Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Auburn Dam

There were two letters published in the Sacramento Bee recently about the Auburn Dam, one against—with the same old arguments that have been long laid to rest as no longer applicable—and one for.

Our organization supports the Auburn Dam and here is the letter in support.

“Auburn dam resurfaces

“Re "Katrina lessons yet to be learned" (Editorial, Aug 25): The Bee laments that not enough is being done to protect New Orleans from another flood like Katrina that destroyed the city. The editorial states the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency is working for 200-year flood protection in Natomas, and comments "even that may not be enough."

“All involved in local flood protection know we need flood protection from at least a 500-year storm, and that an Auburn dam would provide much of the protection.

“Sacramento is the most poorly protected city in the United States. Further, an Auburn dam would provide additional water storage to protect the Delta, and for local use. Added would be environmentally clean electric power generation, and a new recreational facility on the north and middle forks of the American River.

“Yet the governor and the state's elected congressional delegation seem unwilling to approach the federal government to provide its 50 percent share of the money for the dam. The rest of the cost would be 25 percent from the state, and 25 percent from the local water, power and recreational interests benefiting from its facilities. It's time to begin for our own safety.

– Joe Sullivan
Auburn Dam Council

Monday, August 30, 2010

Katrina, Five Years Later

Even with $15 billion dollars of work, the city is still vulnerable to a major storm. Experts feel it needs another $70 billion to be protected at the 500 year level called for due to its below sea level location and storm history.

An excerpt from the story from the Wall Street Journal.

“NEW ORLEANS—If Hurricane Katrina hit this city tomorrow, it would likely cause only light flooding, according to U.S. government and other engineers.

“A new ring of defenses costing nearly $15 billion—expected to be completed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers next June—will provide the Crescent City the best protection it has ever had from a storm, the Corps and other experts agree.

“The city's 350-mile flood-protection network is being upgraded to safeguard New Orleans from a so-called 100-year storm or flood, which has a 1% chance of arriving in any year. At that level of protection, which is designed to withstand a Category 3 hurricane like Katrina, Americans typically aren't required to purchase flood insurance.

“But many engineers and local politicians argue it may not be good enough. They say the city should be steeled for a 500-year or 1,000-year storm—roughly equivalent to a Category 5 hurricane.

“It isn't clear who will pay the tens of millions of dollars in annual maintenance costs for the system, which is being overhauled after storm surges from Katrina five years ago Sunday overwhelmed levees. Thousands were left homeless when 80% of the city was flooded.

“The Corps has completed much of a 1.8-mile-long, 25-foot-high surge barrier to the east of the city and has begun construction on a big pumping station to the south. Temporary pumping stations and flood gates are in place at three canals along Lake Pontchartrain to the north, already improving flood protection. …

“The view that a heavily populated and low-lying coastal area such as New Orleans—much of which lies below sea level—needs 500- or 1,000-year protection was echoed in two 2009 reports by the National Research Council. Three such Category 5 storms, which pack winds in excess of 155 miles an hour and large wave surges, have made U.S. landfall in the past century.

“Some experts have also raised the idea that residents of neighborhoods most vulnerable to flooding might be voluntarily relocated.

"We should be looking at a much higher level of protection in New Orleans. If that thing breaks, you've got people who are trapped in there," said David Moreau, a professor at the University of North Carolina who helped author one of the reports.

"Until we get to Category 5 protection, and do it in a way that's similar to what the Netherlands have done, we won't be adequately protected," New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who is pressing for more federal help, said in an interview. He said he wouldn't consider relocating residents. "If the coast is rebuilt and the levees are strong enough, you can live anywhere," he said.

“The Corps estimates 500-year storm protection for the city would cost at least $70 billion, or nearly five times what Congress has authorized for post-Katrina improvements. Such an expansion might involve building additional defenses farther out on the metropolitan area's perimeter, such as along the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, according to Corps estimates.”

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Managing County Parks

As this editorial from the Sacramento Bee reports, the management has been bad, and piece after piece of the regional parks are slipping into complete failure.

The efforts by private and nonprofit organizations to step in and partner with the County to save those pieces they find of particular value, is a strategy that should be better managed—as was the lease County Parks arranged with the Galt Historical Society to manage the McFarland Ranch, (as a life member of the historical society I sat in on the initial series of meetings with the County to structure the lease agreement).

That well-managed process took several months, concluding in 1999, and has resulted in a very vibrant historical ranch that plays a major role in the recreational and educational life of the community of Galt.

An excerpt from the editorial.

“Sacramento County hasn't run out of money. Yet in terms of managing its regional parks system, the county is morally broke. Elected officials and county taxpayers have failed to be stewards of a crucial asset – our regional parks system – inherited from previous generations. And unless residents and community leaders speak with a clear voice about the value of parks and open space, the condition of our county park system will only worsen.

“Consider the current trend: Gibson Ranch will shutter next Monday as supervisors consider proposals to lease it to outside groups, including a private developer who hopes to make money off the park. Unable to find funds for the Effie Yeaw Nature Center in the American River Parkway, the county turned it over to the American River Natural History Association earlier this year.

“Along the American River Parkway, cuts to patrols and maintenance have left visitors less safe and bathrooms less sanitary.

“Several other county assets have been effectively turned over to outside entities. The Cherry Island Soccer Complex is leased to the California Youth Soccer Association. The Gene Andal Park is leased to the Sacramento Air Modelers. Deer Creek Hills Preserve is managed by the Sacramento Valley Conservancy. The list goes on and on.”

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Parkway Ranch

An excellent use of a part of the Parkway is the recent addition of Soil Born Farms at the site of the historic American River Ranch.

They also conduct seminars, as reported in the Sacramento Press.

An excerpt.

“A sold-out class of about 15 budding farmers visited the non-profit American River Ranch in Rancho Cordova Saturday and Sunday to learn about small-scale farming. Students paid $150 to attend the two-day, hands-on class, which covered the knowledge needed to plan and run a farm smaller than 20 acres.

“The class, titled “Grow Your Groceries,” served one of the farm’s missions, which is to educate the community about how to use its land. The American River Ranch is the 25-acre headquarters for Soil Born Farms Urban Agriculture and Education Project, who hosted the class along with the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op. The students were happy to oblige the farm’s mission as they bombarded the farm’s workers with questions and requests for detailed advice all weekend.

“Getting people excited about growing their own food is a big part of why the farm holds its classes, said Sean Hagan, who taught the class along with Randy Stannard.

“We’re in an area of the country where the land is so fertile, and we’re shipping in something like 98 percent of our food,” Hagan said.”

Friday, August 27, 2010

Green Wind

The clamor for alternative forms of energy continues to wreck havoc with economies and individual pocketbooks pay the ultimate price.

The story of one power source not able to live up to its billing is noted by the Wall Street Journal.

An excerpt.

“The wind industry has achieved remarkable growth largely due to the claim that it will provide major reductions in carbon dioxide emissions. There's just one problem: It's not true. A slew of recent studies show that wind-generated electricity likely won't result in any reduction in carbon emissions—or that they'll be so small as to be almost meaningless.

“This issue is especially important now that states are mandating that utilities produce arbitrary amounts of their electricity from renewable sources. By 2020, for example, California will require utilities to obtain 33% of their electricity from renewables. About 30 states, including Connecticut, Minnesota and Hawaii, are requiring major increases in the production of renewable electricity over the coming years.

“Wind—not solar or geothermal sources—must provide most of this electricity. It's the only renewable source that can rapidly scale up to meet the requirements of the mandates. This means billions more in taxpayer subsidies for the wind industry and higher electricity costs for consumers.

“None of it will lead to major cuts in carbon emissions, for two reasons. First, wind blows only intermittently and variably. Second, wind-generated electricity largely displaces power produced by natural gas-fired generators, rather than that from plants burning more carbon-intensive coal.

“Because wind blows intermittently, electric utilities must either keep their conventional power plants running all the time to make sure the lights don't go dark, or continually ramp up and down the output from conventional coal- or gas-fired generators (called "cycling"). But coal-fired and gas-fired generators are designed to run continuously, and if they don't, fuel consumption and emissions generally increase. A car analogy helps explain: An automobile that operates at a constant speed—say, 55 miles per hour—will have better fuel efficiency, and emit less pollution per mile traveled, than one that is stuck in stop-and-go traffic.

“Recent research strongly suggests how this problem defeats the alleged carbon-reducing virtues of wind power. In April, Bentek Energy, a Colorado-based energy analytics firm, looked at power plant records in Colorado and Texas. (It was commissioned by the Independent Petroleum Association of the Mountain States.) Bentek concluded that despite huge investments, wind-generated electricity "has had minimal, if any, impact on carbon dioxide" emissions.”

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sacramento Still Flood Prone

In this editorial from the Sacramento Bee, what is missing is the fact that Sacramento is the most flood endangered of any city in the country near major rivers, as noted in previous posts—here and here—and while we are heartened that New Orleans appears to be reaching a better level of flood and surge protection than previously, we would like to see the hometown newspaper pay a little more attention to the flood danger here.

An excerpt.

“Five years after Hurricane Katrina, Congress has committed nearly $15 billion toward protecting a major American metropolis – the New Orleans region – from another devastating flood. Those investments are resulting in a flood control system far more protective than the one that existed prior to Aug. 29, 2005.

“Will it be enough? Hardly.

“More than any other floodplain city – even Sacramento – New Orleans is living on borrowed time. Much of this metropolitan area sits below sea level, upon old marshland that is subsiding. It faces possible inundation from both hurricanes and Mississippi River floods. With sea levels rising and the potential for climate change to generate ever-more powerful storms, the ability of engineers to design a foolproof fortification of New Orleans is fanciful, at best.”

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Gibson Ranch Park

It is hard to know what is really going on from this article in the Sacramento Bee , but what we do know from the history of County Park's general management, is that they have been mismanaging the public's park system for many years, and any group that is willing to come in and take care of any part of it in the manner which is appropriate to enhance public benefit, should be thanked rather than criticized.

An excerpt.

“Wander through Gibson Ranch Park in Elverta and it's easy to see Sacramento County's neglect.

“Weeds sprout through alligator cracks in the parking lots. Chain-link backstops on the horseshoe pits are twisted and torn. Overgrown irrigation ditches slow the flow of water to the fields where horses graze.

“In its third year of budget shortfalls, Sacramento County has decided it no longer can afford to run the park, which has cost about $600,000 a year to operate. And behind the scenes, a battle has taken shape over who will take control of the 350 acres of public parkland, which features a horse ranch and riding trails, picnic areas, a nature preserve and small fishing lake.

“Among those vying to take over the operation: local developer and former Rep. Doug Ose, who proposes leasing the land from the county and running the operation as a private enterprise.

"I'm appalled at the politics that are going on with public land," said Beth DeCaprio, executive director of the Grace Foundation of Northern California, a nonprofit group that county officials have approached about running the park's horse operation on an interim basis.

“The effort to hand off Gibson Ranch marks the latest in a string of county "fire sales," as the cash-strapped government looks to offload programs to outside groups that pledge to continue providing services to the public. In recent months, the county has ceded control of its homeless program, the Meals On Wheels program for the elderly and the Effie Yeaw Nature Center to nonprofit groups.

“The tussle over Gibson Ranch, however, has prompted by far the most acrimony, with horse lovers accusing the county of forcing out the current ranch operators, and some nonprofit officials worried Ose wants to turn the park into an exclusive club.

“The parks department has held several meetings with horse owners and nonprofit leaders to discuss the future of Gibson Ranch, said Janet Baker, director of the county Regional Parks Department.

"In my 25 years of parks and recreation, they have been the nastiest meetings I've attended," Baker said.

“Just under half the acreage at Gibson Ranch Park is devoted to horses. The land features stables where owners can board their horses, pastures where the animals can graze and trails where owners can ride. Some horses are also available for public rides.

“L&M Concession Management, which has contracted to run the horse operation since 1992, has a devoted following among horse owners.

"Those people take care of my horses," said Carmel Curtis, who was on a waiting list seven years before she could board her three horses with L&M. "I want to be able to go to bed at night and know they're being taken care of."

“In addition to the horse operation, the park offers picnic sites, a playground, the fishing lake and other public areas that are county-maintained. Until the most recent round of budget cuts, the park was open seven days a week, with a $5 parking fee for those without an annual pass.”

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


The outright selling of public assets to private enterprises can work out wonderfully for all involved, and could also be a disastrous public strategy hurting the common good, as this article from the Wall Street Journal notes.

An excerpt.

“Cities and states across the nation are selling and leasing everything from airports to zoos—a fire sale that could help plug budget holes now but worsen their financial woes over the long run.

“California is looking to shed state office buildings. Milwaukee has proposed selling its water supply; in Chicago and New Haven, Conn., it's parking meters. In Louisiana and Georgia, airports are up for grabs.

“About 35 deals now are in the pipeline in the U.S., according to research by Royal Bank of Scotland's RBS Global Banking & Markets. Those assets have a market value of about $45 billion—more than ten times the $4 billion or so two years ago, estimates Dana Levenson, head of infrastructure banking at RBS. Hundreds more deals are being considered, analysts say.

“The deals illustrate the increasingly tight financial squeeze gripping communities. Many are using asset sales to balance budgets ravaged by declines in tax revenues and unfunded pensions. In recent congressional testimony, billionaire investor Warren Buffett said he worried about how municipalities will pay for public workers' retirement and health benefits and suggested that the federal government may ultimately be compelled to bail out states.

"Privatization"—selling government-owned property to private corporations and other entities—has been popular for years in Europe, Canada and Australia, where government once owned big chunks of the economy.

“In many cases, the private takeover of government-controlled industry or services can result in more efficient and profitable operations. On a toll road, for example, a private operator may have more money to pump into repairs and would bear the brunt of losses if drivers used the road less.

“While asset sales can create efficiencies, critics say the way these current sales are being handled could hurt communities over the long run. Some properties are being sold at fire-sale prices into a weak market. The deals mean cities are giving up long-term, recurring income streams in exchange for lump-sum payments to plug one-time budget gaps.

“The deals are threatening credit ratings in some cases and affecting the quality and cost of basic utilities such as electricity and water. Critics say many of the moves are akin to individuals using their retirement plans to pay for immediate needs, instead of planning for the future.

"The deals are part of a broader restructuring of our economy that carries big risks because of revenue losses over time," says Michael Likosky, a professor at New York University who specializes in public finance law.

“Municipalities argue that the money they raise could help build more long-term assets, boost efficiency and avoid raising taxes. "The City of Los Angeles shouldn't be in the parking business," says Mike Mullen, senior adviser to L.A.'s mayor. Mr. Mullen was hired from Bank of Montreal to study selling some of the city's assets, including parking spaces, which bring in about $20 million annually.

“In the U.S., selling public buildings and leasing them back got some attention in the 1980s, but those deals were largely done for tax benefits and the asset generally stayed in public hands.

“The current deals are fundamentally different because control of the asset transfers to private hands. In such deals, "the private investor takes on operating risk," Mr. Likosky says.”

Monday, August 23, 2010

Parks & Development

One of the questions that is unfortunately over-looked in this series on state parks from the Sacramento Bee is; is the common good better served through development on some open space or keeping it within a state park system that is unable to care for it?

It is a question that periodically needs to be asked as our population grows and government finds it more difficult to maintain open space at the level of the previously less-populated state.

An excerpt from the Bee article.

“At the Riverwood Inn in rural Humboldt County, where a Harley-Davidson flag flaps on a light pole beneath the Stars and Stripes, the proprietor is steaming mad.

“Some 15 miles south of Loreen Eliason's roadhouse, the California Department of Transportation is planning to widen a twisty stretch of Highway 101 through Richardson Grove State Park, home to one of the world's last old-growth redwood forests. Although Caltrans has assured the public the ancient giants won't be harmed, some residents and activists are alarmed by the very prospect of disturbing the trees' shallow root systems.

"I was born up here. I'm connected to those trees," said Eliason, who has joined a lawsuit to halt the road plan.

"Those uppity-ups in Sacramento. … They absolutely can't say for certain they won't hurt the trees," she said. "I was more than glad to jump into the lawsuit."

“As civilization closes in on many of California's 278 state parks, legal and emotional battles are erupting up and down the Golden State. With 1.3 million acres in public hands – much of it the most prized real estate in California – the state's parks increasingly find themselves poked at and even assaulted by outside pressures.

"As California grows, it's growing out to our (park) borders," said Roy Stearns, spokesman for the state Department of Parks and Recreation. "And lots of people see a park as an under-utilized open space instead of something that should be preserved for all time."

“California originally envisioned its parks as remote havens of beauty and tranquility, establishing the first in 1902 when the state's population was about 1.5 million. More than a century later – plus another 35 million people – the demands of a growing population and 21st century technology are butting up against these scenic refuges.

“Pressing against park borders – and sometimes well into them – are power poles, cell towers, sea walls, casinos, the border fence, housing developments, wineries and road projects. Conflicts have arisen with private landowners, transportation agencies, utility companies, businesses, environmentalists, park users – even outlaws.”

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Homelessness Perpetuation

One of the most difficult decisions the leadership of homeless service organizations make—often unconsciously—is choosing between perpetuation or transformation, and, unfortunately, all too many choose perpetuation; the choice marking the concentration of homeless services in the Richards Boulevard/Twelfth Street area where domestic services support the long-term and large-scale illegal homeless camps in the Parkway.

A case study is in the marvelous new book by Stephen Goldsmith, The Power of Social Innovation: How Civic Entrepreneurs Ignite Community Networks for Good.

An excerpt.

“Anyone who believes that entrepreneurship cannot occur inside government should meet New York City Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs….

“In 2002, with more than 33,000 homeless people in New York City shelters in any given month, Mayor Bloomberg appointed Gibbs as commissioner of homeless services…. Gibbs noted that the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) had made shelters its centerpiece, which perversely perpetuated chronic homelessness rather than reducing it. As Gibbs later observed, “We were smart enough to know how to help the client’s underlying needs. But you put them in the shelters and suddenly the shelters become the solution, which is turning the world upside down.” DHS was producing an almost perfect example of what economists call moral hazard—when well-intentioned public policies encourage the very act that the policies are attempting to address. Once homeless, individuals and families jumped to the top of affordable housing lists, allowing them to choose among various types of shelters. In effect, the homeless had more choices than people working to pay rent.

“With Bloomberg’s backing, Gibbs redefined the agency’s goal from serving the homeless to ending homelessness. This step forced the DHS to take preventive actions before things got worse. The agency shifted its focus from supposedly temporary, stop-gap shelter to permanent housing with supports. DHS could now intervene by redirecting resources toward helping people they identified as at-risk of becoming homeless stay on their feet.” (pp. 107-108)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Central Park Historic Drawings

A fascinating story from the Los Angeles Times about early drawings of Central Park—the model we use for Parkway management for their innovations in nonprofit management of the park—that appear to have been recently recovered from the mists of history.

An excerpt.

“Central Park is almost synonymous with New York. But historians have long wondered whether the city's signature park was originally conceived the way it looks today. Were the ornate colorful tiles underneath the Bethesda Terrace a vision of the original designers? What about elegant black lamps that dot the park?

“Now historians might finally have some clues about the park's design.

"Illustrations for features of Central Park and other public places in New York have resurfaced, and the city has gone to court to get them back. Real estate broker Sam Buckley said his father found the drawings, by Jacob Wrey Mould, in a Manhattan trash bin sometime before 1960, according to court documents.

“Though Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted designed Central Park, Mould assisted with several noteworthy landmarks of the public space, such as Bethesda Terrace and Belvedere Castle.

“The 127 drawings, which date from 1860 to 1885, are stamped "Department of Public Parks." The city claims it never authorized the destruction or abandonment of the drawings and believes they were "lost or erroneously discarded."

“The city learned about the drawings after Buckley placed 86 of them for sale with Christie's auction house. He kept the remaining 41. The city asked the court to award $1 million in damages or compel Buckley to hand over the illustrations.

“Christie's and Buckley have agreed not to sell the works while the settlement talks play out. The auction house declined to comment, and Buckley could not be reached.

“The 86 drawings being held at Christie's include illustrations for a wide variety of items and venues — a drinking fountain for horses, lamps, clocks, approaches to the American Museum of Natural History and music pavilions for various city parks, including Washington Square and Tompkins Square. All were prepared by Mould, or under his direction, the city says.

“Mould, born in Britain, was known for importing the flair of British Victorian architecture to his U.S. work. He moved to New York in 1853, and also designed several churches in the area. He was the park department's chief architect for three years.

“Through their designs, Mould and Vaux wanted to lift the eye out of the landscape of Central Park and onto the Belvedere Castle. Mould thought of the Bethesda Terrace — known for its showcase angel fountain and seen in movies such as "Annie Hall" and "The Replacements" — as a social space, said Elizabeth Blackmar, a professor of history at Columbia University.”

Friday, August 20, 2010

Cal Expo Land Deal & Parkway

When—and if—this land deal involving Cal Expo comes together, the benefit to the Parkway is wondrous, as there will be an entirely new residential and business area bordering an area of the Parkway that is now home to more illegal homeless campers than strolling families, and that will be a tremendous improvement and a very good thing.

An excerpt from today’s Sacramento Bee article updating the deal.

“Remember that complicated proposal from earlier this year, where developers would build a downtown arena, the State Fair would move to North Natomas and Cal Expo would become a cash-generating commercial development site?

“The plan to secure a new home for the Sacramento Kings is still alive. Representatives from the city, Cal Expo and private developers say they are making progress in first-stage discussions.

“But work is moving slowly, and despite weeks of negotiations, the sides have not agreed on language for a bill authorizing a potential sale of Cal Expo, even though a legislative deadline looms today.

“Nor, said Cal Expo officials, are they ready to make a decision on whether to sell their current site and move to the Arco Arena site in Natomas where the Kings now play.

“Representatives of Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento said the senator is willing to consider sponsoring a bill to advance the project should there be an agreement. Bills can be amended after today, legislative officials said, but that would require a two-thirds vote and rule waiver.

“The man behind the complex land-swap plan, Sacramento developer Gerry Kamilos, has said legislation is needed to keep the project on schedule for a 2014 arena opening. He declined Thursday to discuss the status of the talks but said he believed 2014 remains achievable.

“Cal Expo officials also declined to comment.

“Kamilos said the arena effort is at a "roll up the sleeves" stage: "We are taking a very pragmatic and detailed approach to problem solving."

“That included postponing a critical step this week.

“At Kamilos' request, Cal Expo officials decided not to finalize and make public a consultant's report on the pros and cons of moving the fair to Natomas or keeping it at Cal Expo.

“Kamilos said he wanted the consultant to view new information from a consultant he has hired, Visionmaker Worldwide, a company headed by former executives with Disney and Universal Studios. That information includes details on how a State Fair would fit on the smaller Arco site and how traffic would flow, Kamilos said.”

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Clearing the Sight Lines

This strategy being used in Yosemite, as reported by the Sacramento Bee, to increase the ability of park visitors to view the natural wonders, is a strategy applicable to the Parkway—though as much for public safety as for increased visibility of nature.

The hidden illegal camping sites in the Lower Reach of the Parkway—Discovery Park to Cal Expo—where the homeless have been illegally camping, some for as long as 15 years, have created the greatest public safety risk in the Parkway.

Cleaning out the brush and thickets to allow sight lines to extend into areas now being used as illegal campsites, will improve public safety and enjoyment of the natural areas.

An excerpt from the Bee article.

“Yosemite Valley visitors don't generally gaze at El Capitan from the spot where Carleton E. Watkins took an 1868 photograph of the soaring cliff - you can't see much now through a tangle of trees.

“It's one of many iconic vistas in Yosemite National Park blocked by trees and brush. Indeed, officials say there are only a few places left with a view of both upper and lower Yosemite Falls, the tallest waterfalls in North America.

“Park officials plan to restore historic views of Yosemite landmarks over the next several years by cutting trees and clearing brush. Yosemite and many Sierra Nevada locations are overgrown, largely because the government did not understand fire's role in naturally thinning forests. For many years,most fires were doused quickly, allowing heavy tree growth.

“Aside from providing more places to gawk, the clearing of vegetation might make roads safer by spreading out crowds over additional vista points, though that's not among the foremost goals of the project.

"It might help, because these sites are along well- traveled roads, like Tioga, Big Oak Flat, Glacier Point and the Valley Loop," said David Humphrey, Yosemite's chief historian.

“The National Park Service has completed an environmental assessment of the plan to clear 181 historic vistas. The public can read it and comment online until Sept. 17. An open house is scheduled Aug. 25 in Yosemite Valley to discuss the park plans.

“It will take years to complete the work, officials said. Cost estimates will be established on a case-by-case basis, so officials don't yet know the price tag. But it could be many millions of dollars.”

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

War on the Dream, Part Two

Wendell Cox’s book—War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life—is a must read for the arguments opposing the type of urban planning that wants to get us all into small apartments/condos and mass transit.

Here is the Afterward of the seminal book:

“The Universal Dream, in its American, Australian, New Zealand, Canadian, European and other forms around the world has been associated with an unprecedented improvement in the quality of life for hundreds of millions of people.

“Yet, there is a “War on the Dream, the result of policies that seek to control urban sprawl or suburbanization. The campaign operates under various names, such as “smart growth” or “urban consolidation.” The proponents and governments that implement anti-suburban policies do so with little debate. Ideological dogma provides the foundation of much of the foundation of these initiatives, rather than rational, objective analysis. There is rarely any serious analysis of consequences. However, anti-suburban policies do have consequences, what are called “negative externalities” in economics. The most important consequences are:

Substantially higher housing costs relative to incomes. Anti-suburban policies outlaw development on large swaths of land, creating scarcity and increasing housing prices. This must inevitably reduce home ownership and thereby the creation of wealth among millions of middle-and lower-income households.

Less productive urban areas. Anti-suburban policies seek to force people to use mass-transit services that simply do not go where they are going, by failing to provide the roadway capacity necessary to accommodate rising demand. This increases the intensity of both traffic congestion and air pollution. Beyond the health and quality of life consequences, greater traffic congestion leads to lower levels of economic growth in urban areas.

Higher consumer prices. Anti-suburban policies seek to limit or ban expansion of the big-box retail stores. This will lead to more strained budgets, with the greatest negative effects on low-income households.

“All of this may sound somewhat abstract. However, it is very serious. Urban planning has already destroyed housing affordability in many urban areas and the intense traffic congestion it generates is driving businesses and economic growth away. Less economic growth means fewer jobs. Less productive urban areas are likely to lead to lower wages and more unemployment. All of this, when combined with higher product prices means that many households are likely to be less well off in the future. In short, the anti-suburban agenda aims economies toward fewer middle-income households and greater concentrations of wealth. The pity is that the Dream is being threatened for virtually no reason. Virtually all of the justifications for anti-suburban policies are without foundation.

“The supreme accomplishment of the high-income economies has been the democratization of prosperity that has occurred since World War II. With most of the world still living in comparative poverty, it is clear that neither economic growth nor wealth creation can be taken for granted. Moreover, economic growth is not a luxury; it is, as Benjamin Freidman has shown, crucial for social cohesion.

“Thus, the imperative is to:

• Restore good planning that facilitates the preferences of people, rather than attempting to command and control them.

• Reject anti-suburban policies where they have not been implemented.

• Repeal anti-suburban policies where they have been enacted.

“Only by such actions will economies and their urban areas be positioned to ensure that future generations live better than ours.” (pp. 203-204)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

War on the Dream, Part One

Wendell Cox, the noted author on suburbia—War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life—comments on an article about suburban growth in Sacramento in New Geography.

An excerpt.

An opinion piece in the Sacramento Bee by Sean Wirth of the Environmental Council of Sacramento could not have been more wrong in its characterization of the causes of the housing bubble in Sacramento.

“The article starts out promisingly, correctly noting that:
• The housing bubble spawned the Great Recession
• Demand exceeded the inventory of houses in the Sacramento area
• Sacramento prices "soared sky high"

“But it is all downhill from there, with the suggestion that the extraordinary price increases in Sacramento were the result of too much suburbanization (the theological term in urban planning circles is "sprawl"). In fact, all things being equal, house prices tend to escalate where the supply is more constrained, not less. Where suburbanization is allowed, the market can supply enough housing to avoid inordinate house price increases. Where suburbanization is severely constrained, a legion of evidence indicates that house prices are prone to rise. It is all a matter of basic economics. George Mason University economist Daniel Klein puts it this way: “Basic economics acknowledges that whatever redeeming features a restriction may have, it increases the cost of production and exchange, making goods and services less affordable. There may be exceptions to the general case, but they would be atypical."

“Housing is not atypical and Sacramento house prices soared in response to the tough use regulations. By the peak of the bubble, the Median Multiple (median house price divided by median household income) had risen to 6.8, well above the historic norm of 3.0. Many houses were built, but not enough to satisfy the demand, as Mr. Wirth indicates. Building many houses is not enough. There need to be enough houses to supply the demand, otherwise land prices soar, driving up house prices.

“Unless a sufficient supply is allowed, speculators and flippers will "smell the blood" of windfall profits, which are there for the taking in excessively regulated markets.

“During the housing bubble, house prices rose well above the historic Median Multiple norm only in metropolitan areas that had severe constraints land use constraints (called "smart growth" or "growth management"). This included Sacramento, other California markets, Miami, Portland, and Seattle and other markets around the country. “

Monday, August 16, 2010

California Monuments

A very nice reflection in the Los Angeles Times, after visiting four potential national monuments in California, which remind us again, of how utterly beautiful the state we are blessed to call home—when we can forget how it has been governed for the past several years-really is.

An excerpt.

“My aha! moment came after Andy Steele told me to close my eyes and grope a tree.

“Steele, a retired forest ranger and naturalist at Grand Targhee Resort in Wyoming, then had me eat a few pine needles and kneel in the snow to see whether a squirrel caused the micro tracks. It was a veritable John Muir experience.

“As an avid outdoorsman, I always knew there was beauty in nature's details. That's not necessarily a strength for me — I'm more a big-picture guy — but now I was embarking on a trip that required that perspective Steele introduced me to that day in Wyoming.

“I spent a month crisscrossing California, exploring four natural landscapes identified as potential national monuments.

“My journey took me to the Bodie Hills, northeast of Lee Vining; Berryessa-Snow Mountain, an hour north of San Francisco; an expansion of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, which straddles the California- Oregon border near the Klamath River; and Modoc Plateau, tucked in California's upper-eastern corner.

“California is blessed with an abundance of natural — and obvious — beauty. It's easy enough to see and get to Yosemite, Death Valley or Joshua Tree. They're so accessible, in fact, that nearly 6 million people explored those national parks in 2009.

“The four California places I visited were a bigger challenge to reach. Their remoteness meant I would drive hundreds of miles across deserted rutted roads and rely on my instincts to navigate in the absence of any signs.”

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Super Salmon

If this technology—as reported by the Los Angeles Times—proves to be as good as proclaimed, one of the world's great foods will become much more accessible, and that is a very good thing.

The critics of the process forget that humans have been producing and consuming genetically altered food since biblical times.

An excerpt.

“With a global population pressing against food supplies and vast areas of the ocean swept clean of fish, tiny AquaBounty Technologies Inc. of Waltham, Mass., says it can help feed the world.

“The firm has developed genetically engineered salmon that reach market weight in half the usual time. What's more, it hopes to avoid the pollution, disease and other problems associated with saltwater fish farms by having its salmon raised in inland facilities.

“The Food and Drug Administration has yet to approve what would be the nation's first commercial genetically modified food animal.

"This is the threshold case. If it's approved, there will be others," said Eric Hallerman, head of the fisheries and wildlife sciences department at Virginia Tech University. "If it's not, it'll have a chilling effect for years."

“Some in the fish farming industry are leery of the move toward engineered fish.

"No! It is not even up for discussion," Jorgen Christiansen, director of communications for Oslo-based Marine Harvest, one of the world's largest salmon producers, wrote in an e-mail.

“Christiansen said his company worries "that consumers would be reluctant to buy genetically modified fish, regardless of good food quality and food safety."

“Some critics call AquaBounty's salmon "Frankenfish." Others say the effort is pointless.

"I don't see the necessity of it," said Casson Trenor of Greenpeace USA — which opposes all genetically modified organisms, including plants. "We don't need to build a new fish."

“The FDA has completed its review of key portions of AquaBounty's application, according to Chief Executive Ronald Stotish. Within weeks, the company expects the agency to convene an advisory committee of outside experts to weigh evidence, collect public testimony and issue a recommendation about the fish's fitness for human consumption.

“The process could take months or more — which still sounds like progress to the company after its 14-year, $50-million investment.”

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Private Preservation

An excellent article from the Property & Environment Research Center, focusing on the Gulf Oil disaster, noting the ways in which it works better than preservation by the government, a position slowly beginning to be realized by many governments who are turning over public parks and open space to nonprofit management and fundraising, as we hope to see happen with the Parkway.

An excerpt.

“Free market environmentalists are everywhere these days, but you rarely hear about them in the mainstream press. Conventional wisdom for our entire lifetimes has been that only government protection can minimize or prevent environmental damage.

“The idea that markets are better at managing natural resources than governments may come as a shock to some, but the simple reason is that private property owners have more incentive and control to take care of property they own.

“Terry Anderson, executive director of the Property and Environment Research Center in Bozeman, Mont., made this case in his groundbreaking book, “Free Market Environmentalism,” co-authored with Donald Leal in 1991. It's well past time these ideas get more attention.

“In his June 25 Wall Street Journal article, “Why it's Safer to Drill in the Backyard,” Anderson explains an aspect of the current Gulf oil spill disaster you won't find in most media outlets.

“He refers to the Audubon Society's successful relationship with oil companies who have operated wells on its lands, but only when birds weren't nesting. Period. None of the ifs, ands or buts that are always present when politicians and special interests try to manipulate public land use.

“Why would Audubon allow well drilling on its environmentally-sensitive lands? To generate royalties for the purchase of more privately-owned land that can then be protected.

“Private organizations like Audubon are much better stewards of the environment than government. For an outrageous example of government failure, look no further than the ongoing Gulf oil spill, where available options for a speedy cleanup were set aside and President Barack Obama's political agenda rose to the top, like his never-ending refrains about alternative energy, cap and trade taxes and punishing the deep-water wells that did not blow out. None of these have anything to do with the current disaster, a masterful example of bait-and-switch by an expert politician.”

Friday, August 13, 2010

Performance-Based Accountability

As we have seen with the success by the local contractor, CC Myers, repairing freeways and bridges, incentives work.

This news release from Rand announces a new study examining the issue.

An excerpt.

“Performance-based accountability systems can improve how employees deliver public services, but evidence demonstrating how effective these systems are at achieving their performance goals is rare, according to a new RAND Corporation study released today at a Capitol Hill briefing.

“The study by RAND, a nonprofit research organization, examines whether performance-based accountability systems — which are enjoying growing popularity in the public sector — are having their desired effects. It examines nine performance-based accountability systems in five sectors in which public services play an important role: child care, education, health care, public health emergency preparedness and transportation.

“Researchers found that in optimum circumstances, these systems — which link financial or other incentives to measured performance — are an effective way to provide better public services. But creating an effective performance-based accountability system requires careful attention to choosing the right design for the system, which must be monitored, evaluated and adjusted as needed to meet performance goals.

“While incentives tied to performance can shape behavior, it is very hard to build a formal accountability system in a public service area that gets it right the first time,” said Brian Stecher, lead researcher of the report and acting director of RAND Education. “You need to take time to develop the measures, identify the incentives, test them out and fine-tune the system to promote the desired outcomes.”

“Researchers conclude that the most clear-cut example of an effective performance-based accountability system is cost-plus-time (A+B) contracting for highway construction, in which contractors receive a financial bonus for completing road and construction projects with an accelerated timeframe.

“Unfortunately, many of the conditions that make A+B contracting work in highway construction are not found in other forms of public service.”

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Environmentalism’s Assumptions

A good article in the Washington Examiner looks at their underlying assumptions—and finds them wanting—something we also did in our 2006 report: The American River Parkway, Protecting its Integrity & Providing Water for the River Running Through It: A Report on the Auburn Dam Policy Environment,(pp. 19-31)

An excerpt from the Examiner article.

“For example, the base equation of modern environmentalism seems to be: Nature good - Man bad. By this logic, a tree is more beautiful than a skyscraper; a beaver dam a wonder of nature, a man-made dam an unsightly blight, etc.

“This is a false and dangerous dichotomy: Man is not separate from nature, he is a part of it. He was forged in the same evolutionary furnace as all Earth’s creatures; he is a product of the same bio-chemical forces, subject to the same physical laws and limitations.

“To accept the false premise of Man contra nature is to surrender reason and context – and thus to embark on political and economic folly. Take, for example, the environmentalists’ obsession with CO2.

“This naturally occurring compound, an amalgam of carbon and oxygen, is both necessary to, and a byproduct of, biological processes such as respiration and photosynthesis. It is also a bi-product of man’s industrial activity, and it is in this guise that environmentalists classify CO2 as the engine of Earth’s destruction in the form of “global warming.”

“Now, greenies will say that it is the amount of CO2 that man spews into the atmosphere that makes it dangerous. This is utter nonsense: Volcanoes have been pouring vast quantities of CO2 and other fluorocarbons into the atmosphere for billions of years. The Industrial Revolution, meanwhile, has resulted in significant atmospheric CO2 for less than a century.

“And yet environmentalists would have us believe that the Earth cannot handle the recent, paltry carbon production of homo sapiens. Or that humanity, having adapted countless times as our planet warmed and cooled over the millennia, would somehow be unable to cope with a slightly warmer average temperature.

“Madness, that way lies. The madness of wrecking our economy in pursuit of some fictitious, perfect global temperature.

“The BP oil spill provides another illustrative case. Oil and natural gas regularly seep into the ocean in large quantities through natural fissures in the ocean floor. According to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, for example, “there is an oil spill everyday at Coal Oil Point (COP), the natural seeps off Santa Barbara, California, where 20-25 tons of oil have leaked from the seafloor each day for the last several hundred thousand years.”

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

California Sinking

The summary of the troubles we are in, as a state, from City Journal.

An excerpt.

“California has long been a destination for those seeking a better place to live. For most of its history, the state enacted sensible policies that created one of the wealthiest and most innovative economies in human history. California realized the American dream but better, fostering a huge middle class that, for the most part, owned their homes, sent their kids to public schools, and found meaningful work connected to the state’s amazingly diverse, innovative economy.

“Recently, though, the dream has been evaporating. Between 2003 and 2007, California state and local government spending grew 31 percent, even as the state’s population grew just 5 percent. The overall tax burden as a percentage of state income, once middling among the states, has risen to the sixth-highest in the nation, says the Tax Foundation. Since 1990, according to an analysis by California Lutheran University, the state’s share of overall U.S. employment has dropped a remarkable 10 percent. When the state economy has done well, it has usually been the result of asset inflation—first during the dot-com bubble of the late 1990s, and then during the housing boom, which was responsible for nearly half of all jobs created earlier in this decade.

“Since the financial crisis began in 2008, the state has fared even worse. Last year, California personal income fell 2.5 percent, the first such fall since the Great Depression and well below the 1.7 percent drop for the rest of the country. Unemployment may be starting to ebb nationwide, but not in California, where it approaches 13 percent, among the highest rates in the nation. Between 2008 and 2009, not one of California’s biggest cities outperformed such traditional laggards as New York, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia in employment growth, and four cities—Los Angeles, Oakland, Santa Ana, and San Bernardino–Riverside—sit very close to the bottom among the nation’s largest metro areas, just slightly ahead of basket cases like Detroit. Long a global exemplar, California is in danger of becoming, as historian Kevin Starr has warned, a “failed state.”

“What went so wrong? The answer lies in a change in the nature of progressive politics in California. During the second half of the twentieth century, the state shifted from an older progressivism, which emphasized infrastructure investment and business growth, to a newer version, which views the private sector much the way the Huns viewed a city—as something to be sacked and plundered. The result is two separate California realities: a lucrative one for the wealthy and for government workers, who are largely insulated from economic decline; and a grim one for the private-sector middle and working classes, who are fleeing the state.

"The old progressivism began in the early 1900s and lasted for half a century. It was a nonpartisan and largely middle-class movement that emphasized fostering economic growth—the progressives themselves tended to have business backgrounds—and building infrastructure, such as the Los Angeles Aqueduct and the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. One powerful progressive was Republican Earl Warren, who governed the state between 1943 and 1953 and spent much of the prospering state’s surplus tax revenue on roads, mental health facilities, and schools. Another was Edmund G. “Pat” Brown, elected in 1958, who oversaw an aggressive program of public works, a rapid expansion of higher education, and the massive California Water Project.

"But by the mid-1960s, as I noted in an essay in The American two years ago, Brown’s traditional progressivism was being destabilized by forces that would eventually transform liberal politics around the nation: public-sector workers, liberal lobbying organizations, and minorities, which demanded more and more social spending. This spending irritated the business interests that had formerly seen government as their friend, contributing to Brown’s defeat in 1966 by Ronald Reagan. Reagan was far more budget-conscious than Brown had been, and large declines in infrastructure spending occurred on his watch, mostly to meet a major budget deficit.

"The decline of progressivism continued under the next governor: Pat Brown’s son, Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown, Jr., who took office in 1975. Brown scuttled infrastructure spending, in large part because of his opposition to growth and concern for the environment. Encouraged by “reforms” backed by Brown—such as the 1978 Dill Act, which legalized collective bargaining for them—the public-employee unions became the best-organized political force in California and currently dominate Democrats in the legislature (see “The Beholden State,” Spring 2010). According to the unions, public funds should be spent on inflating workers’ salaries and pensions—or else on expanding social services, often provided by public employees—and not on infrastructure or higher education, which is why Brown famously opposed new freeway construction and water projects and even tried to rein in the state’s university system."

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Golden Necklace

This recent editorial in the Sacramento Bee highlights a valuable project that could eventually become part of the envisioned Golden Necklace of trails and parkways that would connect the gold rush discovery site in Coloma to downtown Sacramento, which we wrote about in our 2007 research report, The American River Parkway: Governance, Ecoregionalism, and Heritage, A Vision & Policy Primer. (pp. 17-29)

An excerpt from the Bee editorial.

“Imagine a 70-mile continuous trail loop for hiking, biking and horseback riding that connects the Sacramento region's creek and river corridors.

“That longtime vision, going back to the mid-1960s, slowly is taking shape. Mile by mile, as funding has fallen into place, the pieces are being assembled, even during troubled economic times.

“Most people are familiar with the American River Parkway, the anchor of the planned loop. It stretches 32 miles from Discovery Park in Sacramento to Beal's Point at Folsom Lake.

“But here's another important link in the loop: the Dry Creek corridor in northern Sacramento and South Placer counties, in one of the fastest urbanizing areas in California. With the last approval expected to come from the Central Valley Flood Protection Board on Aug. 26, the first three-mile phase of the Deer Creek Parkway trail in northern Sacramento County finally can get under way by Sept. 1.

“As Len Marino, chief engineer for the flood protection board, has said, "Everything is in place; no show stoppers here."

“Building new trail sections may seem the opposite of what common sense would dictate during a time of serious budget troubles.

“But just as the infrastructure for the national park system and the California state park system was built largely during the Great Depression, parks projects should continue during the current Great Recession. They provide jobs and lay the groundwork for a future quality of life.”

Monday, August 09, 2010

Housing First

This radical method of helping the chronic homeless is counter intuitive, but it works—it is the strategy we support for Sacramento to use, which we wrote about in an May 12, 2008 article published in the Sacramento Bee posted on our news webpage.

The Los Angeles Times has a four-part series of articles on how it is working in their skid row, perhaps one of the worst in the country.

Perilous reading, but a great series.

The introduction.

“In late 2007, Los Angeles County officials embarked on an ambitious and unconventional approach to chronic homelessness. The 50 people deemed most at risk of dying on the streets of downtown L.A.'s skid row would be handed the keys to apartments, with a minimum of restrictions. They wouldn't have to take psychiatric medications, attend 12-step meetings or even stay sober. The premise was that access to an indoor refuge might stabilize precarious lives. Times reporter Christopher Goffard and photographer Genaro Molina tracked participants in Project 50 over the last two years. This four-part series is the result.”

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Climate Hysteria History

The Weekly Standard has published an interesting look at the early warnings about global warming—greenhouse gases—in the 1980’s.

An excerpt.

“Changes in the earth’s atmosphere, the additional greenhouse effect and the resultant changes in the climate .  .  . represent a global danger for humanity and the entire biosphere of the earth. If no effective counteracting measures are taken, dramatic consequences are to be expected for all of the earth’s regions.

“This warning will undoubtedly seem familiar, perhaps even mind-numbingly so. But if the substance sounds like the same-old same-old, the date on which it was issued might seem surprising. It was not in the run-up to the Copenhagen climate summit or indeed anytime in the last decade. The above passage is nearly two decades old. It comes from a resolution adopted by the German Bundestag in September 1991.

“The resolution in question summarizes and endorses the recommendations of a parliamentary commission of inquiry on “Taking Precautionary Action to Protect the Earth’s Atmosphere.” The commission had been set up in October 1987. Appearing before the Bundestag some seven months earlier, Chancellor Helmut Kohl had warned that the “greenhouse effect” threatened to bring about “a grave pattern of climate change” and had called for the burning of fossil fuels to be limited, not just in Germany but “worldwide.”

“The June 1987 motion to form the commission envisioned “greenhouse gas” emissions producing “a global warming of from three to seven degrees Celsius” and called for counteracting measures to be taken even in the absence of scientific corroboration of the supposed threat—since otherwise, the document concludes darkly, “in a few decades .  .  . it could be too late.”

“The original impulse to take action had come from the German Physics Society, which in January 1986 published a “Warning of an Impending Climate Catastrophe.” Just over six months later, in August, the newsweekly Der Spiegel popularized the German physicists’ “warning” in a spectacular cover story headlined “The Climate Catastrophe.” The image on the cover of the magazine depicted Cologne’s historic cathedral surrounded by the waters of the Atlantic Ocean: a consequence of the melting of the polar ice caps, as was explained on the inside of the issue. Thus was the “global warming” scare born. In Germany, in 1986.

“In a report submitted to the Bundestag on October 2, 1990, the commission of inquiry laid out a veritable “roadmap” for concerted international action to combat “climate change.” The commission called for CO2 emissions to be cut by 30 percent by the year 2005 in all “economically strong industrialized countries.” Germany itself was called upon to meet this goal. But the formulation “economically strong industrialized countries” was clearly tailored to fit Germany’s major economic rivals: Japan and the United States. The report also calls for a 20-25 percent reduction in CO2 emissions among all the countries of the then European Community and a 20 percent reduction for all industrialized countries. “One needs to convince the other countries concerned of the necessity of such ambitious targets,” the report explains, “and to arrive as quickly as possible at corresponding international agreements.” The report declared it to be “urgently necessary” that a first international convention on “climate-relevant emissions” be adopted “at the latest in 1992 during the U.N. Conference on Environment and Development in Brazil.”

“And so it would come to pass. It was at the 1992 U.N. conference—more commonly known as the “Rio Earth Summit”—that a certain American senator began his career as would-be prophet of warming-induced gloom and doom. Al Gore’s book Earth in the Balance was timed for release just before the summit began. It was also here that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was opened for signature.”

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Public Safety Volunteers on the American

A nice story from the Sacramento Bee about the volunteers working at the American River Confluence area.

We could really use some folks like this in the Lower Reach area of the Parkway--from Discovery Park to Cal Expo--long considered the most dangerous stretch of the Parkway, see this 2004 story from the Sacramento News & Review.

Things are still pretty dicey on the Parkway as the Parkway Rangers Report from this June notes.

An excerpt from the Bee article.

“You know it's going to be another hot summer weekend when, early on a Saturday morning, you head down the canyon from Auburn and already see a conga line of cars parked along the roadside leading to the American River confluence.

“No surprise, really. What is a confluence, after all, if not a coming together – not just of the north and middle forks of the river but of a cross section of humanity out to hike, raft, sunbathe or just loll on the banks to ease the oppressive heat?

“Every weekend, the masses tote kids, dogs, beach blankets, boogie boards and ice chests. They cross Highway 49 and descend the steep and dusty path, drawn to the cooling roar of the rapids. No parking or park fee, here. This is free, unfettered fun.

“Of the 48,000 acres in the Auburn State Recreation Area, the confluence is hardly the only hot spot. But its highway-close convenience and easy access draws hundreds most days, which can make life difficult for overworked and understaffed state park rangers, already facing furloughs and hiring freezes.

"On July 4," reported ranger Michelle Craig, "we had only three rangers on duty for 48,000 acres. You just hope to be in the right place at the right time."

“Stepping into the void – at least at the populated confluence hangout – is a small but hearty band of volunteers, the Canyon Keepers.

“Each weekend, and on holidays during the spring and summer months, two people from the organization spend afternoons patrolling the area to help the sick and injured, assist in enforcing rules ranging from keeping dogs on leashes to a ban on barbecues. Occasionally, they will point out a good hiking trail or answer a wilderness question.

“They are part policemen, part docents. Their only real authority, if push comes to shove, is to call in the rangers to end a dispute. Not that it comes to that, most times.”

Friday, August 06, 2010

Suburbs to Suburbs

A nice article from New Geography—by Michael Scott, a former ARPPS board member—about the move from the one suburb, Folsom, to another in Denver.

An excerpt.

“For many suburban Americans, the thought of migrating to a center-city environment holds an intriguing appeal, fueled by urbanists who tout the benefits of stunning cityscape views, walkability, proximity to civic and cultural amenities, and street vibrancy. I happen to be among those suburbanites who have harbored a secret fantasy of living in a dense downtown environment, replete with throngs of creative millennials roaming the streets, fancy coffee houses, and close access to fine dining. A decision to move from suburban Sacramento to Denver has been the result.

“The urban/suburban residential conundrum has generated epic debates that match the joys of city living against the benefits of suburbia. Terms such as “sprawl,” “drivable urbanism,” and the “slumming of suburbia” appear in the news regularly, often in an attempt to sway the pendulum in favor of dense city living.

“The tsunami of hoopla around “urban livability” has been of growing interest to my family and me as we prepare to relocate to Denver. I've come to believe the accuracy of the assertion, often voiced on this site, that America’s interest in suburbia has not abated. It has become abundantly clear from the brisk interest of potential buyers of our current Folsom, California residence, that living in a suburban locale still holds a special appeal. The environmentalist clamor aside, what people really want from a community is amenities that appeal to their specific interests. Folsom, a city of 72,000 nestled on the outskirts of Sacramento, offers myriad advantages for leisure — such as boating and biking — to basic requirements like low crime rates and quality schools.

“For us, the move to Denver is a transition from suburbia that's been a challenge. Despite steady buyer interest, our 3100-square-foot house is still on the market. Suburban critics, like Urban Land Institute-fellow Christopher Leinberger, would likely cite a potential cause as being declining interest in what are affectionately known as McMansions, those big cumbersome houses replete with big lawns, big mortgages, and big utility bills. Demographic trends also show a steady rise in the number of adults without children, who are presumably less likely to purchase a big house. And, as a real estate professional pointed out to us, people are holding out for a windfall deal these days amid the abundance of foreclosures in the Sacramento metro area.

“Finding a family home in Denver has been even more interesting. While the downtown Lo-Do District has great appeal to us because of its vibrancy, civic amenities, and proximity to Coors Field (Rockies Baseball), Invesco Field (Broncos Football) and the Pepsi Center (Nuggets Basketball and Avalanche Hockey), it simply doesn’t strike my wife and me as the ideal environment for raising our seven-year-old daughter. The questionable schools in the city-center core were the deal breaker, and the catalyst for our decision to explore quasi- suburban areas on the fringe of downtown.

“As is the case with many downtowns across the country, real estate values in central-city Denver have taken a severe beating. With tepid demand, large inventories of condos have sat vacant for months, leading some developers to convert them into rentals.

“After several exploratory trips and careful consideration of our options, particularly since our house in California is still on the market, we elected to rent in a neighborhood called Cheeseman Park. An eclectic, diverse enclave just on the outskirts of downtown, the area offers the hybrid urban/suburban environment that we were seeking. It also has a top-notch elementary school for our daughter.”

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Sports Facilities

As Sacramento is a community that is considering building a new basketball arena, this story from Real Clear Markets about the Washington Nationals baseball stadium is an object lesson.

An excerpt.

“Many of the business leaders in Washington, D.C., knew they were getting a raw deal when the city slapped a gross receipts tax on them to help pay for construction of the $611 million Washington Nationals ballpark. Businesses worried that lofty pre-construction projections of stadium attendance and local economic impact were vastly overstated. Even worse, businesses feared that politicians would find the revenues from the new tax so tempting that they would use them not only for paying off the stadium bonds, but for whatever struck their fancy.

“They were right. The new stadium is turning out to be a disaster for business taxpayers. Despite the ballpark, attendance at Nationals game is weak, leaving sales tax revenue generated at the stadium well below projections. Meanwhile, the stadium is producing virtually no economic bounce in the surrounding neighborhood that it was supposed to revive. The only thing that's ahead of projections is collections from the business tax, which the Washington city council has appropriated to plug its budget holes, dashing hopes in the business community that the city would use any tax surplus to accelerate paying off the bonds that financed construction of the stadium.

“This has become a rather familiar story, which should be filed under the heading, if you build it for them, they will fleece you. For years we've understood that most sports and entertainment venues constructed with taxpayer money rarely achieve the lofty economic projections used to justify their construction. But what's also become apparent is that once taxpayers let a government put in place the funding mechanism to finance these projects, politicians or sports teams often find a way to milk them for their own purposes, leaving taxpayers on the hook for millions of dollars even in the cases when a venue initially succeeds.

“While our nation's capital can count on years of struggles with its new stadium because it's doubtful that the Baltimore-Washington area can support two teams (especially two perennially woeful ones), even more troubling is the burden that stadiums become to municipalities after the ballparks are empty or have been torn down.

“Take Houston. The Astrodome was opened in 1965 and for years housed both professional baseball and football teams. It's since lost both and stands virtually empty. Desperately in need of safety upgrades, it's closed to all but security and maintenance personnel. But here's the catch. There's still $32 million in debt on a stadium originally constructed for just $35 million, thanks to some $60 million in obligations floated on the dome in the 1980s for upgrades. With no current revenues, the dome must be supported entirely by local taxes, which cover about $2.4 million in annual debt payments (which stretch for 22 years) and another $2 million in upkeep. The solution? More debt, of course. The Harris County Commissioners, who control the stadium, are looking at a plan to turn the whole place into a giant conference and meeting center, at a cost of $900 million in new debt. Either that or spend $128 million to tear the place down.”

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Homeless Always With Us? Yes, But...

In the Woodlake News, the Newsletter of the Woodlake Neighborhood Association, the front page article, Hey You, Get Out Of My Trash: The Transient Issue in Woodlake, opened with this paragraph:

“With our proximity to the river, homeless service organizations, and the recycling depot on Arden, we will always see the chronically homeless in our area.”

And the rest of the article described how to reduce the problem by hiding your trash, or putting it out the morning of pickup, etc, ending with a place to send money to help the homeless.

What is sad about this approach is that it is exactly the “we can’t do anything except throw good money after bad” attitude that has allowed the problem to continue to grow.

Let’s look at each of the three issues the author correctly identified:

1) "Proximity to the river": Woodlake, on the north side of the river, is very close to one of the most beautiful areas of the Lower American River, and also unfortunately, close to the area where large-scale illegal camping—it is estimated that 100-150 homeless have been camping in that area, some for 10-15 years.

They have been allowed to camp there because the city of Sacramento and Sacramento County has never taken a zero tolerance approach to the issue and enforced the anti camping ordinance at the level it deserves, which would dramatically reduce the problem.

2) "Homeless service organizations": On the south side of the river is a concentration of homeless service organizations whose primary approach to the homeless has been in the providing of domestic services rather than personal transformative services, which have resulted in making it easier for the homeless to camp in the Parkway.

If the homeless organizations focused more on changing the behavior of the homeless to move out of homeless rather than supporting them in their homelessness, the problem would be reduced dramatically.

3) "Recycling depot on Arden": The location is merely good business by the owners of the depot to be near where the business is.

Work on the other two, and the depot would eventually move or fold.

Yes, the poor will always be with us, and we will always be willing to help with our voluntary charitable actions, and we will always remain tolerant and supportive of those who are struggling to right their lives, but our help and tolerance should not be at the expense of the public safety and civil order we elect political leadership to provide.

Our proposed solution to the issue is to form a Joint Powers Authority of adjacent governments, which would then create a nonprofit organization to manage and raise supplemental funding for the American River Parkway, outlined on our strategy page, which would result in a much more vigorous oversight and advocacy around the illegal camping issue, as the nonprofit’s effectiveness at stopping the illegal camping in the Parkway would be directly connected to their ability to raise funding—some of which would surely be coming from Woodlake.

The North Sacramento Chamber of Commerce has an excellent webpage devoted to the issue, and this is an issue that has been with us for some time, as this 2004 article from the Sacramento News & Review about the bike trail through the Woodlake area of the Parkway reveals.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Mandatory Recycling vs Voluntary Recycling

Working from the mantra, that a disaster is an opportunity for change not to be wasted, the environmental movement has woven mandatory recycling into the national regulatory structure way beyond its benefit, to the point that it actually causes more harm than good, as this report from the Property & Environment Research Center notes.

Here is an excerpt from the summary and the full report is here.

“Fiction can be more interesting than fact. Researchers at PERC often become interested in environmental issues because of fantastic claims being made about some aspect of the environment. Since environmentalism became big business in the 1970s, many assertions have been made that draw lavish media attention. Most of the outlandish assertions turn out to be false or inaccurate, but that fact rarely draws attention.

“Remember Love Canal, the famous industrial site that helped spur passage of the Superfund law? It was reported to be a cauldron of toxic chemicals carelessly dumped in a ditch by an uncaring firm. It caused cancer and birth defects. The truth, as it came out at trial, was different. No serious health issues could be attributed to the chemicals that had been buried decades ago. The only reason there was any problem was because government seized the property from the chemical company and used it for a housing development. The origins of the issue, and the false nature of the hysterical claims, are boring details that do not interest the media or special interests that use such events to press a legislative or regulatory agenda.

“In this revised essay, Daniel Benjamin takes us through the common claims asserted on behalf of the multi-billion dollar recycling programs that are generally presumed to be wise public policy. Benjamin applies careful analysis to the claims made over the years about the “need” for mandatory recycling—and finds them to be bogus. He reminds us that before we rush into costly policies presumed to be saving the environment, sound science and analysis of the facts, which are rarely as interesting as fantastic scare stories, are much to be desired in a society that values freedom in markets and personal choice.”

Monday, August 02, 2010

Downtown Planning, K Street

As revealed in these photos of K Street, the 700-800 blocks, downtown development hasn’t moved much, and part of the cause may be the assumptions around downtown development, as we noted in a December 26, 2007 E-letter to our membership.

Sacramento Downtown Development: Too Monocentric?

An important insight concerning development that has not yet been understood by local leadership is that noted by Bogart (2006):

“The dominant intellectual approach to describing cities during the twentieth century was the monocentric city model. In a monocentric city, all commercial and industrial activity takes place in the central business district, while the rest of the city consists of residential areas. This description was reasonably accurate as recently as 1950 in most cities…

“Even by 1960 observers such as Jane Jacobs and Jean Gottman had discerned a new structure for metropolitan areas, although popular interpreters of their work have neglected this insight. This new structure was called the polycentric city, in recognition of the multiple centers of economic activity that now comprised the metropolitan area. While some people have recognized this change for more than forty years, it still has surpassingly little impact on the design of public policy.” (p.9)

Sacramento is a text-book example of this thinking with the over-focused approach to the Sacramento downtown area’s development as somehow the key to the region’s well being, while the suburban areas of Arden Arcade, Citrus Heights, Elk Grove, Folsom, and Rancho Cordova, develop into thriving centers of their own virtually unrelated to what occurs in downtown Sacramento, unless their residents happen to work there.

The impact this has on the planning around the Parkway is also significant, from the virtual giving over of its Lower Reach section—Discovery Park to Cal Expo—to homeless encampments by downtown Sacramento interests, to the discouragement of the desire on Rancho Cordova’s part, to revitalize its section of the Parkway for the enhanced recreational and enjoyment of the natural setting envisioned by the Parkway founders; destroying the congruence many, including our organization, see as the optimal future of the Parkway.

Given that the suburban regions in question all lie within the boundaries of Sacramento County, one would naturally expect that entity to play a leading role in planning that could bring the differing regions together around the one area they share, the Parkway.

Bogart, W. (2006). Don’t call it sprawl: Metropolitan structure in the twenty first century. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

California’s Water Storage

The construction of the great water projects that allowed California to grow into the most productive state in the country, at the time included building Auburn Dam and building Shasta Dam 200 feet higher than it now is, which we noted in an earlier post.

Had both these projects been completed, California would have had enough water—and flood protection—for the foreseeable future, saving billions beyond the estimated cost of both of those projects.

This editorial in the San Jose Mercury News notes the importance of water storage for the future of California’s agricultural industry.

An excerpt.

“If California does not provide an adequate water supply at reasonable cost to its agricultural industry, competition from globalization will soon turn the state into a Third World country.

“Most of the people working to find a solution to California water problems seem to have a hard time understanding the economic impact that the lack of water at reasonable prices has on the economy and how this directly affects working families and the state's tax base.

“Additionally, this great state has been able to export food products, within the United States and internationally, at reasonable prices. That, in effect, has raised the standard of living for all those consumers. We must have a reliable source of water to be able to continue growing these much-needed commodities at fair prices.

“When agricultural land is abandoned or fruit trees and grape vines are taken out because of the lack of water, the assessed value of the property goes down. This results in decreased revenues for local services, thereby resulting in the loss of jobs for working families. Additionally, there is a measurable decrease in the income from production, which reduces income taxes by billions of dollars to the state and federal governments.

“We must change the direction in which we have been going and make an investment to come up with new, innovative ways to support the agricultural endeavors that we've already developed to help move our economy forward.

“A first need to alleviate the shortage of water supply to our growing population is to build reservoir systems that store more rainwater in the winter rainy season to be used for frost protection during the spring months and for irrigation during the dry summers.

“The sale of water would more than repay the cost of development of these reservoirs. The savings realized from building fish-friendly reservoirs that replenish themselves with each winter's rains at no cost should be evident to the governor and the Legislature. These reservoirs need to be built high in the mountains so there is gravity flow, thus cutting down on the cost of operation.

“Back in the early 1960s, I invested $100,000 in a reliable water supply by building five reservoirs to solve our frost and irrigation problems for a 175-acre vineyard. Over the years, the savings compared to buying the water have computed to more than $1.5 million.”