Saturday, June 30, 2007

Hetch Hetchy

It makes as much good sense to remove the Hetch Hetchy Dam (considering the water it stores can be easily stored in other ways) to provide access to the twin of Yosemite, as it does to construct the Auburn Dam to provide 500 year flood protection to Sacramento, and stabilize the river running through the Parkway.

Editorial: Hetch Hetchy
Parochial interests stymie restoration study
Published 12:00 am PDT Saturday, June 30, 2007

It's hardly surprising that a key House panel rejected President Bush's proposal to study how to restore Yosemite's famously submerged Hetch Hetchy Valley.

Ever since Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco became House speaker, it was clear Bush's proposal would go nowhere, and that John Muir would remain heartbroken, rolling over in his grave.

Pelosi and her powerhouse counterpart in the Senate, Dianne Feinstein, cling to fears that draining Hetch Hetchy would endanger San Francisco's water and power supplies. Numerous California scientists say those supplies could be replaced by enlarging and revamping downstream reservoirs, but Pelosi and other Democrats in the House apparently don't want such findings validated by a federal study.

Nuclear Power

An option that needs to be reevaluated for use in California.

Steve Wiegand: Nuke power -- time to re-energize?
By Steve Wiegand - Bee Columnist
Published 12:00 am PDT Saturday, June 30, 2007

Here's what's new on nuclear energy in California:
Zip. Zero. Zilch.

OK, that's a bit of an exaggeration. But only a bit. The Assembly has killed an effort to repeal the state's moratorium on new nuclear plants, and a bill to make it tougher for the current nukes to extend their life spans is still alive.

But 31 years after legislators and Gov. Jerry Brown imposed the ban, the prospects of nuclear expanding its role in the state's ongoing energy drama remain dim.

The 1976 moratorium requires the state Energy Commission to assure the Legislature that there's a good way to permanently and safely dispose of spent nuclear fuel, or to reprocess fuel rods, before any new plants can open in California.

In 1978 and again in 2005, the commission formally said ixnay. Another report is due to lawmakers and the guv in November. And judging from the tone at two days of commission hearings on the subject this week, the answer is almost certainly going to be the same: No new nukes even started in California for at least a decade.

Nuclear power already plays a sizeable supporting part in the state's ongoing energy drama, although that may be a surprise to people who figured nukes lost their glow about the time Three Mile Island had a meltdown in 1979.

Actually, California still gets about 15 percent of its electricity supply from nuclear plants.

"It's something of a backbone of energy production in the state," said Steven McClary, an energy consultant hired by the commission to help produce the November report.

Arden Arcade Funding Deadline Announcement

Deadline for LAFCO looms
Published 12:00 am PDT Saturday, June 30, 2007

Arden Arcade incorporation advocates are expected to make their first payment of about $33,000 to the Local Agency Formation Commission early next week.

Peter Brundage, LAFCO's executive director, said he is expecting payment by Monday. LAFCO is an intergovernmental agency overseeing the incorporation process.

Proponents are expected to contribute about $200,000 for a comprehensive fiscal analysis and environmental impact report. The studies are estimated to cost $300,000. LAFCO has agreed to provide up to $100,000. Missing the payment deadlines would delay the studies, Brundage said.

Proponents plan to place the question on the November 2008 ballot.

-- Chelsea Phua

Defensible Space Hurdles

For some of the people on the ground, a large part of the blame for the destruction of the Tahoe area lies with one of the public agencies responsible for helping protect the Tahoe area.

Tahoe agency is focus of fury
Residents say they weren't allowed to clear trees, brush.
By Mary Lynne Vellinga - Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PDT Saturday, June 30, 2007

As Tahoe burned, John Singlaub felt the heat.

Since the catastrophic fire ignited Sunday, Singlaub has fielded angry questions and endured verbal abuse from Lake Tahoe residents furious with his employer, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

The agency -- known as TRPA -- wields unusual power in the Tahoe basin. Created in 1969 to protect the Tahoe ecosystem, it has jurisdiction over the Nevada and California sides of the lake. It controls all planning decisions big and small -- from whether to allow a new high-rise resort in South Lake Tahoe to whether an individual homeowner can add a new deck or cut down a tree.

"TRPA is probably the most powerful government entity in America," declared former state Sen. Tim Leslie, a frequent critic. "TRPA trumps citizens, it trumps local government, and it even trumps the federal government. No one can move at Lake Tahoe without the approval of TRPA."

Judging from public outbursts, the agency is a source of simmering resentment for many whose homes and businesses fall within its purview.

Singlaub, TRPA's executive director, said he was taken aback by the open hostility. "I think emotions certainly are running high here, and that's not unusual, from what I'm being told by people who have dealt with other disasters. But I was surprised they (focused on) TRPA."

At a community meeting Monday at South Tahoe Middle School, the crowd of about 2,000 booed when TRPA was mentioned. One man shouted from the stands, "Get rid of TRPA!"

Another man asked why TRPA won't let homeowners clear flammable trees and brush from their land. Singlaub told the crowd: "We encourage the removal of trees for fire protection. There's been a lot of misinformation about this issue."

That was all he got out before being shouted down. Singlaub retreated to the sidelines, where three South Lake Tahoe police officers slipped in around him to provide protection. Shortly afterward, they escorted him out the back door.

Tahoe Fire, Cause?

It appears an illegal campfire caused the destructive fire in Tahoe, which is almost under control, at 80%.

Tahoe probe blames campfire
U.S. Forest Service says Angora blaze was 80% contained Friday night.
By Bobby Caina Calvan, Todd Milbourn and Deb Kollars - Bee Staff Writers
Published 12:00 am PDT Saturday, June 30, 2007

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE -- In the end, a commonplace comfort -- a campfire in the wilderness -- most likely spawned the large and destructive Angora fire that swept the South Lake Tahoe area, fire investigators said late Friday.

Donna Deaton, a U.S. Fire Service investigator, said authorities have no suspects and asked for the public's help in finding who might have started the illegal campfire that triggered the disaster.

The location of the fire's origin was pinpointed to a picturesque spot in the woods with a popular swimming hole called Seneca Pond and a rock outcropping. The popular gathering place for local residents is about 150 yards from the nearest dirt road.

The fire, which ignited with a fury early Sunday evening, swept through a collection of forested neighborhoods, destroying 254 homes, damaging another 13 and disrupting the lives of 3,500 people who were evacuated. The fire burned 3,100 acres in a 4.7-square- mile area.

The fire was 80 percent contained as of Friday evening, said Rich Hawkins, the U.S. Forest Service incident commander.

"I've had a smile on my face all day long," Hawkins said. "The worst is over."

Legislation for Public Private Partnerships

In an acknowledgement of the power of the concept—which we call for in the management of the Parkway— recent legislation requires business and nonprofits work with government in one area of the public good.

CA | Partnership for Urban Communities
SB 765 creates the California Partnership for Urban Communities, which is required to contract with nonprofit entities to administer the program.

Excerpts from bill:

Legislative Counsel’s Digest

SB 765, as amended, Ridley-Thomas. Economic development:
California Partnership for Urban Communities.

Existing law provides for various programs and activities in the development of economic opportunities for businesses in the state.

This bill would, until January 1, 2012, create the California Partnership for Urban Communities in state government, with a specified membership and specified duties with respect to coordinating and improving government efforts for at-risk urban communities, as defined. It would require the partnership to contract with nonprofit entities to administer the program, and to report annually to the Governor and the Legislature on its activities. The bill would appropriate $1,000,000 $500,000 to the Business, Transportation and Housing Agency for these purposes….

…(m) Leveraging of public funds through collaborative projects with the private and nonprofit sectors can produce partnerships that result in an overall savings to state and local government while ultimately increasing revenues due to increased employment and a higher standard of living.

(n) By supporting public-private partnerships, business, education, and law enforcement entities in at-risk communities, the state ensures a longstanding commitment to economic self-reliance, parity, power, and civil rights…

Friday, June 29, 2007

National Legislation Protecting Land

A good addition to the existing legislation, which California is at the heart of.

Editorial: Landmark landscape act
Congress should create permanent system
Published 12:00 am PDT Friday, June 29, 2007

In 1872, Congress created Yellowstone National Park, the nation's first. As the years passed, Congress kept adding more parks (including Sequoia, Yosemite and Lassen Volcanic national parks in California), but there was no system. Finally, after 44 years, Congress established the national park system, the first in the world.

Today, the situation is similar. Congress and the president over the years have set aside remote, rugged, nationally significant landscapes -- more than 800 individual units. While there has been administrative oversight of those areas, there has been no formal system authorized by Congress to assure their protection.

That's about to change. Congress, with the support of President Bush, is set to act on the National Landscape Conservation System Act (HR 2016 and S 1139).

It's about time. Thirty-seven years ago, Congress created the first of the nation's conservation landscapes -- the King Range National Conservation Area, 35 miles along California's Lost Coast between the mouth of the Mattole River and Sinkyone Wilderness State Park (see ca/st/en/fo/arcata/kingrange/ index.html).

As with the national park system, California is at the heart of the landscape system, aptly called the "hidden treasures of the American West":

Dry River

Governor signs holiday alcohol ban on American River.

American River going 'dry'
Schwarzenegger signs bill banning holiday boozing on the water.
By Ed Fletcher - Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PDT Friday, June 29, 2007

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has turned the lower American River into "Dry Creek" this July 4 -- signing into law Thursday urgency legislation that makes it illegal to drink alcoholic beverages while rafting between Hazel and Watt avenues.

The governor's signature on Assembly Bill 951 comes just in time for Sacramento County officials eager to have the ban in place for this weekend and Independence Day. Because the bill passed as an urgency matter -- having won two-thirds approval in the Assembly and Senate -- it takes effect immediately.

"Our goal has been to make the parkway and the river family-friendly during the summer holidays," said Supervisor Roberta MacGlashan. "I'm glad to see the governor agrees."

Local authorities have been working for years to end the "spring break" partying that has attracted thousands of young people to the river on the three summer holidays: Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day.

Officials said things have gotten out of control in recent years, with fights, profanity and public nudity all too common. Back-to-back Fourth of July weekends were punctuated by melees and arrests.

In 2006, the county made it illegal to drink alcohol or carry open alcoholic beverage containers in the American River Parkway along the shores between Hazel and Watt avenues on the summer holidays. But that action didn't affect the river, which the state controls.

"We didn't have these problems 10 years ago," said Dave Lydick, deputy director of the county parks department. "You just didn't see the type of violent behavior you see now. This doesn't make for a situation where people will take their kids."

The new state law applies to Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day. The ban is in effect this Saturday, Sunday and Independence Day on Wednesday.

Green Alcatraz

What wonderful plans for the old prison.

28/06/07 02h36 GMT+1
AFP News brief
From prison to eco-paradise: the greening of Alcatraz
by Helene Labriet-Gross

Once a sinister home to notorious mobsters and murderers, Alcatraz is in line for an environmental makeover that could see the imposing former prison island become a tree-hugger's paradise.

Under plans by the Golden Gate National Recreation Area which manages the rugged rock in the middle of San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz is poised to be transformed into a beacon for progressive communities.

Although Alcatraz slammed shut its prison doors for the last time in 1963, the island continues to welcome hundreds of visitors on a daily basis, becoming San Francisco's premier tourist attraction.

Those demands place an energy and resources burden on Alcatraz that is impossible to be satisfied locally, with all of the facility's fuel, water and waste laboriously transported back and forth across the bay.

However, the US Parks Service is now studying plans to make Alcatraz self-sufficient in an attempt to lessen the impact on the environment and provide an example to the rest of the United States.

By 2014, authorities expect to have installed a waste reprocessing plant as well as a de-salination plant to provide drinking water.

"Currently, we have to carry all the water requirements we have on the island over to the island," said Brian O'Neill, superintendent of the Golden Gate National Park. "We have to haul off all the sewage."

"We pump it. It comes through the plumbing system, and it's pumped on into a boat, and then it's taken over to the mainland, to San Francisco, and discharged into the city sewer system."

Fuel is shipped over to the island regularly to be pumped into generators to provide power, something that authorities want to phase, looking to wind, solar and even tidal power to provide alternatives.

"What we want is to explore various forms of alternative energies, that would eliminate the need to use fossil fuel," O'Neill told AFP.

"We want to look at photovoltaic cells on various buildings, we want to look at tidal power, because right off of Alcatraz, there's enough power to supply our needs. And we want to look at wind. It would be a combination."

Tidal power is increasingly being viewed as a viable provider of energy by authorities across the San Francisco area.

Last week, local utilities and officials announced plans to conduct an exhaustive study into whether the churning tides of the Bay Area could be harnessed to provide energy.

By 2009, a solar-powered boat -- "Solar Sailor" -- will be operational and ready to transport daytrippers from San Francisco to the island.

O'Neill said he wants to see Alcatraz and other US national park properties lead the field in terms of their environmental policies.

"We want the national parks to be an exemplar of the best practices," O'Neill said. "We want people to be inspired by the way we conserve water, the way we use alternative energies and green products, and how we recycle to live more sustainably."

Watering & Technology

New technology offers some great ideas to reduce and stop water runoff from everyday watering needs of homeowners, Good stuff!

Saving precious drops; A demonstration project seeks to show how homeowners waste water -- and highlights new ways to stop it
By PAT BRENNAN; The Orange County Register
June 18, 2007

IRVINE The houses are quintessential Orange County, huddled together behind broad sidewalks and well-cut curbs -- complete with manicured lawns, neatly trimmed landscaping, driveways, garages, porch lights, the works.

On closer examination, however, things begin to look a little odd. First, the houses are much too small. They are isolated on a broad expanse of dirt. And nobody lives there.

Part experiment, part demonstration project, the three houses are designed to reveal how Orange County homeowners create torrents of contaminated water runoff -- and to showcase state-of-the-art technology for controlling it.

"They're designed so people could see what they could implement to improve water quality," said Darren Haver, a water quality adviser with the University of California Cooperative Extension. "What are a few things I could do around my home?"

The project, dreamed up by Haver three years ago and recently completed, has become a minor sensation among the landscapers, developers, consultants and master gardener groups who receive firsthand training on the site.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Parkway Editorial

We couldn’t agree more!

Editorial: Parkway politics
County shouldn't ask Rancho for a dime
Published 12:00 am PDT Thursday, June 28, 2007

The beautiful American River continues to remain the site of an ugly display of politics and petulance in Sacramento County. In short, Sacramento County wants to maintain an excessive amount of control over the river. Meanwhile, it wants money from the city of Rancho Cordova, which borders the river.

The money is for parkway planning. But the planning process is a case study in outdated governance and inappropriate behavior by all involved. The county launched a new discussion of parkway management after the creation of Rancho Cordova in 2003.

It could have advanced the legislative changes necessary to give the new city a direct seat at the table. But it didn't. It proceeded as if the new city (which it never really supported) didn't exist.

Inevitable friction surfaced. Rancho Cordova realized it was treated as the jilted cousin along the river. And it reacted in kind. State Sen. Dave Cox, R-Fair Oaks, drafted a bill to give Rancho Cordova equal say in the governance of the parkway.

The county was outraged. Cox was easily outflanked by Sacramento's Democratic allies. The county preferred to be indignant rather than to get the message: It is time to share power.


Good overview of ours from London, and an urgent call which needs a response from public leadership.

International Herald Tribune
Is aging infrastructure slowing the U.S.?
By Daniel Altman
Tuesday, June 26, 2007

For roughly a century, the United States has had the world's biggest economy. One of its strengths has been its infrastructure, from the rails and telegraph lines laid in the 19th century to the airports and fiber-optic networks of today. But as the United States struggles to stay ahead of China, is its aging infrastructure slowing it down?

In almost every area - from waterworks to bridges and dams, highways to mass transit - many experts have answered "yes." A report card by the American Society of Civil Engineers, issued in 2005, gave the nation C's and D's in 14 of 15 categories, with an "incomplete" added for security.

Some of these deficiencies have very real costs to economic growth. The poor condition of roads, the engineers estimated, costs $120 billion a year in repairs, operating costs and time wasted in traffic - that's equivalent to a full percentage point of the economy.

"There's a tremendous need," said Larry Roth, a professional engineer who is deputy executive director of the engineers' group. "Not only are we not keeping pace with growth, but we're not keeping pace with the maintenance that's required. As a result, our infrastructure is simply crumbling."

To eliminate its weaknesses, the United States would have to spend about $160 billion a year over five years, Roth added. That total of $800 billion is not so different from the $700 billion in estimated direct spending on the war in Iraq. Yet like investments in basic research and higher education, which may not pay off for decades, spending on infrastructure can be a tough sell for politicians.

Their time horizon is usually the next election, not the next generation. And at the national level, infrastructure has hardly been an issue. "The American public is really aware of infrastructure," Roth said. "However, their view of infrastructure is very local and focused. They don't look at infrastructure as a broad, statewide issue, and certainly they don't look at it as a national issue."

Corn as Fuel & Food

All too often, the hardest hit by these hastily contrived policies are the poor.

June 27, 2007
'Big Corn' and Unintended Consequences
by Ray Nothstine, Associate Editor

Ronald Reagan once said that the most terrifying words in the English language are, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help." His one-liner immediately comes to mind when looking at the problems behind the federal government’s campaign to boost production of corn-based ethanol with a massive, 51 cent per gallon subsidy.

Ethanol and other bio-fuels are advertised as one of the main cures for our oil-thirsty economy. But it’s clear that the ethanol boom, with a major assist from Washington, is succeeding in simultaneously raising both fuel and food prices.

With more than 20 percent of corn now dedicated to ethanol production, the USDA is projecting a record U.S. corn crop in 2007 -- along with record prices. Outside the United States, the unintended consequences of ill considered policies promoting ethanol and other bio-fuel crops are already in full view. The poor, of course, are hardest hit.

In Mexico, where corn is a staple, rapidly rising prices for tortillas has sparked open revolt. Tortilla prices skyrocketed more than threefold last year. In fact things were so bad protestors took to the streets in Mexico City to fight back against the steep surge in prices, compelling the normally free market minded President Felipe Calderon to cap prices at 78 cents per kilogram.

Religious leaders are speaking out. In March, Roman Catholic bishops in Brazil warned that a rapid increase in ethanol production based on sugar cane could lead to widespread deforestation, massive relocation of workers and their communities, and harsh working conditions for cane cutters. Analysts predict that Brazil, the world’s largest exporter of ethanol, may increase ethanol production as much as 40 percent in the next four years. "We are going to turn the country into a huge cane (plantation)," said Cardinal Geraldo Majella Agnelo. In Colombia, Christian aid organizations say armed groups are driving peasants off their lands to make way for plantations of palm oil, another biofuel. Acreage dedicated to production of the palm oil tree has more than doubled in the last four years.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

ARPPS President’s Letter Published

Blame it on the enviros

As we witness the destruction of neighborhoods caused by the recent wildfire at South Lake Tahoe, and begin to assess its impact on the forest, wildlife, lake and air quality, let's not forget that this isn't the first fire that has raged out of control because environmental policies have prohibited wise forest management.

For years, forestry experts have warned that unless government and private landowners are allowed to properly thin stands of healthy trees and remove dead and diseased ones, we are going to have to learn to live with major forest fires.

Environmentalists have also forbidden the building of new dams to store water, generate power and prevent floods. We are already paying for this mistake with water shortages and rising electricity prices. The next big flood will complete this fool's bargain. I'm moving to higher ground and buying a boat.

- Michael Rushford, Carmichael

Park Smoking Ban Announcement

Interesting contrast between this ban (which we support) to the alcohol ban on the Parkway during holidays (which we don’t) as the smoking ban addresses the ill-affects of any use because of second-hand smoke, to those close by, while the alcohol ban addresses the abuse of some (but punishes all) users to those close by.

This is a big difference calling for a different response which we trust public leadership will eventually take into account.

City to ban smoking in 211 parks
Published 12:00 am PDT Wednesday, June 27, 2007

In 30 days, smoking will be prohibited in the city's 211 parks.

The City Council in May gave preliminary approval for the ban. On Tuesday, the council unanimously voted to make it official.

Some caveats are included. A six-month pilot program was approved to put designated smoking areas in three larger parks: Southside, Curtis and North Laguna parks, said city spokeswoman Jessica Hess.

Also, the smoking ban does not apply to adjoining sidewalks or golf courses.

-- Terri Hardy

Tahoe Fire

The difficulty in creating a defensible space around private homes and the forest management practice over the last few decades is probably largely to blame for the severity of this fire, as later investigations will very possibly determine.

Failure to clear brush aided fire, officials say
By Mary Lynne Vellinga and Matt Weiser - Bee Staff Writers
Published 12:00 am PDT Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The failure of property owners to clear small trees and brush from around their houses contributed greatly to the devastation of this week's fire south of Lake Tahoe, according to fire experts touring the burned areas.

Houses sitting on cleared spaces with irrigated plants, fire-resistant roofs, metal fences and other fire-safe features were spared while their neighbors' homes burned.

"A lot of homeowner inaction went into creating this urban fire," said John Pickett, Tahoe Region Chapter Coordinator for the Nevada Fire Safe Council, as he drove through burned neighborhoods Tuesday.

On Cone Road, a house with gravel spread around the foundation, cleared brush and a metal fence survived unscathed while the one across the street was burned to the foundation.

And on Boulder Mountain Drive, a house with a stone patio swept free of pine needles and sprinklers placed on the roof was still standing. All of its neighbors were gone.

"If you look at how many small flammable sticks there were throughout here, you can tell they weren't dealing with their defensible space; there's tons of ground fuel," said Stewart McMorrow, forest fuels manager for the North Tahoe Fire Protection District.

Julie Regan, spokeswoman for the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, said the majority of the 1,300 properties in the area affected by the fire did not have "defensible space," a cleared area around the home.

Not all of these had homes built on them, and not all were in the direct path of the flames. In all, 275 structures had burned as of Tuesday afternoon, 200 of them houses, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

"It's obvious we need to do more to educate the community," Regan said.

The condition of national forest land adjacent to the neighborhoods played a role, too. Streets next to land thinned of underbrush and small trees by the U.S. Forest Service fared better than those next to more overgrown areas, Pickett said.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Blueprint Building

While having a committee, in the case of the blueprint model a committee of the community, is a very worthwhile preliminary source of information about what those on the committee would like to see in the communities, it takes visionary leadership able to balance that with knowledge of the market and what works to actually create communities.

History clearly shows that suburban living oriented to individual transportation methods, whether chariots, carriages, or cars, is how most people want to live.

In the ARPPS newsletter of January 2007 we reviewed the book: Sprawl: A Compact History
. Robert Bruegmann (2005), University of Chicago Press.

In his research for the book, the author, a professor of art history, architecture, and urban planning, found that the arguments against sprawl, the “sprawl crusade” as he terms it:

“Had generated a great deal of heat but not much light and was primarily of interest to a small group of academics…then in the mid-1990’s…the anti-sprawl crusade suddenly caught fire…Virtually overnight the anti-sprawl reformers’ new catchphrase “smart growth” seemed to be everywhere.” (p. 8)

However he found a much more positive history of suburban living, discovering:

“That sprawl is neither a recent phenomena nor peculiarly American, as many reformers argue. It is, instead, merely the latest chapter in a story as old as cities themselves and just as apparent in imperial Rome, the Paris of Louis XIV, or London between the world wars as it is in today’s Atlanta or Las Vegas, or, for that matter, contemporary Paris or Rome. I try to show that our understanding of urban development is woefully out of date because it is based on old and obsolete assumptions about cities, suburbs, and rural area. In fact, I argue that many of the problems that are usually blamed on sprawl—traffic congestion, for example—are, if anything, the result of the slowing of sprawl and increasing density in urban areas.” (pp. 9-10)

Editorial: Placer tide turning?
'Vineyards' project must break suburban mold
Published 12:00 am PDT Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Placer County's most important development project in the planning process appeared headed in the wrong direction for months, but suddenly things seem to be changing.
The development is called Placer Vineyards, a massive, 5,230-acre site just south of Baseline Road and north of the Sacramento County border.

As this region prepares to double in population, making the most of that land is absolutely vital. If it is a traditional suburban, car-oriented development, Placer Vineyards won't serve future needs.

The Placer County Planning Commission, when reviewing the Placer Vineyards proposal some months back, simply couldn't break out of the suburban mind-set. It endorsed a design that called for thousands fewer housing units than are necessary. But now that the project is before the Placer County Board of Supervisors in a series of workshops -- including one today -- things are looking up. And one reason seems to be Supervisor Rocky Rockholm.

Placer Vineyards, while seemingly on the fringes of civilization at the moment, will be a pivotal community in the decades ahead. It will be a short drive from thousands of jobs in Sacramento County at the nearby Metro Airpark (across from the international airport). It will be near Placer Parkway, which we hope will be an important transit corridor. If designed correctly, Placer Vineyards could be a bustling community in itself, with an urban-style core and compact housing that allows residents to walk to shops or to their nearby jobs. That means throwing out the traditional suburban design and crafting something with a lot more condominiums, apartments and smaller-lot homes than Placer is accustomed to endorsing.

That new way of doing community design is called "the blueprint," named after a landmark planning process by the Sacramento Area Council of Governments.

Tahoe Fire

All the contradictions of living in the forest yet unable to do what needs to be done to protect your house from fire are inflamed today.

Prevention steps few, difficult to implement
By Matt Weiser, Chris Bowman and Carrie Peyton Dahlberg - Bee Staff Writers
Published 12:00 am PDT Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The blaze that swallowed entire neighborhoods just south of Lake Tahoe struck in one of the worst places at one of the worst times.

It rode high winds and leaped through trees and brush already drier than usual from a mild winter. When it reached densely populated streets tucked amid pines, the fire illustrated the enormous challenge of protecting Tahoe's suburbs in the wilderness.

"Home construction in the forest ... opens you up to more risk," said U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Yvonne Jones. When an inferno reaches the forest crown, "humans cannot keep up with it, just literally cannot."

More than 44,000 year-round and vacation homes dotting the woods make it impossible for the Tahoe basin to get full benefit of fire-prevention strategies designed for forestlands.

Because of the homes, Forest Service officials say, they can't conduct enough controlled or "prescribed" burns to clear out heavy underbrush -- the "ladder fuel" that allows flames to climb to crowns of tall trees and explode into embers that propel the fire. Similarly, firefighters are loath to set backfires to contain a blaze at Tahoe.

In the summer, according to the Forest Service, the lake region's population swells to more than 100,000.

Icebergs & Global Warming

A symptom may provide part of the cure…interesting!

New ecosystem borne of floating icebergs
Amber Dance, Los Angeles Times
Friday, June 22, 2007

The proliferation of drifting Antarctic icebergs caused by rising temperatures is creating a vast new ecosystem of plankton, krill and seabirds that may have the power to absorb some of the carbon dioxide that is driving global warming, scientists reported Thursday.

The researchers, led by oceanographer Kenneth Smith Jr. of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in Moss Landing (Monterey County), found that these iceberg-associated communities may cover a significant portion of Antarctic seas.

The ecosystems use photosynthesis to take carbon from the atmosphere and convert it into plant life and other forms of organic carbon that can be held in the ocean.
"I think it can be a substantial contribution" to reducing carbon dioxide levels, Smith said. "These things have been ignored forever."

As glaciers move across Antarctica, they accumulate nutrient-rich dirt and dust. When rising temperatures prompt the glaciers to break up, the resulting icebergs carry that material out to sea.

The researchers, who published their findings in the online version of the journal Science, analyzed two icebergs in the Weddell Sea, at the southernmost part of the Atlantic Ocean.

They found that soil and other organic matter escaping from the icebergs provided nutrients and support for plankton and algae. Krill then fed on the plankton.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Bridges Over River Waters

We could not agree more that our public leadership needs to build bridges to unify communities not keep moats separating them.

We would also add that the beauty of our river region cries out for bridge building with the level of attention to site and heritage represented by the beauty and history of our new Mayor and City Council's home.

Editorial: Bristling about bridge
Council too skittish about Broadway span
Published 12:00 am PDT Monday, June 25, 2007

It appears the residents of some lovely Sacramento neighborhoods would prefer a moat rather than a bridge, and the City Council seems to think that its job is to start digging.

The city had been proceeding smoothly in a partnership with West Sacramento to study a new four-lane span over the Sacramento River at Broadway. Then neighborhood associations representing Land Park, Southside Park and Curtis Park began to complain. Suddenly that study was defective. Other, unidentified locations needed to be added to the mix. So did a bridge for just trolleys or pedestrians.

There's nothing wrong with a good study, but this tussle really isn't about the scope of analysis. This is about an emerging regional need and local politics that need to be addressed.

There isn't a bridge alignment that won't upset somebody on either side of the river. The Broadway location was identified, quite logically and quite correctly, because it avoided existing neighborhoods.

A new bridge is necessary because too much local traffic between Sacramento and West Sacramento is funneled onto Interstate 80. The bottleneck will only worsen as the region doubles its population in the coming decades. The region will have to get smarter about its circulation patterns and its use of freeway capacity.

Academic Strategy

The building of colleges in our region is a great blessing, and the communities that will eventually surround them greater still.

Colleges a growth tactic
Campuses anchor three subdivisions in the early planning stages in region.
By Eric Stern - Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PDT Monday, June 25, 2007

In its bubble of academia, dorms and downtown shops, the city of Davis -- home of a University of California campus -- certainly has a college-town feel.

What if cool college towns sprouted near Roseville and Rancho Cordova?

Developers hope the idea will generate excitement -- and support -- from city and county officials. It also would open the door to build more homes. Thousands of them.

Forget about sports arenas. The latest strategy to break up farmland for development has developers teaming up with colleges and universities, using them as potential anchors for massive new subdivisions.

"What reason would anyone want to stop a university?" developer Angelo K. Tsakopoulos once asked.

Three projects are in the early phases of the planning process. They are in areas that are not off-limits to future development, but they are not without controversy.

Critics such as Graham Brownstein, executive director of the Environmental Council of Sacramento, said developers are using "Trojan horse universities" as a way to build more homes in the countryside.

The latest proposal involves the startup University of Sacramento, a private Catholic school that hopes to build a campus for 7,000 students.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Expo’s Land Use Decision

In what will be one of the major land use decisions facing public leadership, and the market, over the next decade, decisions need to be made about the best use of Cal Expo.

The arena idea is a bad one without major freeway work on what is already one of the worst bottlenecks in our region.

Editorial: More than a fair
Published 12:00 am PDT Sunday, June 24, 2007

The California State Fair's facilities, known as Cal Expo, occupy 360 acres of prime land in the heart of Sacramento. All of Cal Expo's operations generate about $30 million a year in revenue. If the fair itself was purring along as an increasingly popular destination, those numbers might not be significant. But they're telling of the overall enterprise and the state of the fair itself. Attendance is down more than 20 percent in five years.

Cal Expo needs more than some modernized buildings and a spiffier monorail. It needs a thorough overhaul. That will be easier said than done, given financial realities. But the way to look at its future is to consider all that land and all that potential for multiple public uses throughout the year.

In terms of land consumption, the horse racing track and its 6,000-seat grandstand are an increasingly dubious use of space. The fair's master plan calls for shrinking the grandstand to maybe 600 seats, the logic of which is not immediately apparent. Given the lack of interest in harness racing, reusing this land should be a high priority. But reusing it for what purpose? Two possibilties are apparent.

One is an arena. Based on a recent story by The Bee's Mary Lynne Vellinga, Cal Expo and downtown are the two sites under study by the National Basketball Association.
Downtown seems to still be the favored site of politically active arena backers, but Cal Expo may surface as the achievable alternative. It has plenty of parking and existing freeway access. While not downtown, the site is central to the region...

…The second possibility is more retail development.

Here the fair has to be extremely careful. Retail may bring in money, but it could simply compete with neighboring businesses, which would be pointless. And any retail has to somehow be consistent with the mission of the fair. Brian May, Cal Expo's deputy general manager, said the fair will explore partnerships with retail developers, which is not a bad first step.

River Taxi

A nice idea that doesn’t seem to pay its way probably needs to be shelved unless public leadership can make a case for continuing to funnel public money to it.

River taxis up the creek
River Otter service is left high and dry as new owners and chamber argue about money.
By Terri Hardy - Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PDT Sunday, June 24, 2007

The River Otter Water Taxi -- a ubiquitous sight on the Sacramento River for more than a decade -- has disappeared from the waterfront.

The firm's phone has been disconnected, and its ticket booth in Old Sacramento is shuttered.

In November, the Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce sold the taxi service to a private partnership, Sacramento Yacht Charters LLC. The new owners paid a 5 percent down payment but failed to come up with the remainder by the mid-February deadline, said Matt Mahood, the chamber's president and CEO.

"This deal has dragged on for a very long time, and we're very frustrated," Mahood said. "Not only are we concerned that we haven't been paid, but we spent more than 10 years developing this business, something that people really enjoy, and suddenly it's not operating."

Delta Announcement

Workshop set on hazards to Delta
Published 12:00 am PDT Sunday, June 24, 2007

The public is invited to a workshop Tuesday to hear early findings from an initial report on hazards to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

The state Department of Water Resources will present a draft of the first phase of the Delta Risk Management Strategy, which aims to define the causes and risks of levee failure.

The finished report aims to define a strategy to make the Delta sustainable in the future.

The study evolved from a realization that aging levees, climate change and natural disasters could eventually cause catastrophic change in the Delta, with harmful consequences for the 25 million Californians who depend on it for drinking water.

A draft of the report's first phase is expected to be released in July.

On Tuesday, officials will explain the strategy, present early findings and answer questions. The meeting is from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at The Point restaurant, 120 Marina Drive, Rio Vista.

For more information, visit the Web site at or call (916) 653-6192.

-- Matt Weiser

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Parkway Plan Funding

There is a disparity in the funds asked for in relation to the involvement of geographical representatives on the planning committee that worked on the Parkway Plan.

The County got five seats, the city of Sacramento got four seats, and Rancho Cordova got one; and considering the area of the Parkway within Rancho Cordova’s city limits (25%) one can understand the concerns.

County wants city to pony up
By Ed Fletcher - Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PDT Saturday, June 23, 2007

After its attempt to gain more control over the American River Parkway through legislative action was blocked by Sacramento County in April 2006, the city of Rancho Cordova reassured elected leaders that it was a good team player.

Now Sacramento County would like to see Rancho Cordova put up money to prove it.

The county has asked a number of local agencies to help fund the master plan update for the 23-mile parkway along the American River from Discovery Park to the Nimbus Dam fish hatchery, often called "the jewel of Sacramento."

Two years of studies, workshops, planning sessions, community meetings and an environmental study brought the cost of updating the plan to nearly $1 million.

In 2006, the county sent a letter to Rancho Cordova asking for a contribution of $50,000. So far, Rancho Cordova has committed $4,700 to the process.

By comparison, the city of Sacramento had given $150,000. Sacramento County will pay $165,000.

American Riverfront Development

A new project along the American River in the Richards Blvd area is being discussed.

Huge project stresses transit
A 65-acre residential and retail development is proposed for north of downtown railyard.
By Jim Wasserman - Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PDT Saturday, June 23, 2007

A plan for one of the largest downtown-area residential developments in decades is about to be considered at Sacramento City Hall -- and it's not the railyard.

A local development team -- Capitol Station 65 LLC -- wants to build nearly 3,000 condominiums, town houses and apartments on 65 acres just north of its better-known neighbor.

They're calling it Township 9, a $1.7 billion transit-oriented development plan that backers say will usher an urban lifestyle into an aging Sacramento industrial zone called the River District. Many compare the proposed development -- bounded by Richards Boulevard, North Fifth and North Seventh streets and the American River -- to those that helped redevelop older downtown-area neighborhoods of Dallas, Denver and Portland, Ore.

The project's ultimate goal: fewer cars and a pedestrian-friendly environment. In fact, the plan largely avoids widening roads. Among its key features is a planned light-rail stop at Richards Boulevard and North Seventh Street.

The riverfront project, with its urban mix of housing, retail and possibly offices, is set for an introduction Thursday to the Sacramento Planning Commission.

Better World Every Day

This is an excellent book review which examines the current state of our world in the context of the free market conception that leaving it all to the market is the way to go.

It isn’t, and the reviewer understands that we need a strong government to balance strong capitalism and social justice.

Better and Better: The Myth of Inevitable Progress
By James Surowiecki
From Foreign Affairs, July/August 2007
The Improving State of the World: Why We're Living Longer, Healthier, More Comfortable Lives on a Cleaner Planet. . Indur M. Goklany. : Cato Institute, 2007, 516 pp.$29.95

"Day by day, in every way, I am getting better and better." That mantra, invented by the self-taught psychologist Émile Coué in the nineteenth century, kept running through my head as I read Indur Goklany's new book on the relationship between economic growth and human and environmental progress, The Improving State of the World. Just as Coué told his patients that incessant repetition of his mantra would make it come true, Goklany seems to believe that saying often enough -- and in enough different ways -- that life today is better than ever will make it so.

Goklany depicts a global economy in which nearly all signs are positive -- and in which the problems that do exist, such as stagnation or setbacks in sub-Saharan Africa and the former Soviet Union, will be solved if economic growth and technological improvements are allowed to work their magic. Nor is this, in Goklany's account, a new phenomenon. He marshals an impressive array of historical data to argue that the trajectory of the twentieth century has been generally upward and onward. Taken as a whole, Goklany argues, humanity really has been getting better and better day by day, so that today, as his subtitle puts it, "we're living longer, healthier, more comfortable lives on a cleaner planet."

Seen from a broad historical perspective, this description is, for most people, accurate enough. Just about everyone living today is the beneficiary of what can almost certainly be called the single most consequential development in human history -- namely, the onset of industrialization. As the economic historian Angus Maddison has shown in a series of studies of economic development over the past two millennia, human economies grew very little, if at all, for most of human history. Between 1000 and 1820 or so, Maddison estimates, annual economic growth was around 0.05 percent a year -- which meant that living standards improved incredibly slowly and that people living in 1800 were only mildly better off than people living in 1000. But sometime around 1820, that all began to change. Between 1820 and today, world per capita real income grew 20 times as fast as it did in the previous eight centuries.

In the West, above all, the effects of this transformation have been so massive as to be practically unfathomable. Real income, life expectancy, literacy and education rates, and food consumption have soared, while infant mortality, hours worked, and food prices have plummeted. And although the West has been the biggest beneficiary of these changes, the diffusion of technology, medicine, and agricultural techniques has meant that developing countries have enjoyed dramatic improvements in what the United Nations calls "human development indicators," even if most of their citizens remain poor. One consequence of this is that people at a given income level today are likely to be healthier and to live longer than people at the same income level did 40 or 50 years ago.

In one sense, all of this should be obvious, since a moment's thought -- or a quick read of a nineteenth-century novel -- should suffice to remind you of how much better, at least in material terms, life is today than it was a century ago, let alone in the 1600s. But as behavioral economists have persuasively demonstrated, human beings quickly adapt to their surroundings and come to take their current state of affairs for granted. In other words, it is difficult, even after your life has changed dramatically for the better, to remain aware of just how much better it is, and even harder to truly appreciate how much better you have it than your great-grandparents did. So part of Goklany's project here -- and it is a valuable part -- is to make clear just how much real progress there has been over the past two centuries and even (in many places) over the past two decades in the life of the average human being.


Goklany's target is not just the natural tendency of human beings to take things for granted. His real opponents are what he calls the "neo-Malthusians" -- those who are convinced that there are natural limits to growth and that humanity has been butting up against them for quite some time now. The neo-Malthusians had their heyday in the 1960s and early 1970s, with works such as Paul Ehrlich's The Population Bomb and the Club of Rome's appropriately titled The Limits to Growth. Although their doomsaying about population growth and industrialization is no longer front-page news, their deep-seated skepticism about the virtues of economic growth and their conviction that the richer people get, the worse things become for the earth remain an important strand of modern environmentalism. If Goklany sees progress everywhere he looks, the neo-Malthusians see impending disaster: air pollution, the disappearance of habitats, the emptying of aquifers, the demolition of forest cover, and the proliferation of new diseases. Day by day, in every way, in other words, we are getting worse and worse.

The problem with neo-Malthusianism, as Goklany appropriately suggests, is that it has consistently underestimated the beneficial effects of technological change. The e = mc2 of the neo-Malthusians was introduced three decades ago, when Paul Ehrlich and John Holdren invented the equation I = PAT. Environmental impact (I) was said to be the product of population size (P), level of affluence (A), and technological efficiency (T). According to this logic, not only are population growth and economic growth bad for the earth, but so, too, is technological change, since it has a multiplier effect on the other two factors. The only way to save the planet, from the neo-Malthusians' perspective, is to set strict limits on human behavior, doing everything possible to rein in businesses and consumers.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Cool Paint

Another way technology works to help the environment, a very cool idea.

'Cool paint' among first of climate-change rules
By Jim Downing - Bee Staff Writer
Published 5:07 am PDT Friday, June 22, 2007

To help California begin the process of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020, the state Air Resources Board on Thursday mandated a technology that anyone who's been through a summer in Sacramento can relate to: "cool paint" for cars.

By blending in special pigments, car paint of any color can be made to reflect much of the sun's heat energy. That will keep the vehicle's interior cooler and reduce the demand on the air conditioner -- which in turn improves fuel efficiency and cuts carbon dioxide emissions a bit.

The cool paint requirement was one of five emissions-cutting strategies adopted by the state air board in the first package of regulations authorized by Assembly Bill 32, the climate-change law enacted last year. The plans will now wind their way through the state's rule-making process, and are scheduled to become law by Jan. 1, 2010.

Council Allows Natomas Building

Considering what has already been built there, probably the wisest move to make, though flood protection is very inadequate and work has to proceed urgently (fingers crossed) to see it increases.

City: No Natomas limits
By Terri Hardy - Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PDT Friday, June 22, 2007

Despite the objections of environmental groups, the City Council voted unanimously Thursday to ask the federal government to allow unrestricted construction in North Natomas while levees are brought up to minimum flood standards.

Mayor Heather Fargo was out of the country.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last year ruled Natomas basin levees were weaker than believed and no longer met a minimum 100-year flood protection standard.

By the end of this year, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will decide on a flood designation for the entire basin. Sutter County and Sacramento County supervisors already approved seeking the least restrictive "A99" designation.

Sierra Land Sale

A very nice addition to the lands along the Truckee River, truly one of our area’s most beautiful rivers, and the result of a well-done public/private partnership.

Sale protects Truckee corridor
State, Nature Conservancy pay $2 million for river canyon land that links two national forests.
By Barbara Barte Osborn - Bee Correspondent
Published 12:00 am PDT Friday, June 22, 2007

Public acquisition of 3,344 scenic acres in the Truckee River Canyon was announced Thursday by the Nature Conservancy.

The $2 million purchase links hundreds of thousands of acres of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest to the Tahoe National Forest and is an important migration corridor for wildlife, said conservancy spokeswoman Misty Herrin.

The land, which includes seven miles along the river, is on the California side of the state line between Truckee and Reno, both of which are experiencing rapid development.

"The concept of protecting contiguous pieces of property is essential for wildlife corridors and habitat conservation," said state Resources Agency Secretary Mike Chrisman.

The agency, through the 2002 River Parkways Grant Program, provided $1.5 million toward the purchase of the Sierra Pacific Power Co. land.

The conservancy, which brokered the deal, used private funds for the remainder.
"It's exactly the kind of project for which these general obligation bond dollars were designed," Chrisman said.

"What you have here is a classic private-public partnership -- a broad collaboration to protect a very valuable watershed."

King Salmon

This is a very nice profile of a man and an organization working to protect the wild Atlantic salmon.

Orri Vigfússon
Saving the King of Fish
June 19, 2007

Orri Vigfússon has been called the most honored angler on earth. But to Vigfússon, the fish is the thing—specifically the wild North Atlantic salmon, or as it is often called, the king of fish.

Vigfússon grew up on the north coast of Iceland in a fishing family that watched its herring catches disappear as the fish population declined. When, in the 1960s, he began to notice a decline in salmon returning to Iceland’s rivers from their ocean feeding grounds, he resolved that this species would not fall victim to high seas or coastal netting.

A businessman with diverse commercial interests, Vigfússon became a philanthropist, founded the North Atlantic Salmon Fund and has spent the past 17 years fighting to preserve a species that, when he began, was endangered and becoming more so.

He began with the belief that professional fishermen have the right to earn a living. Hence the fund’s guiding principle that every netsman who volunteers to stop salmon fishing must receive fair compensation and help in finding alternative employment.

That is the basis of the commercial agreements that now protect the salmon’s high seas feeding grounds off Greenland, Iceland and the Faroes, the shores of Canada and northeast coast of the USA, the coastal waters of England, Wales and Northern Ireland and, most recently, the Trondheim region of Norway and coastal Ireland.

The fund’s second guiding principle is that salmon management is best left to the private sector. This is based on Vigfússon’s experience with several Icelandic angling clubs which successfully run some of the country’s best-known salmon rivers.

This private sector strategy has been both effective and rewarding. Iceland’s wild salmon are now key contributors to the national economy. Across the North Atlantic, private incentives have enhanced conservation efforts and the value of salmon to fishermen, landowners and rural economies.

Vigfússon, now the fund’s international chairman, has been honored by Denmark, Iceland, Britain’s Prince Charles and, most recently, with the Goldman Environmental Prize, which annually goes to six grassroots environmentalists.

Vigfússon plans to use the $125,000 prize to attract matching funds that will improve the river spawning grounds for his king of fish.

Philanthropy: Many Americans, including philanthropists otherwise involved in conservation issues, may not be familiar with wild Atlantic salmon. Could you talk about why it is such a prized fish and how it contributes to North Atlantic economies?

Mr. Vigfússon: The North Atlantic salmon is thought of by many as the king of fish. It is a spectacular creature, and it has a very exciting life history. It’s born in a river as an egg and spends two to five years in the rivers before there is a chemical change in the body of the fish that produces an urge to go to sea to feed.

They go out into the Atlantic, whether they are from the United States, Canada or Europe, and they spend one to five years feeding on the high seas, normally in the area where the surface temperature is between four and eight degrees Celsius.

Then they get the urge to go back home to spawn. They always find their own home rivers—or that’s how the story goes. For example, most of the salmon from rivers in New England seem to feed off the west coast of Greenland before returning to the rivers where they were born.

These rivers are usually located in rural areas, and salmon fishing usually provides a very high proportion of the income of the people who live in those areas. On the west coast of Iceland, probably 75 percent of farm income comes from sport fishing. The farmers operate lodges and provide fishing guides. A typical farmer gets 50 to 70 percent of his income from that. And then he runs a pony trekking operation, or perhaps has rug-making equipment.

Whatever the farmer’s other sources of income may be, salmon fishing is important. Salmon are very exciting game fish, so people pay very high prices to come and fish for them.

U.S. Drought

Overview of current drought conditions around the country.

'Farmers are reporting nothing but dust'
More than a third of U.S. now seized by choking drought
By Dahleen Glanton
Tribune national correspondent
Published June 19, 2007

ATLANTA -- North and South Carolina are fighting over a river. In Tennessee, springs are drying up, jeopardizing production of Jack Daniel's whiskey. The mayor of Los Angeles is asking residents to take shorter showers. And in Georgia, the governor is praying for rain.

More than a third of the United States is in the grip of a menacing drought that threatens to make its way into Illinois and other Midwestern states before the summer ends.

While much of the West has experienced drought conditions for close to a decade, the latest system is centered over Alabama and extends to much of the Southeast, heavily affecting Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, North and South Carolina and Virginia, as well as parts of Arkansas and West Virginia.

A level D4 drought, the most extreme level charted and the worst in the nation, covers northern Alabama and touches parts of Mississippi, Tennessee and Georgia. Severe drought conditions are moving north, into Kentucky and closer to Illinois.

"It's one of the worst droughts in living memory in the Southeast at this point," said Doug LeComte, a drought specialist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "This happens only about every 50 years or so."

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Dump the Pump Day

Many years ago, when I was single, living downtown in an apartment a few blocks from work, and reading Brautigan, I lived for about three years without a car, using a bike most of the time, and it was wonderful.

Now, with a family, living in the suburbs, and even though I work from home, (and still have my Brautigan books) I cannot imagine living life relying on mass transit or a bike.

As good an idea as mass (or bike) transit might be to many people, the freedom, resiliency, and safety of getting around the region in my car is just a much better one.

Editorial notebook: Transitarian and proud
Published 12:00 am PDT Thursday, June 21, 2007

Today is Dump the Pump Day, a national invitation to commuters to park their cars and discover the value of using transit. Sacramento Regional Transit is even offering "I Dumped the Pump" buttons to bus riders today. Certainly worth the $2 price of admission. (In the central city, you can hop on for $1.)

Back in February, I parked my Dodge Caravan, which on a good day gets less than 20 mpg in freeway driving, and purchased a monthly RT pass. I haven't driven to work since.

The American Public Transit Association estimates that using public transit saves 1.4 billion gallons of gasoline a year. When I drove to work I would fill the Caravan with gas at least once a week. In today's $3-plus per gallon world, that's $200 a month. Compare that with the $85 monthly RT pass.

But beyond the economics, there's a social responsibility, a responsibility to the planet. Keeping that car parked reduces smog-producing pollutants and lessens my contribution to the causes of global warming.

In my newfound enthusiasm for transit, I've even created a word to describe people like myself who volunteer to leave their cars at home: transitarian. (Not to be confused with the Spanish third-person plural of transitar in the conditional.)

Life as a transitarian has been an entertaining adventure. As Richard Brautigan wrote in his short story, "The Old Bus": "There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing."

California’s Global Warming Bill

The first implementation efforts get underway.

State rules to tackle climate issues
The air board is set to adopt the first part of its plan to reduce emissions.
By Jim Downing - Bee Staff Writer
Published 5:08 am PDT Thursday, June 21, 2007

The greenhouse gases are about to hit the fan.

In Los Angeles today, the state Air Resources Board is scheduled to adopt the first detailed emissions-cutting regulations under California's umbrella global warming law, Assembly Bill 32.

While AB 32 was signed into law with bipartisan fanfare last fall, the state's first steps in implementing it this spring have drawn criticism from across the political spectrum.

AB 32 requires the state to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. That's equivalent to reducing gasoline consumption by an average of 800 million gallons a year, each year, for the next 13 years.

That's something no industrial economy has ever done, and many environmental groups say air board staff hasn't been aggressive enough with the "early action measures" up for a vote today.

Delta Pumping

The peripheral canal is probably the only long-range resolution to this ongoing dilemma.

New curb sought on Delta pumping
By Matt Weiser - Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PDT Thursday, June 21, 2007

Environmental groups have asked a federal judge to restrict water exports in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta after 10 days of renewed pumping have killed hundreds of threatened Delta smelt.

Water pumps in the Delta routinely kill many smelt in the course of exporting water to the Bay Area and Southern California. State and federal water agencies curtailed the diversions starting May 31 after population surveys indicated the tiny fish may be near extinction.

The pumping resumed June 10 in response to water shortage fears, and 516 smelt have been recorded killed since then. Yet combined pumping by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and California Department of Water Resources was projected to increase further this week.

The Delta provides water to 25 million Californians and more than 5 million acres of farmland.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

China Biggest Contributor to Global Warming: Announcement

China overtakes U.S. in greenhouse gas emissions

Bloomberg News
Wednesday, June 20, 2007

LONDON: China overtook the United States in 2006 as the world's biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas blamed for the bulk of global warming, a policy group that advises the Dutch government said.

China produced 6,200 million tons of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels and making cement last year, the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency said Tuesday on its Web site. That pushed it past the United States, which produced 5,800 million tons of the gas, the agency said.

The United Nations blames greenhouse gases for causing global warming, increasing the risk of rising sea levels, droughts and floods. At present, neither China nor the United States are subject to targets under the only international treaty requiring emissions cuts, the Kyoto Protocol, whose provisions expire in 2012.

European leaders hope to jump-start negotiations for a successor agreement this year.

Rapid industrialization in China has long prompted predictions that it would overtake the United States as the world's biggest emitter. Fatih Birol, the International Energy Agency's chief economist, said in April that China would become the biggest emitter this year or next, an advance on the IEA's previous forecast of 2009. Ma Kai, chairman of the top economic planning body in China, the National Development and Reform Commission, said this month that China would "definitely" overtake the United States, though he did not say when that might be.

The Dutch figures do not include emissions from flaring gas during oil and gas production, from underground coal fires, or from deforestation. The agency used fossil fuel consumption data from BP's "Review of Energy 2007" and cement production data from the U.S. Geological Survey to produce its emissions estimates.

Gao Guangsheng, director of the National and Development and Reform Commission's National Coordination Committee on Climate Change, was not available to respond to telephone queries.

Folsom Growth

Planning for growth is always an exercise in what ifs, and Folsom's efforts appear no different from that of other cities in the region who have to plan to meet the obligations of continued growth—from people who want to live in a very nice area—places on them.

Editorial: Half a plan
Folsom's growth plan lacks water, limit
Published 12:00 am PDT Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The city of Folsom is seeking to begin a conversation with residents about its plans to expand south of Highway 50. But two questions -- Where will the water come from? And where will the growth eventually stop? -- seem to be off the table.

That's unfortunate because those questions belong in the mix.

As the Sacramento region prepares to double its population in the next half-century, the new homes will have to come in a smart combination of new growth areas and existing communities that can make more efficient use of the land. The acreage south of Highway 50 and north of White Rock Road is within a future growth zone that has been sketched by the Sacramento Area Council of Governments. Folsom has spent many years negotiating with the county to control the destiny of this land.

The city's recent unveiling of its expansion plan, detailing where 12,000 new homes would be built and how 30 percent of the acreage would be preserved as open space, is an important step. This plan is intended to be the subject of conversations at public workshops, the first one on June 28 at 5 p.m. at the Folsom Community Center.

As an initial plan goes, it passes all the basic requirements. It's vital to create an array of housing types, not just traditional Folsom subdivisions. The south-of-50 Folsom needs to look and feel different than the north-of-50 version. In many ways, this will be its own city, for residents will be expected to pay the costs of new school construction, for the Folsom City Council has made it clear it doesn't want existing resources heading south of the highway.

Walters on Infrastructure Funding

Good case for responsible leadership.

Dan Walters: Borrowing cannot fill vast need
By Dan Walters - Bee Columnist
Published 12:00 am PDT Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Decades of political neglect, coupled with high rates of population growth, left California with an immense backlog of unmet needs for public works -- something north of $100 billion by the most conservative estimates -- and Arnold Schwarzenegger made "infrastructure" a major goal when he was elected governor.

It didn't happen precisely as Schwarzenegger intended, but last year he, the Legislature and, ultimately, voters agreed to issue more than $37 billion in general obligation bonds to finance improvements in highways, river levees, low-income housing, colleges and schools, and another $5 billion in bonds for water and parks projects were placed on the ballot by initiative.

It sounds like a lot of money, but it's only a fraction of the need and excluded new reservoirs and other water projects sought by Schwarzenegger, along with new prisons to relieve severe inmate overcrowding. This year, Schwarzenegger and lawmakers agreed to fill the prison gap with more bonds.

Schwarzenegger says he wants to place tens of billions of dollars in additional bonds before voters next year, but even were he to muster the political support, it's highly questionable whether the state's deficit-ridden budget can afford to service the complete infrastructure package the governor envisions.

The governor's bean counters have developed a strategy for servicing more bonds, assuming that the state's economy remains vibrant and that the bonds floated by the state in 2004 to refinance its deficit can be paid off early, thereby making room in the budget for more borrowing.

Both of those assumptions, however, are shaky. As the state's own data and a new forecast from UCLA economists indicate, the state's once-soaring economy is slowing markedly, thanks to the meltdown in the housing sector, and state income tax revenues are also flattening, making deficits a near-certainty for the remainder of Schwarzenegger's governorship. The Legislature, meanwhile, has balked at the accelerated bond payoff, preferring to spend the money elsewhere on current needs.

San Joaquin River

The deal to restore the river is still being negotiated.

River deal hits a crosscurrent
Texan in House may try to block funds to restore San Joaquin.
By Michael Doyle - Bee Washington Bureau
Published 12:00 am PDT Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Congressional budget hawks are maneuvering to block an ambitious San Joaquin River restoration deal.

Or, at least, fire a warning shot.

Today, a Texas Republican is threatening to offer an amendment cutting off federal funds for the proposed river restoration. If approved, it would be a major blow to a river plan with a federal price tag currently estimated to be half a billion dollars.

"It's basically a killer amendment," Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa, said Tuesday. "It would kill the bill."

But skeptics of the San Joaquin River restoration plan say the amendment cutting off funding sends an important signal.

"It just shows there are major problems with this settlement," Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, said Tuesday.

Though they are neighbors and fellow Republicans, Radanovich and Nunes vehemently disagree over the San Joaquin River. Throughout Tuesday, they and their respective allies and surrogates were wrangling for advantage on and off the House floor.

Radanovich supports plans to restore water flows below Friant Dam, so that salmon can be reintroduced into the San Joaquin River before 2014. State and federal money is needed to prepare the exhausted river channel, build levees and make other improvements.

Nunes opposes the current restoration plans, which would cut irrigation supplies to farmers on the San Joaquin Valley's west side by an estimated 19 percent annually. He is the only San Joaquin Valley lawmaker to publicly oppose river restoration legislation.

Light Buld Recycling Announcement

Wal-Mart offers lamp recycling
Published 12:00 am PDT Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Wal-Mart and Sam's Club will accept fluorescent tubes and compact fluorescent lamps on Saturday for recycling at all of their California stores.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. will sponsor drop-off kiosks from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at all 207 discount stores, Supercenters and membership club stores in the state. Houston-based Waste Management Inc. is partnering with Wal-Mart.

Broken fluorescent lights can release small amounts of mercury that create a hazard in landfills and in the atmosphere.

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Tiffany Moffatt said that kiosk attendants will accept up to five fluorescent tubes or compact lamps but will not take any incandescent lights for disposal.

-- Jon Ortiz

Bridge Plans Need More Planning

It is a good idea to keep discussing this and allow all stakeholders input before proceeding with the bridge that all agree is needed, as is one or two more across the American River.

Bridge plans put on pause
Neighbors complain, and city agrees to study alternatives to a Broadway span.
By Tony Bizjak - Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PDT Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Sacramento officials have backed off plans to focus solely on Broadway as the site of a new Sacramento River bridge.

Planners instead agreed to explore the entire riverfront for what they say is a much-needed crossing.

The move came after neighborhood groups complained a Broadway bridge would flood residential streets with cars, and after two legislators sent a letter urging the city to study a bridge designed more for mass transit than cars.

City officials acknowledged they had jumped the gun by focusing only on Broadway.
"There has been no analysis done to say Broadway makes the most sense vs. other locations," Assistant City Manager Marty Hanneman said. "We also need to look at what type of bridge this should be -- for cars, or for bike and pedestrians only, or streetcars some day."

City officials had launched a $400,000 study, jointly financed by the city of West Sacramento, of a four-lane bridge connecting Broadway in Sacramento with South River Road in West Sacramento.

The bridge would allow residents of the two cities to get across the river more easily between homes and jobs, and would boost riverfront development, officials said.

Building in Flood Zone

The demands of growth push decisions, but one hopes they continue the push for flood protection beyond the minimal 100 year level and that the 500 year level becomes the standard for our community, still the least protected from flooding of any major river city in the nation.

Natomas waiver sought
City officials expected to ask U.S. regulators not to halt building even though levee work isn't done.
By Mary Lynne Vellinga - Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PDT Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The city of Sacramento plans to ask federal flood regulators to allow building to continue in North Natomas with no restrictions while its levees are brought up to minimum protection standards.

Sutter and Sacramento counties also plan to join with the city in asking that the Federal Emergency Management Agency not stop building or impose elevation requirements in the Natomas basin. The item is on the Sacramento City Council agenda for Thursday.

Since the Natomas levees lack 100-year flood protection, FEMA has the power to designate North Natomas a flood hazard area. Doing so would require that any new homes be elevated above projected flood depths -- which in parts of Natomas could top 20 feet.

Alternatively, the agency could impose restrictions on new development that would allow building only in infill areas and require new structures to be elevated 3 feet.

The local building industry has strongly opposed any restrictions at all. City and county officials argue that they should be given a reprieve because they are making rapid progress fixing the levees.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Peripheral Canal

Public leadership is beginning to realize the mistake made when stopping the canal from being built years ago, and that is good news.

Dan Walters: Disputed canal back on agenda
By Dan Walters - Bee Columnist
Published 12:00 am PDT Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A few months after he assumed the governorship in 1999, Gray Davis put forth an oh-so-cautious "preferred alternative" for dealing with the complex problems of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. His incremental steps were aimed, in effect, at delaying major decisions on the troubled estuary until Davis was out of office.

It was characteristic of the risk-averse Davis -- a quality that led to his governorship being terminated three years prematurely by the state's voters and the election of action movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger as his successor.

Ideologically, you couldn't slip a piece of tissue paper between Democrat Davis and Republican Schwarzenegger, but in stylistic terms, the two couldn't be more different. While Davis assiduously avoided conflict whenever he could, Schwarzenegger dives into thorny issues that, as he has said, "have been pushed under the rug for decades."

"I love tackling big problems," Schwarzenegger told a gathering in Chico recently, adding, "I feel strongly that the people of California have sent me to Sacramento to tackle those big problems. They have seen me on the screen to be the big action hero, so they know that I can be the big action hero also in Sacramento."

Not the least of those long-ignored issues is the plight of the Delta that predecessor Davis so assiduously shunned eight years ago. Last week, without prompting, Schwarzenegger, during another "town hall" event in Bakersfield, endorsed the single most controversial approach to the Delta, a peripheral canal. Declaring that "we have studied this subject to death," he demanded action on the state's knottiest water issues, saying he wants to "build more conveyance and ... more water storage."

American River Drowning

Another tragedy in the frigid and turbulent river waters.

Man drowns in American River at Discovery Park
His death follows a drowning Sunday evening in the Sacramento River.
By Christina Jewett - Bee Staff Writers
Published 12:00 am PDT Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A 19-year-old man drowned in the American River on Monday afternoon after he and a friend attempted to swim across the river at Discovery Park, a swim they reportedly had made numerous times in the past.

They had been heading from the park to Tiscornia Beach when the 19-year-old went under the water about 3:30 p.m., said Sacramento Fire Capt. Jim Doucette.

Numerous rivergoers saw the drowning, Doucette said. Chaplains were on scene in the late afternoon to console the victim's friend as well as upset witnesses.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Peripheral Canal in Play

It is very good news that this option is back in play, but sad that it was not completed when first introduced, as many years of environmental degradation could have been avoided; perhaps an object lesson for other water projects being held up?

Delta diversion dispute resurfaces
By Samantha Young
Associated Press
San Jose Mercury News
Article Launched:06/18/2007 01:35:33 AM PDT

SACRAMENTO - In 1980, as California was recovering from its longest drought since the Depression, state lawmakers thought they had found a solution to weather future water shortages.

A 43-mile canal would route fresh Sierra runoff around the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. But the plan proved too controversial and was trounced two years later in a statewide election.

A quarter-century later, the idea is back in play.

Declining fish populations, fragile levees that could crumble and allow sea water to contaminate the delta and rising oceans caused by global climate change have prompted policy-makers to reconsider the Peripheral Canal.

They say a new plumbing system could solve the delta's worsening environmental problems and safeguard California's water supply.

Levees unsustainable

"There is a growing recognition that the present layout of the levees and delivering fresh water out of the delta is something we can't maintain long term," said Robert Twiss, a University of California-Berkeley environmental planning professor who advises the state on water issues.

Efforts to protect a threatened fish, the delta smelt, have created a sense of urgency and refocused the debate on building a canal that would route California's fresh water around the delta.

Earlier this spring, state and federal courts ruled that pumping operations are killing the fish. After a record low count of the smelt's population, the state Department of Water Resources temporarily shut down its main pumping plant for more than a week, forcing some cities and rural water districts to cut back on water use.

Last September, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed an executive order starting a comprehensive review of the delta's water, roads, utility lines and ecosystem. During a recent talk to farmers in Bakersfield, he strongly advocated building new reservoirs and a canal.

"We need to build more storage and we have to build conveyance, the canal, all of those kinds of things, even though its politically risky again. But it's one of those big, big issues that has been swept under the rug for decades," he said. "We have studied this subject to death. It's time for action."

On Thursday, Schwarzenegger, who also called for $4 billion in state spending to build two large new reservoirs in Colusa County and east of Fresno, announced he will support building the Peripheral Canal.

Green China?

Great story about the market working to help clean up the aftermath of China’s incredibly fast growth, which has caused, as it once did in our country, vast environmental pollution.

The great advantage China has is the access to technology developed in our country, much in California’s Silicon Valley.

China: A clean-tech gold rush? Valley sees big market
By John Boudreau
Mercury News
Article Launched: 06/18/2007 01:29:56 AM PDT

ZHANGJIAGANG - Sam Huang has found a new land of opportunity for Silicon Valley - in the shadow of a giant smoke stack in the Yangtze River Delta.

Dressed in a black designer suit, with a Treo attached to his ear, the executive with San Jose-based Echelon, whose smart-building technology is usually associated with gleaming high-rises, paid a recent visit to a new client: China's third-largest steel mill. The plant is trying to go green by using Echelon's products to reduce the energy consumed to forge steel and iron to feed China's around-the-clock construction craze.

Less energy used means fewer tons of coal burned to produce electricity. At the Jiangsu Shagang Group, a vast complex located 100 miles west of Shanghai, that saving could be as much as 65,000 tons a year. It is a tiny step for cleaner technology - and clean air - in a nation that is building coal-fired power plants at an assembly-line speed of one a week.

Silicon Valley companies, which first looked to China to manufacture PCs and iPods, now see potential profit in its environmental meltdown.

They see opportunities to sell a vast range of clean-tech products and services. Those include water filtration systems; green building technologies that reduce energy use; processes to convert waste into biofuels; better wind turbines; solar power technology; "smart" street lights; and even software for energy companies to help manage operations more efficiently.

"Every market is big in China," Huang said.

`Next 24 months': Clean tech expects flood of funding

Gary Rieschel, a veteran valley venture capitalist who relocated to Shanghai, sees a "tidal swell" of interest in the China energy and clean-tech market from abroad. "The wave will occur some time in the next 24 months," he predicted. "Silicon Valley has a huge play here."

Already, venture capitalists are increasing their clean-tech bets in China, from $7 million in 2004 to $222 million last year, according to VentureOne and Ernst & Young. In that same period, venture funding for clean-tech deals in the United States soared from $522 million to $884 million.

Chinese government officials and environmentalists say the only hope to head off environmental catastrophe is through the kind of technology Silicon Valley offers. China's air, water and land are so polluted that environmental hazards kill hundreds of thousands of its people each year. And China's pollution problems are spilling over onto other countries. Dirty air traced back to China can be found in California's skies, and could become a major source of pollution.

Cleaning up China's environment "will require good technological assistance and sheer political commitment," said Hal Harvey, environment program director at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation in Menlo Park, which funds projects in China.

G8 & Global Warming

Interesting perspectives from different participants on the meetings.

Editorial: What others say
Published 12:00 am PDT Monday, June 18, 2007
Finding a global warming deal

The principal topic at the recent Group of Eight (G-8) summit held in Heiligendamm, Germany, was neither currencies nor conflict.

Instead, the leaders of the world's richest industrial nations focused on global warming, which threatens all of mankind. They recognized the seriousness of the threat and agreed to take urgent, concerted actions to deal with it.

The United States had turned its back on the Kyoto treaty and was reluctant before the meeting in Heiligendamm to embrace any numerical target. The fact that the United States was eventually persuaded into accepting a reference to the emissions target in the G-8 joint statement has great significance.

The G-8 communique also clearly reaffirmed the U.N. role as the primary arena for climate diplomacy.

The G-8's success in extracting Washington's commitment to working under the U.N. framework has huge implications for future negotiations in the post-Bush era. What emerged from the gathering in Heiligendamm puts the onus on Japan to make sure that next year's G-8 summit in Hokkaido produces a comprehensive vision for a successor to the Kyoto Protocol.

The post-Kyoto treaty needs to bind major developing countries like China and India to specific obligations to trim their greenhouse emissions. The U.S. agreement to take part in negotiations to develop a new climate pact has opened up the possibility that China and India will also make concessions.

-- Asahi Shimbun (Tokyo)

The G-8 compromise

When they met two years ago at Gleneagles, leaders of the G-8 pledged $50 billion in development aid for Africa. They promised treatment to all Africans suffering from HIV/Aids by the end of the decade. ... At their summit in Germany, the leaders said they would get treatment to 5 million people with the disease, around half the total number of victims. They restated the 2005 aid pledge, a tacit acknowledgment that they had failed to honor their original commitment. It is easy to be skeptical.

Poverty was not made history at Gleneagles.

But that doesn't mean this year's meeting was a failure. ...

Leaders of the industrialized world might only have grasped the importance of acting on those issues once they saw that it served their long-term interests, but that is still progress. ...

Seen from that perspective, it is remarkable how global aid issues have crossed over, in a few years, from protesters' placards on one side of the security cordon to the formal agenda of politicians on the other side. The Gleneagles meeting might have raised hopes that were unrealistic, but it changed the culture of G-8 summitry for the better. Tony Blair deserves some credit for that.

Credit is due also to German Chancellor Angela Merkel for forging something like consensus on climate change last week. At the start of the summit, George W. Bush was hostile to Ms. Merkel's ambitious targets for cutting carbon emissions and opposed to any future deal on the environment that would be run under U.N. auspices.

Now, in principle at least, he has signed up for both. The hard work on global emissions cuts has yet to come. ... But a significant barrier -- Mr. Bush's phobia of anything that looked like the Kyoto protocol -- has been removed. ...

Seen from the perspective of Gleneagles, and the high hopes of the anti-poverty campaign, (the) summit was a disappointment.

But it is worth pausing for historical perspective, remembering how the world's economic power brokers used to do business. That longer view gives real grounds for optimism.

-- The Observer (London)

Online Access for Everyone

This is a great public service for Sacramento in providing wireless for the entire city.

Capital poised to go Wi-Fi
Council will vote on bid to build citywide network for wireless Internet.
By Clint Swett - Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PDT Monday, June 18, 2007

After more than a year of fits and starts, Sacramento is on the verge of approving a system that would blanket the city with free and paid wireless Internet coverage for both residents and visitors.

The Sacramento City Council on Thursday is scheduled to vote on authorizing a consortium called Sacramento Metro Connect LLC to build a citywide network that would provide wireless connections in parks, cafes, businesses and homes within the 100-square-mile city boundary.

"If Sacramento can become a city completely hooked-in wirelessly, it's a great selling point that says you are open for business 24/7," said Sacramento City Councilman Rob Fong.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Everyone Online

Couldn’t agree more, the digital reality is becoming a major reality and no one should be left out of it because of a low income.

Everyone deserves access to technology, online world
By Jim Fruchterman and Gregg Vanderheiden - Special to The Bee
Published 12:00 am PDT Sunday, June 17, 2007

As technology races ahead at an ever-increasing pace, more and more of society's activities are moving into an online digital world that requires unfettered access.

Although many of us may feel like we're falling behind technologically, large groups of Californians face barriers that block their access to the online world. People with disabilities, seniors, the poor and those without strong reading skills are facing ever-increasing obstacles to technology use. Since technology is becoming essential to education, business, personal finance, politics, entertainment and shopping, if we don't do something, we may find someone we love, or even ourselves, left behind.

We need to commit ourselves to delivering a base set of technological capabilities to all people, starting with Californians. At an affordable price, everybody should have access to communications technology and content to meet their personal, social, educational and employment needs. We need to raise the technology floor so that all of our citizens have at least the basic tools they need to participate in our modern society.

This isn't about charity any more than putting ramps on buildings for wheelchair access. It's far more just and cost-effective for society to provide equal access so that people can help themselves. As our society ages, and as our society increasingly depends on digital communication and content for fundamental activities, most of California's families will need at least basic access to ensure that people are as independent as possible. This will not only increase the quality of life for many with disabilities, but it will also decrease our dependence on families and public services that can become more costly as we age. To remain globally competitive, we need to ensure that all of our citizens have the tools they need to participate independently in our school and in the workplace.

Raising the technology floor is not pie-in-the-sky thinking. The business and technology communities will be excited to make it happen for most of us. But easy access needs to be practical and real. We must let everybody know about available technology that has value to them in their lives. We also need to systematically reduce or remove barriers to that access. Industry will do much of this for the majority of us anyway through its relentless drive to lower prices and improve performance.

Green Energy & San Francisco

A very interesting experiment in buying energy that we should all watch.

Daniel Weintraub: Cheap green energy lures S.F. back to open market
Published 12:00 am PDT Sunday, June 17, 2007

Six years after a poorly written law and market manipulation caused a meltdown of California's electricity industry and halted the state's experiment with competition, it is coming back, in the strangest of places.

The city and county of San Francisco, thinking it can get its electricity greener and cheaper, are moving closer to declaring its independence from Pacific Gas & Electric and instead producing some of its own power while buying the rest in the private market.

San Francisco would not become a utility. PG&E would still deliver the electricity and handle the billing. But the city would take over the job of finding most of the power needed for its residents and businesses.

And if it works in San Francisco, the idea could take off across the state, peeling customers away from the monopolies that once controlled every aspect of California's electricity industry.

That was the original idea behind an ill-fated 1996 law that restructured the industry. Local governments, associations and private companies were supposed to jump into a newly created retail market and compete for customers, driving costs down with innovation and efficiencies.

But the retail market never really got off the ground. Although private energy marketers did a fairly robust business signing up large customers, residential users were left behind. That turned out to be one reason the experiment failed. With most retail customers locked into the monopoly utilities, there was little consequence in the market when private generators started jacking up prices. Eventually, the crisis forced one major utility into bankruptcy and another to the brink.

That economic disaster led many on the left to distrust the idea of competition in the electricity industry. Even now, Democrats in the Legislature are skeptical of letting more big companies leave the embrace of the utilities to buy power in an open market.

Yet San Francisco, a liberal bastion, is eager to jump into that world.

The Board of Supervisors voted last week to move toward what is known as "community choice aggregation" -- under which the government will gather residents in a purchasing cooperative to exercise their buying power. The city will likely contract with private energy companies to build and run its new electricity supply.

And lest conservatives think this is another move toward socialism in San Francisco, there is this important caveat: The city won't be able to force its residents into this arrangement. Homeowners or business owners who don't want to be a part of the city's effort will be free to opt out and remain with PG&E.