HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALBANY
Hey, happy new year people. For those of your who try to squeeze outdoor activities in either before or after work, or in the moonlight, I’m providing a link to my ugly sunrise/sunset, twilight and moonrise/moonset pdf calendar. I make one every year for my bike riding buddies. It starts the week on Mondays too. It’s for San Francisco, but it’s never more than a minute off for the whole Bay Area. Get it here.
Before I get into the nitty-gritty of the last several meetings, there are a few items I would like to mention. First of all, there is a state program, the California Residential Mitigation Program, which will be offering Albany homeowners up to $3,000 to help earthquake retrofit their houses in 2016. The process does require pre-qualification, and the funding is available by lottery. For more information, please go to earthquakebracebolt.com.
I saw a couple of items in the local paper that are worth mentioning–one on minimum wages, and the other on community choice aggregation. Both articles show that, as a small city, moving last often has advantages.
El Cerrito jumped ahead of Albany and joined a CCA (community choice aggregator), an alternative to PG&E for electricity. In particular, El Cerrito joined Marin Clean Energy (MCE). I’ve written in the past about why I think CCAs are not a good option and this recent Albany Journal article reinforces my concerns.
There is no good evidence that CCAs create facts on the ground (new renewable energy infrastructure) any faster or better than PG&E does under state mandates. What CCAs do is create a new layer of bureaucracy to bicker with utilities about cost shifting. Sorry, but I think Albany should pass.
El Cerrito has also been out in front on phasing in minimum wage increases. There apparently is now some backlash:
The minimum wage issue is wrapped up with a related issue, tipping in restaurants. Some folks argue that it’s time for tipping to go, and some big restaurants are getting on board. At least for restaurant workers, if higher minimum wages mean the reduction of tipping, then the changes may not be as big as they first appear.
Here is simple model: Assume the wage rate is $10/hr and labor is 40 percent of total cost (the pre-tax bill). You tip 20 percent. A group goes out for dinner, pays $100 for meal, and 40 percent, or $40, goes toward wages, and $60 to non-wage expenses. Tip goes to the workers, so total bill is $120, including tipping. Workers get half, wages plus tip, or $60.
Now assume under minimum wage laws that the wage rises to $15/hour, but the restaurant invokes a no tipping policy. Cost of wages has risen 50 percent (from $10/hr to $15/hr), so now the wage bill for the same meal is $60 instead of $40, and the cost of dinner bill, including the same $60 non-wage expenses, is $120 (without tipping). In both examples the costs to the customers are the same–the only difference is that the tip has been rolled into the wage.
Most restaurants already add a mandatory tip for large parties, and some restaurants, like Berkeley’s Chez Panisse, have been adding mandatory tips for years, something the workers didn’t like at first. The wait staff at fancy restaurants can earn big tips, while the staff at a local fast food place typically doesn’t. In addition, there are issues about how the tips are shared between the wait staff and the kitchen staff. A higher minimum wage rate would help bring some equity to the restaurant industry, but not without adjustments.
It’s important to keep in mind that even with a $15/hr minimum wage, with full-time employment (2,000 hours annually), one worker makes $30K annually, and a married couple who both work full time make $60K annually. In the Bay Area, housing costs can easily take half that income off the top. In addition to a higher minimum wage, we need more affordable housing.
The city will start soon to repair the most dangerous sidewalks in Albany. The council allocated $150,000 as part of the Capital Improvement Plan, and the public works staff has identified 58 broken sidewalks to be repaired with the funding. More here.
State law makes sidewalk maintenance the responsibility of the homeowner. And for something like me, with no big trees near my sidewalk, this is not a problem. A good sidewalk can last 50-75 years or more, unless tree roots or water flow are tearing it up. If the trees are city-owned, then the city should be willing to share the responsibility for repairing the broken sidewalks. And in fact the city has had a program with limited funds to pay 50 percent of sidewalk repairs.
The problem is that fixing sidewalks 20-30 feet at time is very inefficient, especially if the homeowner has to pay about $200 for a permit. A better solution is to take advantage of economies of scale in pouring concrete and building forms by having crews repair whole sections at a time. That is our new plan, and that is how we’ll be spending the first $150,000.
Several people have contacted me via email to urge the council to back a parcel tax for sidewalk repairs, but I am not in favor. This sidewalk repair map helps explain why.
Under Proposition 13, local taxes that are earmarked for specific purposes generally require a two-thirds super-majority vote. A big portion of Albany residents, especially those living in the Pierce St. condos, any large apartment building, and most blocks west of San Pablo Ave., don’t see broken sidewalks as a neighborhood problem. If at least one-third of residents fall into that camp, then any dedicated sidewalk repair tax is likely to fail. That’s why I think the city’s current plan is a better way to go.
UPDATE ON MIXED-USE PROJECT
At the University Village project, the Sprouts supermarket should open before end of 2016. Seniors should be moving into the Belmont Village building in the fall of 2017.
A few months ago, the project cleared what may be the final procedural hurdle to come to the city council. Back in November, the council heard an appeal of some decisions about the small retail area at the site, along the south side of Monroe Ave. The Planning and Zoning Commission had already had two lengthy meetings on the topic. Those meeting were focused on technical details about signage and some parking issues in the area.
The appeal to the council was filed by Albany resident Ulan McKnight, who had run for city council in 2012 as an Occupy the Farm (OTF)-supported candidate. The meeting was attended by McKnight and a handful of relatively polite OTF supporters, among others. McKnight did not attend either of the two P&Z meetings, nor did he submit any comments during the P&Z process.
I’ll spare you my opinions of McKnight’s appeal. Instead, the reader can view his comments here.
The Ohlone leader Hank Herrera mentioned by McKnight did speak. Herrera stated in his comments that the city has failed in its legal obligation to consult with local tribes regarding development, especially in the general plan process. I suspect Herrera had been misinformed by OTF. City attorney Craig Labadie corrected the record by pointing out that the city had consulted with local tribes as required by state law, but the tribes had no substantive comments.
During the meeting, P&Z commissioner Doug Donaldson noted that the $512 fee for appealing complex P&Z decisions doesn’t begin to cover the costs of staff time in preparing the documents for the council. Donaldson recommended doubling the cost of appealing to $1,024 for those citizens who appeal without ever having participated in the original P&Z process, where their concerns can be be heard and incorporated in a far more cost-effective manner.
Finally, I’d like to dispose of one piece of OTF folk wisdom that I’ve heard many times, and that I heard again at this meeting. An OTF supporter who claimed to be a public health graduate student at UC Berkeley stated that Albany had a problem with asthma rates. It took me about five minutes to track down the county health statistics in the Alameda County Health Data Profile, 2014, (128-page pdf file). I have attached here three of the report’s pages that focus in asthma rates broken out by city.
It turns out that in Alameda county, Albany has one of the lowest rates of asthma, far lower than Oakland, which consistently has the highest rates. No surprises there, except perhaps to OTF. Maybe now we can put this shibboleth to rest.