Thursday, June 30, 2011

Congressman McClintock & the Abundance of Water

If the Sacramento Bee editorial writers (before they wrote this editorial) would do some research on the Congressman’s perspective on water issues—so welcomed by our organization—outlined in his opening remarks on March 2, 2011 as he assumed the chair of the House Water and Power Subcommittee, they would know why he is taking the position he is.

An excerpt from the Congressman’s opening statement.

“With today’s hearing, the Water and Power Sub-Committee will begin the process of restoring abundance as the principal objective of America’s Federal water and power policy. We meet today to receive testimony from the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Geological Service on their plans for the coming year. We do so in conjunction with our responsibility under the Federal Budget Act to provide guidance to the House Budget Committee as it prepares the 2012 budget and with our responsibility under House Resolution 72 to identify regulations and practices of the government that are impeding job creation and burdening economic growth.

“In my opinion, all of these hearings and all of the actions stemming from them must be focused on developing the vast water and hydro-electric resources in our nation. The failure of the last generation to keep pace with our water and power needs has caused chronic water shortages and skyrocketing electricity prices that are causing serious economic harm.

“In addition, willful policies that have deliberately misallocated our resources must be reversed.

“California’s Central Valley, where 200 billion gallons of water were deliberately diverted away from vital agriculture for the enjoyment and amusement of the 2-inch Delta Smelt is a case in point. These water diversions have destroyed a quarter million acres of the most fertile farmland in America, thrown tens of thousands of farm families into unemployment and impacted fruit, vegetable and nut prices in grocery stores across America.

“In Northern Arizona, 1,000 megawatts of hydroelectricity – enough to power a million homes – has been lost due to environmental mandates for the humpback chub.

“In the Klamath, the federal government is seeking to destroy four perfectly good hydroelectric dams at the cost of more than a half billion dollars at a time when we can’t guarantee enough electricity to keep refrigerators running this summer. The rationale is to save the salmon, but the same proposal would close the Iron Gate Fish Hatchery that produces 5 million salmon smolt each year.

“Meanwhile, funds that ought to be going to water and power development are instead being squandered on subsidizing low-flow toilets, salmon festivals, tiger salamander studies and grants to private associations whose principal activity is to sue the federal government.

“We have also thrown hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars into wildly expensive conservation programs that do little or nothing to develop new water and power resources.

“Those days are over.

“It is the objective of this sub-committee to restore the original – and as yet unfulfilled -- mission of the Bureau of Reclamation – to develop and utilize our nation’s vast water and hydroelectric resources to build a new era of abundance and prosperity for our nation.”

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Sacramento Explores More Contracting

As well it should, and the benefits are obvious, as this article from the Sacramento Bee reports.

A related article from Governing Magazine looks at the issues involved in ensuring diversity in contracting out.

An excerpt from the Bee article.

“For 23 years Frank Acosta has tended the grass on Sacramento's public golf courses. He earns about $60,000 a year, plus a city pension and health benefits.

“It's a good living, but it's one that officials say the city can no longer afford. As part of their effort to cut costs and plug a $39 million budget deficit, the Sacramento City Council voted last month to outsource maintenance jobs at city-owned golf courses.

“If finalized this fall, the move will result in 38 city workers losing their jobs, but will save the city an estimated $500,000 a year, according to city budget officials.

"I sit at home and think, 'Man, I have to look for another job after 23 years,' " Acosta said. "I never thought of that, but I guess I should have."

“The agreement would mark the first time the city has laid off workers to hire a private contractor, according to labor union officials.

“It was a decision watched closely by many.

“There was a sense among city officials that golf maintenance would serve as a good barometer of the City Council's appetite for contracting out jobs historically held by public employees. If the council wouldn't outsource a service for a so-called elite sport, there was no sense trying to expand the concept.

“But now that the council has approved the move, city officials say privately that it could open the door to other contract proposals. Solid waste collection and park maintenance could be next.

“That has the city's labor unions concerned.

"We're all nervous, and we should be," said Marcia Mooney, a business representative with Local 39, City Hall's largest labor union. "Private contractors are not in it to be nonprofits. Eventually they will have to raise their fees, and the city is at the mercy of that contract."

“Political patronage

“With budget deficits dogging cities across California and the nation, more are trying to save money by hiring private companies to perform work traditionally done by public employees. While many local governments already outsource garbage collection and water treatment, more are looking at expanding the concept.

“Budget officials argue that contracting with private firms greatly reduces labor costs and, in some cases, can increase the quality of services by using expert firms.”

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Climate Warming & Economic Battles

One battle appears to be shaping up as the Arctic warms, reported by Fast Company.

An excerpt.

“In this installment of the Butterfly Effect, climate change is creating incredible economic opportunity in the Arctic, leading to saber rattling from Canada and Russia. Whichever region benefits the most will have enormous geopolitical consequences.

“1. The Great Melt.

“In August 2007, a robotic Russian sub planted a titanium flag on the seabed at the North Pole, an act dismissed as a PR stunt by diplomats in Ottawa and Washington until Russian bombers promptly resumed Arctic patrols for the first time since the Cold War. A few weeks later, the U.S. National Ice Center reported that the fabled Northwest Passage was open and ice-free for the first time in history, theoretically shrinking the distance (and costs) between Asia and Europe by as much as 25%, presuming Canada was willing to let ships use it. The prospect of a Northwest Passage open to commercial traffic could cause a massive shift in the world’s trading lanes, drive sovereignty-obsessed nations to militarize the Arctic, and eventually watch in horror as resource-rich Greenland and Quebec raise the cash (and armed forces) to become the North’s breakaway republics.

“The Arctic lost nearly half its icepack in summer 2007, alarming climatologists while causing the North’s governments to salivate. The Russian Ministry of Natural Resources calculates the Arctic might contain twice the proven oil reserves of Saudi Arabia. The contours of the race to “carve up” the Arctic were revealed in the latest batch of leaked WikiLeaks cables released last month. “The twenty-first century will see a fight for resources, and Russia should not be defeated in this fight,” Russian Ambassador to NATO Dimitry Rogozin was quoted as saying in a 2010 cable. “NATO has sensed where the wind comes from. It comes from the North.”

“2. Navigating the Northwest Passage

“The dream of a Northwest Passage up Baffin Bay, through the Arctic Archipelago and into the Beaufort and then Bering Seas is as old as Captain Cook or Henry Hudson. But many ships and many more men have been lost trying to navigate the route. Climate change has done the work that explorers could not. It is may be a matter of time before the Arctic Ocean is completely ice-free in the summer, whether it’s 2100 or 2030 (depending on which model you believe).

“A shorter route between Europe and Asia minus the geopolitical headaches makes as much sense as ever. A container ship leaving Yokohama bound for Rotterdam takes currently takes 29 days to round the Cape of Good Hope, or 22 days via Singapore, the Strait of Malacca and the Suez Canal. An Arctic route could cut that to 15 days, bypassing a saber-rattling Chinese navy, Malay and Somali pirates, and the burden of paying canal fees.

“The Northwest Passage could save a ship as much as $3.5 million per trip, according to Scott G. Borgerson, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. The passage would accelerate the movement toward “Post Panamax” ships like the Emma Maersk, which can carry 15,000 shipping containers--three times the size of what can now squeeze through the Panama Canal. “In an age of just-in-time delivery, and with increasing fuel costs eating into the profits of shipping companies, reducing long-haul sailing distances by as much as 40 percent could usher in a new phase of globalization,” Borgerson wrote in an article for Foreign Affairs. World-spanning supply chains would preserve their fossil-fuel-dependent cost advantage a little while longer, thanks in no small part to the oil being pumped out of the Arctic.”

Monday, June 27, 2011

Paths Across the Sea

Science often does really wonderful things, discovering exquisite facts, as this story from the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

An excerpt.

“SAN FRANCISCO -- Two broad ocean highways where countless sea creatures migrate, feed, mate and reproduce have been discovered running across the Pacific by scientists tuning in to thousands of radio signals.

“The calls have come from electronic tags fitted to the Pacific's top predators - sharks and whales and the wandering albatross, for example. In all, the 23 most important of those creatures - in the water and the air - have revealed a far more complete picture of the behavior patterns and environments of the ocean's animals than the fragmentary information known before to science.

“The discovery of the two highways is the culmination of a wide-ranging 10-year project involving more than 75 scientists from five nations, including the project's leaders, Barbara Block of Stanford's Hopkins Marine Station and Daniel Costa of UC Santa Cruz.

“The scientists call the highways "the corridors of life" and "the grasslands of the sea," and likened them to Africa's vast Serengeti Plain, where countless species of African land animals live and migrate. The ocean regions are major habitats for the Pacific's predators and their victims lower on the food chain - indeed for everything down to the krill and plankton of the ocean's depths.

“One is the huge area where the cool, nutrient-rich California Current flows southward from the Arctic along the California and Mexican coast and outward from the near-shore into the deep sea beyond. The other is the broad region known as the North Pacific Transition Zone that crosses from Japan to the coast of Washington.

“Twenty-one of the project's leading researchers are reporting their combined results today in the online edition of the journal Nature.”

Friday, June 24, 2011

K Street Drama, Act 1345

The plans continue, and though these look very promising, we have been here before; but still, hope does spring eternal.

This article from the Sacramento Bee reports on the latest efforts.

An excerpt.

“Sacramento took a big step Tuesday toward remaking K Street's bleakest stretch into a hub of city life.

“By a unanimous vote, the Sacramento City Council approved the development agreement and financing plan for a $47.7 million project that will bring housing, restaurants, boutiques and live music to the 700 block of the K Street Mall.

“If all goes smoothly, the developer behind the project said he hopes to break ground by the end of the year – and finish by 2014.

"This is going to change the look and feel of K Street," Councilwoman Angelique Ashby said. "It's something the city of Sacramento has been working really hard to get and we're stepping across the threshold."

“City Hall spent years – and $42 million – acquiring 19 properties along the 700 and 800 blocks of K Street. The City Council voted in July to hand over those properties and millions of dollars in redevelopment subsidies to two development teams.

“The financing plan for a project on the 800 block led by downtown developer David Taylor is still being ironed out, and city officials are hoping to present a plan to the council by the end of the summer.

“For now, City Hall's attention will turn to the 700 block – the stretch of mostly empty storefronts bordering Westfield Downtown Plaza.

"We think this project will be a huge catalyst for that area," said developer Bay Miry, who is best known for his red brick restaurant and residential project at 14th and R streets in midtown.

“Miry's D&S Development and CFY Development are proposing 137 moderate-income and market-rate housing units facing both the K Street Mall and the alley between K and L streets.”

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Nature & Capitalism

The wooden stake that has always been lodged in the heart of the environmentalist movement is the creativity of capitalism, which, along with the social entrepreneurism of the nonprofit (and even sometimes the government) sector, to address stewardship problems arising in the continuance of nature’s riches to benefit humanity, whether it is the development of hatchery technology to enhance the salmon's productivity or cattle breeding and feeding technology to enhance the beef on the table.

That is the case with the recent situation with bees, as written about in the Wall Street Journal.

An excerpt.

“The last week of June is National Pollinator Week. Birds, bats and wild insects all pollinate the flowering plants around us. The most celebrated pollinator is the honeybee—and for good reason. Close to 2.5 million hives of bees are managed by fewer than 2,000 commercial beekeepers, who take their bees on the road each year to pollinate blueberries, almonds, cranberries and a cornucopia of other fruits and vegetables. Without this cooperation of beekeeper, bee and farmer, our national diet would be less nutritious and less tasty.

“As even casual observers now know, however, all is not perfect in the world of bees. Colony collapse disorder, or CCD, is their most recent scourge. Over the past four years, approximately 30% of U.S. honeybees alive in the fall failed to survive to pollinate blossoms in the spring. While widespread die-offs due to disease are as old as beekeeping, dating back to the 17th century at least, this one appears worse than most.

“What is truly remarkable, then, is that the pollinating services of bees, and the fruits and vegetables of their labors, have remained steady in the face of CCD. In light of this fact, we propose a celebration—to pay homage to the resilience of honeybees and to the business acumen and perseverance of commercial beekeepers.”

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Parkway Trees & the Levees

Though the new policy from the Army Corps of Engineers about allowing no trees on levees, will, once implemented, harm the familiar aesthetics of the Parkway experience—until the eye adjusts to the grassy levees and the expanded view shed—the reasoning behind the decision appears sound.

While both arguments about trees and levees appear right—healthy trees on the levees strengthen them and unhealthy trees on the levees weaken them—the appropriate course to take is to protect the public’s safety (as healthy trees invariably become unhealthy trees) and that does call for a policy of no trees.

This article from the Sacramento Bee examines the current situation.

An excerpt.

“A controversial federal policy that could require millions of trees to be cut down on Central Valley levees is the target of a lawsuit.

“Three environmental groups filed suit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Monday in federal court in Sacramento.

“The Army Corps sets national standards for levee safety. In 2007 it unveiled a revised maintenance policy that forbids trees or shrubs on levees. Instead, only short grass is allowed on levees and within 15 feet on either side.

“The policy raises significant concerns in California, where levee vegetation composes much of the remaining 5 percent of the Central Valley's historic riparian forest. As such, it is crucial shade and habitat for migrating endangered fish, as well as nesting habitat for many endangered birds.

"This would be the most massive intentional infliction of environmental damage on our rivers that we've seen in modern times," said Bob Wright, senior counsel at Friends of the River in Sacramento. "It's mind-boggling."

“Other plaintiffs are Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity.

“The plaintiffs allege the Army Corps policy violates the Endangered Species Act, because the agency did not consult with federal wildlife agencies; and the National Environmental Policy Act, because it didn't prepare an environmental study. Army Corps spokesman Pete Pierce declined to comment on the lawsuit.

“The policy has not yet been carried out in the Central Valley. State and local agencies struck a deal with the Army Corps to delay it until next year while they work out a compromise.

“The Corps also created a process for local agencies to obtain exemptions so trees can remain. However, this may require costly levee redesigns.

“The potential removal of thousands of trees in the Sacramento area alarms many residents who value their shade and scenery, particularly along the American River Parkway.”

Monday, June 20, 2011

Parks Funding

It is, in the larger world, at the lower end of funding priorities, but the inability of the higher level leadership to get its act together, will ultimately impact it even more corrosively than normal, even during tough times.

This article from the Wall Street Journal looks at state leadership here in Sacramento.

An excerpt.

“'All My Children" may be off the air, but the soap opera is still running in Sacramento. In the latest installment, Governor Jerry Brown divorced his fellow Democrats by vetoing their budget. Democrats and unions are furious and plotting revenge, while both sides blame the evil Republicans for refusing to sanction a referendum that would give voters a chance to endorse a tax increase.

“Where's Susan Lucci when you need her?

“Mr. Brown deserves credit for vetoing the Democratic budget that reverted to Sacramento form to close a $9.6 billion deficit, deferring several billion dollars of bills into the future, borrowing from special funds, and raising the state's sales tax and vehicle registration fee without the constitutionally required supermajority vote. Even the Democratic treasurer warned that the state couldn't finance its short-term debt with such a risky plan, and Mr. Brown cashiered it.

“Democrats are now blasting him for suggesting that an "all cuts" budget is the only alternative if Republicans won't agree to allow a vote on a five-year extension of what was supposed to be a temporary income tax surcharge, among other tax hikes. Democrats are frustrated because they expected Republicans to cave months ago. But Republicans have shown laudable discipline, and they know that their relevance in state politics hinges on extracting concessions from employee unions that will reduce the future cost of government.

“Mr. Brown needs at least two GOP votes in each chamber to put the tax increases on the ballot. And Republican lawmakers have said for months that they're willing to do so in return for modest pension and regulatory reforms and a hard spending cap.

“For instance, they want to cap annual pension benefits at $106,000 per employee. Yup, state workers could still earn a six-figure annual pension from retirement to death. Republicans also want new state workers—not current employees—to have the option of a hybrid pension that includes a less generous defined benefit portion as well as an employer-matched defined contribution plan. That proposal is scaled back from the recommendation of the state independent oversight commission to freeze benefits for current workers and to move everyone into hybrid plans.”

Friday, June 17, 2011

Nonprofit Management of Parkway

The model used by us and many others (San Francisco & Pittsburgh for instance) in their strategic planning discussions and implementations, for having a nonprofit manage their signature parks, is the Central Park Conservancy, which has been managing Central Park in New York City for years—raising 85% of the money the park needs—under contract with New York City.

In this recent article from the New York Times, the strategy to renew their fund raising presence is unveiled (and it gives a sense of what could be done here for the Parkway if our strategy was implemented) as our Parkway is surely as loved by us as is Central Park by New Yorkers.

An excerpt from the Times article.

“The nonprofit organization that manages, maintains and raises money for Central Park is using a new campaign to embrace a new identity.

“The campaign got under way early this month. The theme declares that the organization, the Central Park Conservancy, is “Central to the park.”

“The campaign seeks to rebrand the organization, which was founded in 1980, by spotlighting a new logo. Echoing the word play in the theme, the logo is being called a “park mark”; it is a bright-green rectangle, in the shape of Central Park, set against a white background.

“The campaign is being created by a team at the conservancy working with McGarryBowen in New York, part of the Dentsu West unit of Dentsu. McGarryBowen, which creates ads for marketers like Kraft Foods and Verizon Communications, is volunteering its services for the campaign.

“The media agency for the campaign — Zenith Media, part of the ZenithOptimedia Group division of the Publicis Groupe — is also donating its services.

“The campaign is extensive, appearing in both traditional and nontraditional media.

“On the traditional side, there are print advertisements, direct mail and posters for bus shelters and subway platforms.

“On the nontraditional front, there are ads online; apps for the iPhone and Android; a presence on the conservancy’s Web site,; and social media like Facebook ( and Twitter (

“The campaign is indicative of efforts by nonprofit organizations to stand out amid all the ads from profit-making marketers.

“Once, appealing to the altruistic side of the public was often enough for them to elicit a response. Now, organizations, associations, charities and causes need to do more to get the attention of busy, distracted consumers.

“For the conservancy, the emphasis is on conveying the unusual nature of its mission: keeping up Central Park under the terms of a contract with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.

“It’s a challenge,” says Douglas Blonsky, president of the conservancy and the Central Park administrator, because “people are not used to understanding that a private organization could be managing a public park.”

“Of the $37 million annual budget for Central Park, he adds, 85 percent comes from the conservancy.”

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Park Bridging

Anytime you can connect parks with walkways/bikeways that avoid the danger of being on fast traffic streets, it is very good public policy—something we wrote about, on a much larger scale (connecting Coloma to Sacramento by bike/pedestrian/horse trails) in our 2007 report in the Ecoregionalism section starting on page 17—as this pending project connecting Curtis Park with Land Park certainly is, as reported by Sacramento Press.

An excerpt.

“Residents will get a chance to see the design of a planned pedestrian and bicycle bridge over the railroad between Curtis Park and Land Park Wednesday night.

“The city’s project team will give a construction update at the Sierra 2 Center for the Arts and Community, 2791 24th St., at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday

“The bridge is designed to give pedestrians and cyclists safe access over the railroad tracks from the light rail stop at Sacramento City College near the intersection of 24th Street and Sutterville Road.

“Currently, pedestrians and bicyclists must use Sutterville Road to travel between Curtis Park and the light rail station,” according to a Department of Transportation newsletter. “This multi-lane, high-speed roadway makes walking and bike riding a risky and inconvenient way to travel.”

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Water Storage/Water Shortage

At some point, editorial writers, including those writing for the Sacramento Bee, will wake up to the fact that there isn’t a water shortage problem—Northern California produces plenty of water—but a water storage problem.

Fortunately, some public leaders, like Congressman Tom McClintock, realize this and are beginning to shape water policy on an abundance approach rather than restricting its use approach—as we posted on earlier.

A common sense approach will take into account the abundance of water we do have and work to store more of it during wet years for use during dry, and for supporting solid economic growth of local communities that will benefit the whole region, rather than continuing to rely on tired arguments driving too many editorial writers.

An excerpt.

“Folsom's elected leaders probably didn't realize the mistake they were making in 2004 when they persuaded voters to approve a charter measure that was pure politics. The measure, among other things, smoothed the way for development south of Highway 50 by promising existing residents that the city's existing water supply wouldn't be tapped for the expansion.

“At the time, city leaders feared that slow-growth forces might pass a competing measure - later disqualified for the ballot - aimed at stifling any new development. Yet by attempting to appease citizens with Measure W, they placed the city in a costly and untenable position. The bill for that decision has now come due.

“On Tuesday, the Folsom City Council is slated to consider permits for development south of 50. The permits will allow construction of more than 10,000 homes and 7.2 million square feet of commercial, retail and office space over a 25-year period.

“In many respects, Folsom has done a reasonable job of planning this project. You could argue it is too light on housing and too heavy on retail. But it includes thoughtful provisions for schools, open space, transit, bikeways and neighborhood design.

“Yet there's one major problem with this project - its water supply. To comply with the provisions of Measure W, Folsom is banking on a "reassignment" of water from a Natomas agricultural district that could cost nearly $250 million.

“We have no problem with water transfers, as we noted in 2007. But $250 million for 10,000 homes and other development? According to Folsom's own analysis, that will add $38,882 to each new unit of single family housing. And that is just part of the $1 billion in infrastructure needed for this development.

“By taking this route, Folsom faces two different sets of risks.

“First off, water transfers are notoriously difficult to pull off - particularly ones that would shift supplies from farms to cities. Water contractors across California will want proof that Folsom is buying "real water" from Natomas - supplies freed up through conservation or fallowing of crops, as opposed to Sacramento River water that others might claim.”

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

California Nightmare

It continues, as this article from New Geography notes.

An excerpt.

“Ideas matter, particularly when colored by religious fanaticism, wreaking havoc even in the most favored of places. Take, for instance, Iran, a country blessed with a rich heritage and enormous physical and human resources, but which, thanks to its theocratic regime, is largely an economic basket case and rogue state.

“Then there’s California, rich in everything from oil and food to international trade and technology, but still skimming along the bottom of the national economy. The state’s unemployment rate is now worse than Michigan’s and ahead only of neighboring Nevada. Among the nation’s 20 largest metropolitan regions, four of the six with the highest unemployment numbers are located in the Golden State: Riverside, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco. In a recent Forbes survey, California was home to six of the ten regions where the economy is poised to get worse.

“One would think, given these gory details, California officials would be focused on reversing the state’s performance. But here, as in Iran, officialdom focuses more on theology than on actuality. Of course, California’s religion rests not on conventional divinity but on a secular environmental faith that nevertheless exhibits the intrusive and unbending character of radical religion.

“As with its Iranian counterpart, California’s green theology often leads to illogical economic and political decisions. California has decided, for example, to impose a rigid regime of state-directed planning related to global warming, making a difficult approval process for new development even more onerous. It has doubled-down on climate change as other surrounding western states — such as Nevada, Utah and Arizona — have opted out of regional greenhouse gas agreements.

“The notion that a state economy — particularly one that has lost over 1.15 million jobs in the past decade — can impose draconian regulations beyond those of their more affluent neighbors, or the country, would seem almost absurd.

“Californians are learning what ideological extremism can do to an economy. In the Islamic Republic, crazy theology leads to misallocating resources to support repression at home and terrorism abroad. In California green zealots compel companies to shift their operations to states that are still interested in growing their economy — like Texas. The green regime is one reason why CEO Magazine has ranked California the worst business climate in the nation.

“Some of these green policies often offer dubious benefits for the environment. For one thing, forcing California businesses to move to less energy-efficient states, or to developing countries like China, could have a negative impact overall since shifting production to Texas or China might lead to higher greenhouse gas production given California’s generally milder climate. A depressed economy also threatens many worthy environmental programs, delaying necessary purchases of open space and forcing the closure of parks. These programs enhance life for the middle and working classes without damaging the overall economy.”

Monday, June 13, 2011

High Speed Rail

It makes great sense for California and will enable people to travel the long commute from the southland to the Bay Area and Sacramento in record time, adding another option along with flying and the long drive.

The rationale for doing it, as reported in the Sacramento Bee, even in tough economic times, is similar to the rationale that should be adopted to build another vital public facility, the Auburn Dam.

An excerpt.

“The last time many Californians thought about high-speed rail was in the voting booth. On that day, Nov. 4, 2008, more than 6 million of us voted to tell the state to get going, to build high-speed rail in California.

“Now, 2 1/2 years later, the second guessing is in full swing. In recent weeks some have suggested that we should put the project on hold.

“We couldn't disagree more.

“California will need high-speed rail in the coming years to do something about the gridlock on our roads and at our airports. Building it is a major investment, but the most recent estimates say it would cost twice as much over the next generation to build new highways and runways just to move the same number of people. With California expected to grow by 12 million people in the next 25 years, investment in the state's transportation system is inevitable, and high-speed rail is a cost-effective alternative.

“In the last 2 1/2 years the case for high-speed rail has gotten stronger, not weaker. When voters approved the plan, a barrel of oil cost about $55; today the price is almost $100. Unemployment was around 8 percent back then, and it is now over 12 percent statewide and even higher in many areas. Californians need the jobs.

“There are bound to be questions with any project of this size. We welcome the dialogue. Last month the Legislative Analyst's Office published a report calling for at least a temporary halt to the project. The report alluded to a number of concerns about the project:

• The amount and timing of future federal funding are unclear.

• Spending state funds on rail will mean there is less money for other things.

• We do not yet know how much private investment the system can attract, or when it will come.

• Starting construction in the Central Valley is "a gamble."
“Let's take the criticisms one at a time.

“First is federal funding. While we don't know precisely how much we will get in future years, we've competed well up to this point. California's project has received the largest slice of federal high-speed rail funds to date – $3.6 billion out of $10.2 billion. This is in large part due to the extensive planning already under way at the state level and the ability to leverage voter-approved Proposition 1A funds. There is no other program where California competes so well for federal funding. We will continue to encourage additional investment – both public and private – while promoting efficiencies that allow us to stretch every dollar in creating jobs and planning for the future growth of this great state.

“Second is state funding. The voters said high-speed rail was a priority and authorized spending $9 billion in state funds. The state continues to experience fiscal constraint due to diminishing revenues, but because construction is ramping up slowly we will only need 2 percent of these funds in the coming year to keep the project on track. The amount approved by voters will be spent over many years, keeping the impact on our state's budget low in any given year.”

Friday, June 10, 2011

River Warning

As reported by the Sacramento Bee yesterday.

An excerpt.

“With sunshine and temperatures in the 80s forecast for this weekend, the Sacramento region's rivers and waterways beckon.

“But public safety officials recommend steering clear of the water, particularly the rivers, for at least one more week.

“The flow in the Sacramento River at Freeport on Wednesday was 46,000 cubic feet per second, about 2 1/2 times the historical average of 18,000 cfs for the date, said Maury Roos, chief hydrologist with the California Department of Water Resources.

"We've posted signs at launch points warning of cold water and high flows," said Randy Lewis, park ranger supervisor for Sacramento County Regional Parks.

“Parks officials issued an advisory Tuesday urging people to avoid recreational activities on the lower American River after the Bureau of Reclamation increased releases from Folsom Dam to 9,000 cubic feet per second. The bureau said flows are likely to increase to 15,000 cfs in coming days.

“Roos said 64 percent of the expected runoff into the American River from this year's snowpack has already occurred and much of the remaining 36 percent is likely to come down the river next week, generating some of the highest flows before tapering off for the summer.

"We're playing it one day at a time," said Kent Hansen, manager of American River Raft Rentals in Rancho Cordova. "We will be closed this weekend. The water is just too fast and too cold."

Thursday, June 09, 2011

California Competitive

Great article in the Wall Street Journal’s book review about the methods to increase competitiveness—and the economy—in California and America.

An excerpt.

“The prophets of American decline are on the march in numbers not seen since the days of Jimmy Carter and stagflation. Who knows, maybe this time they'll be right—a sclerotic political system, enterprise-stifling regulations, a foolish tax structure and shortsighted public policy may finally send the U.S. economy into the permanent tailspin long predicted by experts with a grim turn of mind.

“Henry Nothhaft is not one of these professional declinists. His first-hand experience with the way America does business nowadays has prompted him to raise an alarm with "Great Again"—and to propose several ways to restore American dynamism and creative vigor.

“Mr. Nothhart, a veteran Silicon Valley entrepreneur who is the CEO of the technology-miniaturization company Tessera, chronicles how difficult it has become, particularly in California, to start capital-intensive enterprises. Excessive regulation and Washington policies, he argues, undermine initial public offerings and discourage the launch of businesses that provide jobs and drive productivity.

“Another disincentive to start a business in the United States: corporate taxes. As Mr. Nothhaft notes: "America now has the highest corporate tax rate in the world," with the exception of Japan—and if state taxes are figured in, we beat the Japanese too. The federal 39.2% corporate rate is higher by half than the 25.2% average among the nations, most of them European, in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

“Mr. Nothhaft profiles Conrad Burke, a 44-year-old, Irish-born physicist and technology entrepreneur who heads Innovalight, a Silicon Valley company that has succeeded in producing liquid silicon semiconductor material, which may prove vital to the solar-power industry. "It's probably harder for a start-up to raise money than it's ever been." Mr. Burke says. "Especially for any sort of manufacturing. Yes, Silicon Valley is still innovating. But it's mostly the Twitters and Diggs and other software start-ups that don't need much capital."
“Money for companies that require capital to produce tangible products is much harder to come by. Why? Mr. Burke recites the environmental, safety and other bureaucratic regulations that raise costs and slow creative ferment. He also highlights the tax burden beyond the corporate rates. When his company paid $10 million for German manufacturing equipment, California levied a "use" tax—Innovalight was using equipment purchased outside the state—of nearly a million dollars. "That's not a tax on our income," Mr. Burke says, "it's a tax on growing our business."

“It might be tempting to dismiss these gripes as the usual complaints of the business class, but consider the consequences of such a tax and regulatory environment. Venture capitalist David Ladd's bluntness is startling: "We would not fund a company that was building hardware or semiconductors, nor any of the tough physical sciences," he tells Mr. Nothhaft. "We'll invest in China instead and let them do it."

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

K Street Drama: Act 2399

The problems with the Westfield Mall anchor to K Street is a reflection of the problems with K Street, and this latest angst-ridden lack-of-causation (it’s unsafe and unsightly) article from the Sacramento Bee keeps their normative anti-business-society’s-fault narrative going.

An excerpt.

“Undermined by the economy and suburban competition, Sacramento's Downtown Plaza shopping mall has been losing luster and customers for years.

“Now, news that owner Westfield Group has put the mall up for sale has launched a fresh round of hope and concern – and has prompted some local leaders to say it may be time for a complete knockdown and do-over at the site.

“Among the key questions: Who will buy Sacramento's "forgotten mall," and will that company have the resources, creativity and political chops to reinvent the plaza, or at least to stop the downhill slide?

“Westfield, a mammoth international company, is offering little public information about its sales plan. Retail analysts say Downtown Plaza is one of 17 poorer-performing U.S. shopping centers the Australia-based company wants to unload to raise cash for expansions at more successful malls, including four in California.

"They're pruning the lower end of their portfolio," said Benjamin Yang, a retail analyst who tracks Westfield for Keefe, Bruyette and Woods, a securities brokerage firm.

“Whoever buys the 18-year-old mall will get it cheap.

“When Downtown Plaza reopened in 1993 after a $157 million revamp, Sacramentans flocked to the urban amenity and upscale stores such as J. Crew, Ann Taylor, Z Gallerie, Banana Republic and the Museum Co. Today, most of those tenants are gone. And so are the shoppers.

“Westfield's holdings at the downtown site, which do not include the two Macy's stores, have plummeted in value from $207 million to $55 million in four years, company reports show. Downtown Plaza is now worth one-tenth the value of Westfield's other local mall, Roseville Galleria.”

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Tax Increase for Parks is a Bad Idea

The Sacramento Bee continues to tout this as the solution to County Park’s problems, in the Sunday editorial and an article from Saturday.

Fortunately, the County Board of Supervisors has turned one park over to a forprofit—Gibson Ranch—and another facility over to a nonprofit—Effie Yeaw Nature Center—both of which were excellent strategic ideas.

We hope they will therefore look askew at asking residents to increase taxes during such horrible economic times without exploring more innovative strategies instead.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Working Together

We agree with the concept expressed in this recent editorial from the Sacramento Bee, that local governments, working together, can resolve some of the current funding issues impacting valuable public works.

Though the editorial focused on animal shelters, it is also a valuable strategy for parks, and from our point of view, most easily adapted for the region’s signature park, the American River Parkway.

A Joint Powers Authority, which has been discussed by the County, to manage and help fund the Parkway—through philanthropy rather than tax increases—is an excellent idea, and more details can be found on our website's strategy page.

An excerpt from the editorial.

“Can Sacramento city and county leaders actually make good on a common-sense move to save money and offer better service?

“We're about to find out, and the answer will set an important precedent.

“Officials from the city, county and Sacramento SPCA plan to start detailed talks this week about the nonprofit taking over the city and county animal shelters.

“The potential payoff to all three could be significant.

“SPCA leaders are interested after a consultant told them that such a merger could "dramatically enhance" care for animals in the county. Fewer dogs, cats and other animals would be euthanized, and more would be adopted.

“Meanwhile, city and county officials are trying to escape from a downward spiral in their animal care agencies. Budget and staffing cuts during the recession have forced shorter hours and fewer services, and there's little reason to expect much improvement soon.

“After slashing $1 million and 10 positions since 2007-08, the city's proposed 2011-12 budget calls for trimming another $157,000 (to $2.9 million) and 1.5 positions (to 31.5). The county's proposed 2011-12 spending plan would keep animal care stable at $3.7 million and 29 positions, but that's down from $5.1 million and 33 positions two years ago.

“Consolidation wouldn't end government's duties altogether; the city and county would continue picking up stray and injured animals, for instance. Now, about 45,000 animals come into the three shelters combined each year.

“The county boasts a state-of-the-art, $23 million shelter that opened in October 2009, while the city shelter has a very nice cat adoption area.

“It's possible that one of the three shelters might be closed eventually, or turned into a holding facility while the others focus on adoptions.

“All those sorts of details need to be worked out. The transition would be complicated – far more so than the SPCA's contracts with Citrus Heights, Elk Grove, Folsom and Rancho Cordova.”

Friday, June 03, 2011

County Parks Director Resigns

As reported in the Sacramento Bee.

An excerpt.

“Sacramento County's regional parks director announced her resignation Tuesday in an email to employees that expressed displeasure with the county's recent handling of her agency, which has had its budget repeatedly cut.

“In the email, a copy of which was obtained by The Bee, Janet Baker said her resignation was made "with sadness and a sense of relief."

"As many of you know, it's become increasingly challenging to lead this organization," she wrote. "On many issues, I no longer agree with decisions being made that have been taken out of my control."

“The Regional Parks Department manages about two dozen parks, including the busy and popular American River Parkway. Baker has led the department for three years – a time of deep budget and staffing cuts.

“The department has been cut from 69 employees two years ago to a projected 43 in the fiscal year that starts July 1.

“The Board of Supervisors is set to finalize a new budget next week to address a $90 million deficit – the fourth straight year of deficits.

“It includes $800,000 in cuts to parks, including a loss of eight jobs. This includes eliminating two of the 11 current park rangers, and one of 14 maintenance workers – all at a time when park visitors are already concerned about maintenance and safety.

“Baker, 61, said her resignation would be effective July 1.”

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Parkway Murder Announcement

From the Sacramento Bee.

“A man was found stabbed to death along the American River Parkway late last night, Sacramento police said.

“The man, only described as being in his 30s, was found in an area frequented by the homeless near Northgate Boulevard and Del Paso Boulevard. Reports came into the police department about 11:20 p.m. about some kind of noisy disturbance in the wooded area, police said.

“A police sergeant who happened to be patrolling nearby, quickly responded to the scene but it was too late. The man, who has not been identified, died from at least one stab wound.”

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Folsom Dam Modifications

They are proceeding along, as reported by Sacramento Press, and will eventually increase our flood protection level to 200 years from the current 100, though we really need the 500 year level, which only an Auburn Dam can provide, as we've posted previously.

An excerpt.

“Floods in 1986 and 1997, as well as a levee break in 2004, costing lives and billions in damage, contributed to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declaring a state of emergency due to the threat of major flooding in northern California and San Joaquin Valley in 2006, and current work on Folsom Dam is helping alleviate that threat.

“The construction of an auxiliary spillway at the Folsom Dam will provide the Sacramento region a greater level of flood protection than it has now. More specifically, it will provide a 200-year level of protection, meaning a one-in-200 chance for flooding in any given year.

“Friday morning, 25 state and federal workers and even a few spectators gathered at the Folsom Dam for a presentation and tour of the ongoing work known as the Folsom Dam Joint Federal Project (JFP).

“The JFP is a cooperative effort between the Central Valley Flood Protection Board (CVFPB), Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency (SAFCA), Department of Water Resources (DWR), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

“The $962 million project involves the construction of an auxiliary spillway consisting of a control structure, spillway chute, stilling basin and approaching channel. Beth Salyers, lead project manager on JFP for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said the new control structure will operate in conjunction with existing spillway gates on Folsom Dam to manage flood flows from the Folsom Reservoir.

“The solicitation on the original modifications to the dam had been canceled in January 2006 due to funding issues. At the same time, the Bureau of Reclamation recognized that there were some dam safety issues, such as to prevent overtopping, that needed to be addressed,” said David L. Neff, the technical lead on the JFP for phase three from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “That served as the impetus to combine the two single-purpose projects into one.”

“Salyers said the JFP consisted of five phases. The first two phases included extensive excavation at the site, which was recently completed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Phase three is the construction of the control structure, and phase four is construction of the chute and stilling basin. Phase five involves construction of the approach channel. The project is currently in phase three.

“The new control structure will be similar to the current dam, but built with the gates built 50 feet lower than the existing gates.

“What this means is that now we don’t have to wait for the reservoir to fill up in order to release water. Water can be released sooner to provide more efficient use of the storage space and, consequently, free up capacity in the reservoir,” Neff said.”