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October 2017, Volume 23, Number 4

California: Air, Housing

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, the state's largest, wants to delay implementation of the tighter standards on particulates required by the federal Clean Air Act. The District, which covers eight counties with four million residents from San Joaquin to Kern, is a natural bowl with mountains on three sides that has been unable to improve regional air quality.

Fresno county had 25 unhealthy air warnings in 2016. One consequence is asthma, as especially children have trouble breathing. Many children carry inhalers to school and elsewhere.

California is responsible for one percent of global emissions of greenhouse gases. Governor Jerry Brown in July 2017 persuaded the Legislature to support the extension of the state's 2012 cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from 431 million metric tons in 2020 to 260 million metric tons in 2030 (AB 398). California emitted 440 million metric tons of greenhouse gases in 2015 and Brown warned of "mass migrations, vector diseases, forest fires, Southern California burning up" if the state failed to reduce them.

The extension of cap-and-trade could raise gas prices up to $0.75 a gallon and provide funds for the bullet train that aims to link northern and southern California. The California's Air Resources Board, which will implement AB 398, projects an increase in the number of electric cars from 250,000 in 2017 to 4.2 million in 2030. CARB is targeting manure on dairies to reduce methane emissions.

Much of the opposition to the cap-and-trade extension came from environmentalists, who believe that Brown was too accommodative to oil refineries. Under the companion bill AB 617, local air quality management districts cannot further restrict carbon emissions of stationary sources like oil refineries.

Across the US, emissions of carbon dioxide fell 14 percent between 2005 and 2017 as cleaner and cheaper natural gas prompted the closure of coal-burning power plants. California's emissions are approaching 1990 levels because the state never had many coal-fired power plants and has more solar panels installed than the rest of the US combined.

Housing. California's Office of Migrant Housing operates 24 farm worker centers that house 12,000 farm workers and their families for six months each year. To be eligible to move into the low-cost housing that also offers health and other services, tenants must have a usual residence at least 50 miles away.

Some migrant advocates want to abolish the 50-mile rule, arguing that it often forces children in farm worker families to change schools and limits their ability to graduate on time. They want the OMH to exempt families with school-age children from the 50-mile rule, while others want to retain the 50-mile rule to have housing available for migrant rather than local farm workers.

Salinas has higher than average hourly wages, often $12 an hour or more, but very high housing costs. One farm worker couple with five children and two cars reported earning $29,000 a year and paying $1,600 a month for a three-bedroom apartment, so that two-thirds of their earnings go for housing.

The Salinas-area Nunes, Hibino and Rodriguez families are planning the Casa Boronda farm worker housing complex for 600 H-2A workers to open by April 2018 just outside Salinas. T&A opened Spreckels Crossing farm worker housing in 2016, a $17 million, 800-bed facility ($25,000 a bed) that charges US workers $31 a week to live in units with two, three and four beds. T&A expected H-2A workers to occupy the new housing, but US workers have moved in.

The median price of a California house topped $500,000 in summer 2017, and $800,000 in the Bay Area, focusing attention on the reluctance of many cities to allow new housing to be built. House prices in major California cities almost doubled between 2012 and 2017.

The Legislature in September 2017 approved 15 bills to provide more funding for affordable housing and to limit the ability of cities to block new projects. California built 467,000 net new housing units between 2009 and 2014 for over 544,000 net new households.

Governor Brown signed the 15 bills into law in September 2107, saying that California had made a start on tackling housing affordability by enacting a new $75 fee on real estate transactions (SB 2) and placing a $4-billion bond on the 2018 ballot (SB 3) to provide money for affordable housing for those earning less than 60 percent of the median income in an area, or less than $54,000 for a family of four in Los Angeles.

Other measures include SB 35, which requires cities to approve projects that comply with existing zoning in areas that have not built enough housing for their targets, provided these projects include low-income housing and pay construction workers union wages. AB 1397 requires cities to zone land for housing that could be built, while SB 166 requires cities to adjust their housing plans if they approve lower-than-anticipated density housing.

Economy. The 10-county Bay Area has 20 percent of California's 40 million residents but, with adjusted gross incomes reported to state tax officials of almost $50,000 a year in 2014, the Bay Area accounted for a third of the state's $1.5 trillion AGI. Six of the state's 10 highest AGI counties are in the Bay area, led by Marin at $141,000.

In 1970, Los Angeles county had the highest AGI. However, the exit of a million residents in the early 1990s when the end of the Cold War reduced defense spending resulted in skilled workers leaving the state and rural Mexicans arriving in Los Angeles. Low-wage jobs expanded in Los Angeles, and newcomers found it hard to rise into the middle class.

The US GDP in 2016 was $18.5 trillion, including $2.6 trillion in California, $1.6 trillion in Texas, and $1.5 trillion in New York.

Refugees. Refugees resettled in the US are free to move, and some do, including hundreds of Syrians who moved from their initial US homes to Fresno, which has 15,000 Muslims among 500,000 residents. Fresno's major attraction is low rent, sometimes less than $500 for a two-bedroom apartment. However, there are also few jobs, complicating integration and making many Syrian refugees reliant on cash welfare, food stamps and Medi-Cal health insurance.

Previous refugees also moved from the area to which they were initially resettled, including Hmong to Minneapolis and Russian and Ukrainian Evangelicals to Delta Junction, Alaska.