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, October 28, 2014

The Hidden Gas Tax That Doesn’t Exist


By Melanie Curry, October 27, 2014


You may have seen the ads on Facebook or somewhere else online. Maybe you saw one of the roving billboards being pulled by a gasoline-powered truck. They warned darkly of a coming “hidden tax” on fuel that was so hidden nobody in the media was talking about it. You may have wondered what it meant, even as the ads urged you to sign a petition today.

Last week, the oil-industry-backed effort to get people riled up about the “coming hidden gas tax” delivered its petition [PDF] to the California Air Resources Board’s monthly meeting in Diamond Bar.
After months of trolling for signatures, the California Drivers Alliance gathered a whopping 115,000 signatures, and “dozens” of people showed up to deliver it. It urges the Air Resources Board to delay its “plan to increase fuel prices next year” and charges that the agency has been “unresponsive” and “has not even put this far-reaching policy on its agenda for public discussion.”

Not a word of which is true.

There is no “hidden gas tax” that will suddenly come into being in January. The Air Resources Board has no “plan to increase fuel prices,” nor could it do so. The only change coming is that transportation fuels will become subject to California’s cap-and-trade system.

That means that transporters and producers of fuels must either 1) comply with requirements to produce no more than a certain amount of greenhouse gas emissions (the “cap” on emissions), or 2) buy enough “pollution credits” from the state to “meet” the cap. This is the “trade” part of the system.
The EPA estimates that transportation contributes a quarter of the greenhouse gas emissions in the country.

To adopt the industry’s tactic of endless repetition: “There is no ‘hidden tax,’ or any other tax associated with [California climate change law A.B. 32] programs,” according to a written statement from Dave Clegern of the Air Resources Board. “There is simply a market mechanism, which industry preferred, to allow businesses to spread their emission reductions between now and 2020 . . . instead of having to make those greenhouse gas reductions all at once.”

The Air Resources Board knows that the industry prefers this method because it has said so. “The oil industry and dealers were at the table through this whole process, and have been aware this coverage was coming for at least five years,” wrote Clegern.

In official comments submitted to the Board in 2011, the industry’s trade group, the Western States Petroleum Association, wrote: “WSPA reiterates its support for the Cap and Trade program and a market-based approach to implementing AB 32.” [PDF]

Of course WSPA has fought hard against A.B. 32 and against many details of its programs, including the schedule for gradually decreasing the emissions cap and the timing of bringing transportation fuels into the system. At one point, WSPA recommended not doing that “until there are widespread cap-and-trade programs that include fuels throughout the U.S. and the world.” [PDF]

That could put it off as long as infinity, which would probably be just fine with the oil companies.
Meanwhile, despite what the billboards want people to believe, there is no reason for a sudden jump in fuel prices in January.

The Air Resources Board “has no control over fuel prices, so if there is an increase January 1, it is because the oil industry has decided that should happen,” wrote Clegern.

More to the point, oil companies have already been buying pollution credits under the cap and trade. This is partly because stationary sources of emissions–including oil refiners–have been subject to the cap since 2013.

While the Air Resources Board can’t say who has purchased allowances, there is a public record on which companies have been bidding in the auctions, and many fuel companies are on the list [PDF]. “It would certainly be prudent for a business with five years’ notice of this program to do so while the cost of allowances is quite low,” wrote Clegern.

“We know that there have been millions and millions of credits that have been purchased that can’t be used for another three years,” said Tim O’Connor of the Environmental Defense Fund. “So we know many of these market participants have been buying them. Oil companies have had this expectation of compliance for years.”

Since they’ve been buying credits, it’s logical to assume they are already passing the cost on to consumers.

Have they? Who can say?

There are two things that one can say with certainty about fuel prices: they have risen over time and will continue to do so, and they do so in anything but a straight line. The reasons for fuel price fluctuations are not clear, and they make predicting future gas prices a very imprecise science.
Since 2005, the price of gas in California has fluctuated by an average of $1.16 per gallon–not just gone up, but up and down and up and down.

Here is a chart showing changes in gas prices in California over just the last twelve months.

source: GasBuddy.com
source: GasBuddy.com

O’Connor has a name for the way prices fluctuate: rockets and feathers. “Year after year, prices at the pump shoot up – yielding significant additional profits for fuel suppliers – then casually drift down back to a point higher than where they started.”

“[The California Drivers Alliance's] story is that cap and trade raises prices,” said O’Connor. “But they avoid any discussion of a whole litany of information that shows that it isn’t necessarily true.”
“For example, with fuel diversification—moving away from a transportation system based solely on gas and diesel—you can decrease prices at the pump just by shifting demand. With more choices for fuels, demand for gas and diesel will lessen, and prices can go down. Also, providing more choices for mobility [so not everyone depends on driving] will also lower prices. And increasing diversification can decrease price volatility, making fuel prices much more stable and reliable.”

You can sign a petition in support of “the timely implementation of California’s pioneering clean air and clean energy standards (A.B. 32), along with setting clear, comprehensive, and ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals to extend the benefits of the law beyond 2020” here.

[NOTE: This story was updated to clarify the way cap and trade works]

Are LA’s Walkable Neighborhoods and Bike Lanes Only for the Creative Class?


By Julian Agyeman and Stephen Zavestoski, October 28, 2014

WHO WE ARE-The “Complete Streets” concept in urban planning and design has been hailed as nothing less than a revolution. “North America is on the verge of a new paradigm,” writes Mobility magazine. “At the forefront of the ‘street revolution’ is the concept of Complete Streets.” 
The concept, which focuses on making streets safe and accessible to everyone, is supposed to challenge both our auto-dominated mindset and our sprawling urban form by reimagining “streets for people.” The promised result: cities that are more walkable, cyclable, livable—and more sustainable. 
It’s not just the environmentalists who are pushing the idea. Realtors proudly tout the “Walk Score” of their properties, a 0-100 numerical index based on the ease of access to local services on foot.

Local businesses talk up the benefit of increased foot traffic in walkable neighborhoods where customers have no parking woes. Houston Mayor Annise Parker has argued that Complete Streets, by emphasizing accessibility, will help her city meet its diversity goals. And public health experts are in love. 

The New York chapter of the American Association of Family Physicians has proclaimed the health benefits of Complete Streets: “The pedestrian plazas, car-free spaces, neighborhood bike networks and world-class bicycle lanes [of New York City] are vital to the public health of our city. 
These changes help pave the way for a city that breathes cleaner air and is in better physical condition.” 

But there are real questions about whether, in embracing Complete Streets, cities are examining all of their policies, and being inclusive enough. People already using the streets are sometimes excluded. 

Take Los Angeles and its diverse collection of street food vendors you can find selling the tastes of distant homelands along the sides of streets, or bags of oranges and ready-to-drink coconuts from street medians. Though prevalent, sidewalk vending is illegal in LA—and yet the city is about to enact Complete Streets policies. How can the city not see the vendors as part of a vibrant, multicultural street ecology, whose absence would render the street incomplete? 

Streets should not be thought of as merely physical spaces, amenable to neat and cookie cutter redesigns around walkability or cyclability for the middle classes. Streets are so much more than that—they are symbolic, social, and multicultural spaces with many possible functions. When the narratives of those already using the streets, particularly those in diverse communities, are missing from the discourse and practice of Complete Streets, the result is actually incomplete streets. 

The ways in which Complete Streets narratives, policies, and plans are currently envisioned by the middle and creative classes, and implemented by urban designers, is incomplete. The current approach is systematically reproducing many of the urban spatial and social inequalities that have characterized our cities for the last century or more. Cities need planning and design processes that include those whose perspectives haven’t been included in the past—and that approach streets as dynamic, fluid, and social places reflective of local cultures and communities.

In Denver, lowrider cruisers were once part of the cultural landscape on the Northside, but have been delegitimized by the city through anti-cruising municipal codes and urban design. You can see the impact in Sloan’s Lake Park, on Denver’s northwest side, where urban designers transformed the internal south loop of the road system by incorporating it into a lake-encircling walking path. In effect, they promoted walking, jogging, and cycling—normalized in mainstream middle-class cultural and spatial practice—while frustrating fans of lowrider cruising. 

In New Orleans, urban planners state that Claiborne Avenue, especially the sections in the Treme and the 7th Ward, will become the “most complete street in the world,” a “corridor of culture.” But they’ve ignored the vivid street culture already practiced there—and the strong feelings among some African-American residents—about displacement and gentrification. “Completeness” in the redevelopment of New Orleans’ black core is not all that complete; the city is being reimagined and remade for a specific group of citizens while it is being dismantled for others.

California Commute: As economy improves, L.A. and O.C. rise in traffic congestion rankings


How Can We Invest in Infrastructure Without Raising Taxes?


By Odysseus Bostick, October 28, 2014

For a video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TTbElIgLh8o

Our roads are swiss cheese, our sidewalks are like a broken fault line, our bridges are sagging, and our cars are still the most convenient way to get through the mess.

We’ve gotten to the point where our infrastructure problems are so large in scope and the cost to change this is so high that we really can’t pass enough taxes or bonds to cover all of our needs. That’s not to say that passing specific bonds isn’t necessary.

Upcoming ballot measures within the County of Los Angeles aimed at extending Measure R are not just merited, but crucial to ensuring that all the money we’ve already spent on building a basic network of light isn’t wasted. And finishing our rail lines is just Phase One.

The basic structure of a rail transportation system won’t be the cure-all because logistics prevent even a vast network of rail lines from actually getting people to the places they need to go. Clearly, we need micro-networks to cover areas that rail doesn’t reach.

Some of these solutions are small in scope – like bike share programs, walkable/bikeable design, and the like. Others are larger in scope than that, like a streetcar.

The problem is that bonds and tax increases only go so far and funding the build out of our rail network will consume most of those big scope revenue increases. So we are posed with the question of how to fund the smaller scale, “end of the line” public transportation ecosystems so that a user has access to the nooks and crannies not conveniently located at the base of the train station platform?

Credit: Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times

Reality is, though many of us might be “hard core” enough to walk that last mile or two, most people will just go back to their car at that point, thus rendering the investments we’ve made in rail a bust. Correspondingly, political reality limits the scope of new bonds or taxes and passing an extension to Measure R will be a Battle Royale.

This mandates that we find creative investment streams to complement the full build out of a truly functional infrastructure network. These can’t all be new revenue streams. Some must be reallocated streams.

One really exciting model I think deserves far more consideration partners government infrastructure investments with public pension plan portfolio allocations to identify portions of the retirement portfolio that could be dedicated to infrastructure projects.

The advantages of this model are many, but my two favorites are the synchronicity of efforts and timelines.

In efforts, you’re looking to support livable retirements while investing in infrastructure improvements that build quality of life and foster economic growth in the private sector, which in turn, adds to the general fund in increased tax revenue to build more robust city services and yes, help fund the retirement plans. It’s also synchronous in the sense that your public labor force is investing not just a career in their city, but also their retirement security in a well-run city. That mutually beneficial relationship paves the way for a collaborative effort by taxpayers and their public employees.

In timelines, both pension plans and government infrastructure investments of large scope work because they can leverage longer periods of time than a private investment stream. That’s why bonds work to fund large scope infrastructure projects (like the transcontinental railroad) and why private capital for those “public good” projects is not relied on. Simply put, private capital needs shorter term profits whereas pension funds and government investments can wait longer to see profit.

This kind of partnership, however, doesn’t work for every kind of project mainly because the pension fund does need a quantifiable and reliable profit to be paid at some point. An example of a bad project would be sidewalks. How do you easily identify the kind of profits needed to make a pension pay out when that fund is investing $4.5 billion in road or sidewalk repair? It’s tough to quantify the benefit to the pension payout. It’s possible that some creative economist may one day develop a mechanism to do such a thing. All you creative economists listening out there, get to work.

In the meantime, there are infrastructure investment projects in public transportation where you have a quantifiable profit in fares collected.

One project I can’t seem to shut up about is a streetcar running down Lincoln and up Venice Blvd to connect the Expo station in Santa Monica with the Expo station in Culver City. That would be a $250 million project with quantifiable investment returns. Partnering with a pension fund like LACERS (operating an $11.4 billion portfolio) would be a win-win for building out a fully integrated infrastructure network, repairing an injured relationship between the city, taxpayers, and our municipal employees, and ensuring that investments by the taxpayers are maximizing public good for the city. The pension fund would, obviously, be a partner in the fare profits in order to ensure the security of the fund.
And I would add that c
ost efficiencies in running such a streetcar by these public employees would be higher than in a project whose success was not tied directly to their pensions.

While shifting the approach of investments as long range as pension funds takes time, I believe this approach merits strong consideration. The pensions must be funded no matter what, meaning that taxpayers here in the city (and county) must pay for them. It would be intelligent policy if those costs could benefit the taxpayers even more than ensuring a secure retirement for our public sector labor force. It would be great if that investment provided multi-dimensional benefits that foster the growth of our economy as well while ensuring that the tax increases from Measure R are not wasted because we failed to connect riders from the train stations to the places they really wanted to go.