To consolidate, disseminate, and gather information concerning the 710 expansion into our San Rafael neighborhood and into our surrounding neighborhoods. If you have an item that you would like posted on this blog, please e-mail the item to Peggy Drouet at pdrouet@earthlink.net

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Report Reveals that Air Pollution Damages Reproductive System


November 5, 2013

Report Reveals that Air Pollution Damages Reproduction System

The China Meteorological Administration and the China Academy of Social Sciences released a report on November 4 which claims that China’s air pollution can negatively affect the reproductive system. Other worrying effects caused by the pollution includes acid rain, increased death rates, exacerbated chronic diseases, progression of respiratory and heart diseases, and changes in the body’s immune system.

The report also claimed that China’s smog and air pollution has been gradually rising over the past 50 years and that pollution trends indicate a decrease in smog in the west of the country and an increase in the east. Most areas in the central and eastern parts of China suffer from 25 to 100 smoggy days per year; while certain localities may even experience more than 100 smoggy days. Apart from Xinjiang, most areas in western China have less than 5 smoggy days per year.

New Details Reported About Transit's Zero Emission Bus Project


By Samantha Mehlinger, November 5, 2013

New details about problems with frame assemblies were reported late last month about Long Beach Transit’s (LBT) zero emission bus project with Chinese-based manufacturer Build Your Dreams (BYD).

On October 21, Rolando Cruz, executive director and vice president of maintenance and facilities at LBT, gave a status update to LBT boardmembers on the progress of the bus project. Included in the written report was an item that read: “Seven of the nine LBT pilot bus sub-assemblies were presented for inspection and not approved for use on the LBT pilot bus due to BYD’s production process.” At the meeting, Cruz told the board, “The LBT pilot bus assemblies, as we reported last month, were not accepted and are currently being scheduled for production.”

These details had not been previously reported, however, at least not explicitly or publicly. In September, the written update on the bus project provided to the LBT board included an item that read: “Quality inspection of the frame assemblies uncovered two issues that impact the BYD engineering bus and LBT pilot bus.” (The BYD engineering bus is being built at BYD’s cost to ensure quality standards are up to par before starting on LBT’s first contracted bus – the pilot bus.)

Details in the October 21 report said that inspectors had been sent by LBT to BYD’s factory in Kengzi, China, “to inspect the frame assemblies for the engineering bus” and also “[to inspect] the LBT pilot bus.” The report continues: “During their inspection they identified two issues with the assemblies, making them unacceptable for delivery.” It was not specified whether these issues pertained to assemblies of the engineering bus, the pilot bus, or both.

When asked to clarify if there were problems with both the BYD engineering bus’ and LBT pilot bus’ frames and assemblies, LBT did not directly answer the question. Instead, Dana Pynn, government relations manager of LBT, told the Business Journal via email, “As part of our Quality Assurance Plan, Long Beach Transit sent inspectors to China to inspect the subassemblies for the LBT pilot bus.”

Neither Cruz’s oral nor written report presented on September 23 had indicated the number of assembly problems associated with the pilot bus, or stated that, due to these issues, the LBT pilot bus assemblies were rejected.

When asked why such facts were not reported to the board earlier, Pynn wrote in an email: “At the time of the September board meeting, we did not yet have the final details from the inspectors and were only able to report on the preliminary details we had obtained. Staff was able to provide the final details to the board during the October meeting.”

BYD Fined For Labor Violations 

At last week’s meeting, LBT CEO Kenneth McDonald addressed reports that BYD had been fined $100,000 by the State of California for violating labor laws. These violations occurred at BYD’s factory in Lancaster, where LBT’s buses are to be built, and involved workers brought from China.

 State documents provided to the Business Journal by the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) cited 14 counts of paying employees less than minimum wage, 298 violations of workers being paid with “itemized wage statements containing inaccurate or incomplete information,” and 112 violations involving failing to provide a second 10-minute daily break for workers.

Kevin Lee, spokesperson for LBT, told the Business journal via email that the state had not informed LBT when it fined BYD. Based on comments from McDonald, it appears that boardmembers found out through a New York Times article published October 25.

Currently, LBT staff is reviewing its contract with BYD to “assess the impact to the contract following the conclusion and outcome of the labor investigation with BYD,” Lee said. As there were no LBT-owned frames in Lancaster at the time of the violations, Lee said that, to his knowledge, the labor violations did not occur while any work was being done for LBT’s contract with BYD.

Micheal Austin, vice president of BYD America, provided a statement from BYD’s senior management to the Business Journal. The statement explained that BYD is committed to “proper wage payment,” and noted it is still learning California’s “complex” wage and hour rules.

“We believe that perhaps due to language barriers or other misunderstandings, the labor commissioner’s citations were premature,” Austin wrote. “BYD recognizes that the California Labor Commissioner seeks to generate public awareness of wage and hour laws by focusing its enforcement efforts on industry leaders, but to the extent the Labor Commissioner’s statements in the press indicate any intentional wrongdoing by BYD, it is inaccurate. BYD wants to be a good corporate citizen in the U.S. and in California, and will continue its on-going efforts to achieve compliance with California wage and hour laws. We have hired experienced employment law counsel to assist us in this effort, and we hope to work in a conciliatory manner with the Labor Commissioner to achieve a satisfactory resolution.”

Since March 2013, when LBT signed a contract with BYD for the company to manufacture 10 zero emission battery-powered buses for LBT, concerns have arisen about the project’s compliancy with the Federal Transit Administration’s Buy America regulations, cracks developed during testing on a testing bus, and problems were discovered with bus frames at BYD’s factory in China.

LA Ports Face Challenge from Energized Gulf Coast


By Joel Kotkin, November 5, 2013

SOCAL WAKEUP CALL-In this strange era of self-congratulation in California, it may be seen as poor manners to point out tectonic shifts that could leave the state and, particularly, Southern California, more economically constrained and ever more dependent on asset bubbles, such as in real estate. One of the most important changes on the horizon is the shift of economic power and influence away from the Pacific Coast to the Gulf Coast – the Third Coast – a process hastened by the imminent widening of the Panama Canal. Over time, this could represent a formidable challenge to our status as a critical global region. 

It is easy to live in Southern California – particularly in the more-affluent, coastal sections or the middle-class inland valleys – and hardly know how critical international trade is to our regional economy. Invisible to denizens of Malibu or Newport Beach, the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles together account for almost 40 percent of U.S. container imports. Along with Hollywood, and our climate, it represents arguably the region's greatest asset. 

Overall, the ports are the critical linchpin of the roughly 500,000 jobs tied to logistics, warehousing and trade services. These jobs, notes economist John Husing, provide a wide range of generally higher-paying blue-collar employment compared with, for example, hospitality or retail. This is critical in a region with a large undereducated, but motivated, workforce. 

Southern California's emergence as the nation's largest trading center has been unlikely, tied more to ingenuity and ambition than natural geography. Unlike its West Coast rivals – San Diego, Seattle and, most particularly, San Francisco – the Los Angeles region does not boast a great natural harbor. Its construction, starting in the early decades of the previous century, was completely man-made and conceived. 

By the 1980s, sparked by a shift of trade from Europe to Asia, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach started to overtake, in merchandise trade value, New York, which had dominated U.S. trade since the first decades of the 19th century. Along with trade came business connections, direct air travel and a surge of Asian immigration. Today, Los Angeles, with roughly 1.5 million Asians, ranks first among America's counties for Asian population, while Orange County, with more than 530,000 Asian residents, ranks third, just behind the Santa Clara-Silicon Valley region. 

Wider canal coming 

These advantages, human as well as geographic, are critical to the region's global status. But this could change, in part due to the expansion of the Panama Canal – set for completion in late 2014 or in 2015 – which will open to Asian businesses the opportunity to send megaships directly to the Gulf Coast or the Southeast. 

“Trade will shift,” predicts Khalid Bachkar, a professor at the California Maritime Academy.
There are other challengers to our supremacy, including port expansions in both Western Canada and Mexico that could offer newer facilities and rail connections directly within their own countries and the vast U.S. market. But the greatest challenge seems likely to come from the Gulf, which offers excellent access to trains that carry goods directly to the vast majority of the United States. 

Demographic trends will also play a role. In the 1970s and 1980s, the Pacific Coast seemed like the premier growth market, but high housing prices, taxes and regulatory restraints – and, most importantly, outmigration – have slowed regional business growth. 

In the next four years, notes Pitney Bowes, Houston is expected to have the largest household growth in the country: some 140,000 people, an increase by 6.7 percent. Most of the other fast-growth regions in the nation – Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin, Texas, Raleigh-Cary, N.C., San Antonio, Jacksonville, Fla., and Charlotte, N.C. – are located either along the Gulf or are natural markets for their ports. 
In contrast, Los Angeles is projected to grow by only 1.5 percent and Orange County by less than 2 percent the next four years. 

Critically, the Gulf is, for the first time, attracting a critical mass of Asians. Over the past decade, Houston has enjoyed some of the nation's fastest growth in Asian population, up some 70 percent, and its Asian community is now the eighth-largest in the country. Houston's Asian population is now growing three times as rapidly as that of the San Francisco or Los Angeles areas. 

Energy exports 

At the same time, the expansion of oil and natural gas production in Louisiana, Texas and the Plains makes the Gulf ports major players in the emergence of the U.S. as an energy exporter. The Gulf Coast also is home to many of the nation's largest industrial investments, including from overseas. 
The Port of Houston, for example, posted a 28.1 percent jump in foreign trade in 2012, and trade at reached records levels at the Port of New Orleans (I work as a consultant in that city). 

Agriculture has also been on a roll in terms of exports, and 50 percent of the nation's grain shipments through Louisiana ports. Combined with rising energy and industrial growth, the Third Coast now claims a growing share of U.S. trade. Since 2003, the value of exports from the Gulf ports has more than tripled; the region's share of U.S. exports over that period grew from roughly 10 to nearly 16 percent. 

Once an industrial backwater, the Gulf region has attracted new steel plants, petrochemical plants and facilities involved in everything from airplanes to food processing. All these locations export such items as cars and chemicals, and all import goods, such as car parts and iron ore. According to Site Selection magazine, the Gulf includes four of the top 12 states – led by No. 1 Texas, No. 7 Louisiana, No. 10 Florida and No. 12 Alabama – in attractiveness to investors. Texas and Louisiana ranked first and third among the states for new plants. 

Standing pat 

Ultimately, this is a challenge that our region cannot afford to ignore, particularly with completion of the Panama Canal expansion in as soon as roughly a year. In anticipation, ports along the Gulf, as well as in the Southeast, are almost all improving and expanding their ports. In contrast, Southern California ports – largely because of labor and environmental concerns – may be slow to make the “intense capital improvements,” such as dredging and new road connections. 

This largely results from environmental pressures that, notes economist Husing, are not nearly as powerful along the Gulf or in the Southeast. A history of labor disputes by highly paid, politically powerful California port workers also has reinforced the notion that the LA area ports are becoming an increasingly unreliable place to do business. 

The Third Coast is also positioned to benefit from commerce with Latin America, the Gulf's historic leading trade partner. Latin America, notes Bill Gilmer, has been home to many of the world's fastest-growing economies. Since 2002, about 56 million people in Latin America,according to the World Bank, have risen out of poverty. 

Trade with these partners – including Mexico – are ramping up growth in Houston, as well as other Gulf ports. Brazil, notes Jimmy Lyons, has risen to become a trading partner of Mobile, Ala. Strong Latin immigration to virtually all the Gulf cities, particularly Houston and, increasingly, New Orleans, can only strengthen these economic ties. 

Southern California, with its vast Hispanic population and proximity to Mexico, also should be able to serve as a hub for this trade, but this can only happen if the region attaches greater priority to port development. Historically, this region was built by people taking risks on big infrastructure – covering everything from the water delivery systems to the port and freeways – that literally paved the way to economic progress, and growth. 

The key question now is: Do we still have the spirit and willingness to build, as our competitors are on the Third Coast, the Southeast, Mexico and Canada. If we fail to meet the challenge, Southern California could surrender desperately needed potential sources of new employment and a critical linchpin to our continuing status as one of the world's great global centers.

How Federal “Safety” Regulations Undermine Amtrak in California


By Angie Schmitt, November 5, 2013

Network blog Systemic Failure ought to write a book about how federal regulations undermine train travel in the U.S. It would be a long one.

Hispanic Californians ride Amtrak at rates much lower than their proportion of the population. Federal safety rules contribute to the problem, says Systemic Failure. 

Today he cites the case of how TSA regulations inhibit California’s large Hispanic population from riding Amtrak. Again, the federal transportation safety apparatus gets in the way of actual safety:
Hispanics make up half the population of California’s Central Valley. Los Angeles has 5 million Hispanics (9% of the nation’s population). And 23% of the Bay Area population is Hispanic. So why does Amtrak California struggle to attract Hispanic riders? Hispanic ridership on the San Joaquin service is only 20%.

Larry Miller, who served on the San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee, says there are several reasons. First of all, Amtrak has not done much marketing of its services in Spanish. He notes a recent “Companions Ride Free” promotion that had coupons printed only in English.

But the really big problem is the TSA, and the legally-required ID checks.
This is yet another way that TSA security policies actually make us less safe. By discouraging train travel, it results in more car trips — and more road accidents. Larry Miller hopes that California’s new non-resident driver’s license law will help attract more Hispanic riders. That seems implausible. Travelers afraid of getting deported aren’t going to submit travel plans to a government-run train service. Not when they hear news stories of VIPR and ICE patrols on buses and trains.
Elsewhere on the Network today: Vibrant Bay Area explores “city repair” — giving neighborhood residents more control over public rights of way. People for Bikes says that California cities and towns could fall far behind other urban areas in America when it comes to building protected bike lanes, because the state DOT, Caltrans, refuses to bring its engineering guidance into the 21st century. And the Bike League explains how bike advocates can begin to win over their local business communities.

What Did UCLA Really Discover About Millennials’ Reasons for Driving Less?


By Tony Dutzik, November 5, 2013

Members of the Millennial generation drive less than they did a decade ago. That much is clear. But are Millennials driving less simply because of the economy? Or are they driving less by choice, because of changing values or changing technologies?

A recent UCLA report may be underestimating the enormity of the influence mobile internet has on our daily lives -- including our transportation behavior.

The answer to that question matters. If the factors driving the Millennials to drive less are lasting, then America can probably afford to spend far less on new highway capacity in the years to come, freeing up resources for other long-neglected transportation priorities.

A 2012 study [PDF] by researchers at UCLA that is just now making it into broader discussion (see this piece from the Atlantic Cities last week) sheds some light on the subject — though not necessarily for the reasons that are gaining the most attention.

The UCLA study analyzes data from the National Household Travel Survey (NHTS) — which was last conducted in 2009 — to investigate how various economic, demographic and other factors influenced people’s travel behavior.

The most important finding, perhaps, is that younger Americans are indeed driving less than previous generations. “All things equal,” the study found, “younger generations appear to (a) travel fewer miles and (b) make fewer trips than was the case for previous generations at the same stage in their lives.” Specifically, they found that young people born in the 1990s traveled 18 percent fewer miles and took 4 percent fewer trips than those born in previous decades. And the data show that while the economy is one important factor, it’s not the only factor.

That finding should be interpreted with caution since it is based on only a few years’ worth of information about drivers born in the 1990s. Even with that caveat, however, the UCLA study might provide the most direct evidence to date for a generational shift in travel patterns.

The other results of the study, however, are attracting more attention — especially its conclusion that there is no link between reductions in driving among Millennials and the use of “information and communications technologies.”

That’s unfortunate, because the UCLA study uses only one metric — daily use of the Internet — to assess how technology use affected travel behavior in 2009. For young people especially, it’s a very limited and possibly outmoded measure.

The 2009 NHTS, on which the study was based, did not include any questions about texting or the use of social media — both increasingly important means of communication among young people at the time. Two-thirds of all 18- to 29-year-olds were using social media by late 2008, according to data from the Pew Internet and American Life Project (compared to no more than 35 percent of any other age group). By 2010, Pew concluded that text messaging “had become the primary way that teens reach their friends, surpassing face-to-face contact, email, instant messaging and voice calling as the go-to daily communication tool.”

If, therefore, young people were texting or using social media to connect with friends rather than seeing them in person — something suggested as early as 2010 by surveys such as those run by KRC Research and Zipcar — the NHTS, and, by extension, the UCLA study, would not have been able to tell us.

Moreover, as the study’s authors note, daily Internet use is correlated with a host of other factors — including education and income — that also indicate a greater propensity to travel. They acknowledge that “the apparent relationship between web use and [passenger-miles traveled] may thus actually reflect the effect of income on both web use and travel.”

The study’s findings on the impact of technology are even less useful when one considers the vast changes that have taken place since 2009. Tens of millions of Americans now have access to location-aware, Internet-connected devices that they carry with them 24/7 — a qualitative difference from the previous reliance on wired home Internet. As my co-author, Phineas Baxandall of U.S. PIRG, and I describe in our recent report, A New Way to Go, those technologies have unleashed a host of new transportation options — from expanded car-sharing and bike-sharing to real-time transit apps and new models for ride-sharing — most of which did not exist just four years ago.

The UCLA study is an important reminder that the implications of technology on transportation are complex and don’t always run in one direction. But while the study’s findings of changed travel patterns among Millennials add to the evidence in support of a generational shift in travel behaviors, we still need better information to determine how the advent of the smartphone, social media, and other technological advances of the last several years — advances that have revolutionized so many corners of American life — are affecting our transportation choices.

Intense Smog Is Making Beijing's Massive Surveillance Network Practically Useless


By Mike Riggs, November 5, 2013

 Intense Smog Is Making Beijing's Massive Surveillance Network Practically Useless
Cars drive on Guomao Bridge on a heavy haze day in Beijing's central business district January 29, 2013.

Beijing's surveillance network, one of the most extensive and invasive in the world, has been compromised by an unexpected foe: smog. The South China Morning Post reports that intense pollution in Beijing has reduced visibility to such an extent that "no surveillance camera can see through the thick layers of particles."

The problem is so serious that National Natural Science Foundation of China has commissioned two groups, one made up of civilians and the other military, to spend four years researching surveillance technology that can see through smog. A contingency solution? Radar. It might cause health problems, but it could penetrate smog particles that "are so many and so solid, they block light almost as effectively as a brick wall."

While the inability to use surveillance cameras could have an impact on crime control, it's also a temporary boon to China's civil liberties advocates and other dissidents. Since launching its "Skynet" surveillance program in 2005, China has bedecked the country with 20 to 30 million security cameras, placing them in taxi cabs, along streets, and inside classrooms, movie theaters, and private buildings. While private parties also buy and use surveillance systems, the Chinese government makes 70 percent of surveillance system purchases.

China's obsession with surveilling every corner of the country led it to spend $16 billion on video surveillance between 2009-2011. With more than 800,000 of those cameras in Beijing, that city now surpasses London as the most surveilled metropolis on the planet. Many of those cameras are used to harass dissidents, as NPR recently reported in this shocking piece on human rights lawyer Li Tiantian. An excerpt:
Chinese state security agents have privately confirmed they can turn cellphones into listening devices. Li says they also eavesdrop on her conversations to track her movements and arrest her.

"One morning, when I was going to a court hearing, I called a gypsy cab," says Li. "Police found out through the telephone that the car was coming to my compound. Then they waited there to catch me."

Li takes most of this in stride, but what really angered her was when agents invaded her private life. In 2011, they showed her boyfriend photos of other men she'd been involved with.

They also tried to show him surveillance camera video of Li entering hotels with the men at various times, but the boyfriend refused to watch.
Beijing and other Chinese municipalities are currently expanding surveillance under the banner of making a "Smart City."