Wednesday, December 31, 2008

ARPPS Letter Published

Our letter was published in the Bee today responding to a recent editorial.

The letter.

Seek private support of parks

Re "Needed: Some honesty about county revenues" (Editorial, Dec. 29): We agree with the editorial calling for an honest reporting of the current financial situation the County of Sacramento finds itself in.

Honesty and transparency in government are crucial to maintain the respect and trust of the already heavily taxed public to help ensure a more hospitable reception for those times – such as the current period – when taxes and fees may need to be increased to cover public work.

If it does turn out that the county is short on funds, one of the first to suffer is parks, and in one significant case – that of the American River Parkway – there is a funding option other governments are using that could be considered.

Partnering with a public nonprofit corporation to provide management and philanthropic support for the parkway – as is being done by the Central Park Conservancy, which raises 85 percent of needed funding for New York City's Central Park, is a proven method of reducing government spending while increasing private support for important recreational open space.

It's an option whose time may have come.

– David H. Lukenbill, Sacramento
senior policy director, American River Parkway Preservation Society

An excerpt from the editorial.

“You'd have to be Rip Van Winkle not to know that private and government budgets are pinched this year.

“But Sacramento County appears not to have noticed. As late as last month, county officials were still projecting a sales and property tax growth for the fiscal year of 2 percent. That seemed wildly optimistic then and seems even more so now. Nonetheless, the county refuses to back off from that projection, at least officially.

“Last month, county fiscal officers said they didn't want to deal in speculation. The county promised to disclose the actual sales and property tax receipts after they were reported in December. Now it's almost January, and county officials still refuse to disclose if there has been a sales and property tax shortfall and what it is.”

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Infrastructure Spending: Transit or Cars

Though virtually all personal or work-related transport by individuals in America is by car, government spending for non-car related transit still exceeds 20% of all federal transportation related funding; creating a real equity problem some in congress want to make even worse by doubling the percentage to 40%; as this article notes.

An excerpt.

“For years, transit funding advocates have claimed that national policy favors highways over transit. Consistent with that view, Congressman James Oberstar, chairman of the powerful House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, wants to change the funding mix. He is looking for 40 percent of the transportation funding from the proposed stimulus package to be spent on transit, which is a substantial increase from present levels.

“This raises two important questions: The first question is that of “equity” – “what would be the appropriate level to spend on transit?” The second question relates to “productivity” – “what would be the effect of spending more on transit?”

“Equity: Equity consists of spending an amount that is proportionate to need or use. Thus, an equitable distribution would have the federal transportation spending reflect the shares that highways and transit carry of surface travel (highways plus transit). The most commonly used metric is passenger miles. Even with the recent, well publicized increases in transit ridership, transit’s share of surface travel is less than 1 percent. Non-transit highway modes, principally the automobile, account for 99 percent of travel.

“So if equity were a principal objective, transit would justify less than 1 percent of federal surface transportation expenditures. Right now, transit does much better than that, accounting for 21 percent of federal surface transportation funded expenditures in 2006. This is what passes for equity in Washington – spending more than 20 percent of the money on something that represents less than one percent of the output. Transit receives 27 times as much funding per passenger mile as highways. It is no wonder that the nation’s urban areas have experienced huge increases in traffic congestion, or that there’s increasing concern about the state of the nation’s highway bridges, the most recent of which occurred in Minneapolis, not far from Congressman Oberstar’s district.

“In addition, a substantial amount of federal highway user fees (principally the federal gasoline tax) are used to support transit. These revenues, which are only a part of the federal transit funding program, amounted to nearly $5 billion in 2006. Perhaps most amazingly, the federal government spends 15 times as much in highway user fees per transit passenger mile than it does on highways. Relationships such as these do not even vaguely resemble equity.”

Monday, December 29, 2008

American Dream Affordability

This article from New Geography is a good look at actual home affordability in the volatile market for housing that is currently trying to regain its footing in America, and perhaps is doing so, at least in the Sacramento region according to this local report from the Bee.

An excerpt from New Geography.

“We just passed an era when the “American Dream” of home ownership was diminished as the growth of home prices outpaced income. From 2001 through 2006, home prices grew at an annual average of 6.85%, more than three times the growth rate for income.

“This divergence between income and housing costs has turned out to be a disaster, particularly for buyers at the lower end of the spectrum. In contrast, affluent buyers – those making over $120,000 – the bubble may still have been a boom, even if not quite as large as many had hoped for.

“For middle and working class people, the pressure on affordability was offset by historically low mortgage interest rates which fell from over 11 percent around the time of the 1987 Stock Market Crash to 6 percent in 2002. Yet if stable interest rates were beneficial to overall affordability, the artificially low interest rates promoted by the Federal Reserve may have created instability. By allowing people to increase their purchasing power to an extraordinary level, low mortgage interest rates fueled a rapid escalation in housing prices.”

An excerpt from the Bee.

"One bright note is that the (housing) sector that led the economy into this morass is about to turn the corner, perhaps as soon as this summer, and will start to lead us out," said Scott Anderson, senior economist at Wells Fargo & Co.

“It's still too early to declare real estate's revival. And others will argue forcefully that consumer debt, the collapse of esoteric global financial instruments and the abrupt and almost unprecedented freezing of credit have created an immense disaster far beyond real estate's reach.

“But 2008 could also be seen as the year Sacramento-area real estate began to show signs of stabilizing, and the idea that housing might help establish a foundation for the economy here is something experts are starting to debate. Prices and inventory are down and sales are up, even as foreclosures continue. Mortgage rates have fallen to their lowest levels in at least 37 years. The correction has been enormously painful, but there are believers who contend Sacramento will be among the first U.S. markets to recover.

“• Supply is down. It would take 3.9 months to sell today's nearly 11,000 listings in Sacramento County and West Sacramento. A year ago: 12.2 months.

“• Sales are up. After 37 months of declines in the region, something new began in April: eight months of year-over-year sales gains. Prices better match area salaries.

“• Conservative lending and safe loans are back. Nine in 10 California mortgages this year had fixed rates, according to the California Association of Realtors. At the height of the boom, two-thirds of all new mortgages in California were loans with adjustable rates. The new lending portends a stable base of homeowners.”

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Capital Mall Beautified

Well, yes, of course, it is a great idea floated in the Sacramento Bee, but how many great ideas to beautify Downtown Sacramento have gone aborning in the past several years.

Perhaps current public leadership, with the new changes in place, will actually do this, and that would be wonderful.

An excerpt.

“Capitol Mall could use a makeover, city officials are saying. They're thinking … Paris.

"We can make it our own Champs-Elysées!" said an enthusiastic Sacramento City Councilman Steve Cohn.

“Cohn, who's pushed the idea for years, is part of a city-sponsored group looking at enlivening what many say is a beautiful, yet oddly bland boulevard.

"It has beautiful vistas, but there's hardly anybody on it," said Cohn.

“He envisions cafes and restaurants on extra-wide, tree-shaded sidewalks, clanging trolley cars and a big fountain at the west end to mirror the one in front of the state Capitol.

“It would mean getting rid of those do-nothing grass medians in the middle of the street, he said.

“Others are talking about a museum, new art and performance spaces, and even some stores.

“In 2009, the public will be invited to offer ideas. Officials then hope to launch an international design competition, inviting architects to create visions of what Capitol Mall could become.”

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Airtight Houses?

Technology may really have a winner with this one; a very cool…I mean warm…home, as reported in this article from the New York Times.

An excerpt.

“DARMSTADT, Germany — From the outside, there is nothing unusual about the stylish new gray and orange row houses in the Kranichstein District, with wreaths on the doors and Christmas lights twinkling through a freezing drizzle. But these houses are part of a revolution in building design: There are no drafts, no cold tile floors, no snuggling under blankets until the furnace kicks in. There is, in fact, no furnace.

“In Berthold Kaufmann’s home, there is, to be fair, one radiator for emergency backup in the living room — but it is not in use. Even on the coldest nights in central Germany, Mr. Kaufmann’s new “passive house” and others of this design get all the heat and hot water they need from the amount of energy that would be needed to run a hair dryer.

“You don’t think about temperature — the house just adjusts,” said Mr. Kaufmann, watching his 2-year-old daughter, dressed in a T-shirt, tuck into her sausage in the spacious living room, whose glass doors open to a patio. His new home uses about one-twentieth the heating energy of his parents’ home of roughly the same size, he said.

“Architects in many countries, in attempts to meet new energy efficiency standards like the Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design standard in the United States, are designing homes with better insulation and high-efficiency appliances, as well as tapping into alternative sources of power, like solar panels and wind turbines.

“The concept of the passive house, pioneered in this city of 140,000 outside Frankfurt, approaches the challenge from a different angle. Using ultrathick insulation and complex doors and windows, the architect engineers a home encased in an airtight shell, so that barely any heat escapes and barely any cold seeps in. That means a passive house can be warmed not only by the sun, but also by the heat from appliances and even from occupants’ bodies.”

Friday, December 26, 2008

On the American

There is a very nice story in the Bee about rafting and hiking on the American River, even during this time of year.

An excerpt.

“The point is, if you live in the Sacramento region and you aren't using the American River, you aren't living well.

“This beautiful ribbon of water defines Sacramento, making the area one of the most outdoor-friendly places in the country. And there's no better way to enjoy it than in a kayak, assuming, of course, that you can swim.

“Each time you go out, even if it's the same run, the river and light are different. You may encounter playful river otters, schools of huge fish streaming beneath you or beavers diving with a splash of their tails as they see you pass by. You won't think about work or problems or politics or your losing football team. It's the perfect escape.”

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!!!

Have a wonderful Christmas and get out on the Parkway if you can.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Housing Project Links to Parkway

A new 1,400 acre community being developed by GenCorp has received environmental approval from Sacramento County, and included are plans to connect to the Parkway through biking and walking trails; very good news for Rancho Cordova and the Parkway.

An excerpt from the News Release.

“Sacramento County Board of Supervisors unanimously certifies the Final Environmental Impact Report and approves General Plan Amendments.

“SACRAMENTO, Calif., Dec. 22 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- GenCorp Inc. (NYSE: GY) announced today that the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors has unanimously approved the Final Environmental Impact Report and amendments to Sacramento County's General Plan for the Glenborough at Easton and Easton Place project. The actions occurred at the Board of Supervisors' December 10 and December 17, 2008 meetings. Located on approximately 1,400 acres in eastern Sacramento County, the project is located between Hazel Avenue and Prairie City Road south of Highway 50.

"We are pleased to have achieved these strategic real estate milestones," said Scott Neish, interim president and chief executive officer of GenCorp. "Our real estate team has done a great job moving the project through a complex regulatory process."

“The Board of Supervisors also unanimously voted for an intent motion to approve the balance of the project's requested zoning amendments and map conditions, which are expected to be ratified at the Board's January 28, 2009 meeting.

"In 2004, GenCorp and the County initiated a collaborative planning process that represents a new model in land use planning in Sacramento County," said David C. Hatch, vice president, GenCorp Realty Investments, LLC. "We are very proud of this achievement. The Board of Supervisors' unanimous votes are a testament to the quality of the project and the success of the process."

“Grounded in principles for smart growth and sustainability, the project's land use plan includes 4,883 units in a wide range of residential densities and 4.2 million feet of commercial and office space. The project also includes more than 480 acres of open space and parks, and an extensive network of biking and walking trails that link it to the American River Parkway and the Hazel Light Rail station.”

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Tent Cities

It is clear that our hearts go out to the homeless, especially at this time of year and in this type of inclement weather, and communities that reach for the solution of allowing formal tent cities to house the homeless are reacting to this heartfelt need.

However, the question always becomes, where do you put them, what will be the impact on the adjacent community, how will they be governed, serviced, regulated, policed, and funded.

For the temporarily homeless, those who have fallen on tough times in this period of tough times all over, and who are ready, willing, and able to work themselves out of their current situation, a tent city might be an idea worth considering; but it will, in all likelihood, also attract many of the chronic homeless (who are the folks largely camping in the Parkway) who do not want to change their situation, and that influx can cause serious problems, as recounted in a recent story in the Sacramento News & Review (that should be required reading for those considering tent cities) which was commented on November 11, 2008.

An excerpt from a Bee column calling for tent cities in Sacramento.

“With the safety net long ago shredded – public housing eliminated, community mental health facilities closed – the unemployed and evicted are joining the ranks of the homeless individuals and families who drag their few belongings from one temporary camp to another as law enforcement moves them up and out in a perennial pursuit of a failed policy that promises no rest for the weary, no sanctuary for the homeless in Sacramento County.

“While housing is the goal, whether in apartments, rooming houses, cottages, or in group homes or communal living arrangements, the immediate need is for a moratorium on citations and arrests for camping and support by the city and county for a new approach. "Tent cities" on vacant lots are now prevalent in the areas near Richards Boulevard and North C Street. Acceptance of tent cities will allow the city and county to stop wasting resources rousting homeless campers from their encampments, prosecuting them, and seizing and disposing of their belongings in a never-ending battle to drive the homeless away. It will allow public agencies to redirect resources into providing portable toilets, waste receptacles and some measure of security for homeless persons as they try to improve their situations.”

Monday, December 22, 2008

K Street, The Sad & Endless Drama

During the biggest shopping time of the year, when the malls are full—even in a down economy—the K Street Mall is empty, except for the homeless, as this article from the Bee reports.

One looks for leadership, and with a new mayor perhaps it has arrived. Hope springs eternal, even with the K Street Mall.

An excerpt.

“As Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" played from the speakers above downtown Sacramento's outdoor ice rink Sunday morning, the K Street Mall scene sang another song.

“The rain-soaked rink was empty. Hardly a storefront was open along the two blocks closest to the Downtown Plaza. And the homeless and nearly homeless outnumbered the shoppers.

"It's dead," said Alan DeMena, who ventured downtown from Antelope on Sunday morning with his wife and son to check out the scene and have lunch. "It's amazing. A few days before Christmas and there's nothing here."

"Nothing" isn't exactly true. More people were shopping at Westfield's Downtown Plaza.

“The city of Sacramento has struggled for years to give the traffic-free stretch of K Street between Downtown Plaza and the Convention Center more economic and social pop.

“There has been limited success at restaurants closer to the Convention Center. But the 700 and 800 blocks – home to absent storefronts and gaping holes in the ground – were empty Sunday.”

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Environmental Justice & Homeless Camping

The current economic difficulties will obviously increase the need for the services the programs that serve the homeless provide, and that will have an impact on the already highly impacted lower reach area of the Parkway—from the confluence with the Sacramento River to CSUS—in terms of the historic permissiveness of local government for homeless encampments which severely reduce the ability of the adjacent communities to safely recreate in their area of the Parkway.

As the impacted adjacent communities are primarily lower income, the issue of environmental justice—while traditionally referring to toxic pollution—has been raised in the sense of allowing public safety to deteriorate more in poor communities than in rich.

A new report from the Property & Environment Research Center focuses on environmental justice.

An excerpt.

“Environmental justice” is a term that relates to claims that poor and minority households suffer harms from hazards imposed on them by large firms. It is alleged that powerful companies can steamroll the political system and are allowed to impose toxic wastes on people with little political power. Community organizers have used this claim to demand remediation of past environmental practices, such as Superfund sites, as well as demand participation in administrative processes that determine licensing of polluting facilities.”… (To the Reader)

“There are at least five potentially non-exclusive interpretations of the correlation between pollution and local demographics….(p. 2)

“3. A third interpretation focuses attention not so much on firms as on governments, and their failure to enforce environmental standards and regulations equitably. Governments might enforce standards more rigorously in areas with higher levels of political support for the current administration. Or, government enforcement agencies might lack the incentives to enforce standards unless forced to do so by stakeholders. Since the squeaky wheel gets the grease, agencies would be more likely to respond to better organized, better connected, and more politically powerful citizens. If so, this might also be a further reason firms would be attracted to areas with less political power.” (p. 3)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Waters on Budget

As the cries that the sky is falling intensify from the state capitol over the lack of a state budget, the situation is put into perspective by Dan Walters.

An excerpt.

“The Capitol is consumed with the state budget situation and every day brings some new histrionics, such as Assembly Speaker Karen Bass' threat Tuesday to lock up her colleagues if they fail to approve Democrats' revised package of taxes and spending cuts.

“However, by portraying the budget situation as a life-and-death crisis – as if the fate of 38 million Californians depends on them – politicians merely feed their own egos and make it that much more difficult to act.

“Republicans, for instance, say that raising taxes would be fatal to economic recovery while Democrats say that deep spending cuts will have the same impact. Obviously, both can't be right, but they can both be wrong.

“The budget has about a $15 billion projected hole in the 2008-09 fiscal year and another $25 billion in 2009-10. Overall, that's less than 2 percent of the state's economic output, even during this severe recession.

“Were the Legislature to whack that much out of the state's spending, it certainly would create angst among those getting less, but it's highly unlikely that it would have more than a fractional impact, positive or negative, on the economy.”

Friday, December 19, 2008

Governor’s Water Strategy

The Governor—along with Senator Dianne Feinstein—has been way ahead of the state legislators in drafting a realistic water strategy for California and one hopes their efforts will result in its eventual adoption.

An excerpt from the article about it.

“SACRAMENTO — A team of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's top advisers settled on a new water strategy yesterday, promoting a contentious mix of dams and a new canal to keep supplies flowing to Southern California while at the same time restoring the health of the fragile Sacramento delta.

“The price tag, according to some estimates, could be between $12 billion and $24 billion over the next 15 years.

Their proposal, outlined yesterday, does not stray far from Schwarzenegger's preferred approaches to attacking California's water problems.

“Schwarzenegger is expected to lay out his priorities as part of his annual State of the State address in early January.

“We've been consistent. Now we're putting the meat on the bones. Our sense is we're on track with what he's recommending,” said Resources Secretary Mike Chrisman, panel chairman.

“The ambitious plan also will be submitted to the legislative cauldron, where approval is required for many of the initiatives. Lawmakers, already paralyzed by gridlock over a massive state budget deficit, have wrestled with conflicts over dams and water-delivery systems for years.”

Thursday, December 18, 2008


The president elect has promised a huge outlay of funds on infrastructure projects, which are sorely needed, but it is important to ensure that the right infrastructure is selected for funding, and that is the topic of this article by Joel Kotkin.

An excerpt.

“It's the new buzzword: infrastructure.

“President-elect Barack Obama has promised billions in infrastructure spending as part of a public works program bigger than any since the interstate highway system was built in the 1950s. Though it was greeted with hosannas, his proposal is only tapping into a clamor for such spending that's been rising ever since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005 and a major bridge collapsed in Minneapolis last year. With the economy now officially in recession, the rage for new brick and mortar is reaching a fever pitch.

“But before we commit hundreds of billions to new construction projects, we should focus on just what kind of infrastructure investment we should – and shouldn't – be making. More important, we should think beyond temporary stimulus and make-work jobs and about investments that will propel the economy well into this century.

“After all, it's not that we stopped spending on infrastructure over the past decade. It's that mostly, we haven't spent on the right things.

“New York City, for example, has wasted billions on its bloated bureaucracy and on constructing new sports stadiums and other ephemera deemed necessary to maintain Mayor Michael Bloomberg's "luxury city." Meanwhile, many of its subway and rail lines have deteriorated. Over the decades, brownouts and blackouts, caused in part by underinvestment in energy infrastructure, have become common during periods of high energy use in the summer.

“Similarly, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has extolled the Golden State as "the cutting-edge state . . . a model not just for 21st-century American society but the world." Yet California's once envied water-delivery systems, roadways, airports and schools are in serious disrepair. Many even more hard-pressed communities – Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Baltimore and New Orleans – have similarly wasted limited treasure on spectacular new convention centers, sports arenas, arts and entertainment facilities and hotels while allowing schools, roads, ports and other critical sinews of economic life to fray.

“Convention centers and other tourist attractions create reasonably high-paying construction jobs in the short term, but over time, they create an economy dominated by lower-wage service jobs. Take New Orleans. It was once one of the nation's great industrial and commercial centers. But then the city turned its back for decades on its diverse economic base and invested not in levees, port development and basic infrastructure but in the arts, culture and tourism. The tourism and convention business surged, but the result was a low-wage economy. Nearly 40 percent of New Orleans households, or twice the national average, earned less than $20,000 a year in 2000.

“Other places have followed a similar trajectory of folly, heavily subsidizing luxury condominiums, restaurants and other amenities to help lure the so-called creative class. Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm's 2003 plan to turn her state around focused on creating "cool cities" aimed at attracting hip, educated workers to Detroit and other failing urban centers. Instead of sparking an economic revival, Granholm has presided over a mass exodus of younger workers who can't find jobs in her state.”

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

American Century

It has been popular—for some time and for some commentators—to portray the American Dream as one dying a slow death, but this author, building on the simple demographics and easily observable trends, portrays another future, a very positive future.

An excerpt.

“Barack Obama and the next Congress will take power at a time when the financial crisis and Mesopotamian misadventures have spurred talk of America’s decline. Last week, a Russian analyst was even giddily forecasting the collapse and breakup of the United States, with Russia and China becoming joint global hegemons. Such predictions may comfort critics and opponents of American power, but they lack any real basis. In fact, long-term demographic and economic trends suggest that the age of American dominance won’t end anytime soon.

“In Futurecast (St. Martin’s Press, $26.95), economist Robert Shapiro, a founder of the Progressive Policy Institute and now chairman of the consulting firm Sonecon, examines how the relentless forces of demographics and globalization will shape the world of 2020. His analysis suggests that the United States will remain the leading global power. Europe, Japan, and China, meanwhile, have reason to worry.

“Demographic trends will have seismic effects on the world’s economies and may even spur domestic conflicts over dwindling resources. Indeed, Shapiro cautions that much of the world is about to confront “the greatest aging of national populations ever seen, along with the smallest relative numbers of working-age people on record.”

“In Europe and Japan, where labor forces are already shrinking, fewer workers will have to pay more taxes to support the growing pensioner population, triggering a vicious economic cycle. Workers will have less money to save. That will mean less investment, which will translate into slower productivity growth and sluggish income progress, making it ever harder for the fewer workers to support the pensions of more seniors.

“China will face similar challenges. Thanks to its notorious one-child policy, it has the world’s most rapidly aging population: between 2005 and 2020, the number of Chinese aged 65 and over will grow by 65 percent. China does not offer much government support for its elderly, which may lead to unrest, particularly among seniors living in urban centers such as Beijing and Shanghai.

“The United States faces a more encouraging demographic future. To be sure, it will need to make adjustments and reform its entitlement programs. But America has maintained higher fertility rates than the countries of Europe and Japan, and its population has been rejuvenated by two generations of high immigration.

“Between 2008 and 2020, globalization will continue spreading prosperity around the world, expanding consumer choice, and intensifying competition throughout domestic markets. Over the past 30 years, trade and investment between countries has expanded twice as fast as the total growth and investment of all individual countries. Developing countries are now able to attract the capital to build modern factories and businesses.

“Globalization will also transform services, which represent two-thirds of advanced economies. It is a sign of the times that even lawyers may lose their jobs to outsourcing, with Indian firms such as Pangea3 providing basic legal research and drafting services at (what Pangea3 calls) “a radically low cost.”

“In all likelihood, the United States will continue doing well in the white heat of international competition, while the highly regulated economies of continental Europe and Japan will stumble. Barring a departure from open markets, the vast and flexible U.S. economy will remain a magnet for investment that funds innovation, which will ensure that U.S. workers remain among the most productive and highly paid in the world.”

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Bizarre Governance

It is astonishing that in the consideration of an unproven technology proposal from a company with virtually no track record, that the most basic due diligence of delving into the personal qualifications of the leaders presenting the proposal, was not only not done by our city leaders, but was not even considered something that needed to be done.

An excerpt from the Bee, which has—thankfully—done the due diligence for us.

“For several years, a small partnership with no apparent development track record has attempted to do The Big Sacramento Deal.

“First there was a pitch to city leaders to develop a $1.4 billion California International Trade Center. Then came an idea to purchase the downtown railyard from Thomas Enterprises and build an arena and soccer stadium. So far, neither has panned out.

“Now, in their most unusual venture, scientists Lee Shull and Alan Tompkins and government affairs consultant Charles "Bo" Conley have been joined by William Ludwig, the former director of the Rice Growers Association of California. Their proposal: a plant that vaporizes garbage and creates energy in the process.

"This is going to change the world," Ludwig, president of startup U.S. Science & Technology, said in a recent interview. Ludwig's Sacramento-based company is leading a consortium of companies proposing the waste-to-energy endeavor.

“City Manager Ray Kerridge has championed the USST proposal, but the City Council has had growing concerns. A key vote on the matter, originally scheduled for November, is planned for January.

“While the waste-to-energy concept has been on the council's agenda several times, almost nothing has been made public about the people behind the proposal. City officials say they've done little research because no city money will be spent on the project.

"Typically we don't do background checks; I haven't asked for résumés or anything like that," said Marty Hanneman, assistant city manager. "There's no indication of credibility or ethical issues. Nothing to question about these guys."

“But, over the past several years, a Bee investigation found, Ludwig has had a history of failed startups and in October he was ordered by a judge to pay more than $229,000 when he didn't repay a private loan.”

Monday, December 15, 2008

Homeless & Foreclosures

A creative—though troubling and obviously illegal—approach to housing the homeless is spreading, according to this report from USA Today, and along with the tent towns being thought of for Sacramento, does create an opportunity to begin to address the moral obligation society has towards the homeless and the moral obligation the homeless has to the society.

An excerpt.

“For Max Rameau, a vacant, boarded-up home is more than just a symbol of the national housing crisis. It's an opportunity to house the homeless.

“Rameau, a homeless advocate, runs a controversial program in Miami that helps families squat in homes vacated because of bank foreclosures. Using Internet listings and a team of volunteers, Rameau and his Take Back the Land foundation matches homeless families with empty homes.

“Rameau, 39, says his efforts are creative solutions for two of America's biggest problems: rising numbers of vacant homes and a growing homeless population. He has moved in six families since January. The authorities so far haven't stopped him.

"It's morally indefensible to have vacant homes sitting there, potentially for years, while you have human beings on the street," Rameau says.

“Kelly Penton, a city of Miami spokeswoman, says police don't have the manpower to scour neighborhoods looking for squatters. Police only act on a complaint by a property owner, which so far hasn't happened, she says.

"People need to obey the law, obviously," Penton says. "But it has to be something that's reported to the city."

“Take Back the Land is just one of several grass-roots efforts — some legal, some on the borderline — that are emerging to confront the sprawling housing crisis. As the federal government tries to stem the growing problem, non-profit groups and advocates are taking matters into their own hands.

“Advocates in Cleveland are trying to use city money to buy abandoned homes and rent them to the homeless. Homeowners in Atlanta pay homeless residents to sleep in their foreclosed homes to safeguard the houses. And in Boston, protesters have joined arm-in-arm in "eviction blockades" against sheriff's deputies.

“With 44% of the nation's 744,000 homeless unsheltered, it's not surprising that people want to take over homes, says Michael Stoops, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless.”

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The End is Near??

Many of us generally fall into two camps regarding environmental issues; we either believe the prognosis of impending ecological doom unless we change our lives to avert it; or we feel that the technological genius of human beings and the kindness of a benevolent creator will save us without drastic change to our lives—lives most of us in the West enjoy very much as they are and as they are becoming.

This is a book review of a book by someone who believes in the former, by someone who accepts the latter, making a good read.

An excerpt.

“James Gustave “Gus” Speth is the consummate environmental insider. For over thirty years he has played a key role in the development of environmentalist organizations and agendas. He was present at the founding of the Natural Resources Defense Council in 1970 and later launched the World Resources Institute, a $27 million enterprise that may be the most influential environmental think tank in the world. He served on, and eventually chaired, President Carter’s Council on Environmental Quality, where he oversaw production of the apocalyptic Global 2000 report. During the 1990s he worked on President Clinton’s transition team and headed up the United Nations Development Program, and he is now dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

“His prominence within the environmental establishment means that when Gus Speth speaks, environmentalists listen. He is not only an academic dean but, in many respects, the dean of contemporary environmental thinkers. Like others, he advocates ambitious and far-reaching environmental programs; unlike many, he has held positions in which to make such things happen. Few with his green bona fides have his currency in the halls of power or connections with global leaders. Yet like so many celebrated environmental thinkers, he lacks a clear or compelling vision of how to reconcile contemporary civilization with the need for environmental protection.

“In The Bridge at the Edge of the World, Speth argues that all the environmental progress of the past thirty to forty years may be for naught, as an environmental crisis of global proportions is still with us. The resource shortfalls and ecological ruin predicted by the Global 2000 report may not have come to pass on schedule, but they are imminent nonetheless. Thus, he seeks radical change to our economic, political, and social systems. “The end of the world as we have known it” is inevitable; the only question is whether we will suffer planetary ruin or a radically transformed civilization. Speth’s hope is to point the way to the latter course.”

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Air Pollution

This is an excellent two part article on air pollution and the politics surrounding it, with a focus on Los Angeles—appropriately so—but packed with enough scientific and political information to be of interest to just about anyone.

An excerpt from part one, and here is the link to part two.

“Not long ago, Michael Woo, a former Los Angeles city councilman and current member of the Los Angeles City Planning Commission, took up a case pending approval by that body: a mixed housing-retail development near the intersection of Cahuenga Boulevard and Riverside Drive. Like many of the remaining buildable sites in the city, the property is right next to a roaring motorway; the windows of some apartments would look right out onto the 134 Freeway. To Angelinos, who have grown up in a car culture, it was hardly a remarkable proposal. But Woo, perhaps one of the brainier members of the city’s political elite—after losing a mayoral race to Richard Riordan in the early 1990s he became a professor of public policy at University of Southern California—had a problem with it, and he couldn’t quite let it go.

“Just a few weeks before, the Commission had witnessed a lengthy presentation by a scientist who’d been studying how living within 500 yards of high traffic corridors—freeways and some particularly busy streets—substantially raises the risk for a number of chronic diseases. “We were all sort of sitting there, looking at this proposal and discussing it through the conventional lens we normally use, when I said, `Wait a minute. Didn’t we just hear a pretty compelling argument about this the other day? Can we talk about that for a minute?’ It struck me that it was impossible to read those studies and then continue approving housing that sits that close to freeways.”

“The Commission then asked for the developer’s point of view on the issue. “As I recall, the only real mitigation that they brought up was almost comic,” Woo says. “Their idea was, you know, we’ve got that covered: We’re going to make sure that residents can’t open the windows that face the freeway.” The project was approved.

“Woo doesn’t particularly fault anyone in the exchange, because the implications of the new science of air pollution—much of it driven by pioneering work at USC, the University of California at Los Angeles, and California Institute of Technology—are utterly mind boggling. No one has quite calculated exactly how much buildable land would be excised from use for housing and schools if this growing body of work were to take hold in the policy realm, but, as Woo said, “We can’t hide from this issue anymore. The hard science on the subject is compelling. It makes you fundamentally rethink some pretty key parts of how, where and why we’re building housing in such locations.”

Friday, December 12, 2008

Time Will Tell

It will be some time before we know if this new pollution control plan that was approved today by the California Air Resources Board—as reported by the Los Angeles Times—is one that also fulfills the rosy economic goals proponents say it will; though many of the economists who have examined it say it won’t.

As one who hopes for the best, let’s hope the CARB is right, on both projections.

An excerpt.

“The California Air Resources Board has unanimously adopted the nation’s most sweeping plan to slash greenhouse gas emissions.

“The bold move by the world’s eighth-largest economy would cut the state’s emissions by 15% over the next 12 years. It lays out targets for virtually every sector of the economy, from electrical plants and automobiles to landfills and city planning. And it amounts to an average cut of four tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases for every person in the state.

"We have laid out a path that, if followed, can transform our economy and put us on the road to a healthier state," said Mary Nichols, the head of the state Air Resources Board. "The task of coping with global warming is not something California can do alone and not something that will be finished in 2020. It is something our children and grandchildren will have to cope with as well. But if use this road map, we are putting California on the right track to transform our economy in a way that is good for our environment, for our health, for our future."

“The blueprint, which would be implemented over the next two years, puts California at the forefront of national climate policy at a time when President-elect Barack Obama has vowed to push ahead with national efforts to control emissions.”

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Local Budgets Look Bad

The news for Parkway funding—most of which currently comes from Sacramento County—just keeps getting worse, as a recent article in the Bee looking at the budgets for local governments for the next year reports.

It is important to remember that the Parkway is falling behind about $1.1 million annually just in maintenance, according to the American River Parkway Financial Needs Study Update 2006 (p. vii), so it is impossible to care for the Parkway up as it was intended to be cared for, let alone to improve it by adding new land and expanding its educational and recreational assets.

The solution we have proposed for stabilizing funding for the American River Parkway is to establish a nonprofit organization to contract with a Joint Powers Authority (JPA) of local government entities, to manage the Parkway and provide a supplemental fund raising capability through philanthropy, which you can read more about on our website’s news page in our press release from January 18, 2008.

This is the model being used by the Central Park Conservancy to manage Central Park in New York—and the Conservancy generates 85% of funding needed by Central Park—and the Sacramento Zoological Society to manage the Sacramento Zoo, which they have wholly done since 1997 under contract with the City of Sacramento.

Another superb example is the San Dieguito River Park in San Diego, California—an excerpt from their website:

“The San Dieguito River Valley Regional Open Space Park Joint Powers Authority, also known as the San Dieguito River Park, is the agency responsible for creating a natural open space park in the San Dieguito River Valley. The Park will someday extend from the ocean at Del Mar to Volcan Mountain, just north of Julian.

“The San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority was formed as a separate agency on June 12, 1989, by the County of San Diego and the Cities of Del Mar, Escondido, Poway, San Diego and Solana Beach. It was empowered to acquire, plan, design, improve, operate and maintain the San Dieguito River Park.”

An excerpt from the Bee Article from 12/5/08.

“After the first of the year, daily life is about to change in Northern California as local governments are forced to deal with the effects of the economic downturn, likely by cutting staff, salaries or services.

“Sacramento, Placer, El Dorado and Yolo counties already are reeling from revenue shortfalls and nervously watching the state – their largest source of funding – grapple with its own money problems.

“Of the 19 cities in the four counties, more than half already project budget shortfalls for the current fiscal year that will grow next year. Others are waiting until the end of this month – after the first property tax bills come due and sales tax figures come in – to acknowledge what others already suspect: The sky is falling.

"Localities are going to have to cut services. They're going to have to make adjustments to the budgets they passed six months ago," said Megan Taylor, spokeswoman for the League of California Cities. "Residents will see changes. It may be the parks are not maintained as frequently. It may be the library has hours cut. It may be the streets are not swept as often."

“Tumultuous months are ahead, according to a Bee survey of the region's cities and counties.”

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Mass Transit Broke in New York?

The one place where one would think mass transit is able to pay for itself is New York City, but not according to this article from the New York Times.

An excerpt.

“A state commission led by Richard Ravitch, a former chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, presented a wide-ranging rescue plan on Thursday for the region’s subways, buses and commuter railroads that includes a new “mobility tax” on payrolls in the region; tolls on the free East River and Harlem River bridges; a much smaller fare and toll increase than the cash-strapped authority has threatened; few service reductions; and improvements in bus service.

“The plan would permit automatic, inflation-adjusted fare and toll increases every two years without public hearings, ending what Mr. Ravitch called a cyclical “political circus.” The plan would allow for an M.T.A. takeover of the city-owned Harlem River and East River bridges, which have historically been free to drivers. The new tolls would be collected electronically, without toll booths.

“The regional mobility tax — 33 cents on every $100 of payroll — would provide $1.5 billion a year, and the tolls would produce $600 million in net revenue a year ($1 billion a year in gross revenue minus expenses), Mr. Ravitch said. The new revenue streams would help finance borrowing for a $30 billion-to-$35 billion M.T.A. capital plan for 2010 to 2014 that would help stimulate the economy while maintaining vital infrastructure.”

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

California Dream Ending?

It once seemed that anything was possible in our golden state and for awhile everything was—a large part of the problem of why nothing seems to work now—but we are still blessed with a strong pool of entrepreneurs, great schools, weather to die for, and room to sit down and smell the roses, so perhaps all is not as forlorn as this article intimates.

An excerpt.

“Twenty-five years ago, along with another young journalist, I coauthored a book called California, Inc. about our adopted home state. The book described “California’s rise to economic, political, and cultural ascendancy.”

“As relative newcomers at the time, we saw California as a place of limitless possibility. And over most of the next two decades, my coauthor, Paul Grabowicz, and I could feel comfortable that we were indeed predicting the future.

“But much has changed in recent years. And today our Golden State appears headed, if not for imminent disaster, then toward an unanticipated, maddening, and largely unnecessary mediocrity.

“Since 2000, California’s job growth rate— which in the late 1970s surged at many times the national average—has lagged behind the national average by almost 20 percent. Rapid population growth, once synonymous with the state, has slowed dramatically. Most troubling of all, domestic out-migration, about even in 2001, swelled to over 260,000 in 2007 and now surpasses international immigration. Texas has replaced California as the leading growth center for Hispanics.

“Out-migration is a key factor, along with a weak economy, for the collapse of the housing market. Simply put, the population growth expected for many areas has not materialized, nor the new jobs that might attract newcomers. In the past year, four of the top six housing markets in terms of price decline have been in California, including Sacramento, San Diego, Riverside, and Los Angeles. The Central Valley towns of Stockton, Merced, and Modesto have all been awarded the dubious honors of the highest foreclosure rates in the nation during the past year.

“Even with prices down, many of the most desirable places in California are also among the most unaffordable in the nation. Less than 15 percent of households earning the local median income can afford a home in L.A. or San Francisco. In Santa Barbara, San Diego, Oxnard, Santa Cruz, or San Jose, it’s less than a third. That’s about half the number who can buy in the big Texas or North Carolina markets. Moreover, state officials warned in October that they might have to seek as much as $7 billion in loans from the U.S. Treasury. This is a disappointing turn for a state that once saw itself as the harbinger of the future.

“Not surprisingly, few Californians see a turnaround soon. In the most recent Field Poll in July, a record high 63 percent of Californians said they are financially worse off than they were a year ago, while a record low 14 percent described themselves as better off. Poll director Mark DiCamillo called it “the broadest sentiment of pessimism we’ve ever seen.”

Monday, December 08, 2008

Parkway Trail is Crowded

We advocated for a new trail to be built—safely accommodating walkers, bikers and equestrians—in our 2008 report, page 15, and a link to a great model drawing of it can be found here.

This article in the Bee, and the comments about it, reveal how much a better trail system is needed.

An excerpt.

“Since I moved to the Sacramento area approximately one year ago, I have fully embraced its diversity and abundance of recreational activities. I've been particularly impressed with the American River Parkway bike trail – a luxury for avid bikers such as myself.

“I've lived in five different states and visited countless more, all of which had some version of a public-use trail. Being a biker, hiker, runner and all-around frequent user of such trails, I have come to appreciate certain global rules of the trail.

“Bikers yield to walkers and runners, who in turn yield to equestrians; downhill yields to uphill; you announce when you pass; and – here is my sticking point – you travel on the right side of the trail.

“We all know that there are always one or two mutineers who believe the rules don't apply to them. Sort of like the guy who thinks dog poop is an organic product that need not be cleaned from the side of a trail – or even from on the trail. There are also the idiots who ride helmetless, because helmets give you that uncool, safe look and because they never wore one when they were 12. But that's a personal choice and so not my concern.”

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Alleys Are Cool

As one who has always appreciated the somewhat dark and mysterious allure of city alleys, the concept of bringing midtown alleys into residential and commercial use by buying the back part of the large lots generally backing up to alleys, and developing those parcels into homes or businesses facing the alley—with the owner of the original property sharing in the profit—is a terrific idea.

This editorial from the Bee also likes the idea.

An excerpt.

“Slowly but surely, Sacramento's alleys are stepping out of the shadows.

“Businesses are revamping them into the sites of coffee shops and hair salons. People are using them as passageways.

“During a recent Second Saturday art walk, architects urged passersby to suggest names for the city's unnamed back streets. Some of our favorites? Alley McBeal and Alley Oops.

“Now there's a proposal afoot for an even more startling transformation of the central city's alleys. A partnership called Stitch wants to entice owners of large, underutilized yards along alleys to redevelop the back portions of their lots for condominium units.

“The new units would front onto the alleys, with garage space below and housing above. Property owners would gain income, and possibly gain a new garage or a "granny flat" for an elder or other family member. The neighborhood would win by having more "eyes on the alleys" as a way to deter crime.”

Friday, December 05, 2008

To Panic or Not to Panic

In the endless discussion around global warming the often obscure ways of measuring the past temperature of the earth—necessary to determine if there has been a long extended changing trend towards warming—get lost; and examining these methods may help explain the hesitancy of conservative thinkers to jump into a huge policy hole with tremendous costs for a very long time, without perhaps some more study.

This article looks at those obscure ways.

An excerpt.

“How do we know anything about the Earth’s past climate? Discussions about climate change—its extent, its causes, and what to do about it—often hinge on what we know about our planet’s temperature history. Climate scientists and policymakers routinely talk about the Earth’s “global mean temperature” and compare today’s temperature to a record dating back hundreds of thousands of years. But where does that record come from? And what does it even mean for a single figure to represent the temperature of our entire planet, with its regional diversity and dynamic atmosphere? Scientists have devised ingenious techniques to peer into our planet’s past temperature record, but the picture they give us is a blurry one…

“Perhaps the dominant proxy used to understand past climate is tree rings—a practice called dendroclimatology. By measuring the widths and densities of a tree’s rings, scientists can tell roughly how favorable or unfavorable to growth were the conditions of that tree’s environment in past growing seasons. Temperature is one of the important factors determining how well a tree can grow, so in many cases there is a correlation between the width or density of a specific ring and the local temperature during the growing season corresponding to that ring…

“Of course, there are several sources of proxy data other than tree rings used to reconstruct the Earth’s past temperature—like samples of ice taken from glaciers, which give scientists data reaching much further back in time than the tree rings. Glaciers accumulate when previous snowfalls are crushed into ice from the weight of more recent snowfalls above. Seasonal cycles of temperature and precipitation lead to discernable annual striations. Researchers can drill down from the surface of the glacier to obtain a core sample—a long record of these bands….

“Temperature information from coral data is inferred in a way similar to the technique used with ice cores: relying on the ratio of oxygen-18 to oxygen-16. This can provide sea-surface temperatures to within about 0.3 degrees Celsius over its data range, although that range is limited to a few centuries. Also, the ratio of oxygen isotopes is affected not just by temperature but also by salinity, causing additional uncertainty. Given these uncertainties, coral data are mostly useful as a confirmatory tool.

“Researchers have also found it surprisingly useful to employ historical and cultural events to place bounds on past temperatures in various regions. These can consist of detailed records of produce, newspaper articles about local events (such as the famous account of the annual frost festival held atop the frozen Thames in London), and even landscape paintings showing the extent of glacial advancement. While all of these techniques are helpful in placing bounds on possible temperature values, obviously they are all vastly imprecise and only available for the last few centuries.

“Perhaps the oddest technique used by scientists to determine the Earth’s past temperature is that of “thermal boreholes.” Essentially, a thermometer is placed into a narrow hole in the ground to measure temperature as a function of depth. The resulting signature can be used to reconstruct estimates of the surface temperatures of the past at a resolution of multiple decades. In its report on temperature reconstructions, the National Academy of Sciences explained this technique by comparing it to a metal spoon placed in a cup of hot tea. A spoon has high thermal conductivity, so heat from the tea would quickly travel its length, heating it from end to end. But one can imagine an object that conducts heat much more slowly—an object for which it could take an hour for the heat to move from the end submerged in the tea to the tip of the handle. Continuing with this analogy, the temperature at the surface of the Earth is like the temperature of the tea and the slowly conducting spoon is like the Earth. But the temperature at the surface of the Earth is not constant. This is akin to changing the temperature of the tea over time. When our specially-crafted spoon is initially placed in this hot tea, the submerged end will heat up first and the heat will begin to slowly travel the length of the spoon. But if we then cool the tea, the submerged end will take on this new temperature, which will then follow the earlier heat signal down the length of the spoon. The act of measuring the temperature at various points along the spoon is like that of measuring the temperature at various depths in the borehole. However, these adjacent hot and cold regions will mix, giving scientists only an extremely low-resolution glimpse of past surface temperatures at a few select sites for, at best, the past few hundred years. Boreholes can place very broad bounds on recent local temperatures, but other techniques are much more useful…

“As both the National Academy of Sciences and the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have stated, the proxy techniques discussed here are sufficient to show with high confidence that there has been warming in the last century that is anomalous relative to what would have been expected based upon the natural variations of the geologically recent past—and human greenhouse-gas emissions are at least partly to blame. That said, the uncertainties of these techniques make them grossly insufficient to provide the basis for some of the more extreme claims that have been made. We have reason to be skeptical of both those who design elaborate hypotheses to explain away global warming and those who would have us panic.”

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Save the Polar Bear!

The politics of most public policy issues often thrives or dies on the strength of its media attractiveness and the ability to develop good copy, with the appropriately warm and fuzzy subjects to love (or the reverse) has been central to the environmental movement’s strength in shaping public policy.

This article from The New Atlantis explores that as it regards the polar bear.

An excerpt.

“Lawyers at the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), an Arizona-based environmental group, spent years looking for what Newsweek termed “an animal to save the world.” Their criteria: a charismatic animal dependent upon an Arctic ice habitat threatened by global warming so that the animal could be listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). With the right species, the CBD hoped to use the act to drive global warming policy in the United States and abroad.

“The Kittlitz’s murrelet didn’t cut it. Neither did an Arctic spider or a species of Caribbean coral. The polar bear, though, was another story. Citing research showing that the polar bear’s “sea ice habitat is literally melting away,” CBD attorneys in February 2005 filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to list Ursus maritimus as a “threatened” species. Under the ESA, a species is “threatened” if it “is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.” A species is “endangered” if it is “in danger of extinction.” According to CBD, the “ongoing and projected” loss of Arctic sea ice, largely due to anthropogenic global warming, posed a readily foreseeable threat to the bear. “Only by implementing major cuts in greenhouse gas emissions in the very near future will a scenario be possible in which sufficient sea ice remains that the polar bear can persist as a species,” CBD maintained.

“Some three years and two lawsuits later, in May 2008, the FWS officially declared polar bears “threatened,” adding them to the nearly 2,000 species listed under the ESA. Citing record low levels of sea ice in the Arctic and global climate models that predict further declines, Dirk Kempthorne, the Secretary of the Department of the Interior (of which the FWS is a bureau), conceded that “the legal standards under the ESA compel me to list the polar bear as threatened.” Yet he also cautioned that the listing would do little to stem the loss of sea ice, and warned that it “should not open the door to use of the ESA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles, power plants, and other sources.” Such actions “would be a wholly inappropriate use of the ESA law,” he explained, and could not produce emission reductions sufficient to limit projections of future warming anyway.

“The polar bear’s ESA listing is unquestionably a public-relations victory for CBD and other environmental groups. It may not do much to help polar bear conservation, let alone cool the globe, but it may well bring greater urgency to climate activism. Saving polar bears may be a more saleable cause than abstract appeals to stabilize global climate. Now the Berlin Zoo’s polar bear, cute and cuddly Knut, can replace former Vice President and global scold Al Gore as the face of global warming. The polar bear is “the iconic example of the devastating impacts of global warming on the Earth’s biodiversity,” according to CBD attorneys.

“Soon, though, the polar bear may also become a symbol of how the Endangered Species Act can be exploited to impose substantial regulatory burdens without actually conserving species in the wild. Secretary Kempthorne is certainly correct that the ESA was not intended as a backdoor to regulating emissions. Congress enacted the ESA in 1973 to create a safety net for the nation’s most vulnerable species. Listing a species under the ESA is like admitting it into the “emergency room” so urgent measures may be taken. How well the act has fulfilled its intended purpose is a matter of perennial dispute. In thirty-five years, very few species listed under the act have actually gone extinct, but just as few have recovered sufficiently to be removed from intensive care.”

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Auburn Dam Water Rights Gone

On the day after it appears the future of the Auburn Dam has ended unless the US Congress decides to reopen it, as this article notes, an ARPPS letter is published concerning water storage with the dam as one solution, but that is the nature of policy changes.

Here is our letter.

Time to address state's water needs

Re "California water storage: Underworld and body" (Viewpoints, Nov. 28): Storing water underground, while obviously presenting us with significant technological problems, is a terrific idea and a storage technology that most certainly needs enriching.

In a future with a reduced snowpack and a steadily increasing population, we need to consider all of the approaches mentioned.

We have the option of raising Shasta Dam 200 feet – to the height to which it was originally engineered – and by so doing could triple the storage to about 13.8 million acre-feet. With the building of Auburn Dam – one of the few sites on which a dam could still be built in California – we could add another 2.3 million acre-feet.

With the 10 million to 50 million acre-feet of underground storage envisioned by professor Graham E. Fogg, California would be realizing the level of water storage needed to not only provide for the existing needs of the state but also much of California's future needs.

All of these options do present technological and environmental challenges, but California does have the resources to address them, and for the future health of our state, we hope those resources are brought to bear.

– David H. Lukenbill, Sacramento,
senior policy director, American River Parkway Preservation Society

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Mass Transit Reality

As much as anyone, I would love to be able to not have to have a car—and the couple years when I did not have to when I was single and lived downtown, close to work and shopping, was very nice and a lot of spending on a car and related hassle was avoided—but with marriage, move to the suburbs, having a child, and all of the subsequent necessities (to most Sacramento suburbanites) of good schools and pleasant shopping and daily transit experiences, a car is absolutely mandatory.

And that is the point of this article from New Geography.

An excerpt.

“As gasoline prices have returned to reality, it is a good time also for the transit rhetoric to be transformed into reality.

“First, the increase in transit ridership was never significant in overall terms. Yes, ridership increases in some systems strained capacity on the already crowded buses and trains taking workers to downtown locations. But, since transit accounts for so little in urban mobility, the increases counted for little in the overall scheme of things. For example, the 10 percent increase in ridership that occurred in the Atlanta area could account, at a maximum, for only a 0.2 percent decline in automobile use.

“The reason is simple: less than two percent of travel in the Atlanta area is on transit. Atlanta was among the leaders. In most other urban areas, the impact of the transit increase was less than 0.1 percent. It is thus not surprising that the decrease in driving and increase in transit translated into a national urban market share increase somewhat greater than 0.1 percent over the last year – that is 1 out of 1,000.

“Second, as much as some commentators applauded the shift, it is important to understand why it occurred. The shift did not occur because people had been convinced that such a move would materially reduce greenhouse gas emissions (It would not – outside the New York City area, cars emit little more greenhouse gas emissions per passenger mile than transit). The shift occurred, purely and simply, because it was in the best interests of the shifters. It saved them money and worth the time lost (transit work trip travel times are double that of the car). Now that driving is no longer prohibitively expensive, it is rational to expect much of transit’s ridership gain to be lost.

“Third, the return to the car should not be considered a reflection of the much ballyhooed “love affair” with the automobile. Simply put, people use transit where it makes sense and do not where it does not.”

Monday, December 01, 2008

Owls Fighting Owls

The spotted owl has occupied a near mythic space in the environmental battles of the last several decades to save old growth forests from logging, and to protect them, environmental groups have virtually shut down all old growth logging in the west.

In an astounding revelation though, according to this article from the LA Times, it appears that the cause of the spotted owls demise may not be logging, but the rapacious behavior of its cousin, the barred owl.

An excerpt.

“Across their entire range in Washington, Oregon, Northern California and British Columbia, there are thought to be fewer than 5,000 northern spotted owls left. In the dense forests of the Olympic Peninsula last year, spotted owls were found in 19 of the 54 sites they had once populated. Their numbers have declined by a third since the 1990s, when old-growth logging across the Pacific Northwest came to a virtual halt in an effort to protect their habitat.

“The declines have been so persistent -- averaging 4% a year -- that a growing number of scientists have come to think the most immediate culprit is not logging but the aggressive barred owl, which has crept into the West Coast forests from Canada over the last few decades.

“Bigger, more fertile and with an appetite less finicky than its threatened cousin, the barred owl has taken over in forest after forest, experts say -- claiming spotted owls' nests in the warmer, lower elevations.

"This barred owl pair showed up right at a nest tree where we'd had the same male spotted owl who'd been banded in '92," Gremel said. "He was last seen the year right before [the newcomers] showed up. Then this spring, a park visitor found a dead spotted owl in the campground here."

“There was no way of knowing whether the old owl had left of its own accord, had been driven out or simply died of old age -- but it was troubling, he said.

“Now, as the spotted owl continues to decline, the federal government is taking what many conservationists say is the worst step possible: reopening more of the bird's forests to logging.

“In what is likely to be one of the final environmental battles of the Bush administration, 18 environmental groups filed motions in federal court last week to block a massive remapping of federal lands in the Pacific Northwest. Proposals by the Bureau of Land Management and the Fish and Wildlife Service, which officials hope to have in place by the end of the year, would open up for logging large tracts that had been set aside as breathing space for the owls -- nearly 1.8 million acres.”