Cognitive Dissonance: “Toilets use recycled water – do not drink”, read the sign in a public restroom. I pondered, not the sign’s unintentional humor, as my wife and I rode our bikes on, but the city of Monterey’s more hilarious notion that I might ever tempted.
Cognitive dissonance, the angst our brains experience when we can’t reconcile two conflicting beliefs, may be the best way to describe voters frustrated with whom they elect. County government, try as it may, never quite hears us; what we want, don’t want, don’t need or promise and fail to keep after years of banging our heads against the marble walls at Santa Rosa St. in San Luis Obispo. Visceral examples include the interchange at US 101 and CA 46 west, and the glacial and expensive development approval process.
Most illustrative by far is the County Board of Supervisor’s preternatural success at preventing construction of affordable housing. The median price of homes having reached a rarified strata accessible only to retired tech entrepreneurs and big Pharma CEOs, while demand for affordable homes falls on deaf ears. Despite citizens waving real estate comps, the board decided not to change the county’s affordable housing program. That means no new funding for affordable homes, no building-permit funding to jump start construction and no easing of the currently arcane and expensive building permit process.
The affordable housing program, criticized as little more than costly window dressing, goes back to 2008, pretentiously-named the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance, (IHO). In ten years the project only produced 610 homes.
Meant to make a path for developers to both build and help pay for affordable land, the board’s 3/2 vote means no change in the IHO.
$3.75/ square foot developer fees were added to the program, intended to subsidize construction on affordable homes, but easily exceed $10,000 per new home, and that’s on top of already expensive building permit fees. And then the board bogged down over rhetoric, whether a fee is really a tax.
The irony certainly wasn’t lost on developers, who faced hundreds of thousands in additional fees, even on modest, 10-home projects. Nobody knows, publicly at least, how many builders pulled out or canceled plans to build new homes, but with supply and demand as inexorable as gravity, upward pressure on existing home prices is inevitable.
To be fair, the 2008 recession persuaded county officials to delay the $3.75/ foot construction fee hike, stopping it at $1.50/ square foot.
Developers want to end the IHO; they blame it for actually pushing home prices upward, despite good intentions. The board also ignored a housing study with recommendations, and surely the ultimate in good intentions is a government study that spends tax money to accomplish nothing.
End of Eagle: Atascadero’s proposed Eagle Ranch housing project is officially dead. Developers had worked literally for decades to see the project become reality, but costs and tax bickering put the kibosh on the 590-residential unit multi-use project.
Would-be developers, Jeff and Greg smith had already given 2,000 acres of property they owned south of Atascadero as an open space easement.
The expansion development, originally envisaged by city founder E.G. Lewis received significant resistance from area residents who feared traffic and construction, water use and just the change of character they believed it would bring to the city.
The housing project cancelation was announced before an economic study revealed county employment had dropped to near all time lows of 2.9%. Economist Robert Kleinhenz numbers that low mean employers are having difficulty finding workers.
Diablo Delay: San Luis Obispo County is of course, faces a critical tax revenue sunset when Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant closes. Pacific Gas & Electric wants to shutter the plant by 2025, but the state public utilities commission (PUC) has decided to wait to decide whether to approve or deny that request.
The PUC’s decision not to decide has all sorts of delicious rumor and scandal potential; first, PG&E’s alleged long intimacy with the PUC alarms a lot of folks who simply want nuclear power to go away. That supposed intimacy should have made it easy to approve PG&E’s closure date, but perhaps the board doesn’t want to appear quite so anti-statist as county and state government officials scramble to make up the lost revenue.
Equally disturbing to anti-nuke activists is the quiet resurgence of interest in nuclear power, even among environmentalists who think greenhouse gases are more of a problem than possible nuclear plant accidents or where to bury spent fuel. Are they afraid Diablo Canyon might not close before the political tide turns back in favor of nuclear power? More likely the delay was driven by problems with PG&E’s proposed $85 million tax windfall settlement with San Luis Obispo county schools and cities. Administrative law judge Peter Allen ruled the utility can’t simply pass that sum along to ratepayers, which means trouble for company bosses who have to explain why shareholder dividends tanked. PG&E won’t say whether they’ll appeal that decision.
Pot Petition: Nobody lost any time blazing up after January 1; the first farmer’s market of 2018 in San Luis Obispo smelled like a skunk farm. Still, stoners wielding new political might, showed up at shopping centers hawking petitions to overturn a county decision to cap the number of pot growing permits.
Then suddenly, lead organizer, Sean Donahoe dropped the petition effort, apparently after talks with county officials who were reportedly willing to open up the permit process, at least temporarily, until state licensing rules are laid out clearly.
Supervisors initially seemed against California’s brave new world of legalized cannabis, until conservative leaning chair, John Peschong, announced the board was working on an informal letter approval process growers can present to state licensing officials, when that happens.
Peschong even hinted that another 40 permits may be in the pipeline. Once again cognitive dissonance passes on a one-to-zero vote.