It was such a classic display of NIMBY Kettle Logic about horrible traffic and parking woes, which they themselves contribute towards. This area is simultaneously such a historic area that it should not be desecrated with more traffic, while it is already so traffic-choked, that it cannot accommodate one more car.
But, since I had just been thinking about the societal impacts of chemistry and engineering, I homed in on the arguments about sewage.
A massive build like the one being proposed will dramatically change the character of our neighborhood.
It will also have a significant impact on traffic in the surrounding area.
It will further tax our already heavily burdened water and sewage systems, and potentially have damaging environmental impacts to the Quassaick Creek and its wildlife.
The build puts additional strain on the current water supply and added pressure to the city sewage system’s downstream capacity.
Residents in the town of Newburgh are currently nearing our maximum agreed sewage usage with the city. ... In 2004 the town updated their intermunicipal sewer agreement with the city to increase the amount of sewage the town sends to the city treatment plant at 2,000,000 gals/day with the ability to send an additional 2,000,000gals/day providing the town pay to enlarge the current city facility. This previously cost taxpayers $1,250,000 to construct the necessary facilities. According to the November 3 town planning board minutes, the town is currently sending 2,000,000 gals/day already and at their first allotment. They have 2,000,000 more gallons owed to them, but much of that has already been allocated to other projects.
As stated in their draft scope, the proposed apartment complex would produce an estimated 28,380 gals of liquid waste per day. And according to the 2004 intermunicipal contract "when the town’s average flow exceeds 3.4 million gallons per day as evidenced by the last 90-day average flow" a second expansion will need to be constructed by and paid for by the town residents, unless we insist the cost be passed on to the builders of these new projects.
The US Census office estimates that Newburgh, NY has a 2021 population of 28,834.
If 28,834 people send 2,000,000 gals/day of sewage to the treatment plant, that's 69.4 gallons per capita per day (gpcd). How many times are they flushing every day?!?! Or do they have many industrial facilities? Why are they using so much water?!?!
If Newburgh residents were as water-thrifty as Angelenos, they could house 10,000 more people and have cheaper sewage service as well because they would be spreading fixed costs among more customers.
JWPCP has a design capacity of 400 MDG, we've added ~1 million people to the service area in the last 20 years, and we are still using only 60% of the capacity. We can add millions more residents without needing any more sewage treatment capacity.
JWPCP is a huge plant that serves almost half the people in the most populous county and one of the largest manufacturing centers in the US.
If Newburgh residents were really concerned about not overrunning their sewage capacity, they should look at water saving household appliances, low-flow toilets and low-flow shower heads. But, perhaps they are just not interested in providing homes for people.
They do seem interested in providing homes for cars. One of their objections to this apartment complex is that it will only provide 515 parking spots for 259 homes.
Enough poking fun at Newburgh NIMBYs. We have plenty of NIMBYs at home in Los Angeles County to poke fun of.
Gratuitous diagram of JWPCP, a social network tying together 4.8 M Angelenos
Consider the problem of declining water flows. This is a serious and expensive problem for established areas that are not building housing fast enough to offset improvements in water efficiency. Californians in existing developed areas are using about 2% less water per year. If that is not offset by infill, this causes problems for both drinking water and sewage systems.
California Urban Water Agencies surveyed their members and wrote a white paper on Adapting to Change: UtilitySystems and Declining Flows. Go to Section 6 (page 22), Impacts of Declining Flows on
Wastewater Treatment Plant
Operations. 40% of urban systems reported effluent quality problems.
Lower flow means longer residence times in the sewage pipes, which exacerbate production of gases. That's both an odor and a corrosion problem. It also decreases the amount of hydraulic pressure, which works with gravity to move sewage towards the treatment plant.
In fact, the less hydraulic pressure you have, the more energy you need to apply (e.g. sewage lifting stations) to push the effluent along. We have so much excess capacity in our existing sewage mains, it's costing us more energy to pump it to the treatment facilities.
You also need to spend more unclogging pipes. We sometimes have to put fresh water into the sewage mains to reduce the residence times, clear clogs, and provide hydraulic pressure.
We'll save the problem of declining flows on drinking water systems for another day. Spoiler, it's cheaper and safer for everyone if we concentrate new residents in existing areas rather than build new sprawl.
Bonus Sewer Content:
the year is 1873.
in cleveland, a tall and narrow sewer is being dug deep underground and built by hand, brick by brick to move sewage. the work is hard. the need is great. the city is growing.
* C&EN News = Chemical and Engineering News is the monthly general interest magazine for members of the American Chemical Society. Bad Dad and I both hold BSs in Chemistry and he also has a PhD in Chemistry (while I hold a PhD in Chemical Physics). Although our work is far from what most people consider chemistry, we still enjoy learning about happenings in the Chemistry world and the policy implications and societal impacts of Chemistry. Editorial leadership of C&EN News eliminated coverage of science policy and societal impacts. Sign the petition if you disagree.
I've given a talk in December 2022 and am scheduled to talk again in January and February 2023 to groups comprised mainly of older homeowners concerned about lack of transit and wheelchair-accessible housing in their communities. Most are unaware that those are connected.
The High Quality Transit Areas (HQTAs) is within one half-mile of a well-serviced transit stop or a transit corridor with 15-minute or less service frequency during peak commute hours.
Founded in 1965, the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) is a Joint Powers Authority under California state law, established as an association of local governments and agencies that voluntarily convene as a forum to address regional issues. Under federal law, SCAG is designated as a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) and under state law as a Regional Transportation Planning Agency and a Council of Governments.
The SCAG region encompasses six counties (Imperial, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura) and 191 cities in an area covering more than 38,000 square miles. The agency develops long-range regional transportation plans including sustainable communities strategy and growth forecast components, regional transportation improvement programs, regional housing needs allocations and a portion of the South Coast Air Quality management plans
Seniors want to stay in their own homes, or at least in their own communities. And they want frequent transit to serve them. They've looked around and are deeply unhappy with what they have found. Why can't we have frequent and good transit like other places they have vacationed at?
Why doesn't the South Bay have good transit? We're visibly a transit hole. High quality, frequent transit does not touch most of the residential areas of the Beach Cities, El Segundo, Torrance and Palos Verdes Cities.
Is it because wealthy people can afford cars and don't need transit? Nope, not if you compare to Santa Monica, Culver City, Pasadena and Beverly Hills.
When we purchased our home in the late 1990s, we researched bus lines, bike commutes and USGS geologic maps. We really liked that the Torrance 8 bus ran between our home, daycare, workplace at 30 minute frequency throughout the day and even more often during peak commute hours. Those buses were well-used by people who worked in El Segundo and lived along the route in Torrance, North Redondo Beach and Hawthorne.
Over time, the service degraded noticeably and wasn't reliable any more. That's the main reason why I ride my eBike during the day and drive at night. Transit isn't viable for me any more, even if I want to take a bus to dinner and then walk home (burn off dessert) or catch a ride home with my dinner companions. Even during peak hours, the buses are infrequent and often get canceled at the last minute.
Moreover, the southern terminus of the route used to be at Newton St and Hawthorne Blvd, a short walk from hundreds of homes. Now the route has been shortened to end at the intersection of two state highways, Pacific Coast Highway (CA1) and Hawthorne Boulevard (CA107). To reach the stop, people have to walk farther from their homes and cross wide highways with 7-9 lanes of deafening traffic.
When I regularly took the bus, they were well-utilized. Most seats were occupied at peak hours. Even after peak, about half the seats were taken by people out shopping or going to their retail/service jobs.
Buses operate at a loss. That's why we pay taxes to subsidize them. But roads and parking lots also operate a loss and we never question whether or not they are necessary. Fuel and registration fees cover only about half the costs of roads; the rest comes from general funds.
The cost of "free parking" is borne by customers or tax payers, including those that didn't drive there. The subsidy is flowing towards drivers, not bike riders. In fact, pedestrians receive the lowest subsidy, then bike riders (cost of bike racks), then transit riders, then drivers.
But I digress. Let's get back to poor bus service. The seniors I talk to all want frequent buses that run near their homes. They would prefer the buses to run past their existing homes, but are willing to move to a condo or apartment complex within their communities if that is the only way they will get high-quality transit.
Sounds good. Let's pick some areas to serve intensively with transit, and then build lots of homes there. The more transit riders there are, the better service we can maintain; it's a virtuous cycle that serves seniors aging out of driving well.
Not so fast, building housing is politically toxic throughout the southland. Today's seniors have elected (for decades) local leaders running on platforms of preserving the "neighborhood character" of their "unique community", and fighting "overbuilding" and "Sacramento overreach".
Elected leaders are suing the state of California about whether they should be exempt from state housing law (like the Housing Accountability Act) and questioning both the legality and the numbers in the Regional Housing Needs Allocation.
The State of California's Department of Housing and Community Development (the CA analog of the Federal Government's HUD), tells each regional planning authority how many homes their region needs to build to provide for existing and future residents. Each region decides for themselves how they want to allocate those homes based on their goals and values.
The formula is a product of our professed values. We claim to value opportunity, so we assign more housing near where the jobs are. We claim to value clean air and want to lower Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, so we place homes in HQTAs. We claim we want to address inequality, so we assign more low income housing to places that traditionally have not provided lower income residents.
Conversely, it assigns more higher income housing in poorer communities that can benefit from the tax base provided by higher earners. It's not forced gentrification or ghettofication. It's just trying to level the playing field to help everyone succeed. The goal is to work together with neighbors to solve regional problems like pollution, congestion, and the housing crisis.
Just select your city of interest in cell D5. Here's Torrance, the city that runs Torrance Transit and presided over its demise. Torrance is big mad at their 6th Cycle RHNA "quota" of 4,939 homes over the next ~8 year RHNA cycle. They have never been given such a high allocation before. Their 5th Cycle allocation was 1,450, and they didn't even meet that.
I paired Torrance with their neighbor, Gardena; and Redondo Beach with neighboring Lawndale. Notice how the smaller cities are given higher RHNA allocations than their larger and more affluent neighbors. They are assigned 2-3x as many homes per capita.
Is it because of job access? Look at the SCAG GIS map of Job Centers. Torrance is smack dab in the middle of one of the largest job centers in Southern California, with ~129,000 jobs.
Both loudly-complaining cities, Torrance and Redondo Beach, have more jobs and easier access to jobs than Gardena and Lawndale, hence they were assigned more homes in the Jobs column.
What explains the big differences then?
Go back and look at the HQTA map. It's all based on existing population in the HQTAs within each jurisdiction.
The more people already living inside the existing HQTAs used in the planning formula, the higher their HQTA-based RHNA allocations. Most cities like jobs (with the possible exception of pre-pandemic San Francisco) so they don't play as many games with that.
Cities know that the way to finesse lower RHNA housing allocations is to minimize the areal coverage of HQTAs in your city, and then to minimize the number of people who live in the HQTAs.
This is how El Segundo, home to LAX and the 121,000 jobs in the LAX job center,
and with 3 light rail stations inside of their cities and one just over the border at LAX, got allocated just 1 home due to HQTA. Yes, just 1 home!
When El Segundo fought to avoid permitting homes east of PCH, this is the subtext. They gave up land to Hawthorne to avoid having homes in their jurisdiction near a rail station.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but South Bay seniors who want to live in wheelchair accessible home with viable public transit will have to move away. Transit sucks now and will not be added back if it will expand HQTA coverage area. No new homes will be built in HQTAs if local officials can stop it.
(This is also why California enacted laws to preempt local officials to force them to permit home building in HQTAs.)
It's all connected to the decisions made by the people we elected and the incentives they operate under. When they talk about preserving the "neighborhood character" of your "unique community", and fighting "overbuilding" and "Sacramento overreach", they collect donations and win elections.
They don't tell you that they will never allow expansion of HQTAs within their jurisdictions if they can help it. This is a large part of the subtext of the fight over Metro C line extension routing. Your elected officials are fighting to ensure you don't get access to rail transit (which is harder to cancel/decrease than bus lines) so that they won't have to build housing.
They don't even want to build in existing HQTAs lest it expose them to higher RHNA allocations in future cycles. So instead, they talk about shadows and view sheds, impose high parking minimums. These all serve to reduce the number of homes that can be built and the number of people in the homes.
They don't tell you that the kind of low-density zoning they are protecting will only every yield townhomes with stairs, built on top of car garages. Low density zoning and height limits makes building accessible apartments with elevators prohibitively expensive to build. They hope developments don't "pencil out" (can't be built profitably), so that the developers go away.
What homes do get produced will be very expensive because they have to cover the parking and land. If you can build 2 stories of housing over 1 story of parking, they have to charge a lot more than if they built 4 stories of housing over the same parking structure on the same land. To maximize affordability, they could even stop requiring parking since seniors and the disabled are much less likely to drive or own cars anyway. Parking is another proxy war to suppress housing.
If you want to solve a problem. then you solve the problem. You don't spend decades screaming the problem doesn't exist. You don't enact ordinances that make the problem even worse. You don't sue people who point out that the problem exists. You don't defund researchers who collect data and evidence on the problem.
This applies to climate change and our regional housing crisis.
Enough, tonight. I just want to point out that it's all related.
Enjoy the Metro C Line (Green) Extension to Torrance Project Simulation Video. Think about how you want to live as you or your parents age out of driving. Think about where you want your children and grandchildren to live as the planet gets hotter and hotter. Do you want them on the cooler coast with you? Then make room for them.
I know that I will fight for a light rail route that is closer to my home. And I will also fight for a 7th Cycle RHNA allocation that can't be gamed by climate arsonists.
Even if we get a higher RHNA allocation based on light rail routing, California law gives us local control about where we place that home growth. We can and should spread it out, particularly as our area ages. The medical industry jobs in Torrance keep growing, and South Redondo Beach is very close to those jobs.
Coastal Los Angeles Communities are facing a Silver Tsunami of aging residents and a dearth of younger families. Housing is so expensive, our children move far away. (A few may live with us.) The SCAG RHNA formula projects future housing needs based on demographics of existing residents. If you have few current residents of child-bearing age, then you won't have many births or future residents to house.
Since we have moved homes affordable for young, families so far into the inland deserts, they were assigned higher RHNA allocations than older communities along the coast. I included the data for Coachella in my comparison table.
Coachella has 14,277 Households in 2020, while Culver City has 17,146. Yet, Household Growth in Coachella is projected to be 5,794 while Culver City's is only 296. That's a 20-fold difference!
If you push young people out of your city, you will be assigned lower RHNA numbers. But then, who will help you change your senior diapers? How often will you see your children and grandchildren?
Anyway, stop fixating on "winning" a game of foisting housing elsewhere. Plan for a better future for yourself by planning for a more inclusive future in your community.
I hear so much vitriol spewed against building low income housing, predicting all sorts of negative outcomes. Crime! Blight! Traffic! Ghettoization! Gentrification!
Your children's teachers are listening. I've been advised to use color pictures to spice up the tables of data. So I pulled this photo off the website of Washington Elementary School, the ES with the highest concentration of Title I students in RBUSD.
UCLA Professor John Rogers told the League of Women Voters of Los Angeles County at one of our meetings that the 10th percentile (in earnings) public school teacher in California needs to pay an astronomical portion of their income in rent if they wanted to live in a 1 bedroom apartment in the county where they teach.
Insert horror face emoji.
I looked up some statistics for Los Angeles and Redondo Beach and he is horrifyingly correct.
Here's their list of certificated teachers (doesn't include non-certified teachers' aides). There are 463.8 Full-time Equivalent certificated teachers. Some work part-time schedules.
Here's the salary schedule for each classification and step (years of experience). The 10th percentile teacher is an early career elementary school teacher, earning in the low $60,000s, possibly still paying off student loans for a bachelors plus 1 year of grad school.
That sounds like a pretty good salary, right? Consider the 2022 HUD Income Limits for California. Scroll down to Los Angeles County. Each column represents limits for # of people in the household. So a single teacher would be in column 1, and fit in the low income category (below $66,750).
That young, energetic teacher that your child loves so much? They are the very people you are excluding when you block low income housing.
Qualifying for low income housing is much easier than securing it.
Consider that Redondo Beach's Section 8 program has 4,260 people on the wait list as of September 2022. It was last opened to the public (briefly) in 2015. (7 years ago!)
441 households enrolled in the city’s Section 8 program
In the quarterly briefing
6 people got new contracts for housing+vouchers
4 people were permanently off the program (died, moved away, earned too much)
119 households signed contract renewals
Demand for housing assistance is so high, RB's Section 8 program is limited to only Very Low Incomes (below $41,700); Low Income households like teachers do not qualify.
Some private landlords of new properties have to set aside a certain number of homes at Below Market Rate (BMR) in a negotiation with cities referred to as Mixed-Income Cross Subsidies (typically 10-20% set aside as BMR). They typically also prioritize public sector employees working in the city. That's helpful for attracting and retaining teachers who have a choice of school districts to work in.
You have to build homes in order to have BMR units. Because Redondo Beach builds so few homes, and approves almost exclusively townhomes (no apartment buildings), they have produced a total of 2 subsidized units in the last decade according to one study I read.
That leaves Redondo Beach school teachers--and most workers--out in the open market.
Someone earning $60,000/yr can afford 30% for rent, about $1,500/month.
Rentcafe.com says that there are no apartments for rent in RB below $1,501/mo. Only 5% of them are below $2,000/mo. The average apartment is 825 sq ft and rents for $2,939.
If our benchmark young elementary school teacher rented a studio in 90278, they would pay 39% of their gross $5,000/mo salary to rent a shabby studio for $1,940/mo--if they could find one. They would then join the ~80% of Los Angeles County renters that are rent-burdened, spending more than 30% of their income on rent.
If they didn't want to be rent-burdened, say if they also need to eat after paying off student loans, they could get a studio apartment in Inglewood, or a 1 bedroom apartment in Lennox. But, then, they would need to get a car and factor in car payments, gas, insurance and maintenance. Those costs could easily run $500-$750/month, so teachers might be better off with a more expensive apartment near work that they can bike to.
Teachers are very smart. They are listening. They are trained to process, analyze, and interpret information. What take-away message do you want them to hear?
I'm not a lawyer, but I will say as a scientist that it is claptrap.
So much nonsense was spewed that would fly under the radar of people not in the trenches of housing policy. I suspect that using the need for street trees to push through a more expansive policy is designed to make infill housing (eg ADUs*enabled by SB 9) harder or more prohibitively expensive to build.
But, I want to push back on the pernicious myth that carbon sequestration through urban trees is better than building infill housing.
The largest employers in my city are Northrop Grumman (next to a light rail station) and our local school district (disbursed around the city, not served well by transit). Since school teachers cannot afford the median house price of $1,587,500
or even the median condo price of $1,007,000
teachers drive in from elsewhere. The only places in LA County actively building new apartments and condos in substantial numbers is Downtown LA (DTLA) or Old Town Pasadena.
I can't ensure that all infill homes will go to teachers in the community.
I do know that teachers have to live somewhere, so they need homes. It would be great if they could live close enough to participate outside of school in the communities where they teach, and if they didn't need to drive a car to work.
The benefits of workforce housing:
Planet (fewer climate-wrecking CO2 emission)
Community (the teacher can be more present)
Public health (fewer car miles = less air/water pollution)
Teacher health (long driving commutes have well-documented detrimental health impacts)
Now substitute teacher for any other job in our city. This includes store clerks and caregivers to the elderly or young children that make just above minimum wage. They take care of us. We need to take care of them. We won't be able to build enough ADUs to fill the need. But, we can build enough apartments and condos, in a thoughtful way, to reduce the need for climate-destroying and space-gobbling automobiles.
ADU = Accessory Dwelling Units or Granny Flats or In-Laws' units. ADUs generate a little extra density in single-family neighborhoods, create homes without generating much external impact. In fact, when used to house caregivers or those needing care, or local essential workers, they reduce car traffic or Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) overall.
Keeping low-density existing homes is NOT better than replacing them with higher density housing, even accounting for embodied carbon. But, I'll cover that myth in another post.
I hear lots of chatter about preserving or increasing urban tree canopy in order to combat the urban heat island effect. That's a good idea. I'm all for trees. In fact, we bid aggressively on both our home purchases because they had more trees compared to other homes in our budget/area. More on that later.