Crystal Cove State Park

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Yesterday, I went on a hike with my dad and sister through Crystal Cove State Park.  It was a nice sunset as well as a reminder of Orange County’s sprawl (and penchant for oversized oranges).

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California Drought: Mendota in the NY Times

Mendota, a town I travel to every winter break, was featured in the New York Times today (probably for the first and only time). The article discussed how the Central Valley’s water supplies are at an all time low.

Drought Adds to Hardships in California [via NY Times]

Heidi Schumann for The New York Times

Published: February 21, 2009

MENDOTA, Calif. — The country’s biggest agricultural engine, California’s sprawling Central Valley, is being battered by the recession like farmland most everywhere. But in an unlucky strike of nature, the downturn is being deepened by a severe drought that threatens to drive up joblessness, increase food prices and cripple farms and towns. [Read full article]

Passenger Rail in Southern California

Decades ago, Los Angeles had one of the most extensive passenger rail networks in the country.  Streetcar lines were the lifeblood of personal transportation.  Now, passenger rail transport in the Southland (on Metrolink commuter rail or Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner) is unreliable, subject to lengthy delays, and unsafe compared to other commuter rail systems across the country.

Such poor service can generally be explained by one reason: passenger trains in California run along freight railroads.  Unlike in Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, passenger trains in California must share tracks and yield to frieght trains.  This makes service subject to significant unforeseen delays and safety concerns.  Last week’s horrific Metrolink crash is an extreme example.

As rail traffic in California increases over the coming years, it is imperative that the state invest in grade-separated tracks dedicated to passenger service.  California High Speed Rail would do just that.  Passing the Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act, on the ballot in November as Proposition 1A, is an important step in free ingpassenger rail from the constraints and dangers of sharing tracks with freight and creating environmentally friendly, rapid, and punctual service.

Palin Fights Against Environmental Justice in California

The LA Times reported last week that Governor Palin has been working against California SB 974, which would implement per-container charges to fund air quality and goods movement measures in the Los Angeles and Bay areas.  I think it’s a pretty base move (though not that surprising) for the Governor of Alaska to seek to dissuade Californian officials from addressing some of Southern California’s most crippling problems.  The pollution, health, and safety problems caused by the ports is a case of environmental injustice.

The LA Times notes that:

Fully 15% of the nation’s international container trade travels along the 710 en route to rail yards east of Los Angeles, warehouses in the Inland Empire and importers nationwide.

Environmental justice communities near the ports and along freeway corridors should not have to bear the unmitigated harms of the nation’s cargo needs.

Today’s strategies of goods movement in Southern California, especially through the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, are dangerous and inefficient.  Traffic congestion on local freeways, particularly the 5, 10, 15, 60, and 710 is significantly worsened by truck traffic from the ports.  Truck traffic from the ports creates safety hazards for drivers; an example is a seven vehicle fatal crash on the 710 last year.  As shown by last week’s train crash, Southern California railroads may also need to consider better and safer ways to move rail cargo on tracks that are increasingly being used for heavy commuter rail traffic.  Additionally, the pollution emanating from the ports leads to disproportionate health problems in lower income communities of color; the Times article above explains that literally thousands of Californians die each year as a result of pollutant emissions from the ports.

The bill (full text available here) recognizes that:

(b) The operation of the ports and trains, ships, and trucks that move cargo containers to and from the ports cause air pollution that requires mitigation.
(c) The improvement of goods movement infrastructure would benefit the owners of container cargo moving through the ports by allowing the owners of the cargo to move container cargo more efficiently and reliably, and to move more cargo through those ports.
(d) It is vital to the movement of goods in California, especially
in southern California, to resolve the road and rail conflicts of locomotives carrying container cargo and automobile traffic by
building grade separations. This infrastructure will reduce air
pollution and provide benefits to the owners of container cargo by
mitigating rail expansion. Without these grade separations, the rail
expansion may not happen, and California could lose valuable goods movement jobs.
(e) The reduction of goods movement air pollution would benefit
the owners of container cargo moving through the ports by contributing to the achievement or maintenance of federal air quality standards, which will allow for continued federal funding of goods movement infrastructure projects.
(f) The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and the Port of Oakland operate in unique communities, environments, and markets that require infrastructure improvements and air pollution reduction measures tailored to the nature and degree of need in each port of each community.

Governor Palin’s argument against the bill completely disregards the public health, environmental justice, traffic congestion, safety, and environmental concerns of California.

Episcopal Bishops Advocate Marriage Equality

Bishop Bruno and other members of the Diocese of Los Angeles took a significant stand for marriage equality today.  At a press conference, they explained their opposition to Proposition 8, which would implement a constitutional ban on same-sex marriages in California.

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Congestion Pricing and Anti-Sprawl Legislation

The California Legislature recently passed two awesome bills.  I’m especially excited about them in light of the Urban Economics course I took last year at Swarthmore.

SB 1422: High Occupancy-Toll Lanes

This bill authorizes LA Metro to proceed with its congestion pricing plan.  Metro plans to charge a toll for single occupancy vehicles to drive in the HOV lanes on the 10 and 110 freeways, and, as the Botttleneck Blog reports, potentially the 210 (which my Urban Economics final paper covered).  The funding for this project comes from the Federal grant that was going to fund congestion pricing in Manhattan before Albany killed it.

SB 375: Transportation Planning

According to Streetsblog, this bill is the first of its kind that

ties land use patterns to emissions and penalizes cities and municipalities that encourage development that leads to sprawl.

Now if they could just pass a budget, maybe some of this would actually become law…