Tuesday, March 26, 2019

A Possible Solution To Affordable Housing

Hello Everyone:

Yours Truly is back and ready to move on to another subject.  Before we get going on the housing crisis in California, a word about the Special Counsel's report: The fallout continues.  The problem is the lethal combination of politics and the judicial system.  The role of the special counsel is a apolitical person whose job it is to determine if there was any criminal wrongdoing by the president.  Robert Mueller and his team could not reach that conclusion so they passed it off to the Department of Justice, who decided to clear the president of criminal acts.  The only way to really figure out if crimes of obstruction were committed, then the report has to be released, no ifs, ands, or buts about it.  One more thing, just a reminder that Google + is going away on April 2nd but the blog will not.  It will still be available on Facebook and Twitter.  Onward.

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San Francisco street scene
California's housing affordable crisis has reached epic proportions.  It has gotten to the point where workers in the city of San Francisco, for example, sometimes must commute two hours, each way, every day, just to get to there non-tech jobs.  However, members of the State Legislature recently unveiled a sweeping package intended to stem the affordability crisis, "including new protections against surging rents and evictions as well as more apartments near public transit and and in coastal communities" (latimes.com; Mar. 20, 2019; date accessed Mar. 26, 2019).  The proposed package could alter California's housing market and--slight dramatic pause--they all were written by Bay Area politicians.

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State Senator Scott Wiener, Assemblyman David Chiu,
State Senator Nancy Skinner
The chairs of the State Legislature's housing committee, Democrats State Senator Scott Wiener and Assemblyman David Chiu, are both form in San Francisco.  Former San Francisco mayor, now, Governor Gavin Newsom is their ally and has made housing one of his top priorities.  Even more fascinating is that a group of powerful Bay Area groups are supporting the proposed legislation, creating an rare level of unity, not seen anywhere in the state.  A little easy to do when the majority of the state Senate and Assembly are Democrats.

In a way, it is logical that the Bay Area would lead the charge in crafting a solution to housing affordability, considering it has the dubious distinction of having the highest housing costs in the United States.  Be that as it may, the Bay Area also the possessor of an extensive transit system that could throw a wrench into any universal solution to housing challenges.  Elected officials and local groups, outside the San Francisco Bay Area are concerned that the "region's lawmakers will push legislation that doesn't account for the challenges faced elsewhere" (Ibid).  Those fear are based on recent history.

Last year, Los Angeles housing activists felt blindsided by another proposed piece of legislation by Senator Wiener to increase housing costs near transit lines.  Liam Dillion reports, "They worried that it would have undermined recently enacted plans aimed at preventing gentrification and displacement in their communities, and their opposition helped sink the bill" (Ibid).

Elected officials outside the Bay Area have a stake in the Legislature's housing debates, and acknowledge that they need to be much more assertive in protecting their constituents' interests.

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State Assemblyman Miguel Santiago
Southern California State Assemblyman Miguel Santiago told the Los Angeles Times,

There is a need for us in Southern California to be more aggressive about developing the housing that is absolutely needed and that reflects the needs of constituencies,... We have got to push really hard on any dollars that are expended in the state of California to match the communities we represent...(Ibid)

The San Francisco Bay Area's affordability problems are unique for the state.

The median home values in this region is the highest in the country--the median home values in San Francisco topped out at $1,365,700 (zillow.com; date Mar. 26, 2019).  The average rent in San Francisco is $3,609 per month (rentcafe.com; date accessed Mar. 26, 2019).  Compare this with median home values in Los Angeles: $694,200 (zillow.com; date Mar. 26, 2019) and average rent: $2371 per month (rentcafe.com; date accessed Mar. 26, 2019).  Although California is experiencing  strong job growth since the recession, the Bay Area has new employment growth outpace new home construction at an unparalleled rated, unmatched anywhere, aggravating home shortages in the region.

University of Southern California sociology professor Manuel Pastor told the Times,

Even as we in Southern California are experiencing strong gentrification and displacement pressures, they're nothing compared to what has happened in Northern California,... Large swaths of Northern California are out of reach to the average renter and home buyer. (latimes.com; Mar. 20, 2019)

State Senator Scott Wiener and his fellow Bay Area state legislators are setting the housing policy agenda with help from regional interest groups.

Liam Dillon reports, "Over the last 18 months, officials from Bay Area cities, nonprofits, developers, labor groups and others wrote a plan to address the region's affordability crisis" (Ibid).  The plan is called the CASA (The Committee to House the Bay Area) Compact (mtc.ca.gov; date accessed Mar. 26, 2019), which is dependent on numerous changes to state law.  Mr. Dillon continues, "In response, Bay Area legislators have introduced bills including proposals that would provide tenants with legal counsel and present them from being evicted without cause, and allow homeowner to more easily build second housing units, or casitas, on their properities" (Ibid).

Almost all the proposed housing affordability solutions would affect the entire state and require other perspectives.  In the California State Legislature, lawmakers from Southern California still hold considerable sway over housing policy.  They also head the key budget and fiscal committees.  Case in point, the California State Assembly Speaker is Los Angeles Democrat Anthony Rendon and Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins is from San Diego.  Los Angeles-area lawmakers have proposed rent control legislation (latimes.com; Jan. 11, 2018) and an end to public housing restrictions (Ibid; Feb. 2. 2019).

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State Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins

State Senator Toni Atkins was a low-income housing consulting before being elected to the Legislature and helped write major legislation to help fund new projects (Ibid: Sept. 15, 2017).  By the end of 2018, she approved State Senator Wiener's hard charging approach to dealing with affordability problems by conveniently creating a Senate housing committee and appointing him chair (twitter.com/@dillonliam; Dec. 21, 2018; date accessed Mar. 26, 2019).

Housing costs is one reason why "the rent's [mortgage] too damn high" to afford living in California.  The reason is wages are low.  Mr. Dillon writes, "The median household income in the Los Angeles region is below $70,000, which is lower than the state average and just 60% of Silicon Valley's" (latimes.com ; Mar. 20, 2019).  Richard Green, the director of the USC Lusk Center for Real Estate told the Times,

In Southern California, it's as much of an income problem as it is a housing problem (Ibid).

The socioeconomic gap between the Bay Area and Southern California was underscored last when Senator Wiener introduced a bill that would have made it easier to build apartments near transit lines.  Los Angeles activists had just completed a decade's worth of work on developing a plan for historically African American and Latino South Los Angeles and a scheme to increase density near transit line.  Worried that Senator Wiener's bill would override their plan and displace longtime residents, they opposed the bill, letting it die in committee (Ibid; May 2, 2018).

Mariana Huerta Jones, the campaign and communications manager for Alliance for Community Transit-Los Angeles, said "Wiener took the group's criticisms to heart and incorporated many of its ideas--including stricter prohibitions against demolishing rental housing--into Senate Bill 50, a new version of the legislation he's introduced this year [Ibid; Dec 4, 2018]."  Measure SB50 would allow low-rise apartment complexes near transit.  Ms. Huerta Jones' organization has yet to take a position on the bill but is in regular contact with Senator Wiener's office.  She said,

The senator really is genuine and wants to do something about housing crisis,... We really appreciate that, and it's exciting he's being bold.  But being bold also means being humble and appreciating how what you're proposing could have impacts across the state--all the way down to San Diego and into rural areas. (Ibid; Mar. 20, 2019)

This year's version of SB50 and related bills are part of a host of Bay Area housing legislation that could disrupt policies that have strong support outside the region.

In the seventies, San Diego voters approved a 30-foot height limit (docs.sandiego.gov; effective Jan. 1, 2000; date accessed Mar. 26, 2019) for construction along the coastline and mandated a public vote on taller buildings.  Senator Scott Wiener's bill would override that housing rule for buildings near transit lines.  State Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) introduced Senate Bill 30 (latimes.com; Feb. 20, 2019; date accessed Mar. 26, 2019) which would end with city and county restrictions on homebuilding for ten years--"a response, she's said, to the scope of the state's housing challenges.  San Diego's height limit would be suspended for new homes should pass,..." (Ibid; Mar. 20, 2019).

Although it is still early in the legislative process, Senator Skinner's could impact how much the city of Los Angeles could charge developers via a fee approved in late 2017 (Ibid; Dec. 13, 2017) that would raise millions to build low-income housing and is a key part of Mayor Eric Garcetti's platform.

Senator Wiener said "it is vital for Bay Area lawmakers to understand other areas of California and point to his efforts to incorporate form Los Angeles activists into SB50.... he said that many housing concerns are the same throughout the state" (Ibid; Mar. 20, 2019).  He also pointed out that he received the same feedback in San Francisco and Los Angeles.  He told the Los Angeles Times,

It's not so different when it comes to education policy that affects the whole state,... (Ibid)

State Assemblyman David Chiu, the housing committee chair, said "it's possible Bay Areas legislators could scale back their housing bills so that they only affect the region.  But sometimes, he said, housing problems are best tackled by those on the outside" (Ibid).

In 2018, Assemblyman Chiu wrote legislation that would withhold state housing money from any community that permitted its City Council members to block homeless housing building in their districts before a formal vote.  He introduced the bill to halt the practice in Los Angeles (Ibid; Mar. 12, 2018), where City Council had recently blocked projects in their districts by withholding support before a proper hearing.

Assemblyman Chiu said, "activists in Los Angeles asked him to carry the bill because it was too politically fraught for a legislator from Southern California to do so" (Ibid; Mar. 20, 2019).  The measure was unanimously approved by both houses of the Legislature and signed into law by former Governor Jerry Brown (Ibid; Sept. 27, 2018).  Assemblyman David Chiu said,

There were many significant leaders in Los Angeles that were happy to see it pass" (Ibid; Mar. 20, 2019)


Monday, March 25, 2019

Blogger Candidate Forum: The Mueller Report

Hello Everyone:

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Robert Mueller
It is a lovely Monday afternoon and the start of a new week on the blog.  The Candidate Forum is dropping in on a Monday with an analysis of Attorney General William P. Barr's letter to Congress regarding his principal conclusions.

 The  big shoe finally dropped: The highly anticipated final report from the Special Counsel's Office on coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia was finally submitted on Friday.  Yesterday, AG Barr turned in his summary on the principal conclusions to Congress.  The big news, no evidence to suggest that there was any collusion between both parties.  The second item of big news, there was determination on the charge of obstruction of justice, meaning: The question of whether the president's actions rose to the level of obstruction of justice was left open ended.  Whatever the president said or did regarding the investigation were out in the open and available for public consumption.  In the end, AG Barr decided that the Department of Justice would not pursue an obstruction investigation.  What do we make of all of this?

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Attorney General William Barr

Let us begin with what we know which the SCO's report and AG Barr's letter to Congress makes the possibility of impeachment and removal from office less likely to happen, which is a good thing.  Why, you may ask?  Simple, impeaching and removing a president from office is a political, as well as a legal, process.  Right now, there is absolutely, positively no political will for anyone to begin a very long and tortured process that will no doubt run into the 2020 election cycle.  

In his letter to Congress, AG Barr summarized his conclusions in two parts, Russian Interference in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election and Obstruction of Justice :

The Special Counsel's investigation determined that there were two main Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election.  The first involved attempts by a Russian organization, the Internet Research Agency..., to conduct disinformation and social media operations in the United States designed to sow social discord, eventually with the aim of interfering with the election....

...The second element involved the Russian government's efforts to conduct computer hacking operations designed to gather and disseminate information to influence the election....

The report's second part addresses a number of actions by the President--most of which have been the subject public reporting--that the Special Counsel investigated as potentially raising obstruction-of-justice concerns.  After making a "thorough factual investigation" into these matters, the Special Counsel considered whether to evaluate the conduct under Department standards  governing prosecution and declination decisions but ultimately determined not to draw a conclusion--one way or another--as to whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction... (npr.org; Mar. 24, 2019; date accessed Mar. 25, 2019)

In short, Russians hackers did actively interfere with the 2016 Presidential Elections by conducting a widespread disinformation campaign via the social media to sow discord.  Russian hackers stole Democratic National Committee and Clinton Campaign emails in an attempt to undermine their efforts.  Further, Russian agents did approach members of the Trump Campaign with offers of coordination but nothing came of it.  This is not new information, we knew that Russia was actively trying to undermine the 2016 Presidential Election and will, without a doubt, try it again  However--this is the key statement--will the president is in the clear over collusion, he has not been exonerated of obstruction of justice accusations, despite what he may think.

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Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y)
Regardless of what the president may think and AG Barr's decision not look into obstruction of justice allegations, the open ended question of did the president's conduct (i.e. tweets and other actions) rise to the level of obstruction.  This is a tantalizing prospect for House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Rep. Jerry Nadler, who would guide the impeachment process.  Rep. Nadler told reporters,

There can be crimes that are not impeachable offenses and impeachable offenses that are not crimes. (peoplesworld.org; Mar. 4, 2019; date accessed Mar. 25, 2019)

The House Democrats intend to continue their investigations and plan to subpoena the Attorney General to testify on how he reached his conclusions.  They also have called for more documentation and passed a unanimous resolution calling for the release of the full report from the Special Counsel.  

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Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)
Politically, you have to wonder what is the point of the House Democrats' plan to keep looking into the president's life.  The SCO's finding of no collusion between Russia and Trump Campaign; insufficient evidence to suggest obstruction of justice lets the air out of Democrats' sails, forcing them to have a conversation on what are their priorities.  As far as congressional Republicans are concerned, the matter is settled: no collusion, no obstruction, why bother.  If that is the case, then Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) should not have blocked a resolution to release the report in full.  For congressional Democrats, they need to take the long view.

The first round of 2020 debates are just a few months away and the candidates need to figure out what their focus will be.  Polling numbers are in favor of transparency--a December NPR/PBS News Hour/Marist survey found that three quarters of the respondents favored a message of transparency, saying they want the entire SCO report released (npr.org; Dec. 7, 2018; date accessed Mar. 25, 2019).  This included two-third of Republicans surveyed (Ibid).  As for Republicans who called the investigation a "witch hunt" (can we please finally retire this) and demanded its end (thehill.com; Mar. 24, 2019; date accessed Mar. 25, 2019), it might be a good thing to have more of the report released.  The upside is it could unify the party to go out, rally voters to go to the ballot, and "just win."

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Senate Minority Leader
Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.)
Even before his election, Mr. Donald Trump has been hypercritical of the judicial system, the intelligence community, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the media.  The way Democrats have responded to the AG's letter suggests that more will have to be released if the Justice Department wants to be considered a non-partisan entity.  Both Speaker Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) pointed out,

Given Mr. Barr's public record of bias against the Special Counsel's inquiry, he's not a neutral observer and is not in a position to make objective determinations about the report. (npr.org; Mar. 25, 2019)

Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer referenced AG Barr's 19-page memo, written nine months ago (lawfareblog.com; Dec. 20, 2018; date accessed Mar. 25, 2019), to top DOJ officials, arguing against the SCO's request to demand answers regarding the obstruction part of his investigation (npr.org; Mar. 25, 2019).  This was a hot point of contention during William Barr's confirmation hearings (Ibid; Jan. 14, 2019) and it has landed right in the middle of calls for transparency.  Finally, what does this all mean for the president?

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The president

No doubt the president and his supporters are enormously relieved that the cloud of collusion suspicion has been lifted.  Really, they were not that worried about the collusion portion of the investigation as much as they were worried about the obstruction portion.  Naturally, the president took to Twitter to claim total exoneration.  Not true.  What the president and his supporters failed to completely grasp is that AG Barr made a point of writing that on the subject of obstruction of justice, 

The Special counsel state that "while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him (Ibid; Mar. 24, 2019).

This is a short-term victory for the president because it allows his govern without the cloud of suspicion hanging over him.  The Trump re-election campaign has already incorporated the no collusion finding into a video meant to increase text lists.  Despite laudatory comments about Robert Mueller and his team, it remains to be seen whether the president will turn vindictive.  Will he use it to go after his eventual opponent?  The president can breathe a sigh of relief, for now but should still be concerned with investigations by the Southern District of New York and the State of New York.  Those have potential to do real damage and they will be waiting for the president once he leaves office.  As for the Democratic candidates, they will not be able to ignore the matter and need to come up with a strategy.  The bottom line is this, Yours Truly is actually glad there was not a finding of collusion because the thought of a president selling his country to win an election is unthinkable. 

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Blogger Candidate Forum: What We Know

Hello Everyone:

Blogger is back with The Candidate Forum for a quick summary of what we know about the Special Counsel’s final report. Today, United States Attorney General William Barr made public the principle conclusions of the SCO’s report: It neither exonerates nor recommends charges against the Mr. Donald Trump. Yours Truly is not surprised by this conclusion. In essence, the SCO found that there was no evidence to suggest that the president did not conspire Russia to undermine the 2016 election. However, it did find evidence that the president may have committed obstruction of justice. The key point is that there is not enough evidence for the SCO to formally charge the president with obstruction but it does lay the groundwork for the House of Representatives to build their case for impeachment. This is good news, in a way because the The of the President of the United States selling out his country too unfathomable to consider. We will talk at length tomorrow about it on tomorrow’s post.

Have a great rest of your weekend

Friday, March 22, 2019

Blogger Candidate Forum: Here We Go

Hello Everyone:

This is Blogger Candidate Forum and Yours Truly with white hot breaking news: The Special Counsel’s report is in. Today, Robert Mueller submitted his team’s final report on possible Russian inference in the 2016 elections. It is now up to Attorney General William Barr to decide how much, if any, of the extremely anticipated report should be made public. The president has said he wants the report made public. Be careful what you wish for because it might come true and you may not like it. Same sentiment goes for all of you expecting a quick end to the Trump administration. This is a developing story that we will talk more about next week.

Have a great weekend,

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Blogger Candidate Forum: Republicans Have A Problem

Hello Everyone:

It is a gray and damp first-day-of-spring Wednesday and time for the weekly edition of Blogger Candidate Forum.  Blogger has been perplexed by Mr. Donald Trump's latest spat of tweets, attacking the late-Senator John McCain, making disparaging comments about White House counselor Kellyanne Conway's husband, complaining (again) about Saturday Night Live, and the usual Trump rants.  What has Blogger scratching her head is what is behind it.  Could it be the specter of the special counsel's final report--which the president is in favor of releasing to the general public.  Investigations by the House or Representatives Democrats, federal prosecutor at the Southern District of New York, or just plain boredom.  Whatever the case may be, the president would be best served if he put down the phone for good and focused on being the President of the United States because the 2020 Presidential Election cycle is in motion.  One place the president and his team need to worry about is suburbia.

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American suburban house
 Obvious statement: The president's campaign advisers are worried about a lot things.  One of the many issues his advisers are worried about is the president's unpopularity with women and suburban voters.  They are particularly anxious about the president's dwindling popularity among this demographic group in states and regions that put him in the White House in the 2016 election.  Since then, female and suburban voters' support in Pennsylvania, Florida, and the Upper Midwest (i.e. Wisconsin and Michigan) has weakened, according to a report published in The Washington Post.

Toluse Olorunnipa and Josh Dawsey report,

Trump's advisers also believe the Democratic Party's recent shift to the left on a host of issues,... will help the president and other Republicans focus on a Trumpian message of strong economic growth, national border restrictions and "America First" trade policies.  (washingtonpost.com; Mar. 10, 2019; date accessed Mar. 20, 2019)

In late January, The Post and ABC News conducted a survey (Ibid; Jan 21-24, 2019) revealed that the president is looking at growing opposition from key voting blocs: women, suburban residents, and minorities, the majority of who told pollsters that "they would 'definitely not' vote for the president" (newsweek.com; Mar. 11, 2019; date accessed Mar. 20, 2019).

The 2018 midterm elections also spotlighted the president's loosening grip in Republican suburbia.  The numbers tell the story: "According to an analysis by the Post, the GOP lost control of 37 suburban districts during the midterm election cycle.  Heading into Election Day, Republicans had held nearly 70 of those districts." (Ibid)

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Stacy Abrams campaign rally
Add to this litany of voting bloc woes is the lack of a foil.  You might remember the epic battle waged by the president and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  Madame Secretary was his foil and without a foil candidate, his path to re-election would be more difficult.   You would think that without a sparring partner, the president would have an easier path back to the Oval Office, right?  Not true because, "Early 2020 polling indicated that Trump was trailing several possible Democratic opponents, including Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren.  Trump also trailed former Vice President Joe Biden, who has not officially tossed his hat into the Democratic ring for the nomination" (Ibid).

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Trump rally today
Lima, Ohio
Never one to let other peoples' concerns get in the way, the president's campaign are confident that the Democrats shift toward more progressive positions on health care and climate change would be advantageous to his America First message.  To wit, the Trump 2020 campaign fundraising committee recently sent out a mailer falsely claiming that the candidates for the Democratic nomination were full-blown socialist who stand for wide open borders and higher taxes (Ibid). The president repeated these themes and defended his national emergency declaration today, at a rally in Ohio and during a rather freewheeling marathon speech at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference.  The next question is what can the Republicans do to win back suburbia?

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Voters in Chesterfield, Virginia November 2020

Really, the lessons on how to win back suburbia applies to both Republicans and Democrats but for the sake of this post let us focus on Republicans because they took a serious beating in the midterms.  The best places to study are the congressional districts that flipped Republican to Democrat, like the ones in Orange County, California.  The first lesson, no outrageous character assassinations.

The lesson is particularly significant for Republicans who lost seven governorships, 40 seats in the House of Representatives, and two purple state (Arizona and Nevada) seats in the Senate.  Trashing your opponent may make headlines on Fox News but one of the critical reasons Republicans suffered massive loss last November especially among suburban Republicans and Independents was their revulsion to the president's rhetoric (nationalreview.com; Nov. 15, 2019; date accessed Mar. 20, 2019).

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The March for Women
Washington D.C.

Second, pay attention to suburban white women.  In 2018, these college educated ladies were key to returning control of the House to Democrats: "According to exit polling conducted by Public Opinion Strategies [pos.org; date accessed Mar. 20, 2019], there was a 20 percent gap between educated white women who voted Democratic versus those who voted Republican" (thehill.com; Dec. 26, 2019; date accessed Mar. 20, 2019).  The report found that in states with a percentage college educated voters above the national average of 10.3 predictably voted Democrat.  Republicans lost voters with college degrees by 8 percent, in contrast to 2016 when the president won it by 10 points. (Ibid)

Over time, suburban white women have come to view the Democratic Party as being on the right side of history, the party of "smart people."  The party that embraces science and protects children.  Republican candidates were stumbling all over themselves trying to explain how their support for fossil fuel and similar policies were not responsible for extreme weather, global political unrest, famine, and migration.  Suburban women simply do not connect with Madame Secretary's (in)famous basket of deplorable comment.  Assuming that this key bloc will vote Republican because of good economic news is naivete on their part.

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Voters waiting in line

Finally, the path to the president's re-election runs through minority communities.  In order to gain minority voters, the Republicans need to change the media narrative of "Trump and hate" (nationalreview.com; Feb. 21, 2019; date accessed Mar. 20, 2019).  This is no small task, given the endless accusations of racism leveled at the president and other ignorant comments spewing forth from his mouth.  The upside is that more African American and Latino voters cast their ballots last November.  Further, African American men have become the major bloc trending favorable toward the president.  How to win back minority voters.  Start with the economy.

Voters want real results like manufacturing rebound, low unemployment, and pay raises for blue collar workers, most of whom are African American and Latino, all delivered by the president.  The president understands the attraction of economic recovery for the working class.  Asian Americans are the fastest growing demographic, who represent a large swath of culture, religion, and ethnicity, and face systemic bias in admissions to elite universities.

The point here is unless Mr. Trump spends more time campaigning on actual, real world issues, instead of blathering on about "no collusion," his Electoral College victory, or how the McCain family supposedly owe him a thank you for approving a state funeral for the late Senator, he could find himself out of a job on November 4, 2020.  The president would also be very well advised to waste time demonizing every potential Democratic opponent in hopes of running against a weak adversary.  It is childish and will backfire. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

What Does Hudson Yards Want To Be?

Hello Everyone:

The sky has turned wee gray in Blogger land and there is a chance of rain on the horizon.  Nevertheless, Yours Truly is undaunted by the weather.

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Hudson Yards Vessel
Manhattan, New York
Privilege has been in the news a lot for all the wrong reasons, not that there is usually a right reason.  It seems that wealthy are definitely not like the rest of us when it comes university admissions.  Now privileged class has its own gated community in Manhattan, New York.  The gated community in question is the newly opened Hudson Yards.

A gated community in the middle of Manhattan sounds strange especially when you consider that Manhattan is a de facto gated community. The cost of living in the city is so prohibitively high that unless you are a millionaire, living in Manhattan is not for you.  On March 15, after
12 years of planning and six of actual construction, the Related Companies real-estate company opened the doors to its new sparkling new $25 billion self-contained village for lawyers and hedge-fund types, complete with a 720,000-square-foot retail space and four star restaurants, eight-digit high rise apartments (nymag.com; Feb. 18, 2019; date accessed Mar. 19, 2019). This is only phase one.

When finished, "...when the remaining rectangle of exposed rail yards between 11th and 12th Avenues is covered by a deck and more residential towers--the who 28-acre shebang will be bigger than the United Nations, the World Trade Center, or Rockefeller Center and physically vaster, more populous, and more expensive than any private development in the country" (Ibid).  Besides being huge, it signifies something fundamentally new: a one-off "supersized virtual city-state, plugged into a global metropolis..." (Ibid).  A billionaires' fantasy land yours for a price but is this the kind of community Manhattan needs?

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Rendering of Hudson Yards
What sort of place is Hudson Yards?  The development offers "'14 acres of public space in return for privatizing the last precious undeveloped parcel of significant in Manhattan" (nytimes.com: Mar. 14, 2019; date accessed Mar. 19, 2019).  New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman snarkily describes the open space, "...the open space looks like it may end up being a fancy drive-through drop-off for the shopping mall, a landscaped overshadowed by office towers,....for the coming western yards a scattering high-rise apartment buildings around a lawn--in effect, a version of 1950s tower-in-the-park housing complex, except designed by big-name architects" (Ibid).

Hudson Yards is a manifestation of the crisis of civic leadership, "asleep at the wheel through two administrations, and to a pernicious theory civic welfare that presumes private development is New York's primary goal, the truest measure of urban vitality and health, with money the city's only real currency" (Ibid).  The result of this thinking is the diminishing ability of government's capacity to plan, build, or fix anything of significance.  New York's city hall demonstrates a shocking lack of understanding urban design by not requiring planning, hazily mandating half of Hudson Yards' acreage be open space but allowing its developer, Stephen Ross, to decides what that entails.

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Rockefeller Center
New York, New York

Rockefeller Center is the precedent for this kind of sprawling urban design.  The National Historic Landmark was completed in the 1930s and employed a variety of architects, under the leadership of Raymond Hood. Daniel Okrent wrote in his definitive book on Rockefeller Center, The Epic of Rockefeller Center, that not a scintilla of public land, public money, or public oversight" (Ibid).  The result of the planning and building of this iconic civic space is "an object lesson in urban design and landmark of modern art and architecture, a development ingeniously democratically woven into the fabric of the street grid" (Ibid).   At first glance, Rockefeller Center presents itself as a unified space because of the stunning Art Deco details and masonry.  The true source of it coherence it the plan.

From the beginning, Raymond Hood's sketches made the center a dance of massing--"the dramatic sequencing of low-, medium-, and high-rise buildings--the bedrock of that plan" (Ibid).  It is a harmonious dance that creates a singular place that is part of the city.  The famous landscape passage from Fifth Avenue, leading to the skating rink, framing the view of 30 Rockefeller (yes, 30 Rock), the tallest building and epicenter of the project.

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The ice skating rink during the winter
Rockefeller Center New York, New York

Raymond Hood had full grasp of the difference between size and scale--how a site with multiple entries needs to be composed, and very important, "how architecture without urban design is just sculpture, how true art enhances the dignity of a place, and how the success of a neighborhood and its retail businesses come down to what's happening at street level" (Ibid).  Hudson Yards hardly acknowledges any of these important ideas.  
Another precedent for Hudson Yards is the monolithic tower developments and superblocks in the fifties and sixties, done in the name of urban renewal.  The monolithic towers and superblocks were imposing and oppressive, shutting the surrounding city out.  Hudson Yards is attempting to open itself to the city at-large instead of becoming a gated Singaporean community.  

Hudson Yards is still new and the program for the open space is still under consideration.  Thomas Woltz, of the landscape architecture firm Nelson Byrd Woltz, was given the of humanizing the glass, steel, shade, enormity, and mindlessness.  To accomplish this formidable task, Mr. Woltz is planting trees and shade-tolerant shrubs and perennials.  He also designed a large Spirograph of elliptical-shaped planters, made from hand-chiseled granite blocks, surrounding the Instagram-worthy Vessel by Thomas Hardwick.  The curved forms are a counterpoint to all the hard edges and provide places.  Bald cypresses and gum tree add more shade, a nod towards human scale.  The observation deck has tourist potential, providing more Instagram-worthy images of all of New York City and the Statue of Liberty in all their awesomeness.  Best part, no views of Hudson Yards.   


Monday, March 18, 2019

Grand Plans

Hello Everyone:

It is a bright and warm sunny Monday afternoon and the start of a fresh week on the blog,  Blogger has to put on a sunny face, no choice.  The horrific events in Christchurch, New Zealand and Utrecht, the Netherlands are so overwhelmingly awful that a sunny disposition is the best response.  Speaking of response, or lack of, was that difficult for the president to take a break from his weekend rant and tweet his condolences to the families of those killed in New Zealand or the Netherlands?  Apparently, trashing the late-Senator John McCain and former Vice President Joe Biden was also far more important.  When asked by reporters if the president thought growing white supremacist act was a threat to national and global security, he minimized it, not a big concern to him.  Showing his support for his favorite Fox News presenters was more of a concern.  By the way, his reason for the weekend tweet storm: He wanted to get all the distractions out of the way ahead of the Mueller report, is truly lame.  Alright, on to happier things.

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Museum of Contemporary Art
Los Angeles, California

  On July 31, 2018, ArtNews announced that the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, California appointed Klaus Biesenbach as its new director (artnews.com; July 31, 2018; date accessed Mar. 18, 2019).  Mr. Biesenbach served as the curator of the Museum of Modern Art, and its satellite PS1,  film and media department.  He was unanimously chosen from a pool of nearly 40 candidates after period turmoil that included the controversial firing of chief curator Helen Moleworth, sparking rumors of behind the scenes politics. (Ibid)  Before we plunge into Mr. Bisenbach's vision for the museum, it would be helpful to take a look at the building itself.

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Arata Isozaki

MOCA Los Angeles was established in 1979 as the only artist-founded museum in the city (moca.org; date accessed Mar. 18, 2019).  In 1987, MOCA Los Angeles opened the doors at its permanent building on Bunker Hill, in Downtown Los Angeles.  Japanese Architect and newly minted Pritzker Prize winner Arata Isozaki designed a building that contrasted with the surrounding towering steel and glass high rises (laconservancy.org; date accessed Mar. 18, 2019).  The MOCA Los Angeles is a "sunken, red sandstone-clad space.  The entrance is marked by an arch leading to a subterranean terraced courtyard.  Under and around the courtyard are the public galleries.  Only four of its seven levels are above the street level" (Ibid).  Arata Isozaki referenced East Asian design traditions with play between positive and negative--the building and courtyard--space (Ibid).  The Museum sits on Grand Avenue, near the Disney Concert Hall, the Broad Museum, and the Colburn School of Music, creating a potentially exciting cultural corridor.  Newly installed MOCA Los Angeles director Klaus Bisenbach has grand (slight pun) plans for the museum.

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Klaus Bisenbach
Klaus Biesenbach took over The Museum's directorship in October of last year and almost immediately, he was intrigued by the buildings lining Grand Avenue.  He was fascinated by the ticket office, a cube clad wrapped in forest green aluminum panels.  The barrel vault that houses the library, hovering on a pair of pillars wrapped in red sandstone.  Then there are the skylight--all 11 of them in various sizes--designed as glass pyramids on the roofs (latimes.com; Mar. 14, 2019; date accessed Mar. 19, 2019).  Mr. Biesenbach told the Los Angeles Times that the "stripped-down geometric forms,..., remind him of minimal works by artists featured in MOCA's galleries" (Ibid).  He said, 

It was an immediate dialogue with artists I've worked with... I felt [Isozaki] is so clear about these simple geometric shapes.  There is clarity. (Ibid)

During his initial meeting with the MOCA Los Angeles board in Autumn 2018, he presented an informal slide show on the building's design, highlighting every cube, cylinder, triangle, and square.  He was asked by the board if he liked the building?  Surprised by the question, he replied 

I said, This is such an important piece of architecture, we need to let it shine. (Ibid)

Mr. Biesenbach's praise of The Museum, a building respected but not necessarily loved by locals, got a boost about two weeks when Arata Isozaki was named the recipient of the 2019 Pritzker Prize (Ibid: Mar. 5, 2019).  In its citation, the Pritzker jury described Mr. Isozaki's  work as 

...search for meaningful architecture,... he created buildings of great quality that to this day defy categorizations... (pritzkerprize.com; date Mar. 18, 2019)

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MOCA Los Angeles pyramid skylights
A very happy coincidence for Mr. Biesenbach, did away with a program, established by his predecessor, Philippe Vergne, that wrapped the facade in art, obscuring the building's profile.  In January, Mr. Biesenbach presented a plan to the board to restore one of the building's original details, skylights.  

The pyramid skylights had been covered up to prevent sunlight from damaging the canvas artwork, but it separated The Museum, most of which is underground, from the outside world.  Over the years, more and more sophisticated technology was employed to control the light without damaging the art.  Currently, light studies are being conducted with the support of trustee Marina Kellen French to find out what are the alternatives.  Mr. Biesenbach wants to deploy the recommendations this year.

There are other components to his plan: "Biesenbach doesn't just want the skylights to draw lights into the museum; he wants them to emit it as well" (latimes.com; Mar. 14, 2019).  He said,

We want to light them at night,... Isozaki envisioned them as beacons (Ibid).

Klaus Biesenbach is also interested in how MOCA Los Angeles relates to its urban environment.  His central mission is "not only to display art but to support artists and greater civic life" or as he put it, To be a resident amongst residents (Ibid; Nov. 8, 2018).  How this vague concept could take form is open to interpretation.  Suffice it to say Mr. Biesenbach believes,

As a museum, you have a civic responsibility, you have a role in society, you have to be courageous, you have to open your doors to allow for dialogue (Ibid)

The Museum of Contemporary Art's potential is what drew Mr. Bisenbach, who describes it as MoMA and MoMA PS1 in one, referencing the properly lit and climate controlled Grand Avenue Campus and its sister museum the Geffen Contemporary.  Photographer and board member Catherine Opie enthused,

What Klaus will bring is the ingenuity of what he did at PS1.  Nobody thought this museum in Queens would rise to the position that it did,... I feel he'll bring an enormous amount of energy as well as support for the roots of MOCA being an artists' museum (Ibid)

Right now, the immediate plan is developing a vision for the museum and aligning the board, staff, and all other concerned parties.  This could translate into more modest goals, not necessarily blockbuster exhibits or new structures.  Mr. Biesenbach admits that programming could do a better job of reflecting just how multi-cultural Los Angeles is by showcasing work by Asian and Latino communities.

Klaus Biesenbach is not without his critics, who complained that he was just another white European male museum director.  He does not see himself like that, at least by his own admission, does not act like that, whatever that is.  For his part, growing up queer in near Cologne, Germany meant never being part of the majority.  It meant growing up with the fear of not dying of AIDS.  

Regardless, Klaus Bisenbach envisions the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles as part of the urban fabric, in dialogue with high rises and cultural venues that surround it.  It will be exciting to see how his grand plan takes shape.