Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Blogger Candidate Forum: Late News On Local Ballot Initiatives

http://www.citylab.com; November 7, 2017


Hello Everyone:

Time for the off-year election edition of Blogger Candidate Forum.  This election was marked by a large number of men and women of color running for office.  The state of Virginia saw the election of Danica Roem, the first openly transgender person, to the House of Delegates.  While the Democratic Party was celebrating these victories, it cast an eye to next year's midterm election.  If the Blue Team learned anything from this election, it is focus on the issues, not Mr. Donald Trump.  

A hearty congratulations to all the winners and good luck.  The easy part is over, now comes the hard part: governance.  Surround yourself with good people you trust, stay informed, and stay in touch with your constituents.  

Tuesday's election was also about city ballot measures.  Most of the ballot measures dealt with very specific issues: taxes, sidewalks, libraries, and zoos.  However, some of the city-specific ballot measures could have national repercussions.  Alastair Boone, Mimi Kirk, and Sarah Holder reported in their CityLab round up of these measures, "The City Policy Initiaitives on the Ballot Tuesday," "Bigger metros can serve as a legislative testing ground, paving the way for smaller ones to implement copycat regulations."  After all, it was the Seattle suburb of Seatac that led about 40 other cities and states to raise the minimum wage (huffpost.com; Dec. 27, 2016; date accessed Nov. 8, 2017).

Below are some of the ballot initiatives that voters decided on:

Reversing the "heat island" effect

Denver, Colorado: The Denver Post reported that Denver is about five degrees hotter than the surrounding areas during the summer, thanks to its "heat island" effect (denverpost.com; March 5, 2017; date accessed Nov. 8, 2017).  This phenomenon occurs when the concrete rooftops and pavements bake in the sun, increasing air conditioning use and fouling the air quality-Denver is third in the nation for severity.

To remedy this effect, a coalition of ecological-minded Denverites-the Denver Green Roof Intiative (denvergreenroof.org; date accessed Nov. 8, 2017).  They collected the required 4,700 signatures to put on the ballot.   The intiative requires building 25,0000-square feet and over to cover a minimum 20 percent of their roofs with a green space or solar panels.

Mimi Kirk wrote, "The group based the initiative on similar rules in effect in San Francisco [sf-planning.org; date accessed Nov. 8, 2017] and Toronto [web.toronto.ca; date accessed Nov. 8, 2017] though the Denver mandate would be more stringent in that it would also apply to existing buildings expanding or replacing their roofs rather than just new development."

Realtors, contractors, and builders joined together to put up fierce opposition.  They cited an increasing in construction and housing cost as their primary concern.  Mayor Michael Hancock supported the opposition, saying (denverpost.com; Oct. 11, 2017) the intiative goes too far too fast.

However, the stalwart Green Roof Intiative supporters fought back, arguing that there are enormous long-term benefits-both financial and environmental-that the roof will garner.  True, there is an intial investment but the green roofs last longer, lower heating and cooling costs, improve storm water management, reduce air and noise pollution.

Eric Sondermann, a local political analyst, told the Denver Post (denverpost.com; Oct. 19, 2017) that it was tough to predict whether the intiative would pass.  However, he said, "if voters aren't aware of the arguments against it, they may go with their gut and vote yes:" 

[The intiative] just looks good, looks cutting-edge, feels good...

Happy to report Denver will be greener.  The Denver Green Roof Intiative passed.

Relaxing weed laws, one city at a time

Athens, Ohio: Toking up is getting easier in Athens, Ohio.  Yesterday, Athenians voted on a measure that would make the city the sixth in Ohio to decriminalize marijuana.  Alastair Boone writes, "While some states have passed bills to decriminalize or even legalize pot wholesale, Ohio's referendum to do failed in 2015 [washingtonpost.com; Nov. 4, 2015; date accessed Nov.8, 2017], so cities have since continued piecemeal to pass decriminalization bills in opposition to the existing state laws, which punished people possessing more than 100 grams of pot with fines or jail time."

Here is an important point to consider, "If passed, the intiative would not legalize the drug-that is, it would still be illegal to buy, grow, or sell.  However, it would de-penalize marijuana by lowering all fines and court costs for misdemeanor offense see to zero dollars."  The Athens Cannabis Ordinance, abbreviated as the munchie-inducing: TACO is designed to reduce the incentives to prosecute minor cannabis-related offenses.  Felony offens, like trafficking or possessing over 200 grams, would still be subject to the usual penalties.

Other Ohio cities have passed similar laws, which were met with mixed results.  In 2015, the city of Toledo successfully decriminalized pot, "but after a similar intiative passed in Newark, Ohio [newarkadvocate.com; Nov. 11, 2016; date accessed Nov. 8, 2017] last year, city official said they would continue to charge misdemeanor offenses using state law."

The Athens referendum comes immediately after Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine released the Recovery Ohio plan (circlevilleherald.com; Nov. 1, 2017; date accessed Nov. 8, 2017), intended to address the state's opioid overdose crisis.  AG DeWine includes intervention measures and task force models that focus on sales.  The Recovery Ohio plan was released at a time when growing number of Americans consider marijuana an alternative method for chronic pain management.  Ohio legalized marijuana in 2016, but will not take effect until 2018.

Good news, TACO passed in a blaze of glory.

The city that wants Airbnb back

Gearhart, Oregon:  Gearhart, Oregon is tiny town (population: 1,500) on its scenic coast and popular tourist draw.  Many of its properties are vacation homes for Oregonians who live most of the year living along the Interstate-5 corridor.  In an effort to preserve the housing stock for its year-round residents and stem the tide of permenant homes from becoming vacation housing, the City Council voted last year to limit short-term rentals.  Property owners were concerned about changes to the character defining features of Gearhart, responded with a ballot measure of their own: repeal and rules of vacation rentals (nwnewsnetwork.org; Oct. 19, 2017; date accessed Nov. 8, 2017).

Sarah Holder reports, "Gearhart is among the first to start experimenting with the kind of caps larger are considering, and already it is backfiring.  If Election Day brings a reversal of its plans to this tiny northwestern city, it may provide a worrying test case for larger cities considering similar policies."

Los Angeles is one of those larger cities dealing with an epidemic housing shortage.  Contributing to the crisis is a state law that allows property owners to opt out of the rent stabilization market.  In 1985, the California State Legislature passed the Ellis Act, which permitted landlords to evict tenants in order to opt out of the rental market, regardless of the wishes of municipal governments to compel them to continue to provide a place to live.  Tenants rights groups have argued that property owners have misused the Ellis Act to get out of the rent stabilization market: either sell to developers who demolish the building and put up luxury condominiums or, more recently, get into the short-term rental market, posting available units on websites like Airbnb. Neighbors of these former apartment building turned vacation rentals have complained about the noise, additional traffic, and changes to the fundamental character of the community.  The Gearhart is an attempt to curtail this activity.

Ms. Holder writes, "Gearhart's existing 2016 cap makes it harder for property owners to rent out units through home sharing websites like Airbnb, Vacasa, and VRBO."  Short-term rental permits (less than 30 days) dramatically dropped as a result of the cap.  Supporters of short-term rentals (and those who depend on Airbnb for a second income) complained about the money they were losing on the weekends, unable to rent out to vacationers, willing to pay the higher rent.

The new intiative would allow a property owner to provide an unlimited number of vacation rentals, "while making occupancy limits more generous and inspections more lenient."  If passed, opponents of the measure are deeply concerned that it would make easier of for commercial investors to buy out whole blocks of properties and convert them to short-term rentals.  Opposition campaign manager Jeanne Mark told NW News Network:

And then all of a sudden where is the fabric of your community?...It's almost like cancer. (nwnewsnetwork.org; Oct. 19, 2017; date accessed Nov. 8, 2017)

Sarah Holder observes, "As the population-1,500 Gearhart is torn asunder over repealing or maintainin it's cap, a city almost 500 times as big is struggling (and so far, failing) to implement its own.  And it may be watching the outcome."

The city, in this case, is Seattle, Washington.  On June 1, 2016, Mayor Ed Muarry and city councilmember Tim Burgess proposed an ordinance (seattle.gov; date accessed Nov. 8, 2017) that would prevent long-term rentals (rentals over 30 days) from being converted to short-term rentals, while giving residents flexibility to earn additional income from renting out their homes.  The ordinance would mandate that short-term rental operators have additional and additionally stringent licensing and limit the number of units that each owner can rent out.

Seattle, like Los Angeles, is facing an epidemic housing shortage, rising homelessness, and limited available rental units for those who can afford it.  When Mayor Muarry announced the proposal, he said, 

We must protect our existing rental housing supply at a time when it is becoming harder for residents to find affordable housing in Seattle.

Gearhart's short-term rental rule repeal was homeless.  Voters overwhelmingly rejected the measure.

The city that wants you to go home at 2 a.m.

Miami Beach, Florida: Miami Beach wants you to go to bed early.  Early for this popular vacation destination is 2 a.m.  On November 7, voters had the opportunity to decide on a measure that would end alcohol sales at 2 a.m. instead 5 a.m., when the bars and club usually shut down.  Alastair Boone writes, "On the surface, the vote reflects an age-old clash between supporting tourists and late-night businesses, and satisfying the qualms of locals.  But underneath is a story about racial tension, too."

The vote is an outgrowth of recent conversations (miamibeach.cbslocal.com; May 29, 2017; date accessed Nov. 8, 2017) about shutting down Urban Beach Week-"a popular hip hop festival that occurs on Ocean Drive-after two shootings occurred there this Memorial Day weekend."  Ms. Boone add, "In one of the shootings, a police officer shot and and killed a suspect on the run (local10.com; May 29, 2017; date accessed Nov 8, 2017).  Many of the tourists who frequent the bars and hotel on Ocean Drive are African American.  For some, the intiative comes across as another way Mayor Philip Levine is trying to make Miami Beach more family friendly-i.e. more white (miamiewtimes.com; Aug. 9, 2016; date accessed Nov. 8, 2017).

Supporters of the intiative see a direct connection between alcohol consumption and crime, despite evidence that Miami's crime is dropping while the clubs continue to thrive.  Others claim that the boisterous atmosphere might deter potential beachgoers who do not want to party from neighboring South Beach.

If the measure is approved, many are concerned that it could signal a greater effort to curtail Miami Beach's fabled nightlife.

As of writing, last call in Miami Beach is still 5 a.m.