Snow Pack Looking Great

This is very good news, so far, for our area, from the Sacramento Bee.

An excerpt.

Heavy storms in the Sierra from late November into early December have boosted statewide snowpack to more than 100 percent of normal for this time of year, according to California Department of Water Resources data.

According to the most recent snow surveys, snowpack as of last Wednesday stood at 106 percent of normal across the state, and higher in some parts of the mountain range.

The central Sierra, from Tahoe to Yosemite, was at 113 percent of average as of last Wednesday, and the south Sierra was at 125 percent of average last Thursday thanks to a huge storm that brought feet of snow to Mono County.

It’s more than double last year’s totals for the same time frame. Statewide snowpack was 50 percent of average or less by early December 2017, DWR survey data show.

And this month’s snowpack may grow even more. Some rain and snow are forecast to continue near Tahoe on Monday, according to National Weather Service Reno.

NASA satellite images show a snow-less California as late as Nov. 20. By Dec. 2, most of the Sierra was white-capped.

Multiple weather systems over the last two weeks have led to snowstorms, travel delays on Highway 50, “near white out conditions” in isolated areas and plenty of fresh powder at Tahoe ski resorts.

Retrieved December 10, 2018 from https://www.sacbee.com/news/weather/article222897855.html

Posted in Water

Two Faces of Environmental Movement

Once when we really needed them and once when not so much.

First, when we needed them:

At Owens Lake as this story from California Sun reports.

A century ago, Los Angeles pulled a sensational swindle. Agents from the city posed as farmers and ranchers and strategically bought up land in the lush Owens Valley, 200 miles to the north. Water rights in hand, the thirsty metropolis proceeded to drain the region via a great canal.

If the deception weren’t bad enough, the result was one of the nation’s worst ecological disasters. The 100-square-mile Owens Lake was emptied, creating a salt flat the size of San Francisco that unleashed enormous amounts of hazardous dust.

As recently as 2013, it remained the largest single source of dust pollution in the United States.

Even so, the lakebed has been experiencing a turnaround. Under court order, Los Angeles has spent about $2 billion over the last two decades to introduce vegetation and shallow flooding.

That’s led to a dramatic reduction in the dust blowing off the desiccated ground as well as another outcome that took many by surprise: the almost overnight return of tens of thousands of birds on the Pacific Flyway — grebes, dowitchers, whimbrels, sandpipers, sparrows, and others. Last April, Owens Lake was designated as a shorebird reserve of international importance.

Retrieved December 6, 2018 from https://www.californiasun.co/stories/the-strange-rebirth-of-owens-lake/

And a time when not so much.

As this story in the Redding Record Searchlight about raising Shasta Dam reports.

An excerpt.

A trio of tiny salamanders could stand in the way of a massive $1.4 billion project to raise the height of Shasta Dam.

An environmental organization has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, asking a judge to force the federal agency to make a determination on whether three salamander species living around Lake Shasta should be protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The suit was filed after the wildlife service failed to act on a 2012 request from the Center for Biological Diversity to list the three amphibian species as either endangered or threatened under federal law.

The agency had one year to decide to list the amphibians or reject the request, said Jenny Loda, an attorney for the group.

Because the federal agency did not rule on the request, the center sued, she said.

What happens with the center’s request could affect the plans to raise the height of Shasta Dam by 18½ feet, she said.

Retrieved December 6, 2018 from https://www.redding.com/story/news/2018/12/05/tiny-salamanders-may-stand-way-massive-shasta-dam-raising-project/2210322002/

Oh well, guess we have to accept the bad with the good….

Posted in Environmentalism, History, Shasta Auburn Dam

California’s High Speed Rail Project

I have been, and continue to be, supportive of the concept of high speed rail for California, but after reading this account from City Journal, will not be so for the California version until, and if, it becomes competently administered.

California just seems to have trouble doing large stuff right.

An ecerpt.

In 2008, California voters approved a bond for a high-speed rail line connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles with the fast-growing cities in the state’s Central Valley. With trains running at 220 miles per hour on dedicated tracks, California High-Speed Rail (CAHSR) would be the first true high-speed rail line in the U.S. The project’s backers, including Governor Jerry Brown, promised that CAHSR would cost just $33 billion and be finished by 2022, including extensions to Sacramento and San Diego. It would whisk passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in two hours and 40 minutes—fast enough, if European experience is a guide, to convince most air travelers on that route to take the train instead.

Ten years later, supporters have ample cause to reconsider. CAHSR’s costs have severely escalated: the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) now estimates that the train’s core segment alone, from San Francisco to Los Angeles, will cost from $77 billion to $98 billion. Promises that private investors would cover most of the costs have fallen through. Forecasts for the project’s completion date and travel times have also slipped. The fastest trains in the CHSRA’s current business plan have a running time of over three hours, and the first segment of the line—San Jose to Bakersfield, almost 200 miles short of completion—won’t open until 2029.

The project’s troubles have been largely self-inflicted, starting with poor route choices. At the south end of the line, from the Central Valley to Los Angeles, rather than proceeding in a direct route from Los Angeles to the northwest through Tejon Pass, roughly along Interstate 5, the planned line takes a detour to the northeast through Palmdale, a rapidly growing exurb, and enters the Central Valley through Tehachapi Pass. The CHSRA justified this choice by arguing that the Tejon route would require more tunnels and slow curves and be more vulnerable to earthquakes.

But in a convincing independent analysis, aerospace engineer and transportation activist Clem Tillier has called the CHSRA’s study of the Tejon alternative “a finely crafted web of distortions.” The study, Tillier wrote, used skewed assumptions guaranteed to produce a poor Tejon route. Most notably, the CHSRA supposed that no route could cross a planned residential development in a key portion of Tejon Pass. The CHSRA instead produced a Tejon alignment that veered around the development with sharp curves and six extra miles of tunnel, even though the additional tunnel would cost more than buying the entire development outright. Tillier concluded that a better Tejon alignment would save 12 minutes of travel time and $5 billion in construction costs over Tehachapi. These 12 minutes could make a critical difference to ridership, as most studies have found that trains rapidly lose riders to airplanes for journeys longer than about three hours. Speculation that the interests of real-estate developers rather than riders motivated the Tehachapi detour is hard to dismiss.

The CHSRA has also wasted large sums of money through poor management. Tillier has detailed how the Authority plans to spend billions to outfit Bay Area stations with unnecessary tunnels and viaducts, rather than making elementary improvements to operations. A state audit has shown that the CHSRA knowingly incurred massive additional cost risks by starting construction prematurely; desperate to show progress and to meet a deadline for federal funds, the CHSRA began construction in the Central Valley without buying all the land it needed, or even completing negotiations with the freight railroads whose rights-of-way it planned to use. The state auditor also criticized the CHSRA for hiring expensive consultants, over the objections of its former CEO, to do routine budgeting work.

Some of the worst revelations in the state auditor’s report concern basic failures of contract management. The CHSRA paid contractors without inspecting their work, and contract managers’ review of the quality and cost of finished products was often so shoddy that the auditor could not even conclude whether the CHSRA’s spending was justified. In one especially egregious case, in 2017, the CHSRA hired an external consultant to check the work of Parsons Brinckerhoff (now WSP USA), which had been paid $666 million for engineering consulting. The external consultant found that the CHSRA had not received finished work for 145 of 184 tasks that Parsons Brinckerhoff had called “complete.”

Retrieved December 5, 2018 from https://www.city-journal.org/californias-high-speed-rail-project

Posted in Government, Technology, Transportation

Sobering Look at California Debt

This article from New Geography is not quite what California’s leaders have been telling us.

An excerpt.

It’s become common folklore that California is booming and incoming Governor Newsom and the Democratic supermajority have more taxpayer money than they will know how to spend, save, or invest. Nothing could be farther from the truth; and it’s the California voters and taxpayers who will continue to be pay for this mistake. We literally owe trillions that isn’t being discussed. Just the estimated payments on public employee pensions in California will increase from $31 billion in today’s dollars to $59 billion in 2024; and this number is based on non-recessionary conditions or a major correction in the stock market. And California immediately needs $800 billion to over $1 trillion worth of infrastructure repairs, upgrades and new construction.

A conservative estimate of California’s total debt by the California Policy Center in a 2017 study – before new tax and bond obligations recently voted in were factored – puts California’s total local and state debt at $1.3 trillion. The Stanford University Pension Institute (www.pensiontracker.org) in 2017 calculated California’s unfunded liability at $1.4 trillion and CalPERS also with an unfunded liability of $1.4 trillion, with CalSTRS billions underwater as well to give, “real state debt of $2.8 trillion.”

Whichever calculation is used California owes trillions and doesn’t have a plan in place to address this issue. What should be clear is that California does not have a surplus or anything near a surplus factoring in total debt and infrastructure for a basic, functioning society California citizens and non-citizens expect. This figure also doesn’t factor in health care costs rising under Covered California, Medi-Cal or possibly expanding Medicare to include all Californians living in-state.

These financial and societal facts will affect overall fiscal health and the ability to pay back debts accruing interest or fall under the category of a future obligation. Government services at the state, county and local level are at risk if a recent announcement by the CalPERS Board is taken into consideration titled, “Risks Report,” highlighted, “The greatest risk to the system continues to be the ability of employers to make their required contributions.”

Taxpayers will have to make up the shortfall through additional taxes – like eliminating Prop 13, voting in a VAT or services tax or some combination thereof – otherwise first responder-response-times, social services for the poor and needy; and environmental standard protocols will erode.

There are other factors California will need to overcome to pay back their debt and realize we do not have a budget surplus. California’s unemployment rate is 33rd in the nation at 4.1%. The national unemployment rate is 3.7%. We have the highest taxes in the nation when the variables of the gas tax, state income tax, and sales tax are put into the equation. Additionally, California has the highest housing and rents in the nation per amount of residents. The median home price in California is roughly $544,900 whereas the remainder of the United States is estimated at $220,000. We artificially suppress housing supply (particularly, single-family-home) – though demand hasn’t diminished – driving up prices. Our stringent environmental standards evidenced by CEQA, SB 375, AB 32, SB 100 and CARB is hurting job growth and economic sustainability.

High taxes and regulations; and a tough business environment are some of the reasons why Toyota, Occidental Petroleum, and Nestle USA food conglomerate left California. Now the second largest firm in California – McKesson Pharmaceuticals is seriously contemplating leaving for Texas – according to a report by the San Francisco Business Times. The issue isn’t whether or not these companies leave; instead it’s the high paying jobs with benefits across all income spectrums being driven out of California. Moreover, we need successful firms to assist tackling the trillions we owe in pensions, bond obligations and infrastructure requirements.

After this recent election where it has become proper to bash Republicans – especially California Republicans – many will postulate there is no difference between Republicans and Democrats. When there is nothing farther from the truth. I’m not speaking about politics, which is essentially the means for winning elections and building coalitions for governance, I’m speaking about actual policies. How do you allocate taxpayer money? Do you want to tackle California’s debt or speak about a surplus instead? Do you believe in abortion, gay marriage, some form of socialism? Do you build a larger navy to confront global problems? Do you believe in fracking?

Those are policy decisions that have wide ramifications for California policymakers and voters. The California Democratic Party currently believes in spending more than it takes in by amounts it will never be able to recover; though incoming Governor Newsome showed variables of fiscal restraint as Mayor of San Francisco. Of course there are establishment cronies and swamp-dwellers in both parties; but if you only take environmental policy using Tom Steyer as an example there has never been a more powerful oligarch in recent memory.

The planet and California isn’t better off for the policies Mr. Steyer advocates for and our poverty and homelessness continues being the worst in the nation. These are examples of policy decisions similar to believing there is a budget surplus that have long-term, negative ramifications.

Retrieved December 5, 2018 from http://www.newgeography.com/content/006159-california-doesn-t-have-a-budget-surplus

 

Posted in Economy, Government

Sacramento Continues Struggling with Homelessness

A reminder that the biggest problem facing the Parkway is the devastation caused by illegal camping by the homeless, as well as the related public safety issues Parkway adjacent neighborhoods have to contend with, so this article from the Sacramento Bee noting the ongoing struggle to resolve the larger problem remains relevant.

An excerpt.

For at least seven months, the city of Sacramento has searched without luck for locations to open new homeless shelters, scouring parcels of land it owns and private properties for suitable places to put more facilities before winter.

Late last week, with cold weather moving in, Mayor Darrell Steinberg said an existing triage shelter currently housing up to 200 people in North Sacramento will need to remain open in coming months while city leaders continue their debate about where and how to house the city’s unsheltered population.

Steinberg said that debate needs to include a plan to put shelters across the city rather than clumping them in low-income neighborhoods, and he has asked council members to commit to housing at least 100 homeless people in each of their districts next year, either in scattered small residential shelters or larger facilities.

“It must be a fair approach. It shouldn’t just be one area of the city,” Steinberg said in an interview with The Bee on Thursday night. He publicly announced the plan during a news conference outside City Hall on Monday, feet away from homeless people who were bundled up and lying down on the cement.

The city’s current triage shelter on Railroad Drive in North Sacramento opened last December and was originally slated to close at the end of May. Its operation has been extended multiple times, despite opposition from some neighbors.

Steinberg also said he would like three of the new facilities to be “Sprung” shelters, similar in size to Railroad Drive, and be open by the end of 2019. Sprung shelters are semi-permanent, tent-like buildings that can be erected in a matter of weeks.

The name refers to the manufacturer Sprung, which offers “tensioned fabric structures” for a variety of uses, from military bases to churches and homeless shelters. The Sprung structure model has been credited with helping to reduce the homeless population in San Diego.

Steinberg said in May he planned to open a Sprung structure on city-owned property by September that would have sheltered up to 200 homeless individuals, and eventually planned on opening three such sites to house up to 600 people. Previously, he said the tents were a key element of his promise to get 2,000 people off of the streets by 2020. Steinberg reiterated that goal Thursday.

“I refuse to continue to preside over modest success,” Steinberg said. “We’ve helped hundreds, and now it’s time to turn it into thousands.”

But the city so far has been unable to find any locations that meet both the technical requirements of the Sprung tents and has neighborhood support.

Retrieved December 4, 2018 from https://www.sacbee.com/news/local/homeless/article222459220.html

Posted in Homelessness, Public Safety

Fall Out from Fires, the Homeless, New & Old

A sad story as reported by the New York Times, and I’ll be putting a little extra in the Red Kettle this season

An excerpt.

CHICO, Calif. — Even before the first flames of the Camp Fire were set ablaze, there already was a state of emergency in the wooded hills and farmlands north of Sacramento.

The homeless situation in parts of Butte County was so bad that the county formally declared a crisis in October in order to secure millions of dollars in state aid.

And then came the fire, destroying nearly 14,000 residences and adding an entirely new population of tens of thousands of people to California’s long-entrenched homeless crisis.

“It was already a pretty dire situation,” said Laura Cootsona, the executive director of the Jesus Center in Chico, one of a handful of primary homeless shelters in the county.

In the post-fire reality, after 52,000 people were evacuated, the number looking for some place to live has grown exponentially almost overnight.

“If they end up in the county and need homes,” Ms. Cootsona added, “that’s just the largest disaster you can imagine.”

Now, almost a month after the fire erupted, with the weather worsening and evacuation shelters closing or relocating farther away, tensions are growing between those who were already homeless and the newly homeless, as each group reaches for the other’s resources.

Local providers of shelter and aid are bracing for an influx of new people in need, putting even more pressure on the shelter system and forcing difficult decisions about who should get priority for limited space.

California has one of the largest homeless populations of any state in the country — about 134,000 people, according to a 2017 Department of Housing and Urban Development report — and that population is growing faster than in other states. More than one-quarter of the nation’s total homeless population is in California.

Butte County alone already had about 2,000 homeless before the Camp Fire, with less than half of them making use of the county’s emergency shelters and transitional housing, according to a report by the Butte Countywide Homeless Continuum of Care. Many more choose instead to live on the streets or in tents.

Advocates say that in most cases, the goal of the shelters is to get people into temporary housing, support them on a path to self-sufficiency, and eventually get them settled in a permanent home. Along the way, there are fundamental issues to address, like mental illness, addiction and lack of income. But one of the biggest barriers to ending homelessness in Butte County is a dire shortage of available, affordable rental housing.

Retrieved December 3, 2018 from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/03/us/california-fire-homeless.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage

Posted in Homelessness

Thanksgiving Break

I’ll be taking off from blogging for Thanksgiving, back December 3rd ..

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!!!

Posted in Holiday, Uncategorized