Wednesday, January 22, 2014

La Habra City Council

I decided to show up to my first city council meeting last night. The La Habra city council was considering whether to approve their general plan for 2035.

They made a reasonable case that they would be at least improving the city. I am somewhat skeptical of their ability to actually implement these changes, but it was clear that at least they were less anti-development than most Southern Californian cities.

I thought about arguing less strict zoning was required, but decided to soften my comments. I gave a short speech encouraging them to continue with plans for walkable, mixed use, high density development and encouraging them to make improvements to La Habra Boulevard to make it more pedestrian friendly.

Apparently I was recorded on video somewhere near the three and a half hour mark. I decided I did not want to watch it though. It was not one of my more coherent speeches.

Turns out that I gave developers quite a gift by sending that letter to the city council. If anyone challenges the La Habra general plan in court they can only sue over issues that were brought to the city council in writing before the approval, or which were brought up last night. My letter is now on the public record, so any developer has justification to fight for higher density development.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Native Wildflowers

I have heard that before Europeans came a lot of California was covered with bunch grasses with annual flowers growing between them. I decided to try and make the north side yard into that.

That yard is very thin and on the North side of a building. I doubt it gets more than an hour of direct sun a day. Still, the aloe I planted there is doing just fine and some weeds have popped up so it is not completely devoid of hope.

The best starting point seemed to be the Larner Seeds Shady California Wildflower Mixture. Unfortunately much of this collection is plants which naturally grow under redwood trees. That is not my side yard. Only a couple of the plants seem like they have a chance of growing. With a little luck there is at least one or two which can hold up in that shady an environment though.

At least California has impressive native flowers. Here are some from that mix:


Mountain Garland

Red Ribbons Clarkia

Baby-Blue Eyes

Calico Flower

Chinese Houses

Bird's Eye Gilia

I ended up getting Torrey's Melic Grass for the bunch grass. Not sure if this was a good choice as Orange County is right at the end of its range, but it is supposed to do well in dry shade.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Open Letter to La Habra City Government

I just sent the following letter to a dozen members of the local government in La Habra. Initially I wrote a more strongly worded one, but I backed off after realizing that the La Habra General Plan was much better written than some of the older documents I read.

I recently moved into La Habra and am writing this to encourage changes to the La Habra General Plan, Housing Element, and zoning that encourage the urbanization of La Habra. I am concerned that La Habra seems to be stagnating when it should be building at a rapid pace to expand the housing supply and replace the large number of buildings which have reached the end of their useful life.
Because of my interest in seeing La Habra thrive, I just read through many of the planning documents posted online. The La Habra Boulevard specific plan written in 1999 is remarkable in that it could have been written yesterday. The problems with La Habra Boulevard are exactly the same as they were fifteen years ago. There are too many buildings in poor condition, too many closed storefronts and too many single family homes still remain which should be replaced with commercial or mixed use.  Clearly those ideas failed, and La Habra is in need of better plans.
While La Habra Boulevard is ugly it does have a real advantage that should be preserved over the rest of La Habra when it comes to walkability. Whenever you find yourself driving from Harbor to Beach on Whittier, La Habra, Lambert, or Imperial count pedestrians on the sidewalk as you pass. What you will find is that there are few if any pedestrians on Imperial or Lambert. There are more on Whittier but because of how fast the cars move it does not feel safe so the numbers are still low. La Habra Boulevard is the only place with a reasonable amount of pedestrian traffic. This is because homes have been built near businesses and paths to these businesses are direct and unimpeded. This strength should be expanded by putting more apartment buildings on and near La Habra Boulevard and altering zoning to allow them to be higher density. Also, this pedestrian traffic means that parking requirements should be lower on La Habra Boulevard than in the rest of the La Habra, customers have alternate ways to get to these stores and city policy should reflect that. There is a surplus of parking at the moment and no reason to use that as an excuse to block development.
The community development section of the September draft of the La Habra General Plan outlines a reasonable way of fixing up the city. Apartment buildings and mixed use developments up to five stories tall would come to La Habra replacing many decrepit buildings and creating an actual downtown where little more than for lease signs exist today. Still, it is less ambitious than it should be. Too few areas were zoned for the highest density and the proposed rate of development is only modest. The average of 175 new housing units a year the document proposes is a step in the right direction but it will take a very long time to clean up the city at that rate. To speed up the process the highest density mixed use zoning should be extended. The entire length of La Habra Boulevard would benefit from these buildings so every lot touching that street should get the highest density mixed use zoning.
Unfortunately when I read the housing element it was not as encouraging. A draconian height restriction of 2.5 stories was mentioned which would make it much more difficult to revitalize the city.  La Habra should be pushing ahead to become an urban center, if anything height requirements should be increased to 7 stories along the entire length of La Habra Boulevard and it certainly shouldn’t be left at 2.5 stories.
Height restrictions should also be made less stringent for single family homes apartments and condos around the city. Many new developments, such as The Groves and Amerige Heights in Fullerton and even the Avo development in La Habra include three story homes. These should be allowed throughout La Habra. Three story homes more efficiently use space which is of utmost importance now that La Habra lacks large empty lots. Judging by the $690,000 that homes in Amergie Heights start at these three story homes are also highly in demand. The city should not be standing between people and their dream homes.
I have no business interests influenced by these ideas and these views are by own, not the views of my employer. I am solely motivated by a desire to see La Habra made into a more interesting and livable town.
To gain publicity for these views this letter, along with quite a number of articles supporting similar policies, were posted to the La Habra subreddit on ( )

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Spending in 2013

Just as in 2012, I made fairly detailed records of spending in 2013.These are fairly incomplete records because they do not include expenses taken directly from my paycheck such as health and life insurance. They also do not include expenses paid by my wife such as car insurance.

Here is a chart of my overall spending:
At first glance it looks little different from the 2012 chart. The section labeled Home is a bit larger, the section labeled education has disappeared with the paying off of my student loans, the section labeled food & dining is larger due to my laziness in cooking my own lunches.

My spending on food & dining was 13% of my income, about 3% higher than in 2012. It is even more lopsided towards eating out, with a mere 20% of my food budget going to grocery stores.

Here are the top five grocery stores by percentage of income I spent there:

1. Sprouts, 0.95%
2. 99 Ranch, 0.28%
3. Stater Bros, 0.25%
4. Assorted Farmers Markets, 0.18%
5. Trader Joe's, 0.16%

I finally managed to expel all stores from rewards cards from my top spending list. Once again Sprouts is where I spend most my money.

Here are the top five restaurants:

1. La Fuente, 0.5%
2. Chipotle, 0.4%
3. Da Lae Korean, 0.27%
4. Mikasa, 0.2%
5. Jinza Teriyaki, 0.17%

All of these are restaurants close to my work with the exception of La Fuente which was a hole in the wall Mexican place I was trying, and failed, to keep in business. The most notable change was that I pushed the chains In-N-Out and Panda express out of the top five.

I spent 9% of my income on my vehicle. This is pretty appalling to me since that huge block of money is required to operate a 2004 Ford Focus which costs about twenty cents a mile to operate. This money was 49% Service and 46% gas. The rest went to parking and other random expenses.

Here are the top five gas stations:

1. 76, 1.05%
2. Arco, 0.66%
3. Chevron, 0.42%
4. Shell, 0.26%
5. USA Gasoline, 0.13%

I am making a conscience decision to spend as much money on [La Habra]( Boulevard as is reasonable since my housing value is directly tied to how much that area can be improved. The bulk of spending at 76 went to a run down little gas station there.

The percentage of my spending on housing and transportation is concerning. This is particularly true since I only owned the home half the year so next year will be even more expensive. I spent 37% of my income on housing, and 14% on transportation. So 51% of my income I have little direct control over.

Here is where I spent money I spent the most on other shopping such as gifts, audiobooks, hobbies, and home improvement:

1. Target, 1.83%
2. Amazon, 1.72%
3. Lowes, 1.68%
4. Checkmat Brazillian Jiu Jitsu, 1.62%
5. AT&T, 1.60%
6. Apple, 1.36%
7. Time Warner, 1.0%
8. Ralph Gracie Jiu Jitsu, 0.88%
9. Macy's, 0.66%
10. Cougar Stone, 0.5%

 The only real surprise there is how much less I spent at Amazon, and how much more I spent at Target compared to in 2012. I expect those numbers to be reversed this upcoming year since I no longer live within walking distance of a Target. Lowes of course came up so high because of spending on the new house.