Thursday, November 30, 2006

World Population to Begin Contracting in 2009?

The forecasts from the 1960’s and 70’s were all wrong about the world populating itself to death through starvation, etc, etc, but what about these new predictions, also predicting decline, and how accurate are they?

Very balanced article!

Jonathan V. Last: Looking at a declining population
By Jonathan V. Last - Published 12:00 am PST Thursday, November 30, 2006

Fertility rates around the world are dropping for a variety of complex reasons. While population itself continues to increase -- the United States, for instance, recently passed the 300 million mark -- this is the product of waning demographic momentum. The rate of increase is slowing, and by 2080, world population will peak somewhere in the vicinity of 9 billion before contracting.

Which leads us to the next question: Is population contraction a bad thing? Some think not. There is a school of thought that argues that smaller populations are good.

Population control proponents claim variously that (1) we do not have the food to sustain higher populations; (2) our planet already suffers from overcrowding; (3) the environmental impact of increased populations will bring catastrophe either through pollution or consumption of finite natural resources; or (4) decreased population will lead to higher wages and a better quality of life as available supplies exceed reduced demands. These arguments seem reasonable at first, but do not withstand scrutiny.

Let's start with food. The worry about mass starvation is a remnant of Paul Ehrlich's 1968 sensation "The Population Bomb." Ehrlich wrote that, in the face of expanding populations, "the world will undergo famines -- hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death."

As Ehrlich himself now admits, this prediction proved faulty. Instead, the availability of food has greatly increased, even with growing population.

Demographer Philip Longman notes that between 1980 and 2001, the price of food declined by 53 percent. Famine, observes Longman, has become "a political problem -- a matter of fair distribution, not of inadequate supply."

How did this happen? The Danish economist Ester Boserup upended the classical Malthusian model of agriculture in 1965 by proposing that population increase fosters agricultural innovation, which in turn spurs leaps in production. Her theories have been borne out by events.

What about overcrowding? Everywhere you go today, you find traffic jams and sprawl, with people packed into condominiums and crowded malls. But this is a problem of density, not population. There's plenty of land available out there. The problem is that people who used to live in the countryside have relocated to cities: There are fewer people living in the Great Plains today than there were in the 1920s.

Environmental concerns are more interesting, but such end-of-the-world warnings are not new.
In the 1970s, many scientists were concerned about a new Ice Age. But leave aside global warming, on which science is conflicted, and take the other concern principally cited by environmentalists: That Earth has a finite supply of resources that we shall surely soon deplete.

This, too, is an argument we have heard before. As Massimo Livi-Bacci explains in his "Concise History of World Population," more than 100 years ago, economists "feared that coal supplies would be used up, and about 30 years ago the "Club of Rome" made similar predictions regarding other raw materials."

Instead, markets and human innovation stepped in to provide greater efficiency.

For instance, in the America of 1850, you needed an average of 4.6 tons of petroleum equivalent to produce $1,000 of goods and services.

By 1950, you needed only 1.8 tons, and, by 1978, 1.5 tons. Markets are exceptional engines of conservation.

Supreme Court & Global Warming

This will be a very interesting case to follow and already the arguments are compelling, on both sides.

It could also bring the proper perspective to the strange law the state of California recently passed about global warming.

High court tackles global warming
By Stephen Henderson - Mcclatchy Washington BureauPublished 12:00 am PST Thursday, November 30, 2006

In a far-reaching environmental case, the Supreme Court on Wednesday wrestled with the thorny issue of global warming and the government's efforts to abate it.

But hourlong arguments at the high court -- at times heavy with discussion of the science of climate change -- gave little hint of how the court will rule.

At issue in Massachusetts v. EPA are two simple questions: Whether the Clean Air Act authorizes the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate air pollutants that contribute to climate change; and if so, whether the EPA properly used its discretion when it chose not to regulate auto emissions.

Also at stake in the case is whether states, many of which claim climate change will harm their land and citizens, have the right to sue to force EPA action on pollutants from cars and other sources.

The case is the high court's first foray into the argument over global warming, and its ruling could have long-term effects. If the justices determine that EPA is not responsible for regulating greenhouse gases, it would likely require congressional intervention to initiate government action on that front.

Democrats will take control of the House and the Senate in January, and some key lawmakers have said they want to address global warming immediately. For instance, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., poised to become chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has made the issue a priority. She is replacing Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., who has previously dismissed global warming as a "hoax."

If the justices decide that states don't have standing to sue, that would undercut other pending suits seeking to regulate factory emissions and generally make it more difficult for environmental claims to go forward.

Environmental groups -- pushing for EPA regulation -- and business interests -- trying to keep government regulation to a minimum -- have both described it as the most significant environmental case in a generation.

In political terms, the justices appeared to cleave along familiar lines. The conservatives -- Justices Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts -- appeared skeptical both of the EPA's authority and of the states' rights to sue. Justice Clarence Thomas, who rarely speaks during oral arguments, is expected to join other conservatives in this case.

Meanwhile, liberal Justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer were more accepting of both ideas.

That would leave Justice Anthony Kennedy as the critical fifth vote to decide both issues, a role he increasingly plays, with the departure of the court's other swing voter, Sandra Day O'Connor.

Selenium Negotiations

Messy problem needs fixing and it might require the loss of some agricultural land.

Selenium fix remains elusive
A solution to the problem will be expensive and could spawn its own environmental issues.
By David Whitney - Bee Washington BureauPublished 12:00 am PST Thursday, November 30, 2006

Negotiations are under way to resolve one of the Central Valley's messiest issues -- how to drain selenium-laced runoff from hundreds of thousands of acres of federally irrigated land.

The Bureau of Reclamation, irrigators and other interested parties met for about a week earlier this month in Sacramento in an effort to reach agreement. More meetings are planned.

"We've begun talking with irrigators to come up with some sort of collaborative resolution that meets everybody's needs, including the federal taxpayers, the water users and the environment," bureau spokesman Jeff McCracken said Wednesday.

Selenium is a naturally occurring mineral that in the right amounts is essential to good health. But in vast areas of the Central Valley, farmlands are so rich with it and other compounds that they must be flushed to remain productive. The result is huge amounts of drain water that has such high concentrations of selenium that it is toxic to fish and birds.

The dangers were dramatically revealed in the 1980s after drain water had been directed to Kesterson Reservoir.

Deformed waterfowl were found in 1983, and releases there were halted in 1985. While there is some limited disposal into the San Joaquin River, a permanent solution has remained elusive.

The drainage disaster spawned a federal lawsuit. One consequence so far has been an order that the Bureau of Reclamation must find a way to drain and dispose of the water that has inundated tens of thousands of acres.

Among the solutions on the table are bureau proposals to retire 308,000 acres of highly productive agricultural land so that it is no longer irrigated, or to pump the contaminated drain water into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta or the Pacific Ocean.

Towers Stalled?

Let’s hope the developer is able to proceed with this exciting project for downtown, even though the housing market has slowed.

Towers project facing hurdles
Downtown high-rise residence far over budget; unit sales lag.
By Jon Ortiz - Bee Staff WriterPublished 12:00 am PST Thursday, November 30, 2006

It's little more than a giant hole in the ground, but already the 53-story Towers hotel and condominium project is $70 million over its original $500 million budget.

Meanwhile, sales of the Towers' condos are slow, and developer John Saca has switched general contractors.

What all of that means for one of the tallest residential construction projects on the West Coast remains to be seen. Saca is in talks with his backers for more money, and his isn't the first commercial development to overshoot its budget. Contractor changes aren't as common, but Saca says that the swap brings in a more experienced high-rise mixed-use construction firm.

However, one thing is clear: Saca admits the Towers, at Third Street and Capitol Mall, is being pinched between a weak housing market and rising prices for materials such as steel and concrete.

Despite those challenges, Saca, a scrappy local developer who has already brought his project farther along than naysayers thought he would, remains optimistic.

"We're close to a deal with our backers for more money," he said Wednesday. "We're pumping along."

Saca went public two years ago with his vision for a massive twin-tower structure anchored by a luxury hotel, high-end retail and 804 condos rising 600 feet and drastically changing the Sacramento skyline. He figured it would cost about $500 million for the land and construction.

Many thought the building was too ambitious to be Sacramento's first high-rise condo project and questioned whether there were enough customers to fill all those units, priced from $368,000 to $852,000.

Saca, whose father founded the Filco home appliance chain, had a reputation as a savvy land investor and shopping center developer, but had no history with high-rise construction. Still, he gained credibility in April when the giant California Public Employees' Retirement System agreed to invest $100 million in his project.

New Road Building

This is real good news, and long overdue.

Bottleneck buster
Officials unveil $210 million plan to tackle the traffic squeeze on I-80 in South Placer
By Tony Bizjak and Jennifer K. Morita - Bee Staff WritersPublished 12:00 am PST Thursday, November 30, 2006

After years of mounting congestion and driver complaints, Placer County officials Wednesday unveiled a $210 million battle plan to bust open the notorious "Roseville bottleneck" on Interstate 80, where traffic abruptly squeezes from 10 lanes to six.

Officials said they will expand the freeway in stages, between the Sacramento County line and Highway 65. The roadway will feature diamond lanes and auxiliary lanes -- connecting onramps to offramps -- that will act as fifth lanes.

But planners admit there is a big problem at the moment: They have only $80 million in hand.

Still, Celia McAdam, executive director of the Placer County Transportation Planning Agency, said the project is well-positioned to be among the first to grab a chunk of the $20 billion in bonds California voters approved this month for transportation projects.

"Breaking this bottleneck is a top priority for Placer County, but not just Placer," McAdam said Wednesday at a freeway-side announcement. "Folks all the way down to the Bay Area know what you are talking about" when the bottleneck is mentioned.

Roseville resident Ray Giles said the bottleneck adds 15 minutes to his morning commute into Sacramento -- and he travels through only half of it.

"If you live in Auburn or west of the Antelope exit, you've got to use that whole corridor and it'll add at least a half hour to your commute," he said.

It's not just a local problem, Giles said.

With rapid growth in South Placer, the 4-mile section of freeway has become the spot where county residents, commuters, interstate truckers, Tahoe-bound travelers, Galleria shoppers and even casino patrons merge into one unhappy mess.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Sacramento Union Guest Editorial

The Sacramento Union ran our guest editorial in their current issue (pages 18-19)

Guest Editorial
The American River Parkway:
The Case for Management by a Nonprofit Organization

David H. Lukenbill
Senior Policy Director
American River Parkway Preservation Society

The American River Parkway is one of the premier recreational and natural resources in the capital region; over 4,000 acres of walking, equestrian, and bike trails, fishing and rafting spots, picnic areas, parks, golf courses, islands and a beautiful river drifting through one of the major urban/suburban and richly historic areas of the nation.

It is also being sadly mismanaged by Sacramento County to the point that even basic maintenance is falling drastically behind every year, and the overall annual budget shortfall—when factoring all that should be being accomplished—has been declared by one Parkway organizations to be $8,595,427.

Our first guiding principle is: Preserving the Parkway is not an option, it’s a necessity and from this perspective the way to preserve, protect, and strengthen the Parkway as a vitally necessary ingredient to our quality of life, is through two initiatives.

The first is to provide daily management for the Parkway through a nonprofit organization, and the second is to work for the Parkway to become part of a National Heritage Area (a program of the National Park Service) encompassing the historic Gold Rush landscape in the American River Watershed.

With an independent nonprofit organization providing management, the ability to accomplish long range goals for the Parkway, such as the federal designation or endowment fund development, will be greatly increased.

Regarding the funding shortage, some feel a Benefit Assessment District is the best way to raise funds for the Parkway, but we don’t agree with that approach for three reasons:

1) Benefit Assessment Districts tax the property of those who benefit from the entity but how that would be determined fairly in this case is uncertain, as many people who live close to the Parkway don’t use it while many living far away do.

2) It delivers the funds to the same local government entity—Sacramento County—that has already failed in managing the Parkway for several years—with a threatened closure in 2004— with no clear promise or perceived capability that anything has changed.

3) There is a better way.

Part of a better way is a Joint Powers Authority (JPA).

A JPA makes sense, is fair to the newer cities such as Rancho Cordova and Arden Arcade—if it incorporates—could create a stable base funding stream and provide balanced governance oversight of a contract with the managing nonprofit.

Bringing in the cities as partners in a JPA addresses the current political and economic climate facing the County—the difficulty of raising taxes and the continuing incorporation of new cities—causing the County’s financial situation to continue to deteriorate leaving even less future funding for the Parkway.

The best example of this management strategy locally is the Sacramento Zoo, established in 1927 and managed—since 1997—by the non-profit Sacramento Zoological Society under contract with the city.

The Zoo property, buildings and animal collection remain assets of the city of Sacramento.

In addition to providing the necessary maintenance for the Zoo, the Society has continually moved to strengthen the operation, adding an on-site veterinary hospital and is involved in long- range plans to begin acquiring 100 acres of land along the American River to house a new zoo which would rival national landmark zoos like the San Diego Zoo housed in Balboa Park.

This type of visionary thinking comes from an organization dedicating itself solely to the Zoo and the service it provides to the public, and the same dynamic could happen with a nonprofit organization managing the Parkway.

The national model for what a nonprofit can do for a park is the Central Park Conservancy, which took over management of Central Park in New York several years ago when the city was struggling financially. The Conservancy has restored Central Park’s luster as one of the world’s great parks, building an endowment well in excess of $100 million in the process.

The elements exist in the American River Parkway—central to the greatest migration of people in the western hemisphere during the Gold Rush and with its sister rivers framing the capital of one of the world’s great economies and governing centers—to create a truly world-class park.

It will take leadership realizing the great value of the natural resources in our region and enlisting the public and other government leaders in the effort to grow and fund this great natural heart of our community.

In conclusion, our suggestion would be to form a JPA with the County, Sacramento, Rancho Cordova, and Folsom, establishing a base financial commitment for a specific period of time; and contract with a nonprofit organization to seek National Heritage Area status and provide daily management and dedicated philanthropic fund development for the Parkway.

Finally, the capability of a nonprofit organization to advocate for one of the most important public policies affecting the Parkway, the construction of the Auburn Dam—after fully researching and validating its importance—to protect the integrity of the Parkway as well as providing the 500 year level of flood protection to the urban area surrounding it, would be considerable.

We Went to Disneyland!

Very nice recognition for Sacramento.

Bob Shallit: Old Sac in Disney's world
By Bob Shallit - Bee Columnist Published 12:00 am PST Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A reputation as a diverse, livable city. The Kings. A lively restaurant scene. High-rise condo towers in the works.

All signs Sacramento has arrived as a big-time city. Now comes the clincher:

Disney has just produced one of its "Destination" series of paintings featuring the Capital City.

This is no Mickey Mouse tribute. Only 11 other cities have been so honored, says Nancy Mallory, a spokeswoman for Stage Nine, the local Disney-linked gallery.

And those cities -- London, Venice, Paris, San Francisco and Tokyo, included -- aren't exactly backwater burgs.

The painting, by Disney artist (and former Sacramentan) Manny Hernandez, shows Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, Daisy and Pluto arriving via train in Old Sac, the Capitol looming -- in geographically incorrect fashion -- in the background.

It goes on sale -- for $119 -- exclusively at Stage Nine on Saturday. Then it will be offered worldwide in Disney stores.

Mallory says hot sales are expected in Japan, where consumers have a special fondness for trains, Gold Rush history and Disney. The Sacramento work, she says, "depicts all of that in one painting."

Flood Safety Program

City, county give to flood safety program
- Published 12:00 am PST Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The city and county of Sacramento will donate $75,000 to a program designed to help residents get help in case of a flood or other disaster, officials will announce today.

The Safely Out program provides kits that include a door hanger telling emergency officials whether the home has been evacuated or if help is needed. There's also a magnet on which to write the names of people who have agreed to provide help leaving.

City and county officials will present checks to the program at 6:30 p.m. today at Regency Park Elementary School, 5901 Bridgecross Drive, in Natomas. Kits will be given out at the event; a $10 donation is suggested.

The Safely Out program is a joint effort of the local Red Cross chapter and the nonprofit Citizen Voice. Anybody can get the kits but they are specifically targeted toward the needy, elderly or disabled.

El Dorado Park Tax

A huge increase for parks and one only hopes they are worth it.

El Dorado Hills home fees may soar for parks
A proposed 118 percent hike for rec facilities, plus road fees, could push family house prices up $43,000.
By Cathy Locke - Bee Staff Writer Published 12:00 am PST Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A 118 percent increase has been proposed in fees for new single-family homes in much of El Dorado Hills to help provide parks and recreation facilities needed to keep pace with community growth.

The proposed park fee increase follows on the heels of a hike in traffic impact fees by the county. If the park fee is approved as proposed, the price of new homes in El Dorado Hills would have about $43,000 tacked on for parks and roads.

The El Dorado Hills Community Services District board will hold a hearing Thursday on a study by the consulting firm Economic Planning Systems to determine the portion of new facilities costs to be assigned to new development.

The study is based on the district's 2006 Park and Recreation Facilities Master Plan, which also will be considered for adoption.

The master plan, developed with input from community surveys, focus groups and an advisory committee, represents "a very large picture of what's called for in El Dorado Hills," said district General Manager Wayne Lowery.

The 2006 plan sets the stage for a more elaborate park system, he said, adding that developers can't be expected to bear the entire cost.

The district has about 35,000 residents. The plan includes facilities for 57,100, the district's projected population in 2020.

String Theory Unraveling?

Once so promising as the latest “theory of everything”, it may be unraveling.

The Rise of String Theory, the Fall of a Science, and What Comes ­Next

Until just over two decades ago, string theory was an esoteric branch of mathematical physics that held the attention of only a handful of maverick researchers. For their efforts, these pioneers endured a mixture of puzzlement and derision from their colleagues, and had trouble finding positions at academic institutions where they could pursue their quirky endeavors. But nowadays, it’s hard to land a job in a ­high-­powered department of theoretical physics if you don’t do string ­theory.

Aficionados claim that string theory provides the foundation for a “theory of everything”—a harmonious unification of all of fundamental physics. To the contrary, declare Lee Smolin, a physicist at Canada’s Perimeter Institute, and Peter Woit, a mathematician at Columbia University, string theory has thus far explained exactly nothing. But Smolin and Woit offer conflicting recommendations on how to restore sanity to theoretical physics, suggesting that string theory’s dominance does not yet face a wholly persuasive ­challenge.

The essence of string theory is a literal assertion: Elementary ­particles—­electrons, photons, quarks, and their numerous ­cousins—­are not ­point­like objects but “strings” of energy forming tiny, wiggly loops. If a stringy loop vibrates one way, it manifests itself as an electron. If it shimmies some other way, it looks like a quark. Wacky as this idea may sound, there are good reasons why physicists so fervently embraced it. Smolin, the more elegant writer, is far better at conveying the conceptual import of physical theorizing with a minimum of technical detail. Neither book, though, is easy reading for the ­uninitiated.

To put it very briefly, what turned interest in string theory from an oddball enthusiasm to a mainstream occupation was a twofold realization that came in 1984. That’s when two of the early string pioneers, John Schwarz of Caltech and Michael Green, who was based in London, published a paper showing that just a handful of possible string theories were free of mathematical inconsistencies that plagued tradi­tional ­particle-­based models, and also had sufficient capacity (the number and variety of internal vibrations, roughly speaking) to accom­modate all the known elementary particles and their interactions. There was one little difficulty: The systems these theories described existed only in 10 ­dimensions.

Since we live in a world that has but three dimensions of space and one of time, that last point might seem to be a ­deal ­breaker, but so appealing were the other virtues of string theory that physicists found a solution. The “extra” dimensions, they proposed, could be wrapped up so tight that we couldn’t see them. In effect, what we thought of as points in our world were tiny ­six-­dimensional structures. A little bizarre, to be sure, but not ­impossible.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Global Warming Science Still Evolving

Another piece of the story and why it is important to do extensive research on core factors—as, for instance and on a much smaller scale, was done with the Auburn Dam around the earthquake issue—prior to committing to a policy direction.

The nature of cloud water may play a very important, yet still unknown, role affecting scientific and political decisions.

More research is surely needed and it is heartening that it continues.

Arctic cloud water puzzles scientists

EUREKA, Nunavut Territory -- Scientists are peering into the clouds near the top of the world, trying to solve a mystery and learn something new about global warming.

Creating the mystery are the droplets of water in the clouds. With the North Pole just 685 miles away, they should be frozen, yet more of them are liquid than anyone expected. So the scientists working out of a converted blue cargo container are trying to determine whether the clouds are one of the causes -- or effects -- of Earth's warming atmosphere.

"Much to our surprise, we found that Arctic clouds have got lots of supercooled liquid water in them. Liquid water has even been detected in clouds at temperatures as low as [minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit]," said Taneil Uttal, chief of the Clouds and Arctic Research Group at the Earth Systems Research Laboratory of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

"If a cloud is composed of liquid water droplets in the Arctic instead of ice crystals, then that changes how they will interact with the Earth's surface and the atmosphere to reflect, absorb and transmit radiation," Miss Uttal said.

"It's a new science, driven by the fact that everybody doing climate predictions says that clouds are perhaps the single greatest unknown factor in understanding global warming."

Songbird Habitat Restoration Success

Very good news about the return of the songbirds along the Sacramento River.

Along the Sacramento, songbirds flourish again Scientists credit the restoration of thousands of acres of habitat with resurgence of wildlife population
Glen Martin, Chronicle Environment Writer
Monday, November 27, 2006

(11-27) 04:00 PST Phelan Island, Glenn County -- It may have been doing its part for science, but that didn't make the bushtit any happier.

It squawked in protest on a recent overcast day as ecologist Michael Rogner gently blew on its breast plumage, examined its skull and measured its wing feathers, judging its age and health.
"The bushtits can get pretty indignant," Rogner said as he carefully fixed bands to the small bird's legs and released it. "Most of the other species we catch take it in stride."

Rogner and fellow researchers with the group PRBO Conservation Science, which works to protect birds and their ecosystems, expect to examine more than 1,000 songbirds this winter along the Sacramento River corridor -- a remarkably high total. Songbirds have been in decline throughout the hemisphere, but the Sacramento River region is an exception. Scientists credit the restoration of thousands of acres of habitat and call the songbird comeback one of the nation's greatest conservation successes.

Levee Repair

Update on current levee repair in California.

California races to repair levee system
Posted 11/26/2006 9:59 PM ET
By John Ritter, USA TODAY

SACRAMENTO — In satellite photos, California's Central Valley sticks out as one of the planet's most prominent features, a great gouge in the landscape that looks as if a giant fingernail plowed through the center of the state.

The valley is broad and flat and great for agriculture. That also makes it prone to severe flooding, disasters that a century-old maze of levees is supposed to prevent. But California's neglected flood defenses are in such poor shape that voters on Nov. 7 approved nearly $5 billion in borrowing to shore up the USA's largest and most complex levee system outside the Mississippi Valley.

That comes on top of $500 million approved by the Legislature after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared an emergency in February.

Repairing more than 100 levees deemed "critical" because they protect urban areas is a race against time as winter rains approach.

"Right now we're putting Band-Aids on the patient," says Jeff Mount, a geology professor at the University of California, Davis. "These repairs are the equivalent of patching a bald tire. We've got to figure out what we're going to do to replace the tire."

The state's long-term commitment to redesign and overhaul its levees, using some of the bond money, butts up against a growing population — 17.6 million more people by 2050, the state estimates — and the spread of housing onto flood plains that puts tens of thousands of people at risk. Cities often oppose curbing development to avoid flood risks, and the idea of the state pre-empting local land-use decisions is politically toxic.

Mosquito Control

Killing mosquitoes seems to be the issue here and with the spread of more dangerous mosquito borne disease it appears to be good public policy to allow farmers to spray as soon as needed rather than have to obtain a specific permit for a routine process.

This recent trend, of speeding up—or eliminating it when appropriate—the government permit process is a good one and generates a higher level of trust between the public and private sector that can sometimes be very beneficial, assuming there exists an balanced sense of care over the commons.

Using pesticides over waters OK'd
EPA says special permits not needed; decision angers environmentalists.

By Michael Doyle - Bee Washington BureauPublished 12:00 am PST Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Bush administration pleased farmers and frustrated environmentalists Monday by declaring that pesticides can be sprayed into and over waters without first obtaining special permits.

The heavily lobbied decision is supposed to settle a dispute that's roiled federal courts and divided state regulators. It's popular among those who spray pesticides for a living, but it worries those who fear poisoned waters will result.

"We need to act fast to stop mosquitoes when they are found," argued Jim Tassano, a pest-control operator in the Sierra foothills town of Sonora. "Any delay results in adults emerging. It is far cheaper and much more effective to kill them as larvae ...(and) if a permit is required, the costs would skyrocket."

Tassano was one of hundreds to weigh in over the past three years as the Environmental Protection Agency mulled over its options. His sentiments were shared by California's Merced and Tulare mosquito control districts and various agricultural interests nationwide.

"Requiring (federal) permitting would unnecessarily disrupt the effectiveness of (pest) control operations and adversely impact hundreds of business," the South Carolina Aquatic Plant Management Society warned.

Game Warden Shortage

Low pay didn’t used to be a handicap in this work which attracted many due to being outdoors and generally enjoyable work, but lately with the law enforcement aspect becoming a little more dangerous and the pay remaining low, it appears there might be a shortage.

Game warden academy applications plummet
Field officers an 'endangered species,' recruiter warns.
By Matt Weiser - Bee Staff Writer Published 12:00 am PST Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Applications for California's game warden training academy have fallen to just one-third of last year's levels, prompting concern that a crisis in state wildlife protection is deepening.

Lt. Jeff Longwell, in charge of hiring and recruiting the warden force for the state Department of Fish and Game, said he has received only 98 applications for the training academy that begins in January 2008. The application deadline is Friday.

That compares to 300 applications received last year for the academy that begins in January 2007. Only 14 of those were eventually accepted for the academy, reflecting a rigorous testing process.

If the same ratio holds for the next academy, the state will produce only five new wardens, well below attrition caused by low pay and retirement.

The state has lost 11 game wardens since June and is now down to 181 field-level wardens to cover the entire state. The Department of Fish and Game now has about 75 warden vacancies.

Railroad Yard Deadline?

In the longest running public works saga without resolution…ooops that would really be the K Street Mall…but never mind, the chance for a deal by the end of the year appears…promising?

Railyard deal looks near
City, developer must first agree on plan to move tracks
By Mary Lynne Vellinga - Bee Staff Writer Published 12:00 am PST Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Sacramento city officials are finalizing a key agreement with the downtown railyard developer that would allow building to finally move forward on the shuttered industrial site -- one of the nation's largest.

"This is further along than we've ever gotten, and we're gaining steam," said Sacramento Mayor Heather Fargo.

Despite Sacramento voters' resounding rejection earlier this month of a sales tax increase to build a new Kings arena in the railyard, city leaders say they still expect Georgia developer Stan Thomas to break ground by next year for an ambitious project that would include 10,000 housing units, offices and shops.

Before that can happen, however, the city and Thomas must reach agreement on a plan to move the existing freight and passenger tracks about 300 feet to the north -- something Fargo said would cost about $40 million.

Moving the tracks would open up land for development and make it possible for Thomas to elevate Fifth and Sixth streets over the tracks on footings paid for by the city as part of the deal.

In addition, the city needs to make a deal with Thomas to buy the land needed for a planned train, bus and light-rail complex. Thomas' local development team has described the station as a key anchor for the planned development, and it's long been one of the city's top priorities as well.

City staff members are finalizing the agreements on the land purchase and track relocation, and had planned to present them to the City Council at today's session. That presentation has been postponed until Dec. 5.

Monday, November 27, 2006

New Democratic Congress & Old Auburn Dam

Great perspective from one of the letters to the editor today from an organization long supporting the gold standard of flood protection—at the 500 year level—the Auburn Dam (and only the Auburn Dam) can provide to Sacramento.


Will Dems' leaders give a dam?

The article, "Auburn dam returns to limbo," Nov. 19, suggests that because Democrats returned to power in Congress, they probably will not support an approved study for an Auburn dam, nor part of the cost of its construction. It states Sen. Barbara Boxer may chair the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee and Sen. Dianne Feinstein may chair the Senate Appropriations panel controlling funding for flood control issues. Further, Rep. Nancy Pelosi will be House speaker. These three Californians will hold powerful congressional seats that could assure that the Sacramento Valley and the capital city get flood protection that is desperately needed.

Sacramento's flood protection is under the 100-year storm level, lowest of any major city in the United States. Local officials agree a 200-year storm level should be the minimum. However, the Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation and the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency supported an Auburn dam, which would provide 500-year flood protection. At this level, the lives of more than 250,000 people and billions of dollars in real and personal property would be protected. Further, an Auburn dam could provide more than 300 megawatts of clean hydroelectric power and additional water supply for the future.

It is inconceivable that they would intentionally deny Sacramento such protection.

-- Joe Sullivan, Sacramento
Executive Director,
Sacramento County Taxpayers League

Del Paso Rebirth

Wonderful news for Del Paso Boulevard and North Sacramento!

Now if the public leadership can follow the revitalization example being set by the private leadership, and do something about the illegal camping on the Parkway, that area could truly be reborn.

Bob Shallit: Bright hopes for Del Paso's makeover
By Bob Shallit - Bee Columnist Published 12:00 am PST Monday, November 27, 2006

The revitalization of Del Paso Boulevard is about to get a powerful jump-start.

The gritty urban stretch has seen some upscale restaurants arrive over the past decade. The Limn furniture store is a success. Some art galleries have come and gone.

Now the first signs of a new kind of growth -- office, retail and housing -- are emerging along a boulevard long appreciated for its proximity to downtown but shunned for its image as a crime magnet.

"This area is coming, it's really coming," says Allen Warren, whose New Faze Development is leading the charge to rejuvenate Del Paso.

Chief among the new projects is a headquarters building for New Faze -- a 50,000-square-foot, brick-and-glass complex at Del Paso and Fairfield Street that will include 27 condo units priced at around $300,000, along with a restaurant and office space. One cool feature: a hydraulic stack-parking system on the first floor. A car is driven onto a three-tiered rack that's lowered below ground, creating space for another car, then lowered again for a third car. Car owners can bring their vehicles back up to street level at the touch of a button.

Construction on the entire complex is set to begin by mid-year. A block to the west, New Faze has just acquired the former Grand Theater, which has served as a church for several decades.
The plan is to remove half the seats and convert the place into a dinner theater for plays, comedy shows, jazz concerts and art films. That project also should get under way by midyear.
Next on New Faze's agenda is a mixed-use project combining 38 town homes, a restaurant and a "working class" art museum. It will sit on a triangular block bordered by Del Paso, Beaumont Street and Darina Avenue.

Warren, who was raised in the Del Paso area and is passionate about its rebirth, knows it's one thing to attract eateries and shops to a tough neighborhood -- and another to persuade people to live there.

But he believes young professionals seeking "a true urban experience" and those priced out of the downtown condo market will flock to relatively inexpensive housing on Del Paso. Those pioneers will spread the word. Somewhere down the line -- perhaps when 300 or 400 units are built out -- a "tipping point" will be reached, making Del Paso a "vibrant urban corridor," Warren says.

Carpool Lane May Cause Crashes

Who would have thought this?

It is very tragic when a good idea turns bad, but it looks like a good case for more lanes and all of them open.

One expects public leadership will follow up on this important study.

State looks at lane safety
Caltrans is trying to learn if carpooling can actually increase accidents.
By John Hill - Bee Capitol BureauPublished 12:00 am PST Monday, November 27, 2006

The thought has no doubt occurred to many a motorist breezing down the carpool lane: What would happen if one of the cars stuck in traffic in the adjacent lane tried to merge?

It turns out the same kinds of thoughts have occurred to transportation planners.

Caltrans is investigating the effect of carpool lanes on accidents, a question that took on new urgency this month when California voters approved a transportation bond expected to pay for more such lanes.

One of the very few studies on the subject, done in Texas, found that the addition of high-occupancy vehicle lanes on two freeways in Dallas increased injury accidents by about 50 percent.

The culprit: the difference in speed, up to 35 mph, between vehicles in the carpool lane and the lane next to it.

"We found that was where all the crash increase was happening," said Scott Cooner, program manager at the Texas Transportation Institute. "The speed differential, that's the factor that contributed."

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Poor People & Flood Protection

This letter points to an all too common, and sad, story of protection from natural disasters being better funded for the wealthy (who can generally ride out the disaster much better) than the poor (who rarely ride out natural disasters well) by public leaders too often more responsive to those who fund their campaigns than those who need their protection most.

- Published 12:00 am PST Sunday, November 26, 2006

How Meadowview is left out

Re "Tax hike sought for flood work," Nov. 17: As I sat in my Meadowview area home the other morning and read of plans by the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency to increase my taxes once again, I recall the promise made by SAFCA to me and other area homeowners when it was seeking approval for the last levee improvement tax. The promise was that I would get 100-year flood protection within a couple of years and enjoy lower rates on my flood insurance. Well, here it is a good three years hence, and while Natomas and downtown homeowners and developers enjoy their 100-year protection and lower rates, those of us in the lower-income, culturally diverse Meadowview area still don't have the protection we were promised. Coincidence? I think not.

Am I inclined to support yet another increase request from SAFCA? I may be cutting off my nose to spite my face, but my answer is leaning strongly toward "no." I would also urge my fellow area residents to think long and hard about it as well. If SAFCA can't come through on its last promise, why would we trust it with even more of our money now?

- David Houghton, Sacramento

Secrets at Tahoe

There is usually more to the story, than first comes out, when it has been done so secretly; and we will probably hear more about this one in the future.

Secrecy imperiled deal near Tahoe, officials say
Partial purchase has good chance to go forward now that details are revealed.
By David Whitney - Bee Washington BureauPublished 12:00 am PST Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Forest Service may yet get a shot at buying portions of the spectacular Homewood Mountain Resort's ski slopes overlooking Lake Tahoe, but probably not all 1,083 acres that it wanted.

It was touted as the largest parcel of developable property remaining in the Tahoe Basin, and the Forest Service notified Congress this spring that it wanted to spend as much as $60 million to buy the property.

If a public purchase fell through, the Forest Service said, the slopes were in danger of being carved into private estates, creating erosion problems that could harm the crystal blue waters of the lake below.

But Rep. John Doolittle, a key member of the House Appropriations Committee panel that funds the Interior Department, moved to kill the sale in May, saying it was hatched in secret without any advance warning. Besides, Doolittle said, the federal government already owned too much land.

Now the Roseville Republican is prepared to drop his opposition to a limited land purchase, he said, because he has been told the details. Placer County Supervisor Bruce Kranz, who said he was in the dark about the deal even though he sits on the Tahoe Regional Planning Authority that was secretly behind it, said he is feeling more comfortable with it, too.

"I am open to it now," Kranz said of the land purchase.

If it goes through, however, the sale most likely will involve a small 300-acre slice of what originally had been proposed.

Tahoe Regional Planning Authority executive director John Singlaub said he is delighted to see barriers to the sale falling, but said the smaller acreage may be the cost of trying to conduct the public's business in secret.

Behind the Hype

Good look at the labeling process for our food and how it has been used against us, and our natural inclination to eat healthy.

A natural muckraker
He pressures industry to live up to its values
By Jim Downing - Bee Staff WriterPublished 12:00 am PST Sunday, November 26, 2006

Michael Pollan wrote the right book at the right time.

In April, Pollan, a journalism professor at the University of California, Berkeley, published "The Omnivore's Dilemma," an interrogation of both the industrial food system and the fast-growing organic sector that was supposed to be its alternative.

He couldn't have known what would follow.

This year, organic food finally went mainstream, manufactured by Kraft and available on the shelves at Wal-Mart -- while at the same time a wave of news reports pointed out that, image to the contrary, organic supermarket food usually isn't grown by a small local farmer…

…While selling itself as pastoral and progressive, the large-scale organic food industry, he writes, has taken on many of the traits of the conventional food industry: animals raised inhumanely and produce grown on mammoth farms and shipped around the globe.

The Whole Foods chicken Pollan ate, for instance, was raised in a cramped henhouse with 20,000 others. The birds ate organic feed and weren't given antibiotics, but otherwise lived much like conventional mass-produced chickens. Along with the chicken, he had $6-a-pound organic asparagus flown in from Argentina. It tasted, he writes, like damp cardboard.

None of that would have been so bad, or so unexpected, if not for the marketing attached to it -- a vision of small local organic farms and happy animals that Pollan dubs "Supermarket Pastoral."

Worms at EPA

Considering the return on this it’s kind of hard to believe its something actually being done, in a state office, on public salaried time.

Worm wranglers to the rescue
California Environmental Protection Agency officials have turned to some unlikely allies to help curb the amount of waste going into landfills from their downtown office building
By Edie Lau - Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PST Sunday, November 26, 2006

In his office on the 22nd floor of the California Environmental Protection Agency building in downtown Sacramento, lawyer Erik Spiess is never alone -- not even when his door is closed.

At all times of the day and night, Spiess shares the company of hundreds of "co-workers" who do their job under his desk.

His officemates are worms, and Spiess is a worm wrangler. He's one of about 70 people in the building who tend worms that turn food scraps into compost at deskside.

In its quest to keep California at the frontier of environmental consciousness, Cal-EPA's Integrated Waste Management Board promotes workplace worm composting.

"It's so attention-getting," said Andrew Hurst, Cal-EPA sustainable operations coordinator and the building's lead worm tender.

That attention may start out with an "ewwww!" but often, the "ewwww!" evolves into "ahhhh!"
Most people unfamiliar with the concept of worm composting -- also known as vermicomposting, derived from the Latin word for worm, vermi -- think it must be a stinky, grotesque mess.

Spiess, an attorney for the state Water Resources Control Board who has been worm wrangling for five years, said that in his experience, it's none of those things.

The worms live in a tidy blue plastic bin tucked under his desk. Spiess pulled out the container and popped off the lid. To escape the burst of light, the worms wriggled deep into their bedding of torn newspapers.

"It just smells kind of musty, kind of like wet dirt," Spiess said.

The worms favor fruit and vegetable scraps such as apple and pear cores and banana peels.
They also feed on the paper bedding. Over time, the bin fills with worm castings, a polite term for worm poop…

…While vermicomposting "isn't rocket science," Hurst said, there are some tricks to making it work smoothly.

For example, the worms mustn't be fed meats or fats. Citrus fruits are too acidic for them to handle. Tenders must be cautious not to overfeed. Spiess said three banana peels and two pear cores are enough for his worms for a week.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

America’s City

Great sketch of the greatest city in America and one of the greatest in the world.

New York, New York
A historian's tour of the Big Apple's architectural core.
BY ERIC GIBSON Saturday, November 25, 2006 12:01 a.m. EST

NEW YORK--Manhattan gridlock got you down? It helps to take the long view. "There were traffic jams in the 1880s. You couldn't get from midtown or the fashionable area of Murray Hill to Wall Street in less than an hour," says architect and historian Robert A.M. Stern. "The richest people, the Rockefellers and Morgan, took the Elevated [train] down to Wall Street because there was no other way to do it."

Founder and senior partner of his own firm and dean of the Yale School of Architecture, Mr. Stern knows something about the long view. Since 1983, he has been writing a history of New York City's architecture and urban fabric. Four volumes have already appeared: "New York 1880" (covering 1865-90), "New York 1900" (1890-1915), "New York 1930" (the interwar years) and "New York 1960" (World War II to the bicentennial). They range in length from 500 to 1,400 pages, but the latest, "New York 2000" (Monacelli Press, $100), outdoes them all. Covering 1976 to 2000 and written, like the others, with the assistance of co-authors, it runs to 1,520 pages--and nearly 11 pounds. It landed in bookstores, dainty as a wrecking ball, earlier this month. ...

...Building by building, street by street, neighborhood by neighborhood, borough by borough, Mr. Stern's five books trace New York's rise from prosperous but provincial city--limited to Manhattan island and largely bounded by 42nd Street and the waterfront--to the sprawling, five-borough world capital it is today. They paint a picture of a city in flux, an urban palimpsest undergoing a perpetual, 140-year makeover that shows no signs of stopping. The comment made by one observer in 1866 could almost be the city's motto: "A new town has been built on top of the old one, and another excavated under it."

One surprise is that the qualities we variously celebrate and rail against today aren't of recent vintage, but were in evidence within the first decades after the Civil War: the city's infectious energy; its magnet status to those in search of opportunity, be they immigrants or transplants from other parts of the country ("Why did John D. Rockefeller move from Cleveland?" asks Mr. Stern, rhetorically. "He knew he had to be in New York."); its role as a financial center; the congestion, the overbuilding and the middle-class flight; the insistent pressure to expand outward; and the primal need to conquer distance and height through unheard-of feats of engineering. "The story stays the same, but the characters are always new," notes the author.

A recurring theme throughout the series is New York as America's "representative city." That will be bitter gall to those in the hinterlands who already think New Yorkers are too full of themselves by half, but Mr. Stern briskly ticks off his arguments. "It is the financial capital of the country. It is the cultural capital. And now it's the media capital. It is also the part of the country that has the richest representation of the diversity of the country," he says. "And it has these amazing institutions which, though they are New York institutions, are really national," like the Metropolitan Museum and the New York Public Library.

Lastly, he says, New York has things that no other city in the U.S. has, at least not in the same way. "Frederick Law Olmstead built in many places," says Mr. Stern. "But Central Park is incomparable." Case closed.

He cites three major turning points that helped propel New York into the city it has become. One is infrastructure. "The Brooklyn Bridge in 1883, the Elevated railroad at virtually the same time, made it possible to move around." Then there were "the extraordinary contributions of immigrant groups." Also technology. "The steel frame [in 1889] and the elevator in [1870] combined to make it possible to build at extraordinary densities."

Area’s Food Riches

A reminder of how wonderful our region is agriculturally.

Editorial: Think global, eat local
Yolo man wants to show off our foodstuff
- Published 12:00 am PST Saturday, November 25, 2006

Sacramento is one of the few places in the United States where you could supply an entire restaurant with food grown in a 60-mile radius. Apples? Citrus? Olives for olive oil? Wheat? Barley? Rice? Salad greens? Nuts? Cheeses? Grapes for wine? All kinds of meats? Ducks? Sturgeon? Asparagus and other veggies?

It can all be grown here, including tomatoes. We grow some of the best in the world.

Customers at local farmers markets, as well as owners of certain restaurants and groceries, have long recognized the Sacramento Valley's incredible bounty. Up until now, there hasn't been much of a regional effort to showcase this area's amazing variety of agricultural products and put us on the same map as Napa, Sonoma and other food-famous regions.

Out in Yolo County, Rich Collins is working on one piece of this effort. Having successfully developed a global market for Belgian endive, Collins wants to build a $5 million showcase of Yolo agriculture. As The Bee's Jim Downing noted in a recent article, Collins envisions this showcase, Bridgeway Farms, to be a "new-age Nut Tree" just off Interstate 80, southwest of Davis. Here visitors could stroll through orchards, sample local products, learn the curds and wheys of making goat cheese and gain a closer connection to food that, all too often, is mysteriously grown and packaged somewhere else.

Mountain Biking

A very popular way to get around in the woods, parkways and trails continues seeking acceptance and should be given a fair hearing. It appears to be in this situation; as it was in the recent Parkway planning process and is apparently going to be allowed in the Parkway if it makes it through the final policy cut.

Policy forum to consider forest mountain biking
- Published 12:00 am PST Saturday, November 25, 2006

The U.S. Forest Service wants the public's input on mountain biking on forestlands in California, starting with a public meeting Thursday.

The agency's goal is to serve this popular sport while protecting natural resources. Feedback from a series of so-called "listening sessions" will help develop a mountain biking management strategy on Forest Service lands, which cover one-fifth of California's terrain.

The first session will be held Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Folsom Civic Center, 52 Natoma St.

Another meeting will be held in Redding on Dec. 12 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the USDA Service Center, 3644 Avtech Parkway. Additional meetings are planned in Sausalito, Los Angeles and San Diego.

For more information, call the Forest Service regional office in Vallejo at (707) 562-8737.

Not Everyone Likes All Parks

The issue is one of control and rightly so.

Wilton wary of big park proposal
Some welcome it, but others fear changes in their country lifestyle -- and park district's role.
By Christina Jewett - Bee Staff WriterPublished 12:00 am PST Saturday, November 25, 2006

A sprawling park planned for an open meadow in Wilton has sparked opposition from residents who suggest the swings and slide could lead to a free fall into urban growth.

While the 97-acre Dillard Ranch Park proposed by the Cosumnes Community Services District would be a welcomed oasis in many places, many residents say it smacks of big-city intrusion into Wilton, where the sky is big and government is small.

"I am not for it," 20-year-old Wiltonite Lynnee Raney said flatly. "This is the country. The country is supposed to stay the country."

The park district, formerly known as the Elk Grove Community Services District, bought the land at Wilton and Dillard roads about a year ago, and has indefinite plans to build a community center and ball field, said district spokesman Steve Capps.

Because the land is beyond the district's 157-square-mile boundary, the park would have to be annexed, Capps said.

Friday, November 24, 2006

The Methanol Economy

Excellent book review.

The Methanol Alternative
Robert Zubrin
Any serious energy policy must deal with three critical issues. First, economic: The policy must provide an energy resource base sufficient to allow for continued worldwide economic growth for the foreseeable future. Second, environmental: The policy must be compatible with the long-term flourishing of life on Earth, including human life and civilization. And finally, strategic: The policy must ensure that control of the Earth’s energy resources, and thus its future, lies in the hands of free societies committed to human progress, and taken away from tyrannical and terrorism-promoting states.

George Olah, recipient of the 1994 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, is one of the giants of twentieth-century science, and his coauthors are solid technical men. Together they have written a profoundly important book on energy policy, laying out the basis for a technically achievable approach to all three dimensions of the energy problem.

There is no shortage of energy experts with grand designs and proposals—from technophile dreams of an unworkable “hydrogen economy,” to Malthusian calls for enforced economic limits through conservation, to socialist schemes for creating massive government-subsidized synthetic-fuel industries, to the libertarian faith in the Invisible Hand. Compared to such misguided alternatives, the competence and rationality of The Methanol Economy is refreshing.

The authors begin by describing the dimensions of the worldwide energy problem: Even as our reserves of fossil fuels have grown in recent decades, the demand is growing faster, and as more of the world modernizes, a global energy “crunch” looms. From here, they turn their attention to renewable energy sources and nuclear power, and then they offer a thorough refutation of the technical feasibility of the “hydrogen economy.” This widely-touted panacea cannot work because it takes more energy to produce hydrogen than it yields, because hydrogen is an excessively low-density medium for storing chemical energy, and because an entirely new multi-billion-dollar fuel distribution infrastructure would have to be created to support hydrogen vehicles before any could be sold.

The heart of the book outlines a proposed technical solution to the energy problem. The authors don’t propose new ways of generating energy, arguing that “all feasible alternative and renewable energy sources must be considered and used,” nuclear energy “above all.” Instead, they focus on “the challenges of how to store and best use energy.”

The authors dub their proposal the “methanol economy.” Methanol is commonly known as “wood alcohol” because it can be produced from wood; it can also be made from coal, natural gas, methane hydrates, any type of biomass, or urban waste. It can be used as fuel for internal-combustion engines, and eventually in fuel-cell vehicles. It can also be used as feedstock for producing dimethyl ether, an excellent fuel for non-polluting diesel engines. In short, it is a convenient medium for storing energy and is easily transported and dispensed as a fuel.

Tempting Fate Indeed

The more I have studied local flood issues the more perplexing the reasons why the solutions to the flood problems facing the Sacramento and American River Watershed communities—building Shasta Dam to its original engineered height would have tripled its storage and building Auburn Dam—weren’t followed through to completion when proposed decades ago.

Our report on water on our website addresses the Auburn Dam and may also provide insight to Shasta.

In the meantime, trying to figure out ways to run away from the certain floods seems appropriate, but still an unfortunate reflection about sadly lacking public leadership in the past one hopes becomes more effective in the future.

Tempting fate: City still lacks evacuation blueprint
Disagreements on plan to funnel Sacramentans to safety in a flood.
By Deb Kollars - Bee Staff WriterPublished 12:00 am PST Friday, November 24, 2006

After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, emergency leaders in Sacramento realized they had a potential nightmare on their hands: They were not prepared to move tens of thousands of people out if a giant flood hit.

It remains an urgent question, given no major city in America is more at risk of a New Orleans-style flood than Sacramento.

More than a year later, those entrusted with helping Sacramento survive a disaster have made progress, but still are not fully prepared for a massive evacuation.

They have new maps and telephone alert systems, a new emergency operations center, new reviews, new consultants, new training.

But the state has yet to finish a "mass evacuation guidance document" that has been in the works for months as a tool to help local jurisdictions.

A regional mass evacuation plan for eight counties in the Sacramento area is closer to completion, though it will not be finished before the upcoming rainy season arrives.

And there are streams of doubt and disagreement running among emergency planners about how much detail is needed in plans, whether big shelters are ready, which way the traffic would go, and what size floods should be contemplated.

Some, including those at the state level, believe a massive citywide evacuation may not be executable, or even necessary because the most likely flood scenario for Sacramento would be a levee break that would inundate one area, such as Natomas, but leave others dry.

"We cannot envision a situation that would require the complete evacuation of a city in California," said Eric Lamoureux, chief spokesman for the California Office of Emergency Services.

Lamoureux noted that cities in the Gulf region had to move more than 2 million people across entire states in the face of hurricanes. In contrast, Sacramento has about 250,000 at risk of flooding, more in the broader region; it is unlikely all would face inundation at once, and they would have to travel only a short distance, say to Fair Oaks or Davis, to reach high ground.

Rick Martinez, Sacramento County's emergency coordinator, agreed. Floods, he said, are so unpredictable that agencies should focus on streamlining response procedures rather than mapping out every evacuation path that might be needed.

"It's a moving target," he said. "We are working on plans that have less detail and are more process driven."

Jerry Colivas, Sacramento's emergency services manager, holds a different a view.

Colivas believes agencies also should be planning -- in detail -- for more devastating events such as multiple levee breaks or a failure at Folsom Dam that could leave huge sections of the city under water.

"We really have to be prepared for the worst, worst, worst case scenario," Colivas said. "My mantra is everyone gets out alive."

Colivas is pushing for specific plans covering numerous flood scenarios. One that haunts him is a levee break that would flood the downtown on a weekday, when more than 100,000 workers would be in danger. Another is a break or overtopping at Folsom Dam, where the rush of water would be swift and overwhelming, in some scenarios reaching the downtown core within eight to 12 hours.

Like other leaders, Colivas admits he doesn't have all the answers. But during the past year, the questions have sharpened notably:

What if two cars collide in a downtown parking garage, blocking everyone else from getting out in an evacuation?

Would light-rail trains running every 10 minutes out of downtown carry enough people to make up for the time that fleeing drivers would lose waiting for trains to cross streets?

How to deal with the low spots on every single freeway serving the Sacramento area?

Dog Park

Too bad that all the cities in the area can’t follow Davis’s lead on this and provide space for a clear public need.

Dog owners face setback for park
Board suggests an alternative Cameron Park site; backers fear it's too costly.
By Cathy Locke - Bee Staff WriterPublished 12:00 am PST Friday, November 24, 2006

Dog owners seeking a place for their pets to play and socialize off-leash suffered a setback last week when the Cameron Park Community Services District board called for further evaluation of potential sites.

Their battle follows a familiar pattern in the Sacramento area where obtaining support for a dog park typically requires perseverance, as canines and their owners compete for space with other recreational activities.

Karen Ellis, a spokeswoman for the Cameron Park Dog Owners Group, said members were notified the day of the district board meeting that staff members planned to recommend an alternative to the group's proposed location at Rasmussen Park.

Though the group had not had time to assess the new site in an undeveloped portion of the park, Ellis said she feared the cost of improvements could prove prohibitive for the nonprofit organization.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Parkway Might Get an Acre

While this is welcome news, what many forget is that the American River Parkway Foundation was originally established to raise funds for land acquisition, but for some reason changed that mission to become a Parkway clean-up organization, which while certainly needed, is much less valuable to the community in the long-term than expanding the size of the Parkway, which expansion has essentially stopped save the small occasional efforts like this one acre.

One of the benefits of having the Parkway managed by a nonprofit organization would be the adoption, once again, of a mission mandate to expand the Parkway’s land through dedicated fund raising from philanthropists to purchase acreage as it comes up.

Nothing will do more to strengthen the Parkway for the long-term than expanding its size and capacity to provide sanctuary and the pleasure of nature for the many more families choosing to live here, partly because of the Parkway.

Board seeks a nature center buffer
By Bill Lindelof - Bee Staff WriterPublished 12:00 am PST Thursday, November 23, 2006

Sacramento County wants to purchase an acre that overlooks the Effie Yeaw Nature Center in Ancil Hoffman Park for $700,000.

The county Board of Supervisors took the first step last week to acquire the property, voting 3-0 to approve a resolution of intention to acquire the land.

The acquisition would provide a visual and sound buffer between residences along Palm Drive and the nature center, according to the county.

"This is a long-held dream of the county," said Susan Peters, the supervisor who represents the area.

The property is part of Oat Hill, owned by the pioneering Deterding family. At one time, part of the hill was farmed for oats.

Last June, the Carmichael Community Planning Advisory Council favored a request to divide most of the land on Oat Hill Bluff into four lots for eventual home-building.

The council recommended approval, by a 4-2 vote, of a tentative parcel map to divide the land into four 1-acre lots.

The land the county is signaling it wants to buy is not part of that subdivision proposal.

The planning department, which is finishing a staff report, is examining the subdivision of the property.

The four lots the Deterding family may develop must still go to the subdivision review committee and back to the community council before a final decision is made.

Fresno Ruling Will Impact Illegal Camping on Parkway

Protecting an individual’s property is a bedrock of American law, but just as in drug sales profit property seizures and eminent domain property seizures, both for a greater public good, the seizure of the property of the homeless illegally camping in public space, will eventually be supported by legal opinion, but in the meantime localities will have to deal with this ruling and it will mean more illegal camping on the Parkway, and less enforcement.

Fresno ordered to stop destroying homeless people's property
By OLIVIA MUNOZ, - Associated Press WriterPublished 12:34 am PST Thursday, November 23, 2006

The city must stop seizing and destroying homeless people's property without warning while a civil rights lawsuit winds its way through court, a federal judge ruled.

U.S. District Court Judge Oliver W. Wanger granted a preliminary injunction Wednesday, saying the city's policy regarding homeless people's property is "dishonest and demeaning" to them.

"Persons cannot be punished because of their status," Wanger said, before issuing his ruling.
"They cannot be denied their constitutional rights because of their appearance, because they are impoverished, because they are squatters, because they are, in effect, voiceless."

The suit - filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights on behalf of six people - claims police and sanitation workers violated the rights of the city's homeless over the last three years by defining their property as trash and bulldozing their encampments.

Homeless advocates said Wednesday's ruling would help cement homeless people's property rights.

"This is very significant in protecting not just the rights of homeless people in Fresno, but nationally," said Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. "It's the court saying, 'Yes, there are legal rights, constitutional rights that are at issue here and this case needs to go forward.'"

James Betts, an attorney for the city, argued that forcing Fresno to log and store belongings seized in the "cleanups" would be a burden because the city doesn't have the space, money or the manpower to handle the volume of items.

Estimates of the number of people living on Fresno's streets range from about 500 to just under 8,900. Wanger's order blocks the city from raiding their tent towns and destroying their belongings until the case goes to trial, or reaches a settlement.

Folsom Bridge

Looks closer to being built.

New bridge for Folsom gets closer
Work is expected to begin early next year on span to replace Folsom Dam Road.
By Cathy Locke - Bee Staff WriterPublished 12:00 am PST Thursday, November 23, 2006

In a pre-Thanksgiving ceremony that may give motorists cause for gratitude, Folsom city officials and representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers signed an agreement Wednesday to build a new bridge over the American River.

Mayor Andy Morin, City Manager Kerry Miller and Col. Ronald Light, district engineer for the Corps of Engineers' Sacramento District, signed documents specifying each agency's responsibilities for the estimated $117 million bridge and roadway designed to handle traffic that once used Folsom Dam Road. The road over the dam was closed nearly four years ago because of fears of terrorism.

The closure has diverted traffic through Folsom's historic district and increased congestion, particularly during commute hours.

The four-lane, 2-mile-long project downstream from Folsom Dam will connect East Natoma Street with Folsom-Auburn Road.

"This is really a major milestone in getting a significant regional project built in this community," Morin said during the signing ceremony at Folsom City Hall.

Bids for the project are due Dec. 8, and Morin said he expects the contract to be awarded in three to four weeks. Groundbreaking likely will occur in late January or early February, he said.

Keith Montag, project manager with the corps, said the bridge will take 22 months to build. He said that contractors face a tight timeline. The 1,000-foot-long span is scheduled to open by December 2008.

Parkway Funds Might Shrink Some More

Property taxes, a large part of what drives county funding, might shrink due to housing slump, further reducing funding for the Parkway, which is already way under funded.

Housing slump will hit local governments in the wallet
By Jim Wasserman - Bee Staff WriterPublished 12:00 am PST Thursday, November 23, 2006

An unrelenting housing slump that has driven down the region's home values and sent sales into a tailspin is expected to strike local governments next year, curbing the record growth rates in tax collections that pushed some budgets into the black for the first time in years.

From downtown Sacramento to rural Amador County, financial officials and county assessors say they're watching a gathering storm that's initially expected to blow into their budgets during the 2007-2008 fiscal year beginning July 1.

They blame the slowdown on property tax receipts that aren't growing as quickly and, in some cases, on lower property tax bills for some homeowners who purchased within the past year.

No one knows how much the slowdown will cost local governments, and the decline in growth comes after years of climbing budgets propelled by a private- sector housing boom. But the slowdown clearly has financial experts worried.

In Sacramento County, for example, Assessor Kenneth Stieger expects that the 15 percent jump in taxable property values that fueled this fiscal year's budget could drop to as low as 6 percent growth in next year's budget. Such a decline could cut revenue projections for the general fund by as much as $18 million. Sacramento County's budget is about $2.2 billion.

"We will have perhaps the largest growth drop year to year we've seen in modern times," said Geoff Davey, the county's chief financial officer. "Looking at multiyear growth up and down, we couldn't find a single year where the rate of growth dropped by more than 4 percent over the last 20 years."

That means Sacramento County -- and others seeing their growth rates decline -- still will take in more money than last year but will have to scale back spending expectations.

Urban Levees Evaluation

Good, about time and the funds for the evaluation are coming from the right place, the state general fund, where flood control funds should be coming from as protecting the public from flooding is most certainly a public safety priority.

350 miles of urban levees to be evaluated
Sacramento Business Journal - 10:58 AM PST Wednesday
Celia Lamb Staff writer

The state Department of Water Resources and engineering contractor URS Corp. plan to start an evaluation of 350 miles of levees in urban areas from Lathrop to Marysville next week.

The water resources department and the San Francisco-based contractor will look for levees that provide less than 200-year level flood protection to communities of at least 10,000 people. A 200-year flood is one that has a 0.5 percent chance of occurring in any year.

The $35 million project will be funded by $500 million appropriated from the state general fund in May for flood control improvements.

Test drilling will begin in West Sacramento and Marysville.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Klamath Dams Follow Up

This article presents most of the positions pretty well and is a good follow up to the previous post.

Dam relicensing, removal discussed at FERC meeting
By JOHN DIEHM Daily News Staff Writer

Published: Tuesday, November 21, 2006 5:26 PM

YREKA — The public had an opportunity to comment on PacifiCorps’ relicensing process with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for its hydroelectric facilities on the Klamath River. FERC officials spoke about the agency’s recommendations as well.

“Based on our detailed analysis of the environmental benefits and costs associated with the four alternatives considered in detail in this draft Environmental Impact Statement, we conclude that the best alternative for the Klamath Hydroelectric Project would be to issue a new license consistent with the environmental measures specified in the staff alternative,” the FERC staff report states.

The EIS was released on Sept. 25. Comment deadline for the issue’s draft Environmental Impact Statement is Nov. 24. Two public comment meetings in Yreka Wednesday were part of FERC’s effort to receive comment throughout the region.

“Our conclusion and decision is based on the public record and will result in a relicensing decision,” FERC moderator John Mudre said. “All written comments are due by Dec. 1, and in December we will meet with the Fish and Wildlife Service to resolve some inconsistencies.”

Mudre said that the staff alternative incorporates most of PacifiCorp’s proposed environmental measures, some with certain modifications. The staff alternative also includes 31 environmental measures additional to those proposed by PacifiCorp.

One such measure is the proposed implementation of an anadromous fish restoration plan, including design of fishways at the projects targeted for restoration.

Another is the proposed implementation of an adaptive spawning gravel augmentation program in the J.C. Boyle bypass and downstream of Iron Gate Dam.Discussion during Wednesday’s afternoon meeting in Yreka centered on the topic of dam removal.

There was no doubt from the public comment that some people favor the removal of all the dams on the Klamath River, and that others are opposed to that action.

With some in the audience holding signs and wearing shirts identifying them with the dam removal side, the public comment process in Yreka took on an air of a debate.

Speakers in favor of removal said that dam removal would improve fish habitat and result in the restoration of fish populations. That premise was questioned by those with an opposing position, with some saying there is no science to support it.

Speaker Richard Pool said he represents four fishing industry companies in Oregon and California and has been personally involved for 25 years in the restoration of the Sacramento River. He said that both sport fishing and commercial fishing is important to the economy.

“Anglers rely on government to restore fishing and the Klamath River is the biggest concern in the state,” he said. “We support the conclusion of the tribes that the only way to restore the Klamath River is to remove the dams.”

James Foley from Hamburg said he is a property rights advocate and urged a decision based on all available science not just the emotion of a special interest group.

“There is too much at stake and not enough known about the consequences,” he said. “We also have an ecosystem in place for nearly 100 years. Where is the environmental concern about this?”

Foley said the science is not there to support the premise that removing the dams will restore the fish runs. “I believe that science indicates the opposite and dam removal might even decimate the salmon completely because of the sediment released.”...

...Glen Briggs said he lives on the mid Klamath River and his family has been there for 150 years. He also favored the FERC staff alternative.

“Dam removal is unacceptable,” he said. “It will harm Siskiyou County, decimate the fish population, and not improve the river.”

“Prior to the dams, the water in the Klamath River was low and the quality poor,” he said. “The dams have improved the water quality.”

Briggs quoted from the 1852 journal of George McKee who talked about poor water quality in the river and natural fish die-offs.

Klamath Dams

Dam removal in this case, if residential, business, and agricultural needs are addressed, could be worthwhile, and a natural salmon run restored.

Editorial: Historic opportunity
Warren Buffett, take down those dams!
- Published 12:00 am PST Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Here's a ceremony we look forward to witnessing: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, standing on the banks of the Klamath River, along with his Oregon counterpart, Gov. Ted Kulongoski, and legendary investor Warren Buffett, an old friend of Schwarzenegger.

The three men are there to celebrate the removal of four obsolete dams on the Klamath. The removal of these dams kicks off a major restoration project for Northern California's second-largest river, which has its headwaters in the Oregon Cascades, and an end to the water wars that have long consumed this region. All the old warriors are there: the farmers, the environmentalists, the Indian tribes and Pacific Coast fishermen, who look forward to the return of robust salmon runs on the Klamath.

The conditions are ripe for such a historic deal. Buffett, the billionaire investor, could end up being the linchpin. Buffett's MidAmerican Energy Holdings owns PacifiCorp, a utility that receives about 2 percent of its energy from hydroelectric power plants at these dams. PacifiCorp hasn't yet agreed to decommission these dams. There are several reasons why it should do so.

For nearly a decade, conflict has embroiled the Klamath. In 2001, the federal government cut back irrigation water to farmers so it could help salmon and other fish protected under the Endangered Species Act. Farmers protested, and suddenly the entire nation was watching. Since then, the federal government has spent about $40 million a year on water banking and other programs aimed at avoiding a repeat of the Klamath crisis.

Mayhew Levee, No Trees

The levee will be rebuilt but the heritage oaks are lost due to the continual bank scouring high water releases through the Parkway levee system cause; and part of the reason we call for the Auburn Dam to be built, to protect the integrity of the Parkway.

Plan approved to rebuild Mayhew levee next year
- Published 12:00 am PST Wednesday, November 22, 2006
State and local agencies have approved a plan to rebuild the lowest levee along the American River.

The so-called Mayhew levee was originally built by a private developer to protect Sacramento's Butterfield and Riviera East neighborhoods near Rosemont. The 4,300-foot-long levee could overtop in peak flood flows.

The new design calls for rebuilding the levee with a 3-to-1 slope and raising it by 3 feet to meet federal standards. It was approved Friday by the California Reclamation Board, and Monday by the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency. The $7 million job is expected to be completed in 2007.

Some residents sought a narrower levee and partial floodwall to save three heritage oak trees. But the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would not approve that design, so the trees will come out.

Historic Riverfront Ranch

Very nice story about a beautiful Sacramento Riverfront Ranch protected.

Fields of green will stay that way as a ranch's protection is completed
By Christine Vovakes - Bee CorrespondentPublished 12:00 am PST Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Jim Saake acquires land, not for speculation, but for the future. And when the future of that land promises to look very much like its past, that vision pleases him immensely.

Saake is very pleased with the future of the recently obtained Llano Seco Ranch west of Chico.

"I like to think this is what the valley looked like before everyone leveled it out," Saake said as he took a visitor on a tour of the undulating swales, natural reservoirs and acres of riparian vegetation and oak woodland that surround Llano Seco's working ranch.

"It will stay that landscape forever," Saake said. "And that's a big deal."

Saake can make that statement because the last open section of the vast property -- 4,235 acres -- was put in a conservation easement earlier this year after he completed negotiations with the ranch owners as president of the board of directors of Chico-based Northern California Regional Land Trust.

The acquisition will keep developers from encroaching on one of the state's only remaining intact Mexican land grants. The principal landowner was former San Francisco Chronicle publisher Richard Thieriot.

"The essence of a conservation easement is that owners are giving over their development rights," Saake said. "The owner gets his economic benefit for what he's giving up, and we get his land as it is."

The easement was funded with $6.5 million from state coffers through the CALFED Ecosystem Restoration Program. The California Oak Foundation and Saake's organization applied for the grant; the land trust will hold the easement.

Most of the remaining 18,434 acres of the ranch are shielded from development through easements held by state and federal wildlife agencies and the nonprofit Nature Conservancy.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

National Parks Survey

This process of regularly surveying how the public feels about how its resources are being managed seems to be necessary yet far too few are being done.

Gauging nature's beauty
What do you think of our parks? Results from the National Park Service's comprehensive survey may help shape the visitor's experience
By Michael Doyle - Bee Washington Bureau Published 12:00 am PST Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Quick, think of Yosemite National Park.

Or maybe Sequoia, or Kings Canyon. Take your pick, and answer this question: What's the first thing that comes to mind? Social scientists may soon want to find out, in a sweeping survey potentially significant for the future of the parks.

"Kings Canyon?" park spokeswoman Alex Picavet said Monday. "It's the most beautiful wild place in California, in my opinion."

Yes, Picavet is biased. The National Park Service pays her salary.

She presumably won't be called by the researchers preparing the agency's new Comprehensive Survey of the American Public. But several thousand other Americans will be, as the National Park Service shows it's serious about what potential customers think of its parks.

Air Board Whoops!

Air board reviews engine registration
By Darrell Smith - Bee Staff Writer Published 12:00 am PST Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Facing complaints from dozens of small-business owners in California's construction industry, state officials are considering reopening a disputed registration program for portable, diesel-powered engines and equipment…

…Late last year, the board closed its equipment registration program, the portable equipment registration program known as PERP, leaving hundreds of small-business owners facing fines or with equipment they couldn't legally use in California…

…To improve the state's air quality standards, Air Resources Board staffers have proposed banning older engines built before 2004 from PERP registration.

But replacing those engines would be prohibitive, according to several officials representing the Construction Air Quality Coalition, which includes the four largest Southern California construction industry associations. The coalition proposed that older, so-called "Tier 0" engines remain eligible for use in California until 2009…

…Construction industry leaders have said that hundreds of diesel-power equipment operators were unaware of the state's earlier registration deadlines. By not extending the deadline to legally operate, the state could cripple the construction industry because it relies on so many of these equipment operators, they say.

Levee Repair Whoops!

Levee repair truck rolls into river
By Kim Minugh - Bee Staff Writer Published 12:00 am PST Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A truck involved in levee repair work slipped into the Sacramento River near Miller Park on Monday, tying up representatives from several agencies for more than five hours.

No one was injured in the incident, which began at 2 p.m., and no hazardous materials spilled into the water, said Battalion Chief Niko King of the Sacramento Fire Department.

The truck had been parked on the boat ramp with its trailer closest to the water. It was carrying trees that were being loaded on to a water barge to be later chained to levees for fish habitat, King said.

For unknown reasons, the truck rolled trailer-first into the water. In about 20 feet of water, the truck drifted about 100 feet before being stopped by a tugboat, Capt. Jim Doucette, department spokesman, said.

Officials recovered the truck at about 7 p.m.

Citrus Heights

The new city has done well and those that have followed are also, leading several other efforts that are at various stages, all of which results in less money to the county and restricted funding for its programs; which bring us to the Parkway and accepting the realization that the county can not effectively manage it financially, nor have they for the past several years.

The model of subsidiarity established by Citrus Heights (management as close to the managed entity as possible often works best) could also be followed with the Parkway by having a nonprofit manage it as has been done with another local entity, the Sacramento Zoo, and in New York with Central Park, both of which are working very well for their respective public resources.

Nearing 10th birthday, Citrus Heights takes stock
Officials proud of progress since the battle for cityhood.
By Lakiesha McGhee - Bee Staff Writer Published 12:00 am PST Tuesday, November 21, 2006

It's been nearly a decade since Citrus Heights ditched its status as a faceless suburb in unincorporated Sacramento County to become the region's newest city.

Resident Bill Van Duker recalls a 12-year battle that brought emotions from anger to despair to exhilaration.

"We wanted to control our own destiny and become our own city so we can not only govern ourselves but participate in regional boards and agencies on our behalf," he said.

The fight for independence from the county went as far as the U.S. Supreme Court. Eventually, Citrus Heights residents voted on the issue and the city incorporated Jan. 1, 1997.

As Citrus Heights prepares a yearlong celebration of its 10-year anniversary, city leaders are basking in their accomplishments and looking at the challenges ahead.

City officials say they have a strong financial base with a $54 million budget and $30 million in reserves. However, the city is built out, has little room for population growth and is competing with surrounding communities for retail dollars to protect its sales tax revenues.

Mayor Jeannie Bruins, who was part of the incorporation effort, said the city has taken monumental steps toward financial security and community identity.

It has severed most agreements with Sacramento County, including four major contracts since 2005 for waste management, law enforcement, street lighting and transportation maintenance.