8-31-08Modesto BeeCalif. land use subject to global warming review...DON THOMPSON, Associated Press Writer...8-30-08http://www.modbee.com/state_wire/story/412966.htmlFor decades, California cities and counties knew one way to grow - by sprawling outward.That approach, which has led to ever longer commutes, jammed freeways and worsening air quality, is being challenged under a bill that was approved Saturday in the state Legislature.The bill would require local governments to plan their growth so homes, businesses and public transit systems are clustered together. The goal is to help California meet the emission mandates spelled out in a wide-ranging greenhouse gas reduction law passed two years ago.At the same time, it will encourage housing to be built closer to where people work and shop while discouraging the type of suburban sprawl that has characterized California's development pattern for decades.It requires local governments to submit regional development plans to state air regulators for approval, making them eligible for billions of dollars in state and federal transportation grants.Sen. Darrell Steinberg, the bill's author, said it has drawn support from groups that typically are adversaries: home builders, environmentalists, advocates for affordable housing and local government officials. He called it "the coalition of the impossible."Steinberg said the legislation "allows California to grow, but in a way that is consistent with our environmental goals."California would be the first state to impose such statewide requirements on local land-use decisions and connect them to concerns about global warming. It is one of many steps the state is taking to meet the mandates of the 2006 law, which requires all greenhouse gas emissions statewide to be reduced to 1990 levels by 2020.The state Senate approved the bill on a 25-14 vote. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has championed the 2006 law, has not indicated whether he will sign it...His bill requires the California Air Resources Board to work with local governments to set regional targets for reducing heat-trapping greenhouse gases. Those targets would be used in transportation plans for each of the state's 17 metropolitan regions.Similarly, the state would create regional housing plans that take into account the transportation plans, putting more homes near rail and bus lines and within a short commuting distance of major employers.Local governments and transit agencies that comply would get faster regulatory approval, including an easing of the usual environmental review requirements. That provision allows a major concession to developers by making it more difficult for opponents to sue them as a way to stop projects...Fresno BeeBill to reward smart growthBipartisan effort addresses several of state's biggest problems...Editorialhttp://www.fresnobee.com/opinion/story/833236.htmlAn innovative bill changing the way land-use decisions are made in California is moving through the Legislature and should land on the governor's desk soon. It may wait there a while, since the governor is still determined to hold up most legislation until a budget deal is achieved. But the measure, Senate Bill 375, by Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, is a carefully crafted effort to rein in sprawl, cut greenhouse gas emissions, boost mass transit and increase the amount of affordable housing in the state. It deserves the governor's signature. The bill is complicated, reflecting the fact that Steinberg has worked hard on it for two years, trying to assemble an unlikely coalition of environmentalists, the residential building industry and local governments.But basically, it would reward local governments for adopting "smart growth" policies in their general plans that encourage denser urban growth, the use of mass transit and shortened commute times. The incentive, in return: Growth that meets those standards would have a higher priority for state transportation funding than areas that don't comply.The state's Air Resources Board will be setting targets for reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions, part of the process of implementing Assembly Bill 32, California's historic effort to attack global warming. Local and regional governments would have to create land-use policies that reflect those goals to move ahead in line for transportation funding. Cities and counties would still be free to sprawl to their hearts' content, but growth outside the target parameters wouldn't qualify for the funding break, a powerful incentive to grow wisely.SB 375 is a real breakthrough. As Steinberg remarked at a press conference earlier this month, it is "the first time in the country that the issues of land use, transportation, housing and climate change have been brought together in a comprehensive piece of legislation."...Opponents of SB 375 include some business groups and Republicans in the Legislature -- among them Assembly Minority Leader Mike Villines, R-Clovis. They argue it will reduce consumer choices in housing and local control. But eight Republicans joined the majority Democrats to pass the bill in the Assembly, 49-22, making it a truly bipartisan effort. SB 375 is a carefully crafted bill that addresses some of the biggest issues facing California communities. Steinberg should be congratulated for his landmark work, and the governor should sign his bill. Sacramento BeeForeclosures keep piling up in region...Tony Bizjakhttp://www.sacbee.com/101/v-print/story/1199017.htmlNew data show Sacramento homeowners continue to take a big hit as the nation's foreclosure crisis churns through a second difficult summer.One of every 145 households in Sacramento, El Dorado and Placer counties faced foreclosure in July – 5,290 properties – according to Realtytrac, Inc. data service, saddling Sacramento with the 11th worst foreclosure rate in the country.Foreclosures nationally were up 55 percent over July of last year, and mortgage experts say they see no letup in the litany of lost houses anytime soon."There still are a lot of high-risk loans out there at risk for foreclosure," Daren Blomquist of Realtytrac said. "A lot are resetting in the next few months, which is the trigger that can cause a foreclosure."...In just 30 days, the federal government will launch its landmark "Hope for Homeowners" mortgage assistance program – $300 billion in refinancing funds to help homeowners get out of risky adjustable loans and into safer 30-year fixed loans..."Unfortunately, the bill isn't for everybody," said Ed Cordona of NeighborWorks HomeOwnership Center in Sacramento. • Homeowners can't have secondary debt on their home. • The house payment must represent more than 31 percent of the owner's monthly income. • And, perhaps most critically, the owner's lender has to be willing to agree to participate in the federal program...Lenders may resist renegotiating the loan if the homeowner hasn't yet missed any monthly payments...Editorial: Who's old enough to drink? It's worth debatinghttp://www.sacbee.com/110/v-print/story/1197228.htmlThe debate is as old as beer, and so are the arguments. "If you're old enough to fight for your country at 18, you're old enough to drink legally," proponents of lowering the drinking age insist. "Never!" opponents counter. Lowering the drinking age will increase the number of drunken teenage drivers.Opponents won the debate almost a quarter-century ago when Congress pressured states to raise the minimum drinking age to 21 or risk losing state highway funds. All states have done so. Now a coalition of college presidents thinks the country ought to reconsider. More than 100 have signed onto the Amethyst Initiative, calling for a national debate on the national drinking age.Presidents from prestigious institutions including Dartmouth, Duke and Johns Hopkins say the 21-year-old drinking age is not working, that a "a culture of dangerous, clandestine 'binge-drinking' … has developed. …"They don't want to change the law yet. Instead, they call upon elected officials "to support an informed and dispassionate public debate over the effects of the 21-year-old drinking age."They are looking for "new ideas about the best ways to prepare young adults to make responsible decisions about alcohol."It's impossible not to be sympathetic. In Europe, where drinking is allowed at younger ages, binge drinking is not so common. Could a less rigid approach to alcohol in the United States reduce irresponsible drinking among the young?The college presidents are right. This is a question worth asking, a national debate that's long overdue.Drinking age at 18? Sacramento State president says no...Ed Fletcher...8-24-08http://www.sacbee.com/education/v-print/story/1181022.html Turning 21 is treated as a rite of passage by most Americans.Friends are called to hit a bar, or several, and proceed to get the celebrant smashed.But a growing collection of high-powered academics is challenging the norm – suggesting there is nothing magic about the age 21.To date, 129 college presidents have signed on to the Amethyst Initiative, which seeks to reopen debate on the current legal drinking age.While the list now leans to Eastern schools, with the presidents of Duke University, the University of Maryland, the University of Wisconsin-Parkside and Ohio State University, a handful of California college presidents also have signed on.Closer to home, though, the reaction has been mixed: President Alexander Gonzalez of California State University, Sacramento, rejected the initiative. University of California, Davis, Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef is neutral."Sacramento State is not taking part in the Amethyst Initiative and does not support lowering the minimum drinking age to 18," Gonzalez said in an e-mailed statement. "Alcohol consumption is the leading cause of highway fatalities involving teenagers, and keeping the minimum drinking age at 21 will help ensure that more young people are not added to that national tragedy."Meanwhile, Vanderhoef has asked that the issue be considered among all 10 of the University of California chancellors at an upcoming meeting.Vanderhoef is still gathering information before taking a personal position, a spokesperson said.Backers of the initiative said administrators at the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University are also "considering" signing on.Further north, Paul Zingg, president of California State University, Chico, said he has no interest in lowering the legal drinking age..."What bothers me about the Amethyst Initiative, is it almost strikes me as throwing up our hand and saying, 'We can't do anything about underage drinking,' " Zingg said."If you push (the legal drinking age) down to 18, you push it into the high schools," he added.Zingg's administration has worked hard to change the reputation and psyche of the campus Playboy once said was the nation's top party school...Behind the Amethyst Initiative is the three-person nonprofit Choose Responsibility. The Vermont-based group insists that the 21-year-old drinking limit encourages overconsumption, often at off-campus private residences...Manteca BulletinBy freeway, by rail, by jet cargo, by sea - Manteca can move goods...Staff reports of thehttp://www.mantecabulletin.com/main.asp?SectionID=28&SubSectionID=58&ArticleID=59122&TM=51377.04Manteca is at the heart of a transit hub unsurpassed for moving goods to West Coast markets whether it is by freeway, rail, air, or water.Manteca's location along California's two prime north-south freeways - Interstate 5 and Highway 99- allows trucks to reach markets with more than 40 million consumers within 10 hours.The cross-country movement of goods loaded on trucks is made efficient by two key truck-to-rail loading facilities.The Union Pacific Railroad's truck-to-rail-to-truck (intermodal) station handles more than 1,200 tractor trailers a week at the Lathrop facility located just a mile west of Manteca.Sante Fe Railroad's own intermodal facility is eight miles north of Manteca. The proximity of the two intermodal facilities allow the time-efficient shipping of consumer goods to and from key Northern California markets in the Bay Area, Sacramento, and the Central Valley.Stockton Metro Airport is 10 miles to the north of Manteca. It has established cargo service plus Pacific Rim market connections for perishable items through its unique Farmington Fresh cold storage service. Runway expansions have been put in place to accommodate oversized cargo jets.The Port of Stockton - dubbed California's Sunrise Seaport due to how far east it is from the Pacific Ocean - handles cargo ships moving raw construction materials, grain, and consumer goods...San Francisco ChronicleProtected status cold comfort to tortoises...Mike Stark, Associated Presshttp://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/08/31/MNNN12HLNF.DTL&type=printableIt's been 18 years since the federal government decided to protect the shy, slow-moving Mojave desert tortoise.Despite that step, wildlife officials still don't know whether it has done any good to stop the tortoise's widespread decline in the scrubby desert lands of California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah.In some places, biologists went looking for desert tortoises only to come up with empty shells, said Roy Averill-Murray, desert tortoise recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Reno."We know for a fact a lot of localized populations have suffered dramatic declines," Averill-Murray said. "From that, it's probably not too big a leap to think it's probably at least somewhat true across the board."The long list of established threats - urbanization, predators, wildfire, disease, human interference and others - isn't letting up. And that says nothing of the predicted shift toward higher temperatures and less precipitation that could threaten the tortoise's food supplies."The biggest challenge and unanswered question is the effects of climate change," Averill-Murray said. "That is the wild card for sure."The agency is now proposing to tweak its plan for recovering tortoises, mainly by focusing on a more coordinated approach between dozens of state, federal and local agencies that control land where the tortoise lives. Wildlife officials are also trying to figure out better ways to monitor recovery progress.That approach is too weak and too vague in the face of ongoing declines, according to Ileene Anderson in the Los Angeles office of the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group.She said the new proposed plan, released as a draft earlier this month, waters down important measures from a 1994 plan meant to reduce the effect of disruptions like grazing or off-road vehicle use."To me it's a plan that says they're going to do more planning," Anderson said. "There's no reason to think this is going to make any difference."...Rainwater collectors work to ease shortages...MALIA WOLLAN...8-30-08http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2008/08/30/state/n114429D25.DTL&type=printableTara Hui climbed under her deck, nudged past a cluster of 55-gallon barrels and a roosting chicken, and pointed to a shiny metal gutter spout."See that?" she said. "That's where the rainwater comes in from the roof."Hui is one of a growing band of people across the country turning to collected rainwater for non-drinking uses like watering plants, flushing toilets and washing laundry.Concern over drought and wasted resources, and stricter water conservation laws have revitalized the practice of capturing rainwater during storms and stockpiling it for use in drier times. A fixture of building design in the Roman empire and in outposts along the American frontier, rainwater harvesting is making a comeback in states including Texas, North Carolina, and California...The average American uses 101 gallons of water a day at home and in the yard. Add in agricultural and industrial water use and that climbs to an average of 1,430 gallons per day per person.Scientists warn that climate change will result in more severe droughts and erratic storms worldwide, and this spring was the driest in California's 114 years of record-keeping. Extreme drought and abnormally dry conditions persist across large swaths of the country, with states in the West and Southeast hardest hit...This fall, San Francisco will try to recruit more people to hoard the rain. The city will be putting $100,000 toward hosting how-to workshops and offering rebates and discounts on rainwater catchment tanks.In addition to conserving water, these efforts help alleviate the problem of storm runoff. Asphalt-covered roads, sidewalks and parking lots repel storm water, forcing it down storm drains and into creeks rather than allowing it to soak into soil. Big flushes of storm water in water treatment systems can send raw sewage flowing into the ocean. Overloaded streams can cause flooding and damage salmon habitat.Elsewhere, roofs are being used to collect rain from Austin to Seattle...Inside Bay AreaCounty asks Tracy to oppose Delta plan...Mike Martinez, Tri-Valley Heraldhttp://www.insidebayarea.com/search/ci_10345223TRACY — The San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors has asked the city of Tracy to pass a resolution opposing the Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force recommendations for the Delta.In a letter to Tracy Mayor Brent Ives, the board expressed "numerous and substantial" concerns about the conclusions reached by the task force this year, but mainly focused on three: that the recommendations promote an "isolated or dual conveyance system" or peripheral canal; ignore 100-year-old water rights; and fail to adhere to the state's water plan.The City Council is expected to discuss the matter at its regular meeting, at 7 p.m. Tuesday in City Hall. "Although an isolated or dual conveyance system in the Delta could potentially provide a higher quality water supply via the Delta Mendota Canal to the City of Tracy, the numerous other concerns outweigh this benefit," city staff members wrote.According to a staff report, the cities of Lathrop, Ripon, Lodi and Manteca have passed similar resolutions supporting the board...Water users in Southern California say piping fresh water around the Delta would safeguard their water supply while leaving the Delta undisturbed for fish and other species. Northern Californians, who led the previous revolt against such a canal, fear such a system would divert too much water south. Those who farm in the Delta worry their water supply would grow saltier if too much fresh water is diverted... Los Angeles TimesCaltrans director not a happy camper over state budget...Steve Hymonhttp://latimesblogs.latimes.com/bottleneck/2008/08/caltrans-direct.htmlCaltrans' media office called me Thursday afternoon and asked if I would like to chat with Will Kempton, the director of Caltrans. Sure, I said. I try never to pass up a chance to complain about traffic to public officials.Kempton wanted to talk about the state budget, or the lack of one. He was steamed -- although polite -- about the fact that the Legislature may borrow gasoline tax revenues to help erase the $15-billion budget deficit, setting off a chain reaction of delays for Caltrans road and rail projects."I sure wish we'd get a budget, it's as bad as I've ever seen it and I've been in and around state government for 35 years," Kempton said. "And it's certainly not helping us with our transportation" plan.The gist of the problem, Kempton said, is that the California Transportation Commission has approved about $500 million for a variety of projects, and the agency wants to go forward with construction. But they can't because the Legislature needs to budget the money. Caltrans' media office called me Thursday afternoon and asked if I would like to chat with Will Kempton, the director of Caltrans. Sure, I said. I try never to pass up a chance to complain about traffic to public officials.Kempton wanted to talk about the state budget, or the lack of one. He was steamed -- although polite -- about the fact that the Legislature may borrow gasoline tax revenues to help erase the $15-billion budget deficit, setting off a chain reaction of delays for Caltrans road and rail projects."I sure wish we'd get a budget, it's as bad as I've ever seen it and I've been in and around state government for 35 years," Kempton said. "And it's certainly not helping us with our transportation" plan.The gist of the problem, Kempton said, is that the California Transportation Commission has approved about $500 million for a variety of projects, and the agency wants to go forward with construction. But they can't because the Legislature needs to budget the money. And what if the Legislature decides to suspend Prop 42, the voter-approved initiative to ensure the state gas sales tax is used for transportation needs? A cascade of delays for those projects, Kempton said. In particular, he said that 20% of next year's projects would be delayed, 70% of the projects scheduled for 2009-10 would be pushed back and 90% of the 2010-11 projects would be started at a much later date.Among the projects are carpool lanes for the 5 Freeway in the San Fernando Valley and adding tracks to the rail corridor between Commerce and Fullerton. That's part of the plan to speed up and offer more commuter rail service between Orange County and Los Angeles. "The implications are literally catastrophic for the transportation program," Kempton added.So I asked him this: It's hardly news that the Legislature gets stuck hammering out a budget every year, so what about doing something to raise revenues for transportation?And I provided an example. Last weekend I drove to San Francisco on the 5 Freeway. It's a two-lane road in each direction through most of the San Joaquin Valley despite heavy car and truck traffic. Why not make it a toll road, I asked, as a way to pay to widen it? I'd pay $5 or $10 to not have to sit behind three trucks full of tomatoes."We have to look at a new way of doing business," Kempton said. "The bonds" -- Prop 1B, approved by voters in 2006 -- "were a significant down-payment on our transportation needs. We have been pressing for the authority for performance-based infrastructure and looking at private investment to get facilities that we need. Those would involve tolling...We've not proposed and we're not particularly interested in taking existing facilities and converting them to toll roads." Fair enough. In the meantime, the Legislature is headed into Labor Day weekend and there's no end in sight for a budget. Whether or not the Legislature sees fit to preserve transportation funds for transportation projects remains to be seen.Washington PostOil Group Joins Alaska in Suing To Overturn Polar Bear Protection...Kari Lydersenhttp://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/08/30/AR2008083001538_pf.htmlCHICAGO -- The American Petroleum Institute and four other business groups filed suit Thursday against Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director H. Dale Hall, joining Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's administration in trying to reverse the listing of the polar bear as a threatened species.On Aug. 4, the state of Alaska filed a lawsuit opposing the polar bear's listing, arguing that populations as a whole are stable and that melting sea ice does not pose an imminent threat to their survival. The suit says polar bears have survived warming periods in the past. The federal government has 60 days from the filing date to respond.One of the plaintiff in Thursday's lawsuit, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), lauded the choice of Palin as the Republican vice presidential nominee for reasons including her advocacy of Alaskan oil and gas exploration, which many fear could be affected by the bear's protected status.NAM and the petroleum institute were joined in the lawsuit by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Mining Association and the American Iron and Steel Institute. They object to what they call the "Alaska Gap" in relation to the special rule the federal government issued in May in conjunction with the polar bear's protected status. The rule, meant to prevent the polar bear's status from being used as a tool for imposing greenhouse gas limits, exempts projects in all states except Alaska from undergoing review in relation to emissions.NAM Vice President Keith McCoy said the group sees the rule as unfairly subjecting Alaskan industry to greenhouse gas controls and also opening a back door for greenhouse gas regulation nationwide...The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the D.C. Circuit, notes that greenhouse gas emissions worldwide contribute to global warming. It says projects in Alaska should not be subject to special scrutiny because of the polar bear's status.Kassie Siegel, climate program director for the Center for Biological Diversity, which originally petitioned to list the polar bear as an endangered species in 2005, decried the assertion in the Alaska suit that science does not prove polar bear populations are declining. The center is also suing the federal government, seeking to change the polar bear's official status from "threatened" to "endangered."...There are now at least four federal lawsuits challenging aspects of the polar bear listing. In addition to the suits filed by Alaska, the industry groups and the Center for Biological Diversity, the trophy-hunting group Safari Club International filed suit opposing a federal ban on importing skins or other "trophies" of polar bears killed in Canada.The lawsuit is American Petroleum Institute et al v. Kempthorne et al.