Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Parkway Plan Moves Forward

Good to see that some of the ideas from Rancho Cordova have been incorporated, and now the plan moves on to the next round of public input.

City's parkway ideas make some headway
But Rancho Cordova bid for 'developed recreation' loses.
By Ed Fletcher - Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PST Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors gave the city of Rancho Cordova some of what it wanted Tuesday but rejected its request to change the designation of additional acreage along the American River Parkway from "limited recreation" to "developed recreation."

In adopting a 24-member citizen committee's updated plan for the 23-mile parkway, the supervisors heard hours of testimony, much of which criticized Rancho Cordova's proposals.

Officials from Rancho Cordova have been pushing a plan to utilize parkway land for a variety of more intensive uses. Those proposals included plans to build a bridge linking Ancil Hoffman and Hagan parks, building a sensory garden, expanding an organic farm, creating a river history interpretive center and expanding the Live Steamers small-scale railroad program. The railroad was the biggest area of disagreement.

The supervisors rejected the bridge proposal, approved a modified sensory garden request, gave their OK to the expanded organic farm and interpretive center, and voted to study moving the railroad away from the parkway without increasing its size.

Rancho Cordova had requested an additional 18 acres of "developed recreation" east of Hagan Park for the sensory garden and an expansion of the small-scale railroad. Rancho Cordova officials said the designation is needed to allow needed paving and shade structures.

The plan adopted would study moving the railroad further from the parkway (without it growing) and would allow the sensory garden to proceed so long as it could be done within the lighter use "limited recreation" designation.

In all, the supervisors voted 5-0 for the updated parkway plan, and on all the specific Rancho Cordova issues except for the Live Steamers vote. That was approved 4-1, with Don Nottoli opposing.

Auburn Dam Report

The report is available at this address

The increased cost is dwarfed by the costs of repairing the damage that could be done by a flood, as New Orleans keeps reminding us, and given the annual cost benefits it is clear that the new dam would pay for itself over time. Just using the report figures (on pages ES3 & ES4) it is clear that the dam would produce about $2.5 billion in benefits over every 10 year span, including hydropower, irrigation, municipal and industrial use, recreation, and flood control benefits.

The flood protection level is described on page TS6 of the report and with the Folsom Modifications comes in at 1 in 500 (500 year level protection).

The other thing to keep in mind is that the redesign, which will have to be done as this report was based on the existing 1978 design would probably meet or possibly even exceed the 500 year level as that is the standard other major river cities like Tacoma, Kansas City, St. Louis, & Dallas, have attained.

Auburn dam price tag soars
Study puts cost at twice earlier estimates, says it wouldn't protect capital in giant flood.
By Matt Weiser - Bee Staff Writer
Published 6:44 am PST Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A new study puts the cost of constructing an Auburn dam somewhere between $6 billion and $10 billion -- at least twice the cost of earlier estimates.

The report, released Tuesday by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, yielded other sobering revisions to previous assessments of building a concrete dam on the American River near Auburn: As originally designed, the dam would provide far less drinking and irrigation water than once believed and would cause more harm to adjacent recreation areas. The study also found the dam would not protect Sacramento from a worst-case flood.

The report was ordered in 2005 by Rep. John Doolittle, R-Roseville, who has led a decades-long campaign to build the Auburn dam.

Doolittle was undeterred by the new numbers Tuesday, arguing the dam is critical to flood control in the Sacramento region and that the costs could be recouped through water and power sales.

"Cost is only relevant when compared to something else," he said. "This dam will pay for itself through sale of hydropower and flood control benefits. This report doesn't detract from the compelling need for this dam."

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Public Employees & Health Care

Besides the obvious results for the public budget, this move also continues the growing parity between public and private employment that has good and bad consequences.

Daniel Weintraub: Sacramento County faces retiree health squeeze
By Daniel Weintraub -
Published 12:00 am PST Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Today the Board of Supervisors in Sacramento County is scheduled to confront an issue with which government agencies across California and the nation will soon be grappling: the long-term cost of health benefits for retired public employees.

Unlike most private employers, most public agencies in California subsidize the medical insurance of employees who retire before they turn 65 and become eligible for the federal Medicare program. But few of those agencies have set money aside to cover the cost of their retirees' insurance. As more employees retire and draw on that benefit, and as health care costs increase, the costs are growing.

For years these public agencies were able to ignore their looming liability. They simply paid the ever-increasing cost each year and figured they'd find a way to pay the bigger bill the following year as well.

But a recent change in government accounting rules requires public agencies to estimate the cost of these unfunded benefits stretching into the future. And once that cost is estimated, the agencies will face increasing pressure to set money aside to pay for the obligation -- or else do something to reduce it.

In Sacramento, county officials are recommending a combination of both remedies.

Bullet Train

Too bad, this is a project California not only needs, but would center the concept for the entire West Coast.

Bullet train plan may never leave station
By E.J. Schultz - Bee Capitol Bureau
Published 12:00 am PST Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The state's perpetually delayed high-speed rail project faces yet another funding setback. And this one could be fatal, dashing the dreams of bullet train enthusiasts, including many in California's Central Valley.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposes slashing funding for the High Speed Rail Authority from $14 million to $1.2 million, leaving the group with enough just to keep its doors open. The Legislature has yet to vote on the governor's spending plan.

"There's really no public purpose for me and my staff to be in office unless you want to move forward with the project," said Mehdi Morshed, the authority's executive director, who wants the governor and lawmakers to approve $103 million for the project next year. "If you don't want to move forward with the project, then close it down and save yourself some money."

With his focus on road building, the governor also wants the Legislature to indefinitely delay a $9.95 billion rail bond slated for the 2008 ballot. That would clear the way for $29 billion in bonds the governor wants to put on the ballot to pay for courthouses, schools and dams -- the second phase of his "strategic growth plan" that would spend billions of dollars on roads but nothing on high-speed rail.

"In our plan that we put together, it didn't fit in," Schwarzenegger said in an interview last week. "It doesn't mean that it is not going to fit in in the future."

The electric-powered railroad would be similar to the bullet trains prevalent in Europe and other parts of the world.

Trains traveling up to 220 mph would speed the length of the state, zooming through the Central Valley with stops in Bakersfield, Fresno, Merced, Modesto, Stockton and Sacramento. An express trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles would take less than 2 1/2 hours.

Construction costs are estimated to approach $40 billion. But Morshed said the longer the state waits, the more expensive it will get.

Lion in the Parkway

Somehow, the rarity of attacks historically isn’t that reassuring. Lions are scary creatures anywhere outside a zoo or a mile away through binoculars.

Cougar alert along parkway
Officials believe three reports near the American River involve just one mountain lion.
By M.S. Enkoji - Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PST Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Sacramento County park rangers on Monday reported three sightings of a mountain lion along the American River Parkway since last week.

Beginning on Thursday, a mountain lion was spotted on three different days in areas along the central part of the parkway, said John Havicon, a supervising park ranger with Sacramento County Department of Regional Parks.

Visitors who saw the large cat were in William B. Pond and Hoffman parks and the Harrington access area. None said the animal was aggressive, Havicon said.

"We're tracking whatever we can," said Havicon, who believes the sightings are the same animal.

He said sightings of mountain lions -- also known as cougars -- increase after any high-profile attack, such as one last week on the north coast.

A 70-year-old Fortuna man survived a mountain lion attack Wednesday in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, which sprawls through Del Norte and Humboldt counties. He was transferred Sunday from Arcata to a San Francisco hospital, where he is fighting infection and faces more surgery.

Homeless Count

Volunteers conduct early-morning count of area homeless
By Jocelyn Wiener - Bee Staff Writer
Published 8:14 am PST Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Volunteers fanned out across Sacramento County early Tuesday morning to count the number of homeless people sleeping in the region's riverbanks, sidewalks and storefronts.

More than 155 volunteers from various social service agencies arrived at the Department of Human Assistance office on North A Street around 4 a.m. Tuesday.

Bundled in parkas and ski caps to ward off the chill, they formed groups of four and headed off with law enforcement escorts to begin the count. Because of statistical calculations that need to be completed, final numbers probably will not be known for a month.

The county conducts a "point in time" count of unsheltered homeless people every other year. The count is required as a condition of receiving funding from the federal department of Housing and Urban Development. The count also is designed to help the county better understand and respond to the needs of homeless residents.

Parkway Plan

The input and ideas coming from the public about the work the citizens committee did is exactly why the process is moving to the various local governing boards and councils so that their concerns can be addressed and in some cases added to the plan.

Rancho Cordova’s ideas for instance, appear to be good uses for the Parkway, and those of the off-leash dog owners certainly need a larger hearing.

Parkway plan not cheered by all
By Ed Fletcher - Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PST Tuesday, January 30, 2007

From trail signs to tree trimming to water flow, the citizens committee updating the plan governing the American River Parkway came to consensus on more than 200 issues.

But as its work moves to center stage today, the focus will be on areas of contention.

A set of proposals expanding recreational uses within the parkway, offered by Rancho Cordova officials, received a mixed reaction from the committee. The panel incorporated some ideas, scaled back another, and put the kibosh on two more.

The committee looked at whether to allow dogs off-leash and bikes off-road, giving a thumbs up on the off-road bike idea and turning thumbs down on the dogs proposal.

At the Sacramento County administration building today, the Board of Supervisors will review the updated plan in an 11 a.m. hearing.

Frank Cirill, president emeritus of the Save the American River Association, said some of Rancho Cordova's ideas don't fit the parkway.

"Basically, they are trying to inject urban uses into a naturalistic open space parkway," said Cirill, a member of the update committee.

He said it wouldn't be "logical" for the supervisors to buck the recommendations of the 24-member committee, which spent more than two years discussing and debating the issues.

The plan, governing the 23-mile "regional jewel," is undergoing its first update since 1985. The largely undeveloped regional park follows the American River from Discovery Park to the Nimbus Fish Hatchery.

Over the summer, city and parks officials from Rancho Cordova presented a plan to expand the Live Steamers small-scale railroad, create a sensory garden, build a bike and foot bridge connecting Hagan and Ancil Hoffman parks, expand an organic farm and create a river history interpretive center.

The committee rejected railroad expansion and bridge proposals, and wants to limit the size of the proposed interpretive center/organic farm to no larger than 10 acres.

Rancho Cordova officials have argued that, with 25 percent of the parkway touching their city's boundaries, they deserve a bigger say in the parkway's use.

Strange Argument

This organization’s argument against building the two new dams the governor calls for is that the dams will just increase the amount of water lost to evaporation already from existing dams.

Stop the Dams
These Dam Ideas Make No Sense

Gov. Schwarzenegger proposed the building of not one but two new dams: the Sites dam to take water out of the Sacramento River and the Temperance Flat to further drain the San Joaquin. These dams make no sense. The state hasn't even finished the studies that it started on these proposals. And the dams aren't necessary anyway. Most California scientists agree that existing dams can collect any extra runoff created by global warming. More important these dams would produce less reliable amounts of water at a much greater cost than any other option, from conservation to recycling -- even cloud seeding!

Talk about making no sense. The amount of water reliably produced by Sites and Temperance Flat -- 500,000 acre feet -- is virtually identical to the amount of water that evaporates each year from California’s existing major reservoirs. Construction of these new reservoirs will simply increase that loss.

Powerful Flood Protection Visual

A graph at the link on the title shows, that of the major river cities, Sacramento is lowest in flood protection at 85 years, New Orleans is at 250 years, and Tacoma, St. Louis, Dallas and Kansans City are at 500 years.

Dams Cost Too Much?

When the cost of not having more dams available to protect from flooding and provide water during drought for the increase in population and property that continues to flow to California is factored in, then the cost of building them becomes not only reasonable, but a good deal.

Posted on Sun, Jan. 28, 2007
Dams a public works sticking point
Perata, other Democrats oppose governor's plan for new reservoirs, cite Los Vaqueros as example
By Steve Geissinger

SACRAMENTO - A reservoir near Livermore has become Democrats' symbol of opposition to Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed dams and the political wrestling to come in the next round of public works projects.

Senate leader Don Perata of Oakland and other Democrats are pointing to the Los Vaqueros Reservoir as a prime example of why they oppose two new inland dams -- a centerpiece of Schwarzenegger's request for additional batches of voter-approved bonds.

"We do not believe new dams, at this point, are needed," Perata said at a news conference. "They cost billions of dollars and they take years, in fact decades, to build."

Perata specifically cited Los Vaqueros, about midway between Livermore and Brentwood, as an example of the common, snaillike progress toward creation of a reservoir, when there is a wide array of other measures to supply more water for the Bay Area and California.

"Just look at Los Vaqueros. It was approved by voters in 1988. It was supposed to be a $450 million dam. It was finally completed in the 2000s. And it cost at least three times the $450 million. Why? Any time you build a new dam, the one thing you can count on is a lawsuit," Perata said.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Another Opinion

Minority view
By Walter E. Williams

Fearmongering political commentator Henry Louis Mencken (1880-1956) warned that "The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed -- and hence clamorous to be led to safety -- by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary." The Weather Channel has taken up that task with its series "It Could Happen Tomorrow."...

...The environmental extremists' true agenda has little or nothing to do with climate change. Their true agenda is to find a means to control our lives. The kind of repressive human control, not to mention government-sanctioned mass murder, seen under communism has lost any measure of intellectual respectability. So people who want that kind of control must come up with a new name, and that new name is environmentalism.

Last year, 60 prominent scientists signed a letter saying, "Observational evidence does not support today's computer climate models, so there is little reason to trust model predictions of the future. . . . Significant [scientific] advances have been made since the [Kyoto] protocol was created, many of which are taking us away from a concern about increasing greenhouse gases. If, back in the mid-1990s, we knew what we know today about climate, Kyoto would almost certainly not exist, because we would have concluded it was not necessary."

They added, "It was only 30 years ago that many of today's global-warming alarmists were telling us that the world was in the midst of a global-cooling catastrophe. But the science continued to evolve, and still does, even though so many choose to ignore it when it does not fit with predetermined political agendas." These scientists have probably won The Weather Channel's ire and might be headed toward a Nuremberg-type trial.

Built Arena with Own Money

And now is asking for help renovating it (for a winning team), a scenario (both of them) many would like to see replicated here.

Pollin Asks D.C. to Pay for Verizon Center Renovations
By Nikita Stewart and Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, January 27, 2007

The owner of the Washington Wizards has asked the District for $50 million to renovate Verizon Center, and city officials are discussing whether to honor the request and pay for it with a tax increase on tickets, officials said yesterday.

Wizards owner Abe Pollin, who built the $220 million sports arena with his own money in Chinatown nearly a decade ago, wants the extra money to upgrade all or some of its 110 luxury suites and replace its outdated scoreboard, District officials said.

Those and other improvements would be designed to attract special events, such as championship basketball and hockey games.

Pollin's company argues that the city should give the arena a financial boost as a reward for its role as a catalyst of the downtown renaissance, city officials said. The 20,674-seat Verizon Center has served as the anchor of the Chinatown area's revival, a transformation into a bustling hub for restaurants and night life.

Even without arena improvements, Billboard magazine ranked Verizon Center ninth worldwide in 2005 among all venues, according to information on the arena's Web site. Verizon Center has drawn 2.5 million fans to more than 220 events, including Wizards, Capitals and Mystics games, yearly.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) hasn't taken a stand on Pollin's request. The city went through a prolonged and bitter debate over spending at least $611 million of public funds for a new baseball stadium for the Washington Nationals in Southeast, a project that Fenty opposed.

The request for funding came as the Wizards were in first place in the NBA's Eastern Conference, and star guard Gilbert Arenas was voted Thursday onto the all-star team as a starter. The Washington franchise has not been in first place this late in a season since 1978-79, when the team, then called the Bullets, won the Atlantic Division by seven games over Philadelphia.

Medical Growth Model

With all the medical related activity in our downtown and close in areas, maybe this is a model worth examining for Sacramento.

Gordon proposes medical district
Downtown would serve as hub for biosciences
Ginger D. Richardson and Jodie Snyder
The Arizona Republic
Jan. 29, 2007 12:00 AM

Phoenix hopes to add another layer to its downtown-revitalization effort in the form of a mile-long biomedical district that would allow multiple hospitals, specialty clinics and research institutions to expand or locate in the city's core.

The idea, the brainchild of Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, could have a significant and lasting impact on the regional and state economy.

An expanded biomedical district would offer the opportunity for critical mass, which could help in recruiting companies and research groups to downtown.

In addition, it represents a much-needed compromise that could soothe tensions between rival hospital systems. Two of the Valley's biggest names in health care are involved in a fight over which one will be in downtown Phoenix and affiliated with the University of Arizona's new College of Medicine in Phoenix.

But the proposal faces significant challenges, too.

First, it's long on vision but short on details for implementation. There are no cost estimates or financing. And there are indications that Maricopa Integrated Health Systems, which operates Maricopa Medical Center, one of the two hospital groups vying for the UA College of Medicine partnership, is leery about it.

"We have always said we needed to be within walking distance of the (UA) school," Gibson McKay, Maricopa Integrated's spokesman, said. "Now, they are asking us to be mile away. We don't know how that serves our patients."

The district would stretch from Seventh Avenue to Seventh Street from Fillmore Street to Van Buren Street.

While Maricopa Integrated may not be on board, the proposal has the backing of Gov. Janet Napolitano, Arizona State University and the University of Arizona.

"This is a vision that I really want to drive," Gordon said. He said he would ask the City Council in the coming weeks to develop a plan to make the idea a reality.

From Flood to Drought

It’s dry out there and water storage becomes the mantra rather than flood control but the answer is the same, we need more of it.

Dry weather on track to break January record
Rain gauge shows .88 inches of rain this month in Auburn
By: Penne Usher, Journal Staff Writer
Sunday, January 28, 2007 9:53 PM PST

If the weather pattern continues through Wednesday in the Auburn area, January could go into the records books as the driest in more than a century.

Jared Leighton, forecaster for the National Weather Service's Sacramento office, said Sunday that the record, set in the 1888/1889 season could be broken this year.

"Back then we had a total of .15 inches in the Sacramento area," Leighton said. "This year, to date, we've had .07 inches in the area."

The unofficial rain totals, based on a roof-mounted rain gauge at the Journal, indicate that in January 2006 a total of 4.26 inches of rain fell. For the same time period in 2007, the area has received about .88 inches.

"This is one of the driest seasons on record," Leighton said. "Unless we get some rain before the end of the month it will mean we are setting a really old record."

Mountain Lions

Advice for the next time you run into a lion on the Parkway.

Editorial: Take that!
The lady bests the lion
Published 12:00 am PST Monday, January 29, 2007

Animal guidebooks clinically describe how mountain lions attack. The cats prefer to ambush their prey, typically approaching unseen, often from behind. They usually kill with a powerful bite to the back of the neck that severs the spinal cord.

And we've all seen the park signs telling us what to do if we see a mountain lion -- try to appear larger, wave your arms, make noise, throw branches or rocks. If attacked, fight back. Do not play dead.

That sounds so simple and easy.

But 65-year-old Nell Hamm has shown us all that it takes some serious resourcefulness, persistence and courage to face down a mountain lion.

Hiking with her husband at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in Humboldt County, 50 miles north of Eureka, Hamm turned around to see her 70-year-old husband pinned, face down, with his head in the jaws of a mountain lion. Hamm grabbed a 4-inch-wide branch and beat the cat, but it wouldn't let go. She grabbed a pen from her husband's pocket and jabbed the cat in the eye. That didn't work, either. Finally, she slammed the branch into the cat's snout, which caused the cat to retreat.

Hamm didn't want to leave her injured husband alone, so she helped him walk a quarter-mile down the trail to the road. They came upon an inmate work crew with the California Department of Forestry, and the four men went for help. An ambulance arrived, and Jim Hamm was saved.

Sunday, January 28, 2007


Openness is such a powerful protector of the public good that it is difficult, in that context, to understand why public administrators, generally deeply ion the side of public good, resist it. The human element however, explains that reluctance, for in deliberation upon public policy there is often approached those boundaries that should not be contemplated but are because of a value free approach saying all should be on the table.

Or the reverse, when what should be on the table is not due to public convention which has been shaped by special interest arguments, yet enters into the deliberations anyway.

In both cases, it is common for the official to not want whomever to know that what he or she has discussed can upset a certain segment of their supporters.

But, the public’s right to know has to trump this, and we can sort out the special interest control of policy later.

Why citizen 'voyeurs' must be protected
By Peter Scheer - Special To The Bee
Published 12:00 am PST Sunday, January 28, 2007

One of California's more remarkable political inventions is the requirement that lawmakers do their lawmaking in the open for all to see. Call it the people's entitlement to democratic voyeurism: Members of city councils, county supervisors and school boards, among other local legislative bodies, must not only vote in public, they must confine virtually all debate, horse-trading and other deliberations to a public proceeding where voters get to watch.

The voyeurism entitlement is guaranteed by the Brown Act, California's open-meeting law. Although taken for granted by voters, this entitlement is a considerable -- no, a radical -- departure from traditional notions of American governance. After all, the Constitutional Convention, the mother of all American legislative proceedings held in Philadelphia in 1787, was conducted in secret. The public learned only as much about the founding fathers' deliberations as the founding fathers wanted the public to know.

Consider also the U.S. Congress, where the public aspects of contemporary legislating consist, for the most part, of speeches to empty chambers, scripted "debates" to create phony legislative history and votes that reflect deals previously struck behind closed doors. Despite its reputation for high-minded debate on great issues of the day, the modern Congress is more about secret earmarks and mutual back-scratching than it is about deliberations on matters of public interest.

California's insistence on open decision-making is so contrary to politicians' normal instincts that many local officials can't quite believe the requirement applies to them. Last month the California First Amendment Coalition sued the chair of San Bernardino County's board of supervisors, Bill Postmus, to force him to release copies of e-mails between him and other supervisors, as well as his calendar of official meetings and appointments.

Big Development

It often doesn’t matter if the developer on a major development is hometown or not, what usually matters is the company big enough to handle the common setbacks that occur in big developments; though often the love of the area is crucial in seeing a development through, in spite of those often occurring setbacks.

Just now we have two, one local developer’s towers project seemingly going south, shuttered up with piles driven into the ground like the aftermath of the twin towers bombing; and a huge mess in the hands of an Atlanta developer obviously possessing the wherewithal to complete it.

We’ll watch and see.

Railyard developer makes the big play
Former fullback Thomas runs projects in 8 states.
By Mary Lynne Vellinga - Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PST Sunday, January 28, 2007

Stanley E. Thomas, the Atlanta developer who proposes to double the size of Sacramento's downtown, tends to make a big impression on people.

"When he walks into a room, there's some presence. You know he's there," said Sacramento's assistant city manager, John Dangberg.

The former University of South Carolina fullback makes big plans, too. He's juggling projects in eight states, including the development of a 26-square-mile ranch in Florida and an 800-acre mixed-use shopping, hotel and housing project on a former rock quarry in San Antonio.

Thomas, 52, sells embryos from the prized breeding cattle on his ranches and gives thousands of dollars to Republican candidates, including President Bush.

In December, Thomas did what many doubted he could pull off: He bought Union Pacific's 240-acre, abandoned downtown railyard where he plans to develop 10,000 housing units, and shops, offices and hotels.

It took nearly five years to complete the complicated purchase of the Superfund clean-up site from UP, a company known for focusing on trains, not real estate sales.

"It's because of his vision and his determination that we got to the finish line with Union Pacific," said Suheil Totah, the Sacramento lawyer hired by Thomas to run the railyard project. "If it weren't for Stan Thomas, this property would still be owned by the railroad."

Aside from a handful of high-level city staff members and elected leaders, few people in Sacramento have met the developer. He remains an unknown quantity, even though his firm is the official shepherd of one of the largest urban redevelopment sites in the nation and a major focus of the city's civic hopes for the future.

So far, Thomas has not talked to The Bee despite numerous attempts to contact him.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

100 Year Protection in the Pocket

Touting 100 year protection, when most major cities have a 500 year level, is exactly why Sacramento is rated as having the worst flood protection in the country of any major city; low expectations from leadership failing to act on the most urgent public safety issue Sacramento faces.

Levees safer after repairs
Pocket area residents could see big flood insurance savings.
By Matt Weiser - Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PST Saturday, January 27, 2007

Sacramento's Pocket, Greenhaven and Meadowview neighborhoods could soon save a bundle on flood insurance now that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to certify that the area's levees meet a 100-year safety standard.

The announcement affects about 35,000 homes. It follows a long year of noisy levee repairs in the area, where local, state and federal officials have spent more than $60 million repairing erosion damage and building new slurry walls to stop seepage from the Sacramento River.

Pocket levee repairs consumed 250,000 tons of rock. And some of the new slurry walls -- a barrier within the levee made of bentonite and clay -- reach 110 feet down, making them some of the deepest ever built.

The results mean the Pocket and adjoining neighborhoods are now considered safe from a flood with a 1 percent chance of occurring in any given year. That is considered minimal for an urban area. But it is additional safety the Pocket hasn't enjoyed before.

"We are not out of trouble yet, but we are much more protected today because of the completion of this work," said Col. Ronald Light, chief of the Sacramento division of the Army Corps. "It doesn't eliminate the need for insurance. It just reduces the cost."

He recommended homeowners keep flood insurance, even after it becomes optional.

Clean Energy & Business

Once it hits the market, it takes off…

Clean Energy
Green for Clean
By Mary Beth Barber

Joe Lichy, a microprocessor designer who moved from computers to solar cells, laughs off the origins of his company as a classic cliché. The original design for a silicon-efficient solar cell was drawn on a napkin in a San Jose pizza parlor, the first prototype built in his garage. While he worked with microprocessors by day, evenings and weekends were spent tinkering with solar cells.

The computer chips he designed used the concept of cooperation — multiple chips working together — and his innovation has resulted in big bucks for his former employers. Lichy applied the same design concepts to solar cells, built a prototype and placed it on the roof of his garage. One of his initial prototypes was successful enough that Lichy started thinking about his own solar-cell company based on the patented design. NuEdison, the company he started, is rapidly moving from concept to reality, in part due to a new Sacramento competition.

A local initiative called CleanStart offers fledgling entrepreneurs a chance each year to make an elevator pitch about their “green” business and compete to win prize money for their business plans. This fall marked the debut of the annual PowerUP! competition from CleanStart, with Lichy and his company NuEdison taking the $25,000 first prize.

The New New Thing

“We wanted to bring clean-energy entrepreneurs out of the woodwork, and we wanted to draw sponsors to this effort,” says J.D. Stack, program manager for Economic Development and Commercial Services for SMUD and a judge of the CleanStart PowerUP! competition. “You know the saying, ‘It takes a village to raise a child,’” says Stack. “Well, it takes a network to grow a company.”

This network is an initiative of the McClellan Technology Incubator and the Sacramento Area Regional Technology Alliance, and the contest is designed to encourage the region’s company executives to improve their business plans, sharpen their presentations and seek assistance and guidance from mentors, advisers, workshops and other resources provided by the program. PowerUP!’s location requirement allowed entries from Reno to the Bay Area and everywhere in between, with the caveat that the winner would need to be located in the Sacramento region in the near future. A grand prize of $25,000 for first, $15,000 for second, and $10,000 for third doesn’t hurt.

For the competitors, there is more to this competition than just the chance to get some walking-around money and bragging rights. There’s also the chance to share war stories with other members of this early-stage fraternity.

Big CarbonCap

The politics and economics of global warming is getting warmed up back in the hottest political climate in the world.

If the Cap Fits
Why our CEOs are warming to Kyoto.

Friday, January 26, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST

(Editor's note: We reintroduce today the Potomac Watch column from Washington. It will appear on Fridays and be written by Kimberley Strassel, a member of The Wall Street Journal's editorial board. She joined the Journal in 1994 and has worked as a reporter in Europe and as an editor and editorial writer in New York.)

Washington this week officially welcomed the newest industry on the hunt for financial and regulatory favors. Big CarbonCap may have the same dollar-sign agenda as Big Oil or Big Pharma, but don't expect Nancy Pelosi to admit to it.

Democrats want to flog the global warming theme through 2008 and they'll take what help they can get, even if it means cozying up to executives whose goal is to enrich their firms. Right now, the corporate giants calling for a mandatory carbon cap serve too useful a political purpose for anyone to delve into their baser motives.

The Climate Action Partnership, a group of 10 major companies that made headlines this week with its call for a national limit on carbon dioxide emissions, would surely feign shock at such an accusation. After all, their plea was carefully timed to coincide with President Bush's State of the Union capitulation on global warming, and it had the desired PR effect. The media dutifully declared that "even" business now recognized the climate threat. Sen. Barbara Boxer, who begins marathon hearings on warming next week, lauded the corporate angels for thinking of the "common good."

Friday, January 26, 2007

Dam Dubiousness

The dubiousness comes from the way the respective sides view nature and man’s place in it, something we addressed in our 2006 report on water on our website,

Democrats dubious on pair of dams
They see cheaper, easier plans for flood protection.
By Judy Lin - Bee Capitol Bureau
Published 12:00 am PST Friday, January 26, 2007

Senate Democrats on Thursday cast doubt on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's plan to build a pair of dams, saying they have a cheaper and easier way to maintain the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

"We want more water supply and we want better flood protection as cheaply and as quickly as possible," Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, said during a Capitol news conference to unveil his party's flood-protection plan.

He added: "We don't believe new dams at this point are needed. They cost billions of dollars and they take years, in fact decades, to build."

The Schwarzenegger administration has proposed building two dams, most likely in Temperance Flat just above Friant Dam near Fresno, on the San Joaquin River, and on Sites reservoir in Colusa and Glenn counties. The waterways are part of the Delta, which provides water to 23 million Californians and quenches the Central Valley's thirsty farmlands.

In proposing four water-protection bills, Democrats say they favor a mix of conservation, groundwater storage and better floodplain management to provide twice the amount of water that the dams could provide. Senators estimated the state can secure over 1 million additional acre-feet of water from new groundwater storage for about $1.5 billion -- one-fourth the projected cost of two new dams.

The Republican governor's $4.5 billion water-storage plan is estimated to add 500,000 acre-feet of water. An acre-foot is 326,000 gallons, roughly a year's supply for two households.

The Birds

Our area’s continued excellent access to the birds of the world grows.

Rare sightings bring out birders
By M.S. Enkoji - Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PST Friday, January 26, 2007

David Yee is on the hunt, armed with a high-powered scope, binoculars and an irrepressible enthusiasm that has netted him hundreds of birds.

He's a bird-watcher -- a "birder" -- and on the tree-studded stretches of his horse ranch near Galt, he's spotted a type of blackbird that is causing a stir.

"It doesn't quite have the charisma of a snowy owl," he said, planting the tripod of his scope overlooking a pond swarming with blackbirds and ducks.

It's high season for rare sightings of birds that seldom touch down in the state.

About the same time Yee spotted the common grackle perched on a fence at his ranch -- on the opposite side of the Rockies from its natural habitat -- a duck native to Siberia touched down in a Tuolumne County pond. And a snowy owl perched near Suisun Bay, luring birders by the boatload.

Whether there are more non-native birds visiting California than before is impossible to tell because there are definitely more people on the lookout who are finding them, said Tim Fitzer, vice president of the Sacramento chapter of the Audubon Society.

He believes the number of bird-watchers has grown 30-fold in the past 20 years.

Elk Grove Growth

Depending on how this works out, and on how well Elk Grove cares for the Cosumnes River it appears to be eyeing, this good be a very good thing as the city of Elk Grove appears to be in a much better financial situation to care for precious natural resources in its boundaries than the county; given its stewardship of the American River Parkway.

Elk Grove eyes big move south
City officials say it's just good planning, but Galt is concerned.
By Loretta Kalb - Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PST Friday, January 26, 2007

The city of Elk Grove, known for record population growth, has launched a plan to grow even larger by absorbing thousands of acres outside its southern boundaries.

In a move likely to heighten tensions with Galt and environmentalists, the Elk Grove City Council late Wednesday night, in a 5-0 vote, gave the green light to city staff members to begin groundwork for a master plan that could dictate the destiny of land as far south as the Cosumnes River.

It also could upend Sacramento County's longtime ban on providing urban services south of Kammerer Road.

The precise size of the annexation, or whether it occurs at all, will be dependent on many factors, including the public planning process and Sacramento Local Agency Formation Commission approval. But expectations are high that as the process unfolds over the next decade, at least some, if not all, of the land under review will become part of Elk Grove, which now is 42 square miles.

Elk Grove council members Wednesday night were enthusiastic about the recreational opportunities that the Cosumnes River might offer the city. The river is one to two miles from the city's current southeastern border at Grant Line Road.

"There's a possibility of creating a jewel amenity that is unlike anything else in the region," Councilman Pat Hume said Thursday, noting that the area could include an interpretative center, recreation, nature preserve and open space.

Eco Power

That’s about as much power as the Auburn Dam would produce, at much less the cost, of course the dam would also have other benefits…

Posted on Thu, Jan. 25, 2007

Eco-friendly power plant work begins
In 2009, PG&E slated to open Antioch facility to generate 530 megawatts
By Janis Mara

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. broke ground Wednesday on a more environmentally friendly natural-gas-fired plant in Antioch that will generate enough electricity to power 400,000 homes in Northern and Central California.

San Francisco-based PG&E is starting work anew on the partially completed plant, which it acquired from independent power producer Mirant Corp. after Mirant went bankrupt.

PG&E will spend about $370 million to finish the 530-megawatt Gateway Generating Station, expected to open in 2009.

The project should be a short-term job boon, employing 400 workers at peak construction time. When it opens, the plant will have 23 to 25 employees.

Gateway will use "dry cooling" technology, which uses 97 percent less water and produces 96 percent less discharge than conventional water cooling systems, PG&E said. Also, it will use fuel-saving combined cycle technology.

"At the moment, combined cycle is the industry standard. What you get is pretty clean" energy, said Frank Wolak, a Stanford University professor and visiting scholar at the University of California Energy Institute.

"A combined cycle unit uses the waste heat generated by one turbine to help power another turbine," so less energy is wasted, Wolak said. The technology uses 35 percent less natural gas, and hence about one-third less carbon dioxide for every megawatt hour of energy produced, according to Paul Moreno, a PG&E spokesman.
One megawatt of energy equals roughly enough electricity to power 750 average California homes under normal conditions.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Retiring Interview

What troubling about the issue mentioned as of most concern, “But the one that worries me the most is the American River Parkway Plan. We never did get the report before us when I was still on the board…”, is that the 1985 Parkway Plan mandated 5 year review and updating, which the county ignored, not updating until 2003.

The lack of regular five year updating saw the problems mentioned grow and increase in intensity, problems which should have been dealt with years ago had the five year mandate been followed.

Exit outlook
SN&R chats with Illa Collin about lessons learned from her long tenure as a county supervisor

By Amy Yannello

During her 28-year reign on the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors, Illa Collin was a major force in getting light rail established, the American River Parkway protected and flood protection taken seriously. As she leaves office, she sits down with SN&R to discuss some of the high and low points in her career and how the county is situated to deal with growth in 2007 and beyond.

Over the years, how has the relationship been between the city and county of Sacramento?

I think mostly the relationships have been very good because they’re based on individuals knowing each other. And for so many years, the city and county have partnered on so many things and a lot could be accomplished. It’s much more complicated now with the addition of each new city. What happens is that not only do they now drain county resources, but they become their own institutional entity. And that means they can argue with us. Elk Grove has been a poster child of how to argue with almost everybody. And it just complicates things.

It seems that, post-Proposition 13, there's a mentality that local government can only pay for itself with more development. Is there a way out?

There obviously needs to be a real effort on the part of the state to address this real conundrum that Proposition 13 brought about. Prior to that, property taxes were the rock-bottom strength of all communities. I only think this will change when voters start educating themselves and demanding real answers from elected officials who have a backbone who will tell them just how bad things are.

Best part of the job?

The people you work with.

Worst aspect?

Labor negotiations! They’re painful because there’s still a lot of game playing that goes on. I’ve seen instances where there’s an offer on the table and the bargaining team knows about it, but the employees don’t know about it--and the labor negotiators let them remain in the dark just long enough to get them down to protest and then they vote to accept the package that was on the table before they protested. Then they tell the employees that it was their protests that did it. The whole last negotiating session was a good example of that. I don’t know if it’s legal or not, but it happens.

What concerns you most as you leave office? What work would you liked to have finished?

Whenever you leave public office there’s so much left to do. But the one that worries me the most is the American River Parkway Plan. We never did get the report before us when I was still on the board. We must stop the urbanization of the parkway--and by that I mean the monster houses you see, many approved on 3-2 votes.

Sacramento City Manager

A real good profile of the guy we are looking to for the needed shift in downtown planning.

Cover Story
A man and his city
City Manager Ray Kerridge sees Sacramento’s skyline as a canvas on which to splash interesting new architectural forms in creating its own distinct topography
By Chrisanne Beckner

Sacramento’s affable new city manager, Ray Kerridge, was “having a pint” at the Fox & Goose Pub one Friday when a city contractor walked in with his girlfriend.

Kerridge never had met the woman before, so he started chatting her up. He didn’t realize at the time that he was looking the city’s future in the eye.

“She was about 25, 26--you know, tattoos,” Kerridge told SN&R with a slight English accent. She was an independent Web-page designer who worked out of her home office and made her own hours.

“OK,” he said, curious. “So, what’s your day like?”

“Well, I get up about 11 a.m., you know, and I start work about noon. And then I’ll carry on ’til maybe 10 at night, maybe even later. Then I’ll go out. And then I get back in about three or four in the morning,” she told him.

“Wow,” said Kerridge. “Are there many like you?”

The woman must have looked at him oddly. “We all do it,” she said.

Sacramento's new frontier

Sure, the future has tattoos--everybody knows that. But the encounter helped Kerridge illustrate another point: The future was going to keep Sacramento awake 24 hours a day.

“There’s a generation out there that I realize I know absolutely nothing about,” Kerridge told SN&R. “A lifestyle I know nothing about. ... My idea of a city, you know, that’s not really important. ... What’s the vision of these young people? And how do we get them involved in this whole planning process?”

This is classic Kerridge. Only an optimist would want to infuse the traditionally dry city-planning process with a bunch of 25-year-old designers. Last spring, the city even invited college and high-school students to contribute their ideas to the ongoing General Plan update. After all, the future of Sacramento belongs to them.

Sacramento Flooding Article

Though we are more worried about droughts than flooding at this moment, it is good to remember, and there is an excellent article, "The Coming Deluge", in the February issue of Sacramento Magazine (pp. 138-149) which spends some very well-spent ink on the Auburn Dam. Unfortunately there is no link to the article, but here is the section on the dam and 500-year level flood protection :

“Flood control has been a passionate issue for U.S. Rep. John Doolittle from California’s fourth congressional district; his obstinate push for a flood control dam at Auburn pitted him against his colleague, Rep. Robert Matsui, for much of his political career. Critics said the dam would destroy the land and disrupt recreational sue of the area.

“Doolittle believes area residents and politicians alike are in a state of denial when it comes to our flood risk. “City councils have been swept out of office because of floods,” Doolittle says, adding that “the evasiveness [you’re seeing] about evacuation plans and the flood protection we have versus the flood protection we need is…a result of posturing politicians. People want to talk about it enough to say they tried to get funding, but we don’t want to talk about it [to the extent that] it may scare [away] business [investment].” What we need, says Doolittle, is to “control the rivers.” What we need, he says, is 500-year flood protection.

“Sacramento faces up to a 5---year flood event,” he notes. “Why are we putting all our eggs in a basket of 200-year flood protection? You hear all this talk of improvement of the levees to provide 200-year flood protection. Why?”

“Doolittle likens 200-year flood protection to equipping automobiles with seat belts that protect passengers at speeds up to 30 miles per hour “when most cars travel at speeds of 40, 50, 60 miles per hour,” he says. It’s why talk of an Auburn Dam, which could provide 500-year flood protection, has resurfaced.

“It’s stunning to me that the state of California and the city of Sacramento…aren’t riveted on achieving that level of flood protection, “ Doolittle says. “The idea that we can’t afford 500-year flood protection is gross incompetence. We can’t afford not to have it.” He argues, adding that damage estimates in the event of a flood totaled $40 billion—and that figure was tabulated 10 years ago. Given the growth in property values and population that have taken place since 1996, “imagine what that number would be today,” says Doolittle.

“Indeed, according to estimates by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and California’s Department of Water Resources, Sacramento could not handle 500-year flood levels at the I Street Bridge in Old Sacramento. Water would rise to above 38 feet—and over the bridge. Maximum flows from a 500-year flood event along Fair Oaks Boulevard, which runs somewhat parallel to the American River though several Sacramento suburbs and into town, could reach 530,000 cubic feet per second (compared to the 134,000 cubic feet per second of 1986) and top54 feet at the Watt Avenue bridge (which reached 47 feet in 1986 and 45 feet in 1997). According to maps available from the Department of Water Resources and SAFCA, several evacuation routes would be underwater in a matter of hours. If two or three levees failed at once—one in Natomas, one in Goethe Park and one downtown—it’s conceivable that, for whole communities, there would be no way in and no way out.” (pp. 142-146)

Drought? Part One

Editorial: Uttering the 'D' word?
Dry January brings on worries of drought
Published 12:00 am PST Thursday, January 25, 2007

In California, the rainy season is over whenever Mother Nature says it is over. Sometimes that is May. Sometimes that is, for all practical purposes, December. Who knows what coming weeks will bring? for the moment the weather is bone dry, although there's a chance of rain at the end of the week. State Department of Water Resources chief Lester Snow says he plans to convene some drought planning meetings, just in case the wet storms in the Pacific continue to miss the state.

It has been many years since the state suffered a major drought. The real test may not be this year but next, if both were to prove dry.

California has a remarkably interconnected system that allows water to move among hundreds of water districts, thanks to dams and canals and the nation's two largest pumping plants (both in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta). But pain in a drought isn't spread evenly. Shortages are already appearing in some of the weakest links in the system.

In Tuolumne County, for example, the Lyons water supply reservoir is at its lowest in 15 years. To keep water flowing to customers, the local water district is relying on Pacific Gas and Electric to spill water from Pinecrest, a reservoir higher in the Sierra. This is a drought scenario. And it's only January.

Farmers throughout the Central Valley are nervously wondering how much water they will get from those Delta pumps that feed the big state and federal water projects. The state is now estimating to deliver half of full supplies. If the lack of rain continues, it is conceivable that this estimate could shrink.

Drought ? Part Two

Though it is too early to determine if we will have a drought year, the dryness of this month is troublesome, but many past years have seen record rainfalls in late winter.

If we do have a drought, the need for additional water storage will be reinforced.

Capital heads for a record low rainfall
By Edie Lau - Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PST Thursday, January 25, 2007

One look at Brad Gay's brown potted plumeria tells the story of Sacramento weather, January 2007.

"A lot of the leaves are just toast right now," said Gay ruefully, recalling summer days when his yard is perfumed by tropical plants.

Weeks of unusually cold and clear weather have brought the city to the verge of a record: driest January in more than 100 years.

Only 0.07 inches of rain have fallen this month in downtown Sacramento, just a teardrop of the normal 4.18 inches for the month. Record low rainfall for the month is 0.15 inches, set in 1889.

"Our record is in serious jeopardy," said Jim Mathews, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service's Sacramento office.

Only the slightest chance of rain is in the forecast for the next six days. Mathews said a storm brewing 300 to 400 miles off the Pacific coast is "bumping into this atmospheric road block -- the (high pressure) ridge over us -- and weakening significantly."

In other words, it might rain a little this weekend but probably won't.

What gives?

Weather scientists say the jet stream that normally delivers winter moisture to California is taking a big detour. Its path has meant drenching rain and snow for Washington and Oregon, and snowstorm after snowstorm after snowstorm in Colorado.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Climate Change & California

Reading this latest on the climate change issue and the dire sense of urgency that permeates it can be seen in context by putting the immensity and complexity of the various forces that make up what constitutes the global climate.

Whether you rely on spiritual, scientific, or a combination of both, in your thoughts around the issue, it is clear that there are so many imponderables that acting too quickly—regardless of the urgent actions demanded from those who clearly operate from one agenda, and the relax, don’t-worry attitude—from those clearly operating from another agenda; it doesn’t hurt to think about the possible relative insignificance of temperature changes being documented over only a few centuries in a global system millions of years old.

Monitoring the meltdown
By Samantha Young
Associated Press
January 22, 2007

Editor’s note: This is the first in a year-long Associated Press series exploring the implications of climate change for California and the challenges in addressing them.

The January wind whips down from the peaks that ring the northwest shore of Lake Tahoe, the snapping cold and snow-covered grandeur of the mountains providing a somewhat misleading backdrop to Brant Allen’s task.

While all around him are the certain signs of winter, the marine biologist is reading other signs that tell him winters in the Sierra Nevada aren’t what they used to be.

At the end of a wooden pier, he checks a metal box filled with wires and computer chips that gauge the temperature in the nation’s deepest glacial lake. The data recorded at this pier and at four buoys tell an alarming story of a lake that has been warming gradually over the past three decades, due at least in part to global climate change that scientists say has led to shorter winters in the Sierra.

The potential consequences of those changing winters are profound, for Lake Tahoe and all of California, especially as temperatures are predicted to rise markedly over the next century.

What those changes might be and how the nation’s most populous and geographically diverse state will prepare for them is the subject of increasingly intense debate. California’s economy, geography and search for solutions also has made it a model for the nation and the world.

Throughout California, rising temperatures threaten to transform a landscape that ranges from the Joshua trees of the Mojave Desert to the redwoods of the North Coast. In doing so, drastic challenges are expected for a population expected to reach 55 million by 2050, from the millions who live in coastal cities to the farmers who have made California the nation’s top agricultural state.

The forecast is dim: diminished snowpacks that melt too early, causing floods and water shortages; submerged coastal homes and eroded beaches as sea levels rise; crops unable to survive in longer, hotter summers; charred forests that fall victim to more intense wildfires.

“It’s not a place where we would be comfortable,” said Connie Millar, an historic scientist at the U.S. Forest Service. “If we don’t lasso this thing, it could ramp up into catastrophic conditions.”

In wine country, for example, high temperatures could ripen grapes up to two months early, affecting the quality of the grapes behind a $3.2 billion industry.

“What types of grapes would be able to be grown would perhaps change the types of wine that would be able to be produced,” said Dave Whitmer, agricultural commissioner for Napa County.

Rising temperature mean a rising snow line

The Earth’s temperature has risen about 1 degree Fahrenheit in the last 100 years, with the rate of warming tripling in the last three decades. Last year was the warmest on record in the U.S., a year that saw California suffer through a withering summer heat wave.

Nowhere else in California are the signs of climate change more evident than in the Sierra, the 400-mile long range that provides the snowpack essential for the state’s water supply.

Cities Acting Like Cities

Part of the reason so many areas in the county are incorporating as cities is to do exactly what Elk Grove is doing here, determine their own destiny in light of their own interests because they didn’t feel that was happening for them as part of the county.

Editorial: How far south?
Elk Grove must define ultimate boundary
Published 12:00 am PST Wednesday, January 24, 2007

In 1993, Sacramento County supervisors drew a line on a map near Elk Grove and agreed that growth would not happen south of that line. Known as an "urban limit line," the boundary followed the path of Kammerer Road. Then in 2000, Elk Grove became a city. Its leaders and planners made no secret that they didn't think much of this line as a planning tool. So decision by decision, they began erasing it.

Tonight the Elk Grove City Council is expected to leap past that line by launching a public brainstorming process on how eventually to annex and manage (as in develop) the swath of county south of Kammerer Road and north of the Cosumnes River. The process raises more questions than it answers, which is its basic problem.

Where will the growth stop? Will there ever be a permanent agriculture/open space greenbelt between Elk Grove and Galt to the south? If so, where does the greenbelt begin and end? How is the agreement formalized between the two cities?

Those questions have been important since Elk Grove in its first growth vision, its general plan, abandoned the long-standing urban limit line along Kammerer Road.

Elk Grove's planning staff is not proposing to answer any of those questions as they begin growth discussions south of Kammerer. Here are the planning questions, based on the staff report for tonight's meeting, they intend to address: "Who should be involved? What area is appropriate for habitat and open space preservation and for development? What is the best land-use plan for the area? How can the city working with other stakeholders accomplish this planning effort?" (Here's another important question: What is the flood risk from the Cosumnes River? An updated flood analysis is essential.)

Include the Parkway

The Lower Reach of the Parkway, as we outlined in our 2005 report on our website,, is also in dire need of some effective law enforcement presence, and maybe the Sherriff will consider returning there, maybe on horseback to see into the many illegal camping sites ruining the use of that area of the Parkway by the adjacent community.

Sheriff gets Folsom Dam security pact
By Ed Fletcher - Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PST Wednesday, January 24, 2007

For nearly 50 years the Folsom Dam had nearly no security force.
Sept. 11, 2001, changed everything.

In an effort to further beef up security initiated after the 2001 terrorists attacks, the federal agency that manages the reservoir has tapped the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department to secure the 340-foot-high concrete structure that keeps Folsom Lake from crashing down on Sacramento residents.

"Sacramento County has decided to take an active role on securing Folsom Dam because it is Sacramento County that benefits from having a lake in our backyard and would suffer from a failure," said sheriff's Capt. Stephen Leibrock.

The county Board of Supervisors signed off on the department's contract with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on Tuesday.

Lake Davis Pike

Considering a major point of the poisoning is to protect the other connected waterways from the pike, it is curious, as this story reports, that no study has been done on what would happen if the pike got into those waterways.

No wonder some people in the Lake Davis area are upset.

New plan set to poison Lake Davis pike
By Jane Braxton Little - Bee Correspondent
Published 12:00 am PST Wednesday, January 24, 2007

After a seven-year effort to control the northern pike population, Department of Fish and Game Director Ryan Broddrick announced plans Tuesday to again treat Lake Davis with chemicals to eradicate the non-native species from California waters.

Calling invasive species the top challenge for the nation and the state, Broddrick said the $12 million project would begin sometime after Labor Day.

It will be the state's second attempt to rid the Plumas County reservoir of the pike first found there in 1994. A chemical treatment in 1997 cost the state about $20 million but failed to eradicate the voracious species, which feeds on trout and other fish.

This time careful planning and better communication with the community, the U.S. Forest Service and other agencies should assure success, said Ed Pert, Fish and Game pike project manager.

"If it's humanly possible to eradicate pike, we're going to get them this time," Pert said.

State officials fear pike from Lake Davis will migrate downstream into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, where they would pose a threat to native fisheries….
Opposition to the second treatment is far more muted. Fish and Game has never conducted a scientific study of the potential for pike to move downstream or what would happen if they did, said Harry Reeves, a Quincy angler who sued over the 1997 poisoning and a 1992 treatment of Frenchman Reservoir, the first California waters to contain pike.

Portola has not "signed off" on the potential economic or other impacts of the project, said Jim Murphy, city manager.


The city gave permission to develop Natomas and now the levees appear to not meet the minimal requirement of 100 years, but the developers have already built substantially in the area and have approval to build more.

The big oops continues.

Elevated homes opposed
Natomas builders fear prospect of tough flood rules.
By Mary Lynne Vellinga - Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PST Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Now that it plans to designate Natomas a "special flood hazard area," the federal government could force developers to elevate new houses more than 20 feet -- a de facto building moratorium in the fast-growing area.

But given the history of flood protection politics in Sacramento, such a prohibitively expensive requirement likely never would be enforced, said local experts in the arcane language of flood zones and FEMA.

Despite Sacramento's long-standing status as one of the nation's riskiest floodplains, the federal government -- sometimes over the objections of the Federal Emergency Management Agency -- always has found a way to let the growth keep going.

After heavy rains in 1986 caused levees in Natomas and other Sacramento neighborhoods to spring leaks, then- U.S. Reps. Vic Fazio and Robert Matsui pushed through legislation that prevented FEMA from slapping most of the city with building restrictions. The bill also gave the city a four-year reprieve from higher flood insurance rates.

The tradeoff: Sacramento imposed its own moratorium on residential development in Natomas that lasted until 1998, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers certified the levees as being able to withstand a 100-year flood, the type of storm that has a 1 percent chance of happening in any given year.

But a recent study found that the improved levees are still vulnerable to underseepage. This finding led the corps to conclude the earthen bulwarks no longer meet the minimum 100-year protection standard.

Global Warming Justifies Overuse

In a case that will set precedence SMUD wants to protect its water usage and create it as a right, which others protest, surely bringing it, in the grand tradition of California water rights cases, to the courts to settle.

High Sierra diversions put SMUD in hot water
By Matt Weiser - Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PST Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Sacramento Municipal Utility District has been taking more water from the Rubicon River in the high Sierra than its state permits allow, prompting complaints that the power supplier has harmed fish and neighboring water users.

Excess diversions have occurred for decades, according to the California Department of Fish and Game, which filed the first complaint with the state Water Resources Control Board.

The Placer County Water Agency and fishing and environmental groups later joined in. They fear the case could set a troubling precedent unless SMUD's practices are ultimately restricted by the state.

The utility admits excesses occurred. It wants to amend its water rights to legalize the diversions because with global warming it expects to handle greater water flow from snowmelt.

Details Left

Looks like all that’s left is to work out the details, and the contiguousness of the plan is its strong selling point, especially when working out trails and paths for public access and recreational use in the future.

Placer land plan passes
Negotiations will develop rules for 60,000-acre preserve
By Art Campos - Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PST Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Placer County supervisors are moving forward with a 50-year plan to conserve about 60,000 acres in the western portion of the county.

Following a five-hour meeting Tuesday that included 41 speakers and more than 100 spectators, the board voted 5-0 to have its planning staff combine elements of two maps that will define which areas to preserve and which to make available for possible development.

Supervisor Robert Weygandt called the Placer County Conservation Plan, or PCCP, "an incredibly rich opportunity" to balance open space with growth.

"If we let it slip away, it would be the epitome of irresponsibility," he told fellow supervisors.

The preserved land, which would include such resources as wetlands, vernal pools, streams, grasslands, wildlife habitat and agriculture, will generally follow a contiguous pattern at the county's western borders.

Potential development land west of Roseville, west of Auburn and around Lincoln's city limits will amount to about 54,000 acres, Placer officials say.

A major aspect of the PCCP is that developers would be able to purchase land within the preservation area as mitigation for projects that encroach on environmentally sensitive areas, such as vernal pools, oak woodlands and wildlife habitat.

The county believes that mitigation purchases by developers will cost about $1.1 billion during the 50-year plan. After the land is purchased, a funding plan would be needed for the $7 million to $8 million annual maintenance costs.

Most of the people who spoke to the board favored a conservation plan, but about a dozen were against it. Most are farmers and landowners in the areas proposed for conservation.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


This continuing argument against dams in general, focuses on the particular ones that all agree are problems, the small mostly privately owned dams that, once their usefulness has been outlived, need to be dismantled.

The major public dams: Hoover, Shasta, Grand Coulee, etc. serve important public functions and are still the only method devised to store water, protect from major flooding on rivers—like the American—that flood during rainy season, and generate clean power in the process, that human beings have come up with.

But, unfortunately, this generalizing type of argument, using small and mostly private dams to speak out against all dams continues a great disservice to a public needing more water during the dry times, protection from it during the wet, and power from it all the time.

Jacques Leslie: Our aging dams
By Jacques Leslie -
Published 12:00 am PST Tuesday, January 23, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO -- When the 40-foot-high Kaloko Dam collapsed on the Hawaiian island of Kauai last March, its reservoir released a 70-foot-high, 200-foot-wide, 1.6-million-ton wave that carried away 16 cars, hundreds of trees and a cluster of houses, drowning all seven occupants. At least two bodies were swept three-quarters of a mile to the ocean; four were never recovered.

It is tempting to dismiss Kaloko's collapse as an isolated event, but given the perilous state of the nation's dams, it is more likely a harbinger. In 2005, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave U.S. dams a D, a grade that is still justified two years later.

For starters, the nation's dam stock is rapidly aging. Most dams need major repairs 25 to 50 years after they're built, and most U.S. dams are at least 25 years old; some, like the 116-year-old Kaloko, were built more than a century ago.

As dams age, their danger increases. This is a matter of not just advancing decrepitude, but "hazard creep" -- the tendency of developers to build directly downstream from dams, in the path of floods that would follow dam failures. The result is that even though Americans now build few dams, more and more dams threaten people's lives. Chiefly for this reason, the number of dams identified in one estimate as capable of causing death and in need of rehabilitation more than doubled from 1999 to 2006, from around 500 to nearly 1,400. The civil engineers' 2005 report placed the number of unsafe dams much higher, at more than 3,500.

On top of that, dam safety officials are so overworked that in most states, they don't come close to carrying out all the inspections required by law. According to the engineers' society, the average state dam inspector is responsible for 268 dams; in four states the number exceeds 1,200. It is no coincidence that even though Hawaiian law requires dam inspections every five years, Kaloko was never inspected.

We don't even know how many dams the country possesses. Using one set of criteria, the National Inventory of Dams, maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers, places the number at 79,777, while the sum of dams inventoried by the states is more than 99,000. Even that number is questionable, since it includes suspiciously low counts from several states. In addition, state officials are constantly discovering previously uncounted dams during routine inspection trips. And if the definition of dams is broadened to include the smallest ones, the estimates are as high as several million.

Unlike, say, waterways and sanitation plants, a majority of dams -- 56 percent of those inventoried -- are privately owned, which is one reason dams are among the country's most dangerous structures.

Public Hearing Announcement

Hearing Wednesday on fire plan
By Barbara Barte Osborn - Bee Correspondent
Published 12:00 am PST Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A public hearing on a regional plan to protect the Sierra from catastrophic fires while improving forest health, water and wildlife habitat is scheduled Wednesday.

The meeting will be 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Power's Mansion Inn Conference Center, 195 Harrison Ave., Auburn.

An interactive workshop from 10 a.m. to noon will focus on the University of California Sierra Nevada Adaptive Management Project, which addresses a long-standing controversy over the best way to reduce forest fuels.

From 1 to 4 p.m. the session will share developments in the project and seek public feedback.

The afternoon discussion will be webcast to allow participation by people unable to attend. For information on participating in the webcast, call (775) 329-3224 or (760) 912-4050.

The meeting is sponsored by the University of California, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state Resources Agency.

For more information visit

Placer Plan

This process has been in the works for some time and there are still issues to be resolved between property owners and other interests, hopefully finding a balance between them which allows for continued development and the protection of the natural landscape desired by the residents.

Placer board gets plan to preserve 50,000 acres
By Art Campos - Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PST Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A controversial 50-year plan to preserve more than 50,000 acres in western Placer County has reached the Board of Supervisors for a possible vote today.

The plan has been lauded by supporters, who say it would clearly define growth and conservation areas, but attacked by farmers and landowners, who say the proposal would take away their property rights.

Supporters say it would speed up the permitting process between developers and state and federal agencies in charge of protecting the environment. They also say it would create balance between development and open space and provide Placer with a contiguous buffer at its western borders.

But farmers, landowners and developers in the proposed conservation areas claim the Placer County Conservation Plan, or PCCP, will restrict their options on how to use the land.

They also say the conservation area will lead to inequities in land values. Owners of properties with vernal pools or protected trees could sell their acreage to developers who need mitigation land to satisfy federal or state requirements.

"Some of the folks in the (conserved areas) have no vernal pools or blue oaks," said Supervisor Bruce Kranz. "Their land has no high value under this plan."


It is hard to believe, but after seemingly forever, the projects down there in the railyards appear to be on a track forward where we will soon begin to see some results.

Developer motivated to move quickly
For Thomas Enterprises, cleaning up rail site is good for business
By Chris Bowman - Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PST Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The railroad operators took 20 years hauling away topsoil they polluted at Sacramento's historic downtown train yard.

Stan Thomas, the new owner of the 240-acre site, believes he can finish the last third of the job in just two years -- all the while proceeding with plans for urban villages, public markets, museums, entertainment complexes and more.

That would surpass by fivefold the pace under Union Pacific Corp. and its predecessor, Southern Pacific Transportation Co.

How can Thomas outrun the kings of rail? Because his motivations are more powerful than a locomotive, according to officials with his development company, Thomas Enterprises Inc. of Atlanta.

Thomas Enterprises is anxious to recoup cleanup expenses and the cost of the property purchase -- figures the company declines to disclose. The faster the cleanup, the sooner Thomas will get city approval for development. The sooner the company sells parcels to developers, the faster it can pay off loans and turn a profit.

"You have a clock ticking on you because you are paying interest, and because you want to be ready to develop when the market is ready," said Paul Petrovich, who is redeveloping the former railyard in Sacramento's Curtis Park neighborhood.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Repairing the Damage

One possible reason so many people are coming together to form new cities in Sacramento County is being dealt with in Rancho Cordova, as the new city tries to clean up the mess many feel the county created by inadequate oversight and lack of concern of the effects certain business placements have had on the community.

This lack of care and oversight is also partly responsible for our call for the county to relinquish its daily management of the Parkway, which has been ineffective and almost led to the Parkway being closed in 2004, in favor of nonprofit management, which is being used very successfully with other parks nationally.

City is pushing to burnish image
By Stan Oklobdzija - Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PST Monday, January 22, 2007

When Rancho Cordova Mayor David Sander looks at Folsom Boulevard, main drag of the city he took charge of last December, he imagines the tattoo parlors and transmission shops disappearing and condos and art galleries taking their place.

He envisions sushi bars where fast food outlets now stand, fashionable boutiques in place of thrift stores.

"(In Rancho Cordova) there's a real lack of mainstream stuff people like," Sander said. "But retailers are looking for a change in atmosphere before they'd relocate."

So, just like in the days when agriculture dominated the city, before planting the seeds of redevelopment, he must first clear the fields.

This month, Sander will unveil his Strong Neighborhood Initiative, a multipronged effort at fostering city pride, increasing property values and encouraging residents to enhance their homes and communities, according to a press release.

Crafting a careful balance of carrot and stick, the city will aggressively target blight and nuisances through a ramped-up enforcement and education campaign.

The City Council last week passed a 45-day moratorium on the establishment or relocation of certain types of businesses, including tattoo parlors, thrift stores and check-cashing centers.

Citing a risk to "public health, safety and welfare," that these businesses present, the month-and-a-half hiatus will be used to study the effects they have on the surrounding community and ensure they are properly zoned, according to a staff report.

Sometime within the next month, the council will be presented with a similar moratorium targeting adult-oriented businesses, such as strip clubs and sex shops, said city spokeswoman Erin Treadwell.

On Jan. 31, residents living near White Rock Community Park will be greeted by a slow-rolling cavalcade of police cars and code enforcement trucks searching out and citing homes with visible blight, said Treadwell.

"(We'll be) looking for junk and rubbish, dead cars in the street ... visible construction without a permit," she said. "For so long in Rancho Cordova, code enforcement was few and far between."

The monthly sweep, called "Blight Busters," will focus on a different neighborhood each time and aim to educate residents on complying with city codes. In addition, it will put offenders on notice that they face possible fines or criminal charges if they don't correct the problem, said Kerry Simpson, Neighborhood Services supervisor for the city.

The initiative, said Sander, aims to increase civic pride, which in turn, he hopes, will boost property values.

"There's an opinion locally that the county took advantage of Rancho Cordova in those pre-incorporation years," Sander said.

Unforeseen Consequences

This is a perfect example of the unforeseen consequences of moving too quickly on something still uncertain; in this case the strict environmental controls over forest management which has created a worse environmental problem in addition to the economic problems which wiped out many people’s livelihoods in the virtually shut down California logging industry.

A burning question
Some fear that the closure of the state's farthest south sawmill eventually could lead to massive Sierra wildfires.
By Tom Knudson - Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PST Monday, January 22, 2007

TERRA BELLA-Inside the cavernous sawmill, a big log thundered across a metallic platform. Bam! It crashed into position on a cutting track. Shriek! A band saw sliced it into thick, cream-colored slabs.

Another log rolled into place. The result: more noise, more boards and more conifer-scented sawdust that hung like a woodsy perfume in the air.

The pace of the action was frantic. But it was also misleading. For by June, the Sierra Forest Products mill here may be out of business, stilled by years of dogged environmental opposition that have throttled the flow of national forest timber from the southern Sierra Nevada.

If that happens, something more may disappear than the last sawmill south of the Tuolumne River. With it could go the best hope of managing the forest by thinning the dense stands of smaller trees sapping the health from the Sierra Nevada and fueling massive wildfires.

"Without a mill, forest management will virtually cease in the southern Sierra," said Larry Duysen, the mill's logging superintendent.

Two decades ago, more than 120 sawmills peppered California from Yreka to east of Los Angeles. But a steep drop in national forest logging has forced many to shut down. Now only 38 remain and about 8,000 workers have lost their jobs.

None is more imperiled than Sierra Forest Products, a four-decade-old facility sandwiched between two orange groves along County Road 234 south of Porterville.
Once, it ran two shifts -- now just one. Once, it employed 250 people -- now 130.

Once, it had a mountain of logs available for cutting -- enough to last two years. Now less than six months' worth remain.

But while the industry's decline may appear to be a victory for the environment, it also comes with a catch. With California's forests growing more dense and fire-prone every year, who -- or what -- will thin the woods?

One answer can be found among the soot-black ridges and charred trees around Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear.

In the 1980s, a sawmill -- the Big Bear Lumber Co. in Redlands -- worked the area. But when the San Bernardino National Forest ratcheted down logging because of environmental concerns, the mill struggled and died.

The forest, though, kept growing. By the late 1990s, it was a tangle of trees competing for sunlight, moisture and nutrients. Then, drought struck. Trees grew weak -- and bark beetles finished them off. Stands that once glistened as green as Seven-Up bottles turned brown and yellow.

Worried homeowners and federal land managers began to clear out the dead trees. But with no local mill, progress was too slow, and too costly. Vast quantities of wood were buried in a landfill or burned. In October 2003, huge wildfires ripped through the area. More than 1,000 homes were destroyed; six people died.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Golden Heritage

This event reminds us of the momentous events that occurred here in the 1800’s and changed the history of the world, and is at the root of our call to create a National Heritage Area, a program of National Parks providing funding and technical support to protect an area’s heritage; and the name we would suggest for it would be Rivers of Gold National Heritage Area.

In our 2005 report, in the historical time line section,(see our website: we looked at the impact of the discovery:

(1848) Gold discovered at Coloma on the American River.

An event of international proportion that while clearly tragic for many, was an epic time, as Brands (2002) has noted:

“Yet for all its sordid side, the new American dream [the wealth the gold rush created] was an enormously creative force. It unleashed the energies of the American people, and of the many millions of foreigners who, drawn by this compelling dream, chose to become Americans. (It also unleashed the energies of those who stayed in other countries—or in some important cases, returned to other countries from America—and emulated the Argonauts of California.) It raised the American standard of living beyond anything ever achieved so broadly. It afforded the most basic freedom—freedom from want—to more people than had ever enjoyed such release. And it gave unprecedented meaning to that really revolutionary idea of Thomas Jefferson: that humans have a right to the pursuit of happiness. (p. 443-444)”

A personal story: Several years ago while visiting Coloma, where gold was discovered in 1848, State Parks Ranger Sugarman related a story which resonated with me, and has always put the discovery of gold into the context I think it fully deserves.

He was guiding a group of Japanese tourists around the park, and while talking to them, a small group broke off and went to the specific site, on the American River South Fork, where gold was first taken out by James Marshall. They stood there for awhile, quietly talking among themselves, and then, while standing there, bowed very formally towards the river. Later, he asked them why they were bowing, and they told him that they were honoring, “the place where America found her power.” David H. Lukenbill, Founding President, ARPPS.

Event celebrates discovery of gold, park's renovation
Visitors view exhibits completed as first phase of major museum project.
By Melissa Nix - Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PST Sunday, January 21, 2007

The campfire's smoke curled up to the gray sky hanging over Coloma. The scent of burning wood cut through the morning chill and enveloped the chattering crowd. Men in buckskin and coonskin caps mingled with women in calico and bonnets. A motorcycle rumbled by, and then a bugle call caught the crowd's attention.

More than 300 people -- some in costume -- gathered Saturday for the unveiling of the renovated museum at Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park.

A new exhibit, complete with dioramas and mannequins, attempts to capture when James Marshall discovered gold at the site where the park now sits. That momentous day was Jan. 24, 1848.

The museum renovation is phase one of a two-phase plan to tell the whole story of the California Gold Rush, explained Mark Gibson, superintendent for the Marshall Gold Sector of California State Parks. This first phase cost $600,000.

The second phase depends on funds from Proposition 84, he added. The public approved the proposition last year to pay for park improvements, flood control and water projects.

Gibson said the complete renovation will total $3.6 million.

"We often tell the Sutter-Marshall pioneer story, but rarely do you hear what happened to the people who were here first," said Mark Michalski, a California State Park Ranger and the museum's collections manager.

Warming Change

Elections matter and this one will be no exception. While agreeing that any reduction of air pollution is desirable, the massive economic changes demanded by many in the global warming debate might cause more problems than they solve.

We should obviously act on the generally-agreed upon perception that the climate is warming, but not yet on the still widely-debated fact that it is primarily a result of human activity.

Editorial: Clearing trend
Published 12:00 am PST Sunday, January 21, 2007

Until Democrats took control of Congress, President Bush was able to freeze any legislative efforts to fight global warming. Now the ice dam has melted, and a gusher of bills could soon be moving to the president's desk.

In the Senate, likely presidential candidate Barack Obama of Illinois has joined fellow contender John McCain of Arizona and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut on a bill to reduce greenhouse gases. California's Dianne Feinstein is backing a version backed by PG&E and other power industries, and Barbara Boxer is co-sponsoring another proposal written by Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

In the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has announced a new Select Committee on Global Warming. That puts pressure on House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell, a staunch Michigan ally of Detroit automakers, to agree to emissions rules he has previously opposed.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Downtown Soap Opera

Exactly what the efforts to create a destination have seemed like since the 1970’s, though the efforts at both ends have had pretty good results, but the middle just keeps muddling along, same script, same results, only the players change.

Editorial: As downtown turns
Should city join or avoid the soap opera?
Published 12:00 am PST Saturday, January 20, 2007

It's a daytime drama with mystery, intrigue, high-stakes economic gambling. (As yet, fortunately, there's no sex or violence.) The scene: Sacramento's downtown, where key redevelopment projects are fading left and right, the truth is hard to find and the solution even harder.

Episode One: "We can feel the (progress)," says Mayor Heather (Fargo), speaking to the downtown faithful at a recent breakfast. "We can see it. We can even hear it with the pile driving." Fade quickly to Third and Capitol. There, the pile drivers have stopped. John (Saca), developer of the largest high-rise condominium project the Central Valley has ever seen, has run into financial trouble with his Towers project. The construction firms aren't getting paid and are slapping liens on the property. John turns to investors at the California Public Employees Retirement System and to the city (which has agreed to buy $11 million worth of hotel fixtures for the project if it gets built).

Nobody, it seems, wants to be the first to bail out the project. Who shall blink first?

Never fear, the snag is only "a short temporary regroup," a project spokesman tells The Bee. Is he to be believed?

Flood Vote

I wonder how voters would respond if asked them what type of flood protection they would rather have, a 200 year level (New Orleans had a 250 year level when Katrina hit) at a cost to them of $100 a year. or a 500 year level (which only the Auburn Dam can provide) at a cost to them of $300 a year.

We don’t have the results of a survey like that but we do have the results of one done about Auburn Dam in February of 2005, and 60% of the respondents in the three counties said yes, build it.

You can find the survey at the Auburn Dam Council website which is

Officials push tax hike, cite risks of flood
Bills may triple, but 'I don't think we have a choice,' says one Natomas resident.
By Mary Lynne Vellinga - Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PST Saturday, January 20, 2007

Standing in front of a calm Sacramento River, local leaders of the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency on Friday kicked off their campaign to convince Sacramentans they should pay higher property taxes for better flood protection.

The increased assessment will go out to property owners in Sacramento's flood-prone neighborhoods for approval during the month of March.

Some homeowners, such as those in downtown, midtown, Land Park and Curtis Park, would see a tripling of the $18 they pay each year. Bills would double for residents of some other parts of the city, and homeowners in southern Sutter County would be assessed for the first time.

Still, the annual bill in nearly all neighborhoods would remain below $100.
Sacramento County Supervisor Roger Dickinson, chairman of the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency, said at Friday's press conference in Old Sacramento that he's confident the new assessment will pass. A similar levy approved in 2000 for an earlier round of flood fixes garnered a yes vote of 83 percent among property owners who returned their ballots.

"I think what we saw in 2000 is that when people were presented with the facts, they got it," Dickinson said. "It's easy to forget, during weather like this, or during the summer, that this river can rage. ... This is truly a deal we cannot afford to refuse."

The new assessment would raise $326 million over 30 years to pay for the local share of the $2.7 billion the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency plans to spend on flood protection for Sacramento. Ninety percent of the funding would come from state and federal sources.

The agency's initial goal is to achieve 200-year flood protection for the urban area within 10 years.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Homelessness Strategies

Two of the programs (Pathways to Housing and Ready, Willing, and Able) mentioned in this article are the two we mentioned in our 2005 report on the Parkway’s Lower Reach (see our website ) as models to be followed.

Homeless in America
January 18, 2007
By Julia Vitullo-Martin

Can urban street homelessness be ended? In a sort of Nixon-goes-to-China reversal of expectations, the Bush White House argues that the answer is yes—and is putting substantial effort and resources (over $4 billion annually) into proving it. "We're setting a new marker in front of the country," says Philip Mangano, executive director of the White House's U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. "After 20 years of seeing the problem get worse, we're no longer 'managing' the homeless crisis. We're ending the disgrace." He cites impressive declines in street counts since the White House started their big push in 2003: 50% in Philadelphia, 30% in Miami, 28% in San Francisco, 26% in Dallas, 21% in Nashville. New York City has seen a 13% decrease since 2005, the first year in which a citywide street census was taken.

Usually male and enduring some impairment—mental illness, drug or alcohol addiction, disease—those who've lived on the streets for more than a year ("the chronics") make up about 10% of the two million or so Americans regarded as homeless. They regularly consume a disproportionate amount of public resources—sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars per person. They also often wreak disproportionate havoc on both commercial areas and residential neighborhoods—inducing compassion fatigue even in usually tolerant cities like New York and San Francisco.

Traditional homeless advocates have seldom paid attention to the destructive effects some street people had on neighborhoods. That's been changing, in part at the insistence of mayors, who fund most homeless services, and corporate leaders. New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who calls street homelessness "intolerable" on both humanitarian and economic grounds, says, "I was elected to take on the tough issues, the ones people said you couldn't do anything about—and that some people pander on." Not one to shy from a fight, he gave a speech in July calling on mayors and communities to free themselves from the tyranny of the advocates. …

…Atlanta and other cities have been building on the findings of University of Pennsylvania Professor Dennis Culhane, who pointed out in the late 1990s that a $12,000 per-year supportive housing unit was far more effective in keeping people off the street than a $35,000 per-year shelter bed. But the homeless industry remained oriented to the big shelters created in the mid-1980s, which Mr. Mangano calls the "old status quo response of ad hoc, uncoordinated, well-intentioned, but ineffective crisis intervention." A bowl of soup and a blanket was thought to be the best we could do, he adds. Armed with Mr. Culhane's data and convinced that concentrating resources on the chronics could produce results, Mr. Mangano approached his job (left vacant by President Clinton) zealously. Believing in the effectiveness of political will, partnership and 10-year plans, he traveled the country relentlessly, working with states, counties, cities and the private sector to coordinate systematic approaches. "No one level of government can get the job done alone," he says, in part because federal resources go to the states as block grants that are spent by multiple jurisdictions.

The ideas that form the basis of the most successful 10-year plans—and that are revolutionizing the long stagnant field of homeless services—originated in New York, once the epicenter of street homelessness and now the model to be emulated. Not all of the ideas sound very Republican, but Mr. Mangano is an eminently practical and non-ideological man. The basic strategy, called Housing First, comes from a Harlem-based group, Pathways to Housing, which does not require psychiatric or substance-abuse training as a qualification for housing. Clients do not have to be either sober or drug-free. ..

…Atlanta's Mr. Sibley agrees, adding, "What appeals to us is that once a person has a decent place to live, [he] can get [his] life in order step by step. Each individual still has to take responsibility for [his] own future." Which leads to the perennial problem: employment. If the goal of independent living for former street people is to be achieved, or even attempted, training and counseling have to be part of the mix. Atlanta's model was a New York employment program—Ready, Willing and Able. George McDonald, founder and former businessman, estimates that at least half of the men he works with for the first time have previously been homeless for substantial periods. "The vast majority of homeless single adults in our program," says Mr. McDonald, "are coming out of prison or jail, don't have an education, and do have substance abuse problems."

Well over half of every cohort of new RWA clients succeed the first time they try to live and work on their own after graduating from the program. In Atlanta, Mr. Sibley says the RWA model has helped 60 formerly chronically homeless people move into housing and employment, at a savings to the city of about $1 million.