Our View: Get ready for denser urban environment
Denser growth is inevitable in the Valley's future, and the policy council for the San Joaquin Valley Blueprint has a chance to set us on a path that will allow for wise planning of that future.
The policy council has been meeting in various cities up and down the Valley to choose from among several scenarios for future densities in the cities of the region.
The first -- and least sensible -- is the current status quo, which is about an average of 13 people, or four homes, per acre.
The densest scenario would yield an average of 31 people per acre, or about 10 homes -- as the goal for the Valley by 2050.
That sounds like a lot, and it is compared to the sprawl that has characterized residential development in the Valley for decades. But it isn't that high a figure compared with cities across the nation.
Nor does it mean that everyone has to crowd into tenements in cramped city cores. It's an average. It will leave plenty of housing opportunities for those who wish the suburban lifestyle.
It will also offer opportunities that don't currently exist for those who would choose a more urban lifestyle. And it would do more.
It would slow the pace at which the world's most productive farmland is paved over.
It would reduce the length of commutes, and create the need for cleaner alternatives to cars and trucks. That would reduce air pollution.
It would stretch funds for local government services That are now consumed by the vast distances of sprawling communities.
This decision won't be binding on local governments, but failing to adopt the new standards could jeopardize state transportation funds.
And it just makes sense. It's time to face the realities of the 21st century -- and get it right.
US home price drops set records in Jan...ALAN ZIBELAP Real Estate Writer...AP Business Writer Anne D'Innocenzio contributed to this report from New York.
WASHINGTON -- Home prices sank by the sharpest annual rate on record in January, and the pace continues to accelerate, but there were a handful battered metro areas where price declines slowed, according to data released Tuesday.
The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller index of home prices in 20 major cities tumbled by a record 19 percent from January 2008. It was the largest decline since the index started in 2000. The 10-city index dropped 19.4 percent, also a new record.
All 20 cities in the report showed monthly and annual price declines, with 13 posting new annual records. Prices dropped by more than 10 percent in 14 cities. Faring better were Dallas, Denver and Cleveland, with annual price declines of around 5 percent.
"There are very few bright spots that one can see in the data," David Blitzer, chairman of S&P's index committee, said in a prepared statement. "Most of the nation appears to remain on a downward path."
In the Cleveland, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Washington D.C. metro areas - all ravaged by foreclosures- annual price declines eased somewhat. Meanwhile, six cities, including Minneapolis, Charlotte, Seattle and New York, showed smaller price declines in January compared with December.
Last week, the National Association of Realtors said sales of previously occupied homes unexpectedly jumped in February by the largest amount in nearly six years as first-time buyers took advantage of deep discounts on foreclosures and other distressed properties, the National Association of Realtors said last week. Some economists say that could help moderate declines.
"We still think there is a good chance the rate of (price) decline will slow through the spring as existing home sales stabilize and perhaps pick up a bit, but foreclosures are weighing heavily on prices," wrote Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics.
Prices in the 20-city index have plummeted 29 percent from their peak in summer 2006, while the 10-city index has fallen 30 percent. Prices have sunk back to levels not seen since late 2003, and analysts say the ultimate drop in prices could easily be 35 percent or greater in some metros.
To provide some relief, Congress in February passed a new $8,000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers and President Barack Obama is directing $75 billion to a new foreclosure prevention plan. But the success of those efforts could well depend on how far the U.S. economy falls.
Some slivers of hope about the economy buoyed consumers in March and consumer confidence crept upward for the first time in four months, the Conference Board said Tuesday.
"We have seen some signs of improvement in the economy, but they are subtle," said Bernard Baumohl, chief global economist at the Economic Outlook Group.
World's largest laser now ready for use...H. JOSEF HEBERT, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON -- After more than a decade of work and $3.5 billion, engineers have completed the world's most powerful laser, capable of simulating the energy force of a hydrogen bomb and the sun itself.
The Energy Department will announce Tuesday that it has officially certified the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, clearing the way for a series of experiments over the next year. Scientists hope the experiments eventually will mimic the heat and pressure found at the center of the sun.
The facility, the size of a football field, consists of 192 separate laser beams, each traveling 1,000 feet in a one-thousandth of a second to converge simultaneously on a target the size of a pencil eraser.
While the NIF laser is expected to be used for a wide range of high-energy and high-density physics experiments, its primary purpose is to help government physicists ensure the reliability of the nation's nuclear weapons as they become older.
The laser "will be a cornerstone" of the weapons stewardship program "ensuring the continuing reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile without underground nuclear testing," Thomas D'Agostino, head of the National Nuclear Security Administration, said in an interview Monday.
The NNSA, a semi-independent arm of the Energy Department, oversees nuclear weapons programs.
The NIF laser was first proposed in the early 1990s, when the project's cost was put at $700 million. Construction began in 1997. Its early years were marked by setbacks including trouble - eventually overcome - in keeping its critical optics perfectly clean.
NIF now is expected to ramp up power gradually in a series of experiments over the next year, culminating at a power level in 2010 to achieve what scientists call "fusion ignition" - enough heat and pressure to fuse hydrogen atoms in a tiny cylindrical "target" so that more energy is released than is generated by the laser beams themselves.
That is what happens when a hydrogen bomb explodes and what takes place at the center of the sun. It's also what scientists would one day like to achieve on a continuing basis to produce a clean, safe form of energy by fusing atoms instead of splitting them.
Edward Moses, director of the NIF project who has led its development since 1999, said he's ever more confident that NIF will be able to achieve fusion ignition.
"It's now operational," said Moses in a telephone interview. "The lasers are there. The targets are there and we've proven the optics. But now the proof is in the shooting. We've got to put all this together and shoot the targets. It's the first time anyone has ever done experiments at this scale."
NIF's 192 laser beams produce 60 to 70 times more energy than a 60-beam system at the University of Rochester, which is the second most powerful laser, said Moses.
In addition to helping diagnose the functioning of nuclear warheads, the NIF laser is expected to be use in astrophysics, allowing scientists to mimic conditions inside planets and new solar systems.
Moses said he sees NIF as key in the move toward developing a fusion energy source.
"What we want to show is scientific proof of the principle of fusion energy," said Moses, predicting some experiments for a short time may produce 50 to 100 times more energy than the lasers themselves generate.
Fresno's former congressman Krebs honored with nature...Michael Doyle, Bee Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama on Monday signed into law a giant public lands bill that puts former Fresno-area Congressman John Krebs in rare and exalted company.
The 1,218-page bill signed by Obama in a White House ceremony designates the new John Krebs Wilderness, now one of the few federally protected wilderness areas named for a living individual. Public lands advocates call it a well-earned tribute fittingly included in the largest wilderness bill signed in the last 15 years.
"This legislation guarantees that we will not take our forests, rivers, oceans, national parks, monuments and wilderness areas for granted," Obama said, "but rather we will set them aside and guard their sanctity for everyone to share."
With many of the public lands provisions years in the making, the midafternoon bill-signing ceremony had a celebratory air.
Environmentalists and lawmakers like Rep. Jim Costa, the Fresno Democrat who worked with Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer on the Krebs wilderness legislation, backslapped and shook hands in White House's East Room.
Krebs, who is now 82 and living in Fresno, did not attend the ceremony.
"I'm greatly honored and humbled," Krebs said in a telephone interview following the bill signing.
Spanning 39,740 acres in the Mineral King Valley of the southern Sierra Nevada, the new John Krebs Wilderness is both modest and ambitious.
Its designation is only a tiny part of the overall public lands bill, which covers more than 1,000 miles of river and 2 million acres of wilderness. The newly designated California wilderness includes 85,000 acres in Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks.
Land management won't change, as the Krebs wilderness already has been protected as a potential wilderness region.
Alexandra Picavet, spokeswoman for Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks, said formal wilderness designation provides "more teeth and power" in securing the land's long-term protections. Bicycles, off-road vehicles and snowmobiles are prohibited on designated wilderness, as is timber harvesting.
Only about 20 of the nation's 704 designated wilderness areas are named for individuals, and only a handful have been designated while the honoree is still alive, such as the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness in Oregon and the Gaylord A. Nelson Wilderness in Wisconsin. Both were named for senators.
Krebs is being honored because, as a congressman in the 1970s, he ensured the remote Mineral King Valley would be protected from ambitious ski resort development plans.
National Park Service officials will now delve into the new public land bill's wilderness requirements. Other federal agencies, too, are shouldering fresh responsibilities as part of the bill.
Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Reclamation officials in California, for instance, will now be working on plans to restore the San Joaquin River below Friant Dam. The public lands package includes a river restoration initiative designed to return salmon to the long-parched river channel by 2013.
Environmental attorney Hal Candee, who initiated the 1988 lawsuit that led to the river settlement, was among those present for the bill signing Monday.
"Today is a banner day," declared Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who pushed the Senate version of the San Joaquin River bill.
Yuba County tops nation in 'underwater' loans...Jim Wasserman
There's nowhere tougher in America to be paying a mortgage than Yuba County, says a new lending industry study released Monday.
Nearly 78 percent of the county's mortgage debt is tied to houses that have lost value and are worth less than what's owed on them, said New Jersey-based SMR Research in its yearly "Giants of the Mortgage Industry" study.
"That was the worst on the hit parade," said SMR President Stuart Feldstein.
The report said 60.3 percent of the county's 10,558 mortgage borrowers owed more in February than their homes were worth. The phenomenon is commonly called being "underwater" or "upside down."
The statistics mean most struggling Yuba County borrowers can't refinance out of their troubles. The majority are ineligible, too, for President Barack Obama's plan to help underwater owners, which is limited to homes whose value is no more than 5 percent below what's owed.
"A lot of these people are better than 40 percent underwater," said Ruben Ramos, a county real estate broker.
Feldstein said Monday that most who are underwater nationally bought or refinanced from 2004 through 2007, when home prices were higher and lending standards lower.
About one-third of U.S. mortgage debt is tied to "underwater" homes, he said, while 22.4 percent of borrowers owe more than their home value.
"They got big loans, which is one reason they're underwater now," he said.
Most analysts believe a majority of Yuba County borrowers are still paying on their loans, but being underwater is considered a foreclosure risk.
Earlier this decade, Yuba County was home to a real estate boom as thousands of Sacramento commuters sought its bigger homes and lower prices. Home builders produced 4,200 new houses there from 2002 through 2007, according to real estate researcher MDA DataQuick.
But the county's median sales prices, which peaked at $387,000 in 2005, have tumbled 57.8 percent to $160,000.
"This is a once-in-a-century kind of phenomenon," said Sanjay Varshney, dean of the College of Business Administration at California State University, Sacramento.
Three other of the top five U.S. counties in this fix are in California, according to SMR. The rest of the top five list:
• Merced: 76.6 percent of the county's mortgage debt and 55.9 percent of mortgage borrowers are underwater.
• San Joaquin: 74.3 percent of debt and 56.4 percent of borrowers are underwater.
• Stanislaus: 73 percent of debt and 53.9 percent of borrowers are underwater.
• Clark County, Nev. (Las Vegas): 72 percent of debt and 57.6 percent of borrowers are underwater.
Nationally, a third of homeowners – average age 63 – own their homes free and clear of mortgages, Feldstein said.
Collaboration on conservation...Jane Danowitz. Jane Danowitz directs the Pew Environment Group's Public Lands Program. Readers may write to her at Pew Environment Group, 1200 18th Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20036; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
President Barack Obama recently signed into law Monday one of the most significant conservation milestones in a decade. Chock-full of new protections for pristine and historic places, the measure sets the gold standard for land preservation by designating more than 2 million acres in nine states as wilderness .
The Omnibus Public Land Management Act also offers a new roadmap for conserving our natural resources, placing a premium on bipartisan collaboration and local engagement. Perhaps most important, though, this early action by the new Congress signals a welcome change in the way our federal lands will be managed - through some unlikely partnerships - that will benefit Americans for generations.
Consider Idaho's Owyhee-Bruneau Canyonlands. A region twice the size of Yellowstone National Park, this area is one of the few remaining examples of the arid sagebrush lands often associated with the American West. For decades, environmental groups made repeated attempts to save the area, only to be rebuffed by some who viewed it as a needless Washington intrusion into their backyards. But the situation took a U-turn when county officials, tribal leaders and groups as diverse as the Sierra Club and Cattlemen's Association became alarmed by the rapid increase in off-road vehicles destroying this fragile ecosystem.
The result was a proposal, spearheaded by Idaho Republican Sen. Mike Crapo, that develops new rules for off-road vehicle use and designates more than 500,000 acres of the area as wilderness, the state's first such designation in 29 years.
The story is similar in California. Republican Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon serves an area that encompasses vast swaths of wild and rugged terrain stretching from the outskirts of Los Angeles to the Sierra Nevada Mountains. After touring the landscape, Rep. McKeon marveled at its natural beauty and the strong desire of local residents - from snowmobilers to small business owners - to preserve their quality of life.
While McKeon may share little in common politically with California's Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, he found in her an ally on the issue of new wilderness protections. Together they developed a broadly supported proposal to protect permanently 450,000 acres of alpine meadows, snowcapped mountains and a pine forest that is home to the some of the world's oldest trees.
With more than a dozen new proposals for 3 million acres of additional wilderness across the West poised to advance in this Congress, this new bipartisan, collaborative and locally driven route to public land protection could be a road well-traveled. Restoring the balance lost in past years, when drilling and development often trumped conservation, must be a top priority for the Obama administration's natural resources team.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, who oversees roughly one-fifth of the land in the United States, took an important first step by scrapping the sale of 77 parcels designated for oil and gas drilling in Utah near Dinosaur National Monument and Arches National Park.
With uranium mining at the doorstep of the Grand Canyon, however, he also should move quickly to put lands around its fabled rim off limits and encourage Congress to modernize the nation's grossly outdated 1872 mining law, which allowed the intrusion in the first place.
Meanwhile, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, the custodian of 193 million acres of national forests and grasslands, can signal change by calling an immediate time-out on road building in the country's remaining undeveloped forestlands until the Roadless Area Conservation Rule can be fully reinstated. Endorsed by President Obama during the campaign, the rule was issued by the Clinton administration to protect over 58 million acres of undeveloped forestland. And this federal measure enjoys robust support not only from environmental organizations inside the Beltway, but also a host of leaders beyond it - including governors, county officials and well-known business executives and sportsmen.
Washington has too often paid only lip service to bipartisanship and consensus-based policymaking. But the success of the recent landmark lands package presents a good guide for how our government can operate.
With millions of acres of some of the nation's best backcountry still unprotected and at risk, let's hope everyone with a stake in conservation will continue down this new collaborative political path and not veer off course.
New planning law no mere walk in the park
The goal is using more shoe leather, fewer rubber tires...Daniel Thigpen
In Lodi, the area around Lakewood Mall is ideal for running errands.
Even better if you live in one of the dozens of homes that surround the locale, anchored at Lockeford Street and Ham Lane in the northern half of town. Groceries, movie rentals, haircuts and prescription drugs are just a short car trip, walk or bike ride away.
Myrna Wetzel, who lives about a half-mile from the small cluster of strip malls, prefers the sidewalks.
"I walk a lot, and I walk to these stores ... if I have a lot of errands I want to do," Wetzel said as she walked her dog, Sugar, to a garden store on Ham Lane.
Under a sweeping new state anti-sprawl law passed by lawmakers last fall, it's possible California could begin to see more neighborhoods like Wetzel's: the kind that encourage people to get out of their cars or at least spend less time in them.
In San Joaquin County and elsewhere, planners are just beginning to figure out how the law will impact future growth decisions and, ultimately, how our neighborhoods, business districts and traffic corridors will change over time.
The idea of designing self-sufficient neighborhoods that discourage long commutes "is not something foreign. It is not unusual," said Andrew Chesley, executive director of the San Joaquin Council of Governments, a regional planning agency.
"But it is something we have not done a lot of, and it is something we will be expected to do a lot more of."
Signed into law in September, Senate Bill 375 targets vehicle use by encouraging communities to weigh development's impact on climate change when making land use and transportation decisions.
The bill requires the California Air Resources Board to set regional standards for greenhouse gas reductions by September 2010. Regional planning agencies, such as COG, then will adopt plans to meet those goals.
In the meantime, the state will give preference to compact projects - residential developments near public transit, for instance - when allocating its billions in transportation money.
Before the housing market tanked, much of San Joaquin County's growth was characterized by tract housing on the outskirts of towns, fueled by commuter-driven demand from priced-out Bay Area transplants.
If that pattern changes when the economy rebounds, SB375 will be one of several factors, along with rising infrastructure costs and commuter burnout, that may drive the shift, Chesley said.
But that doesn't mean the pendulum will necessarily swing to the other extreme, in which most new housing is focused in dense, urban centers.
"We shouldn't jump to the conclusion that this is the end of the single-family dwelling unit," he said.
In fact, neighborhoods like Lodi's Lakewood Mall area, with rows of decades-old homes, backyards and all, might be the type of growth encouraged under the new law, said Rad Bartlam, the city's interim planning chief.
Lodi is in the middle of updating its General Plan, its blueprint for future growth. In a draft, planners are pushing for more neighborhood centers like Lockeford and Ham.
"We want to continue planning for those types of neighborhoods," Bartlam said. "Good, solid, neighborhood planning ... will be a part of how people can perhaps give their car a rest for that short trip to the store."
Others are skeptical of the state's new land use policies.
"You can make a zoning based on the need to get people out of their cars, but people may not want to end up buying that product," said Michael Carouba, a Lodi real estate broker. "In a true residential setting, you would not typically find (homeowners) wanting a small strip mall."
Stockton has its own reasons for addressing some of the goals of SB375. That's because the city last year agreed to consider imposing green building standards on new construction and to develop a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions attributable to growth.
The city agreed to the terms to settle a dispute with state Attorney General Jerry Brown and environmentalists over the city's General Plan, which opponents worried endorsed sprawl.
Now, developers are "going to have to provide things like community centers and essentially a village focus. You're not going to provide just houses," said David Stagnaro, Stockton's planning manager. "We think that will have much more success in reducing car trips."
San Francisco Chronicle
EPA to test air around 62 schools in 22 states...DINA CAPPIELLO, Associated Press Writer
The Environmental Protection Agency will soon be adding a different kind of equipment to dozens of school yards around the country — air pollution monitors.
The EPA announced Tuesday a list of 62 schools in 22 states where the outdoor air will be tested for toxic air contaminants. The agency will work with state and local officials to begin the monitoring at the selected schools within three months.
While the EPA and state and local governments already operate air pollution monitoring networks that collect information on a variety of air pollutants, this will be the first time school-yard air quality will be the focus of their investigations.
The schools were chosen because of their proximity to industrial facilities or other sources of pollution. The list includes elementary, middle school and high school campuses.
The list of schools that will be monitored can be found on the EPA's Web site at www.epa.gov/schoolair.
What contaminants will be tested varies depending on the school. But the focus is toxic chemicals that are known to cause cancer, respiratory and neurological problems — especially in children, who are more susceptible than adults because they are still growing.
The monitors will measure the air for gases as well as solid particles such as heavy metals and soot, the EPA said.
"EPA, state, and local officials are mobilizing to determine where elevated levels of toxics pose a threat, so that we can take swift action to protect our children at their schools," said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. The agency will spend $2.25 million purchasing the monitors and paying for the laboratory analysis.
Once in place, the new equipment will collect air samples on 10 days over a month. The EPA will cease monitoring at the school if the results show good air quality. But if high levels of contaminants are detected, the agency will take steps to reduce the pollution.
UC Merced so far fails to invigorate local economy...The Modesto Bee
Merced residents are still waiting for the economic boon that the newest University of California campus was supposed to bring.
Instead the recession has brought an unemployment rate of nearly 20 percent and one of the state's highest foreclosure rates.
Some say the 3-year-old campus and the housing boom that came with it have combined to intensify the recession's economic impact.
Builders furiously constructed new housing to meet a demand that has not yet materialized. Speculators drove up the price of housing to a median peak of $382,000 in 2005, and that price is down to $105,500 today.
Officials say Merced now has the highest foreclosure rate in the state at 8.4 percent — triple the state average.
The school's enrollment currently is 2,718.
NRC panel begins hearings on nuclear dump project...The Associated Press
LAS VEGAS—A panel of Nuclear Regulatory Commission judges is hearing oral arguments in Las Vegas from entities seeking to take part in hearings on a federal plan to build a radioactive waste repository in Nevada.
The hearings Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are expected to lead to a decision later this year about which governments, groups and Indian tribes can participate when the NRC reviews the Energy Department application for the Yucca Mountain project.
About 10 protesters gathered outside, to call for the federal government to drop the decades-long process to build the Yucca Mountain project, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
The Obama administration has reversed Bush administration support for using Yucca Mountain to bury the nation's high-level nuclear waste.
Trucking jobs: No longer a fall back
Recession turned shortage of trucking jobs into a surplus, as volume of shipped goods slips nearly 11%.
DETROIT (Reuters) -- If you think now is a good time to try your hand as a U.S. truck driver with steady pay and a life on the open road, think again.
The U.S. recession has turned a serious shortage of drivers into a surplus virtually overnight. Disappearing credit has hurt production and shipments of goods of all kinds all at once, idling thousands of trucks.
"When I began trucking two years ago you couldn't throw a dime up in the air without hitting a trucking job," said Brian Short, 26. "Those days are gone."
To an extent, Short is lucky to have a job. But only up to a point, as this is a business where you make your own luck.
Short has no criminal record and a good driving record. That enabled him to switch a few months ago from a large trucker where he was unhappy to Con-way Truckload -- a long-haul unit of truck and logistics outfit Con-way Inc.
"I've talked to drivers recently who have only driven 1,000 miles in a week," said Short, who spends two months at a time on the road away from his wife and young son in Tampa, Florida. "Last month I drove 12,000 miles , so I'm sticking with Con-way."
Short has 170,000 career miles under his belt -- roughly two thirds of the distance to the moon. Miles matter the most in this business, as truckers are paid by the mile.
The recent economic boom years were a "buyer's market" for good drivers, with some trucking companies seeing driver turnover as high as 130% a year. They could pick and choose their jobs and might be offered bonuses of $5,000 just to sign on for work. All that has changed with the recession.
Last autumn's holiday shopping season was slow. Small trucking firms were hurt as merchandise shipments dried up.
"Right around Thanksgiving when the downturn took hold and there was an uptick in bankruptcies, we started seeing a significant change in driver behavior," said Herb Schmidt, president of Joplin, Missouri-based Con-way Truckload.
"All of a sudden, the better drivers began moving to stronger companies," he said.
The surplus of drivers has provided bigger trucking companies some relief in the downturn, as they can cherry pick the best drivers and save money. Con-way Truckload's monthly help-wanted advertising bill has been cut more than 50% to $250,000.
But perhaps it is encouraging that analysts are cautious.
"When the recovery comes, the same demographic issues will turn the surplus back into a shortage very quickly," said Jason Seidl, an analyst at investment bank Dahlman Rose. "Truck carriers will need to be ready for that."
Potholes around the corner?
According to a Global Insight study for the American Trucking Association, or ATA, in May 2005 -- at the height of the last boom -- the industry was short 20,000 drivers.
If demographic trends continued -- an aging populace with fewer white males aged 35 to 54, the current mainstay of the industry -- and U.S. long-term economic growth hits targets, the driver shortage could hit 111,000 by 2014, the study said.
Drivers must have a commercial license. Companies seek people without a criminal record and who are reliable. But because truckers spend months on the road, often away from family, for about $35,000 a year, not everyone wants the job.
Drivers who make a career of it tend to keep moving and not stay with the same company. And for some, being a long-haul trucker is a calling.
But the economy of late has not matched expectations and falling truck freight volumes -- down 10.8% in January according to the ATA -- have left many truckers jobless.
"We have seen a 40% increase in traffic since the holidays," said ATA vice president Elisabeth Barna of queries to the group's recruitment Web site www.gettrucking.com.
"Many of those hits appear to be people looking for different career options," she said.
According to 2006 Bureau of Labor Statistics, truckers earn $36,000 a year on average. But experienced truckers can make up to $60,000, an attractive prospect for unemployed workers.
A truck driving license also no longer guarantees a job.
"We are still able to place students in jobs," said Robert McClanahan, executive director of the National Association of Publicly Funded Truck Driving Schools.
"But truck companies are becoming more selective, they are only taking the cream of the crop. If an applicant has a flaw on their record, we tell them up front it will be hard to place them," he said.
Companies like Con-way Truckload are using the surplus to weed out problematic or unreliable drivers.
"We've gotten a little more aggressive about polishing our workforce," said Schmidt. "There has never been a more critical time to take care of our customers."
Driver turnover at his company has fallen to around 50% from 90% in the boom. Average annual turnover in the industry is now around 60%.
"The driver surplus has been good for us in some respects, but I'm not naive enough to believe that we won't be battling a shortage again when the recovery comes," Schmidt said.