Friday, July 20, 2012

Searching for our economy

Pacifica Tribune, "My Turn" Guest Column, 7/17/12.  "Our environment should be our economy" by Samuel Casillas 

This is our economy, Sam
"There is no question that Pacifica is at a critical juncture in its economic evolution. Yes, our economy continues to struggle in the wake of a recession that, I believe, we all must bear some responsibility for. Yet, I feel that during this time of crisis, we must not succumb to fear and ignorance which can easily drive our community into petty bickering that does not serve our city in the least. Together, we must look at this time as an opportunity to transform our great city into a self-sustainable model of economic growth that develops in unison with our core principles and preserves all that we care about in Pacifica. 

Hiking our hills, not so much
This city was founded on the principle of a family-based community that lives in harmony with the beauty of the surrounding environment which encompasses emerald hills falling into the majestic Pacific Ocean. I strongly believe that our town's stunning beauty directly impacts the physical health and mental well-being of our citizens. Pacifica's beaches and coastal vistas are arguably some of the most stunning landscapes in Northern California and we are very privileged to have this to recreate in and gain solace from in the hustle and bustle of our daily work lives. Our environment also turns out to be our greatest potential economic asset that should be developed to ensure our viability as we look to the future.

Soon after Pacifica was incorporated, we lost our way and became a bedroom community for San Francisco; we became an inexpensive option for living outside of the city of San Francisco that contributed to the blight of strip malls and tract housing which dominate the American landscape to this day.

Hard on our environment?
Some would think the answer to our economic woes is to actually build more residential subdivisions and bring in big box stores. This is not the answer. Countless studies (including Conservation Financing Comes of Age, R. Stapleton, 2001 and and policy/landvote2001.htm) actually demonstrate that the opposite is actually true: for every $1.00 in taxes a household brings into the city budget, $1.26 is spent on services that a household uses including police, fire and sewer. For every $1 in taxes there is only 54 cents spent on open space and farmland. That means there is a profit of 46 cents on undeveloped land. As for big box stores, look at the vast expanses that used to be car dealerships and Circuit Cities in places like Colma and Daly City. Today they are asphalt deserts.

Our economy is our dog off leash fine
In Pacifica there is actually a much higher cost to households when you consider the large volume of unauthorized in-law units that put a huge burden on our sewer system and do not pay into critical services like sewer, fire, etc. or pay their planning fees and taxes. Again, the major reason these multiple-unit houses keep cropping up is that it is a cheaper alternative to living in San Francisco, yet the lure of the City, only being a few minutes away, is where all of us "go over the hill" to get our entertainment and buy cheaper goods at the big box stores. The fact is that our hotels even market on the premise that we are cheaper to stay in than San Francisco. The fact is that no amount of additional housing in Pacifica would have ever saved Pacifica Lumber or other like businesses; we all go over the hill to get less expensive commodity goods.

So then, how can Pacifica move our economy forward? The answer is that our environment should be our economy. Our unrivaled open space in Pacifica can and does attract hikers, bikers, surfers and others who enjoy the outdoors. But we need to do a better job of promoting our natural beauty to more potential tourists and then find ways to keep those visitors here once they arrive.   

This one we agree on
That would require us to transform our economy into a visitor-based economy that capitalizes in the one area that Pacifica holds a differentiated strength versus other Bay Area communities: our open space. Many volunteers and dedicated city officials have had, and still hold to, a true bold vision of what Pacifica can be and they have laid the groundwork for Pacifica to move forward in this endeavor.  We need to continue to build on the vision of the coastal trail and build a business-minded strategy that incorporates and takes advantage of the Devil's Slide parkland that will be our inheritance and our gift to future generations. The tourists that come to hike in the Pedro Point Headlands and take in the views from Devil's Slide will be the ones who add to the revenue base, not only for the Pedro Point Shopping Center, but potentially in a commercial recreational space in Pedro Point that is currently an open lot and in the Linda Mar shopping center, Rockaway, Vallemar and the rest of our business districts. We need to preserve the Sharp Park golf course that generates 55,000 rounds of golf a year with 70 percent of those rounds played by residents of other counties, but we need to find ways to keep those golfers here after they have played their rounds of golf. The planned Palmetto Streetscape has the potential to re-invent a business district that can transform into a vibrant visitor-based shopping district that spills into Mori Point and our Beach Boulevard promenade.

Return from visiting our over the hill economy
I applaud the reluctance of our city council to hand over the old sewer plant site to housing developers and instead wait until the right projects come our way that will actually boost our economy; doing otherwise is how we end up with apartment buildings in the prime business district gateway of Palmetto and with a Taco Bell on Linda Mar Beach instead of a Sam's Chowder House and potentially more run-down apartments along the Beach Boulevard site instead of a potential Half Moon Bay Brewery- like restaurant across from our beloved Pier.

We are at a critical crossroads in the economic life of our picturesque city. The question is, do we want to look like Daly City with their green hills carved up and covered in miles of asphalt parking lots and monolithic billboards covering once majestic vistas or do we want to be a model for the state and the country, where we can demonstrate that we can live in harmony with the environment, while harnessing its economic potential, and protect the vulnerable wildlife while nourishing our own healthy existence?

Our environment can, and should, most definitely be our economy. With vision, leadership, and policies that support its development we will create a win-win situation for Pacifica -- a vibrant economy based on our environmental assets- and a healthier future for generations to come."   *** End

Note:  Comments about the household tax benefits.  Embedded in the article the Land Trust Alliance link doesn't seem to work, but neither does the argument: "for every $1.00 in taxes a household brings into the city budget, $1.26 is spent on services that a household uses including police, fire and sewer."  Until proven otherwise this repeated ECO-NIMBY argument as it applies to this city appears to be completely false.

The argument may work better in a rural farmland community, not in this city in this metropolitan area.  There were blog conversations, including some research from about 5/30 until 6/1,2012. See articles Recall, 5/22/12, and County and City Parcel Tax Funding, 5/31/12.  

REALITY, our parcel taxes returned from San Mateo County to our City General Fund for fire, police, paramedics and other city services amount to 17% of what  property owners paid.  But in this city,  that 17% represents  39% funding of our total City General Fund budget.  Sewer taxes are separate, parcel owners pay these taxes directly to our City Enterprise Fund, and that impact to the city should be more or less neutral. 
One thing we can agree on Sam, we should keep San Francisco Sharp Park golf course, however that choice is ultimately not ours.   
Posted by Kathy Meeh


Anonymous said...

Wow, this Sam Casillas guy must be the only person in Pacifica who thinks Sue Digre is onto something. The last thing we need on city council is another idiot talking nonsense.

Anonymous said...

Here's a working link to the article referenced in the column

Anonymous said...

It's a well-established principle that new residential development costs more in services than it returns in property taxes. That you don't like this does not establish it as false until proven to your satisfaction on your terms. It's true that property values and taxes are higher here than other parts of the country but so is the cost of living and the cost of providing city services. It's a wash.

If your property taxes are, say, $5000 and 17% of that is what's returned to the city, that's $850. Do you think the cost of providing all city services is less than $850 for that house?

If 39% of our general fund budget is from property taxes, that's saying that 61% of the cost of all city services is not covered by property taxes and must come from other sources. In other words, the cost of all city services is much greater than the revenue from property taxes.

Anonymous said...

Typical hippie mentality. This is the guy who got all the Pedro Point newbies down to city council meetings to have the city created a park on flat piece of land in Pedro Point.

Pacifica has a payroll/pension/ pay the bill revenue problems due to a lack of business that is willing to take on the risk to enter town.

The City Council, planning dept. and local hippies did their best to keep developers out thus bankrupting the city.

They teach these things in Finance 101 not in the peace corp!

Anonymous said...

Sam's statements remind me of old hippie songs, or maybe poems from the beat age. Words with no meaning, no sense, no rationality. I guess if you were on some kind of mind altering drug it would all be nirvana to the soul. Sue and Sam. Sounds like an old beatnik group.

Hutch said...

That's bullcrap anon 901, Show us ONE study saying new housing in San Mateo County costs more in services than fees it generates.

This is just another lame reason to not build any new housing here.

All these studies these anti development peeps have show have been some bumfruck town in the midwest or an inner city with high crime.

Plus you are not counting all the other fees generated by new housing being built like sewer fee.

AND then there's the jobs created and sales tax generated, increased business etc etc etc etc generated by new residents and increased population.

Pacifica's population has pretty much stayed the same since I've been here for 30 years. That is unsustainable.

Hutch said...

"The last thing we need on city council is another idiot talking nonsense."

^ Best COMMENT ^

Sue Digre is out there babbling about the reason she can't vote for the Highway One widening is sea level rising.

I still can't believe she said that.

Time to take back our city from these nut cases.

Anonymous said...

homes paying their way. For everyone so fluffed up agst homes, please leave town. We'll raze your house back to open space and the world be be so much better, fiscally and personally.
And you as an ex-homeowner/drag-on- our-servcies can feel better by making a big contribution.
The remaining homeowners will contribute as we shop and dine locally, participate in cultural events, pick up trash on the beach and support school measures--all the things that clearly show homes pay their way and actually define a town.

Hutch said...

I'm sorry, over the past 20 years Pacifica population went down by 11 people. While every other city in San Mateo county went up at least 10%, EVEN COLMA!!ctype=l&strail=false&bcs=d&nselm=h&met_y=population&scale_y=lin&ind_y=false&rdim=country&idim=place:0654806:0665070:0665028:0668252:0614736:0617918&ifdim=country&hl=en_US&dl=en&ind=false

Anonymous said...

Show us ONE study saying climate change is happening in San Mateo County. That proves that sea level rise is bullcrap.

Anonymous said...

Sea level rising is global, tax verses services is local. Nice try though.

Steve Sinai said...

"It's a well-established principle that new residential development costs more in services than it returns in property taxes."

No it's not. It depends on the city, how much it makes in property taxes, and how much it spends in services. If you have hard numbers that show how much a house costs a city, I'd love to see them. I do think $850 per house can cover the cost of city services, as long as there are lots of houses contributing.

Most cities split their revenues between commercial, sales and property taxes. Since Pacifica hardly has anything in the way of commercial and sales taxes, we're mostly depending on property taxes. That's why I'd rather see Pacifica focus on commercial development, rather than housing.
But if a mixed-use development with housing is required to get new commercial, I'm probably all for it.

Steve Sinai said...

"Show us ONE study saying climate change is happening in San Mateo County. That proves that sea level rise is bullcrap."

All you have to do is google something like "sea level rise global warming". I suspect your politics will cause you to assume it's all part of a worldwide hoax, though, so I won't bother providing links or references to studies.

Anonymous said...

This recent study has lots of hard numbers:
The fact that it's about Austin, TX and no study has been done in San Mateo County is irrelevant. The principle keeps being demonstrated regardless of the community.

BTW, sea level rise is both local and global, just as the concept of tax revenues vs. costs of development is both local and global.

I suggest a course in scientific logic or critical thinking.

Hutch said...

AUSTIN TEXAS????? Are you serious Anon 123???

And you say location is irrelevant? Austin's median home price $110K, Pacifica $470K. Haha you're funny.

This is exactly what I was talking about. These anti development nuts show us a study done in some place nothing like Pacifica trying to prove a ridiculous theory saying that new housing costs a city more is services than the money it generates in taxes and fees.

A swing and a miss professor. But very funny. Maybe you need an economics refresher :)

Anonymous said...

Fahgeddaboudit, anon 123. It's like trying to penetrate something as dense as a brick wall. They don't think the ridiculous theory of relativity applies in Pacifica because the research wasn't done here.

Steve Sinai said...

"The fact that it's about Austin, TX and no study has been done in San Mateo County is irrelevant."

Truly a ridiculous statement.

I have a red Subaru, therefore all Subarus are red. Is that how it works?

You have no business telling anyone to take a course in critical thinking. I understand why you're posting anonymously.

Anonymous said...

Is there info available for San Mateo County? Seems like there would be.

Anonymous said...

They come in other colors?

Hutch said...

Hey you two Anons, I have a bridge I'd like to sell you in Austin. Or how about a 3 bedroom rancher for $500,000?

So funny.

Anonymous said...

I'll buy the red suburu.

Anonymous said...

Atherton, Hillsborough and Portola Valley do ok depending on property tax. They have almost no business tax revenue.

Anonymous said...

Yes anon 627 other than a large number of private schools and the fab Menlo Circus Club there wouldn't seem to be much of a business community. Must be underground. Lots of jobs for domestic help, gardners, etc. Those 3 communities all place very high, Hillsborough and Atherton top 10ish, in the lists of top incomes and most expensive housing for the USA. Median house price in Atherton is over $4 million, in Hillsborough min lot size is .5 acre and minimum house size is 2500 SF. Portola Valley might be cheaper as it's only in the top 40 wealthiest US towns. Populations are under 10,000. Hillsborough and Atherton have easy access to train, plane, and freeway. Excellent public schools. We're in the same time zone but beyond that there are not a lot of similarities and worst of all, the people who live there would never want to live here. We should stick with the business plan. Put PremiumOutlets in the quarry (and lose the smell)and I guarantee those wealthy folks will come by to shop.

Anonymous said...

What? No T-Bell in Atherton? No Winters?
Those people are willing to pay massive property tax on their massive homes to insulate their towns from business and maintain that spacious, uncrowded, monied look. keep it special and exclusive. Make the money elsewhere or inherit it but no tacky businesses where we live, please.

Anonymous said...

ANON@741 I miss Joe Tanner. His immortal words to a Vallemar resident complaining about the smell ruining their barbecues,
"What? You people didn't know shit stinks?" No dogs, no ponies, just a zinger. Enjoy that fat pension Joe!

Lionel Emde said...

"In Pacifica there is actually a much higher cost to households when you consider the large volume of unauthorized in-law units that put a huge burden on our sewer system and do not pay into critical services like sewer, fire, etc. or pay their planning fees and taxes. Again, the major reason these multiple-unit houses keep cropping up is that it is a cheaper alternative to living in San Francisco,..."

This is an interesting comment. I know from living in my present neighborhood for 20+ years that there are illegal second units around, but how did the writer arrive at this conclusion and what's his data supporting it?

Does the city have some sort of estimate of illegal second units and how many people live in them? Or is it just another citing of something that's going on in every community in this very expensive county?

Anonymous said...

I believe you quoted a comment by a very nice gentleman who lives on Pedro Point, is active in the neighborhood association, and is under the illusion that his neighborhood would be diminished by apartments. No apartments on the Point, dahling, legal or illegal. So tacky.