Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Oil Drill/Spill Response

While not knowing many of the details surrounding the issue of oil spill response, as reported by the Sacramento Bee, it is clearly crucial that California maintain an ability to respond effectively to any oil spill along our shoreline.

And, an important addition, we should certainly be moving towards allowing more drilling for oil—covered by the highest level of protection available—along our coastline.

An excerpt.

“Standing on the deck of the Exxon Valdez within hours after the tanker ran aground in March 1989, I watched 11 million gallons of toxic crude oil drift in a thick mat toward the shoreline of Alaska's Prince William Sound.

“As Alaska commissioner of environmental conservation, I knew the first few hours of an oil or hazardous-substance discharge are crucial. The ability to respond to an oil spill – and respond quickly – is critical to reducing harm to ocean life, coastal communities and livelihoods.

“Last year's BP oil disaster off the coast of Louisiana was yet another tragic reminder of the importance of both prevention and response preparedness. And here in California, recent experience also underscores the importance of oil spill prevention and response: In just the past five years, the vessels Cosco Busan, Dubai Star and DaTang 18 have made headlines and destroyed ocean life by spilling fuel off our coast.

“With all of this evidence in front of us, it is hard to understand how a common-sense proposal designed simply to maintain California's oil spill prevention and response training capacity could be at serious risk in the Legislature.

“Here's how it works: California's oil spill prevention and response programs are primarily managed by the Office of Spill Prevention and Response, and paid for by the Oil Spill Prevention and Administration Fund. The fund comes from a 5 cent fee on each barrel of crude oil or petroleum product delivered to a marine terminal in California. That is, funding for oil spill prevention and response training comes not from taxpayers, but from the oil companies themselves – companies that have, by the way, posted massive profits in the past two quarters.”

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Yes, Tax Increases as a Default Solution

Which is the answer to the question the Sacramento Bee editorial poses “is anything sadder than padlocked pools”.

The other answer presented by the editorial, to give money to the government nonprofit, doesn’t work so well since people have became somewhat questioning with government’s ability to manage money and public services efficiently.

What is instead called for here, and noted in the editorial, is an encouragement of local groups—nonprofit, profit, or otherwise—to adopt local parks and recreational facilities and, according to their ability and resources and still provided a certain baseline funding from government, take care of valuable recreational resources for the enjoyment of the adjacent community of support.

An excerpt from the editorial.

“Swim time is almost over at Sacramento's public pools.

“Only six of 13 city pools opened this summer, and they'll all be closed for the season by Labor Day. Next summer, only three pools are to open. In a city of 466,000, that's a disgrace even in these hard times.

“City Hall needs all the help it can get to keep pools open. But by not asking loudly enough and by not making donations easier, the city is missing out on a potential lifeline.

“Jonathan Rewers, chairman of the city's Parks and Recreation Commission, says the city needs to do a better job of telling the community that public pools are a "vital service." They are also smart policy: If kids aren't frolicking in pools, they could be getting in trouble on the street.

“This is a prime opportunity for a civic-minded corporation to make a sizable gift that would buy priceless good will. Some feelers have gone out, but with no success.

“The city also ought to have a formal matching donation program. If a neighborhood association raises a significant sum – say at least half the $100,000 it costs to run a city pool for a year – the city should come up with the rest.

“Rewers says the city needs to better publicize the donation programs that do exist.

“Gifts to Share, the city's 26-year-old nonprofit partner, is the conduit through which residents, businesses and community groups can support parks and recreation, cultural, education and neighborhood improvement projects. More than $1.2 million went through it last year….

“Rewers and other parks advocates are pushing for a citywide property tax assessment for parks maintenance, including pools, on the 2012 ballot. Residents would get to decide how important keeping up parks and keeping open pools is to them.”

A rather devastating response is within this letter to the Sacramento Bee editor today.

"First, cut pool costs

"According to the city, it costs $22,000 per season to operate a wading pool. Water, electricity and chemicals account for $8,000. It costs $14,000 to train and provide a lifeguard, based on 35 hours a week.

"Before asking neighborhood groups to raise funds for pools, a reality check is in order. My swimming pool is eight times the size of a city wading pool and it costs $2,000 for pool service and electricity for a year. With the average pay of a lifeguard at $12 per hour, a season's pay is less than $3,500. There seems to be exceptionally high management overhead.

"I'd love to contribute, but would think twice if the city set the fundraising bar at inflated costs. The city needs a new management model before asking the community to chip in to fund the costs of pool operations.

– Cecily Hastings, Sacramento"

Monday, August 29, 2011

Public/Private Partnerships

We believe strongly in the efficient governing of public lands and waters, as expressed in this editorial in the Sacramento Bee; but rather than defaulting to government solutions, efficient governing can also be obtained by partnering with business, as we are seeing with the new partnership between Sacramento County and Gibson Ranch Park LLC, which we noted previously.

Perhaps the public lands lease program can be contracted out more efficiently than managed in-house.

An excerpt from the Bee editorial.

“The people of California own the waters and beds of the state's rivers, streams, lakes, bays and estuaries. They own the waters and tidelands along the 1,100-mile coastline, out to three miles offshore. And they own lands granted by the federal government in 1853 to benefit public education.

“The State Lands Commission – composed of the current lieutenant governor (Gavin Newsom), controller (John Chiang) and finance director (Ana Matosantos) – manages these public lands.

“Some lands bring in considerable revenue from leases – $426.5 million last year. But, as a recent Bureau of State Audits report shows, they could bring in even more.

“Though California halted new offshore drilling leases after the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, existing leases continue to be the big revenue-generator for State Lands – $402 million in 2010-11. Most of the rest comes from marine terminals, industrial wharves, commercial marinas and pipelines.

“Yet the time lag between expiration of old leases and finalization of new leases means outdated rents can go on for years, a loss to the state.

“California's aggressive safety program – better than Texas and Louisiana – causes some of the lag; the state doesn't renew a lease without comprehensive environmental analysis. But, as the state auditor points out, expiring leases should have provisions for rent updates, so that delays in the lease renewal process don't cost the state revenue.

“For example, at the Tesoro Amorco and Avon marine oil terminals at Martinez, which have complicated issues, rent reviews have been approved and rent is up to date, though new leases aren't yet in place. Do this consistently.”

Friday, August 26, 2011

Golden Necklace Connection

One of the projects our organization supports is the eventual construction of a trail system connecting the site of the birth of the gold rush at Coloma to Sacramento, the gateway to the gold fields.

We call this trail project The Golden Necklace, and have written about it in our 2007 research report Governance, Ecoregionalism, & Heritage: A Policy Primer, (pp. 17-27)

The trail is envisioned as beginning in Coloma, running southwest along the South Fork of the American River over the Salmon Falls Bridge, southwest along Folsom Lake to connect with the American River Parkway, then running southwest to the confluence with the Sacramento River, and then running south along the Sacramento River to the historic Chinese town of Locke, and then running northeast up the Cosumnes River Preserve, then turning north on the Folsom South Canal Trail, connecting back to the American River Parkway at Lake Natoma.

A recent story in The Sacramento Press about the El Dorado Trail being considered as part of the rails to trails effort connecting Lake Tahoe to Sacramento is a welcome addition.

An excerpt.

“The El Dorado Trail stretches from South Lake Tahoe to the western El Dorado county line and runs along the Sacramento Placerville Train Corridor (SPTC) from Placerville West. This trail is partially developed (witness the newest, very heavily used, section from Forni Road to Missouri Flat Road) and could eventually be a hiking, biking, equestrian connection of South Lake Tahoe to Folsom. From Folsom the American River Parkway connects to Davis and eventually to San Francisco.

“The people of El Dorado County purchased the rights to the El Dorado county portion of the SPTC in 1995 under the auspices of the 1983 National Trail System act (better known as the “Rails to Trails” act). This act recognized that the national system of rail corridors was in danger of being abandoned and lost due to a change in transportation efficiencies, and Congress set out to save the corridors by “railbanking” them. The thrust of “railbanking” is simple:
• It allows local jurisdictions to preserve the rail corridors by establishing trails until, and if, active commercial rail use is needed again.
• If commercial rail use becomes viable again, in the future, then the commercial rail companies have the absolute right to lay new track, at their expense, and re-take the corridor.
• It allows the commercial rail companies to leave their existing assets in place (such as trestles and cuts and fills) and not have to return the land to prior status.
• It preempts trail development on the corridors from environmental processes as rails are simply being replaced by trails.
• It maintains the integrity of the corridor land use and prevents adjacent land owners from attempting to take railbanked land (this land use issue was settled in the Preseault case before the US Supreme Court in 1990).

“Whether existing track is removed or stays is inconsequential to the National Trail System Act or the right of a rail company to re-take the corridor in the future, as long as the interim use is for trails.”

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Government & Business

This article from the San Francisco Chronicle about the problems California has in collecting fees from business for using government land highlights the apparently inherent difficulty government—at least in our state—has dealing effectively with business at all.

While this is an unfortunate trend, it is one that is changing in Sacramento County, as we saw with the very successful Gibson Ranch Park transfer of management control from the Parks Department to private enterprise.

An excerpt from the article.

“California is doing a poor job of collecting rent from energy companies and other businesses that are profiting from public land, costing the fiscally challenged state millions of dollars, according to an audit released Tuesday.

“The examination by the state auditor found the State Lands Commission, which is responsible for natural and cultural resources on public land, could have generated $8.2 million from a sample of 35 leases, some dating back 30 years.

“Besides holding surface and mineral rights on dry land, the commission's jurisdiction extends to the 4 million acres of tidelands and submerged lands that lie along the coast and the beds of rivers and lakes.

“The report found the commission has failed in many cases to collect rent from energy companies, marinas and other businesses that use California's public land. It also has not properly reassessed the land's value.

"This report concludes the commission has not always managed its more than 4,000 leases in the state's best interest with the result that it has missed opportunities to generate millions of dollars in revenues for the state's general fund," state Auditor Elaine Howle wrote in a letter accompanying the audit.

“The commission's executive director, Curtis Fossum, blamed budget cuts for hampering the commission's ability to conduct appraisals, manage leases and enforce agreements. Of the 242 positions supported by general state taxes that existed in 1990, just 63 remain.

"These losses are principally those positions that performed much of the workload that we are now being criticized for failing to perform," Fossum wrote in a response to the audit.

“Even with the staff reductions, Howle said, the commission has not figured out how much staff is needed to address the current workload.”

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Green Jobs, In the Red

The much hyped green jobs tsunami that was going to sweep the country has—so far anyway—been a real bust, as the Heritage Foundation reports.

An excerpt, with links at the jump.

“President Barack Obama has a problem on his hands when even his stalwart allies at The New York Times have no choice but to admit to a glaring reality: The President’s “green jobs” promise has failed miserably.

“On Friday, the Times printed a harsh assessment of the state of the “green” economy—including a conclusion that the President’s promise to create five million green jobs over 10 years has proven to be nothing more than “a pipe dream,” with California’s Bay Area providing a particularly poignant example of how “green” jobs have actually been lost, not gained: “In the Bay Area as in much of the country, the green economy is not proving to be the job-creation engine that many politicians envisioned . . .“A study released in July by the non-partisan Brookings Institution found clean-technology jobs accounted for just 2 percent of employment nationwide and only slightly more — 2.2 percent — in Silicon Valley. Rather than adding jobs, the study found, the sector actually lost 492 positions from 2003 to 2010 in the South Bay, where the unemployment rate in June was 10.5 percent.”

“California isn’t the only place, though, where the green dream is falling short of reality. Last year, Seattle won a $20 million federal grant to invest in weatherization programs. The money was to be spent on insulating crawl spaces, serving to create jobs while helping the environment by reducing the energy needed to heat homes. The program, which was announced at the White House on the eve of Earth Day, has proven to be a total flop. reports: “[M]ore than a year later, Seattle’s numbers are lackluster. As of last week, only three homes had been retrofitted and just 14 new jobs have emerged from the program. Many of the jobs are administrative, and not the entry-level pathways once dreamed of for low-income workers. Some people wonder if the original goals are now achievable.”

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Hatchery Trout Stolen

Security probably needs to be beefed up, as this report from the Fresno Bee on the theft of about 1,000 trout indicates.

An excerpt.

“Somewhere in California, someone has a truckload of stolen merchandise that probably is starting to stink.

“What's believed to be the first-ever large-scale theft from a fish hatchery in the state has wardens from the Department of Fish and Game scouring markets and roadside stands looking for thousands of pounds of trophy-sized trout.

“Workers on Sunday arrived at the San Joaquin State Fish Hatchery located 12 miles north of Fresno to find the gate pried open, blood covering the floors and 70 dead trout left behind.

“Department spokesman Patrick Foy said as many as 1,000 trophy trout were stolen.

"If anyone smells anything fishy, they should give us a call," Foy said.

“The trout, which sell for up to $7 a pound, were 3 years old and weighed 3 pounds each.

“The thieves face grand theft charges.

“Foy said the thieves cut down bird netting and used it to corral the fish in an accessible part of the hatchery below Millerton Lake. The hatchery is at 17372 Brook Trout Drive in Friant, one mile below Friant Dam.

“The thieves filled up dozens of ice chests before getting away before dawn on Sunday.

"They were some of our best fish and the biggest fish," hatchery manager Greg Paape said.

“The trout were part of a program paid for by fishing license fees to keep lakes stocked for fishing enthusiasts. They would have been released soon into Shaver Lake in the Sierra Nevada….

“The hatchery is one of 20 in the state – 12 produce trout, and eight others raise salmon and steelhead.”

Monday, August 22, 2011

A Great Question!

It is asked—and answered well—in this article from American Thinker: Has Progressivism Ruined Environmental Science?.

An excerpt.

“In my thirty years of work in the science arena, as a government scientist, an industry consultant, and an academician, I have witnessed an increasingly adverse influence of progressivism on the practice of science. This influence has been especially visible in my specialty, environmental science (with a focus on air-pollution meteorology).

“From the start of the modern environmental movement with the publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson in 1962 followed by The Population Bomb by Paul Ehrlich in 1968, the science of the environment became overly contentious. Certainly, diversity of opinion and positions in the scientific community is desirable and largely advantageous to the advancement of the discipline. But, what quickly developed was a progressive environmentalism that elevated nature back to the Gaian status of the ancients and established one viewpoint as dogma. Soon, conformance to this one holy vision (as opposed to the usual ad nauseam progressive mantra to "celebrate diversity") became the mandate. Anyone opposed the lofty goal imposed by progressive theology of protecting the Earth, at nearly any cost, was increasingly targeted in very unscientific ways with ad hominem attacks, public ridicule, eventual limitation of government funding, and even eco-terrorism.

“In addition, regardless of the extreme actions taken by progressives to defend their sacred environmental tenets, media outlets and the scientific community were rather tolerant.

“Climate-science practice is surely a good example of the current progressive-influenced "consensus" toward challengers of the humans-are-heating-the-planet storyline. And, the "Climategate" tempest is a specific instance.

“Normally, much ado would have been made by the mainstream media and mainstream science with the release of the Climategate e-mails. Instead, both seemed to work overtime to minimize the damage from those exposed files. The mainstream media often seemed to downplay the importance of the e-mail content and referred to the files as "stolen," implying that the leaker was a criminal. Indeed, the act may have been criminal; however, such indictment is typically not the tack taken by the same news organizations when damaging information is similarly aired which targets business or industry concerns or conservative leaders. In those cases, these "whistleblowers" are portrayed in a somewhat more heroic fashion -- even applauded for doing society a favor.”

Friday, August 19, 2011

Sky Is Falling, Not!

In a reminder that technological innovation has grown to match increasing population, versus the claim that increasing population is destroying civilization, note this article from the Los Angeles Times.

An excerpt.

“Mary Ellen Harte and Anne Ehrlich write, "Unsustainable population levels are depleting resources and denying a decent future to our descendants. We must stop the denial."

“We are in denial for a reason. For more than 40 years, climaxing around the first Earth Day, the public has been bombarded with apocalyptic tales of disaster regarding population growth. Paul Ehrlich, for example, a Stanford professor, prominent prophet of population doom and contributor to this op-ed article, predicted in his 1968 bestseller "The Population Bomb" that millions of people would die of starvation during the 1970s because the Earth's inhabitants would multiply at a faster rate than the world's ability to supply food. Six years later, in "The End of Affluence," a book he co-authored with his wife, Anne Ehrlich, the death toll estimates increased to a billion dying from starvation by the mid-1980s. By 1985, Ehrlich predicted, the world would enter a genuine era of scarcity.

“Paul Ehrlich's predicted famines never materialized. While too many people remain hungry, agricultural advances have fought off massive famines. Even as the world's population doubled, per-capita food consumption in poor countries increased from 1,932 calories a day in 1961 to 2,650 in 1998, and malnutrition in those countries fell from 45% of the population in 1949 to about 18%. Furthermore, fertility rates dropped from about five children per woman in the 1960s to about 2.5 today.

“The authors also write that "the effects of overpopulation play a part in practically every daily report of mass human calamity." Floods, for example, "inundate more homes as populations expand into floodplains. Such extreme events are stoked by climate change, fueled by increasing carbon emissions from an expanding global population."

“These modern day predictions are in stark contrast to claims of the same vein from the 1970s. In a popular 1970 speech at Swarthmore College, for example, well-known ecologist Kenneth Watt said, "If present trends continue, the world will be about four degrees colder for the global mean temperature in 1990, but 11 degrees colder in the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age."

“Time has not been gentle with such prophecies. Four decades later, the world hasn't come to an end. Most measures of human welfare show the Earth's population is better off today than at any other time in human history. Life expectancy is increasing, per-capita income is rising, and the air we breathe and the water we drink are cleaner. And concerns about climate change have shifted from cooling to warming since the 1970s.

“Given past trends, we are right to deny doom and gloom claims such as this one in Harte and Ehrlich’s op-ed article: "Perpetual growth is the creed of a cancer cell, not a sustainable human society."

“New ideas and technologies proliferate at a much faster rate than population. They depend on individuals who are free to pursue their own interests and innovate with few constraints. As Stanford economist Paul Romer put it, "Every generation has perceived the limits to growth that finite resources and undesirable side effects would pose if no new recipes or ideas were discovered. And every generation has underestimated the potential for finding new recipes and ideas. We consistently fail to grasp how many ideas remain to be discovered. Possibilities do not add up; they multiply."

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Flood Control Strategy

A sobering account of it in this article from American Thinker concerning the recent flooding in the Midwest, where environmentalism—once again—appears to trump public safety.

An excerpt.

“As late as April of 2011, the Water Management Chief for the Corps of Engineers, Omaha District, expressed an opinion in an e-mail to a concerned citizen that the mountain snowmelt this year would "be nothing to write home about." This internal e-mail, among many others recently released through a Freedom of Information Act request by Gannett's Washington Bureau, exposes that assertion as a gross misstatement of known facts.

“The e-mails reveal that a cadre of hydrologists, engineers, and National Weather Service (NWS) officials had repeatedly warned the chief, Ms. Jody Farhat, beginning in January about the danger posed by up to 500% higher-than-normal snowpack looming in the mountains above. Multiple sources also informed the Corps that the snow had an abnormally high water content, which, combined with NWS reports of soil saturation levels of 99% in much of the Dakotas and nearly all of Montana, greatly added to the likelihood of epic flooding. Even the Corps headquarters in Washington warned Ms. Farhat about the growing danger. She dismissed their concerns.

“Under her direction, the Corps plodded along, conducting business as usual right up until the last moment, when conditions forced a radical shift from an all-is-well status to an ark-building emergency almost overnight.

“Confronted by the worst flooding in the history of the Missouri River Basin, Farhat attempts to deflect criticism by claiming that the snowpack was "just a bit above normal" until mid-April, when it "skyrocketed." According to data found at the National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center website (operated by the NWS), it wasn't the snowpack that skyrocketed; it was the Corps estimate of it that rose dramatically. The snow was already there. How did the Corps miss it? One possible explanation is that they had their focus directed elsewhere.

“A front-line operational manager expressed his concern to Ms. Farhat that the information being passed on to the Corps decision-makers was routinely ignored, worrying that if such a dismissive attitude continued, the managers "will not even bother to call in, or provide input, if they feel like they're not being heard."

“He continued, "We're all concerned about being in our exclusive flood control zones ... but what concerns me more is the feedback that I'm hearing: 'It doesn't matter what we say so we may as well keep our mouths shut.'" Farhat's response was that the operations managers don't have a "system-wide perspective."

“Even now, amidst the most prolonged flooding ever seen on the "Big Muddy," the Corps continues to peddle the story that this was an unremarkable year until the advent of extraordinarily strong spring rains in the Montana reach of the Missouri River basin. "And what happened was we had this incredible rainfall event, that was a rainfall event in May, and that was the game-changer in terms of system operations," Farhat said.

“In an interview with the Omaha World Herald, Farhat said that these rains created an additional 4 to 5 million acre-feet (MAF) of runoff, pushing the dam system past its tipping point and leaving the Corps with no alternative but to pass water through the system at the historic rate of 160,000 cubic feet per second. However, at that rate of release, the supposedly culpable spring rains would have been evacuated from the system in less than two weeks.

“The Corps began releasing water at this rate at the beginning of June and will continue to do so until the latter part of August. By the time this is over, the Corps will have evacuated more than ten times the amount of water contained in those offending spring rains. Thankfully, the dams hold water better than the Corps story.

“The evidence seems to point to the Corps becoming tragically distracted from its essential mission. Flood control has been pushed farther down the list of priorities to make room for eco-system restoration. While busily pretending to be Mother Nature, chasing the green dream of a river restored to some amorphously defined pre-dam state, the Corps ignored the reality of a leviathan catastrophe. It appears that we no longer have a Corps of Engineers operating a flood-control system, but rather a fish and wildlife agency that dabbles in flood-control.”

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Home Sales Up

Single-family home sales form a very important financial foundation for local government—as noted in our newly formulated guiding principle—and, as reported by the Sacramento Bee, are rising in our region.

An excerpt.

“Home prices in Sacramento have dropped so much that more and more people can't resist the bargains.

“Researcher DataQuick reported Tuesday that the number of single-family homes sold in Sacramento County jumped 12.5 percent in July from the same month a year ago.

“Sales in El Dorado, Placer and Yolo counties also posted double-digit percentage increases last month, DataQuick said.

“Buyers continue to crowd the lower end of the market, where falling prices have made it cheaper to own than to rent in many cases. Prices are now 50 percent below their 2007 peak.

"It's all bargain shopping and bottom feeding because prices have come down so much," said DataQuick analyst Andrew LePage.

“The local sales numbers run counter to statewide results for July. The number of homes sold in California dropped 1.4 percent from July 2010, and in the Bay Area – usually a key barometer of Sacramento's housing market - sales dropped 1.7 percent.

“According to DataQuick, the median price for a single-family home in Sacramento County was $161,000 last month, a 10.6 percent decline from the year-earlier period.

“Median prices in El Dorado County fell 18.6 percent to $250,000 in July while the median in Placer County was down 10.4 percent at $259,500. Yolo County's median was off 8.1 percent at $221,500.

“Those low prices present opportunities for investors hoping to rent out properties and flip them when the market improves.

“They've also attracted renters like Adam and Monica Stark, who earlier this month purchased a two-bedroom, one-bathroom ranch-style home in Tahoe Park for $90,000.”

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Full Parks Access for Disabled

This is a very important national process and it is very good to hear that it is moving along, as this story from the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

An excerpt.

“TRENTON, N.J. - The new federal directive has a progressive goal: giving "mobility disabled" residents a better chance to enjoy public parklands by letting them use motorized vehicles on trails.

“And park supervisors can bar such access only if they document that conditions are too rough on a given trail and publicly post the results of that study.

“But those seemingly simple changes to the Americans with Disabilities Act have New Jersey and county parklands staff scrambling to assess thousands of miles of trails. And they are rubbing up against the state's ban on motorized vehicles in environmentally sensitive lands.

“In total, officials say, they face a logistical nightmare with wide-ranging consequences.

"This is not something we can do instantly," says Larry Ragonese, spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection. "We have thousands of acres and miles of trails in New Jersey. And it's not as simple as putting up a sign and saying, 'Motor through.'"

“The ADA is a 1990 federal civil rights law that bans discrimination against the disabled. The changes to the act's Title II, initiated by the Department of Justice, went into effect on March 15. As of that date, if an official study hasn't certified that a publicly accessed trail is unfit for such traffic, that trail is open to all individuals with mobility disabilities who operate "other power-driven mobility devices." And that's regardless of whether the publicly accessed trail crosses privately or publicly owned land….

“Parkland stewards note that the ADA changes provide no specific definitions of "other power-driven mobility device" , whether it can be a motorized wheelchair, golf cart, an ATV or even a pickup truck. And that's resulted in confusion. Staffers at several parklands in North Jersey who were surveyed by The Record were unaware of the changes. And for residents who want to know the status of official assessments, there are few Web sources.

“Before the new ADA directives, most combustion-motor vehicles were banned on most trails on the national, state and county level because of pollution factors and the risk of damaging fragile trails and ecosystems. That concern has long been a source of conflict between motor-sport activists and environmental preservationists. Now, the new law states that a blanket ban on all motor vehicles will no longer suffice.

"We face imminent danger of a fundamental alteration to our backcountry trails, including the Appalachian Trail," the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, a trail advocacy organization, said in a letter to the Department of Justice.

"Reading the rule," the letter continued, "one can see that these people are very well-meaning but, for the most part, unfamiliar with the commitment of the silent self-propelledÂ’ users, as citizens, to a conservation land ethic on our nation's national forests and parks particularly in primitive, backcountry settings like the Appalachian Trail."

Monday, August 15, 2011

Retool the Message?

In this editorial from the Sacramento Bee, the proponents of a regional parks district to take over the parks that Sacramento County has not been able to take care of for years (to be funded by a sales tax increase) are urged to retool their message, which is apparently not yet resonating with taxpayers.

Our advice, on the other hand, would be to drop this adventure in futility—extracting yet more taxes from an already over-taxed public during one of the worst economic times in memory—and instead examine the real-world success of the type of innovative parks management noted by Doug Ose in a recent article, which we blogged on, and visit Gibson Ranch.

Here is the response from Doug Ose to the current editorial on the comments page:

“As often as the editorial board opines on the issue of regional parks in Sacramento County, they have yet to visit Gibson Ranch and see the success that private management has achieved. The editorial board of the Bee has consistently opined about what an evil turn of events it is that private management was given the opportunity to operate Gibson Ranch. Now, the editorial board argues that the only way to preserve regional parks is to adopt an operating system developed for the Bay Area. The editorial board does not talk about creating revenue by offering programs and services that the public wants and thereby having the park system support itself. The editorial board does not talk about reforming maintenance practices. The editorial board does not talk about revamping work rules that dictate narrow job classifications and employee compensation far in excess of what is paid in the private economy. The editorial board only talks about increasing taxes so as to give more money to a new governmental bureaucracy probably run by the very same people who proved incapable of sustaining the parks in the first place.

“Let's just review the facts. Gibson Ranch Regional Park was closed by the County Parks Department the day after Labor Day 2010. Prior to that, it was open only on Saturdays and Sundays, except on summer Fridays when the Rio Linda Elverta Recreation and Parks District stepped in and operated the facility. Little if any maintenance was performed and the facility deteriorated almost beyond repair. Rental cabins and camping spaces and the swim hole were closed to the public. The Ranch House was closed. No programs or services were offered to the general public. The bathrooms weren't being cleaned for weeks on end. The garbage sat moldy and uncollected in the garbage cans from months previous. The grass was being cut about every five weeks. The pastures were unkempt. The Hmong community moved their cultural events to another location. Country in the Park relocated to Capitol Mall. A new $400,000 entry gate was installed. The public was not able to use the park.

“Compare that with now. The park is open every day. The bathrooms are cleaned every day. The garbage is collected and removed every day. The grass is regularly cut. Camping is slowly growing into an everyday occurrence. Civil War Days is back and thriving with over 3,000 people attending on May 21/22. The Hmong community has returned and held a large cultural event on July 9/10 that attracted about 18,000 people over two days. The Midnight Mass Car Show was held on July 30 and attracted over 12,000 people. Country in the Park will be held at Gibson Ranch on September 11. In addition, companies are holding their annual picnics at Gibson Ranch. Families are holding reunions at Gibson Ranch. Birthday parties abound. BBQs every weekend. The rental cabins are on the verge of being completely remodeled after 15 years of no use. The lake has been stocked with trout and people are pulling fish out every day. The contrast is startling from just over four months ago to today.

“The plan adopted by the Board of Supervisors is working at Gibson Ranch.
Under the lease arrangement approved by the Board, the County manages a contract. Services and programs are funded and delivered by a private operator subject to certain performance standards. The park is open and people are using it.

“The editorial board is getting ready to "sell" you on the need for new taxes and a new governmental bureaucracy. There is no need for either. Come to Gibson Ranch and see for yourself.” (highlighting added)

Doug Ose August 12, 2011 @ 1:04 AM

Friday, August 12, 2011

Parks Tax

The Sacramento Bee got this story on the ongoing negotiations a little more right than their previous reporting, which we blogged about, but the actual story is much better.

The supervisors have—if the state legislature agrees—given themselves the option to ask Sacramento County voters to approve a sales tax increase for parks, if, the new advisory committee they have charged staff with creating, decides that is the best way to go, which, in this economic environment, is very hard to imagine.

A major improvement is that the advisory committee, rather than the incestuous make-up, (see Progress Report # 1, page 5, at the jump) and tax increase default position of the Grassroots Working Group (GWG), other members of the advisory committee will include business interests and a wider representation of other community interests, giving the supervisors a more balanced analysis, and hopefully, if any survey are conducted, full transparency on the process and method, about which many questions have been raised concerning the GWG’s survey.

An excerpt from the Bee story.

“The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors will seek state legislation that would give the county the option of pursuing a 0.1 percent sales tax increase to generate revenue for parks.

“Supervisors and members of the Grass Roots Working Group, which backs forming a new regional park district, stressed that the legislation would simply allow the board to put such a tax measure before county voters….

“The Grass Roots Working Group urged the board to pursue the special legislation because surveys have shown voters would support a 0.1 percent increase.

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

“Rob Leonard, Sacramento County's municipal services agency administrator, said county staff members will recruit people to serve on an ad hoc committee to advise the county executive on matters related to the future of regional parks, including long-term funding, governance and a business model for maintenance and operation.

“The panel is to include representatives of the county Recreation and Parks Commission, Dry Creek Parkway Advisory Committee, American River Parkway Advisory Committee, American River Parkway Foundation, the Grass Roots Working Group, the Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce, the golf community and supervisorial districts.”

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Sacramento Suburbs Expanding?

If so, then this is very good news (see our press release) as reported by the Sacramento Bee.

An excerpt.

“Despite objections by environmental groups, Sacramento County appears poised to allow potential development of 20,000 rural acres as part of its general plan update.

“The question now is what kind of requirements the county will impose on developers seeking to build.

“At the direction of the Board of Supervisors, county staff has loosened a set of proposed rules for the new growth after objections by developers with major projects on the drawing board.

“Still, interim County Executive Steve Szalay said the county's proposed requirements will both allow new growth and produce compact, transit-friendly communities.

"The plan is flexible but credible," he said.

“But environmental groups and other opponents complain that the rules proposed for the county's new general plan will make it too easy for developers to continue Sacramento's decades-long pattern of building suburban-style, single-family development on the urban fringe.

"There's constant pressure to keep building single-family housing and big-box stores," said Rob Burness, a local environmentalist and former Sacramento County planner. "The weaker the criteria, the more likely they are to continue that pattern."

“Disagreement over growth management is a major reason the county has spent more than eight years trying to update its general plan, which will set the rules for development in the unincorporated area.”

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Public Pensions & Parks Funding

A very generous supply of money for the former has reduced the funds from which the latter could be funded, as this article (California is examined) from City Journal reveals.

An excerpt.

“Recent polls show that public opinion is turning against government workers because of their rich pay and benefits—especially pension benefits. A spring poll conducted by the Los Angeles Times and the University of Southern California, to take one example, found that 70 percent of Californians favored a cap on public employees’ pensions because of the widespread perception that pension costs have become a crushing burden to state and local governments (see “The Compensation Monster Devouring Cities”). Faced with this declining support, unions have counterattacked by claiming that government pensions are actually quite modest. They argue, for instance, that the average annual pension of a state worker is under $30,000 in California and even less in New Jersey and New York. But their figures are misleading: the real size of pensions for those retiring now on full benefits is much larger.

“Consider California. Earlier this year, state treasurer Bill Lockyer, a Democrat who has received union backing in his political campaigns, claimed that the average retired state worker in California was getting just $2,500 a month in benefits. When Contra Costa Times columnist Daniel Borenstein investigated, he found that Lockyer’s average included people who had worked for the state for as little as five years and were collecting partial benefits, as well as those who had retired years before the state significantly enhanced pension benefits in 1999.

“But if you limit the average to currently retiring workers who have spent more time working for California and thus can retire with full benefits, a different picture emerges, Borenstein found. The average state worker retiring in 2009 with full benefits received a pension of nearly $67,000 a year. Local government workers in California did even better. Looking at his own town, Contra Costa, Borenstein found an average pension for new retirees of $85,500 annually. There’s more: though government workers don’t automatically qualify for Social Security, about 65 percent of the retired government employees who are members of CalPERS, the state’s government-employee pension system, do get Social Security benefits because the state has made contributions for them for years. The average benefit comes to $19,000 a year. So sweet are California’s pension deals that a report by the state’s Little Hoover Commission, a government watchdog agency, estimated that the average government worker retiring with full benefits and Social Security will get 109 percent of his final working salary as a pension.”

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Bamboo Bicycles

Perhaps soon to be seen on the Parkway trail, these bamboo speedster beauties, grown from the earth, shaped by human hands, as reported by Fast Company.

An excerpt.

“Another bamboo bicycle? Yes--but the vehicle devised by Alexander Vittouris departs from the funky, tiki-bar-friendly lines made from this sustainable, globally ubiquitous grass. A design student at Australia's Monash University, Vittouris envisions a bicycle that isn't built, but grown--the bamboo stalks of the frame being trained into shape while the plant is growing. Inspired by arborsculpture, in which tree branches are fixed in expressive shapes that they take as the plant grows, Vittouris wants to develop a reusable framework that would shape bamboo into nearly finished bicycles.

“While arboculture is a craft practice rather than a mass-production technique, its application to bamboo--which may be cultivated inexpensively, and grows with astonishing speed--offers at least a coy gleam of scalability. Manufacturing traditional bicycles expends energy and injects waste into the world, whether the frame is some space-age alloy or bamboo. Vittouris by contrast proposes "engaging the environment in (the) production phase through photosynthesis and carbon storage till ultimate destruction."

Monday, August 08, 2011


For Immediate Release
August 8, 2011
Sacramento, California


If you are living in suburban California, you are part of the Dream, the California Dream.

A central part of the birthing vision of the American Dream was the California Dream and all that America promised, as Kevin Starr notes: “In a very real sense, the California dream was the American dream undergoing one of its most significant variations.” Americans and the California Dream 1850-1915. (1973). New York: Oxford University Press. (p.443)

The American River Parkway is surrounded by suburbs, which is appropriate being that a central axis of the California Dream is suburban single home ownership, and the American River running through it was where gold was first discovered, leading to one of the greatest migrations in history.

The suburban single home ownership aspect of the California Dream is under attack, as Joel Kotkin notes in a recent article, California Wages War on Single Home Ownership: “In California, the assault on the house has gained official sanction. Once the heartland of the American dream, the Golden State has begun implementing new planning laws designed to combat global warming. These draconian measures could lead to a ban on the construction of private residences, particularly on the suburban fringe.”

To help protect that vision, which we all hope to sustain, we have defined a sixth critical issue, shaped our approach, and formulated our sixth guiding principle.

Critical Issue #6) Continuing encasement of open space, restricting suburban community development upon which a sustainable tax base funding necessary public works is built, is contrary to sound future planning.

Our Approach: Suburban communities are where the overwhelming majority of American families wish to live, and the opportunity in our region for those communities to be built for the families who hope to live in them, is a shared supportive responsibility for those of us who presently enjoy our life in the suburbs and for those who hope to enjoy the suburban family lifestyle in the future.

Our Guiding Principle: The suburban lifestyle—as surrounds the American River Parkway—which is imbued within the aspirational center of the California Dream and whose vision is woven into the heart of the American Dream, is a deeply loved way of life whose sustainability we all desire.

Organizational Leadership
American River Parkway Preservation Society
Sacramento, California
August 8, 2011

Contact Information

David H. Lukenbill, Senior Policy Director
American River Parkway Preservation Society
2267 University Avenue
Sacramento, CA 95825
P: 916-486-3856 E:
W: B:

Friday, August 05, 2011

Social Service Programs Ruin Neighborhood?

That is what the future neighbors of this homeless program’s planned move to their neighborhood are saying in Washington, and it is a question being asked in our city also.

The dividing line seems to be, that if a program is vigorously helping people get out of homelessness, then it is probably more welcome than one that is merely providing domestic services to the homeless making it easier to be homeless.

Also the latter can be seen as potentially attracting more homeless, than the former which is encouraging the development of personal responsibility towards change.

Making it easy to be homeless rather than demanding the homeless make the hard choices necessary to create positive change, will, unfortunately, generally be more popular with the homeless; as will the parallel concerning, maintaining the status quo or moving towards change, with any personal or social problem.

The country-wide discussion goes on, as reported in this story from the Washington City Paper.An excerpt.

“It's as predictable as the sunrise, from Petworth to Congress Heights to Truxton Circle to Hill East: A social services organization tries to locate a facility in a neighborhood, the neighbors feel blindsided, and the battle is joined. This time, the drama is about to play out again in the heart of Anacostia's business district, where Calvary Women's Services is redeveloping a 14,000-square-foot building as a women's shelter.

“The 28-year-old organization bought the property, in a former Elks Lodge right across from the Department of Housing and Community Development on Good Hope Road SE, for $950,000 in December. It's a $3 million project, and after landing a $175,000 gift from the Cafritz Foundation, organizers are hoping to raise another $750,000 by the end of the year to make the numbers work. When it's operational, the facility will house 50 women at night and serve meals to 100 per day, along with providing other supportive services.

“Despite the fact that it's been in the works for seven months now, lots of people in the area found out about it just last week, in an email blast from Council Chairman Kwame Brown. Today, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Greta Fuller fired off a letter to the relevant agency directors complaining that the area was already overburdened with homeless services and drug treatment programs; there are four others within a few blocks of Calvary's site.

"It's a very frustrating process, because the community wants so desperately to move forward, and when services like this are on every block in our neighborhood, it makes it difficult to promote the neighborhood," says Charles Wilson, president of the Historic Anacostia Block Association. "You can tell that some people have been maneuvering behind the scenes to move this process just get a sense that politicians have made it possible for them to make the transition to Good Hope Road."

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Hetch Hetchy

Opening up the famous valley is a winner all the way around, especially if it is done in conjunction with construction of a new dam to restore the water supply lost as a result.

We recommend Auburn Dam be built for that purpose.

A recent editorial in the Sacramento Bee reports on Hetch Hetchy.

An excerpt.

“Revived after a few years of dormancy, advocates are girding for a new campaign to restore the Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park.

“Flooded by a dam and reservoir in 1923 to provide storage for San Francisco's Tuolumne River water supply, the Hetch Hetchy Valley sits 300 feet under water.

“Over the years, proposals have surfaced to reverse this quirk of history that has given one city the right to store water in a national park. Seven major studies since the 1980s have said Hetch Hetchy Valley could be restored without adversely impacting San Francisco's water supply.

“The issue has resurfaced now because an advocacy organization, Restore Hetch Hetchy, is preparing to collect signatures and place an initiative on the San Francisco city ballot in November 2012. The organization believes either Congress can vote to restore Hetch Hetchy Valley, or San Francisco can vote to return the valley to the National Park Service.

“So when Restore Hetch Hetchy offered a fact-finding trip to journalists, I jumped on it.

“Since the 1913 Raker Act, San Francisco has had a special deal granted to no other city in the United States – a dam and reservoir in the middle of a national park that belongs to all of the American people.

“With that special deal come significant restrictions on public use – limited hours and absolutely no touching creeks, rivers and waterfalls within one mile of the reservoir, which itself is eight miles long. No other national park has such a rule.

“San Francisco also has a private chalet overlooking the reservoir, a legendary after-hours wining and dining site when the park entrance gate is locked.

“On this trip, we camped 6.5 miles from the dam at Rancheria Falls, which tumble down a creek to the reservoir. We were not allowed the touch the creek, except to filter drinking water. No wading or swimming, of course.

“We hiked to Tiltill Valley, with its shoulder-high grasses and profusion of wildflowers, butterflies and birds, allowing us to imagine on a small scale what a restored Hetch Hetchy Valley might look like. The reservoir, in contrast, is a "biological desert," notes Mark Cederborg, a restoration expert.”

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

High Speed Rail

California is perhaps the ideal state to have this wonderful method of transportation and I couldn’t agree more with this supporting editorial from the Sacramento Business Journal.

An excerpt.

“The issue: Criticism continues to mount for California’s high-speed rail plan

“Our position: Stop trying to kill it; instead, focus on how to make this vital piece of our future work

“Everybody’s a critic when the subject is California’s high-speed rail plan. The chorus of naysayers has grown in recent months, even as the project gains momentum on other fronts.

“There’s certainly much to criticize: The state agency charged with building the $43 billion system has failed to persuade anyone that its ridership projections are reasonable. Its record on spending and oversight raises legitimate concerns. And while billions of dollars are committed, no one knows where the rest of the money will come from.

“But we need to stop trying to kill this project and focus on making it better. As big as the price tag may be, the potential benefits are even bigger.”

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Los Angeles Suburban

It is the epitome of the California suburban dream, hated by the urbanists but loved by its residents—until freeways quit being built—who appreciate one of the greatest blending of polycentric living on the planet, an important insight concerning development that has not yet been understood by local leadership but noted by Bogart (2006):

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

“Even by 1960 observers such as Jane Jacobs and Jean Gottman had discerned a new structure for metropolitan areas, although popular interpreters of their work have neglected this insight. This new structure was called the polycentric city, in recognition of the multiple centers of economic activity that now comprised the metropolitan area. While some people have recognized this change for more than forty years, it still has surpassingly little impact on the design of public policy.” (p.9)
Bogart, W. (2006). Don’t call it sprawl: Metropolitan structure in the twenty first century. New York: Cambridge University Press.

LA is now in trouble, culturally and politically, as reported by New Geography.

An excerpt.

“Los Angeles today is a city in secular decline. Its current political leadership seems determined to turn the sprawling capitalist dynamo into a faux New York. But they are more likely to leave behind a dense, government-dominated, bankrupt, dysfunctional, Athens by the Pacific.

“The greatness of Los Angeles stemmed from its willingness to be different. Unlike Chicago or Denver or New York, the Los Angeles metro area was designed not around a central core but on a series of centers, connected first by railcars and later by the freeways. The result was a dispersed metropolis where most people occupied single-family houses in middle-class neighborhoods.

“Lured by the pleasant climate and a business-dominated political economy, industries and entrepreneurs flocked to the region. Initially, the growth came largely from oil and agriculture, followed by the movie industry. Defense and aerospace during World War II and the postwar era fostered a vast industrial base, and by the 1980s Los Angeles had surpassed New York as the nation's largest port, and Chicago as the nation's leading industrial center.

“The region hit a rough spot as the end of the Cold War led to massive federal cutbacks in aerospace. Los Angeles County lost nearly 500,000 jobs between 1990 and 1993. But it bounced back, adding nearly 400,000 jobs between 1993 and 1999. Aerospace never fully recovered, but other parts of the industrial belt—including the port and the apparel and entertainment industries—grew. An entrepreneurial class of immigrants—Middle Eastern, Korean, Chinese, Latino—launched new businesses in everything from textiles and ethnic food to computers. The pro-business mayoralty of Richard Riordan and the governorship of Pete Wilson restored confidence among the city's beleaguered companies.

“Then progress stalled. Employment stayed relatively flat from 2001 until 2005, when Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was elected, and then started to drop. As of this March, over the entire L.A. metropolitan area, which includes adjacent Orange County, unemployment was 11.4%—the third-highest unemployment rate of the nation's 20 largest metro areas.

“Why has Los Angeles lost its mojo? A big reason is a decline in the power and mettle of the city's once-vibrant business community. Between the late 1980s and the end of the millennium, many of L.A.'s largest and most influential firms—ARCO, Security Pacific, First Interstate, Union Oil, Sun America—disappeared in a host of mergers that saw their management shift to cities like London, New York and San Francisco. Meanwhile, says David Abel, a Democratic Party activist and publisher of the influential Planning Report, once-powerful groups like the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation lost influence.

“The machine that now controls Los Angeles by default consists of an alliance between labor and the political leadership of the Latino community, the area's largest ethnic population. But since politicians serve at the whim of labor interests, they seldom speak up for homeowners and small businesses.

“Mayor Villaraigosa, a former labor organizer, has little understanding of private-sector economic development beyond well-connected real-estate interests whom he has courted and which have supported him. He has been a strong backer of L.A. Live, a downtown ports and entertainment complex, and other projects that have benefited from favorable tax treatment and major public infrastructure investments. He's currently supporting a push to build a new downtown football stadium, though L.A. has no professional football team. His biggest priority is to build the so-called subway to the sea, a $40 billion train line to connect downtown with the Pacific.

“But L.A.'s downtown employs a mere 2.5% of the region's work force; New York's central business districts, by contrast, employ roughly 20%. "To put the entire focus of development on downtown L.A.," says Ali Modarres, chairman of the geography department at Cal State Los Angeles, "is to ignore the historical, cultural, economic [and] social forces that have shaped the larger geography of this metropolitan area."

Monday, August 01, 2011

Tax Increase Fixation

As a believer in strong government and a strong private sector working together to benefit and serve the public, it was somewhat sad for me to watch the hearings before the County Board of Supervisors Tuesday July 19th about increasing the sales tax to pay for parks.

Sad because there was no evidence coming from the public comments supporting the tax that there was any other way to deal with this issue, with the single exception from the comments by Doug Ose, who is showing that there is another way with his private sector management of Gibson Ranch Park.

It is also sad to see the Sacramento Bee, our hometown newspaper, with such a great history in our fair city, also fail to report, with any degree of balance that there is another way other than tax increases to take care of our parks, as they consistently do and repeat in this editorial.

An excerpt.

“It is no big surprise that, two years after its 50th anniversary, Sacramento County's regional park system is in deep trouble.

“The question that remains is whether the county and parks advocates, facing a budget crisis, can put aside differences and find common ground on a secure funding source and governance structure that everyone can live with.

“It was clear at Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting that all sides agree funding is the top priority. That's the good news. It is also encouraging that polling suggests that county voters would support a small tax hike to provide a dedicated source of revenue for parks.

“But now comes the tough part. As Supervisor Roberta MacGlashan rightly noted at the beginning of the meeting, funding for the parks and governance of the tax revenue cannot be separated. "If you put a tax before the voters," she said, "that question has to be settled."

“Supervisors will have to work hard to keep a coalition together – and to narrow options to what really is feasible.

“Three were discussed:
• An independent regional parks district, with an elected board of directors. The volunteer Grassroots Working Group, formed at the county's urging, recommended this.
• A Community Services District, with an elected board of directors. County staff recommended further study of this option, although countywide community services districts are uncommon.
• A Community Facilities District, with county supervisors as the governing body. Staff recommended further study of this option, too. It would require approval by city councils as well as county supervisors. Landowners (who would get one vote per acre of land) would have to approve a tax to fund the district.

“Supervisors seemed to agree that on funding options, seeking a sales tax from voters is preferable to a parcel tax. Certainly, it's cheaper for residents, since visitors would contribute to the revenue. To generate $10 million a year from a parcel tax would require a flat $21 tax on the county's 471,000 parcels. In contrast, a 1/16th cent sales tax for parks would generate $12 million a year, costing $8.89 each year for an average household.

“Proposals for auto rental and hotel taxes are nonstarters. That's going too far in assessing visitors for an amenity we all enjoy.

“In the end, supervisors voted unanimously to seek legislation that would give them an option to place a 1/10 cent sales tax for parks on the ballot. That's progress.”