Posts tagged ‘City Council’

"Ban the Box" And Corporate Liability -- When A Company Can Be Sued Both for Doing A and Not A.

New York City has instituted a draconian "ban the box" law that makes it extremely difficult for employers to avoid hiring people with criminal records  (via Overlawyered)

The bill, which is likely to become law in some form, would prohibit the commonly used "check boxes" on job applications that ask about past convictions. It also would forbid employers from asking questions about an applicant's criminal history until a conditional job offer has been tendered....

The bigger concern is lawsuits from job seekers. To be able to reject an applicant because of a past conviction, employers would have to go through a rigorous process that, if not followed, would result in the presumption that a business owner engaged in unlawful discrimination, Mr. Goldstein said.

“I think you’d see some increases in litigation, and this is not exactly a well-settled area of law,” he said.

Proponents say the bill would simply offer a clearer way for businesses to follow state law requiring employers to go through a multistep test to determine if an applicant's past criminal behavior correlates with the position being sought.

Additionally, the City Council bill would allow an applicant rejected because of a past crime seven days to respond. The job would have to be held open during that time.

An employer's failure to adhere to the process could lead to a fine of at least $1,000. In the bill's current form, the business would bear the burden of proof in any resulting lawsuit by the job applicant, Mr. Goldstein said.

“Rather than the normal context, we have the burden here shifting,” he said. “It would be on the employer to present clear and convincing evidence that it had not engaged in unlawful discrimination.”

Given that the burden of proof seems to be on businesses in employee lawsuits even when the playing field is supposed to be level, I shudder to think what a statutory burden of proof would mean.  Likely an automatic win for any employee.

Given this, here is a question for you:  Imagine that I hired a convicted felon who then committed a crime against one of my customers.    Would I be shielded from liability because I had limited ability to screen out candidates who posed dangers to customers?  HA!  No way.  The plaintiff's attorney for the customer would be in front of the jury making me look like Attila the Hun for not screening felons from my applicant pool, even as the government made that task effectively impossible.

That is the key to this law -- that proponents can claim that one can screen out felons "if appropriate to the job" but in fact the law makes it effectively impossible to do so without imposing staggering litigation costs on me.  So we get the Leftist ideal - I can be sued by employees for screening out felons and I can simultaneously be sued by customers for not screening out felons.

USPS Problems Not All Their Fault

As much fun as it is to mock the US Postal Service, their inability to restructure their costs is not all their fault. Every time they try to close a facility, they get met by opposition from about everywhere.  Here is an example where Berkely, CA is doing all it can to prevent the USPS from selling a post office building.

The Postal Service over the summer began moving ahead with a plan to sell its 1914 Beaux-Arts post office in the heart of Berkeley near the old city hall and a park named after Martin Luther King Jr. The move drew howls from residents worried that the building would turn into condominiums or office space, even drawing dissidents to camp out for days by the columned building entrance.

Now, opponents are gaining traction with an unorthodox zoning restriction: that the mustard-colored building must remain open to the public

The Berkeley Planning Commission last month approved a measure that would restrict the use of the post office and adjacent government buildings to government agencies or public uses like a theater. Residential use and many other private functions would be banned by the action, which requires City Council approval.

This is simply bizarre.  What, do residents have so many fond memories of their time spent in the line at the post office that they want these golden memories preserved?    The assumptions made by local opponents are just bizarre -- they seem OK if the building is used for offices of the Social Security Administration but not if it is used for private offices.  Why would anyone possibly care.   From my experience, private urban office buildings tend to be cleaner and better maintained than government offices.

Total Fecklessness

If a city government cannot bring itself to end something so obviously abusive as pension spiking, what hope is there of any real reforms on tougher matters?  Government employees are increasingly running government in their own favor.

After nearly three hours of contentious debate, Phoenix city leaders were so divided over how to tackle pension “spiking” on Tuesday that they ended up doing nothing at all.

They walked into the City Council chambers prepared to make changes, but after splintering into three ideological factions, voted 5-4 against a plan to combat spiking, generally seen as the artificial inflation of a city employee’s income to boost his or her retirement benefit.

Several high-profile cases have come to light, pushing the effort to eliminate pension boosting to the forefront of the council’s agenda.

Former Phoenix City Manager David Cavazos, who retired last week to lead another city, was able to apply unused sick pay and other perks to spike his pension to an estimated $235,863, the second-largest retirement benefit in city history.

Earlier this month, a subcommittee of council members proposed modest reforms that they said would reduce pension spiking and provide transparency. They said the plan treated existing employees fairly and avoided potential litigation.

But the proposal fell apart Tuesday night, when a group of liberal-leaning council members joined the body’s fiscal conservatives in voting against it, though their rationales were vastly different.

After the motion to approve the proposal failed, the meeting ended. The result, greeted by cheers from employee unions in the crowd

The Media's Role in Promoting the Corporate State

I found this article in the Arizona Republic, our local rag, almost criminal.  As far as it goes, I think the facts are correct.  What is amazing is what it leaves out.  First, the article:

Glendale administrators propose cutting nearly a quarter of the city's employees, or 249 positions, if voters approve a ballot measure in November to repeal a sales-tax hike.

Repeal of the 0.7 percentage-point tax hike that took effect last month would mean the loss of $11 million this year and $25 million annually through 2017, according to city estimates.

The City Council had approved the temporary increase to shore up its deficit-ridden general fund after laying off 49 employees and cutting $10 million from departments at the start of this fiscal year....

Proposed cuts include shuttering two of the three city libraries, one of its two aquatic centers, the TV station and all city festivals, including Glendale Glitters.

The article continues with the usual panic about cuts in police and firefighters and libraries and parks,  etc. etc.  What the article does not mention except in passing in paragraph 12 is the reason for the tax increase and the budget problems in the first place.  Over heated opposition in the community, the City Council, which has enjoyed pretending to be big shot Donald Trumps over the last few years with taxpayer money, handed a private individual $25 million a year to keep the ice hockey team in town, an ice hockey team that has the lowest attendance in the league despite doing fairly well the last few years.  This is on top of years of other subsidies and the taxpayer-funded $300 million stadium.   The numbers line up exactly -- a new $25 million a year subsidy and a new $25 million a year tax, and the paper cannot even connect these dots, even when they were directly connected in real time (ie the tax was specifically justified to pay for the subsidy).

What the article entirely fails to mention is that, given no voice in these corporatist extravagances in Glendale (the tiny town of 250,000 has also subsidized an NFL franchise and a couple of MLB teams), the only way the citizens of this town have any way to exercise accountability is to vote down the tax that enables this corporate handout.  They were not allowed to vote on the deal itself.  This is not a bunch of wacky red-staters voting to decimate the parks departments, as the city and the paper would like you to believe, but a citizenship that is tired of the idiotic corporate cronyism in the Glendale city council and are looking for some way, any way, to enforce some accountability.

This is the media and the state in bed together promoting the larger state.  Glendale's problems are entirely self-imposed, spending huge amounts of tax money on subsidizing sports teams and real estate ventures.  When these all failed like so many Solyndras, they are trying to make this out to be a tax shortfall, when in fact it is spending idiocy.

The media always seems to participate as a cheerleader in this statism, but local papers have a special interest in promoting this sort of sports corporatism.  Just about the only thing that sells dead-tree newspapers any more is the sports section.  I would love to see what would happen to circulation rates if they cut the sports section.  So any state actions that add professional sports franchises or keeps them in town contribute directly to the newspapers' survival.

Glendale Keeps Throwing Money After Sports

I have no idea why this town of 250,000 people is so fired up to hand money over to sports enterprises.  This time, its a Superbowl bid:

Glendale is throwing its support behind a regional bid to bring Super Bowl XLIX to the city in 2015.

In return for the prestige of hosting the National Football League game at University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale must guarantee services such as public safety and sanitation for free and exempt game-day tickets from sales tax for the NFL.

When Glendale hosted its first Super Bowl in 2008, it saw $1.2 million boost in sales-tax revenue. But a city-commissioned study showed it cost the city $2.6 million in services.

The City Council on a 5-2 vote Tuesday approved the resolution. Councilwomen Joyce Clark and Norma Alvarez dissented.

Councilman Phil Lieberman asked for Glendale's cost to host the Super Bowl in 2015, but Deputy City Manager Cathy Gorham said she didn't want to speculate because "things change on a regular basis." The needs in 2015 may be much different from 2008, she said.

These guys are beyond parody. We lost money last time so lets do it again, and by the way lets be sure not to estimate our costs before we make this decision.  Here is a bit more:

Clark said the NFL's demands grow more "invasive" every year.

Clark ticked off requirements such as use of the stadium for nearly two months, final cleaning of the stadium and equipment as needed for free. The NFL doesn't pay state or local levies such as payroll, sales, use and occupancy taxes.

Clark cited two former host cities, Arlington, Texas and Miami Gardens, Fla., which did not shoulder the costs of a Super Bowl. In both those cities, the states stepped in and reimbursed them, Clark said. She said that communities that hosted the NFL game didn't see "big spikes" in their tax revenues.

"The city of Glendale should not be expected to pay the Super Bowl's costs without recompense when it benefits the entire region," she said. "We are at a disadvantage because the NFL is hosting in our city."

Alvarez, an ardent opponent of using taxpayer money for professional sports, said the city was in no position to be spending money for the Super Bowl with the economic crisis. She said she couldn't face her constituents if she supported the resolution when there are unmet community needs and employees are still taking unpaid days off.

Note the only alternative suggested - the alternative is not "let's not do this, it makes no sense" but "let's make sure we stick the costs on a larger group of taxpayers.

More articles on Glendale and sports subsidies here.

I Can Die a Happy Blogger Now. George Will Quoted Me in a Column

Those of you who are regular readers are probably tired of hearing me rant about the proposed Glendale, Arizona subsidy of the Phoenix Coyote's team (here, here, here), a subsidy that runs afoul both of our state Constitution and of common sense.  This week, George Will enters the fray, and actually quotes me at the bottom of his column.  Most of the column should be familiar to those following the story here, but of course being George Will it is so much pithier than I could tell the story.  I liked this bit:

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman agrees with McCain that the world is out of joint when people can second-guess the political class: “It fascinates me that whoever is running the Goldwater Institute can substitute their judgment for that of the Glendale City Council.” He will learn not to provoke Olsen, who says, “It happens to fascinate me greatly that the commissioner thinks a handful of politicians can substitute their judgment for the rule of law.”

Nobody Likes Having Competitors, but Only the State Can Ban Them

Private companies often come running to the government to protect themselves from competition.  Sometimes they are successful, and get government licensing and certification requirements that help create barriers to entry that protect incumbents  (if incumbents are lucky, they will actually get to control the licensing and certification board and testing process).

But whether or note private companies have the political muscle to get this kind of protection, the government almost always protects itself whenever it embarks on any sort of quasi-commercial enterprise.  The ban on first class mail delivery competition is one example (as an aside, when email began making an end run around this ban, the USPS actually made a [fortunately failed] play to be the monopoly email provider).  In Denver, there was a story a while back that after they built a new toll road, they added traffic lights and lowered the speed limit on a parallel free road to drive more people to the toll road.

Carpe Diem brings another example:

"When the old arena for the Orlando Magic opened 21 years ago, it was common for Parramore neighborhood residents who lived nearby to charge Magic fans and concert-goers to park on their property. But five weeks ago, the Orlando City Council approved standards that will likely keep most Parramore homeowners from profiting on parking near the Orlando Magic's new $480 million Amway Center (pictured above).

Among other things, property owners must pay a $275 application fee and provide a business tax receipt. Lots must have an attendant, signs, proper lighting and a paved, gravel or grass surface free of potholes or ruts. City officials also recommend hiring security. Even when all those requirements are met, temporary parking lots are allowed only during an event expected to draw at least 5,000 attendees. So far, five applications have been approved, but all are for large properties such as churches, not homeowners.

The city, meanwhile, has doubled its event-parking rate to $20 at the two garages closest to the Amway Center; elsewhere, event parking at city garages and lots is $10."

The last sentence explains the first two. They are trying to charge an above market price for parking, so must constrain supply to avoid being undercut.

Friday Funnies #2, Via the SEIU

The union whose president leads the world in visits to the White House this year has shown what is at the heart of its quest to help mankind -- a  naked power grab.

In pursuit of an Eagle Scout badge, Kevin Anderson, 17, has toiled for more than 200 hours hours over several weeks to clear a walking path in an east Allentown park.

Little did the do-gooder know that his altruistic act would put him in the cross hairs of the city's largest municipal union.

Nick Balzano, president of the local Service Employees International Union, told Allentown City Council Tuesday that the union is considering filing a grievance against the city for allowing Anderson to clear a 1,000-foot walking and biking path at Kimmets Lock Park.

"We'll be looking into the Cub Scout or Boy Scout who did the trails," Balzano told the council.

Balzano said Saturday he isn't targeting Boy Scouts. But given the city's decision in July to lay off 39 SEIU members, Balzano said "there's to be no volunteers." No one except union members may pick up a hoe or shovel, plant a flower or clear a walking path.

via Alex Tabarrok

My Favorite Quote of the Day

From a Chicago Tribune editorial on the city aldermen blocking Wal-Mart construction in the city, via Carpe Diem:

Organized labor doesn't like Wal-Mart because Wal-Mart doesn't have union jobs. It just has jobs (with an average hourly wage of $12.05 in Chicago). The aldermen, of course, already have jobs. They get paid $110,556 a year and they figure that as long as they keep the labor unions off their backs, they'll keep making $110,556 a year.

Who says the City Council doesn't generate jobs? If you're one of the 50 aldermen, your unemployment rate is 0 percent. But the unemployment rate for the rest of Chicago is above 10 percent. One in 10 Chicagoans is out of work.

If You Can't Do the Time, Don't, uh, Put off Mowing?

Here in the west, one can be rewarded as an environmentalist for keeping one's home landscaping natural, rather than trying to create a golf-course-like lawn.  In Canton, Ohio, you may be going to jail (via a reader):

CANTON City Council has unanimously approved
toughening the city's high-grass and weeds law, making it possible for
repeat violators to get jail time.

Council passed the legislation Monday night by a vote of 12-0. The amended law will take effect in 30 days.
...

The revised law makes a second high-grass violation a
fourth-degree misdemeanor, which carries a fine of up to $250 and up to
30 days in jail. Existing law makes the first violation a minor
misdemeanor, with a fine of up to $150 but no jail time. Violators
initially are mailed a notice and given five days to mow the grass.
...

City officials say they are targeting the most egregious
violators of the high-grass law, which applies to grass and weeds
higher than 8 inches.

But We Didn't Mean For Those Laws to Apply to Us

Today's emails seem to be following the theme of government exempting itself from its own regulations.

In the first story, many California government employees (and their families!) are issued with license plates that effectively exempt them from traffic law violations.

In the second story, the town of Ann Arbor, Michigan sets out on a voyage of discovery in which they find out that minimum wages can drastically increase costs and that different people have different needs.  And so, they exempt themselves from the law.  I am particularly sensitive to this story because the reason the city claims it is unfair to apply the law to them exactly matches my business:

After several months of negotiation, Ann Arbor elected
officials Monday agreed to waive the city's
"living wage'' law for the Ann Arbor Summer
Festival.

What's been at issue is the application of the wage
law to the festival's temporary workers. Under the
living-wage law, groups that have contracts of $10,000 or
more with the city must pay above-minimum wages. That wage
level is now around $12 an hour for employees who don't
receive health benefits.

Because the increased wages would significantly add to the
costs of putting on the festival

Wow, who would have thought that artificially setting wage rates above the market clearing price would increase costs?  But to continue:

City Council Member Chris Easthope, who's promoted the
change, argues that the festival's seasonal employees -
almost all students - are not the kind of workers the wage
law was meant to protect.

"This isn't an attempt to drop people below
living wage levels, but to recognize there are some
short-term events that struggle. I don't think that,
when it was adopted, the living wage was meant to have that
effect on a one-month event.''

Let's see.  I hire temporary seasonal workers in Michigan for about three months of the year.  And thought they are not students, most are retired people in their seventies who are also likely "not the kind of workers the wage law was meant to protect."  In fact, many of my workers are disabled and work slower, so I probably have a better argument than the city.  So where is my exemption? 

Cargo Cult Drug Enforcement

This is a great example of what I call cargo cult thinking:  If drugs are sold in small baggies, then banning these baggies will reduce drug sales:

Tiny plastic bags used to sell small quantities of heroin, crack
cocaine, marijuana and other drugs would be banned in Chicago, under a
crackdown advanced Tuesday by a City Council committee. Ald. Robert
Fioretti (2nd) persuaded the Health Committee to ban possession of
"self-sealing plastic bags under two inches in either height or width,"
after picking up 15 of the bags on a recent Sunday afternoon stroll
through a West Side park.

Great idea.  But it seems that Chicago may not be after drug dealers after all:

Lt. Kevin Navarro, commanding officer of the Chicago Police
Department's Narcotics and Gang Unit, said the ordinance will be an
"important tool" to go after grocery stores, health food stores and
other businesses.

Huh?  We need to "go after" health food stores?

This is the weirdest bit of problem-shifting I have seen since Oakland started assigning legal liability for teenage littering to the McDonalds corporation

Government as a Barrier to... Everything

I have had experience on several occasions attempting to bring private solutions (at no cost to the city government) to certain municipal problems.  The general approach to such offers, which seems to be similar in every city I have lived in, is to get together a meeting of every single government authority that could possibly have some tangential jurisdiction over the particular problem (e.g, city, county, state, highways, parks, water, environment, etc. etc.).  In this meeting, the discussion goes around the table, with every single participant adding another reason why the proposal is a problem and/or another roadblock or required approval.  This is not an exaggeration - I can't remember one person in such a meeting try to fix a problem or make something happen.  Everyone in government has an incentive system, it seems, that revolves around avoiding risk and preventing change. 

That is why I know that this story is typical of government, not an aberration:

LSU hospital officials began planning for a temporary network of
neighborhood clinics in early November 2005, barely two months after
Hurricane Katrina knocked Charity Hospital out of commission and threw
health-care services for many of the city's uninsured into disarray.

Eight months later, in late June and early July, FEMA delivered the
trailers to New Orleans, with the $761,000 bill picked up by the
federal government.

It wasn't until last week that the New Orleans City Council agreed
to temporarily waive the city's zoning code to allow the trailers to be
located at six schools around the city -- three on the east bank and
three in Algiers -- for two years.

In between fell more than 100 meetings and dozens of e-mails about
the issue involving LSU executives and officials at the city, state and
federal levels. And the journey is not over. The zoning waivers still
need approval from Mayor Ray Nagin, which cannot occur until next week
at the earliest, as well as permits from the city that could take up to
six months to acquire.

Decoding a Wal-Mart Ban

From the USA Today:

The City Council here voted late Tuesday to
ban certain giant retail stores, dealing a blow to Wal-Mart's potential
to expand in the nation's eighth-largest city.

The measure, approved on a 5-3 vote, prohibits
stores of more than 90,000 square feet that use 10% of space to sell
groceries and other merchandise that is not subject to sales tax. It
takes aim at Wal-Mart (WMT) Supercenter stores, which average 185,000 square feet and sell groceries....

Supporters of the ban argued that Wal-Mart puts
smaller competitors out of business, pays workers poorly, and
contributes to traffic congestion and pollution. Opponents said the
mega-retailer provides jobs and low prices and that a ban would limit
consumer choice.

Certainly such a ban represents a total disdain for consumers and a populist political stunt to cash in on fashionable Wal-mart bashing.  But what is really behind the ban?

A Wal-Mart Super Center differs from a large Wal-Mart mainly in that is sells groceries.  And in fact the legislation does not ban all super-large stores, just ones that sell groceries (Wal-Mart could still build a super-honkin large store in San Diego as long as it didn't sell food).  Well, this should give us a clue.  It tells us that the politicos are not against large stores, just against large new stores that compete with existing grocery stores.

And this puts the lie to supporters statements that their concern is that Wal-Mart "puts smaller competitors out of business."  There aren't any "smaller competitors" in California grocery stores, they are all large chains run by corporations.  And if there are any local fresh produce shops out there, I don't think their customer base is one to run off to Wal-Mart.  This is about protecting grocery retailers from competition.  Why?  Well, there is one other thing we need to know, and that is that California grocers all have extremely powerful and politically connected unions.  This is a story from the LA Times way back in 2003:

Inglewood seemed to offer the perfect home for a new Wal-Mart
Supercenter, with low-income residents hungry for bargains and a mayor
craving the sales-tax revenue that flows from big-box stores.

But nearly two years after deciding to build on a 60-acre lot near
the Hollywood Park racetrack, Wal-Mart is nowhere near pouring
concrete. Instead, the world's biggest company is at war with a
determined opposition, led by organized labor.

"A line has been drawn in the sand," said Donald H. Eiesland,
president of Inglewood Park Cemetery and the head of Partners for
Progress, a local pro-business group. "It's the union against Wal-Mart.
This has nothing to do with Inglewood."

Indeed, similar battles are breaking out across California, and
both sides are digging in hard. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. wants to move into
the grocery business throughout the state by opening 40 Supercenters,
each a 200,000-square-foot behemoth that combines a fully stocked food
market with a discount mega-store "” entirely staffed by non-union
employees. The United Food and Commercial Workers and the Teamsters are
trying to thwart that effort, hoping to save relatively high-paying
union jobs.

The unions have amassed a seven-figure war chest and are calling
in political chits to fight Wal-Mart. The giant retailer is
aggressively countering every move, and some analysts believe that
Wal-Mart's share of grocery sales in the state could eventually reach
20%. The state's first Supercenter is set to open in March in La
Quinta, near Palm Springs....

Yet the Supercenters also threaten the 250,000 members of the UFCW
and Teamsters who work in the supermarket business in California.

For decades, the unions have been a major force in the state
grocery industry and have negotiated generous labor contracts. Wal-Mart
pays its grocery workers an estimated $10 less per hour in wages and
benefits than do the big supermarkets nationwide "” $19 versus $9. As
California grocery chains brace for the competition, their workers face
severe cutbacks in compensation.

"We're going to end up just like the Wal-Mart workers," said Rick
Middleton, a Teamsters official in Carson who eagerly hands out copies
of a paperback called "How Wal-Mart Is Destroying America." "If we
don't as labor officials address this issue now, the future for our
membership is dismal, very dismal."

The push for concessions has already started, prompting the
longest supermarket strike in Southern California's history. About
70,000 grocery workers employed by Albertsons Inc., Kroger Co.'s Ralphs
and Safeway Inc.'s Vons and Pavilions have been walking the picket
lines since Oct. 11, largely to protest proposed reductions in health
benefits. The supermarkets say they need these cuts to hold their own
against Wal-Mart, already the nation's largest grocer.

Rick Icaza, president of one of seven UFCW locals in Southern
California, has taken issue with much of the supermarkets' rhetoric
since the labor dispute began. But he doesn't doubt that Wal-Mart is
the biggest threat ever posed to the grocery chains "” and, in turn, his
own members.

"The No. 1 enemy has still got to be Wal-Mart," he said.

The unions and their community allies have stopped Wal-Mart in
some places and slowed it down in others. They have persuaded officials
in at least a dozen cities and counties to adopt zoning laws to keep
out Supercenters and stores like them.

Hat tip to the Mises blog, which has more here.  In 2004 I wrote how the California grocery unions were using the state pension fund (Calpers) to support their strike.

Welfare for Everyone

Congrats to Santa Barbara for breaking new ground in government paternalism:

The City Council here had already created a class of affordable housing
several years ago for people making up to 200% of the median income.
Last week, they agreed to tailor the Los Portales project for people
making up to 240%, or nearly $160,000. (To keep these affordable condos
affordable, buyers would be subject to price controls on resale that
would restrict any price increase to about 2% a year.)

Wow, government housing projects for people who make $160,000!  I loved this quote:

"it's hard to get sympathy for people making $160,000 a year if you're
down in Texas or something," said Bill Watkins, head of the UC Santa
Barbara Economic Forecast Project.

No shit.  So, why the project? 

But this is Santa Barbara, a built-out city hemmed in by the Santa Ynez
Mountains to the north, the Pacific Ocean to the south and politics in
every possible direction. And this is believed to be Santa Barbara's
last vacant lot big enough to hold a housing development.

So this is just the fault of geography and the bad old supply and demand system, right?  Well, it turns out the government had just a little to do with it too:

The city is zoned for 40,005 housing units. About 38,000 have been
built, and the only housing construction these days is in-fill: a few
units here, a few there. Unlike other land-poor cities, Santa Barbara
has been loath to tear down large swaths of outdated structures and
rebuild, said Paul Shigley, editor of the California Planning &
Development Report.

"They think they've got paradise," Shigley said. "They don't want it to change."

The tallest building here is the eight-story Granada Theatre, built in
1924. It could never be replicated today, in part because the City
Charter strictly limits buildings to 60 feet, about four stories. And
even four stories is a hard sell.

Oh, so the lack of new lots is an artificial government zoning limit, AND the government limits the height of new building to just a few stories AND the government won't allow tear down and gentrification of old neighborhoods.

By the way, housing projects like this in expensive areas are really just massive corporate welfare subsidies of local businesses.  If workers really need their housing subsidized to live there, and the government does nothing, one of two things happen:  Either busineses go somewhere else cheaper, or else they have to pay their employees more to live in the area.  By subsidizing this housing, the local government is in effect subsidizing local businesses by letting them pay lower wages.  In particular, this is typically a subsidy of tourist businesses (hotels and restaurants) which have a hugely disporportionate influence on local governments and who typically are tied to the local area and can't leave.  The town of Vail, for example, has subsized similar housing under presure from the ski resorts.

Hat tip: Hit and Run

Special Minimum Wage for Big-Box Retailers

Chicago has become the latest city to try to impose special wage requirements solely on one sector of one industry, ie on big-box retailers like Wal-mart.  One wonders how anyone can bend the notion of "equal protection" to support this kind of hash, but rather than again refuting this silliness for about the 89th time on this blog, I will leave it to Cafe Hayek and Russel Roberts.  I particularly liked the way he rewrote the story for the Chicago papers:

Imagine a different world. A world where the City Council was blamed for the
failure of Wal-Mart and Target to pay a decent wage. Here's how the story might
read:

After years of disastrous decisions in running the public
schools, it has become clear that Chicago's City Council has failed the children
of the Chicago area. After attending these mediocre schools, many children of
the city have inadequate skills to be successful in the labor
market.

"Something must be done," declared Ald. Johnson. "If we had
decent schools, we wouldn't have this problem and people could live on the money
they made."

Johnson has proposed a bill that would require all Chicago
City Council members and teachers and administrators in the Chicago school
system to pay a special tax. The proceeds of the tax would help provide workers
in the member's district with a living wage.

Oakland Passes Anti-Individual Responsibility Tax

Oakland is fed up with high school kids that litter, throwing the lunch wrappers from their Big Mac on the ground rather than putting them in the trash.  The city is arguing that these folks' inconsiderate littering is making a mess of the town and costing the city a fortune in clean up.  The city wants to send a clear message to its kids that this is not going to be tolerated and they expect people to take responsibility for this, so the City Council has boldly passed a new law to ... tax McDonalds to clean up after the little darlings.

So City Council Member Jane Brunner is proposing to charge major fast
food restaurants a fee of $2,400 to hire crews to pick up garbage
around town. She says a study shows fast food restaurants account for
20-percent of Oakland's litter.

Vince Thomas, Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise owner: "I don't have any control over it once it leaves my lot."...

The Restaurant Association reminded the council it could be getting itself into a discrimination lawsuit.

Johnnise Downs, California Restaurant Association: "Because it singles
out and penalizes one specific group of businesses, and basically
places the entire burden of Oakland's litter problems on those
businesses."

You know what this reminds me of?  It's as if parents were frustrated that their kid never cleaned up after himself and always left messes around the house, so they choose to deal with it by hiring a maid to clean up after him.  What about actually, you know, enforcing litter laws.

By the way, here's another question.  We all know how little of the tobacco settlement that was ostensibly to fund health care actually went to health care.  I wonder in this case how much will actually go to incremental trash pickup and how much will just be dumped into general revenue.

Zywicki on Miers

I know nothing about Bush Supreme Court nominee Harriett Miers other than she adds yet another possible way for people to misspell my last name.  Todd Zwycki at Volokh has this take, and it doesn't sound too good:

These appointments thus seem to confirm a common criticism of this
President--that he is uninterested in ideas and interested only in
power. While they may both turn out to be perfectly fine Justices, both
Roberts and Miers appear to be both uninspired and uninspiring in terms
of providing intellectual leadership on the Court. The Administration
seems to be narrowly obsessed with winning minor tactical victories
(here, an easy confirmation of a stealth candidate) while consistently
failing to follow-through with meaningful long-term strategic victories
(an opportunity to change the legal culture).

In the end, of course, the lack of a strategic vision means that
even the tactical victories tend to be reversed (for instance,
temporary tax cuts will likely fall victim to the inability to control
spending). As Reagan understood, you have to first have the long-term
strategic vision in mind so that you know when to make tactical
compromises. Ideas are the long-run motivating force of history.
Tactics without strategy, by contrast, leaves you rudderless.

Beyond his evaluation of Miers, I really like his assessment of Bush, which strikes me as dead-on.  I still think Janice Rogers Brown was the choice.

Update:  Apparently, she was on the Dallas City Council when I lived there in the early 90's, but I sure don't remember having heard of her.  And how serious a candidate can anyone be for the Supreme Court if they were on a freaking city council a decade ago -- can you see any of your city council members on the Supreme Court in 10 years?  And by the way, what are the odds that Bush's personal friend and lawyer will do anything to reign in the new powers to suspend habeas corpus that the administration has granted itself.