Eber | AB 2923 faces fierce opposition in State Senate


By Richard Eber, California Political News and Views  

The battleground in the Bay Area and the rest of the State is clearly defined.  After the defeat of SB 827 took place in committee, the crony capitalists in Sacramento did not give up their dream of usurping authority from local governments. They still want to build mega projects regardless of the impact on surrounding communities

After a contentious battle in the Assembly, they passed AB 2923 which allows the AB 2923to take on the task of constructing massive housing developments that are located within a half a mile of BART stations.   According to their plans some 20,000 new units, at least 20% of them intended to be affordable, are to be constructed with little or no input to come from those living in close proximity to these high rises.

The bill was co-sponsored by Assemblyman Tim Grayson (D) Concord.  Now in his second term Grayson has been a close friend of both developers and labor unions who would be major beneficiaries of SB-2923.

Up to the June 30th campaign disclosure date he has received over $ 250,000 from organized labor and real estate interests in the last year.  This does not include $16,800 of donations to his Assembly campaign by Lennar affiliated companies that the then City Council member eventually returned.  At the time, Concord was in the process of selecting Lennar to be Master Developer for the Naval Base Property.

The current project in question involves the BART North Concord Station. Lennar/Five Point already has a deal in place to build high density housing that replaces surface parking that is currently being used by commuters. This should also bode well for Lennar’s close crony capitalist  associate Willie Brown whose firm Golden Gate Global sells Green Cards to investors under the Federal Government’s  EB-5 program on  developments such as this.

To test the waters for what is expected to be over 500 units, BART is on August 20th giving the public a chance to express their opinion on the proposal.  The only problem is that this event is being held in Oakland during the day on a Monday some 20 miles away from Concord. This makes it difficult for those most affected to attend and enables the transit agency to pack the room with supporters who reside in close proximity to Oakland.

On the agenda for this hearing BART is putting emphasis on the diversity of women, African Americans, handicapped, lesbian, transgender, Veterans, and other underrepresented groups to be involved with the construction.  Such a strategy is intended to cover over lack of local support in Concord and the impact it might have on residents who live near the station.

Experts agree that AB 1293 will make it easier to get the North Concord project going. This will especially assist Lennar/Five Point whose other ventures in San Francisco have been put on hold with soil contamination issues  involving the Navy’s contractor Tetra Tech who was hired to remove Hazmat waste from various sites. Even worse, some of this material is radioactive.

As might be expected local governments are furious with AB 2923 which was co-sponsored by Assemblyman David Chiu (D) San Francisco.  His constituents don’t especially care about the bill as they live in crowded urban areas where another tall building doesn’t make much difference. Out in the suburbs residents and almost all local governments feel differently.  Their communities would be adversely impacted if BART develops property that does not comply with local zoning guidelines.

Among the concerns of this group of opponents to AB 1293 have with empowering BART to becoming a developer is:

  • It would divert funds allocated for transportation into housing which they might not be legally entitled to do
  • Create congestion and reduced parking availability on nearby business and residences
  • Put stress on infrastructure including schools, police, utilities, recreational facilities, creating additional expenditures for financially strapped governments
  • Enter a new venture for which BART has no experience or expertise
  • Create segregated communities where bureaucrats live outside the properties they build

Assemblywomen Catharine Baker (R) San Ramon,  who has been a strong opponent of AB 2923, thinks it is unlawful because  Section 11, Article 11 of the California Constitution guarantees decision making on local matters such as housing and police should be determined by elected officials in that jurisdiction.

Baker also complains the bill gives a transit agency, which has no expertise or experience in housing, sole control over housing decisions. Baker argues that making BART a housing developer is like putting the dog catcher in charge of running the fire department! This is especially a problem, in her eyes because BART is a transit agency that is failing to run a safe, clean, reliable train service.

Baker is not alone with such sentiments. Steve Glazer (D-Orinda) is fighting to stop AB 2923 from being passed in the State Senate.  BART’s two Board members representing Concord are opposed to the bill as are all Mayor’s in Central Contra Costa County.

This is of little consequence to BART who has a history of labor strife and sketchy decision making. They have allowed several strikes in the past which paralyzed transportation services in the entire Bay Area.   BART also desires to divert tax payer’s dollars that have allocated to transportation purposes to building housing.  This is being done despite current problems of safety on the system, inefficient operation, cost overruns, and continually having to ask those whom they serve for new tax increases.

If this is the case why in the world would the legislature want to give BART more responsibility and power? Such a question can be answered by understanding the lack of faith Progressive politicians have in the people that elect them.  It is their belief that central government has more expertise than the locals to make important decisions that affects those people’s lives.

With such logic these political hacks that live in a no accountability bubble are given authority to unilaterally decide how new housing is to be constructed.  Such a notion is the hallmark of leftist political thought in California.

Put bureaucrats in charge for which voters have little or no power over.  Just mention the magic words diversity, walkable, sustainable, eco friendly, and transparent.  Anyone who does not agree with this party line is considered to be racist and of course a “deplorable”.

While BART is but one transit agency, if the Senate can shove down AB 2923 down its opponents throats, this opens the doors for other similar providers in Southern California to be allowed to do the same thing in the near future.  Build it at public expense and people will come, they say.

By splitting the intentions of failed bill SB 827 into several parts, passing AB 2923 is the first step that allows support to come from non-effected legislators from around the State. If similar bills can be passed, it will accomplish the intentions of what was previously rejected.

A basic question to be answered in the controversy about AB 2923 and other measures being proposed by the legislature is whether millennial’s and the working poor desire to raise families without dependence on  cars while living in congested transit villages.  Progressive urban planners picture a world where few parking spaces are needed.  They assume families will shop at their neighborhood Safeway utilizing baskets affixed to their bicycles to carry large items home.

Dream on. Smoke more of that sensimilla stuff that is now legal in California.  Unfortunately, under terms of AB 1293, local communities will have to live with any design flaws, short comings or false assumptions the transit agency makes in planning for the future.

Richard Eber studied journalism at the University of Oregon. He writes about politics, culture, education restaurants, and was former city and sports editor of UCSB Daily. Richard is president of Amerasa Rapid Transit, a specialized freight forwarder.

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