Modesto growth policies called poor...Garth Stapley
Disunity at Modesto's highest level on how to approach growth contributed to the city's embarrassingly low score in a recent university study.
Modesto also suffers from poor public support for planning and progressive transportation policies, University of California at Davis researchers found after looking at the Central Valley's 100 cities.
"Achieving Sustainability in California's Central Valley" concluded that its largest cities embrace the best smart-growth policies, with Fresno, Sacramento, Stockton and Bakersfield ranking among the top nine. Modesto provided the sole exception, coming way down the list at No. 55.
Modesto, by far the largest of Stanislaus County's nine cities, has the county's worst policies for sustainability, the study concludes.
Researchers hoped to assess cities' capacity for managing economic, social and environmental problems. "Sustainability" has become a planning buzzword in the vein of "smart growth" and "new urbanism."
Right time for study
Associate Professor Mark Lubell said the time was ripe for a valleywide assessment because the region is poised for phenomenal growth. His researchers interviewed planning officials and combed through cities' general plans looking for antisprawl policies.
Oakdale (No. 10), Waterford and Newman (tied for 13th), Riverbank (19), Turlock (25), Hughson and Ceres (tied for 38th) find themselves in the valley's top half, the study found. Patterson (51) and Modesto (55) don't.
Half of Merced County's six cities are ranked in the bottom half, with two in the bottom 10 (Dos Palos, 90, and Gustine, 95). Its highest ranked city, Merced, placed 28th.
Six of San Joaquin County's seven cities are ranked in the top half, with Tracy (6) and Stockton (7) in the top 10.
'Growing pains' show
Modesto scored so badly that researchers chose the city for one of seven case studies. Their conclusion: "In many ways, Modesto is challenged by the growing pains of transitioning from small town to big city."
According to the study, Modesto struggles with:
Poor resident participation in planning issues. "People don't get proactively involved. They just react to things they don't like," Lubell said, referring to the study's findings.
Disagreement among council members. Some favor pursuing sustainable objectives and others prefer letting the market dictate housing projects, the study found.
Fewer planning staff dedicated to sustainable ideals, partly because of budget problems.
Voters' rejection of transportation measures, "indicating a lack of willingness to pay for services potentially related to sustainability."
Researchers seized on comments by straight-talking Councilwoman Janice Keating to highlight the valley's reluctance to embrace sustainable ideals. In the case study, she says that cities' "desire to do no harm (to the environment) is often outweighed by our pocketbook," and explains that people move to the valley because they want large lots.
Pressure to change
Carol Whiteside, a former Modesto mayor and founder of the Great Valley Center, said leaders will be required to change their thinking by state climate-change rules.
"There will be lots of pressure on cities to reduce the size of their footprints and get smarter about land use," Whiteside said.
Councilman Garrad Marsh said researchers seemed to ignore Modesto's high density, or people per acre, a hallmark of sustainability. But Marsh agreed that Modesto deserved low marks for dragging its heels on progressive regional cooperation, including lackluster support for the San Joaquin Valley Blueprint.
"Even though some talk about the idea of needing to do regional planning, when it comes down to doing it, they all balk at the idea of losing control," Marsh said.
David Hosley, president of the Great Valley Center, urged leaders throughout Stanislaus County to seize opportunities to work with other agencies.
"Too often, we're focused on just providing survival services and can't see the value of long-range planning, when that will affect the people they're serving," Hosley said.
Whiteside noted similarities between the study and The Bee's 2008 smart growth survey of 60 cities and eight counties in the San Joaquin Valley. The UC Davis study looked at more agencies by adding the Sacramento Valley and focused more on green measures.
Some cities performed similarly in both, such as Oakdale, which ranked first in The Bee's survey and 10th in the UC Davis study. Differences in methodology, however, caused Turlock, Patterson and Modesto to tank in this year's study.
Fresno and Bakersfield, regarded as poster cities for sprawl, fared well in both studies. Authors of both explained reliance on policies, which help predict future health, as opposed to past performance.
"I think of this more as a signal of intentions," Lubell said, "and we all know the best of intentions can go awry."
On the Net: http://pubs.its.ucdavis.edu/publication_detail.php?id=1286;www.modbee.com/smartgrowth.
Urban pesticide use is poisoning waterways...Editorial
A study of Northern California waterways has made some troubling discoveries about a widely used group of pesticides and the role of homeowners and businesses in putting them there.
The findings should prompt residents to reflect on their household practices. It also should lead to further scientific investigation of the role these pesticides are playing in the multifaceted crisis of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
The study, led by a University of California at Berkeley toxicologist, focused on pyrethroids. These are man-made pesticides commonly used in household insecticides, lawn care products and pet sprays.
Before this study, what happened to these substances after they killed unwanted pests was something of a mystery. Now it's a worry.
That's because the study discovered three things that hadn't previously been known about pyrethroids' penetration of local water systems:
These pesticides in the American River were present in sufficient quantities to poison the tiny shrimp that are among the early links of the aquatic food chain. That may come as a surprise to many people who view the American River as more pristine than it apparently is.
The pesticides were present in all of the urban runoff flowing out of regional storm drains.
Pyrethroids routinely were detected in local waste water.
Experts say this doesn't necessarily mean the pesticides play a key role in the devastation of the delta ecosystem, including the decline of nine fish species ranging from the tiny delta smelt to the giant green sturgeon. But that question must be answered by further study.
A group called Pesticide Watch says urban areas use more pesticides per acre than agricultural ones. Valley farmers long have been saying that to their critics, but it's mostly fallen on the deaf ears of those who like to bash agriculture.
What's obvious is residents across California should be using household pesticides with much more care. They are dangerous.
The pesticide study is a reminder that everything done in the watershed has consequences for the delta. While Northern California environmentalists like to blame farming for endangering threatened species, you don't hear much out of them about cities such as Sacramento dumping treated sewage in the delta.
We must protect the delta, and that means regulating all sources contributing to the problem, including cities and the pesticides that homeowners carelessly use.
Water debate goes to extremes
Common ground must be reached between farm, environmental interests...Editorial
The federal government just announced another $33 million investment in drought-relief projects in the San Joaquin Valley, and that should give some help to farmers stung by a third year of drought conditions.
But while the federal stimulus funds are appreciated in this region, they must not take the place of a comprehensive water solution to ensure an adequate water supply for the state's 38 million residents, and the industries that drive the California economy.
Water policy is a complicated mix of state and federal laws, which has made it difficult to get a long-term water policy through either the California Legislature or the U.S. Congress. Quick fixes have not worked, and our political leaders have not had the attention span to see that long-term strategies are adopted.
If we continue to ignore this problem, there won't be enough water for everyday urban uses or to raise the crops in California that feed the world. You can't continue to maintain California's quality of life with a water system that was built for half the residents than we have now.
One of the barriers is the huge philosophical split over how much water should go to agricultural uses and how much should go to protecting the environment, including species that are endangered.
San Joaquin Valley farming has been hamstrung by a lack of political support and legal decisions that have given more water to environmental uses. Valley farmers often have been their own worst enemies as they have refused to accept the reality of the changing political landscape, including the impact of the federal Endangered Species Act on water policy. That stubbornness has not been helpful.
We believe that agricultural, urban and environmental water needs in California can be accommodated with a comprehensive water plan. There would have to be compromises by all parties to the water debate, but this can be resolved if there is a willingness to support a sensible water plan.
That solution must include building dams, expanding underground storage through water banking and dramatically increasing water availability through conservation efforts. Farming practices must become more efficient and city dwellers will have to pay more for less water. We waste too much water in a state that doesn't have enough to meet all its needs.
Unfortunately, many see the water issue as a way of settling old political scores instead of determining what is best for California. There's a lot of hypocrisy in the debate, especially from environmentalists who want to protect the sensitive Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta by limiting the pumping of agricultural water. Yet we don't hear a peep out of them when Sacramento dumps treated sewage into the Delta.
The Delta must be protected and there must be adequate water for farming and urban uses. All this can be done if our policymakers are committed to fixing the problem and not parroting the tired old talking points of those who refuse to compromise.
We would like to see those who can find common ground on the water issue step up, and the shriekers on the political extremes to go away. The divisiveness that has dominated the water debate has gotten in the way of a solution.
Industrial, commercial building take hit as down cycle continues...Reed Fujii
Industrial and commercial construction didn't skip a beat when San Joaquin County's residential housing industry hit the skids in late 2005 and 2006.
Nonresidential construction rocketed to $312 million in the first half of 2007, soaring more than 50 percent from less than $200 million in the same period of 2006, according to the Construction Industry Research Board.
San Joaquin saw another 18 percent leap, to $368 million in first six months of 2008, based on building permit records, the board said.
But then the United States' slide into recession and last fall's worldwide credit crisis triggered a dramatic retreat.
Commercial and industrial construction this year through June 30 totaled less than $72 million, a drop of 80 percent, the Research Board reported.
It's by far the worst down cycle that Tim Pryor has seen in his more than a quarter century in commercial real estate.
"We've never seen credit as tight as this, and we've never seen mass failures of lending institutions as we've seen today," he said.
The lack of credit only adds to the economic pressure on commercial real estate, said Mark Plovnick, vice president of economic development at University of the Pacific.
"I would expect there to be a real falloff in investment because the entire economy is hurting, but the real problem is this lingering credit crisis. ... Even healthy businesses are finding it hard to find the money they need to keep going.
"The good thing is the credit markets are loosening up a little bit, so hopefully it won't get much worse."
Ned Smull, executive vice president at the Bank of Agriculture and Commerce in Stockton, said the slowdown has also pulled down commercial real estate values.
Because of the credit crunch, he said, "Everybody pulled their horns in a little bit starting last October.
"The downturn in commercial really didn't hit until this year," Smull said. "With unemployment up, with businesses going out of business, with companies closing ... we're seeing commercial real estate properties stumble right now."
For example, he said industrial condominiums that might have sold for $260 to $270 a square foot early last year, now go for as little as $115 a square foot.
"So a very significant drop in value; that's all supply and demand," Smull said.
Yet one more indicator, the amount of industrial space being occupied or absorbed, is also down sharply.
Pryor, president of Mid Cal Industrial Properties in Stockton, tracks the new absorption of industrial space - focusing on top-quality warehouse buildings of 50,000 square feet and larger.
In 2008, companies occupied a net 3.9 million square feet of industrial space in San Joaquin County, up by more than a third from 2.9 million square feet in all of 2007, he reported. Through the first six months this year, net absorption was just 125,000 square feet.
But Pryor expects that trend to change.
While "the first quarter of '09 was dead as a doornail," he said, "we are seeing an uptick in showings, tours of buildings. ... There's been a noticeable increase this summer, as compared to this spring, of offers being written. Activity seems to be on the upswing."
The recent announcement that General Mills Inc. will occupy a 735,000-square-foot distribution center in Stockton, relocating and expanding from a smaller warehouse in Tracy, is just one example.
"In this market, there are always a number of big deals kicking around," Pryor said.
Blake Rasmussen, senior vice president at CB Richard Ellis that helped broker the General Mills lease, agreed. He cited a number of big warehouse projects in the offing.
"You will see some very positive numbers for net absorption," he said, predicting that by year's end companies will have taken up about 3 million square feet of industrial space between both San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties.
He did say that those new occupancies are because of development and lease or purchase agreements worked out over the past 18 months to two years and that the pace of absorption may slow next year.
Still, it will help set the stage for an eventual recovery.
"By the end of 2010, we're going to have a shortage of available industrial space, I think," Rasmussen said.
Landmark Study Counters Pseudo Science Behind MLPA Process...Dan Bacher
A new landmark study published in the July 31 issue of Science magazine reveals that the California Current ecosystem has the lowest fishery exploitation rate of any place in the world examined by co-authors Ray Hilborn and Boris Worm and 19 other scientists.
A new groundbreaking study published in the July 31 issue of Science magazine reveals that the California Current ecosystem has the lowest fishery exploitation rate of any place in the world examined by co-authors Ray Hilborn and Boris Worm and 19 other scientists.
“The drastic reductions in harvest in California have been designed to rebuild the overexploited rockfish stocks,” said Hilborn. “At present the community of groundfish is now at about 60% of its unfished biomass, far above the 30-40% level target for maximum sustained yield.”
Dr. Hilborn, a professor at the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington, and the other authors of "Rebuilding Global Fisheries" say that efforts made to reduce overfishing are succeeding in five of ten large marine ecosystems studied, including those in California, New Zealand and Iceland. Their study puts into perspective recent reports predicting a “total collapse” of global fisheries within 40 years.
The conclusions by the 21 international scientists with widely divergent views effectively counter the spurious arguments by Governor Arnold Schwarzengger and his staff for the urgent “need” to fast-track the controversial Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) process because of the “dire condition” that rockfish, lingcod and other groundfish stocks are supposedly in along the California coast.
“Much of the motivation for the MLPA was concern about the state of the groundfish stocks - there is clear evidence that these can be rebuilt without MPAs resulting from the MLPA that have only recently begun to be implemented,” Hilborn said. “The benefits of the MPAs established under the MLPA will be primarily to have some areas of high abundance of species with limited mobility.”
This is not the first time that Dr. Hilborn has criticized the MLPA process. In 2006, Hilborn and others reviewed the MLPA model for size and spacing of MPAs and found: “It appears to us that those prescriptions were pulled out of the air, based on intuitive reasoning.”
Jim Martin, West Coast Director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, said the new study confirmed what North Coast environmentalists, anglers and seaweed harvesters have known all along – that efforts to restore groundfish populations through the highly restrictive Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) process are working.
“The conclusion that California has the lowest rate of groundfish exploitation of any place examined in the study demonstrates that the idea that we must rush into the MLPA process or there won’t be any fish left in the ocean is completely false,” said Martin.
MPLA Process: A Resource Grab, Not Marine Protection
A broad coalition of grass roots environmentalists, seaweed harvesters, Native American activists, recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, and elected officials on California’s North and North Central Coast is opposing the fast-track process for being an egregious case of corporate greenwashing rife with conflicts of interests, mission creep and the corruption of the democratic process. Many believe that Schwarzenegger and his allies are trying to kick sustainable fishermen and seaweed harvesters off the water to clear a path for corporations to install offshore oil rigs, wave energy projects and aquaculture facilities off the northern California coast.
As Judith Vidaver, chair of the Ocean Protection Coalition (OPC), said so eloquently in June at a groundbreaking meeting held by environmentalists, fishermen and seaweed harvesters in Point Arena to oppose the corrupt MLPA process, “What I see here is a resource grab. The first thing that the corporations want to do before grabbing public trust resources is to get rid of the people who live or subsist on the land and ocean.”
Likewise, Ann Maurice, Sonoma County Native American activist, put Schwarzenegger’s fast-track MLPA process in the larger context of cultural genocide by the state and federal governments against American Indian nations in California since the Gold Rush.
"Native Americans have been systematically deprived of the right to sustainably fish and harvest intertidal food," said Maurice, who has worked for years to stop MLPA closures from taking away traditional ocean harvesting areas vital to the survival of Kashaya and other tribal cultures. "Now the same thing is being done to you.”
There is nothing "green" about Schwarzenegger's fast track MLPA fiasco except for the Packard Foundation money that is funding a supposedly "public" process. At the same time that Schwarzenegger and his collaborators are ramrodding the MLPA process through the California Fish and Game Commission at the expense of coastal communities, he is pushing for a peripheral canal and more dams that will result in pushing collapsing Sacramento River Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, green sturgeon, Delta smelt and the southern resident population of killer whales over the edge of extinction.
While coastal groundfish populations are rapidly rebuilding under the current fishery management process, Schwarzenegger is trying to impose more unneeded closures on the most heavily regulated coastal fishery in the world. Meanwhile, rather than supporting efforts by fishermen, Indian Tribes and environmentalists to restore anadromous species including salmon, steelhead and sturgeon, he has done everything he can to make these fish populations extinct by fighting a court-ordered plan to restore the fish and relentlessly supporting efforts by corporate agribusiness to increase water exports from the California Delta, the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas.
In a stunning case of reverse logic, Schwarzenegger and his staff are ruthlessly opposing fish restoration measures for anadromous species that are on the verge of extinction while imposing redundant area closures on groundfish stocks that are the least exploited of any fishery in the world examined in the landmark study published in Science!
The California Fish and Game Commission will make its decision on which marine protected area alternative to implement for the North Central Coast at its meeting at the Yolo Fliers Club Ballroom, 17980 County Road 94B, in Woodland, California on August 5 at 10 a.m. Fishing groups are supporting 2XA - the alternative that achieves fishery conservation objectives with the least economic impact. At the same time, the California Game Wardens Association, fishing groups and grassroots environmental groups are pushing for a suspension in the MLPA process, in light of the state's unprecedented economic crisis, numerous conflicts of interests by MLPA decision makers and the questionable "science" behind the process.
The data about California fisheries disclosed in the Science magazine article makes it even more clear that the Marine Life Protection Act process must be suspended, since the "science" behind the process needs to be completely re-examined.
The Global Perspective: Fish Stocks Need Rebuilding
While California and other regions have seen the rebuilding of groundfish stocks through the implementation of strict regulations, that is not the case everywhere examined in the study.
"In 5 of 10 well-studied ecosystems, the average exploitation rate has recently declined and is now at or below the rate predicted to achieve maximum sustainable yield for seven systems," according to the study. "Yet 63% of assessed fish stocks worldwide still require rebuilding, and even lower exploitation rates are needed to reverse the collapse of vulnerable species. Combined fisheries and conservation objectives can be achieved by merging diverse management actions, including catch restrictions, gear modification, and closed areas, depending on local context. Impacts of international fleets and the lack of alternatives to fishing complicate prospects for rebuilding fisheries in many poorer regions, highlighting the need for a global perspective on rebuilding marine resources."
The abstract for Rebuilding Global Fisheries is available at http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/325/5940/578. A subscription is required to read the full article on-line.
Los Angeles Times
Judge hinders proposed Wal-Mart supercenter in Rialto
The city is ordered to void its approval of the mega-store because the project's environmental impact report was not analyzed correctly, according to the San Bernardino Superior Court ruling...Martha Groves
A San Bernardino County Superior Court judge has ordered the city of Rialto to invalidate its approvals for a proposed Wal-Mart supercenter because the city did not adequately analyze the project's environmental effect, among other factors.
In two companion cases, one filed by a grass-roots organization and the other by the city of Colton, Judge Donald R. Alvarez decided last week that Rialto's approval violated the California Environmental Quality Act and other land-use laws. The 284,000-square-foot project would be built just west of the Colton border.
The rulings were the latest slap against the retail giant, which in recent years has touted its sustainability programs but has faced unfavorable judgments from the courts. Alvarez previously invalidated an Ontario supercenter project.
In May, Judge Barry Plotkin, also of San Bernardino County Superior Court, rebuffed Wal-Mart's plan for a supercenter in the desert city of Yucca Valley, partly on the grounds that it had failed to take measures to reduce its contribution to global warming. Plotkin ordered Yucca Valley officials to examine the feasibility of an "environmentally superior 'green' Wal-Mart supercenter alternative."
These and other rulings suggest a growing legal consensus that climate change must be considered by businesses and governments promoting new developments.
Wal-Mart did not respond to requests for comment Saturday.
Wal-Mart, based in Bentonville, Ark., has long contended that its aim is to achieve stores with 100% renewable power.
Last month, the company unveiled a plan to attach "eco-ratings" to the hundreds of thousands of products in its stores. The world's largest retailer is betting that shoppers will increasingly care how "green" their purchases are -- and maybe pay more for environmentally friendly merchandise.
But the company disputed the need for solar panels to provide electricity at the proposed Yucca Valley store, saying the estimated 7,000 metric tons per year of greenhouse gases that would result from the store's operation were too insignificant to require such measures.
Cory J. Briggs, an attorney for Rialto Citizens for Responsible Growth, which challenged the Rialto project, said Wal-Mart's actions undermine its talk of sustainability.
"Wal-Mart argued that global warming science doesn't yet allow it to reduce its carbon emissions," Briggs said. Yet in 2007, he noted, Wal-Mart announced plans for pilot solar projects in 22 of its stores in California and Hawaii; a Wal-Mart official said at the time that the company felt it was important to "help point the direction in the use of renewable energy."
The citizens group argued, and the judge agreed, that Rialto did not give proper notice of the public hearing at which the project was approved. Alvarez also agreed that the city did not, as required, find that its development agreement with Wal-Mart was consistent with the city's general plan and a specific plan. And he supported the group's contention that Wal-Mart did not take into account other anticipated projects in the area when analyzing cumulative effects.
In addition, Alvarez said the environmental impact report improperly "defers or fails to analyze and mitigate" potential effects on five special-status plant species, including Plummer's mariposa lily, and on the San Bernardino and Stephens' kangaroo rats and the Western burrowing owl.