Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Nonprofits & Government

The major challenge facing a nonprofit organization taking over a government enterprise, as the American River Natural History Association (ARNHA) is doing with the Effie Yeaw Nature Center—unless the nonprofit has already demonstrated a capacity to raise the amount of funding needed—is transitioning to the type of organizational culture in which substantial fundraising from philanthropic sources is second-nature rather than an alien creature.

The situation with the Nature Center, as reported by the Sacramento Bee, while a good County strategy—and one we suggest they consider for the entire Parkway—brings with it several issues, the one about culture just mentioned, and those outlined in the Bee article.

I served a term as president of ARNHA several years ago, and I wish them the very best in their efforts.

An excerpt.

“If you take your kids to the Effie Yeaw Nature Center on July 4, you might not notice the difference. The trails will still wind to the river. Wild flowers and grasses will still grow. The deer and turkeys will still confer near the path's edge.

“Invisible, however, will be the shift in control of the center and the 77-acre nature preserve from Sacramento County to the American River Natural History Association.

“County officials have billed the move as a success story – a last-minute stay of execution for the nature center from the budget ax, thanks to the creativity of county officials and the dedication of local volunteers. It's part of a broader strategy to shift programs and services from local government to nonprofits.

“This spring, Volunteers of America took over the Mather Community Campus, which houses programs for the homeless, while the county handed off its Meals on Wheels program to the Asian Community Center.

“The approach appears to be unique to Sacramento County, a spokeswoman for the California State Association of Counties said, adding that she is unaware of any other counties making similar moves.

“The Effie Yeaw shift, however, is causing concern among some advocates who fear that the transfer is happening too quickly and that funding woes could be just as pronounced under a nonprofit as they have been under the county.

"There are people on our board who are saying, 'What are we – suckers?' " said Greg Voelm, an American River Natural History Association member who is helping to finalize the deal with the county.

“The biggest concern for Voelm and others is the clean break the county is making from the center.

“Several local attractions have shifted from government control to nonprofits in recent years. The Sacramento Zoo and Fairytale Town are two notable examples.

“But in those cases, the city of Sacramento provided ongoing funding to help the nonprofits get up and running. Sacramento County won't be giving anything to the association.

"At this point the only offer is, 'Suck it up. We're broke,' " Voelm said.

“This means the association – which has typically given $40,000 to $60,000 a year in donations to the county for Effie Yeaw – will suddenly need to find enough money to run the center, which the county has operated with a budget topping $600,000 a year.

"It puts a lot of weight on a little organization like ARNHA," Voelm said. "It may be a bad tax year for the county, but we have no ability to collect anything. We have to rely on the kindness of others."

“The association, along with other parks advocacy groups, has raised about $300,000 so far, Voelm added.”

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

American Demographics

New Geography has an excellent article on our demographic future.

An excerpt.

“Estimates of the United states population at the middle of the 21st century vary, from the U.N.’s 404 million to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 422 to 458 million. To develop a snapshot of the nation at 2050, particularly its astonishing diversity and youthfulness, I use the nice round number of 400 million people, or roughly 100 million more than we have today.

“The United States is also expected to grow somewhat older. The portion of the population that is currently at least 65 years old—13 percent—is expected to reach about 20 percent by 2050. This “graying of America” has helped convince some commentators of the nation’s declining eminence. For example, an essay by international relations expert Parag Khanna envisions a “shrunken America” lucky to eke out a meager existence between a “triumphant China” and a “retooled Europe.” Morris Berman, a cultural historian, says America “is running on empty.”

“But even as the baby boomers age, the population of working and young people is also expected to keep rising, in contrast to most other advanced nations. America’s relatively high fertility rate—the number of children a woman is expected to have in her lifetime—hit 2.1 in 2006, with 4.3 million total births, the highest levels in 45 years, thanks largely to recent immigrants, who tend to have more children than residents whose families have been in the United States for several generations. Moreover, the nation is on the verge of a baby boomlet, when the children of the original boomers have children of their own.

“Between 2000 and 2050, census data suggest, the U.S. 15-to-64 age group is expected to grow 42 percent. In contrast, because of falling fertility rates, the number of young and working-age people is expected to decline elsewhere: by 10 percent in China, 25 percent in Europe, 30 percent in South Korea and more than 40 percent in Japan.

“Within the next four decades most of the developed countries in Europe and East Asia will become veritable old-age homes: a third or more of their populations will be over 65. By then, the United States is likely to have more than 350 million people under 65.

“The prospect of an additional 100 million Americans by 2050 worries some environmentalists. A few have joined traditionally conservative xenophobes and anti-immigration activists in calling for a national policy to slow population growth by severely limiting immigration. The U.S. fertility rate—50 percent higher than that of Russia, Germany and Japan and well above that of China, Italy, Singapore, South Korea and virtually all the rest of Europe—has also prompted criticism.

“Colleen Heenan, a feminist author and environmental activist, says Americans who favor larger families are not taking responsibility for “their detrimental contribution” to population growth and “resource shortages.” Similarly, Peter Kareiva, the chief scientist at the Nature Conservancy, compared different conservation measures and concluded that not having a child is the most effective way of reducing carbon emissions and becoming an “eco hero.”

“Such critiques don’t seem to take into account that a falling population and a dearth of young people may pose a greater threat to the nation’s well-being than population growth. A rapidly declining population could create a society that doesn’t have the work force to support the elderly and, overall, is less concerned with the nation’s long-term future.

“The next surge in growth may be delayed if tough economic times continue, but over time the rise in births, producing a generation slightly larger than the boomers, will add to the work force, boost consumer spending and generate new entrepreneurial businesses. And even with 100 million more people, the United States will be only one-sixth as crowded as Germany is today.

“Immigration will continue to be a major force in U.S. life. The United Nations estimates that two million people a year will move from poorer to developed nations over the next 40 years, and more than half of those will come to the United States, the world’s preferred destination for educated, skilled migrants. In 2000, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, an association of 30 democratic, free-market countries, the United States was home to 12.5 million skilled immigrants, equaling the combined total for Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and Japan.”

Monday, June 28, 2010

Human Time, Geologic Time

It is very easy to get caught up in the turmoil of what will happen in 10 years if we don’t change in the way the environmentalists want us to—and one long-overwraught environmentalist author sees us all soon living in peasant villages—but this article from American Scholar reminds us that the earth is very old and very stable, as geologic time goes, so maybe the stress is overdone.

An excerpt.

“Any serious conversation about the planet’s climate and our energy future must begin, paradoxically, with a backward look at geologic time. The reason for this is that the way forward is fogged by misunderstandings about the earth. Experts are little help in the constant struggle in this conversation to separate myth from reality, because they have the same difficulty, and routinely demonstrate it by talking past each other. Respected scientists warn of imminent energy shortages as geologic fuel supplies run out. Wall Street executives dismiss their predictions as myths and call for more drilling. Environmentalists describe the destruction to the earth from burning coal, oil, and natural gas. Economists ignore them and describe the danger to the earth of failing to burn coal, oil, and natural gas. Geology researchers report fresh findings about what the earth was like millions of years ago. Creationist researchers report fresh findings that the earth didn’t exist millions of years ago. The only way not to get lost in this awful swamp is to review the basics and decide for yourself what you believe and what you don’t.

“Geologic time is such a vast concept that it’s helpful to convert it to something more pedestrian just to get oriented. I like rainfall.
• The total precipitation that falls on the world in one year is about one meter of rain, the height of a golden retriever.
• The total amount of rain that has fallen on the world since the industrial revolution began is about 200 meters, the height of Hoover Dam.
• The amount of rain that has fallen on the world since the time of Moses is enough to fill up all the oceans.
• The amount of rain that has fallen on the world since the Ice Age ended is enough to fill up all the oceans four times.
• The amount of rain that has fallen on the world since the dinosaurs died is enough to fill up all the oceans 20,000 times—or the entire volume of the earth three times.
• The amount of rain that has fallen on the world since coal formed is enough to fill up the earth 15 times.
• The amount of rain that has fallen on the world since oxygen formed is enough to fill the earth 100 times.

“Common sense tells us that damaging a thing this old is somewhat easier to imagine than it is to accomplish—like invading Russia. The earth has suffered mass volcanic explosions, floods, meteor impacts, mountain formation, and all manner of other abuses greater than anything people could inflict, and it’s still here. It’s a survivor. We don’t know exactly how the earth recovered from these devastations, because the rocks don’t say very much about that, but we do know that it did recover—the proof of it being that we are here.

“Nonetheless, damaging the earth is precisely what’s concerning a lot of responsible people at the moment. Carbon dioxide from the human burning of fossil fuel is building up in the atmosphere at a frightening pace, enough to double the present concentration in a century. This buildup has the potential to raise average temperatures on the earth several degrees centigrade, enough to modify the weather and accelerate melting of the polar ice sheets. Governments around the world have become so alarmed at this prospect that they’ve taken significant, although ineffective, steps to slow the warming. These actions include legislating carbon caps, funding carbon sequestration research, subsidizing alternate energy technologies, and initiating at least one serious international treaty process to balance the necessary economic sacrifices across borders.

“Unfortunately, this concern isn’t reciprocated. On the scales of time relevant to itself, the earth doesn’t care about any of these governments or their legislation. It doesn’t care whether you turn off your air conditioner, refrigerator, and television set. It doesn’t notice when you turn down your thermostat and drive a hybrid car. These actions simply spread the pain over a few centuries, the bat of an eyelash as far as the earth is concerned, and leave the end result exactly the same: all the fossil fuel that used to be in the ground is now in the air, and none is left to burn. The earth plans to dissolve the bulk of this carbon dioxide into its oceans in about a millennium, leaving the concentration in the atmosphere slightly higher than today’s. Over tens of millennia after that, or perhaps hundreds, it will then slowly transfer the excess carbon dioxide into its rocks, eventually returning levels in the sea and air to what they were before humans arrived on the scene. The process will take an eternity from the human perspective, but it will be only a brief instant of geologic time.”

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Parks Funding

Government service, as is true of any organizational service, need to adjust to lower revenue and previous allocation choices.

Creating a class of virtually permanent jobs with a higher salary and retirement benefits than offered in the private sector, has done much to limit the ability of government to fund those items which have made California special, such as the state parks system.

Attempting to increase taxes--environmentalist's default position--to pay for this legislative self-induced funding issue with the parks will probably not get much traction.

The Sacramento Bee reports on the problems.

An excerpt.

“The images won't appear in any California State Parks brochure.

“MacKerricher State Park: Fifty elementary-school kids arrive for their annual end-of-year camping trip, only to find the drinking water contaminated.

“Mount Tamalpais: A trail near the visitors center greets disabled visitors and families with a 12- to 50-foot sheer drop-off – and no guardrail.

“Hearst Castle: The marble Neptune Pool at California's most famous state park leaks so much that stalactites have formed in a cavity underneath.

“Look beyond the crashing waves and towering redwoods, and California's 278 state parks are a tangle of troubles. The nation's largest state parks system is weighed down by a $1.3 billion maintenance backlog, according to a review of park records by The Sacramento Bee.

“Park visitors already have dealt with abbreviated schedules and services. Now decay and neglect in the parks endanger the environment, artifacts – and even public health, as the students and parents of Skyfish School in Redway recently learned.

"It's been a real hassle," said Mark Jensen, a parent and chaperone who had to keep 50 kids from drinking the water at MacKerricher State Park near Fort Bragg. "There were actually a couple kids who drank some before we could get the word out."

“Much of the park decay exists because maintenance has been largely ignored for more than a decade amid slim and slimmer state budgets. Buildings and infrastructure, subject to constant exposure and heavy use, just get worse until they fail.

“As a result, the backlog has more than doubled since 2001, when it was estimated at $600 million.

“The operating budget for state parks from state funding and user fees – which pays for day-to-day maintenance, law enforcement and administration – stands at about $330 million this fiscal year. In 2001, it was $314 million. Adjusted for inflation, however, that reflects a 15 percent drop.

“Meanwhile, during those same years, California added 12 parks and 100,000 acres of land to its system.

“Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has vowed to leave the $140 million general fund subsidy intact this year, after he was criticized in 2009 for requiring partial closure of 60 parks and cutbacks systemwide.

“It remains to be seen whether the Legislature will agree to keep the parks budget intact – and status-quo funding will do little to shrink the mountain of untended maintenance.

“Environmental groups think they have a partial solution in the recently qualified November ballot initiative that would levy an $18 annual fee on every California vehicle registration, raising at least $208 million a year. In return, residents with up-to-date registration would have free day use of all state parks.”

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Interview Published

An interview with the president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society, Michael Rushford, was published, in the July issue, by Inside Publications, page 24.

An excerpt.

"Growing up in Carmichael in the early 60s, Michael Rushford learned an important lesson from the nearby American River: change is inevitable.

“In the natural world, things are always changing,” he says, recalling how weather and releases from Folsom Dam dramatically impacted the river, its nature and everything along its banks.

“Every year the topography of the river bed would change a little. Each summer we would find new rapids, new lagoons, new islands. And, I remember that after one really wet winter, a big tree, which we considered invincible, fell into the river,” says Rushford, smiling at the notion that even massive trees can topple.

As president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society, he would like to topple the way the parkway is managed. Rushford and his group wants to get government out the Parkway management business.

“We do not believe that local governments which share its management, or the special interest groups vying for influence over its future, represent the majority of people who visit and use the American River Parkway,” he explains. “We try to speak for the bulk of parkway users who want a well-managed, clean, safe and accessible place to enjoy the river and the beauty of the surrounding area.”

"According to Rushford, there are too many cooks in the kitchen.

“No one entity is really in charge, but several share the responsibility,” he says. “Since the 1980s more and more people have become regular parkway visitors. The financial demands for maintenance and improvement have increased, while local governments seem to view the parkway as more of a problem than a priority.”

"His group believes the parkway should be managed and maintained by a non-profit conservancy chartered solely for this purpose and beyond the influence of narrow interests or government budgets.

“The governing board should share a vision that recognizes the parkway belongs to everyone,” Rushford says.

"The parkway preservation society supports the creation of an endowment to provide funding, utilizing volunteers and paid staff for maintenance and improvements, and to support cultural, recreational and educational programs.

"While Rushford wants government to get out of parkway management, he does see a role for government: in the area of law enforcement.

“Today, parts of the river are a crime problem and off limits to most people,” he explains. “Some of this has to do with the times we live in, but I don’t believe that we should abandon the goal of making a public place that so many people enjoy a safe place as well.”

Friday, June 25, 2010

Renewable Energy Increase

Very good news, as reported by the Sacramento Bee.

An excerpt.

“California's utilities, under state order to sharply increase their portfolios of "renewable" power generation -- i.e. solar, wind and geothermal -- are showing major movement, the Public Utilities Commission said today.

“The commission, in a quarterly report on reaching the goal of 20 percent renewables by 2010 and 33 percent by 2020, said that during the first three months of this year, the utilities hit 15.4 percent, up from 13 percent in 2008. They are on track to reach 18 percent by the end of this year and 21 percent next year, the PUC report said.

“State laws passed in 2002 and 2006 set the 20 percent mark for 2010. Two years ago, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger established the 33 percent goal by executive order.”

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Unclear on the Concept

Utility use restrictions are for shortages, and, common sense would seem to dictate, when the shortage disappears, so would the restrictions, but not so, as this article from the Los Angeles Times reports.

An excerpt.

“Late spring storms smothered the Sierra in snow. The state's biggest reservoir is nearly full. Precipitation across much of California has been above average. By standard measures, California's three-year drought is over.

"From a hydrologic standpoint, for most of California, it is gone," said state hydrologist Maury Roos, who has monitored the ups and downs of the state's water for 50 years.

“But Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger isn't lifting his drought declaration. Los Angeles isn't ending its watering restrictions and Southern California's major water wholesaler isn't reversing delivery cuts. Despite months of rain and snow and rising levels in the state's major reservoirs, water managers aren't ready to celebrate or make the drought's end official.

“Caution, politics and a changing water landscape are all at play.

"The concern is, if we return to a dry year next year we're in trouble" said Assemblyman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), one of the Legislature's water policy experts. "But you also have to wonder if the drought isn't also a convenient political tool sometimes — especially in an election year."

“The Colorado River Basin, a significant water source for the Southland, remains stuck in a long-term drought. Environmental restrictions on pumping water from Northern California will continue to reduce exports to the south. Both are cause for caution.

“On the political side, an expensive water bond made its way onto the November ballot with the help of images of shrinking reservoirs and parched fields in the Central Valley.

“Data from the state Department of Water Resources paint a vastly improved water picture. As of May 31, statewide precipitation was at 115% of average, reservoir storage was at 95% and runoff at 80%.”

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Model City Planning: Myth & Reality

Sacramento has been influenced by the myth of urban planning promoted by the leaders of Portland, Oregon—large-scale urban density, mass-transit replacing cars, leading to livable, affordable, and diverse communities; but the reality is different, as this article from New Geography reveals.

An excerpt.

“Portland, Oregon, was for a long time cited as a good example of pro-density housing strategies which sought to limit ‘sprawl’, to promote public transport by investing in things like light rail, and to promote cycling and a range of other planning ‘solutions’ that would sound remarkably familiar in Australia.

“The truth about Portland, however, didn’t match the hype of its city planners. Much of the boosterism focused on the mostly downtown area of Portland. Like Melbourne, or Sydney, this is its own municipality, with its own Mayor and its own planning officials. As they aggressively sold a story about the virtues of their planning strategy for the city core, they omitted the inconvenient broader metropolitan facts as they went.

“The story of the real Portland, including the surrounding suburban areas, is different than what these policy promoters would have you believe. Portland today, despite hundreds of millions invested in a new light rail system and the promotion of inner city housing density, has fewer public transport trips as a percentage of total travel than in 1980. Urban Growth Boundaries introduced by Oregon State in the 1970s led to housing price pressures which eventually excluded the middle and working class. Leading US city demographer Joel Kotkin describes it as an ‘elite city’ which is ‘remarkably white, young and childless.’ And as international housing market expert Wendell Cox has pointed out, the suggestion that Portland has much to crow about in terms of urban consolidation doesn’t match the official statistics. Portland is as guilty of ‘sprawl’ as Los Angeles.”

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Rancho Cordova Named All America City

Congratulations for a very well-deserved national designation, as reported by the Rancho Cordova Post.

An excerpt.

“The city of Rancho Cordova has joined the prestigious ranks of more than 500 communities from around the country to be selected as an All American City! Every year, the National Civic League honors ten communities countrywide for their civic accomplishments. Community members found out months ago that Rancho Cordova had been selected for the second consecutive year, as an All-America City finalist.

“Each of the 27 communities that were chosen as finalists have spent the week in Kansas City, Missouri culminating in a 10 minute presentation and a 10 minute question and answer period earlier today. The 2010 All-America City finalists have addressed issues such as serving youth despite financial hurdles, diversifying the labor force, providing affordable housing, and increasing the tax base to fund schools.

“The delegation of community members from Rancho Cordova presented three projects that represent the city. Project 680, led by Ryan Lundquist, is a community driven effort that collects much needed, socks, underwear, and shoes for homeless children in the area. Rancho Cordova Cultural Heritage (Saturday) Schools, a collaborative effort of immigrant parents and the Folsom Cordova Unified School District to preserve and honor arts and culture of mother countries. The Rancho Cordova City Hall Project provides a “civic heart” for Rancho Cordova, incubating business and community engagement as well as serving as a home for municipal services.

“The full list of 2010 All America City winners include [alphabetically by state]: Chandler, Arizona; Lynwood, California; Rancho Cordova, California; North Miami, Florida; Acworth, Georgia; Des Moines, Iowa; Salisbury, Maryland; Gastonia, North Carolina; Mount Pleasant, South Carolina; El Paso, Texas.”

Monday, June 21, 2010

Municipal Debt

As our local governments struggle with debt, this timely article in the Wall Street Journal bears a close read.

An excerpt.

“New Jersey officials recently celebrated the selection of the new stadium in the Meadowlands sports complex as the site of the 2014 Super Bowl. Absent from the festivities was any sense of the burden the complex has become for taxpayers.

“Nearly 40 years ago the Garden State borrowed $302 million to begin constructing the Meadowlands. The goal was to pay off the bonds in 25 years. Although the project initially went according to plan, politicians couldn't resist continually refinancing the bonds, siphoning revenues from the complex into the state budget, and using the good credit rating of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition authority to borrow for other, unsuccessful building schemes.

“Today, the authority that runs the Meadowlands is in hock for $830 million, which it can't pay back. The state, facing its own cavernous budget deficits, has had to assume interest payments—about $100 million this year on bonds that still stretch for decades.

“This tale of woe has become familiar in the world of municipal finance. Governments have loaded up on debt, stretched out repayment times, and used slick maneuvers to avoid constitutional borrowing limits. While the country's economic troubles have helped expose some of these practices, a sharp decline in tax revenues has prompted more abuse as politicians use long-term debt to kick short-term fiscal problems down the road.

“It hasn't always been this way. Government debt has long fostered the expansion of the American republic, helping to build roads, bridges and water works to serve a growing population. But there have also been spectacular failures. In the mid-1970s, New York City almost defaulted on its debt after it used borrowing to fund an aggressive and ultimately unaffordable expansion of services (like the nation's most generous Medicaid program) inaugurated by Mayor John Lindsay. Gotham was bailed out by New York State and the federal government. But Cleveland, whose spending outpaced tax revenues thanks to borrowing, did default on $14 million in bonds in 1978.

“The 1970s debt crises woke politicians up. Over the next 20 years the municipal fiscal picture improved, with debt rising only slightly. But memories of past busts have since faded, and outstanding debt has soared to $2.2 trillion today from $1.4 trillion in 2000. State and local borrowing as a percentage of the country's GDP has risen to an all-time high of 22% in 2010 from 15%, with projections that it will reach 24% by 2012.

“Even more disconcerting is what the borrowing now often finances. One favorite scheme for muni debt is giant and risky development projects.

“California's redevelopment regime is an object lesson. Starting in the 1950s, the state gave localities the right to create public agencies, funded by increases in property taxes, which can issue debt to finance redevelopment. A whopping 380 such entities now exist. They collect 10% of all property taxes—nearly $6 billion annually—and they have amassed $29 billion in debt never approved by voters for projects ranging from sports facilities to concert venues to retail malls, museums and convention centers.”

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Interactive Parkway Map

The Sacramento Bee has published this very nice interactive map full of good stuff, and today will be a great day to get out there.

Have a wonderful Father's Day!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Cleaner Air in the Valley

As reported by the Fresno Bee.

An excerpt.

“The Valley is on course to achieve the federal ozone standard by 2022 -- two years ahead of schedule if improvements continue as they have in the past decade, air officials said Thursday.

“There has been a 44% reduction in violations over the last decade, officials said, crediting tough rules, industry investments in clean-air technology and cooperation from the public. At that rate, the standard will be achieved early, officials said.

“But steep challenges remain, said Seyed Sadredin, executive director of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District….

"We're not hanging a 'Mission Accomplished' banner," he said. "We're still one of the worst air basins in the country."

“During the past decade, the Valley has ranked alongside the South Coast Air Basin with the most ozone violations. Last year, South Coast had the nation's highest number of ozone violations with 113. The Valley was second with 98.

“The violations are linked to the 1997 standard. Federal officials soon are expected to come up with a far more stringent ozone standard that might be impossible to reach by the deadline of 2031.

“Ozone is a corrosive gas that forms in warm, sunny weather when nitrogen oxides from vehicles combine with fumes from dairies, gasoline and solvents. The pollutant triggers lung problems, such as asthma.

“The Valley produces 40% fewer ozone-making gases than South Coast. But this bowl-shaped region traps bad air, allowing pollutants to build up for days.”

Friday, June 18, 2010

Outsourcing Municipal Services

As we watch Sacramento County and the city of Sacramento struggle to deal with huge deficits calling for severe reductions in service to local residents, the model of deep outsourcing being used by the five-year old city of Sandy Springs, Georgia may be something to look at.

An excerpt from the article in Governing.

“For decades, residents of Sandy Springs, Ga., were unhappy with the poor quality and high costs of services provided by Fulton County. With a population of just 90,000 compared to the county's 900,000, Sandy Springs residents felt slighted by what was considered an unfair redistribution of tax dollars within the county.

"We were being exploited," Eva Gambolos, the former mayor of Sandy Springs told American City and County. "Sandy Springs was a cash cow for [Fulton County.]"

“In 2005, residents got tired of being milked.

“After a decades-long campaign, Sandy Springs declared political independence from Fulton County and embarked on their own little "bold experiment." The result was resounding, with 94 percent of Sandy Springers voting for incorporation.

“Newly incorporated Sandy Springs immediately embarked on another bold experiment: They contracted for virtually all non-public safety services.

“Today, nearly five years later, an expiring contract provides a chance to assess results. According to city officials, operating with an outsourcing model saves Sandy Springs an estimated $20 million per year. Sandy Spring's bold experiment in privatization has been favorably received by citizens and was recently a winner of the Pioneer Institute's Better Government Competition. …

“Prior to incorporation, a study by the University of Georgia estimated the newly incorporated city of Sandy Springs would need 828 employees. Thanks to privatization, the reality wasn't even close to that. For the past five years, all municipal services except police, fire and 911 have been provided by CH2M Hill OMI. In addition to public safety personnel, the city manager and his staff are also public employees, giving Sandy Springs 271 public employees augmented by 200 contractor positions or 471 in total -- a far cry from the expected 828.”

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Railyards Setback?

It is too early to tell yet, but the story from the Sacramento Bee does find some light.

An excerpt.

“The future of the long-dormant downtown Sacramento railyard took a dramatic turn Tuesday. The question: Is it a turn for the worse, or perhaps the better?

“A Chicago-area real estate investor started foreclosure proceedings on the railyard after property owner Thomas Enterprises failed to pay off $187 million worth of loans.

“The move could signal the end here for financially troubled Thomas Enterprises and usher in the massive Inland American Real Estate Trust as new steward of the 240-acre railyard, the city's top redevelopment project.

“An analyst who follows Inland called the company substantial and experienced.

“Thomas Enterprises of Atlanta, which bought the railyard from Union Pacific in 2006 after lengthy negotiations, has been vexed by financial setbacks nationally, including several foreclosures and project stoppages.

“The firm's financial issues came to a head in Sacramento in April when it was unable to make a balloon payment to Inland on a series of loans. Inland officials said Thomas stopped making payments in July 2009.

“The two companies have been negotiating a rewrite of the debt, Thomas officials said.

“On Tuesday, however, after alerting Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mayor Kevin Johnson and state Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, Inland filed a notice of loan default at the Sacramento County Recorder's Office, a first step toward foreclosure.

“In a statement to the Bee, Inland spokesman Matthew Tramel indicated the talks had not made enough progress.

"Inland American has made its best effort to work with Thomas Enterprises Inc. … to address the current default status of the loans on the property," he said.

“Tramel declined to say whether Inland will take ownership of the railyard. "As of now, Inland American is the lender, not the owner of the railyard."

“Thomas official Suheil Totah described Inland's default filing as "just a formality" amid loan discussions "which we expect to conclude shortly."

“Johnson said Inland officials assured him they are committed to making the railyard redevelopment project a reality.

"This sounds a lot worse than it is," Johnson said. "There is an opportunity where Thomas can be part of a joint partnership. (Inland is) going to try to create a win-win. But if they can't resolve their differences, it would mean there would have to be another master developer to come in and push the project forward."

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Nuclear Power Innovation?

Are traveling-wave reactors the new wave?

Whatever the results, it is good to see innovation being funded in this important field, as reported by Fast Company.

An excerpt.

“Nuclear power, that oft-maligned source of clean energy, got a boost earlier this year when TerraPower announced plans to team up with Toshiba to build a hot tub-sized traveling-wave nuclear reactor. Now TerraPower is moving even closer to commercialization with news that investors--including Khosla Ventures and Charles River Ventures--are backing the startup with a cool $35 million. TerraPower claims it has already raised tens of millions of dollars, though it won't give exact figures.

“Unlike light-water nuclear reactors that run on enriched uranium, TerraPower's traveling-wave reactors run on depleted uranium that only needs to be replaced every 60 to 100 years. Based on known uranium reserves, TerraPower believes that its reactors could power the world for thousands of years without having to chemically reprocess fuel.

“TerraPower explains the science behind traveling-wave reactors:

“A nuclear fission reactor produces and controls the release of energy from splitting atoms of certain heavy elements. The nuclear power plants of today require a full core of fuel made from enriched uranium. The TWR, in contrast, initially contains only a small amount of enriched uranium, which is used to kick off the chain reaction through a core of depleted uranium. The wave of fission would move slowly through this depleted uranium core, splitting many more of the uranium atoms than a conventional reactor would.”

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

ARNHA Chosen for Effie Yeaw Management

The American River Natural History Association (ARNHA)—an organization for which I served as a board member and board president some years ago—has been chosen by the County Board of Supervisors to be the nonprofit organization to assume control of the Effie Yeaw Nature Center.

ARNHA is certainly the logical choice, with their long history helping the Nature Center.

We wish them the very best and will help in their efforts however we can.

An excerpt from their website on the news.

“It's official—the American River Natural History Association has been selected to work with the county to operate the Effie Yeaw Nature Center, effective July 4, thereby forestalling threatened closure of the 33-year-old award-winning county facility.

“Jill Ritzman, deputy director of the county Regional Parks Department, said two agreements cover the transition: "one is a permit to allow ARNHA to come in and care for the animals and buildings, and provide for a presence in the Nature Center while negotiations between ARNHA and the County go forward for a long-term agreement."

“Nature center staff will be laid off effective July 3, Ritzman said. However, Greg Voelm, ARNHA past president who is heading ARNHA's takeover bid, said "ARNHA is working to continue as many staff positions as possible beginning July 4."

“The long-term negotiations will proceed concurrently with the initial agreement, and likely will be completed in up to 30 days, Ritzman said. The first phase requires only parks department action, while the long-term plan would need to be approved by the Board of Supervisors. Asked if there will be any county funding in a takeover transition, she said she didn't know of any, other than "a little bit" for utilities and garbage collection. "But you never know what the board is going to do next week," she added.”

Monday, June 14, 2010

Auburn Dam Park

Rather than the direction advocated by this editorial from the Sacramento Bee, it is heartening that the Bureau of Reclamation is stopping funding of the area as a park while it still remains a congressionally approved dam site.

At some point, one hopes, pubic leadership will realize that the building of Auburn Dam is the only way to ensure a 500 year level of flood protection, as we posted on earlier—while also providing adequate water storage to ensure the optimal river flow and water temperature to maintain a healthy salmon run in the Lower American River—and will move forward in constructing the dam.

We also published a research report in 2006 about it, The American River Parkway, Protecting its Integrity and Providing Water or the River Running Through it: A Report on the Auburn Dam Policy Environment, which is posted to our website.

An excerpt from the Editorial.

“The magnificent canyons and semiwilderness of the north and middle forks of the American River are some of the treasures of this region. Since 1977, California State Parks has managed this vast and rugged area for the federal government.

“The Auburn State Recreation Area is one of the most popular units in the state park system, drawing nearly a million visitors a year for hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, swimming, boating, fishing, whitewater rafting, mountain biking and other activities.

“Then came a bombshell.

"Feds back off park funding," read The Bee's headline of June 8.

“Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Pete Lucero said the agency would "provide enough funds to keep the park open for the rest of this year" (through Sept. 30). He said Reclamation hoped "to secure cost-sharing agreements with other federal, state and local agencies by September to cover future operations."

“Lucero modified that on Friday, saying Reclamation would provide funding to keep the park open through Sept. 30, 2011. This year's funding of $1.4 million for the park will go down to $1.1 million next year.

“This news came on top of Reclamation's earlier abrupt halt to a three-year joint planning process for the recreation area with State Parks. In December 2008, Reclamation told the state that it "would not be prudent to proceed" with planning for the recreation area until future management for the federal lands within the Auburn dam project area was resolved….

“Congress authorized a dam in this area in 1965 that, for a variety of reasons, has never been built. But the dam has never been decommissioned, so it is still a project on paper.

“A 1978 plan for the recreation area assumes a reservoir, as does a 1992 "interim" plan. And the position of Reclamation continues to be that it will not approve "significant permanent recreation facilities within the take line of the dam area or a potential Auburn Reservoir."

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Analysis Correct?

The problem with the analysis presented in this conference, as reported by HealthyCal—that car use resulting from suburban design is responsible for health—is contrary to the reality that people are responsible for their health, and as independent agents rather than rats on a treadmill, they will decide what methods they prefer to compensate for any unhealthful effects—though it would seem the reverse is closer to the truth—the suburban environment and car use, imposes.

People have shown throughout history that they prefer to live in suburbs and one aspect of a more car-oriented lifestyle is the development of the fitness business, which basically didn’t exist decades ago, but now, is a huge business contributing to our economy and the nation’s health.

An excerpt from the HealthyCal article.

“Health policy, Dr. Richard Jackson says, is about more than medical care. It is about farm policy. Transportation. Housing. And so much more.

“Because how healthy we are is determined largely by where and how we live.

“Jackson, a professor of Environmental Health Services at the UCLA School of Public Health and the former state health officer for California, is an expert on the connections between urban design and health. He was the lead speaker at a conference in Sacramento last month that brought together environmentalists, planners, physicians and developers to share ideas and look for common ground on issues connecting the urban environment and health.

“Jackson traces many of our current health problems to our dependency on the automobile. And that, he says, was an unintended consequence of public health reforms a century ago that separated residential, commercial and industrial uses to reduce disease.

“We have built America around cars,” Jackson said. “We have not built it around people.”

“Jackson noted that America has more cars than it has licensed drivers. And while he said crashes kill about 40,000 people a year, he estimates that pollution from vehicles leads to premature death for more people than that.

“But that is only the beginning of the problem. Our dependence on cars has made walking passé and created a culture hostile to bicycling. The result is a society in which few people move under their own power, starting with children.

“Often in the neighborhoods we build, the only way to get from one place to another is by car,” he said.”

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Budget Reductions, Five Stages

A timely article from Management Insights.

An excerpt.

“No one likes to face up to the need to cut back on their lifestyle. Governments and families alike rightly recognize the process of fiscal sacrifice as a wrenching one. The process of dealing with cutbacks in any sector can be fractious, contentious and notoriously short-sighted, as we all are tempted to put off until tomorrow what we would rather not do today.

“Many of us who have high hopes for the public sector actually see the silver lining in the deficit cloud. A fiscal crisis can force a very healthy reexamination of programs, priorities and operations. While often too painful to address in normal times, inefficient work rules, program designs and benefit formulas can be reformed. Unfunded promises can be curtailed and rationalized. And perhaps governments might emerge from this difficult period in healthier shape than they were before.

“But such are the dreams of reformers like myself. The process of dealing with deficits are rarely this high-minded or straightforward. Instead, we see a process that is pockmarked with resistance, privilege and short-sighted decision-making. The actual process of fiscal sacrifice has never really been charted and varies considerably across governments. But it resembles the stages of grieving for losses more than we would like to admit.

“I want to lay out what I will call the inferno of deficit reduction. I would suggest that governments facing fiscal gaps go through stages of budgetary recognition and decision-making. I would caution that this is not based on empirical surveys but rather on a long view of observations over many episodes of fiscal retrenchment at all levels of government.

“Denial. Often, initial deficit projections are ignored or even fudged. At the federal level, we heard under President Bush that deficits did not matter in a growing economy. In the Obama era, we hear some suggest that deficit reduction is trumped by the need for greater stimulus and that the resulting economic growth will help the budget bounce back. Denial is a strategy that stresses the risk of taking action versus the risks of letting deficits accumulate to daunting levels.”

Friday, June 11, 2010

Funding Auburn Dam Park

The Sacramento Bee reports about the possibility of the cutback in funding for the national park that was to have been the lake created by Auburn Dam, a water storage lake that would sure be welcomed in this water rich year.

The dam is still officially authorized by Congress, and the revoked water rights can be restored.

An excerpt.

“The federal government says it can no longer afford to maintain Auburn State Recreation Area, the popular park in the footprint of the defunct Auburn dam.

“The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has been paying $2 million annually to the California Department of Parks and Recreation to operate the 30,000-acre park at the confluence of the north and middle forks of the American River....

“The prospect for significant financial help, however, may be dim. The state parks department last year curtailed hours and programs systemwide due to budget cuts, and it is struggling to avoid deeper cuts this year.

"The fiscal crisis we have makes it very difficult for us to even put that on the table," said Scott Nakaji, state parks district superintendent.

"We don't control the destiny of the lands, but we think it has so much value to the people of California that we want to be part of that," Nakaji added.

“When asked whether there is a risk the area could cease to be a state park, Nakaji said, "We're preparing for anything, but it's so uncertain."

“Lucero emphasized Reclamation is not abandoning the property. Officially, an Auburn dam remains a congressionally authorized water project, so the federal government still has significant responsibilities in the canyons.

“He also said the move was not prompted by the 2008 decision by the California Water Resources Control Board to revoke water rights associated with Auburn dam. While the decision effectively killed the dam, it had already been stalled for decades amid environmental, political and cost concerns.”

Thursday, June 10, 2010

More Parkway Funding Cuts

Continuing a trend that has been going on for several years, the County is preparing to cut more funds from Parkway public safety and maintenance,as reported by the Rancho Cordova Post.

While lobbying to protect the Parkway related programs being cut—a strategy other Parkway advocacy groups are trying—may have some impact in the short-term, the best long-term strategy has been evident for years.

Based on how other signature parks have developed a stable funding source, the heart of that strategy must be philanthropy and nonprofit management, which we noted in a recent press release, and in a letter published in the Sacramento Bee and posted—with related links—in an earlier post.

An excerpt from the Rancho Cordova Post article.

“The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to move forward on issuing nearly 1,000 layoff notices to county employees on Tuesday, and more cuts to county programs are under consideration as the board looks to close a $181 million budget gap.

“Of the 953 positions facing the chopping block, 747 are currently filled; coupled with the county’s 748-person workforce reduction for the 2009-2010 fiscal year, the county’s workforce has been whittled down by over 1,700 jobs in the last year.

“More cuts are on the horizon to county programs as well. The county’s budget office released recommendations to the board in April that recommended cutting services across the board. Included in these reductions were $25 million in cuts to the probation department, over $2 million in cuts to patrolling and maintenance of the American River Parkway and a $54 million cut to the Sheriff’s Department.”

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Suburban Wasteland?

The demise of the suburbs has been proclaimed by urbanists for years, and the latest predictions—based on faulty surveys—will fare as have the previous, to be wildly inaccurate because an overwhelming majority of people love to live in the suburbs.

New Geography examines this latest news.

An excerpt.

“For many years, critics of the suburban lifestyles that most Americans (not to mention Europeans, Japanese, Canadians and Australians) prefer have claimed that high-density housing is under-supplied by the market. This based on an implication that the people increasingly seek to abandon detached suburban housing for higher density multi-family housing.

“The Suburbs: Slums of the Future?

"The University of Utah's Arthur C. (Chris) Nelson, indicated in an article (entitled "Leadership in a New Era") in the Journal of the American Planning Association. that in 2003, 75% of the housing stock was detached and 25% was attached, including townhouses, apartments, and condominiums. By 2025 he predicts that only 62% of consumer will favor detached homes, (Note 1). He also predicts a major shift in consumer preferences from housing on large lots (defined as greater than 1/6th of an acre) to smaller lots (Note 2). This, he suggests, would create a surplus of 22 million detached houses on large lots.

“This predication is largely made on the basis of "stated preference" surveys which the author, Dr. Emil Malizia of the University of North Carolina (commenting on the article in the same issue), and others indicate may not accurately reflect the choices that consumers will actually make. Dr. Nelson's article has been widely quoted, both in the popular press and in academic circles. It has led some well-respected figures such as urbanist and developer Christopher Leinberger to suggest in an Atlantic Monthly article that "many low-density suburbs and McMansion subdivisions, including some that are lovely and affluent today, may become what inner cities became in the 1960s and ’70s—slums characterized by poverty, crime, and decay."

“The Condo Market Goes Crazy

“Misleading ideas sometimes have bad consequences. The notion that suburbanites were afflicted with urban envy led many developers to throw up high-rise condominiums in urban districts across the country. Sadly for these developers, the Suburban Exodus never materialized, never occurred. As a result, developers have lost hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars and taxpayers or holders of publicly issued bonds could be left "holding the bag" (see discussion of Portland, below).

“This weakness has been seen even in the nation's strongest condominium market, New York City, where one developer offered to pay purchaser's mortgages, condominium fees and real estate taxes for a year as well as closing costs.

“But the damage is arguably worse in other major markets which lack the amenities and advantages of New York.

“Take, for example, Raleigh (North Carolina), where low density living is the rule (the Raleigh urban area is less dense than Atlanta). The News and Observer reports that the largest downtown condominium building (the Hue) "considered a bold symbol of downtown Raleigh's revitalization," has closed its sales office and halted all marketing efforts. The development’s offer of a free washing machine, dryer, refrigerator, and parking space were not enough to entice suburbanites away from the neighborhoods they were said to be so eager to leave.

“This is not an isolated instance. Around the nation, condominium prices have been reduced steeply to attract buyers. New buildings have gone rental, because no one wanted to buy them. Other buildings have been foreclosed upon by banks; and units have been auctioned. Planned developments have been put on indefinite hold or cancelled.”

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Water, Water Everywhere and Nowhere to Store it, II

Following up on yesterday’s post, this book review of Colossus: Hoover Dam & the Making of the American Century, in the Wall Street Journal, about the building of the great dam, reminds us of what we can do when we set our mind to it; a willingness to capture and store water, devoutly to be wished for the present time.

An excerpt.

“With a runaway oil well fouling the Gulf of Mexico for weeks on end—and both government and industry seemingly helpless to stop it—Michael Hiltzik's "Colossus," about the construction of the Hoover Dam, is a welcome reminder of the engineering genius that built America.

“Mr. Hiltzik, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author, tells the Hoover Dam story in the grand tradition of David McCullough, who more or less invented the idea of popular and historically sophisticated books about stupendous engineering achievements. Like Mr. McCullough in "The Great Bridge" (1972), about the Brooklyn Bridge, and "The Path Between the Seas" (1977), about the Panama Canal, Mr. Hiltzik clearly explains the technological and physical difficulties posed by the dam project, but he also fixes the endeavor in its time and captures the personalities of the people involved.

“The decades after the Civil War were an age of such projects, which enhanced the growing national feeling that the U.S. was capable of whatever it chose to take on. The Brooklyn Bridge was an astonishing leap in spanning great distances. The Panama Canal—a project that had defeated the French— was completed by the U.S. in 10 years. Skyscrapers reached ever higher, culminating in 1931 with the Empire State Building, which would remain the world's tallest building for 40 years.

“One of the largest of these megaprojects was the Hoover Dam, its major construction completed during the period 1931-35. At 726 feet, the dam was more than twice as high as any dam ever built and was located in what was then a remote and forbidding desert. But what made the dam so colossal—far more than its size and location—was the fact that it had to tame the most unruly major river in North America….

“What began as a gargantuan engineering project quickly became a national monument to the American can-do spirit—nearly a million tourists visit the dam annually even now, though the Hoover has been surpassed in size by other dams around the world. The five-year project, completed two years ahead of schedule and only $5.8 million above its $54.7 million budget, involved 21,000 laborers and required 3.25 million cubic yards of concrete. (The construction process was speeded up by sinking more than 580 miles of one-inch steel pipe in the concrete and circulating cold, refrigerated water to dissipate the chemical heat of setting concrete.) The dam's 17 main turbines generate about four billion kilowatt hours of hydroelectric power, enough to serve the needs of 1.3 million people in Nevada, Arizona and California.

“With the U.S. lately facing ever more difficult challenges and the can-do spirit apparently on hold, "Colossus" may inspire in readers a longing for a new building project on the Hoover's scale, something that will summon up once again America's famous self-confidence and daring.”

Monday, June 07, 2010

Water, Water Everywhere and Nowhere to Store it

During water-rich times like this year, we despair again that there is not enough additional storage for when the year is not so water-rich.

Along with the obvious solution for our area, the building of Auburn Dam, which would double our storage capacity—now appears to be off the table though congressional action can restore it—there is another that would solve the water problems for the larger region and that is the raising of Shasta Dam to its originally engineered height of 200 feet higher than it now is, tripling its water supply, which an article from the Los Angeles Times describes:

1) An excerpt.

“From an engineering standpoint, it's a piece of cake. The dam, built between 1938 and 1945, was originally planned to be 200 feet taller. At 800 feet, it would have been the highest and biggest in the world.”

“Sheri Harral, public affairs officer at the dam, said World War II and materials shortages associated with the war effort led to a decision to stop construction at 602 feet.

"The thinking was to come back and add on to it if ever there was a need to," Harral said. "They started looking at raising it in 1978."

“If Shasta Dam had been built up to its engineering limit in 1945, it is arguable that Northern and Central California would not be facing a critical water shortage now.

“According to a 1999 Bureau of Reclamation study, a dam 200 feet taller would be able to triple storage to 13.89 million acre-feet of water.”

2) The Sacramento Bee notes the current water richness.

An excerpt.

“The snowpack is also unusually large due to numerous late-winter storms: 215 percent of normal statewide as of June 1, according to state Department of Water Resources data. …

“Water officials this week are keeping a close eye on Shasta Lake. The surrounding watershed holds a snowpack nearly four times larger than normal. Warm rain on top of this snow could boost runoff by 15 percent to 20 percent, Hartman said.

“As of May 28, the reservoir was just 1 percent short of its capacity of 4.5 million acre-feet, with that huge snowpack still waiting to melt.”

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Creating Jobs

The methods used by Los Angeles to cause a major company to set up its headquarters there, as reported by Governing, are methods that could be replicated here, and one hopes they will be.

An excerpt.

“In May, Los Angeles made headlines by landing the U.S. headquarters of BYD, a large Chinese manufacturer of electric cars, solar panels and battery storage devices. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa held a press conference on the steps of City Hall to welcome BYD's Chairman, Chanfu Wang.

“Jobs -- and green jobs at that -- were coming to Southern California. While published stories tended to focus on that happy news, they missed possibly an even bigger story: Exactly how the city managed to attract this very desirable employer without spending a lot of money.

“With an unemployment rate above 12 percent, Los Angeles hardly seems like the place to gain insight about economic development. But in this case, the city took an approach which others might emulate.

“In January, Mayor Villaraigosa created the Office of Economic and Business Policy and appointed First Deputy Mayor Austin Beutner to head it up. Instead of romancing BYD with massive tax breaks and other costly lures, Los Angeles instead focused on service, making it easy for BYD to do business in the city. Instead of an isolated economic development group working out on an island, the city pulled together to prove to BYD that it was serious about making L.A. a great place to headquarter its U.S. operations.

"The most important aspect of this from a systemic standpoint is that we brought the resources of all the city departments to work together to make it possible," says Beutner. Without a lot of cash to throw around, Beutner managed to get the culture at City Hall to coordinate their activities. Some examples:
• The city expedited planning and permitting for BYD headquarters, making it easier to refurbish the building and install solar panels in the parking lot. "We had to make sure that the policies and processes at the planning department could accommodate this sort of leading company, enabling it to move quickly," says Beutner.
• L.A.'s Department of Water and Power are committed to making it easier to get a charging station into any home that purchased a vehicle -- meaning if you buy a solar vehicle you'll have a way to use it almost immediately. City parking garages will also fast-track "recharging" stations.
• City Hall hosted meetings with solar panel installers and their unions to ensure that BYD products could successfully be installed locally.
• LAX, the city owned airport, agreed to place an electric vehicle on display at the Bradley Terminal, which both exposes the vendor's products to some 60 million travelers but also serves as a visual reminder of the city's commitment as a great place to do business. “

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Two Rivers Development

Developing the banks of the two majestic and historic rivers—the Sacramento and the American— that flow through Sacramento so that access to them and deeper enjoyment of the rivers themselves, is crucial in the long-term development of Sacramento as a destination city for more reasons than the state capital.

This article from the Sacramento Press notes that importance in its focus on the development of the Sacramento River.

An excerpt.

“The Urban Design Alliance's Design Dialogue made two things clear Wednesday night: A consensus is growing, at least among planners, that the time has come to turn the waterfront into a regional destination, but that won't be a quick, easy task for either side of the Sacramento River.

“Attitudes toward the riverfront have begun to change. It's only been in the last 10 to 15 years that the community has begun to see the waterfront as a desirable place to be, said Rachel Hazelwood, a senior planner with the city of Sacramento.

“But a fairly negative image of the rivers still presents one of the biggest challenges to change. While the confluence of the Sacramento and American rivers is one of the area's defining features, many long-time Sacramentans still see the waterways and adjacent land as little more than polluted industrial resources and the source of flooding, said panelists and guests.

"We've turned our backs on the rivers in the past," said Beth Tincher, a city senior project manager focusing on waterfront redevelopment projects. "It's time to embrace them."

“Tincher and Hazelwood were among four presenters at the Design Dialogue entitled "On The Riverfront: Exploring Sacramento’s Evolving Riverfront." More than 30 people attended the event at the American Institute of Architects Sacramento chapter office at 1400 S St.

“In the 19th century, rivers were the freeways. The city was built on the Sacramento River during the Gold Rush, leading the waterfront to become the region's economic hub, said William Burg, an author of local history books and vice president of the Sacramento County Historical Society.

“The river's character changed by 1930 due to industry and pollution. Wealthier residents fled east and immigrants took up residence in segregated neighborhoods, he said.

“Those uses have had a strong impact on the riverfront. Development projects and other efforts to more fully utilize the rivers and transform them into a destination for locals and tourists are under way in Sacramento and West Sacramento. The two cities are working under a joint vision outlined in the Sacramento Riverfront Master Plan, last updated in 2005.”

Friday, June 04, 2010

Cold Hard Facts

The Wall Street Journal reports on a scientific expedition in Antarctica drilling up ice cores that will provide the solid data—to counter the often speculative data being used to determine the reality and/or cause of global warming—to help us reach the monumental decisions that could govern our economy for the foreseeable future.

An excerpt.

“WEST ANTARCTICA—At a camp here on Earth's remotest continent, American researchers have constructed a towering drill that, like a biopsy needle, periodically plunges thousands of feet into the ice to extract an exotic marrow of frozen gases and isotopes.

“Their work could settle a central question in the dispute over climate change, by documenting how greenhouse gases influenced temperatures in the past. Only then can researchers accurately analyze climate changes that may be under way today.

“Until now, that information was hidden in Antarctica's ancient ice.

“Scientists agree that global temperatures are rising, and so are levels of carbon dioxide. But the immediate impact of human activity on natural climate cycles—from ice-sheet dynamics to wind and ocean currents—remains unclear. The Antarctica research could, for the first time, teach scientists how global warming developed when humankind had no hand in it.

"One of the questions that everybody is interested in with greenhouse gases is, did the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations occur before or after the increase in temperatures in the past climate changes?" says glaciologist Kendrick Taylor, chief scientist of the $30 million U.S. National Science Foundation project. "Ice cores are the only way we can answer that question."

“Ten times a day, scientists here recently winched up a 10-foot cylinder of compacted ice crystals containing the unsullied air and chemicals trapped by snowfall for the past 100,000 years.

“Each cylinder preserves bubbles of ancient air and layers of elements swept here by global winds. The ice records the annual rise and fall of greenhouse gases and temperatures every year since before the last Ice Age, laminated by the cold in a parfait of time two miles thick.

“In March, a shipment of this rare ice completed an 8,000-mile journey to the National Ice Core Laboratory in Denver, where it will be parceled out for analysis. Only Antarctica offers such a detailed calendar of climate change, the scientists say.

“Since November, revelations of errors in reports by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have sapped public confidence in climate predictions. The scientists in Antarctica are excavating the ice as a reality check on computer climate models at the heart of today's regulatory debates.

“Much of the current controversy over climate change centers on efforts to reconstruct past temperatures using what is known as "proxy" data from tree rings, harvest records, sea beds and lake sediments. Unlike ice cores, which contain telltale gases and particles from ages ago, the proxy data offer only indirect or fragmentary evidence of climate trends.

"Unfortunately many of our proxies have significant errors and are prone to be a slave to assumptions," says climatologist John Christy of the University of Alabama in Huntsville, who has often criticized the IPCC. His research, using temperature readings from NOAA and NASA satellites, has undermined arguments that the atmosphere is warming at an unusual rate.

“The ice-core data from Antarctica is "terribly important," Dr. Christy says. "We really need to know what the climate did before we can answer why it did what it did. If it happened before, it will happen again, and probably worse."

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Covering Freeways with Parks

A very cool idea being done elsewhere, as reported in USA Today, and the past discussion on covering the I-5 though downtown is hopefully still alive.

An excerpt.

“Cities are removing the concrete barriers that freeways form through their downtowns — not by tearing them down but by shrouding them in greenery and turning them into parks and pedestrian-friendly developments.

“This gray-to-green metamorphosis is underway or under consideration in major cities seeking ways to revive sections of their downtowns from Los Angeles and Dallas to St. Louis and Cincinnati.

“Transportation departments are not opposed as long as the plans don't reduce highway capacity. In most cases, traffic is rerouted.

"It's the coming together of people wanting green space and realizing that highways are a negative to the city," says Peter Harnik, director of the Trust for Public Land's Center for City Park Excellence. "Covering them with green space gives you a wonderful place to live and work."

“Groups that are not always on the same page — environmentalists and developers — are embracing the "capping" or "decking" efforts for different reasons. Environmentalists encourage more trees and grass to offset carbon emissions and promote walkable neighborhoods to reduce reliance on cars. Developers are eager for space to build on in prime downtown locations. Citizens want parks and amenities they can reach on foot.

"Highways are extremely destructive to the fabric of urban life," says Harnik, author of Urban Green: Innovative Parks for Resurgent Cities. "The noise that emanates from it, the smell."

“Capping freeways dates to the 1930s. A recent example is the Rose Kennedy Greenway over Boston's "Big Dig," which created open space by putting elevated roadways underground.

“The resurgence of downtowns has turned available pieces of land into hot commodities. At the same time, the drumbeat for more parks in smog-choked cities is getting louder.

"It's essentially like creating oceanfront property," says Linda Owen, president of the Woodall Rodgers Park Foundation in Dallas. "It's an economic engine."

“The group leads the effort to build a 5-acre park on the eight-lane Woodall Rodgers Freeway that runs north of downtown, between U.S. 75 and Interstate 35E. Traffic will be channeled to a tunnel. It's part of a bigger plan to revitalize the city's core and connect all corners of a 68-acre cultural district, from museums, restaurants and residential towers to a new opera hall and performing arts center.

"The freeway is like our medieval wall," Owen says. "You couldn't get over it. … The park is just being created out of thin air."

“Similar projects are under review in:

“• Los Angeles and Santa Monica, Calif. There are four proposals to "cap" obsolete sections of the 101 or Hollywood Freeway — in Hollywood and downtown Los Angeles — and I-10 in Santa Monica with parks and developments that mix residential, retail and office uses.

“The area's density makes it difficult to create parkland, but old freeways offer vast spaces that can be used, says Vaughan Davies, the architect and urban designer leading some of the efforts.

"The one in downtown Los Angeles encompasses 100 acres of land and the park itself is about 15 to 20 acres," he says. It would connect Union Station, Chinatown and Olvera Street with City Hall and Little Tokyo.”

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

LA’s Homeless

We posted on the Skid Row situation in Los Angeles in 2007, and this report from National Public Radio notes the current status, describing a scene probably and sadly, replicated wherever the homeless congregate.

An excerpt.

“The streets of Skid Row are paved with crack cocaine, heroin and just about every kind of illegal substance. For years, the area in downtown Los Angeles has been a haven for drug dealers preying on the thousands of homeless people living on the streets — but now the LAPD is trying to crack down on specific dealers.

"You see it day in and day out," says one woman too afraid to give her name. She describes the neighborhood as an open-air market for narcotics dealers. "They do it right in front. It's not even on the sly anymore."

“To demonstrate how pervasive the problem is, LAPD senior lead officer Deon Joseph took NPR to one of his favorite lookout posts: the rooftop of a homeless shelter. Within moments, a transaction occurred directly below.

"See that guy in the wheelchair right there? Looks like he may be trying to stuff a crack pipe," Joseph whispered. "Yup, he just made a drug deal."

“Officer Joseph says deals like this happen so quickly and so often, it's impossible to catch every street dealer. He says Skid Row is filled with "sheep" — the addicts who live there — and "wolves" — those who exploit and brutalize the homeless.
At a park on San Julian Street, dealers play cards, passing time between sales.

"The tables are where a lot of the shot callers sit," Joseph explains. "Three or four of them just passed by us just now. I'm looking at about seven ringleaders, eight midlevel enforcers and three or four lookouts."

'They Don't Run Anymore'

“For years, Joseph and the other officers have arrested drug dealers, only to see them right back on the streets. With California prisons so overcrowded, many inmates serve only a fraction of their sentences.”

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Parkway Online Map

The Sacramento Bee has posted a nice interactive map of the American River Parkway Trail, though unfortunately calling it a bike trail, forgetting that pedestrians and equestrians do like to be on it also.