Man wanted in Merced County meth case arrested in Tennessee...Victor A. Patton
A man wanted in connection with a 2008 meth bust involving a UC Merced graduate student was arrested Tuesday in Tennessee.
Francis Edward Womack, 50, of Merced, was found Tuesday at a home in the 100 block of Cedwarwood Drive in Nashville, Tenn. He will be extradited to California to stand trial for charges of conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine and violating parole, according to Tom MacKenzie, Merced County Sheriff's Department spokesman.
He is the last suspect wanted in the case of UC Merced chemistry student Jason West, who was arrested in August for allegedly stealing lab equipment and manufacturing meth.
Investigators believe the equipment was stolen by West, but was being stored by Womack.
Our View: Toward a rational policy on stem cells
Obama changes course the same day UC Merced decides to move $6M research facility.
President Barack Obama reversed the Bush administration's funding restrictions on embryonic stem cell research Monday, a move that should advance this field of medical science after eight years of misguided policy.
At the same time as Obama's announcement, UC Merced announced it is bringing its stem cell research facilities on campus in a face-lift to the Science and Engineering Building.
The stem cell research was originally planned at Castle Airport and will include a microfabrication facility that will analyze stem cells at a single-cell level, rather than in batches as other research is done.
The facility would create customized devices to gather information about the conditions and environments that cause stem cells to differentiate into other types of cells.
The new UC Merced facility will cost $6 million with $4 million coming from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. The timing of the university's announcement and the president's executive order on the same day were coincidence.
Bush was the first president to allow scientists to study human embryonic stem cells with federal funding. But because of his moral objections to scientific use of human embryos, he only allowed funding for research using existing lines of embryonic stem cells.
Bush's policy hampered science on several levels. The stem cell lines in existence in 2001 proved to be inadequate for scientists to conduct the full range of research they needed to pursue.
That's one reason California voters in 2004 passed Proposition 71, which authorized $3 billion in bonds for various forms of stem cell research.
Even with Proposition 71, stem cell scientists receiving both federal and outside funding had to create separate labs, with duplicate sets of equipment, to conduct certain research.
Otherwise, microscopes purchased with federal dollars might be used on projects that were subject to Bush's funding prohibitions.
The policy also did little to prevent embryos' destruction. Fertility clinics throw away embryos that couples would prefer to donate in the search for medical breakthroughs. Bush's policy blocked federal funding for this research.
Obama's order opens the door, just a bit, toward a more rational policy, by allowing the federal government to finance research on stem cell lines created after 2001
That move should give scientists more leeway in working with stem cells that have certain characteristics, such as genetic markers for certain diseases.
California's Institute for Regenerative Medicine will need to adjust to the new policy, possibly by focusing less on laboratory funding and more on direct research.
For now, however, the biggest hurdle is to sell bonds in a troubled market. Without those bonds, the institute could face a cloudy financial future even when the sun starts to rise in Washington.
The president's executive order opens the way for researchers to begin their work in earnest.
Foreclosures up 30% in February...last updated: March 11, 2009 09:49:06 PM
Despite halts on new foreclosures by several major lenders, the number of households threatened with losing their homes rose 30 percent in February from last year's levels, RealtyTrac reported today. While Nevada, Arizona, California and Florida had the nation's top foreclosure rates, the problem is spreading to states such as Idaho, Illinois and Oregon as the U.S. economy worsens. The Northern San Joaquin Valley remains among the hardest-hit regions in the nation. Merced, Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties consistently rank at or near the top of foreclosure lists.
Global warming to carry big costs for California...SAMANTHA YOUNG - Associated Press Writer
SACRAMENTO, Calif. From agricultural losses to devastation wrought by wildfires, California's economy is expected to see significant costs resulting from global warming in the decades ahead, according to a new report.
Global warming could translate into annual costs and revenue losses throughout the economy of between $2.5 billion and $15 billion by 2050, according to a summary of cost analyses presented to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's climate advisers.
Property damage caused by more devastating wildfires and sea level rise - the water damage is alone estimated $100 billion in property loss by the end of the century - could push the costs far higher.
The projected financial toll comes from a compilation of 40 studies commissioned by the governor's Climate Action Team. The final reports, which will be released at the end of March, are intended to provide a comprehensive snapshot of global warming's potential costs to property owners, businesses and state government.
"The numbers indicate that we have a lot at stake," said Michael Hanemann, a professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of California at Berkeley. "Californians need to pay serious attention to control our greenhouse gas emissions, and they need to start thinking about adaptation."
The studies were written by scientists from various disciplines based at California universities and research institutions. They include a range of costs from agriculture, wildfires, water supply, flooding and electricity demand.
If nothing is done globally to reduce emissions, hotter temperatures will lead to rising sea levels that will flood property in the San Francisco Bay area, lead to lower crop yields and water shortages, produce more intense wildfires and cause more demand for electricity to cool homes.
Hanemann, who reviewed the studies, said the annual cost estimate of $2.5 billion to $15 billion is conservative.
For example, wildfire property damage estimates do not include money that might be spent by state and local governments to fight the fires.
Wildfire property damage alone could cost Californians between $200 million and $42 billion a year, with the larger figure based on a worse-case scenario, Hanemann said. The state spent about $1 billion fighting wildfires in 2008.
Economic estimates were not available for the small-business sector. The consequences for commercial and recreational fishing as marine ecosystems change or the ski industry if the snowpack gets smaller also have not been determined.
The annual costs also could be greater at the end of the century, ranging from $14 billion a year to $45 billion in 2085.
California's total annual economic output was estimated at $1.8 trillion in 2007, the most recent figure published by the federal government.
The study on rising sea levels by the Pacific Institute estimates that California will lose 41 square miles of coastline by 2100, and that people in San Mateo, Orange and Alameda Counties are most vulnerable.
The report states that flooding would effect almost half a million people who live in areas at risk. It also estimates that 3,500 miles of roads, 30 power plants, 29 wastewater treatment plants and San Francisco and Oakland International airports are all at risk of being under water.
The reports come as California regulators are implementing a 2006 state law that requires greenhouse gas emissions to be cut to 1990 levels by 2020.
Linda Adams, secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency, said the research shows why the state needs to cut carbon emissions aggressively over the next 40 years.
"It will cost significantly less to combat climate change than it will to maintain a business-as-usual approach," Adams said.
Ethanol risks, rewards high...Editorial
The recent announcement that Pacific Ethanol is suspending production at three of its four facilities in the West exemplifies the troubles facing an industry whose fortunes and future seemed bright only a year ago.
It also serves as a cautionary tale for farmers who make cropping decisions based on the demands and promise of a highly volatile emerging industry.
Pacific Ethanol has suspended production at plants in Burley, Idaho, and Stockton and Madera, Calif. Combined, the plants were capable of producing 160 million gallons of ethanol a year, all made from corn shipped in from the Midwest. The final product was blended with gasoline to reduce crude oil imports.
Like other producers, Pacific found itself caught between the falling price of gasoline and rising corn prices. Its fortunes further decreased as demand fell for distillers grain, the livestock feed that is the byproduct of the distilling process. The industry's problems have been compounded as the demand for blended gasoline has declined as the economy has sputtered.
The Sandia National Laboratories and General Motors released a study earlier this year that said ethanol needs to be priced at least $2.25 a gallon to be economical. In recent weeks it's been closer to $1.75 a gallon.
According to David Peters, an assistant professor in Iowa State University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences who has studied profitability in the industry, most recently constructed ethanol plants are carrying a great deal of capital debt, debt they didn't have time to retire when ethanol hit its high mark last year. Given the current price of ethanol and corn, Peters said those plants strapped with debt are losing as much as 23 cents for each gallon they produce.
As a result, many ethanol producers are doing whatever they can to cut their losses, either by cutting production or trying to renegotiate contracts they made with corn growers last summer when commodity prices were at all-time highs. Some have filed for bankruptcy protection.
There is an ongoing attempt from within the industry to increase demand by getting the federal government to increase the amount of ethanol that can be blended into regular gasoline. Currently, fuel for standard vehicles can contain no more than 10 percent ethanol. The industry would like that cap extended to 15 percent.
The current market has made it a little more difficult for corn growers in the Midwest making their decisions about this year's crop.
None of this means much to farmers in the West, who grow little corn for use as feedstock in ethanol plants. They're looking down the road at the second generation of ethanol plants.
Turning corn into alcohol isn't that hard. The same technique that entrepreneurs in the Appalachians have used for centuries to make moonshine translates well into the industrial production of ethanol.
Far more difficult is the production of cellulosic ethanol, which is produced from the structural matter that comprises the bulk of the mass of plant matter. Researchers say that once this technique can be perfected on an industrial scale, ethanol's potential will really take off.
In theory, cellulosic ethanol can be made out of just about any plant material, but there are several non-food crops being tested as potential feedstock. Crops like switchgrass could give growers in the West the opportunity to jump on the ethanol bandwagon.
We think biofuels offer a lot of opportunities to growers here. But they should understand that all great opportunities, particularly those provided by markets that lack a proven track record, come with equally great potential risks.
All cropping decisions should be made with great care.
Another smelt in peril... again...Alex Breitler's blog
First it was Delta smelt. Then it was longfin smelt. Now it's another smelt altogether -- the Pacific smelt, an ocean-going fish found from Northern California's Klamath River to British Columbia.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced today that it proposes the Pacific smelt be listed as a federally threatened species.
"Pacific smelt, known officially as eulachon and sometimes called candlefish or Columbia River smelt, are small ocean-going fish that historically ranged from northern California to the Bering Sea in Alaska. They return to rivers to spawn in late winter and early spring. Recreational fishers catch smelt in dip nets, and typically fry and eat them whole.
"Smelt are a culturally significant species to native tribes, traditionally representing a seasonally important food source and a valuable trade item. Columbia River smelt were first described by Meriwether Lewis in 1806 during the Corps of Discovery; he lauded the fatty fish for their excellent taste.
"A team of biologists from NOAA’s Fisheries Service and two other federal agencies concluded that there are at least two Pacific smelt distinct population segments on the West Coast. The one at issue extends from the Mad River in Northern California north into British Columbia. Should these fish eventually be listed for federal protection, prohibitions against harming them would apply only to Pacific smelt in U.S. waters or to U.S. citizens on the high seas, even though the population extends into Canada.
"The Cowlitz Indian tribe in Washington petitioned NOAA’s Fisheries Service in 2007 to list the fish populations in Washington, Oregon and California. The tribe’s petition described severe declines in smelt runs along the entire Pacific Coast, with possible local extinctions in California and Oregon.
"The agency’s scientific review found that this smelt stock is declining throughout its range. Further declines are expected as climate change affects the timing of spring flows in Northwest rivers. Those flows are critical to successful Pacific smelt spawning. Additionally, the agency’s review concluded that Pacific smelt are particularly vulnerable to being caught in shrimp fisheries in the United States and Canada, since the areas occupied by shrimp and smelt often overlap.
"The agency said other threats to the fish include water flow in the Klamath and Columbia river basins and bird, seal and sea lion predation, especially in Canadian streams and rivers."
Wal-Mart foes cite economy at Lodi meeting...Daniel Thigpen
LODI - With the nation's economy further eroded in the months since Lodi policymakers last weighed a proposal for a Wal-Mart Supercenter, store vacancies and urban decay will be more severe if the retailer is allowed to expand, opponents said Wednesday.
During another marathon hearing that attracted more than 100 people and public testimony late into the evening, the Lodi City Council once again heard hours of arguments in Wal-Mart's long-contested bid to close its existing store and build a larger, 216,710-square-foot Supercenter.
The plans call for a retail and grocery store at the southwest corner of the intersection of Lower Sacramento Road and Kettleman Lane that would anchor a 40-acre shopping center.
If the whole thing felt a little familiar, it's understandable: Wednesday's meeting actually was a redo of a key Dec. 10 vote that kept the project alive but which was later challenged by opponents as a violation of the state open-meetings law.
At that more than six-hour meeting, which attracted more people than could fit into the council chambers, the City Council voted 3-2 to overrule the Planning Commission, which earlier had rejected a study of the project's environmental impacts.
One of two groups against the Wal-Mart project threatened to sue the city after that December meeting, claiming officials suppressed public comment and attendance. City leaders later rescinded their vote and scheduled a do-over to be held at the 789-seat Hutchins Street Square auditorium.
Foreclosures increase as job losses rise
Repossessed properties expected higher into summer...Bruce Spence
The number of foreclosures jumped in February in San Joaquin County, California and across the country, after falling in January
Feb.'09 Jan.'09 Dec.'08
S.J. County 662 629 983
California 18,872 16,337 19,561
U.S. 74,095 66,777 78,938
A slowdown in foreclosures because of temporary prevention efforts appears to be losing its grip to growing unemployment as foreclosure numbers in San Joaquin County, California and across the country started climbing again last month.
A report being released today by RealtyTrac Inc., an Irvine-based foreclosure listing service, said foreclosure activity of all types - default notices, auction notices and bank repossessions - was up, rising 6 percent nationwide with more than 290,000 filings in February.
In San Joaquin County, foreclosure activity jumped 27 percent, from 2,649 filings in January to 3,376 last month, while California filings rose by 5 percent, from 76,761 filings in January to 80,775 in February.
One in every 67 housing units in Stockton got a foreclosure notice in February.
The increase in foreclosure activity from January to February was somewhat surprising, given that many of the foreclosure prevention efforts and moratoriiums in place in January were extended through most of February, the report said.
But RealtyTrac Senior Vice President Rick Sharga said rising unemployment has played a growing role in the foreclosure scene.
That's evidenced by rising foreclosure activity in such states as Idaho and Oregon, which had largely escaped the effects of toxic loans, he said.
Expect unemployment woes to boost foreclosure activity at least well into the summer, Sharga said.
Foreclosure activity in California began easing last fall as some lenders set into place short-term moratoriums on foreclosures and after the state enacted a law in September requiring lenders to at least contact homeowners about possibly modifying loans before proceeding with foreclosure.
Real estate brokers in the Stockton area say they expect a backlog of foreclosures to start showing up in the market in coming weeks. Jerry Abbott, president and co-owner of Grupe Real Estate of Stockton, said he was told by a local Countrywide manager to expect a flood of new foreclosure properties in April.
In RealtyTrac's new report, Nevada, Arizona and California posted top state foreclosure rates.
One in every 70 houses in Nevada got a foreclosure filing last month, compared with one in every 147 in Arizona and one in every 165 in California.
Among cities, Las Vegas, the Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Fla., metro area and Stockton led the pack for foreclosure filings.
One in every 60 Las Vegas housing units received a foreclosure filing in February, compared with one in 65 at Fort Myers.
San Francisco Chronicle
Ocean expected to rise 5 feet along coastlines...Jane Kay, Chronicle Environment Writer
SAN FRANCISCO -- Driven by global warming, the ocean is expected to rise nearly 5 feet along California's coastline by the end of the century, hitting San Francisco Bay the hardest of all, according to a state study released Wednesday.
Nearly half a million people and $100 billion in property, two-thirds of it concentrated around the bay, are at risk of major flooding, researchers found in the most comprehensive study to date of how climate change will alter the state's coastal areas.
Rising seas, storms and extreme high tides are expected to send saltwater into low-lying areas, flooding freeways, the Oakland and San Francisco airports, hospitals, power plants, schools and sewage plants. Thousands of structures at risk are the homes of low- and middle-income people, the study said.
Vast wetlands that nourish fish and birds and act as a buffer against flooding will be inundated and could turn into dead pools. Constructing seawalls and levees, if needed, could cost $14 billion plus an annual maintenance cost of $1.4 billion, the study said.
The study shows a greater sea-level rise for California than previous studies because it takes into account recent changes in glaciers and ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland.
Scientists worldwide forecast that sea levels will rise for centuries even if greenhouse gas emissions are halted immediately, and California cities and counties must learn to deal with that inevitability just as they plan for earthquakes, the study advises.
Regional planners are recommending that some new construction be halted, other properties protected and still others abandoned.
The study was conducted by the internationally known Pacific Institute, a nonprofit research group in Oakland, and was paid for by the California Energy Commission, Caltrans and the state Ocean Protection Council.
With California leading the nation in regulating greenhouse gas emissions, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2005 ordered state agencies to form a Climate Action Team to research and plan for global warming. Three dozen studies are expected this year, on air quality and health, frequency of wildfires, the use of energy and fresh water supplies.
"No other state has done this kind of assessment of coastal risk," said Peter Gleick, president and founder of the Pacific Institute and a leading water expert. The new assessment, he said, puts the state "far ahead in our ability to both identify possible impacts and implement effective policies to prevent them."
Although large sections of the Pacific Coast are not vulnerable to flooding, sea-level rise is expected to accelerate erosion, resulting in a loss of 41 square miles of the coast and affecting 14,000 people, the study said.
Researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey prepared maps of San Francisco Bay showing projected inundation, though they don't include the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Calculations for inundation don't take into account existing seawalls and levees along the Peninsula and at Oakland International Airport.
Large portions of the Bay Area are at risk because European settlers in the 1800s filled shoreline marshes to build towns and cities.
Will Travis, executive director of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, said the Pacific Institute study struck him because two-thirds of the projected property damage was in low-lying areas around San Francisco Bay. Cities and counties haven't planned for the rise, he said, and his agency is trying to build awareness.
"We as a region have to get out in front of the state and nation in dealing with the problem. The study shows that low- and moderate-income people will be dealing with it. We have the equivalent of New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward."
Lessons from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina are not to build below sea level, he said. But parts of northern Silicon Valley - where pumping groundwater in past decades has caused land to subside - are already below sea level, he said, leaving Google, Sun, Intel and other large company complexes vulnerable to inundation.
Just as Californians learned about seismic safety in response to earthquakes, "we have to learn to build in areas that will someday be below sea level," he said. It's particularly difficult, he said, because there is "no certainty which areas would be below sea level." His agency is co-sponsoring an international design competition to come up with designs for sea-level rise.
As the atmosphere and oceans warm, ice sheets and glaciers melt, swelling the volume of oceans. Oceans already have started to rise. Over the past century, San Francisco waterfront tidal gauges show a rise of 8 inches.
The new projection of a 4.6-foot, or 55-inch, rise is higher than the 23-inch estimate of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the body that compiles findings of international scientists.
In its last calculations, the panel didn't include melt from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, which have accelerated over the past decade. Since then, scientists have begun to forecast higher rises.
For the regional study, Pacific Institute scientists used the 4.6-foot sea-level rise based on forecasts by a Scripps Institution of Oceanography team led by oceanographer Daniel Cayan, which draws on sophisticated models, satellite sensors and a broad range of data.
Concentrations of greenhouse gases have been increasing in the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution, and the bulk of climate scientists agree that the gases are trapping the sun's radiation emanating from Earth, warming the planet.
Infrastructure in danger along the bay, coast
Some of the infrastructure at risk along the 1,000-mile- long shore of San Francisco Bay and the 1,200-mile-long California coast, according to a new study on the rising sea level:
3,500 miles of roads and highways
330 hazardous waste sites, including several in Alameda, Santa Clara, San Mateo and Los Angeles counties
280 miles of railway
34 police and fire stations
30 coastal power plants
29 sewage-treatment plants, including 22 on the bay and seven on the Pacific Coast
2 Bay Area airports:
San Francisco and Oakland international
To learn more:Read the study at links.sfgate.com/ZGJX.
Source: Pacific Institute
On UC Tuition Increases
They just don't get it...Editorial
These are challenging times for families who are struggling to put their children through the University of California. Tuition is expected to go up by 9.3 percent for the summer session, and is likely to rise by a similar amount in the fall.
These also are tough times for people who teach or provide support services at the University of California. Just this week, UC Berkeley announced its intent to lay off an undetermined number of employees, scale back on faculty hiring and encourage its employees to reduce their hours.
It seems that the financial stresses on the university are hitting just about everyone associated with the university except its top administrators.
UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau told reporters in a conference call this week that pay cuts for senior administrators were considered and rejected. "Further reductions of senior administrators' salaries would make us less able to compete with other universities ... seriously damaging our ability to attract outstanding people," said Birgeneau, who makes a base salary of $436,800 a year.
Granted, administrator pay cuts would not come close to filling the $115.5 million drop in state support for UC over the next two years. But a message of shared sacrifice might go along way toward assuaging the anger of the families that earn far less than $436,800 and will be making serious sacrifices to cover the anticipated $7,789 tuition charge next school year.
Yes, UC tuition remains a relative bargain for students, even with the increase. But the best UC deal of all is for the chancellor and his senior deputies
Editorial: Taking a reasonable tack with Wal-Mart
It isn't hard to understand why the Salinas City Council doesn't want another, larger Wal-Mart in Salinas. The retailing giant long ago made it clear that it will do what
is necessary to make money and that the damage caused by its techniques and employment practices is not its concern.
And even as they have worked over the years to come off as business-friendly, city leaders also have cultivated a pleasant relationship with labor, which rises up when another Wal-Mart is proposed, especially a so-called Supercenter. With low prices and low wages, Wal-Mart Supercenters are well equipped to undercut the competition in groceries, striking real fear into the hearts of unionized supermarket clerks and their employers.
So the council was in treacherous political waters Tuesday night as it voted 5-2 to enact an ordinance meant to keep Wal-Mart and other big-box stores from adding full-service grocery departments to their standard lineup, everything from boomboxes to bell bottoms.
On one hand, we appreciate the council's interest in protecting competitors from a marketing behemoth with unparalleled purchasing power and in protecting the labor pool from an employer capable of eroding wages and benefits well beyond its own payroll.
On the other hand, we also understand the city's need for more sales tax income and the consumer's need for affordable merchandise.
On balance, we are comfortable with the council's 5-2 decision, which apparently will prevent a Wal-Mart from opening in the vacant Home Depot store at Harden Ranch, but we are concerned about the possibility the vote could lead to the shuttering of the existing Wal-Mart across the freeway at the Westridge Shopping Center.
With the council vote now limiting the amount of box store space that can be devoted to groceries and other nontaxable items, the highly popular store at Westridge becomes a "non-conforming" use. That means it cannot add a significant grocery component later and is also limited on any future remodeling or space shuffling that might be necessary to meet changing conditions and continue to attract shoppers to the area.
Relations are now so strained between the city and Wal-Mart that it could be months or longer before they could sit down together long enough to reach agreement on the retailer's future at Westridge.
As easy and tempting as it is to vilify Wal-Mart, it would be shortsighted to let the company walk away from Westridge. In this economy, it is all but impossible to find suitable tenants for sprawling, empty buildings. In this economy, many who shop at Wal-Mart simply cannot afford to shop at the more politically correct alternatives. It could be an expensive victory if Wal-Mart's critics make it impossible for the store to evolve or even survive.
Some on the council portray this debate as a contest between good prices and good jobs. Long-term, employers like Wal-Mart often extract more from a community than they put back, in the form of jobs and training. Short-term, though, the council should take a reasonable approach to Wal-Mart's situation, thereby protecting the city's most price-sensitive shoppers and the interests of Westridge and surrounding businesses.
Los Angeles Times
California panel urges 'immediate action' to protect against rising sea levels
Global warming is projected to cause ocean levels to rise 55 inches or more by the end of the century. Report recommends phased abandonment of coastal areas and moving state infrastructure inland...Margot Roosevelt
As California officials see it, global warming is happening so there's no time to waste in figuring out what to do.
California's interagency Climate Action Team on Wednesday issued the first of 40 reports on impacts and adaptation, outlining what the state's residents must do to deal with the floods, erosion and other effects expected from rising sea levels.
Hundreds of thousands of people and billions of dollars of Golden State infrastructure and property would be at risk if ocean levels rose 55 inches by the end of the century, as computer models suggest, according to the report.
The group floated several radical proposals: limit coastal development in areas at risk from sea rise; consider phased abandonment of certain areas; halt federally subsidized insurance for property likely to be inundated; and require coastal structures to be built to adapt to climate change.
"Immediate action is needed," said Linda Adams, secretary for environmental protection. "It will cost significantly less to combat climate change than it will to maintain a business-as-usual approach."
Few topics are likely to be more contentious than coastal development. But along the state's 2,000-mile shoreline the effects would be acute, particularly in San Mateo and Orange counties, where more than 100,000 people would be affected, according to the 99-page state-commissioned report by the Oakland-based Pacific Institute.
Detailed maps of the coastline, published on the institute's website, show that residential neighborhoods in Venice and Marina del Rey could find themselves in a flood zone. Water could cover airports in San Francisco and Oakland, parts of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, and large swaths of Huntington Beach and Newport Beach.
Roads, schools, hospitals, sewage plants and power plants may have to be relocated. More than 330 hazardous waste sites are at risk from floods.
"The rising sea level could be California's version of Hurricane Katrina," said Michael Woo, a Los Angeles planning commissioner and urban planning professor at USC. "Taxpayers and insurance ratepayers might question their responsibility to help homeowners and businesses which knowingly build in high-risk coastal areas."
California's far-reaching adaptation initiative reflects an emerging global consensus: Scientists can argue over how fast the Earth is heating up and diplomats can wrangle over emissions caps, but politicians must begin planning for the certainty of climate change.
Dozens of world-class scientists and economists, many from the University of California and state research institutes, are examining potential effects of warming on snowpacks, wildfires, crops and electricity demand.
Further reports will examine climate effects on hospital admissions, mortality rates, pollution and the habitats of the state's animals and plants. Dutch experts have been consulted on how to armor the coast with improved dikes and sea walls -- controversial measures that some experts contend will only increase erosion.
Detailed studies, now undergoing peer review, are to be released over the next month. Then the Climate Action Team is to send a comprehensive report to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Sea levels along California have risen an average of about 8 inches in the past century. According to the Pacific Institute report, 260,000 Californians already live in flood zones, but are assumed to be protected by existing levees and sea walls. A rise of 1.4 meters (55 inches) would increase the population at risk to 480,000. Currently, 1,900 miles of roads and highways are at risk of flooding, which would grow to 3,500 miles under the sea level rise projections.
The report estimated that one adaptation strategy, armoring the coast with 1,100 miles of new or modified sea walls and levees, would cost at least $14 billion to construct, and another $1.4 billion a year to maintain.
The report's estimate of 1 to 1.4 meters of sea level rise by the end of the century was calculated using two scenarios envisioned by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a gathering of the world's top climate scientists. One scenario assumes countries will cut their emissions of planet-heating greenhouse gases, and another assumes a business-as-usual release level.
Despite more than a decade of warnings from scientists, global emissions continue to rise, fueled by rapid population growth and economic development in such nations as China and India. Unless greenhouse gases are cut significantly, Earth's temperature is expected to increase between 4 and 6 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, according to the U.N. panel.
As water warms due to rising air temperatures, it expands, causing the sea level to rise. But another major factor, the melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, was unaccounted for in the U.N. panel's models because of uncertainty over effects and timing. Those models were designed in the mid-1990s.
Ice sheet melting has since accelerated. Dan Cayan, a researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and a lead scientist on the state's action plan, said the 55-inch estimate in the report is "probably conservative. . . . As temperature climbs, melting is going to proceed at a greater pace. It is not necessarily going to proceed linearly, in the same proportion as it did in the past, because melting begets more melting."
Low-income people will be disproportionately vulnerable to sea level rise, according to the report.
In Alameda County, 66,000 residents would be affected by flooding, of whom 60% are African American, Latino and Asian, the report said.
Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the state's Air Resources Board, which is charged with implementing a statewide plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions, called the sea level report "blunt but realistic."
"The recommendations are sensible: Defend what is worth protecting, move what can reasonably be moved, try to avoid doing further harm, consult affected communities, prepare to respond to emergencies."
Environmentalists hailed the report as a call to action.
"We can't pretend that the future will behave like the past," said Matt Vander Sluis of the Planning and Conservation League. "The ostrich has to take its head out of the sand or, in this case, it's going to be underwater."
A Bear Escape
President Obama undoes his predecessor's gutting of the Endangered Species Act without going too far...Editorial
DURING a visit to the Interior Department last week to celebrate its 160th anniversary, President Obamareversed an end-of-term Bush administration regulation that had gutted one of the signature environmental laws: the Endangered Species Act. Mr. Obama ordered the restoration of interagency consultation on projects that may affect threatened or endangered species while Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the next commerce secretary review President George W. Bush's Dec. 16 directive to determine whether to pursue a new rule.
When then-Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorneannounced in May 2008 that the polar bear would be listed as a "threatened" species under the Endangered Species Act because of global warming, his finding was based on science. All the evidence pointed to the continued melting of the polar bear's Arctic ice habitat. Under the law, the classification requires that federal agencies consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service on any actions or permits they grant that might jeopardize the species. But the law was never meant to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Mr. Kempthorne's regulation got it right when he prevented "global processes" (climate change) from triggering such consultations. Nevertheless, the rule went a step too far by reinterpreting the Endangered Species Act to mean that agencies do not have to consult the Fish and Wildlife Service or any other service before taking actions that might affect any species, not just polar bears.
All that changed with Mr. Obama's announcement. "I've signed a memorandum that will help restore the scientific process to its rightful place at the heart of the Endangered Species Act," he said. That means asking agency heads "to follow the prior longstanding consultation . . . practices involving the FWS and [National Marine Fisheries Service]." This will not only restore the check on agency ambitions to complete projects, but the give-and-take in the consultation process will produce compromises that minimize the harm to protected species.
Just as important, while it didn't say so explicitly, the memo upheld the common-sense portion of the Bush rule; consultations still won't be triggered by the potential impact of a specific project on global warming. That keeps in place the guidance issued by the Fish and Wildlife Service last year to its staff that the best scientific evidence cannot make a causal connection between greenhouse gas emissions from a specific facility or government project and harm to listed species or their habitats.
Reporting Rules for Chemical Releases Toughened...Juliet Eilperin
Companies will have to provide more detailed disclosure of toxic chemicals they release into the environment under a little-noticed provision in the massive spending bill President Obama signed into law yesterday.
The measure -- which affects chemical manufacturers, oil refineries, automakers and electronic manufacturers nationwide -- reverses a 2006 regulation enacted by President George W. Bush that eased the reporting requirements for nearly 600 chemicals, including arsenic, benzene and cadmium. The legislation restores the standard established by law in 1986, compelling all facilities to inform the public of any chemical releases that total 500 pounds a year or more, lowering the 2,000-pound threshold Bush had adopted.
The 2006 rule change did not lower the threshold for identifying releases of what EPA calls "persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic chemicals," but it eased rules for reporting how these chemicals are managed.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who authored the 1986 law establishing the federal Toxics Release Inventory program as well as the provision rolling back the Bush rule, said yesterday that the change will ensure that Americans are informed "about chemicals in their air and water. The Bush administration watered down this law and let facilities hide critical data about their toxic chemical emissions."
New Jersey and California, which have a high number of chemical plants, are among the states most affected by the change. Under the Bush rule, about 3,500 facilities no longer had to report detailed information about their toxic chemical releases and waste management practices.
Officials from affected industries, who estimate that they spend $650 million a year complying with the current reporting requirements, said the changes the Environmental Protection Agency adopted under Bush lightened their regulatory burden without jeopardizing public health.
"Manufacturers are concerned that any rollback of EPA's reforms to the Toxics Release Inventory program will impose substantial compliance costs while gathering minimal or redundant data to inform the public of environmental risks," said Bryan Brendle, director of energy and resources policy for the National Association of Manufacturers.
But environmental activists said the new rule, which went into effect immediately, is important because the registry gives companies an incentive to reduce toxic emissions and helps communities mobilize for better air, water and soil quality.
"The Bush administration was never able to offer a credible defense for reducing public information about chemical emissions," said Daniel Rosenberg, a senior attorney for the advocacy group Natural Resources Defense Council, "and reversing this rule will allow EPA to give people information about chemicals in their neighborhoods."
3-16-09 Merced City Council Redevelopment agenda...7:00 p.m.
3-17-09 Merced County Board of Supervisor meeting...10:00 a.m.
Posted 72 Hours Prior To Meeting
3-18-09 Merced City Planning Commission meeting...7:00 p.m.
Agendas are posted the Monday before a Wednesday Planning Commission Meeting.
3-19-09 MCAG Governing Board meeting...3:00 p.m.
3-26-09 LAFCo agenda...10:00 a.m.