed so much. That million-dollar cap applies to a mortgage on your primary residence plus one other home. Under the House-Senate compromise deal, the mortgage interest deduction would be allowed on new home loans only up to $750,000. That was a compromise between the House bill, where new mortgages would have been capped at $500,000 for deduction purposes, and the Senate bill, where the current $1,000,000 cap would have remained in place. The compromise is better for the Bay Area than it might have been, but it will still sting for many California homebuyers who’ll lose part of a very valuable tax break. In pricey Santa Clara County, for instance, the purchaser of a median-price home who puts 20 percent down is looking at a $900,000 loan, and would lose an estimated $2,755 in tax savings under the GOP plan.

501e1 sjmn mortgage 1214 online 01 As GOP nears final tax deal, heres the Bay Area impact

What about SALT?

Initially, both the House and Senate bills cut out the SALT, or “state and local tax” deduction, a wonderful tax break for residents in this (and other) expensive corners of the country. But politicians from high-tax states such as California and New York said they couldn’t live with a total elimination of SALT. So what did we end up with? In the (apparently) final bill, taxpayers can deduct state income taxes or sales taxes in addition to property levies — but only up to a $10,000 cap. That’s better than nothing, but much less than many Bay Area residents currently write off. SALT deductions are currently used by one in three Californians (you must itemize your deductions to get it), and their average deduction was about $18,000 in the most recent tax year, according to IRS figures.

What About that Tesla Tax Write-off?

The House bill called for the elimination of the tax credit for electric vehicles, a potentially big blow for Tesla, which has large manufacturing facilities in California, and the thousands of Californians who drive those and other electric cars. But there’s good news now: The House and Senate scrapped that proposal, leaving the current $7,500 electric-vehicle tax credit in place.

And Apple’s Overseas Cash Horde?

The United States would follow most other industrialized countries in switching to a “territorial” tax system, where overseas profits aren’t taxed at home. Companies will also get a low, one-time tax rate when they bring home profits they’re holding abroad. That’s been eyed as an Apple break; the company has $252 billion parked overseas, more than any other U.S. firm. However, after some last-minute finagling, the break will be smaller than expected (a tax rate for repatriating offshore cash once proposed at 10 percent ended up at 15.5 percent in the final bill), and companies would face complex rules meant to discourage them from moving more money and operations abroad. Stay tuned on this one.

Threats to Higher Education Staved Off — With One Big Exception 

GOP tax bill writers initially proposed to eliminate favorable tax treatment for graduate students who receive free or reduced tuition, but backed off the notion at the last minute. However, they did approve a first-ever tax on some private university endowments. The bill places a 1.4% excise tax on endowment earnings, but it affects only private colleges with more than 500 students and endowments worth at least $500,000 per student. That’s fewer than 30 colleges, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education; it seems likely that one would be Stanford, with the third largest endowment of any U.S. university at more than $22 billion.

 

Article source: http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/12/14/what-the-final-gop-tax-plan-means-for-the-bay-area/

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A shocking number of Americans have roommates – but that number is even higher in SF


  • b3560 920x920 A shocking number of Americans have roommates – but that number is even higher in SF

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Flying the coop was once a young adult rite of passage, but according to a new report, many Americans are returning home to roost or seeking out roommates.

Flying the coop was once a young adult rite of passage, but according to a new report, many Americans are returning home to roost or seeking out roommates.

Photo: Eric Audras/Getty Images/Onoky
























Flying the coop was once a young adult rite of passage, but according to a new report, many Americans are returning home to roost or seeking roommates.

Thirty percent of working-age adults – those aged 23 to 65 – live in “doubled-up households,” according to the report from real estate site Zillow. That number is a 9 percentage point jump from a low of 21 percent in 2005.

No surprises here: The figures are even bleaker in San Francisco, where Zillow found 38 percent of adults live with mom and pop, or roommates.


As one might assume, Zillow found a “strong relationship” between doubling-up and rental affordability.

SEE ALSO: SF renters are now facing another, very bizarre headache

“In metro areas where rent drains a larger share of household income, more adults choose to live with roommates or family members,” explained Zillow, which compiled its data from individual Census responses.


Young people have it even worse. More than half of those aged 23-29 live in doubled-up households, Zillow said. That makes sense, especially in the Bay Area, where a 2016 RadPad study projected college graduates could spend, on average, up to 79 percent of their salaries on rent.


These are the most expensive cities to rent a 2 bedroom apartment in.


Media: WochIt Media



It’s easy to assume that this is a case of lazy Millennials shunning rent to maintain their prodigal avocado toast habit. But Zillow found the likelihood of a doubled-up lifestyle “has increased at the same rate among employed and underemployed adults since 2005, regardless of age.”

“A more likely hypothesis,” Zillow explains, “is that young people are especially likely to be underemployed … rendering some of them unable to afford escalating rents on their own.”


Article source: https://www.sfgate.com/realestate/article/sf-bay-area-rent-roommates-parents-study-12432178.php

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What Are Those Weird, Pink Ponds in San Francisco Bay?

Passengers flying into Bay Area airports usually spot them out the window: huge, colorful ponds, hugging the shoreline of the bay. The patchwork of brown, green and pink looks like a bizarre quilt.

They’re known as the “salt ponds,” and Bay Curious listener Ann Vercoutere has wondered about them since her childhood in the South Bay.

“When you’d drive by on the old Bayshore Freeway, you’d see these big piles of salt,” she says. “So, my question is: what’s the process of how they go from dirty bay water into salt that comes out white from my salt shaker?”

143 Billion Bowls of Popcorn

Those giant piles of salt actually hold of piece of the Bay Area’s history going back to the Gold Rush and reflect the legacy of environmental change since then.

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Animation shows the movement of reddish salt brine through Cargill’s Newark ponds over the course of 2017. (Images provided by Planet)

Of course, they also hold a lot of seasoning.

“The salt stack is 80 feet tall and about 800 feet wide,” says Maria Alizo-Martell of Cargill, Inc., standing next to the 500,000-ton pile. By rough estimate, it would season 143 billion bowls of popcorn, give or take, depending on how salty you like it.

The piles are at Cargill’s Newark facility, where the final harvest takes place. But it begins in San Francisco Bay.

Salty water from the bay is captured in vast ponds, where it starts to evaporate because of heat from the sun and drying by the wind. At first, the ponds are green or brownish in color, like the bay itself.

As the salt water becomes more concentrated, it’s moved into other ponds where the color becomes more yellowish. Finally, in the last stage, the “pickle” brine, as it’s known, starts turning pink.

“We like pink,” says Alizo-Martell with a chuckle, walking across a shallow pond with an inch of pink water. It covers a thick layer of crusty salt and looks like a giant, raspberry snow cone.


https://www.kqed.org/.stream/anon/radio/bay-curious/2017/12/salt-ponds.mp3

Don’t Call it a “Salt Pond”

“This is what we call a crystallizer bed,” says Cargill’s Pat Mapelli. “This is very engineered, managed and manicured, where everything has been rolled, graded, sloped and compacted. Whereas a salt pond is essentially a diked off area that has been flooded with salt water.”

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Salt-loving microbes color the water before harvest. (Lauren Sommer/KQED)

The vibrant pink hue comes from a natural source: halobacterium and microscopic algae.

As the water gets saltier, some microbes can’t hack it and they die off. But others are specially adapted to salty conditions and they flourish, changing the color of the water.

“When they get stressed as the salinity increases, they produce that red color,” says Alizo-Martell.

The saltier the water, the redder the microbes get. That color aids in the salt-making process by absorbing sunlight and increasing evaporation. Clear water doesn’t absorb as much light.

Once several inches of salt form, Cargill begins the harvest, which lasts from September to December.

“It’s just beautiful,” says Alizo-Martell, picking up a handful of the flaky, white cubes. “It’s so weather dependent. You had a bad year, you get not much salt.” A lot of rain slows down the process.

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The massive salt stack in Newark holds 500,000 tons. (Lauren Sommer/KQED)

In all, it takes three years and a thousand gallons of bay water to produce just one pound of salt. From here, it goes to a refinery where it’s cleaned, sized and sold as sea salt, bearing the Morton’s or Diamond Crystal brand.

But only 3 percent of the salt ends up on our table. The rest supplies a huge range of industrial processes, from pharmaceuticals to food production, water treatment and road salt.

Gold Rush History

Believe it or not, the Bay Area may not be what it is today without its salt. Harvesting salt from the Bay dates back to Native American groups like the Ohlone, but demand really picked up in the 1850s.

“As people migrated from the east to the west, mostly around the discovery of gold, there was a need for salt,” says Mapelli. “Everybody traveled with salt.”

Without refrigeration, salt was how people preserved food.

“It was almost worth its weight in gold,” he says.

Salt-making boomed through the 1970s, when Cargill bought the operation. 44,000 acres of the bay were in production then, but today, it’s just 8,000.

That’s because the market for salt shifted and so did our view of what San Francisco Bay should be. The salt ponds used to be marshes, which, around the time of the Gold Rush, were seen as wasteland.

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Only three percent ends up as table salt. The rest goes to industry. (Lauren Sommer/KQED)

“There was an encouragement by both the state and federal government to put what they considered wasteland or swamp and overflow lands into economic use,” Mapelli says.

Today, the Bay has lost more than 80 percent of its marshes. So, in 2003, the federal and state governments bought thousands of acres of ponds from Cargill. In the biggest ecosystem restoration project on the West Coast, the ponds are being reconnected to the Bay and restored to their original status as marshlands to support wildlife and act as buffers against rising sea levels.

For Bay Curious questioner Ann Vercoutere, the ponds are one of the few things that haven’t changed from her childhood in the South Bay.

When she was a kid in Mountain View, “there were lots of orchards around,” she says. “Some of our summer jobs were going to work picking Italian prune plums with the migrant workers. Shoreline Amphitheater was the city dump. That was always a fun Saturday to go with our dad and pick through the dump and look for stuff.”

Now, the salt ponds border some of the most expensive real estate in the nation, not far from gleaming tech campuses. The chances of starting a large, industrial salt-making operation in the Bay today are effectively zilch, for financial and environmental reasons.

Because of the long, colorful history, Cargill still holds rights to make salt, which really, is the only way salt-harvesting has stuck around amid the intense development pressure of the Bay Area.

  • You should have mentioned the fact that Cargill bought all this from the LESLIE SALT CO.that operated the business for many many years.

Article source: https://ww2.kqed.org/science/2017/12/14/what-are-those-weird-pink-ponds-in-san-francisco-bay/

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