Finally, Strong Leadership on Homelessness?

Could be, as this article in the Sacramento Bee—and his recent actions indicated—our new Sacramento Mayor may be assuming that long needed role, especially if he remembers that he is mayor of all of the city of Sacramento.

An excerpt.

Facing increasing pressure as the number of homeless people surges, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg asked Sacramento County leaders Tuesday for $53 million to provide services for that population.

Steinberg wants to pool the county’s mental health funds – which stem from a state millionaire tax he authored as a legislator – with federal grants obtained by the city to spend a combined $117 million in three years to reduce homelessness.

“Let’s merge our resources and literally get thousands of people off the streets,” he told the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

The most recent homeless count released in July found 3,665 people living without permanent shelter in Sacramento County and 2,000 of those people living outside. The total number of homeless was the highest number the county has ever recorded.

Steinberg needs the county’s financial and service help for the federal Whole Person Care grant the city has received. He sees the federal money as crucial to getting people off the street and into a more permanent housing situation. Under the grant, the city will receive $32 million from the federal government that matches $32 million in local funds.

Preparing for the winter, the city recently proposed opening about 300 beds on Railroad Drive off Del Paso Boulevard in North Sacramento. The city eventually wants to build a permanent shelter with 200 beds on the former Lumberjack site adjacent to the Royal Oaks light-rail station.

Steinberg’s request Tuesday spurred a discussion of complicated funding possibilities and concluded with supervisors asking staff to return next month with options. A majority of supervisors indicated they are willing to support at least some of Steinberg’s proposal.

Under the city’s proposal, federal money would fund case management and other services to keep the homeless and those at risk of homelessness out of emergency rooms and in appropriate services – mental health care and substance abuse treatment, both of which would be provided by the county.

To meet those objectives, Steinberg recommends that the city reallocate funding the county expects to receive from the Mental Health Services Act, the law he co-authored as a state legislator and voters approved in 2004. Under the law, the state collects a 1 percent tax on millionaires and distributes revenues to counties to provide mental health care.

Posted in Government, Homelessness

Car Myth Biting the Dust

As this article by Joel Kotkin reports, the idea that cars were on the way out is a leftist dream yet realized, and—if the private car loving public has anything to say about it and they do—probably never realized.

An excerpt.

For a generation, the car has been reviled by city planners, greens and not too few commuters. In the past decade, some boldly predicted the onset of “peak car” and an auto-free future which would be dominated by new developments built around transit.

Yet “peak car,” like the linked concept of “peak oil” has failed to materialize. Once the economy began to recover from the Great Recession, vehicle miles traveled, sales of cars, and particularly trucks, began to rise again, reaching a sales peak the last two year. Instead, it has been transit ridership that has stagnated, and even fallen in some places like Southern California.

Demographics — notably the rise of the millennial generation — were once seen as the key to unlocking a post-car future. Yes, younger people have been slower to buy cars than their predecessors, much as they have been slow to get full-time jobs, marry or buy homes, but more are now driving, so to speak, the car market, representing the largest share of new automobile buyers.

Convenience can’t be banned

The persistence of personal transportation has little to do with the much hyped “love affair” with the automobile but convenience and access to work. Simply put, with a few notable exceptions, Americans live in increasingly “dispersed regions.” Transit works brilliantly, as Wendell Cox and I demonstrated recently in a paper for Chapman’s Center for Demographics, to downtown San Francisco and a few other “legacy” urban centers, notably New York which accounts for a remarkable 40 percent of all transit commuting in the United States.

Yet, overall, 90 percent of Americans get to work in cars. Access to jobs represents a key factor. University of Minnesota research shows that the average employee in 49 of the nation’s 52 major metropolitan areas can reach barely 1 percent of the jobs in the area by transit within 30 minutes while cars offer upwards of 70 times more access. This practical concern does much to explain why up to 76 percent of all work trips remain people driving alone.

What the future may hold

Cars are rapidly becoming both more flexible and environmentally friendly. Today, autos produce roughly a quarter of all U.S. GHG emissions but emit, according to the EPA, 75 to 90 percent less pollutants than in 1970. Years of emission controls and technological improvements have helped make the automobile, on average, a less conspicuous source of GHG. The EPA projects a 12 percent decline in CO2 emissions from cars while miles traveled increases 11 percent from 2015 to 2025. The U.N. now deems cow emissions more “damaging to the planet” than CO2 from cars.

Perhaps the biggest shift may be to electric cars. China, the world’s biggest car market, plans to allow only electric vehicles in the future. This transition will make cars cleaner, although the high energy cost of producing batteries with their rare metals may create major environment problems. It will also radically boost demand for electricity, mostly powered by coal and other fossil fuels. With nuclear power off the agenda in most western countries, and renewables far short of reliably providing the necessary extra juice, electric cars could produce sweet music to the natural gas industry, which accounts for more than six times as much of electricity generation than wind and solar combined and has been the driving force for U.S. GHG emission declines.

Posted in Environmentalism, Transportation

A Very Good Water Storage Year

That’s the good news from Maven’s Notebook.

An excerpt.

The Bureau of Reclamation’s Central Valley Project began water year 2018, which runs from Oct. 1, 2017, to Sept. 30, 2018, with 8.9 million acre-feet of water in six key CVP reservoirs (Trinity, Shasta, Folsom, New Melones, Millerton, and the federal share of the joint federal-state San Luis Reservoir). This is 145 percent of the 15-year average annual carryover of 6.2 million acre-feet and 4 million acre-feet more than the amount with which the Mid-Pacific Region began WY 2017.

“2017 was an incredible water year, and we are pleased to have bountiful water supplies,” said Regional Director David Murillo. “Now we are focusing on balance. We are heading into winter with our reservoir levels at a safe place with respect to flood control, should we experience another wet winter. At the same time, we believe we have conserved healthy storage levels in the event that we have a dry winter.”

The table below shows capacities and end-of-year storages in WY 2016 and WY 2017 for key CVP reservoirs; the next table compares end-of-year storages from WY 2013 to WY 2017. The amount of stored water at the end of the water year reflects the amount carried over into the new water year. One acre-foot is the volume of water sufficient to cover an acre of land to a depth of 1 foot, enough water to sustain a typical California household of four for one year. In spring 2018, Reclamation anticipates making a preliminary assessment of WY 2018 CVP water supply conditions…

[Tables at the jump]

The CVP is the largest single source of irrigation water in the state, typically supplying water to about 3 million acres of agricultural land in the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys and along California’s central coast. The CVP also provides urban water for millions of people and industrial water essential to the San Francisco Bay Area’s economy. Water from the CVP is also crucial for the environment, wildlife and fishery restoration, and hydroelectric power production.

During WY 2017, CVP power plants generated about 6.1 billion kilowatt-hours. Project use consumed about 20 percent of this energy; the remaining energy was made available for marketing. The Mid-Pacific Region’s hydroelectric generators have a combined capacity of approximately 2.1 million kilowatts.

Posted in Shasta Auburn Dam, Water

Supporting Farms

It seems pretty obvious we should, but politics is rarely obvious, as this story from the Sacramento Bee reports.

An excerpt.

You wouldn’t think I’d need to say this in a state that has proudly led the nation in agricultural production for 70-plus years, but I guess I need to: California agriculture represents a crucial asset to this state, economically and environmentally.

And yet in recent weeks, The Sacramento Bee has run an editorial suggesting farmers in the western San Joaquin Valley abandon their livelihoods as an alternative to reforming endangered-species laws (“Farmers rejected the Delta tunnels, but the battle ain’t over. Here’s what Brown should do next,” Editorials Sept. 20); an op-ed urging that Sacramento give up its agricultural past, (“Lose ‘Farm-to-Fork’, Sacramento, or you’ll only get farm-to-forklift jobs,” Viewpoints” Sept. 22) ; and an op-ed complaining it’s “not fair” for farmers to use water to grow food that might be eaten outside of California, “California farm exports help agriculture, but at what cost?” Viewpoints, Oct. 5).

Farming is not the “old economy.” It’s the “always economy.” People need to eat. California can provide farm products of higher quality in greater volumes with less environmental impact than can farms anywhere in the world. That ability is something that should be cherished and protected. Why do people want to destroy it?

Usually, anti-agriculture advocates say land and water could be put to some higher use. What could be a higher use than growing food? Without affordable food, Americans couldn’t afford smartphones, electric cars, vacations or the other products of the wider economy.

People worldwide want to buy our high quality farm products. We should celebrate that. But now comes a harebrained idea of taxing water used to produce food sold for export. Under that logic, we should also tax the silicon chips used for electronics sold outside the state – a similarly ridiculous idea.

Posted in Economy

Salmon Survived the Fires

Very good news from the San Francisco Chronicle.

An excerpt.

The vast majority of 710,000 salmon and trout — including the state fish, the golden trout — and 100,000 eggs at two state hatcheries survived this week’s wildfires in Sonoma and Napa counties, according to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Silverado Fisheries Base, located in Napa along the Silverado Trail, lost power for 24 to 48 hours, leaving some 200,000 fish without fresh water, aeration or food after staff was evacuated Monday. But an official said Thursday that only “minimal losses” were incurred.

“One fishery worker went back in late Wednesday, escorted by game wardens,” said Peter Tira, a department spokesman. “Much to our surprise, the fish were doing well, the eggs doing well.”

Meanwhile, Warm Springs Hatchery, downstream of Lake Sonoma near Geyserville, remained fully functional as of Thursday, even as nearby areas were evacuated. Tira said there are 160,000 endangered coho salmon and 350,000 steelhead at the facility being grown for release into the Russian River.

“It’s a very important hatchery,” Tira said. “The folks are there right now, and it’s up and running.”

At Silverado, power was restored by Thursday, and Tira said workers were eager to return to their posts and take care of the fish they are raising, though they are under evacuation standby alerts.

The Silverado hatchery is home to about 200,000 golden trout. The goldens are very small at this point in the season, about 2 inches, Tira said, a critical stage of their lives as they are grown out over the winter to be stocked in high-elevation lakes.

Workers at the site also were cultivating 100,000 eggs, all the Chinook salmon and kokanee salmon to be hatched and grown in California for stocking at the states reservoirs. They won’t know the full extent of survival rates until the eggs start hatching.

“We’re told the eggs look pretty good,” Tira said. “There’ll be some loss, but to put this in perspective against the loss in the region, they’re happy with what they found.”

Posted in Hatcheries

Reducing Wildfires

Pretty good article from Water Deeply about the strategies needed to reduce wildfires.

An excerpt.

With 17 large wildfires in California igniting in 24 hours this week, October is shaping up to be a brutal month for wildfires, as it often is. It’s too soon to know what caused multiple conflagrations spreading across Northern California’s wine country, but elsewhere in the state dead and dying trees have been the subject of much concern. The five-year drought in California killed more than 102 million trees on national forest lands. That is a gigantic problem in itself that will lead to huge wildfire risks in the future and big changes in wildlife habitat.

With that huge number in mind, it is easy to forget that the forests were already in a sorry state. It’s now widely understood that a century of misguided – but well-intentioned – policies over the past 100 years produced forests that are too densely packed with small trees and too vulnerable to possibly catastrophic fires.

Water supplies are also a concern, because the forests are nature’s water-storage sponges. They capture snowfall and release it slowly, helping Californians survive long, dry summers. But there’s also a concern that overgrown forests consume too much water, and that thinning some forests could generate more runoff.

new report by the Public Policy Institute of California proposes some different approaches to begin chipping away at the problem. It recommends some changes in state law and new contracting practices, among other things. It also suggests some changes in public attitudes.

To learn more, Water Deeply recently spoke with Van Butsic, the study’s lead author. Butsic is a land system scientist with a Ph.D. in forestry; he works as an assistant cooperative extension specialist in the University of California, Berkeley, Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management.

Water Deeply: How are California’s forests doing in the wake of the drought?

Van Butsic: The drought, coupled with the last century of management actions, caused a huge pulse in tree mortality. There are always dead trees in the woods, but the additional dead trees in the environment due to the drought is about 15 million a year.

One hundred years ago many, many large trees were harvested. Then we have a century of fire suppression, so we take fire out of the equation. So new trees are coming back and they’re not burning. Then, about 30 years ago, we stopped harvesting on most national forests. So we have a condition where the forests are of a much higher density than they’ve ever been before. Then we have the drought, and lots of trees on the landscape are susceptible to bark beetle outbreaks due to lack of water.

Water Deeply: How much additional prescribed fire is needed to bring the forests back to a healthy state?

Butsic: We didn’t quantify that ourselves. But what I would say is, the statistics we’ve seen from a number of good scientists have put the number of additional acres that need to be treated at somewhere between 200,000 and 500,000 per year. So a very large amount. The numbers in those studies come from a historical look at what was normal 100 or 150 years ago. That’s more than a doubling of what’s going on now. So it’s a substantial increase. I want to say that right now the Forest Service is doing somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 per year.

Water Deeply: There’s also a need for more mechanical thinning, or logging. How do we get past the controversy over that?

Butsic: One thing that has happened in California is sort of a distrust of mechanical thinning. Often, when the Forest Service or private landowners say they’re doing mechanical thinning, certain environmental groups think that’s code for clearcutting. One thing we try to say in the paper is this is a valuable tool and it needs to be on the table if we want to get this work done. So making sure mechanical thinning is not written off as code for clearcutting is going to be important if we’re going to manage forests.

Water Deeply: How do we ensure that it’s not clearcutting?

Butsic: There are very strong forest practice laws in California. My understanding of the current regulations governing forest management on federal lands is that in Forest Service Region 5, which California belongs to, it’s really nearly impossible to harvest trees [with a diameter] over 30in (76cm). So these trees are not really at risk, I would say, as long as the Forest Service follows its own recommendations. And yet this is still a stumbling block in conversations about mechanical thinning. People are still very worried about these trees because they’ve seen in the past some large trees disappear. That’s a difficult situation to work with. The laws are in place to protect those trees, and yet people don’t really trust them.


Posted in Environmentalism, Water

Deconstruction Continues

Dismantling Sacramento’s—and society’s—traditional sanctions against camping anywhere you want continues, as this story from Sacramento News & Review reports.

An excerpt.

After close to a decade, Sacramento’s anti-camping law is headed for what could be a historic trial.

Civil rights attorney Mark Merin said his long-gestating legal challenge, Allen v. City of Sacramento, is tentatively scheduled to go before a jury on October 23.

The civil lawsuit originated in late 2009, after Merin allowed nearly two dozen homeless people to take up residence on a vacant piece of property he owned in a light-industrial area of the city, according to appellate court documents and a phone interview with Merin. Merin gave them his written permission, brought in portable latrines and two service providers to offer care within the confines of the fenced lot. The deal was that Merin’s 22 guests could stay until they qualified for shelter.

Police officers enforcing the city’s ban on urban camping rousted the camp’s occupants with citations and the confiscation of their gear, which included tents and bed rolls. The campers returned, only to be cited again. The third time they came back, they were arrested.

Merin filed the lawsuit on behalf of his homeless guests, one of whom the suit was named for—Matthew Raymond Allen. Allen v. City of Sacramento alleged the city violated the homeless plaintiffs’ constitutional rights to sleep and due process.

A Sacramento Superior Court judge determined that Merin’s side failed to establish why his homeless clients lacked shelter and dismissed the case. Merin then filed an appeal to the state’s Third District Court of Appeals, which upheld most of the lower court’s ruling, except for one critical aspect: Merin and his clients could move forward with a request for declatory relief based on the argument that the city’s anti-camping law was being selectively enforced against homeless people.

More than two years after that February 2015 ruling, that’s what Merin aims to do. “We’re going to show that non-homeless people are routinely allowed to camp,” Merin said.

That’s certainly been the experience of Jeremy Robert Nevis, a 29-year-old collector who told SN&R he has frequently camped out overnight in front of local stores in anticipation of Nintendo product launches and never been approached by law enforcement.

In a Facebook comment thread, Nevis wrote that he had been engaging in the practice in various neighborhoods for three years, with groups big and small, and never received “so much as a bad look from an officer.” He added: “apparently this kind of camping is always acceptable?”

That’s Merin’s contention. He says the city and its attorneys will have the burden of proving otherwise. “I’d be shocked if they could produce anybody,” Merin said.

By contrast, Merin says, the Tommy Clinkenbeard Legal Clinic at Loaves & Fishes welcomes 50 to 60 homeless people a month seeking free legal counsel for infractions and misdemeanors connected with their inability to find housing.

An SN&R review of jail logs showed that 95 bookings for unlawful camping occurred throughout Sacramento County this year through October 3. (Actual prosecutions are much higher, as the superior court recorded nearly 800 violations of just the city’s law during a shorter span of time.) In 70 of the 95 cases reviewed by SN&R, no addresses were listed for the persons given the citations or their addresses were listed as “homeless” or “transient.”

Even the cases with addresses don’t necessarily indicate someone is housed. At least four unlawful camping tickets were issued to people who gave 400 Bannon Street, in Sacramento, as their home address. That’s the address for the Union Gospel Mission, a homeless shelter.

Merin’s is just one of the lawsuits around the country that have challenged the arrests and citations of people without shelter as violating the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Judicial precedent has tipped in recent years toward the view that local governments violate the rights of their most vulnerable residents when enforcing laws against sleeping outside.

Both the U.S. Department of Justice and Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals hold that it’s cruel and unusual to make it a crime to sleep outside if there isn’t enough shelter.

Posted in Homelessness