Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving week and we'll resume posting on the 29th.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Homelessness in San Francisco

A model of what can be done right and what has been done terribly wrong, the City by the Bay has a twisted history of dealing with homelessness and the public disorder it has brought to the city streets.

That history is chronicled by Heather McDonald, the best writer on the issue in America, in City Journal.

An excerpt.

“The homelessness industry has pulled off some impressive feats of rebranding over the years—most notably, turning street vagrancy into a consequence of unaffordable housing, rather than of addiction and mental illness. But for sheer audacity, nothing tops the alchemy that homelessness advocates and their government sponsors are currently attempting in San Francisco. The sidewalks of the Haight-Ashbury district have been colonized by aggressive, migratory youths who travel up and down the West Coast panhandling for drug and booze money. Homelessness, Inc. is trying to portray these voluntary vagabonds as the latest victims of inadequate government housing programs, hoping to defeat an ordinance against sitting and lying on public sidewalks that the Haight community has generated.

“The outcome of the industry’s rebranding campaign—and of the Haight’s competing effort to restore order—will be known this November, when San Franciscans vote on the proposed sit-lie law. That vote will reveal whether San Francisco is ready to join the many other cities that view civilized public space as essential to urban life.

“Four filthy targets of Homelessness, Inc.’s current relabeling effort sprawl across the sidewalk on Haight Street, accosting pedestrians. “Can you spare some change and shit? Will you take me home with you?” Cory, a slender, dark-haired young man from Ventura, California, cockily asks passersby. “Dude, do you have any food?” His two female companions, Zombie and Eeyore, swig from a bottle of pricey Tejava tea and pass a smoke while lying on a blanket surrounded by a fortress of backpacks, bedrolls, and scrawled signs asking for money. Vincent, a fourth “traveler,” as the Haight Street punks call themselves, stares dully into space. All four sport bandannas around their necks—to ward off freight-train exhaust as they pass through tunnels, they explain—as well as biker’s gloves and a large assortment of tattoos and metal hardware. The girls wear necklaces and bracelets of plastic disks and other hip found objects; their baggy tank tops and stockings are stylishly torn.

“A petite Asian woman passes the group and smilingly hands Cory the remains of a submarine sandwich. Suddenly, all four are on their feet, tearing at the sub. As Zombie stuffs the bread into her mouth, partly chewed chunks fall back out onto the ground.

“Such juvenile hobos see themselves as on a “mission,” though they’re hard-pressed to define it. Sometimes they follow rock bands, and other times more mysterious imperatives, between Seattle, Portland, Santa Cruz, Berkeley, Venice Beach, and San Diego. Some are runaways; some are college dropouts; others are years older. Eeyore says she got kicked out of her Riverside, California, home at 14 because she was “a punk and an asshole.”

“Of all the destinations on the “traveler” circuit, the Haight carries a particular attraction to the young panhandlers, thanks to the Summer of Love. Starting in late 1965, waves of teens from across the country began pouring into what was then a ramshackle, blue-collar neighborhood of pastel Victorian houses and low-rent businesses, drawn to the emergent drug culture and its promised liberation from the bourgeois values of self-discipline and hard work. “The time has come to be free,” a local flyer proclaimed. “Be FREE. Do your thing. Be what you are. Do it. Now.” This insipid philosophy was eventually co-opted by consumer capitalism, while the hippie ethos gave way to punk, daisy chains to piercing, acid to meth, and mindless utopianism to mindless nihilism. In the Haight itself, national chain stores like American Apparel, McDonald’s, and Ben & Jerry’s found a place next to the head shops, tie-dye boutiques, and check-cashing outlets. But the kids kept coming.

“The defining characteristic of all these “travelers” seems to be an acute sense of entitlement. “If you can afford this shit on Haight Street, then goddamn, you can probably afford to kick down $20 [to a panhandler] and it won’t fucking hurt your wallet,” a smooth-faced blond boy from Spartanburg, South Carolina, defiantly tells the camera in The Haight Street Kids, a documentary by Stanford University’s art department. I ask the group on the blanket: Why should people give you money? “They got a dollar and I don’t,” Cory replies. Why don’t you work? “We do work,” retorts Eeyore. “I carry around this heavy backpack. We wake up at 7 AM and work all day. It’s hard work.” She’s referring to begging and drinking. She adds judiciously: “Okay, my liver hates me, but I like the idea of street performance. We’re trying to get a dollar for beer.” More specifically, they’re aiming for two Millers and a Colt 45 at the moment, explains Zombie. Aren’t you embarrassed to be begging? “I’m not begging, I’m just asking for money,” Cory says, seemingly convinced of the difference. How much do you make? “In San Francisco, you don’t get much—maybe $30 to $40 a day,” says Eeyore. “When you’re traveling, you can make about $100 on freeway off-ramps.”

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Future & Reason

In times of great uncertainty, words of wisdom are always appreciated and this short excerpt in today’s Wall Street Journal, written in 1953, is timeless.

An excerpt.

“When I was a younger man, I believed that progress was inevitable—that the world would be better tomorrow and better still the day after. The thunder of war, the stench of concentration camps, the mushroom cloud of the atomic bomb are, however, not conducive to optimism. All our tomorrows for years to come will be clouded by the threat of a terrible holocaust.

“Yet my faith in the future, though somewhat shaken, is not destroyed. I still believe in it. If I sometimes doubt that man will achieve his mortal potentialities, I never doubt that he can.

“I believe that these potentialities promise all men a measure beyond reckoning of the joys and comforts, material and spiritual, that life offers. Not utopia, to be sure. I do not believe in utopias. Man may achieve all but perfection.

“Paradise is not for this world. All men cannot be masters, but none need to be a slave. We cannot cast out pain from the world, but needless suffering we can. Tragedy will be with us in some degree as long as there is life, but misery we can banish. Injustice will raise its head in the best of all possible worlds, but tyranny we can conquer. Evil will invade some men's hearts, intolerance will twist some men's minds, but decency is a far more common human attribute, and it can be made to prevail in our daily lives.

“I believe all this because I believe, above all else, in reason—in the power of the human mind to cope with the problems of life. Any calamity visited upon man, either by his own hand or by a more omnipotent nature, could have been avoided or at least mitigated by a measure of thought. To nothing so much as the abandonment of reason does humanity owe its sorrows. Whatever failures I have known, whatever errors I have committed, whatever follies I have witnessed in private and public life, have been the consequence of action without thought.”

Friday, November 19, 2010

Illegal Camping in the Parkway

Yesterday we posted our letter about it published in the Bee, headlined with a picture of the Parkway trashing resulting from illegal camping.

The organization that has taken the lead in advocating for a focus on public safety and removing the scourge of illegal camping from the Parkway is the North Sacramento Chamber of Commerce, and their webpage devoted to that issue has many photos documenting the widespread damage caused over the many years this has been allowed to continue.

An excerpt.

“The capital region is maturing and that can be seen in many of its aspects, from the creation of vibrant new cities, the increased energy of downtowns, people and business migrating in instead of out. For those of us who have been here for generations, it is particularly rewarding to see the growth and appreciation of all that our region has to offer. The maturing process is also evident in the consciousness of the development community regarding natural resources and is indicated by the folding in of parkways, greenways and open space into new developments, many connecting planned trailways with the American River Parkway. Overall, we see an acknowledgement that creating homes and places for people to live and work is very conducive to preserving and accessing the natural resources many come to our community to enjoy.

“In North Sacramento however, the community's access and enjoyment of it's greatest natural resource, the American River Parkway has been restricted, due to the problem of illegal camping, primarily by the homeless. While the North Sacramento community is understanding and accepting of the fact that a community needs to treat those of distressed circumstances with compassion and dignity, it is also vital that the same generosity of spirit be extended to the distressed community unable to enjoy the natural resources within it's boundaries.”

Thursday, November 18, 2010

ARPPS Letter Published

In the Sacramento Bee today.

No tent city in parkway

Re "Initiative reports progress finding shelter for homeless" (Our Region, Nov. 16):

The article reports that the creation of a tent city is probably going to be included in Sacramento's homeless strategy.

The stretch of the American River Parkway from Discovery Park to Cal Expo has been the illegal tent city for the homeless for many years.

The adjacent neighborhoods, which have long been unable to enjoy their part of the parkway due to the illegal camping, surely hope that if a legal tent city ever does become a reality, that it is located somewhere else.

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

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

California’s Green Lobby

Another in a long list of uncomfortable stories for Californians to read about the results of the midterm elections comes from the Wall Street Journal.

An excerpt.

“California officials acknowledged last Thursday that the state faces $20 billion deficits every year from now to 2016. At the same time, California's state Treasurer entered bond markets to sell some $14 billion in "revenue anticipation notes" over the next two weeks. Worst of all, economic sanity lost out in what may have been the most important election on Nov. 2—and, no, I'm not talking about the gubernatorial or senate races.

“This was the California referendum to repeal Assembly Bill 32, the so-called Global Warming Solutions Act, which ratchets the state's economy back to 1990 levels of greenhouse gases by 2020. That's a 30% drop followed by a mandated 80% overall drop by 2050. Together with a $500 billion public-pension overhang, the new energy cap dooms the state to bankruptcy.

“Conservative pundits have lavished mock pity on the state. But as America's chief fount of technology, California cannot go down the drain without dragging the rest of the country with it.

“The irony is that a century-long trend of advance in conventional "non-renewable" energy—from wood to oil to natural gas and nuclear—has already wrought a roughly 60% drop in carbon emissions per watt. Thus the long-term California targets might well be achieved globally in the normal course of technological advance. The obvious next step is aggressive exploitation of the trillions of cubic feet of low-carbon natural gas discovered over the last two years, essentially ending the U.S. energy crisis.

“The massive vote against repeal of the California law—62% to 38%—supports an economy-crushing drive to suppress CO2 emissions from natural gas and everything else. In a parody of supply-side economics, advocates of AB 32 envisage the substitution of alternative energy sources that create new revenue sources, new jobs and industries. Their economic model sees new wealth emerge from jobs dismantling the existing energy economy and replacing it with a medieval system of windmills and solar collectors. By this logic we could all get rich by razing the existing housing plant and replacing it with new-fangled tents.

“All the so-called "renewables" programs waste and desecrate the precious resource of arable land that feeds the world. Every dollar of new wages for green workers will result in several dollars of reduced pay and employment for the state's and the nation's other workers—and reduced revenues for the government.

“Most destructive of all is the bill's stultifying effect on America's and California's most important asset: the venture capital industry, which accounts for the nation's technological leadership, military power, and roughly a fifth of GDP.”

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

California Dreaming

There will be a lot of sharp comments—like those in this article from New Geography—as a result of the midterm elections.

An excerpt.

“In the future, historians may likely mark the 2010 midterm elections as the end of the California era and the beginning of the Texas one. In one stunning stroke, amid a national conservative tide, California voters essentially ratified a political and regulatory regime that has left much of the state unemployed and many others looking for the exits.

“California has drifted far away from the place that John Gunther described in 1946 as “the most spectacular and most diversified American state … so ripe, golden.” Instead of a role model, California has become a cautionary tale of mismanagement of what by all rights should be the country’s most prosperous big state. Its poverty rate is at least two points above the national average; its unemployment rate nearly three points above the national average. On Friday Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was forced yet again to call an emergency session in order to deal with the state’s enormous budget problems.

“This state of crisis is likely to become the norm for the Golden State. In contrast to other hard-hit states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Nevada, which all opted for pro-business, fiscally responsible candidates, California voters decisively handed virtually total power to a motley coalition of Democratic-machine politicians, public employee unions, green activists and rent-seeking special interests.

“In the new year, the once and again Gov. Jerry Brown, who has some conservative fiscal instincts, will be hard-pressed to convince Democratic legislators who get much of their funding from public-sector unions to trim spending. Perhaps more troubling, Brown’s own extremism on climate change policy–backed by rent-seeking Silicon Valley investors with big bets on renewable fuels–virtually assures a further tightening of a regulatory regime that will slow an economic recovery in every industry from manufacturing and agriculture to home-building.

“Texas’ trajectory, however, looks quite the opposite. California was recently ranked by Chief Executive magazine as having the worst business climate in the nation, while Texas’ was considered the best. Both Democrats and Republicans in the Lone State State generally embrace the gospel of economic growth and limited public sector expenditure. The defeated Democratic candidate for governor, the brainy former Houston Mayor Bill White, enjoyed robust business support and was widely considered more competent than the easily re-elected incumbent Rick Perry, who sometimes sounds more like a neo-Confederate crank than a serious leader.”

Monday, November 15, 2010

Press Release: Helping the Homeless


For Immediate Release November 15, 2010 Sacramento, California


The homeless issue is a Parkway issue as the Lower Reach of the Parkway—Discovery Park to Cal Expo—has been the de jure tent city for the homeless for years.

As the cold of winter invigorates the urgency of public policy strategies to alleviate the suffering of those who are homeless, we do well as a community to remember that the primary and most effective help is often a balanced combination of giving aid and inspiring those aided to begin the internal work of personal transformation that will elevate them beyond the need for aid.

Providing services without inspiring internal change generally leads to a tragic continuation of the problem

In this regard, we might note the words from the seminal book, To Empower People: From State to Civil Society, by Peter Berger & Richard John Neuhaus, who wrote:

“Time and again, I found that indigenous community leaders have substantial long-term impact because they have been able to affect not only the behavior of those they serve but also the internal base of values that determines behavior. In tackling the most critical problems that confront low-income communities, they have made distinctions—as most top-down programs do not—between poverty that is caused by factors outside an individual’s control (for example, lay-offs or extended illness) and that which results from the life choices an individual makes (drug-addiction and out-of-wedlock births, for instance). They recognize that, with regard to poverty that results from an individual’s choice, an internal change is prerequisite for any external programs or aid to have lasting and substantial effect.

“Grass-roots activists who live within the same zip code as the people they serve have a unique capacity to inspire this kind of transformation. In many cases they have suffered—and have overcome—the same problems that they are guiding others to battle. They are often living examples of achievement against the odds, and they provide models of the values and principles that they espouse. Hundreds of testimonies from effective grass-roots leaders have shown that their foundation of faith has enabled them to see potential for transformation and revitalization where professionals have limited their goals to custodianship.

“Furthermore, surveys have shown that a base of local support is a more natural and more approachable resource than professional services that are “parachuted in” to the communities. When queried, hundreds of low-income people responded that if they confronted a crisis they would turn first to family members, friends, local churches, and other organizations that are indigenous to their communities for help. Only as a last resort would they choose to turn to a professional service provider.

“In spite of this reality, we continue to use a service delivery system that relies on what is the last choice of those who are in need.”

Berger, P. L. & Neuhaus, R.J. (1996). To Empower People: From State to Civil Society. (2nd Ed.) Washington D.C. The AEI Press. (pp. 106-107)

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and remember that empowerment is more truly compassionate than pity.

Organizational Leadership
American River Parkway Preservation Society
Sacramento, California
November 15, 2010

Contact Information

David H. Lukenbill, Senior Policy Director
American River Parkway Preservation Society
2267 University Avenue, Sacramento, CA 95825
P: 916-486-3856 E: Dlukenbill@msn.com
W: www.arpps.org B: www.parkwayblog.blogspot.com

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Salmon Return

In tune with the natural cycles of wet years and dry years, this is a good year for the salmon, which is very good news, as reported by the Sacramento Bee.

An excerpt.

“Salmon are returning to Central Valley rivers and streams in impressive numbers this fall, restoring hope that years of shortages and fishing closures are over.

“It's a dramatic turnaround from last year, when the Central Valley fall chinook salmon run hit a historic low. Scientists blamed poor ocean conditions and a century of habitat degradation in freshwater spawning areas.

“It got so bad that federal officials closed commercial fishing in 2008 and 2009, taking California salmon off dinner menus for the first time ever.

“Now the fish are surging back. The numbers are not nearly as robust as in decades past. But ocean conditions have improved, and myriad small habitat projects are starting to bear fruit.

“Bryon Harris, 26, saw the results. He was walking along Auburn Ravine in Lincoln recently with a friend. The stream runs through Placer County before emptying into the Sacramento River via the Natomas Cross Canal.

"We hear this flopping and it sounded like the rocks were crashing," said Harris. "We look over and there's a big old salmon right there … and there's a few more trapped in there, trying to make it. It was jaw-dropping, almost."

“The salmon made it that far because this is the first year in decades that a number of small, seasonal diversion dams have been removed from the stream. As a result, 3-foot salmon have been seen thrashing upstream behind mini-malls and housing tracts in suburban Lincoln.

“The volunteer group Save Auburn Ravine Salmon and Steelhead persuaded landowners – with a nudge from law enforcement – to remove the irrigation dams. Federal law requires removal between Oct. 15 and April 15 so salmon can pass. But before they were reminded this year, many owners either didn't know or forgot.

"I've fished the Auburn Ravine for 10 years at least, and I've never seen a salmon in there, ever," said Harris. "I was shocked."

“The Central Valley's major salmon hatcheries are reporting big increases in spawning fish compared with last year. This includes hatcheries on Battle Creek and the Feather River, among the biggest contributors to the population.”

Friday, November 12, 2010

City Expansion: Good Discussion to Have

With the failure of the recent incorporation of Arden Arcade, further discussion about bringing under-served residents into the service area of the city of Sacramento, as reported by the Sacramento Bee, makes good sense.

An excerpt.

“Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson touched a nerve last week when he said he'd like to see a conversation take place over whether the city should merge with unincorporated areas of the county.

“While stopping short of suggesting Sacramento embark upon its own manifest destiny, the timing of the mayor's remarks played a big role in the reaction.

“Just two days earlier, voters in the unincorporated Arden Arcade community soundly defeated a measure proposing cityhood for that area of the county. The mayor said he was relieved with the result and said there could be advantages to having Arden Arcade fold into the city.

“Both sides on the Arden Arcade incorporation debate have come out against having their community of 100,000 residents gobbled up by the city of Sacramento. With that in mind, here are a few answers to some of the questions swirling about city-county consolidation.

“Has the city looked at annexing portions of the county?

“Scot Mende, the city's new growth manager, said there are five areas of the county that the city will study annexing over the next 20 years as part of its general plan: Arden Arcade, Freeport, Fruitridge-Florin in south Sacramento, the Rosemont-East Policy Area and the Natomas Joint Vision Area.

“To date, discussions have been held only on the Natomas area, a 10,000-acre swath of land north of the city made up mostly of farms and Sacramento International Airport. As for the other areas:

"We've spent a minimal amount of time thinking about them," Mende said.

“The City Council could vote to initiate the annexation process for Freeport, Fruitridge-Florin and Rosemont because those areas are in the city's "sphere of influence," loosely defined as areas within the city's natural future expansion. But those areas have been in the sphere of influence since 1981 with no movement by the city toward annexing them.

“Even if the council votes to move forward with annexation, the Local Agency Formation Commission would need to approve the proposal. It would go to voters for approval if enough signatures were gathered in those areas protesting annexation.

“Arden Arcade and the Natomas Joint Vision Area are not in the city's sphere of influence, although they could be labeled with that distinction in the future.”

Thursday, November 11, 2010

California as “the Lindsay Lohan of States”

A very funny—and tragically true—analysis of California since the last election, from the Wall Street Journal.

An excerpt.

“Listen up, California. The other 48 states—your cousin New York excluded—are sick of your bratty arrogance. You're the Lindsay Lohan of states: a prima donna who once showed some talent but is now too wasted to do anything with it.

“After enjoying ephemeral highs and spending binges, you suffer crashes that culminate in brief, unsuccessful stints in rehab. This cycle repeats itself every five to 10 years, as the rest of the country looks on with a mixture of horror and amusement. We'd feel sorry for you if you didn't constantly flip us the bird.

“Instead, we're making bets on how long it will be before your next meltdown. Oh, wait—you're already melting down.

“You've racked up nearly $70 billion in general obligation debt, and that doesn't include your $500 billion unfunded pension liability. Your own analysts predict you'll face a hole of at least $80 billion over the next four years.

“Your government's run by a brothel of environmentalists, lawyers, public-sector unions and legislative bums. When they're not taxing or spending, they're creating regulations and commissions like the Board of Barbering and Cosmetology and the California Blueberry Commission. Many businesses would leave if it weren't for your sunny climate.

“Which may explain why you're so obsessed with climate change. If your climate changes, no one, including your Hollywood friends, would tolerate you anymore. So you've created a law to tax carbon emissions—no matter that it will kill jobs.”

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Gibson Ranch Privatization: Follow Up

The board of supervisors has agreed to study the privatization proposal, as reported by the Sacramento Bee, and that is very good news.

Unfortunately, the opposition—as can be seen by the staff report online (pp. 5-6)—build their opposition primarily from their in-house regional park proposal, which would increase taxes.

An excerpt.

“Developer and former congressman Doug Ose's proposal to take over Gibson Ranch Regional Park is still alive.

“That's because the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors went against the advice of the Regional Parks Department director and an advisory committee – both of which came out against Ose's proposal – and directed the county executive to negotiate with him.

“Ose has proposed a 50-year lease of the Elverta park and a multimillion-dollar capital investment from the county – terms that county staff opposed and supervisors said they couldn't support.

“A majority of supervisors, however, said they want to get the park reopened quickly and hope County Executive Steve Szalay can negotiate revised terms with Ose.

“The board also directed county staff to prepare a new request for proposals while Szalay is negotiating with Ose. That way, if the county is unable to come to terms with Ose, officials can quickly put out a new request for bids.

"There is a sense of urgency," Supervisor Don Nottoli said.

“About a dozen area residents and horse boarders attended Tuesday's meeting to show their support for Ose. A small but passionate group of horse owners have boarded their animals at the park for years and are supporting Ose, who would keep L&M Concession Management on to run the boarding stables.

"Please open up this park. Please negotiate with Doug Ose," resident Bobbie Sundberg implored the board.

“Resident Keith Weber, who ran unsuccessfully for the Board of Supervisors last spring, called the Ose proposal the county's last chance to find someone to open the park. "Take a drive out to Gibson and see how you feel as a community member driving up to a closed park," he said.

“Countering the supporters were a few parks advocates. They questioned the privatization of public parkland and worried that the move would hurt a long-term effort to create a regional park district.”

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Gibson Ranch Privatization

Hopefully, the County will not follow the advice reported in this article in the Sacramento Bee, and fully consider the proposition for privatization which is on the table and appears—given the very limited information publically available—to be one that is good for everyone.

That the project for privatization is headed by former public servant Doug Ose, who has an excellent history of caring for and helping the regional community, is reassuring.

An excerpt.

“If developer and former U.S. Rep. Doug Ose hopes to take over Gibson Ranch Park, it will be against the advice of Sacramento County officials and a special committee.

“The head of the county's Regional Parks Department and an outside advisory committee are recommending that the Board of Supervisors reject Ose's proposal to run the Elverta park as a for-profit venture.

“In addition, they are calling on the supervisors to broaden the search for organizations to run the park.

“The supervisors are scheduled to discuss Ose's proposal at today's board meeting.

"It's really not in the best interest of the county or community for the long term," said Janet Baker, Regional Parks director.

“County officials have been looking to offload responsibility for the 350- acre park since June, when supervisors passed a budget stripping the park's funding.

“At that time, the cash-strapped county asked for proposals. The bids were due in early September – about the time the park closed to the general public. Ultimately, only Ose submitted a bid to take over Gibson Ranch.

“The county had asked interested organizations to submit plans showing how they would operate the park under a five-year concession agreement, with the possibility of receiving two five-year extensions. Park officials want the option to take the park back when finances improve or possibly to include Gibson Ranch in a regional park system if voters approve such a district.

"Mr. Ose's proposal is very, very different," Baker said.

“County officials are refusing to make Ose's proposal public until after the board votes on it.

“County Counsel Robert Ryan said the county's policy is to not release proposals until the board acts on a staff recommendation. Even though Ose is the only bidder in this case, if the board rejects his proposal, the information could give competitors an unfair advantage in a second round of bidding, he said.”

Monday, November 08, 2010

A Wet Winter?

It certainly is starting out as one, and that is a very good thing, unless it gets too wet and then the lack of adequate flood protection reminds us of the failure of public leadership to be more concerned with public safety than esoteric environmental theories largely built on a belief that the natural environment—minus human beings—is superior to the human one, as the foundational theories of environmentalism, deep ecology, proclaim.

This article from the Sacramento Bee examines the possibility of a wet season.

An excerpt.

“Sunday's showers might be a sign of things to come: Scientists say a powerful La Niña effect could push cold storms into Northern California this winter, one after another.

"There's a good chance you're going to get a soaking," said Bill Patzert, an oceanographer with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

“Or maybe not, he said.

“During a La Niña year, cooler-than-normal temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean push the jet stream – and Pacific storms – north.

“The Pacific Northwest stays cold and rainy; the Southwest remains warm and dry.

“Sacramento, on the dividing line, can go either way.

“Patzert said this year he'd bet on wet.

"Because the jet stream is so strong," he said, "I think there's a better-than-even chance you're going to see Northern and Central California get lots of rain."

“La Niña is the flip side of El Niño – a weather pattern associated with warmer-than-normal temperatures in the Pacific and heavy rains to the south.

"Both of these climate phenomena, which typically occur every two to five years, influence weather patterns throughout the world and often lead to extreme weather events," the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in a news release warning of potential La Niña effects.

“Last year's El Niño resulted in record-breaking precipitation in some parts of the nation and record drought in others. La Niña has the potential for equal extremes, the agency said.”

Friday, November 05, 2010

Privatization, Two Views

This article from New Geography, looks at privatization as it should be—exemplified by former mayor Stephen Goldsmith in Indianapolis—and how it is becoming in some circles, the province of investors.

An excerpt.

“Privatization has long been advocated by many conservatives as a good government measure. Traditionally, privatization was used a tool that subjects government monopolies to competition from the marketplace, driving down costs and improving quality of service. Privatization pioneer Steve Goldsmith, former mayor of Indianapolis and now deputy mayor of New York City, used to apply what he called the “Yellow Pages test.” If he could open the Yellow Pages and find several companies providing a service, he wondered why government should be in that business.

“As Mayor, Goldsmith privatized dozens of city services in Indianapolis, saving the city an estimated $120 million the process. This ranged from contracting out services, to forming a public/private partnership to implement a $500 million infrastructure improvement plan to hiring private managers to run – but not own or lease – the airport and water utility.

“Today, sadly, privatization is less about Goldsmith style operational effectiveness and more about providing jackpots for financiers who stand at the core of a growing privatization-industrial complex. Cities and states salivate over ways to sell or lease off underperforming public asset for large payouts. With local governments cash-strapped and the public unwilling to pay more in taxes, it is politically difficult to even bring user fees to a market rate. Combined with the potential billions in payoffs – Indiana received $3.9 billion for its toll road and Chicago $1.1 billion for its parking meter system – the appeal is obvious.

“But these transactions differ markedly from the Goldsmith-style privatization. They are driven not by efficiencies but by an investment banker mindset focus on money and narrow parameters of the asset operations. They also provide enormous temptation to elected officials to grab the money now even at the expense of future generations. They are also rife with potential conflicts of interest and incentive problems.

“One major source of conflict comes with the professional advisors that drive the deals. Since long term leases involve so much money and are so complex, they require millions of dollars of services from investment banks, lawyers, financial advisors, etc. Unlike for typical government transactions such as issuing bonds or contracting out services like printing, building maintenance, or call centers, for which cities have some experience, the vast majority of cities have little in house expertise for complex financial transactions.

“Thus local officials are at the mercy of these out of town experts to give them the best advice they need to defend the public's interest. But what advice can we expect from these firms, who have a stake on highly leveraged deals? The people in the firm may be technically competent and possess the highest levels of personal integrity, but still are prisoners of a structural conflict of interest in promoting privatization transactions.”

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Marketing Yosemite

Well, not quite that extreme, but market principles are worth a look to deal with national park problems, as this article in the Los Angeles Times reports.

An excerpt.

“Ken Burns makes amazing documentaries, but even more amazing is that the Oct. 15 fluff piece on national parks by Burns and Dayton Duncan, "Preserving national treasures," made it to print in The Times.

“The article can be summed up as such: National parks are wonderful, and thank you President Obama for saying that. Unfortunately, there's no meat, no proposals, just nostalgia. But "where's the beef" when our antiquated parks could use a real makeover?

“Burns and Duncan rightly pay homage to Yosemite, "the home of spectacular waterfalls, silent groves of ancient trees and an unequaled alpine wilderness." They go on to highlight record attendance "in the midst of an economic downturn," similar to park attendance going up during the Depression.

“But relying on recessions and depressions to boost park attendance is a bad business model. In other words, national parks can't compete against other venues in good times; they can only compete when Americans don't have jobs or money. Moving parks closer to self-sufficiency would ensure their viability in the good and the bad times.

“So what does park visitation look like when the economy is thriving? Not great. Park visitation peaked in 1987. And in 2008, fewer people visited the national parks than they did 20 years ago. As the Economist cautioned in July 2008, when Americans lose their interest in the national parks again, "they will become less willing to pay for them through taxes."

“Regarding infrastructure, the National Parks Conservation Assn. notes that despite millions in stimulus money, chronic underfunding has left a backlog of about $8 billion in maintenance and preservation. The result: leaky sewer systems, crumbling roads and dilapidated buildings.

“Perhaps it's time to revisit the original vision of the national parks system. As noted by Holly Fretwell, the author of "Who is Minding the Federal Estate?," the park service's first director, Stephen Mather, believed that the ability to set appropriate fees and retain park receipts was important for responsible management, as doing so created a direct tie to those visiting and managing the resource. Under Mather's leadership, five parks became operationally self-sufficient, including Yosemite.”

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Railyards Update 351

Now that the investment group has taken control of the project, as reported by the Sacramento Bee, we hope they bring in a strong local developer to do the work, who has the depth of commitment to Sacramento to ensure this major project gets done and done well.

An excerpt.

“A week after dramatically taking ownership of Sacramento's railyard, an Illinois real estate firm has set up shop in a downtown high-rise with two immediate goals.

“Representatives of Inland American Real Estate Trust Inc. say they want to calm nerves in the capital city after a summer of uncertainty over the fate of the railyard, and to take quick steps to get the redevelopment project back on track.

“That includes working with the state to issue paychecks to railyard contractors who have done roadwork for several months without compensation. The state withheld grant funding as the site's future drifted in limbo.

“In a brief statement issued Friday, Inland also indicated that it is willing to listen to any development suggestions – including an arena – that could make sense for the site.

“The real estate investment trust took control of the 200-acre railyard site at an auction on the courthouse steps Oct. 22 after the previous owner, Atlanta-based Thomas Enterprises, couldn't pay its bills, including $193 million it owed Inland.

“It was an unusual move for Inland, done to protect investors from the bad loan. The company normally buys up-and-running, moneymaking properties such as hotels, shopping centers and apartments, not blank expanses of undeveloped dirt.

“City officials, however, say they are relieved and energized by the arrival of a deep-pocketed owner.

"We have a well-capitalized partner in the railyards," said Assistant City Manager John Dangberg. "We are definitely upbeat at this point."

“The previous owner, Thomas Enterprises, a development company, got pummeled in the economic downturn. In contrast, Inland's most recent balance sheet boasts $12 billion in assets, with 980 properties in its portfolio. Retail Traffic magazine recently ranked Inland the eighth largest retail real estate owner in the country.

“The 6-year-old company, one of five investment trusts grouped under the Inland American companies umbrella, also invests in office buildings, apartments and industrial centers.”