Friday, July 29, 2011

Suburbs Rule

Urbanists continue to tout the narrative that the suburbs are dying, while reality continues to intrude, as this article from New Geography reports.

An excerpt.

“For well over a decade urban boosters have heralded the shift among young Americans from suburban living and toward dense cities. As one Wall Street Journal report suggests, young people will abandon their parents’ McMansions for urban settings, bringing about the high-density city revival so fervently prayed for by urban developers, architects and planners.

“Some demographers claim that “white flight” from the city is declining, replaced by a “bright flight” to the urban core from the suburbs. “Suburbs lose young whites to cities,” crowed one Associated Press headline last year.

“Yet evidence from the last Census show the opposite: a marked acceleration of movement not into cities but toward suburban and exurban locations. The simple, usually inexorable effects of maturation may be one reason for this surprising result. Simply put, when 20-somethings get older, they do things like marry, start businesses, settle down and maybe start having kids.

“An analysis of the past decade’s Census data by demographer Wendell Cox shows this. Cox looked at where 25- to 34-year-olds were living in 2000 and compared this to where they were living by 2010, now aged 35 to 44. The results were surprising: In the past 10 years, this cohort’s presence grew 12% in suburban areas while dropping 22.7% in the core cities. Overall, this demographic expanded by roughly 1.8 million in the suburbs while losing 1.3 million in the core cities.

“In many ways this group may be more influential than the much ballyhooed 20-something. Unlike younger adults, who are often footloose and unattached, people between the ages of 35 and 44 tend to be putting down roots. As a result, they constitute the essential social ballast for any community, city or suburb.

“Losing this population represents a great, if rarely perceived, threat to many regions, particular older core cities. Rust Belt centers such as Cleveland and Detroit have lost over 30% of this age group over the decade.

“More intriguing, and perhaps counter-intuitive, “hip and cool” core cities like San Francisco, New York and Boston have also suffered double-digit percent losses among this generation. New York City, for example, saw its 25 to 34 population of 2000 drop by over 15% — a net loss of over 200,000 people — a decade later. San Francisco and Oakland, the core cities of the Bay Area, lost more than 20% of this cohort over the decade, and the city of Boston lost nearly 40%.”

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Supervisor’s Park Tax Increase

I watched the entire hearing on the tax increase proposal last Tuesday and contrary to this story in the Sacramento Bee, all the Supervisors agreed to was to ask staff to draft language which they could discuss and vote on in August, to determine if they would ask the state to pass legislation allowing them to put a tax increase on the ballot.

An excerpt.

“Sacramento County officials on Tuesday agreed to support a sales tax increase to fund the regional park system.

“The Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed to seek state legislation to allow a November 2012 election for a 0.1 percent sales tax increase.

“If approved by two-thirds of county voters, the tax would raise $17 million annually to support the county's 32 regional parks, including the popular American River Parkway.

“Such a tax would add 1 cent to a $10 purchase.

“The move came after a four-hour hearing, at which park advocates warned that the state legislative session offers only a small window this summer to move the proposed bill.

“There was also general agreement about the desire for a fix before another disastrous county budget cycle next year.

"The sense of urgency, I think, is palpable," said Supervisor Phil Serna.

“Support for the sales tax hike marks a partial victory for a group of park advocates that proposed the tax.

“The coalition, calling itself the Grassroots Working Group, also wants the county to support forming a new regional park district, with an independently elected board, to take over and manage the parks.

“Supervisors, however, were not willing to go that far yet. The board wants more time to study other governance options, as well as the specific structure of a new independent district, if that is the final path.”

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The River & Alcohol

Our organization was against the American River Parkway holiday alcohol ban when it was proposed, on the basis that the rowdy behavior of a few was being held against the moderate behavior of the many, and this recent article in the Sacramento Bee about an event on the river involving alcohol proves the point.

Drinking beer outdoors near water in the summer is such an all-American form of recreation that any banning of it seems an over-wrought response, and we would encourage a public safety presence whenever crowds are in the Parkway to handle the rowdy rather than a ban of a much cherished American pastime enjoyed by the many.

Besides, even though the story’s headline screamed out: Social media stir up big, boozy bash on American River, bring arrests and citations; there were only seven arrests among the thousands said to be in attendance, so how big and boozy could it have been?

An excerpt.

“County parks officials said Monday that a social media-spawned party that drew thousands of people to the American River on Sunday resulted in alcohol problems rivaling those they used to encounter before a holiday booze ban was implemented along a popular stretch of the river and parkway.

“Such non-holiday events as the one Sunday could lead parks officials to seek a year-round alcohol ban, although county lawmakers say implementing and enforcing such a ban would be a challenge.

“The Sacramento County Sheriff's Department on Monday was still totaling the number of arrests as a result of "Rafting Gone Wild."

“The event, which officials estimate drew 3,000 to 6,000 people to the stretch of the American River between Sunrise Boulevard and River Bend Park, was organized largely via Facebook and other social media. It also was through social media that the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department and park rangers learned of the event, and were able to beef up staffing in anticipation of the crowds.

"It really was a river gone wild Sunday," said Deputy Jason Ramos, Sheriff's Department spokesman.

"This was something that was organized, and it spread like wildfire via social media," he said.

“Although 10,000 to 12,000 people confirmed via Facebook that they planned to attend the event, Ramos said, many of those confirmations were from people outside the Sacramento area.

"I think the more mild weather probably kept the number down a bit," Ramos said.

“At least seven people were arrested and numerous citations were issued during the day, most for alcohol-related offenses, he said.”

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ditch Proposal

By the time this article from the Sacramento Bee of July 19th is posted one hopes the proposal to set up another parks bureaucracy and raise taxes to fund it, has been withdrawn.

It wasn’t. The board instructed staff to bring back the legislation language—to give them the option to ask Sacramento County residents to increase the sales tax by a percentage smaller than allowed now—in August.

An excerpt.

“A grass-roots proposal to fix Sacramento County's troubled parks system appears headed for a setback today, despite months of research and fundraising by a citizens group that formed in response to a county request for help.

“At issue is control: Will the county continue to own and operate its 32 parks, or should it turn them over to a new agency?

“A coalition of park advocates, calling itself the Grassroots Working Group, in May urged the Board of Supervisors to support the latter approach: a new park district funded by a special sales tax.

“County staff members, however, will urge their bosses in a report today to put aside that idea and consider a variety of other options.

“The parks coalition came into being more than a year ago after the former county administrator asked for ideas on how Sacramento County could stanch the steady erosion of its parks system, which includes the treasured American River Parkway.

“Successive years of budget cuts have gutted parks staffing by a third, resulting in poor maintenance of county parkland and rising concerns about public safety. The county also owns 6,000 acres of parkland that have never been opened to the public or provide limited access.

“The group raised $53,000 to study the issue, and a county staff member sat on the committee. It concluded the best fix would be to create an independent regional park district, similar to the respected East Bay Regional Park District, which owns parks in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

“The group recommended funding for the special district come from a 0.1 percent sales tax increase in Sacramento County, which would raise $17 million annually. The group hired a pollster, which found that 73 percent of area voters would support an even larger increase.

“Current law does not allow counties to propose sales tax increases smaller than 0.25 percent. So the group also asked that the county seek state legislation allowing for a smaller increase. It wants local voters to consider a single ballot measure in November 2012 that would form and fund the district.

“Legislation also is needed to ensure that the county can remain in charge of the district's formation.

“The Board of Supervisors ordered its staff to spend two months studying the issue and produce a recommendation. That report comes before the board today at 3:15 p.m., and it calls for another 90 days of study.

“It does not reject the idea of an independent district, but it rejects the need for special legislation. It also calls on the board to consider other governance and funding options first.

"We don't think there is an urgency on state legislation," said Steve Szalay, interim county administrator. "Our view is that we should have a full discussion about revenue and operations before any decisions are made about what the governance should be."

Monday, July 25, 2011

Parks Innovation by Ose

What Doug Ose has been able to accomplish at Gibson Ranch Park is exactly the type of innovation needed to be part of any discussion around other regional parks, including the American River Parkway.

His recent article in the Sacramento Bee is a must read.

An excerpt.

“For the past year, observers from the Grassroots Working Group to the editorial board of The Bee have consistently suggested that there are significant operational problems within the Sacramento County Department of Regional Parks and Open Space. I couldn't agree more.

“The primary argument has been that there is inadequate funding being allocated by the Board of Supervisors to the parks department to properly maintain the parklands under their control, and voters should therefore pass an increase in local sales taxes dedicated to parks. I couldn't agree less.

“In my view, the essential problem is that the world has changed and the parks department hasn't. Years ago, the department's charter was to acquire land and provide services funded by the county's general fund. In the last few years, it has become apparent that such an approach is not sustainable. The department has been slow to change – or actively resisted it – and now is in a financial corner. On top of that fiscal challenge, the department is saddled with work rules that constrain how it can respond to changing conditions.

“Here are the basic facts. The department controls more than 15,000 acres. Some years ago, a policy decision was made that county parklands shall not be allowed to have any commercial activities within their boundaries. Subsequent public outcry in favor of golf courses and raft rentals and the like has caused that policy to evolve over time, so we now have a hybrid policy where certain commercial activities are allowed but others aren't.

“Why are some commercial activities allowed and others not? If a proposal to develop a portion of the 15,000 acres noted above were to generate significant net revenue to Sacramento County, would that be a good thing or a bad thing?

“This is the crux of the problem.

"Somebody" determined that accumulating vast acreages of land is a good thing.

"Somebody" determined that revenue-generating enterprises located within publicly owned parklands is a bad thing.

“Now, "somebody" is struggling with how to fund the maintenance and operations of these vast acreages.

“Fortunately, there is a path out of this morass.

“First, stop making the problem larger. Place an immediate moratorium on further parkland acquisition/development or acceptances of parkland donations, which cost the county money.

“Second, decide what you want to be as a parks department. Given the long-term challenges of funding for collective bargaining agreements, health care and pensions, the department should evolve into a contract manager of partnerships with third-party operators that meet defined operating standards.

“Third, determine on a case-by-case basis which currently owned parklands are meeting a minimum level of active and passive recreational use by the public. Use actual numbers rather than estimates. Don't game the system to favor "treasured icons." Categorize each property as high-cost/low-use, low-cost/low-use, high-cost/high-use or low-cost/high-use. Keep the low-cost/high-use properties. If you have a property that is not meeting expectations, then get rid of it.

“Fourth, use proceeds from the sale of underutilized properties to fund the necessary repairs and/or maintenance for the retained properties. Concurrently, seek out a partner or partners who can operate the properties more efficiently – the agreement covering Effie Yeaw can serve as a model for such partnerships – and make a business deal with those partners.”

Friday, July 22, 2011

River Bridges

As a major two-river city, Sacramento is woefully lacking in bridges, and while this editorial from the Sacramento Bee is focused on bridges over the Sacramento River—which are sorely needed—there is also a need for more bridges over the American.

An excerpt.

“For more than a decade, there has been lots of talk, but precious little action, on another bridge across the Sacramento River.

“The time for dilly-dallying is over.

“The city councils in Sacramento (on Tuesday) and West Sacramento (on Wednesday) need to take the next step – and not just toward one new bridge, but two.

“The need for two additional spans – one north of the existing I Street, Tower and Pioneer bridges and one south of them – is the headline from both the most comprehensive study to date and a new regional transportation draft that the Sacramento Area Council of Governments board approved last month.

“The study, completed in February, identifies the most promising alternative in the north as a span from the Washington area in West Sacramento to the railyard in downtown Sacramento. Another possibility is upgrading or replacing the I Street Bridge with a wider span that includes bicycle and pedestrian lanes.

“City transportation officials also want to look further at a crossing from The Rivers in West Sacramento to the River District and Richards Boulevard area in Sacramento. There's already a pedestrian-bicycle bridge proposed at this site, near the planned California Indian Heritage Center.

“In the south, the study says two options are best. One is a bridge between Pioneer Bluff on the West Sacramento riverfront at 15th Street and the Broadway district in Sacramento at either Broadway or W and X streets. The second is a crossing linking Southport in West Sacramento at Linden Road and Land Park in Sacramento at Sutterville Road.”

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Local Governments, Parks, & Taxes

We referenced this article from City Journal yesterday and the issues it raises are crucial to understand regarding the move by many—including Sacramento—to increase taxes to pay for those services, including parks, which have literally been pushed out due to over-generous salary and pension benefits awarded to public employee unions by elected local leadership.

It may not be strictly a problem of not having enough money, but where the available money has been directed.

An excerpt.

“New Haven mayor John DeStefano has had a good relationship with his city’s municipal unions through most of his 17 years in office. But lately, those ties have frayed, thanks to the Democratic mayor’s claim that city workers’ wages and benefits—many granted by DeStefano himself in plusher years—have become dangerously unaffordable. DeStefano describes New Haven’s rising worker costs as “the Pac-Man of our budget, consuming everything in sight,” and he is laying off employees and exploring outsourcing to reduce expenses. The mayor’s actions brought angry police into the streets, blocking traffic and blaring sirens in protest. Members of a custodians’ union stormed out of a recent arbitration meeting, outraged by a mayoral proposal to save money. City unions even imported celebrity demagogue Al Sharpton to agitate for their cause.

“DeStefano’s plight will be familiar to mayors, city managers, city councils, and boards of education across America. The national media (as well as many policy experts) have focused on state budget battles, like the one in Wisconsin between Governor Scott Walker and public-employee unions. But the truth is that America’s problem with government-worker costs is disproportionately a local issue. Compensation, including wages and benefits, accounts for just 30 percent of state general-fund expenditures, the National Governors Association reports—which makes sense, since states also spend money on programs in which worker pay isn’t the main expense, such as Medicaid. In the typical city, town, or school district, by contrast, compensation costs generally range from 70 to 80 percent of the budget.

“Those compensation costs have soared over the years, as politicians made overgenerous promises to local government workers—not just pay but also the right to retire on full pensions at age 50 or 55, annual cost-of-living increases to those pensions, and full health care for life. These concessions haven’t merely resulted in big deficits; they have pushed many localities to the edge of fiscal ruin. Without substantial reform—soon—local taxpayers are likely to face a lethal combination of major tax increases and crumbling services.

“Pensions are an enormous part of the problem. New Haven’s $475 million budget, for instance, is projected to grow by just $4 million this fiscal year, but the city’s pension and health-care costs will rise $12 million, forcing cuts elsewhere. In San Francisco, pensions consume about 14 percent of the budget, and rising retirement bills for city workers accounted for one-third of this year’s $306 million deficit. Pension and health benefits account for 20 percent of the $500 billion that the nation’s nearly 14,000 public school districts spend annually. In a recent National League of Cities survey, nearly 80 percent of municipal finance officers listed rising pension payments as one of their most significant budgetary problems.

“Here again, the problem is disproportionately local. Yes, state-sponsored pension funds have accumulated anywhere from $750 billion to $3 trillion in unfunded pension and retiree health-care liabilities, depending on how the calculations are made. A huge portion of those liabilities, however, is actually owed by cities, towns, and school districts. States employ just 5.2 million of the 13 million active workers participating in state-sponsored pension funds; the rest are local employees, often teachers, who work for districts too small to manage their own pensions. Experts agree that pension costs for both states and localities are going to skyrocket. But states currently spend just 4 percent of their budgets on pensions, while many municipalities already spend 15 to 20 percent.

“Pensions are certainly at the heart of the budget crisis in Costa Mesa, California, a city of 110,000 residents that made news earlier this year when it decided to contract out more than a dozen city services and send pink slips to 43 percent of its employees. Costa Mesa’s workers, like those in many California municipalities, participate in the statewide CalPERS (California Public Employees’ Retirement System). Ten years ago, the city’s annual pension bill from CalPERS was $5 million. Since then, it has tripled to $15 million—16 percent of the city’s $93 million budget—and Mayor Jim Righeimer has warned that it could reach a staggering $25 million by 2015. Since these bills are for services already delivered, there’s no clear way to cut them; even the radical steps that Costa Mesa has taken will limit only future costs.

“What’s happening to Costa Mesa is no exception in the Golden State. Earlier this year, California’s Little Hoover Commission, a government oversight agency, observed: “Barring a miraculous market advance and sustained economic expansion, no government entity—especially at the local level—will be able to absorb the blow [from rising pensions] without severe cuts to services.” Los Angeles’s retiree costs currently make up an already troubling 18 percent of its budget, for instance, but the commission estimated that the percentage would swell to 37 percent by 2015. Retiree costs just for L.A.’s public-safety workers could double to $700 million annually, “enough . . . to fund a second police department in a major city.”

“The pension situation is even graver elsewhere in California. Anaheim is already spending 22 percent of its $252 million budget on pensions, and its mayor estimates that pension contributions could increase by 50 percent, or about $27 million, in four years. San Francisco’s comptroller has estimated that his city’s pension bill will rise from $357 million this year to $422 million next year and then to $800 million in just a few years. San Jose’s pension costs for police and firefighters have already quadrupled over the past decade. Without reform, the city estimates that its yearly pension costs, $63 million in 2000, will swell to $650 million in 2015.”

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Park Tax Increase Support Perplexing

I am always somewhat perplexed when a private enterprise, which I assume the Sacramento Bee still is, insist the only answer to helping parks is more taxes rather than exploring other options, like the public/private partnerships which have been done with Gibson Ranch Park and the Effie Yeaw Nature Center recently, and the Sacramento Zoo sometime ago; but that is what the Bee, in this editorial is insisting, increasing taxes.

Increasing taxes was appropriate decades ago when local, state, and national governments were growing to serve the basic public priorities of public safety, transportation infrastructure, public safety nets, etc.; but as has been all too well documented—by the Sacramento Bee about the number of county retirees with six figure retirements while still young enough to take on new jobs while drawing their retirement benefits, and by City Journal about the retirement benefits problem nationally—government has gotten so bloated that feeding it any more taxes has become counter productive.

An excerpt from the editorial.

“Over a period of years, the elected Sacramento County Board of Supervisors has allowed the regional park system, including the American River Parkway, to undergo a slow, steady decline.

“Finally, supervisors reached the point where they were considering zeroing out parks from the county budget. The county could not guarantee safe, clean and properly maintained parks. It could not develop long-held parklands, which have limited or no public access. It could not prepare a park and trail system for the population of the future.

“Per-resident general fund spending on regional parks dropped from $5.44 per year a decade ago to a paltry $1.33 in 2009-10. Today, the general fund provides just 19 percent of the regional parks budget, with fees providing 41 percent and other sources providing the balance.

“Supervisors did the right thing last May, committing to study governing and financing alternatives with the aim of placing a measure on the ballot in November 2012. They vowed to keep the parks budget at bare bones until then. So now comes decision time.

“The Grassroots Working Group charged with studying alternatives met once a week for a year. It raised private funds to hire the Trust for Public Land to study five options and commissioned a firm to do scientific polling of likely voters.

“At the backdrop were two major failures: An unsuccessful effort in 2007 to create a joint powers authority for the American River Parkway and an unsuccessful effort in 1994 to create a dependent parks district with county supervisors as the governing board and funding from $10 a year in property taxes.

“Voters clearly indicated they want something other than the current failed model, with county supervisors running the show, and they don't want property owners alone sharing the burden for parks.

“So the Grassroots Working Group recommended an independent parks district, based on the East Bay Regional Parks model, to run the parks, with its own elected board.

“It would be funded by a sales tax, so people outside the county who visit parks would pay, too. Twenty-five percent of the funds would go to the 17 special parks districts and four city park systems, including Sacramento, Folsom, Galt and Isleton, and not just to the county's regional park system.”

Monday, July 18, 2011

Sunflower Valley

I did not know we were at the world center of sunflower growing, as reported by the Sacramento Bee, and how cool is that!

Sunflower seeds are the primary food we feed the wild birds and squirrels that visit us daily, so it is nice to know there is an endless supply close by.

An excerpt.

“Maine has blueberries. Iowa has corn. Midsummer in the Sacramento Valley arrives with a splash of gold across the valley floor.

“Sunflowers are in bloom.

"It's just a sea of yellow out there," said Ken Scarlett, president of Woodland-based Eureka Seeds. "They're beautiful."

“Scarlett stood on the edge of a 100-acre field of sunflowers south of UC Davis' Mondavi Center, along Interstate 80.

“The sun was setting toward the Vaca Mountains, and the Delta breeze stirred the green stalks. The flowers, taller than a man, all faced east.

“Earlier in their life cycles, they would have turned in unison to face the sun as it traveled through the sky, a trait known as heliotropism that is particularly associated with sunflowers.

“Thousands of bees swarmed around the foot-wide blossoms in a pollinating frenzy. They carried pollen from the male flowers to stigmas in the females, which produce seeds.

“After their job is done, the male flowers are plowed under.

“Adults find the huge golden blooms uplifting. Children draw them to depict the sun.

"Everyone likes the look of the sunflower," Scarlett said.

“The Sacramento region is the world's center of sunflower seed production. It's at least a $50 million crop in this area, Scarlett said.

“Dry summers, good soils and a relative lack of pests and diseases create ideal conditions, experts said.

“About 40,000 acres across the Sacramento region – mainly in Yolo, Solano, Colusa and Sutter counties – are planted in sunflowers, Scarlett said.

“Virtually all the sunflowers in this area are grown for their seeds.”

Friday, July 15, 2011

Fish Farming

It is the wave of the future and but another sign of human technology improving natural resources, putting more—and improved—fish on the table and compensating for species-in-the-wild depletion from commercial fishing, as reported by the San Diego Union-Tribune.

An excerpt.

“The leader of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration visited Carlsbad Monday to launch a national initiative for creating jobs and increasing seafood production by fostering public-private partnerships in fish farming.

“Agency officials said the so-called Aquaculture Technology Transfer Initiative will support projects that show promise for creating jobs while maintaining environmental protections.

“It’s a tricky balance for NOAA, which didn’t announce any money for the project and faces opposition from some environmental groups that oppose aquaculture as a source of ocean pollution.

“NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco is in San Diego this week for an international convention about managing tuna and other far-ranging species. On Monday, she toured a fish farm in Carlsbad that is run by the nonprofit Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute to augment the wild population of white sea bass.

“This facility really shows what potential exists in expanding sustainable marine aquaculture in the U.S,” Lubchenco said. “As we turn the corner to ending overfishing with wild-caught fisheries, I think it’s particularly important to simultaneously build a sustainable aquaculture industry here in the United States.”

“Lubchenco said the national initiative was part of an attempt to grow aquaculture by helping to develop technologies that advance the science, prioritizing grant money for innovative work, offering guidance for projects in the regulatory process and other measures. She said the agency was looking to leverage outside funding to support up to six cutting-edge efforts.

“While there are no commercial fish farms in federal waters on the West Coast, Hubbs-SeaWorld in 2009 tried to get permission for a large-scale research project using tens of thousands of striped bass off Mission Beach. Those plans were tangled in regulations and never materialized — but the Obama administration’s increasingly vocal support of aquaculture is raising hopes that the project could be revived.

“Don Kent, president and chief executive of the research institute, compared developing aquaculture techniques to building an aircraft. After years of growing fish at the Carlsbad facility, he said, “It’s time to take that technology and fly it.”

“Lubchenco said it’s too early for that.

“There are still a lot of questions to be answered,” she said. “What we are signaling with this announcement is our desire to work together to get the answers.”

“In June, the Department of Commerce and NOAA released broad national policies they said supported sustainable marine aquaculture. Lubchenco called fish farming “a critical component to meeting increasing global demand for seafood.”

“Americans import about 84 percent of their seafood, half of which is from aquaculture. The U.S. trade deficit in seafood tops $10 billion and continues to grow, while domestic fish farming supplies about 5 percent of the seafood consumed in the United States. Domestic production is largely on land-based waterways, ponds and coastal state waters, not federal waters that start 3 miles offshore.”

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Sacramento Flooding

Sacramento is easily the most flood prone major river city in the country, but, had the initial plans to build Shasta Dam to its originally engineered height (as reported by the Los Angeles Times) and build Auburn Dam (which Congressman McClintock supports) that would no longer be the case, and the inevitability of major floods in the Valley would have been substantially reduced.

A recent article in the Sacramento Bee failed to note those two important facts.

An excerpt from the Los Angeles Times article.

“Raising Shasta Dam has been under on-again, off-again consideration for at least two decades. Some of the most detailed studies date back to the 1980s, when Don Hodel, who served as energy secretary and then Interior secretary under President Reagan, proposed the project as an alternative source of water for San Francisco if Hetch Hetchy Dam in Yosemite National Park were knocked down.

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

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

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

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

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

“Still, tripling the size of Shasta Lake, on paper at least, would store nine times the projected 2020 water deficit for the Sacramento, San Joaquin and Tulare Lake basins during normal water years.”

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Sacramento Ranking Higher than San Francisco

That’s what this article from New Geography says, ranking the next future boom towns, with Sacramento coming in at 29th and San Francisco at 42nd and San Jose at 45th , very cool.

An excerpt.

“What cities are best positioned to grow and prosper in the coming decade?

“To determine the next boom towns in the U.S., with the help of Mark Schill at the Praxis Strategy Group, we took the 52 largest metro areas in the country (those with populations exceeding 1 million) and ranked them based on various data indicating past, present and future vitality.

“We started with job growth, not only looking at performance over the past decade but also focusing on growth in the past two years, to account for the possible long-term effects of the Great Recession. That accounted for roughly one-third of the score. The other two-thirds were made up of a broad range of demographic factors, all weighted equally. These included rates of family formation (percentage growth in children 5-17), growth in educated migration, population growth and, finally, a broad measurement of attractiveness to immigrants — as places to settle, make money and start businesses.

“We focused on these demographic factors because college-educated migrants (who also tend to be under 30), new families and immigrants will be critical in shaping the future. Areas that are rapidly losing young families and low rates of migration among educated migrants are the American equivalents of rapidly aging countries like Japan; those with more sprightly demographics are akin to up and coming countries such as Vietnam.

“Many of our top performers are not surprising. No. 1 Austin, Texas, and No. 2 Raleigh, N.C., have it all demographically: high rates of immigration and migration of educated workers and healthy increases in population and number of children. They are also economic superstars, with job-creation records among the best in the nation.

“Perhaps less expected is the No. 3 ranking for Nashville, Tenn. The country music capital, with its low housing prices and pro-business environment, has experienced rapid growth in educated migrants, where it ranks an impressive fourth in terms of percentage growth. New ethnic groups, such as Latinos and Asians, have doubled in size over the past decade.”

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Funding for Parks

Volunteers and nonprofit groups able to tap into philanthropic funding, is exactly the type of approach signature parks facing funding problems, like Land Park, can do, and they are taking the appropriate steps, as reported in the Sacramento Bee.

An excerpt.

“As City Hall steadily cuts back its funding for parks maintenance, many of Sacramento's neighborhoods have mobilized armies of volunteers to prune, weed and pick up trash.

“Along with neighborhood watches and community center programming, it's another case of neighborhoods shouldering the load for a city government that no longer provides the services it once did.

“Over the past four years, the budget for parks maintenance in the city has been cut by more than 50 percent. With so little remaining, city officials have come to rely on volunteers.

“As a result, the number of organized volunteer groups helping with park maintenance has exploded, from five to more than 40 in the past five years. Several more groups are expected to debut in the coming months, city officials said.

"Without them," said Dave Mitchell, the operations manager for the city's Department of Parks and Recreation, "you might see the lawn get mowed, but that's basically it."

“Before budget cuts hammered park funding, the city could get by with its own workers and the help of service organizations such as Kiwanis and the Boy Scouts. Soon, that wasn't enough.

“Mitchell said the influx of volunteers began with people living across from parks and a handful of neighborhood associations. It eventually became much more organized.

“Nowhere is the reliance upon a structured volunteer group more evident than in William Land Park, the city's largest.

“Neighborhood residents organized a volunteer corps last May after the number of full-time parks workers dedicated to the park fell from more than 50 to six. Now, the Land Park Volunteer Corps has a roster of 300 workers and has taken in nearly $25,000 in donations, sponsorships and grants from local elected officials.

"When you look at Sacramento, you will see that parks are the focal points of so many of our neighborhoods," said Craig Powell, the president of the Land Park Volunteer Corps. "They really are our community centers and the center of our neighborhood identities."

“The Land Park Volunteer Corps, which is applying for 501(c)3 status, works once a month. Volunteers prune, weed and provide fresh planting – chores the city no longer can afford to do itself.”

Monday, July 11, 2011

Levees & Trees

We recently posted on this, and, in an excellent article from the Sacramento Bee, by UCD Environmental Engineering Professor Jay Lund, the case is presented with balance and insight.

An excerpt.

“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' decision to enforce a policy of removing large vegetation from many miles of Central Valley levees has caused quite a stir.

“Both sides assert noble and worthy causes – environmental and recreation interests want to protect trees and bushes on levees, and public safety demands vegetation removal. Both sides are right.

“Sadly, California has set aside little room for both the environment and flood safety, so these important causes must fight over thin strips of levee that currently provide poor habitat and poor flood protection.

“Authorities can more effectively inspect levees when they are free of trees. Most levees fail before over-topping, and usually give warning (through slumping, animal burrows, or seeping water) before collapsing. That allows some time for repair and evacuation. Emergency repairs also proceed faster without vegetation. Limiting vegetation also might introduce fewer potential problems from decaying roots or uprooted falling trees.

“Worldwide, in countries such as the Netherlands and China, serious levee systems are cleared of trees.

“Nevertheless, the dilemma is real.

“Most levees prevent flooding for only a few days or weeks in the few years when major floods occur. More than 99 percent of the time, levees are used primarily for recreation and habitat. They are places where people can go up and see their rivers.

“Levees with trees are clearly more attractive, except when they need to be inspected. If the levee protects little of value, then perhaps a case can be made that reliability can be sacrificed for protecting a levee's habitat and aesthetics. Alas, urban levees, protecting homes and businesses from floods, are the ones that are the most valued for recreation and cooling shade.

“Levees can be built for both flood and non-flood purposes by widening, sheet-piling levee cores, improving drains, and other means, to allow vegetation without hindering flood protection. However, building multi-functional levees has financial costs.

“In urban areas, where multiple purposes are most valuable, land for widening levees is awkward and expensive to acquire.”

Friday, July 08, 2011

Environmentalist Religion Grows

In our 2006 report on the Auburn Dam Policy Environment, we examined the history of the environmentalist movement and how it has become a religion, which, according to this article in the New York Times, is still growing.

An excerpt.

“WHEN the anchorman Howard Beale uttered his famous vituperations in the 1976 film “Network” (“I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”), he was a grizzled, alcoholic veteran of the television rat race, at the climax of a long, slow boil.

“Rachael Kleinberger was luckier (or smarter): she already knew she wanted out at age 25, quitting her job at a reality-TV production company for a position at a nonprofit organization focused on the environment.

“I want to do something helpful,” she said, “or do something at the end of the day that’s like, ‘This makes me feel good that I spent this much time doing it.’ ”

“One doesn’t leave a promising media job for just anything these days. Ms. Kleinberger is one of a new wave of recent college graduates entering a career field that, like blogging and social media strategy, hardly existed a decade ago: environmental sustainability.

“Suddenly, “sustainability” seems to resonate with the sex appeal of “dot com” or “start-up,” appealing to droves of ambitious young innovators. Amelia Byers, operations director for, a Web site that lists paid and unpaid opportunities for nonprofit groups and social enterprise companies — some 5,000 of which are environmental organizations — said the number of jobs related to environmental work has roughly tripled in the last three years. “A lot of new graduates are coming out of a world where volunteerism and service has been something that has helped define their generation,” she said. “Finding a job with meaning is an important value to them.”

“The rapid expansion of green jobs isn’t confined to the nonprofit sector. There is money to be made here as well. Ivan Kerbel, director of career development for the Yale School of Management, a graduate-level business program, noted that environmental issues like reducing waste and carbon footprints were increasingly important to corporations of all kinds, something business students are recognizing. Even ultra-ambitious M.B.A. candidates with C-suite aspirations are integrating issues like sustainability into their education, he said.”

Thursday, July 07, 2011

H Street Bridge Redo

As reported by the River Park Association News, page 5, the bridge, which is the one in the photo gracing our website, is being renovated and resurfaced by the Department of Transportation, and should be done by the end of the year.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Government Funding & Pension Fund Returns

Following up on yesterday’s post, a large part of the lack of government funding—especially at the local level—is the unrealistic rate of return on pension fund investments used to calculate set asides, as this article from the Sacramento Bee explains.

What leaps out as a solution, is legislation, limiting projected investment returns on pension funds to the historical rate of return (fourth graph down at the jump) which, from 1950-2009 is about 7%.

An excerpt from the Bee article.

“Recently I wrote that culpability for rising pension costs lies with pension fund officials and politicians, not public employees or Wall Street. That conclusion surprised some because conventional wisdom is that pension problems started only after pensions were increased and the stock market crashed in 2008.

“But pension costs started rising before 2008 and would have risen even without those increases.

“Here's why.

“For pensions to work right, enough money must be set aside when the promises are made so that the combination of those set-asides and investment earnings on those set-asides will yield enough money when the promises come due. The key is to set aside enough. If too little is set aside, there will be make-up payments.

“Establishing the level of set-asides is the responsibility of pension funds and politicians and is a function of how well they expect investments to perform over the extremely long period between promise and payment. The higher the expected return, the lower the set-aside. This is where the pension problem is created.

“In order to keep set-asides artificially low in the short term, pension funds have been basing set-asides on the assumption that equity markets in the 21st century will grow 40 percent faster than equity markets grew in the 20th century. That means pension funds are assuming that the stock market, which grew 175 times in a very successful 20th century, will grow more than 1,750 times in the 21st century, or 10 times as much. That's not a typo – that's the power of compounding.”

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Government Funding

The ongoing tragedy that keeps coming back to out-of-control public unions rewarding members way beyond the ability of local governments to pay, which is having huge impacts on funding for other priorities such as parks—with the willing support of those same local governments, including our hometown—is a malady that stretches across the country, as this article from the Wall Street Journal notes.

An excerpt.

“Although Democratic Mayor John DeStefano has enjoyed a good relationship with the New Haven, Conn., municipal unions through most of his 17 years in office, lately those ties have frayed. He says that workers' wages and benefits have become "the Pac-Man of our budget, consuming everything in sight," and must be cut. His budget-trimming proposals, including calls to privatize some jobs, have brought angry city workers into the streets in protest, and celebrity protester Al Sharpton to agitate for their cause.

“While the national media has focused on state budget face-offs between government unions and governors such as Wisconsin's Scott Walker, municipal officials like Mr. DeStefano are engaged in their own budget warfare. Wages and benefits account for 30% of state general fund expenditures, according to data from the National Governors Association. But U.S. Census surveys show that in the typical town or school district, employee pay and benefits can consume from 70% to 80% of the budget.

“Pensions are an enormous part of the problem. While pension payments now consume about 4% of state budgets, many municipalities are already spending 15% to 20% of their finances on pension costs. Earlier this year, California's Little Hoover Commission, a government oversight agency, observed: "Barring a miraculous market advance and sustained economic expansion, no government entity—especially at the local level—will be able to absorb the blow [from rising pensions] without severe cuts to services."

“Costa Mesa, Calif. (population 110,000) made news earlier this year when it sent layoff notices to 43% of its employees. In 10 years, the city's annual pension bill increased to $15 million from $5 million and now consumes 16% of the city's $93 million budget. In nearby Anaheim, pensions already account for 22% of its $252 million budget. San Jose's pension costs for police and firefighters have quadrupled in a past decade. Without reform, the city estimates that its yearly pension costs, $63 million in 2000, will swell to $650 million in 2015.

“Elsewhere the numbers are even scarier. Chicago's unfunded public pension fund liabilities are estimated by Joshua Rauh of Northwestern University and Robert Novy-Marx of the University of Rochester at $44 billion—nearly eight times annual city tax revenues. New York City's annual pension contributions were $1.5 billion (6% of city revenues) in 2002. They've exploded to an estimated $8.4 billion (18% of city revenues) in 2012.”

Monday, July 04, 2011

Friday, July 01, 2011

Environmentalism & Fracking

Environmentalists—beyond the early years when much of their work was very good, and still sometimes is—who are driven by the ideology of the Deep Ecology Platform which defines virtually all technology, especially that which extracts resources from disturbing the earth, as evil; are now doing all they can to stop fracking.

Fortunately, this Wall Street Journal article reports the facts.

An excerpt.

“The U.S. is in the midst of an energy revolution, and we don't mean solar panels or wind turbines. A new gusher of natural gas from shale has the potential to transform U.S. energy production—that is, unless politicians, greens and the industry mess it up.

“Only a decade ago Texas oil engineers hit upon the idea of combining two established technologies to release natural gas trapped in shale formations. Horizontal drilling—in which wells turn sideways after a certain depth—opens up big new production areas. Producers then use a 60-year-old technique called hydraulic fracturing—in which water, sand and chemicals are injected into the well at high pressure—to loosen the shale and release gas (and increasingly, oil).

“The resulting boom is transforming America's energy landscape. As recently as 2000, shale gas was 1% of America's gas supplies; today it is 25%. Prior to the shale breakthrough, U.S. natural gas reserves were in decline, prices exceeded $15 per million British thermal units, and investors were building ports to import liquid natural gas. Today, proven reserves are the highest since 1971, prices have fallen close to $4 and ports are being retrofitted for LNG exports.

“The shale boom is also reviving economically suffering parts of the country, while offering a new incentive for manufacturers to stay in the U.S. Pennsylvania's Department of Labor and Industry estimates fracking in the Marcellus shale formation, which stretches from upstate New York through West Virginia, has created 72,000 jobs in the Keystone State between the fourth quarter of 2009 and the first quarter of 2011.

“The Bakken formation, along the Montana-North Dakota border, is thought to hold four billion barrels of oil (the biggest proven estimate outside Alaska), and the drilling boom helps explain North Dakota's unemployment rate of 3.2%, the nation's lowest.

“All of this growth has inevitably attracted critics, notably environmentalists and their allies. They've launched a media and political assault on hydraulic fracturing, and their claims are raising public anxiety. So it's a useful moment to separate truth from fiction in the main allegations against the shale revolution.

“• Fracking contaminates drinking water. One claim is that fracking creates cracks in rock formations that allow chemicals to leach into sources of fresh water. The problem with this argument is that the average shale formation is thousands of feet underground, while the average drinking well or aquifer is a few hundred feet deep. Separating the two is solid rock. This geological reality explains why EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, a determined enemy of fossil fuels, recently told Congress that there have been no "proven cases where the fracking process itself has affected water."