Thursday, November 03, 2011

Parkway Blog Moved

It has moved to

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Where Tax Dollars Go

Texas provides an online tool that explains that, a wonderful example of innovative public administration, as reported by the Houston Chronicle.

An excerpt.

“What are you paying for garbage pickup? How about for having a fire department on call to douse your house if it goes up in flames?

“A new tool introduced on the city's website on Wednesday tells you. The "My Tax Dollars at Work" feature attempts to show how the hundreds of millions it takes to run city services for 2.1 million people translates to dollars and cents out of your pocket.

“Plug in the appraised value of your home, specify whether you claim a residential homestead exemption and you get a customized report. The site generates a department-by-department estimate of where your property tax money gets spent.

“Councilwoman Melissa Noriega attached an amendment to this year's $1.8 billion general fund budget mandating the tool.

"People should know where their taxes go," Noriega said. "Taxes aren't really just money, they're an investment in your city. This website is going to allow you to see where that investment goes and what it does."

“The councilwoman said she believes taxpayers will be surprised by what they find. She used her own property taxes as an example. "Thirty-nine dollars a year goes to garbage pickup. I need to tell you, to have somebody come twice a week, including recycling collection, to pick up your trash for $39 a year is a bargain," she said.

“Open-government advocates heaped praise on the initiative.”

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Building By Parkway, More Discussion

Our initial assessment of this project, as reported by the Sacramento Bee, proposed for land next to the Parkway was that the alternatives seemed better for the Parkway, but as more information comes out it is obvious that more discussion is needed.

Some new information:

1. The alternatives may not be large enough to accommodate the flood control agency needs.

2. It will be built on a site not in the Parkway but next to it—which is currently filled with very unsightly piles of dredged mining tailings—and a nicely built office building would be an improvement. (We used to live in Gold River and I drove by this site once or twice a day and it was a mess, piles of round stone tailings with weeds growing from them, (rattlesnakes and scorpians loved it) as I last saw them several years ago.)

3. Good landscaping will mitigate any view of the office building from the Parkway.

4. Having a flood control agency in visual sight of one of the region’s major flood threat rivers might be an excellent idea.

It would seem that much more discussion about this project is needed, and fortunately it is receiving that.

One comment in the comments section is especially informative:

by kericson

“Instead of looking at what everyone sees as being wrong with this project, why not look for something good....This is the best proposed flood control project for this region to date. With the main operations center for flood control being located on the American River, and they control the flows…from this facility, they will never allow excessive flooding that would jeopardize the ops center. That is a big win for the region.

“I was however concerned about the visual impacts that this project [would have] on the parkway, so I actually reviewed the environmental document on the Bureau of Reclamation website.

“The location is a dead zone rock pile from previous dredging operations that is pretty well buffered from view, so the visual impacts should be pretty minimal.

“These days it seems everyone’s natural reactions are to look for what is wrong with anything before they review the facts and the benefits of a project. I really don't have an opinion either way on this project, but I think it deserves a balanced discussion.”

An excerpt from the Bee article.

“A large new government office building, filled with 600 skilled wage earners, would seem to be a blessing for the economically depressed Sacramento region.

“But some are treating a proposal to build one alongside the American River Parkway as a curse.

“State and federal agencies want to build a high-security, 200,000-square-foot nerve center for California flood protection on a 25-acre parcel next to the state-operated Nimbus Fish Hatchery in Rancho Cordova.

“Critics, who range from the area's congressman to nearby homeowners, condemn the project as inappropriate for the American River Parkway, the region's most treasured and scenic recreational asset.

“There are looming questions about whether it makes sense to park a flood-control headquarters next to a flood-prone river downstream of Folsom Dam, the region's largest.

"We look at the entire parkway as the Central Park of the West Coast," said Darryl Schmidt, a nearby resident and chairman of an opposition group, Citizens Against Paving the Parkway. "The question is, why is the federal government, who are here to protect land, building there vs. any one of the available commercial sites in the region?"

“The answer is that the property is already owned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the agency that owns and operates many federal dams in the state, including Folsom and Nimbus dams. Its partners are the California Department of Water Resources, which oversees levee safety in the state and owns Oroville Dam, and the National Weather Service.

“The agencies now share space at their existing flood operations center on El Camino Avenue. But the leased building is cramped, outdated and lacks adequate security.

"When there's flooding, the center itself is important to coordinate very closely with the different entities that are pulling switches and moving knobs to release water and keep it under control," said Russ Grimes, regional chief of environmental compliance at the reclamation bureau, which is in charge of project planning.

“The project includes criteria that limit available alternatives. Among them is a requirement to meet "green" building standards, room for a 100-foot security perimeter around any new buildings, a backup electricity source, and remaining within 25 miles of downtown Sacramento.

“The site also must be outside the 200-year floodplain.

“A search several years ago – before the collapse in the real estate market – produced one alternative that remains in the mix: a site on Kilgore Road just off Sunrise Boulevard.

“Another site emerged from public comments on the project: a parcel at Mather Field on Peter A. McCuen Boulevard. It includes an empty 110,000-square-foot office building that happens to meet the necessary "green" building criteria, and there is room for more office space.

“A draft environmental impact study on the project identifies the Mather site as "environmentally preferred" because construction impact has already occurred in developing the existing building.

“Yet the parcel owned by the reclamation bureau along the parkway remains the "proposed site."…

“The disputed site is actually outside the official boundary of the parkway. But Grimes of the reclamation bureau said his agency and its partners have committed to satisfy the county's parkway planning rules, which restrict exterior lighting, paint colors and other design details.”

Monday, October 31, 2011

California Regulations

It is given as one of the major reasons businesses choose not to move here and for those already here, consider leaving.

The regulatory burden on the small farmer, as reported by the Sacramento Bee, makes the point clearly.

An excerpt.

“Farmers must live with plagues of uncertainties – pests, crop prices, labor shortages and, of course, the weather.

“Listen to a family farmer in California like Doug Brower, and there's a whole other reason it can be such a struggle: a tangle of regulations.

“Brower splits his time between Folsom and the Uhrhammer homestead hard by the Merced River south of Turlock, where he grows almonds and walnuts on 40 acres. His wife's family moved there just after World War II. Since he retired from 30 years as a military contract officer, Brower has been spending more time on the farm. Since his father-in-law passed away last October, he has taken over running it.

“The more he's learned about all the government rules he's supposed to follow, the more frustrated he has become. By his count, the farm is subject to at least a half-dozen local, state and federal agencies.

“There's the state Water Resources Control Board, which wants to know how much water he's pumping out of the river to irrigate his orchards. The orchards have rights to about 405 acre-feet of water a year. Since he can't afford fancy monitoring equipment, he mostly guesstimates his monthly diversions, but stays well below the limit.

“There's the state Department of Pesticide Regulation, which requires reports on what he sprays to protect his almonds from the navel orangeworm and walnuts from the husk fly and codling moth. If he didn't do it himself as a state-certified applicator, and had an employee spray instead, there would be many more safety rules to worry about.

“There's the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, which issues the permits he has to get to burn pruned limbs and other agricultural waste.

“There's state and federal Occupational Safety and Health and the state Employment Development Department, which want paperwork for the farm's one full-time worker.

“Until he found out at a seminar that he didn't have enough fuel to qualify, Brower thought he'd have to come up with a Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure Plan for his above-ground petroleum tanks.

“His home office is strewn with bulging files as he tries to keep track of all the requirements and when he's supposed to submit reports.

"I'm trying to do the right thing," he told me as he steered a beat-up golf cart through neat rows of nut trees.

“Brower says farmers like him are expected to know about every regulation issued by any government agency that might somehow apply to them. That's impossible, he says.”

Friday, October 28, 2011

Bad Bridges

It is not good news that our area has some of the worst bridges in the country, as reported by the Sacramento Business Journal.

An excerpt.

“Sacramento has one of the highest percentages of structurally deficient bridges among metro areas of its size, according to a new report from Transportation for America.

“The Fix We’re in For: The State of Our Metro-Area Bridges,” ranks 102 metro areas in three population categories based on the percentage of deficient bridges.

“In Sacramento, an average of 59 drivers cross a deficient bridge every second, according to the study. Sacramento ranked fourth for its percentage of structurally deficient bridges, or those in need of substantial repair or replacement, among 20 metro areas with populations of more than 2 million.”

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Sacramento Bee on Gibson Ranch, Wrong Again!

The Sacramento Bee—which inexplicably, does not like Gibson Ranch Park being operated as a forprofit, even though it is now open and being highly utilized by area residents, whereas before it was closed—ran an editorial yesterday, entitled “Back at Gibson Ranch, little county oversight”, which is apparently not quite accurate, as the response in the comments section from Doug Ose notes:

His response.

“Dear Pia -

“Once again you nitpick based on ignorance. You really should just pick up the phone and call me if you have questions.

“First and foremost, the County has received a monthly statement detailing all income and expenses including the names and amounts paid for all checks issued. The information forwarded to the County contains a precise breakdown of the monies collected for the Equestrian Trust Fund as well as a detailed listing to the penny of any expenditures made therefrom. This is precisely what was agreed to when the lease was executed. The reporting being provided dwarfs by orders of magnitude any reporting being provided to the County under any other existing County park lease with any of your beloved nonprofit organizations. I request that you cease and desist from impugning my character by suggesting that I am engaged in financial shenanigans.

“Second, the park is open every day, something that was not occurring prior to April 1, 2011. I fail to understand why you continue to object to the park being open.

“Third, the park is clean, the grass is mowed, the bathrooms are clean. I wonder how that compares to the parks you are operating.

“Your comments regarding the open ditches reflect the fact that you still have not visited Gibson Ranch since my team took it over. Prior to April 1, under the supervision of the former Parks Director, the irrigation ditches were dredged by the County, significantly enlarging the ditches and turning them into public hazards. The project being contemplated would eliminate the public hazard while preserving the ability to irrigate the pastures on the property. There are no marshlands within the area being irrigated by the ditches in question.

“The main challenge to local government remains that their obligations exceed their revenues. At Gibson Ranch, the County was budgeting over $200,000 per year to keep the park closed. The lease with me requires the County to pay up to $100,000 per year to correct deferred maintenance that accumulated prior to April 1, 2011. That is a net savings to the County of over $100,000 per year. And, the park is open. And, the accumulated deferred maintenance is being repaired.

“When we had lunch at the Crocker Art Museum prior to the Board's action to approve the proposed lease, I asked you what was the plan you wished to propose as an alternative to the one I was proposing. I appreciated your candor in admitting that you had no plan and that it was not your responsibility to create a solution that opens the park. Six months later, it is clear now that your only plan has been to use the bullhorn of the Sacramento Bee Editorial Page to advocate for new taxes dedicated to parks maintenance and operations on the November 2012 ballot. It must be frustrating for you to see my team PROVING EVERY DAY THAT NO SUCH NEW TAXES ARE NEEDED.

“Have a nice day..”

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Taxes & Prices

When you tax business, consumer prices go up, not a good thing, but California has apparently done it anyway, as this article from the California Chamber of Commerce notes.

An excerpt.

“October 21, 2011) Yesterday the California Air Resources Board (CARB) voted to adopt the rules for a cap-and-trade program that would set a maximum limit for greenhouse gas emissions while allowing regulated industries to buy or trade emissions credits to meet the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions as established by AB 32. Included in what was approved by CARB yesterday is tax, estimated by a CARB member to raise $2 billion from businesses, that will drive up costs for California consumers.

“California Chamber of Commerce Policy Advocate Brenda M. Coleman has urged the Board to eliminate what has been identified as an illegal and arbitrary tax. The CalChamber has also argued for adoption of an operable, cost-effective market designed to meet the goals of AB 32 without creating undue harm to the economy.

“Imposing a tax on business via CARB’s proposal does nothing to maximize environmental benefits required under AB 32 and it is not needed to ensure the stringency of the overall cap,” said Coleman. "In fact, the tax proposed by CARB contradicts the AB 32 requirements of minimizing costs and maximizing benefits for California’s economy in the design of emission reduction measures. The tax will negatively affect all California businesses and increase costs that will be passed down to consumers.”