2020’s Best Small Cities in America – WalletHub Study

With the COVID-19 pandemic spurring some Americans to migrate out of big cities, the personal-finance website WalletHub today released its report on 2020’s Best Small Cities in America, as well as accompanying videos.

To help Americans put down roots in places offering good quality of life and affordability, WalletHub compared more than 1,200 U.S. cities with populations between 25,000 and 100,000 across 43 key indicators of livability. They range from housing costs and school-system quality to restaurants per capita and COVID-19 cases in the last seven days per 100,000 residents. Oakley ranks 204 out of 1200.

To view the full report and your city’s rank, please visit: 

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School reopening battles heat up

From CalMatters

Dozens gathered in Brentwood City Park to demand that Brentwood reopen schools for in-person instruction on Sept. 15, 2020. “We know we can’t open tomorrow,” said Amanda Dove, one of the organizers, but she would like to see the school district “planning for what you know is coming.” Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

Tensions in the battle over school reopenings are reaching a fever pitch, with influential teachers unions digging in their heels and demanding improved safety measures as increasingly frustrated lawmakers and parents push for a return to campus. The two groups’ arguments evoke the chicken-or-the-egg paradox: Unions say reopening too quickly will harm disadvantaged communities — many of which are experiencing higher rates of COVID-19 infection — while lawmakers and parents say school closures are disproportionately affecting disadvantaged communities and widening the state’s achievement gap.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed, one of 13 mayors who recently urged the state to safely reopen schools as soon as possible, issued a scathing statement Friday in response to the San Francisco Unified School District ordering 44 schools linked to figures like Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson to change their names.

  • Breed“In the midst of this once-in-a-century challenge, to hear that the district is focusing energy and resources on renaming schools — schools that they haven’t even opened — is offensive. … The fact that our kids aren’t in school is what’s driving inequity in our city. Not the name of a school.”
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The Wildfire West: Where Housing Sprawl and Wildfire-Prone Areas Collide

By Priceonomics Data Studio

Ranking the places out West with the most building in wildfire prone areas.

As the world is still in the midst of a global pandemic, we are now entering fire season in the American West. After years of elevated global temperatures and drought, by the end of each summer, smoke-filled skies seem to be the norm across the West.

Though we would love a respite from calamity, there is no reason to believe that we’ll be spared from wildfires this year. With scientific certainty, we know which areas are prone to wildfires, though home construction continues in those areas.

At Cape Analytics, we use artificial intelligence to analyze vast quantities of geospatial imagery to help insurers and other companies better understand properties and property risk. Along with our partner HazardHub, we wanted to explore exactly how much sprawl there has been in the West’s high-risk fire zones. From the standpoint of insurance and danger to human life, these homes and adjacent communities are especially risky. Quantifying the risk can help homeowners and agencies such as CAL FIRE take more proactive and focused measures to protect lives and property.

The Hot Spots

To create this report, we analyzed new homes built over the last decade and found that California leads the West when it comes to the most builds in high-risk areas. Given that California is the most populous state in the country, we can expect a lot of new construction. When adjusting for population size, Utah leads the West by a significant margin in building homes in places with high fire risks.

When looking at specific cities with the most new home construction in high-risk zones in the West, El Dorado Hills, California tops the list, followed by St. George, Utah. In addition, as the pandemic has precipitated an urban exodus, many residents are fleeing into higher-risk fire zones.

Research Strategy

Before diving into the analysis, it’s worth spending a moment on the data and methodology. In this project, we identified new home construction over the last decade in Western states prone to wildfires. Specifically, we focused on areas in or near the Wildland Urban Interface — areas designated by the U.S. Forest Service, where human development and fire-prone wilderness meet. Our hazard data partner, HazardHub, then provided us with a wildfire risk score for each locality. This risk score takes weather, wildfire history, and many other factors into account. Finally, we narrowed down our analysis to new homes built in those high wildfire risk zones.

Findings by State

First, let’s look at the raw number of new homes built in the last decade in high wildfire risk zones out West:

Source: Cape Analytics

Over the last decade, California has built over 10,000 homes in areas deemed as high wildfire risk. High land prices and stringent zoning requirements in the California urban core have pushed builders further into rural areas, where the fire risk is much higher. Over the last few years, we have seen how dangerous wildfires can be in these areas of California, as places like Paradise and Santa Rosa have been devastated by fires. Among Western states, Utah ranks second in terms of high fire risk building, followed by Colorado.

However, it’s important to remember that California is the largest state in the United States by population and the third-largest by landmass. Given its size, we can expect more home construction in California compared to other states.

To account for this size question, we’ve adjusted by population, to see where states are building more homes in wildfire zones at the highest per capita rate (per 100,000 residents):

Source: Cape Analytics

After adjusting for population size, it becomes clear that Utah has the most home building activity in high fire risk zones in the West. For every 100,000 citizens, 191.6 homes are built, a figure that is approximately 5x higher than Idaho, which ranks second in this metric. Utah, an arid state with large swathes of flammable vegetation, has actively developed a number of communities in high wildfire risk zones.

City by City

To break it down even further, let’s look at the cities out West with the most new homes built in high wildfire risk zones. The chart below shows all cities in our analysis with at least 100 new builds in fire zones:

Source: Cape Analytics

El Dorado Hills, California, a town in the picturesque Sierra Nevada mountain range in California, has the most new home building, with 1,415 new builds recorded over the last decade. Experts have identified this area as part of the “rural sprawl” increasing fire risk. Autumn Berstein of the Sierra Nevada Alliance comments on the area:

“There is a tremendous amount of population growth going on in these extreme fire danger areas…Unless Sierra counties can start to change the way they are growing, we are going to have a much bigger fire problem on our hands.”

A similar dynamic is taking place in Utah, as large amounts of housing development are taking place in naturally beautiful, but highly combustible areas. For example, St. George, Utah, the second-ranked city in this analysis, is a mecca for retirees and vacationers near Zion National Park. The area, however, is filled with new developments plunked in the middle of high fire risk zones where water is brought in via pipeline from far away.

By looking at the increase in home building on a relative basis (comparing the number of new homes to the size of the city), we can bring smaller towns into focus. The chart below further demonstrates how Utah’s sprawl has accelerated over the last decade, with small towns like Stockton, Hurricane, and Santaquin expanding into high-risk areas. St. George again ranks high on this list as well.

Additional HazardHub analyses of these towns in Utah’s high desert paint a more detailed picture: St. George has been in a state of drought for 72 percent of the last 20 years, while Hurricane has been in drought for 68 percent of the previous 20 years. These bone-dry conditions are interspersed with short periods of rain, which allow scrub brush to grow…and then dry out again, creating excellent fuel for wildfires. These areas may not be ringed by dense forest, but they are still at very high risk of destructive fires driven by desert winds.

Insights and Mitigation Strategies

As a company that works with home insurers, each property’s fire risk is a metric we monitor over time. As this analysis shows, a tremendous number of new homes are being built in the highest wildfire risk areas. While they may be naturally beautiful, they are also naturally combustible. Our analysis suggests places like California and Utah contribute to rural sprawl and do so at considerable risk for more destruction of homes and loss of life wrought by wildfires. Moreover, as the climate gets hotter and drier, the risk in these areas will only grow, as stronger, wind-driven wildfires impact even some lower-risk regions.

What can residents do to protect themselves as wildfire risk increases in the coming decades? Luckily, some actions are proven to mitigate risk for individual properties.

One of the most effective deterrents is defensible space — a fancy word for clearing vegetation and flammable debris around your house. CAL FIRE, for example, recommends residents trim tree branches at least 10 feet away from buildings and other trees, and remove dead plants, branches, and shrubs up to 30 feet away from the structure. When implemented across entire neighborhoods, maintaining defensible space can insulate communities from the worst damage. For many of the areas named in this report, mitigation measures like these could be the difference between a neighborhood withstanding a wildfire and a community being destroyed.


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Sunday Reading 10/18/2020

The following links are just news items and opinions that pass my desk throughout the week. I don’t necessarily support or advocate any of the items, they are just interesting reads.

Barnes & Noble confirms hack exposed customer details Barnes & Noble has emailed its customers saying that it has been the “victim of a cybersecurity attack,” in which personal data was accessed. The breach not only affected B&N’s corporate IT systems but the Nook e-reader platform as well, leaving Nook owners unable to download books to their devices. This also meant that cash registers at B&N stores were rendered unusable while engineers scrambled to contain the issue. In a statement to The Register, the company says that it is “investigating the cause” but added that there was “no compromise of customer payment details.”

In the email to users, as published by The Digital Reader, the company said that while payment data was not accessed, data such as email addresses, billing and shipping addresses, as well as phone numbers, were.  More troubling is that a user’s purchase history could potentially have been breached, which could theoretically lead to blackmail or other repercussions if that data was published. In a tweet from the official Nook account, B&N said that it was “working urgently” to get the service “back to full operation,” which has unfortunately “taken longer than anticipated.”  Read More > at Engadget

Unregulated ‘greenwashing’? ESG investing is under the microscope as the money rolls in – There’s growing appetite to invest in a more sustainable way, but experts warn that transparency is needed in this space if it’s to really do any good for the planet.

ESG (environmental, social and corporate governance) describes investments made with an aim to contribute to a better environment, society or workplace and it’s becoming increasingly popular. The share of global investors that have applied ESG criteria to at least a quarter of their total investments has jumped from 48% in 2017 to 75% in 2019, according to data from audit firm Deloitte.

And this is only expected to keep rising.

“We have seen a booming of the number of, for example, ESG rating and scoring providers and that is an area which is largely unregulated and it is difficult for us to make sense of the different scorings and ratings if there is no clarity on the underlying methodology,” Alessandro d’Eri, a senior policy officer at the European financial watchdog ESMA, told CNBC.

He added that there’s another issue which is “the mismatch between the expectations of investors in wanting more and more to invest in ESG type of products and the actual availability of products that are truly ESG compliant or sustainable.”

This is the biggest challenge facing sustainable investing: there is no clear-cut criteria about what makes a company ESG investable. Read More > at CNBC

Scott Peterson’s 2004 murder convictions to be reexamined – The California Supreme Court has ordered a second look at Scott Peterson’s conviction for killing his pregnant wife and unborn son, less than two months after it overturned his death penalty. The court sent the case back to San Mateo County Superior Court to determine whether Peterson should receive a new trial, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The court said a juror committed “prejudicial misconduct” by failing to disclose that she had been involved with other legal proceedings. The juror had filed a lawsuit in 2000 to obtain a restraining order after her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend harassed her while she was pregnant, the Times said.

The juror said she feared for her unborn child. Yet when asked as a potential juror whether she had ever been a crime victim or involved in a lawsuit, she answered no, Peterson’s attorneys told the Times.

The Modesto Bee reported that the California Supreme Court made the ruling Tuesday in response to Peterson’s petition for habeas corpus filed in 2015.   Read More > at CBS News

Is it Time for Texas and California to Leave the Union? – David French begins his book about the dis-integration of America along what is by now a well-worn path: “We increasingly loathe our political opponents.” “A person belongs to their political party not so much because they like their own party but because they hate and fear the other side.” “The number of Americans who live in so-called landslide counties—counties where one presidential candidate wins by at least twenty points—is at an all-time high.” “At this moment in history, there is not a single important cultural, religious, political, or social force that is pulling Americans together more than it is pushing us apart.” Sigh. It is impossible not to agree with French’s assessment, especially if you spend much time watching the cable news channels. Whether the great mass of the American people are so deeply polarized is an interesting question. I doubt it, frankly.

So, what’s the remedy? Taking his cues from the British people’s 2016 decision to leave the European Union (Brexit), French wonders if we should begin to brace ourselves for successful secessionist movements in the United States. In chapters 12 and 13 of Divided We Fall, French writes a fictional account of Calexit and Texit, the secessions of California, with one-tenth of the U.S. population and the fifth largest economy in the world, and Texas (29 million, the 10th largest economy in the world). Though I admire this book, I found these fictional chapters unconvincing. In other words, I came away from these chapters less convinced of the possibility of serious secession in the United States than when I began to read them. Read More > at Governing

Jet Suit Paramedic Reaches Stricken Hikers in Seconds – Arriving as quickly as possible to the site of a medical emergency is a critical goal for any paramedic. It may be easy enough in urban and even rural areas, but when someone is stuck high up a mountain there are often no expedient options. Drones may offer help in certain cases, such as delivering external defibrillators for bystanders to use, but nothing can replace having a professional medic onsite.

England’s Great North Air Ambulance Service (GNAAS), which operates in areas where people go hiking through remote terrains, is now testing a jet suit as a way to get paramedics quickly to just about anywhere. The regions covered by GNAAS are very hilly, rocky, and mostly lacking trees. Helicopters can fly around but landing is often a big challenge because of the uneven surfaces.

The organization partnered with Gravity Industries, a company that develops jet suits, to test out the technology for emergency medical applications and as seen in the following video, there’s clearly a great deal of potential.

In the experiment, “stricken” individuals were located about a 25 minute hike up a hill. Using the jet suit, a paramedic was able to reach them in less than two minutes, easily landing nearby on a rocky surface. Read More > at Medgadget

Why Disney Is Shifting Focus to Streaming Video – Citing the “tremendous success” of its streaming efforts since last November, Walt Disney Co. announced late Tuesday a reorganization of its media and entertainment businesses. The media giant will now focus on “developing and producing original content” for its streaming services, including legacy platforms like DVDs. Distribution and commercialization of content are going to be centralized in a single media and entertainment distribution organization.

Distribution and commercialization mean figuring out ways to make money across all the company’s platforms, including Disney+, Hulu, ESPN+ and the soon-to-be-delivered Star international streaming service. While Disney is not planning to withhold original content from theaters, neither does the company see the Mouse House’s future in the old distribution model.

Simply put, direct-to-consumer (DTC) services like streaming and DVD sales allow Disney to keep a far larger portion of the profits instead of sharing them with theater owners. Theater owners AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. and Cinemark Holdings Inc. traded down 7.9% and 8.7%, respectively Tuesday morning. Last week, London-based Cineworld, owner of Regal Cinemas, temporarily shut down all its 534 U.S. Regal theaters. Read More > at 24/7 Wall St

California kept prison factories open. Inmates worked for pennies an hour as COVID-19 spread – While much of California shut down this spring, Robbie Hall stitched masks for 12 hours a day in a sewing factory at a women’s prison in Chino. For several weeks, Hall and other women said, they churned out masks by the thousands but were forbidden from wearing them.

The incarcerated seamstresses at the California Institution for Women grew increasingly worried: The fabric they used came from the nearby men’s prison, where an outbreak ended up killing 23 inmates. And their boss regularly visited both institutions.

“Are we safe with her going over there and coming back here?” Hall remembered asking her co-workers as they sewed.

Then it happened.

In early May, COVID-19 broke out in the sewing factory, sickening at least four incarcerated workers, including Hall. She spent weeks in the hospital struggling to breathe.

California’s prison system has taken drastic measures to combat the coronavirus, halting rehab programs, religious services and educational classes. But correctional authorities kept one type of operation running through much of the last six months: prison factories. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

COVID-19 Has Changed The Housing Market Forever. Here’s Where Americans Are Moving (And Why) – Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, more deep-seated, tectonic-sized questions beyond markets and interest rates are being asked this time around that no one really has the answers to yet—like will people feel safer living in the south and southwest where they can spend all year social distancing outside? What if companies let workers work remotely for the rest of their lives? Why go back to retail shopping when I’m already ordering everything online? What’s the point of living “downtown” if half of the restaurants, bars, and museums never open back up?

By every metric, Americans are moving faster now than they were before the pandemic.

Page-per-property views on real estate platforms like Realtor and Zillow are up over 50% year-over-year almost everywhere, inventory in America’s 100 top metro markets has been shrinking since March, along with days on market and the gap between list-to-sale price. A lot of real estate experts prefer the word “despite” when it comes to accounting for this phenomenon while the pandemic’s still raging, when it’s probably more accurately “because of”.

…“The current housing market is driven by several noteworthy factors. First, America’s demographics are skewing younger as the Millennial generation—the largest in U.S. history—is finally embracing home ownership. Second, the technological promise of the mid-1990s of freeing workers from their desks has come of age in 2020, as the coronavirus-induced quarantine has forced employers to rely on workers working-from-home. Americans have been resoundingly successful at navigating this transition, and in the process, discovered the benefits of shorter commutes and the flexibility of being able to work from anywhere. In turn, this has shifted consumer preferences for housing, driving the transition into suburbs, smaller cities, second-home destinations and even rural areas. Third, riding in the wake of a decade’s worth of home price appreciation which has outpaced income growth, many Americans are seeking affordability again, leading many buyers into suburban neighborhoods and away from high-cost, high-density urban downtowns.”

Who’s notably absent from all the data?

Not a single city in California or the Pacific Northwest ranked anywhere near the top of anyone’s “Best Of” lists in terms of where Americans are moving, which suggests that the effects of COVID’s first flight from coastal cities last March may be fossilizing permanently. New York City, Long Island, northern New Jersey, Honolulu, Chicago, and Philadelphia were also conspicuously in the basement, reinforcing America’s net emotional migration away from high-priced real estate markets as well as high-tax, high-lockdown urban locations. Read More > at Forbes

Supreme Court Justices Slam Google For Apparently Cheating Its Way To The Top – The Supreme Court heard oral arguments for Google v. Oracle on Oct. 7. The case involves several legal issues, all of which boil down to one principal question: Did Google cheat and steal its way to the top? While a decision on the case isn’t expected for a few months, the justices’ pointed questioning at the Big Tech giant points to the answer being a clear and resounding yes.

At the start of the decade, Google was at risk of losing its tech dominance. Its search and advertising monopoly relied heavily on personal computers, which quickly started losing steam with the rise of the mobile phone marketplace. That posed a problem for Google, which didn’t even have a mobile operating system of its own.

Google didn’t want to cede more control of the marketplace to the likes of Apple and Microsoft. To get ahead, it knew it needed to move — and fast. Rather than create entirely on its own all the parts of the mobile operating system that has now come to be known as Android, Google elected to use more than 11,000 lines of coding from Oracle’s Java to make it run.

Internal emails from Android head Andy Rubin show that he advised the company to negotiate for a license. The company appeared to agree initially, as it asked for and received terms and pricing from Sun Microsystems, the owner of Java at the time. That’s when the plot twist began.

Ostensibly not liking Sun’s terms, Google co-founder Larry Page wrote, “If Sun doesn’t want to work with us, we have two options: 1) Abandon our work and adopt MSFT CLR VM and C# language, or 2) Do Java anyway and defend our decision, perhaps making enemies along the way.” The company ultimately chose option two, setting the stage for a heated 10-year-legal battle that finally made its way to the Supreme Court this week. Read More > at The Federalist

A Shocking Find in a Neanderthal Cave in France – In February 1990, thanks to a 15-year-old boy named Bruno Kowalsczewski, footsteps echoed through the chambers of Bruniquel Cave for the first time in tens of thousands of years.

The cave sits in France’s scenic Aveyron Valley, but its entrance had long been sealed by an ancient rockslide. Kowalsczewski’s father had detected faint wisps of air emerging from the scree, and the boy spent three years clearing away the rubble. He eventually dug out a tight, thirty-meter-long passage that the thinnest members of the local caving club could squeeze through. They found themselves in a large, roomy corridor. There were animal bones and signs of bear activity, but nothing recent. The floor was pockmarked with pools of water. The walls were punctuated by stalactites (the ones that hang down) and stalagmites (the ones that stick up).

Some 336 meters into the cave, the caver stumbled across something extraordinary—a vast chamber where several stalagmites had been deliberately broken. Most of the 400 pieces had been arranged into two rings—a large one between 4 and 7 metres across, and a smaller one just 2 metres wide. Others had been propped up against these donuts. Yet others had been stacked into four piles. Traces of fire were everywhere, and there was a mass of burnt bones.

Recognizing the site’s value, the caver brought in archaeologist Francois Rouzaud. Using carbon-dating, Rouzaud estimated that a burnt bear bone found within the chamber was 47,600 years old, which meant that the stalagmite rings were older than any known cave painting. It also meant that they couldn’t have been the work of Homo sapiens. Their builders must have been the only early humans in the south of France at the time: Neanderthals.

The discovery suggested that Neanderthals were more sophisticated than anyone had given them credit for. They wielded fire, ventured deep underground, and shaped the subterranean rock into complex constructions. Perhaps they even carried out rituals; after all, there was no evidence that anyone actually lived in the cave, so what else were the rings and mounds for?

Rouzaud would never know. In April 1999, while guiding colleagues through a different cave, he suffered a fatal heart attack. With his death, work on the Bruniquel Cave ceased, and its incredible contents were neglected.

…After drilling into the stalagmites and pulling out cylinders of rock, the team could see an obvious transition between two layers. On one side were old minerals that were part of the original stalagmites; on the other were newer layers that had been laid down after the fragments were broken off by the cave’s former users. By measuring uranium levels on either side of the divide, the team could accurately tell when each stalagmite had been snapped off for construction.

Their date? 176,500 years ago, give or take a few millennia.

“When I announced the age to Jacques, he asked me to repeat it because it was so incredible,” says Verheyden. Outside Bruniquel Cave, the earliest, unambiguous human constructions are  just 20,000 years old. Most of these are ruins—collapsed collections of mammoth bones and deer antlers. By comparison, the Bruniquel stalagmite rings are well-preserved and far more ancient. Read More > in The Atlantic

State closing inmate firefighting camps – California will close eight inmate firefighting camps by the end of the year, state officials announced Friday — an action that raises serious questions about not only the state’s plans to combat ever-larger fires with already overstretched firefighting crews, but also the ethics of its reliance on cheap prison labor. Some have likened the practice to a legalized form of slavery. Inmate firefighters usually earn between $2 and $5 a day, though their work reduces their sentences and many youth inmates say the fire camps changed their lives for the better. Other incarcerated workers have been producing face masks, hand sanitizer and furniture amid the pandemic for an hourly rate of 8 cents to $1, though the products are later sold to state agencies for millions of dollars, a recent Los Angeles Times investigation found.

California’s prison population has dropped by nearly 22,000 since the onset of the pandemic, according to the Sacramento Bee. Last month, Newsom announced plans to close a Tracy prison within a year. Read More > at Calmatters

Humans Are All More Closely Related Than We Commonly Think – The late esteemed English actor Christopher Lee traced his ancestry directly to Charlemagne. In 2010 Lee released a symphonic metal album paying homage to the first Holy Roman emperor—but his enthusiasm may have been a tad excessive. After all, says geneticist Adam Rutherford, “literally everyone” with European ancestry is directly descended from Charlemagne.

The family tree of humanity is much more interconnected than we tend to think. “We’re culturally bound and psychologically conditioned to not think about ancestry in very broad terms,” Rutherford says. Genealogists can only focus on one branch of a family tree at a time, making it easy to forget how many forebears each of us has.

Imagine counting all your ancestors as you trace your family tree back in time. In the nth generation before the present, your family tree has 2n slots: two for parents, four for grandparents, eight for great-grandparents, and so on. The number of slots grows exponentially. By the 33rd generation—about 800 to 1,000 years ago—you have more than eight billion of them. That is more than the number of people alive today, and it is certainly a much larger figure than the world population a millennium ago.

…The consequence of humanity being “incredibly inbred” is that we are all related much more closely than our intuition suggests, Rutherford says. Take, for instance, the last person from whom everyone on the planet today is descended. In 2004 mathematical modeling and computer simulations by a group of statisticians led by Douglas Rohde, then at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, indicated that our most recent common ancestor probably lived no earlier than 1400 B.C. and possibly as recently as A.D. 55. In the time of Egypt’s Queen Nefertiti, someone from whom we are all descended was likely alive somewhere in the world.

Go back a bit further, and you reach a date when our family trees share not just one ancestor in common but every ancestor in common. At this date, called the genetic isopoint, the family trees of any two people on the earth now, no matter how distantly related they seem, trace back to the same set of individuals. “If you were alive at the genetic isopoint, then you are the ancestor of either everyone alive today or no one alive today,” Rutherford says. Humans left Africa and began dispersing throughout the world at least 120,000 years ago, but the genetic isopoint occurred much more recently—somewhere between 5300 and 2200 B.C., according to Rohde’s calculations. Read More > at Scientific American

At Disney World, ‘Worst Fears’ About Virus Have Not Come True – Attendance has been low since the July reopening, but health officials and worker unions also say safety protocols have kept the coronavirus at bay.

In July, one infectious disease expert said Walt Disney World’s reopening was a “terrible idea” that was “inviting disaster.” Social media users attacked Disney as “irresponsible” and “clueless” for pressing forward, even as coronavirus cases surged in Florida. A few aghast onlookers turned Disney World marketing videos into parody trailers for horror films.

Attendance has been lower than anticipated. Travel agents say families have been postponing Christmastime plans to vacation at the Orlando-area resort, in part because of concerns about the safety of flying. In recent days, Disney World, citing continued uncertainty about the duration of the pandemic, began laying off 15,550 workers, or 20 percent of its work force.

As tumultuous as the three months since the reopening have been, however, public health officials and Disney World’s unions say there have been no coronavirus outbreaks among workers or guests. So far, Disney’s wide-ranging safety measures appear to be working.

“We have no issues or concerns with the major theme parks at this point,” said Dr. Raul Pino, director of the Florida Department of Health in Orange County, which includes Disney World. Read More > in The New York Times

Inside Disney’s Ugly COVID Reopening Battle in California – When The Walt Disney Co. planned to reopen its American theme parks in July, they released a now-notorious trailer, splicing shots of theme park attractions with a chorus of Disney cast members chiming “Welcome home!” The ad projected an air of insistent normalcy, disrupted only by the workers’ uniform masks. It seemed to contain the latent hopes of the Trumpian COVID-19 era: the desire to not let the virus “dominate” lives, to relax into the open arms of entertainment, to return to business as usual with modest accommodations: Masks, ample sanitizer, a “no hugging” rule.

But in California, the welcome was not especially warm. When the company announced plans to reopen the Anaheim resort, it had not yet gotten approval from the state. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s pandemic roadmap, which assessed preparedness in a four-phase system, put amusement parks in Stage Four—so far down the line that he had not yet released reopening guidelines. Disney backtracked under pressure, opening just a small retail and restaurant strip. But the entertainment empire, one of the state’s largest employers and a major source of tourism revenue, did not let up in its campaign to reopen—waging a three-month battle with California that has at times caught workers in its crossfires.

“All of our other theme parks both in the United States and around the world have been allowed to open on the strength of our proven ability to operate with responsible health safety protocols,” a Disney spokesperson told The Daily Beast in a written statement. “Promoting health and safety for our guests, cast members, and the larger community is a responsibility we take seriously.”

In September, as rumors floated that the company internally planned for a late-month reopening, tensions between Disney and California were at a high. After a surge in summer cases, the state had revamped its reopening protocols, with a state-wide tier system for reopening businesses. Theme parks remained in the final tier. On Sept. 22, Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences, and Product’s Josh D’Amaro made a public plea that the Governor “treat theme parks like you would other sectors, and help us reopen.” (Other large venues like concert halls and convention centers have not been permitted to reopen). D’Amaro’s plea came with a warning. Nearly 80,000 Orange County jobs, he cautioned, lay on the line.

Just days later, D’Amaro’s prediction proved true: Disney announced plans to lay off 28,000 domestic workers, almost all from theme parks, most from California. In a statement, the Chairman claimed the company’s financial struggles had been “exacerbated in California by the State’s unwillingness to lift restrictions that would allow Disneyland to reopen.” The layoffs, which will be finalized Nov. 1, could kick thousands of workers off their health insurance. Read More > at The Daily Beast

Social Media Outrage is Killing People. – Riots have become a nightly occurrence in America, driven by social justice-fueled outrage against police brutality. Every city is just one officer-involved shooting away from erupting into violence. Despite the evidence (including bodycam footage) that exonerated the police officer involved in the fatal shooting of 27-year-old Ricardo Munoz, who lunged at an officer in Lancaster with a knife, riots erupted in the Pennsylvanian city and elsewhere across the country. The protesters’ anger was primarily fueled by misinformation and agitation on social media.

Not all of this protesting starts out ill-intentioned; all it really takes to get someone to march against injustice is to show them that this injustice is happening right outside their doorstep. Most people care about right and wrong, and when they perceive an injustice, they’ll do whatever’s possible to make sure they’re standing on the right side of history after the ashes settle. And most people who protest aren’t doing so just to score woke points or start trouble. They believe what they’re told—and what they’re being told, in this instance, was that a 14-year-old autistic boy was “executed” in cold blood by a psychopathic police officer in Lancaster, PA.

On September 13th, 28-year-old Ricardo Munoz lunged at a police deputy with a knife following an altercation with his mother, prompting one of his siblings to call 9-1-1. When police arrived, Munoz charged at the responding officer through the front door and attempted to stab him—footage of which was caught on the officer’s bodycam. The officer has no choice but to respond, shooting and killing Munoz.

This sequence of events was then retold on social media by popular commentators like T. Greg Doucette, an American lawyer whose Wikipedia page claims that he is “best known for indexing videos of police brutality.” Insead of a neutral recounting of the events that transpired during the Lancaster shooting, Doucette falsely claimed that Munoz, an adult who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia with a history of violence (he stabbed four strangers, including a minor, in 2019), Doucette described the shooting as a “summary execution of a reportedly autistic man they claim was armed with a knife.” Read More . at Human Events

The Great California Exodus Accelerates – California may be the most populous state in the Union, but it could transform into the exodus capital of America.The Golden State has witnessed its population stall, declining slightly from 39.96 million to 39.78 million in the second half of 2019, according to the Department of Finance.

Growth has slowed close to zero or even declined in most coastal counties. The San Francisco Bay Area advanced, and counties east of Los Angeles witnessed modest growth. However, Los Angeles County shed residents for the second consecutive year in 2019. It is unclear how severe the population drop is in the aftermath of the Coronavirus pandemic and the state government’s proposed tax hikes.

Contrary to internet mythos, it is not only high-income earners who are packing up their things and saying goodbye to Newsom. Studies, including one from the Public Policy Institute of California and another by the Empire Center for Public Policy, have found that poorer households are more likely to flee than their affluent counterparts. But considering the policing being proposed or enacted, it is safe to say that the wealthy have no reason to be some of the left-behinds. Read More > at Zero Hedge

Comparing the Global Rate of Mass Public Shootings to the U.S.’s Rate and Comparing Their Changes Over Time – The U.S. is well below the world average in terms of the number of mass public shootings, and the global increase over time has been much bigger than for the United States.

Over the 20 years from 1998 to 2017, our list contains 2,772 attacks and at least 5,764 shooters outside the United States and 62 attacks and 66 shooters within our country. By our count, the US makes up less than 1.13% of the mass public shooters, 1.77% of their murders, and 2.19% of their attacks. All these are much less than the US’s 4.6% share of the world population. Attacks in the US are not only less frequent than other countries, they are also much less deadly on average. Out of the 101 countries where we have identified mass public shootings occurring, the United States ranks 66th in the per capita frequency of these attacks and 56th in the murder rate.

Not only have these attacks been much more common outside the US, the US’s share of these attacks has declined over time. There has been a much bigger increase over time in the number of mass shootings in the rest of the world compared to the US. Read More > at SSRN

WHO warns against COVID-19 lockdowns due to economic damage – The World Health Organization has warned leaders against relying on COVID-19 lockdowns to tackle outbreaks — after previously saying countries should be careful how quickly they reopen.

WHO envoy Dr. David Nabarro said such restrictive measures should only be treated as a last resort, the British magazine the Spectator reported in a video interview.

“We in the World Health Organization do not advocate lockdowns as the primary means of control of this virus,” Nabarro said.

“The only time we believe a lockdown is justified is to buy you time to reorganize, regroup, rebalance your resources, protect your health workers who are exhausted, but by and large, we’d rather not do it.”

Nabarro said tight restrictions cause significant harm, particularly on the global economy. Read More > in the New York Post

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California Is 2020’s 9th Most Energy-Efficient State – WalletHub Study

Happy National Energy Awareness Month! With residential electricity consumption increasing this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the personal-finance website WalletHub today released its report on 2020’s Most & Least Energy-Efficient States, as well as accompanying videos.

To gauge the financial impact of doing more with less energy — the average American household spends at least $2,000 per year on utilities and another $2,094 on motor fuel and oil — WalletHub compared the auto- and home-energy efficiency in 48 U.S. states. Due to data limitations, Alaska and Hawaii were excluded from our analysis.

Energy Efficiency in California (1=Most Energy-Efficient; 24=Avg.):

  • 13th – Home Energy Efficiency
  • 9th – Vehicle-Fuel Efficiency
  • 8th – Transportation Efficiency

For the full report, please visit:

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Working from home? Protect your neck and back with these 4 tips.

Are you sitting up straight? Is your monitor at eye level? When’s the last time you got up? Or stretched?

Due to COVID-19, it feels like screen time is at an all-time high — especially for those working from home. Combined with makeshift home office setups, this can really hurt your body — particularly your neck and back.

You probably know that sitting for extended periods of time can damage your health. But sitting in the wrong position for extended periods can also cause painful injuries over time. The trouble is, when you’re working, you’re often absorbed in the task at hand. So, you don’t necessarily notice subtle pain starting in your neck or back from looking down for too long or reaching too far for the computer mouse. By the time you do realize it, it’s often too late.

To help you avoid neck and back pain, here are some tips to try while working from home.

1. Properly position your workstation

The first step to avoiding neck and back pain while working from home is to make sure your work equipment is set up to ergonomically, which means aligning it with your body’s needs.

If you’re at home and working on a computer for long periods throughout the day, you’ll want to use the following ergonomic best practices for setting up your workstation.

  • Avoid eye and neck strain by positioning your computer monitor at eye level, about an arm’s length away.
  • Avoid lower back pain by using a chair with a soft, breathable, padded seat and a lumbar support cushion for added stability. When you need to sit, make sure you’re seated all the way back on the seat. You’ll also want a chair that has wheels so you can easily move around (5 wheels per chair for stability).

If you’re using a stand-up desk, you’ll also want to invest in an anti-fatigue floor mat to take some of the pressure off your legs and back while you stand.

  • Avoid general strain while seated by positioning your body so your:
    • Thighs are parallel to the floor
    • Feet are resting flat on the floor or on a footrest
    • Arms are resting on your chair’s armrests at a 90-degree angle (ensuring you’re not hunching your shoulders)
    • Knees fit under your desk
  • Avoid strain due to stretching and overreaching by keeping all items you need to do your job — like keyboard, mouse, paper, pen, etc. — close to you.

2. Improve your posture

Drooping shoulders can put a strain on your neck and back. Whether you’re seated or standing, make sure your shoulders are back and your spine is straight. If you’re having trouble correcting your posture on your own, consider using a posture corrector (an adjustable brace you can wear) to retrain your body and muscles.

3. Check in with your body

An ergonomic workstation is a great start, but you’ll want to be mindful of what your body is telling you throughout the day. Set a timer to check in with yourself and see how you’re feeling. During these check-ins, close your eyes and do a mental scan of your body from head to toe. Notice any pain? Cramping? Are you still sitting properly, with your feet flat on the floor and your back straight? If anything feels off, take a moment to stretch, reset, and readjust.

4. Keep moving

The issue isn’t just sitting; it’s staying in one position for too long. Freezing in one position can cause poor blood flow and weaken muscles that help you keep your balance. This can then lead to strain and injury.

Even people who use stand-up desks while working can experience issues. According to a study by the journal Ergonomics, participants who experienced 2 hours of prolonged standing felt an increase in discomfort in all body areas, in addition to a decrease in mental wellness.

Your goal is to keep moving throughout the day to keep your muscles engaged and active. Here are a few ways you can sneak more movement into your workday:

  • Schedule reminders to get up and stretch once an hour.
  • Get an adjustable standing desk so you can easily go from sitting to standing to sitting again while you work throughout the day.
  • If possible, go for a walk during meetings or phone calls.
  • Use a step tracker to make sure you’re getting in enough steps throughout the day.
  • Invest in a wobble seat that encourages active sitting while seated for long periods of time.

Looking for more wellness tips?

Discover new ways to thrive during these uncertain times with our various health-related articles.


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Saturday, October 17 – Saturday, October 24 – Delta Flood Preparedness Week Be aware. Be Prepared. Take Action.

The risk of flooding in the Delta is a complicated issue, as over 1,100 miles of levees might imply – but there is more to it. In other regions, levees are dry all year and only hold back floodwaters – Delta levees hold back water 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, not just when the rivers run high. Also, the legal Delta encompasses parts of five different counties, all of which have their own emergency response offices, first responders, and procedures. Very often a Delta resident’s closest first responders geographically are technically in another county. All of these things make Delta Emergency Preparedness efforts unique within California.

This year, Delta Flood Preparedness Week is in coordination with California Flood Preparedness Week. Federal, state, and local agencies are joining together to inform Delta residents and all Californians about flood awareness and preparedness to improve public safety.

Join us on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram during Delta Flood Preparedness Week for helpful flood safety tips and information. Look out for the hashtags #CADeltaFloodReady and #CAFloodPrepWeek.

We also have a wealth of tips and resources available on our Flood Emergency Preparedness webpage.

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Be Fire Safe In Parks- October Peak Fire Season

Though already catastrophic this year, the height of fire season is typically in October when the heat of summer has dried out vegetation, and hot, dry Diablo winds from the east create dangerous fire conditions. Now is the time to be especially vigilant and work together to prevent wildfires.


  • Refrain from smoking in the parks. Smoking and vaping are prohibited in all Regional Parks.
  • Be aware of Red Flag Warnings, fire danger levels, and park fire safety rules. Abide by all posted or announced fire safety rules.
  • If you see a fire in a park, call 911 immediately. Report the fire’s location, size, and direction of burn, if possible. If in a park, leave immediately for your safety.
  • Practice situational awareness. Be alert for any potential fire hazards and report them.
  • During a fire emergency, cooperate with all instructions and evacuation orders from firefighters, police, and park staff.
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PG&E outages starting Wednesday could impact most Bay Area counties, including thousands in Oakland

PG&E outages starting Wednesday could impact most Bay Area counties, including thousands in Oakland 

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. on Monday said that about 50,000 homes and businesses across its service territory, nearly half of them in the Bay Area, could see their power shut off for a day or two starting Wednesday evening.

High winds are expected, and the utility is seeking to prevent its equipment from sparking more wildfires.

See if you will be impacted: https://pgealerts.alerts.pge.com/updates/?_ga=2.120558478.781613862.1602627430-365070822.1601571440


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Drop Off Your Ballot at City Hall

Contra Costa residents will find it easier to vote in the upcoming Tuesday, November 3rd Presidential Election, as the Contra Costa Elections Office and City Clerks countywide provide convenient Vote By Mail drop off locations, prior to and on Election Day.

The secure drop-off boxes have already been placed at Contra Costa City Halls, the county Administration Building in Martinez and some select community centers, senior centers and libraries. Oakley’s drop off box is located at City Hall, 3231 Main Street. Because of Covid the boxes are outside. County election officials will pick-up daily

These secure boxes will be conveniently available to voters beyond normal business hours, including nights and weekends. A full list of drop-box locations is available at the link below.

Secure Ballot Drop Boxes

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Happy Birthday U.S. Navy – 2020

PACIFIC OCEAN (June 2, 2020) Aircraft from Nimitz Carrier Strike Group fly in formation over the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68). Nimitz is underway conducting composite training unit exercise (COMPTUEX). COMPTUEX is an intensive exercise designed to fully integrate units of the carrier strike group, while testing a strike group’s ability as a whole to carry out sustained combat operations from the sea. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Keenan Daniels)

October 13 marks the birthday of the U.S. Navy, which traces its roots back to the early days of the American Revolution. On October 13, 1775, the Continental Congress established a naval force, hoping that a small fleet of privateers could attack British commerce and offset British sea power.

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NHTSA Confirms What You And I Already Know, People Are Driving Like Idiots

From Autoweek

Traffic fatalities dropped with COVID-19, but fatality rates soared

Last Saturday I was driving to work westbound on the 134, traveling with the flow of traffic around me. In my rearview mirror, I saw a shiny new bronze BMW M4 that was approaching at well into triple digits. I thought to get out of the way but then figured he had already used his walnut-sized brain to plot a weave through all the cars on the freeway and, indeed, it turned out that was exactly what he was doing. As the great Cory Farley once said, “if you’re going to be a chicane, be a predictable chicane.”

As he blew by, I estimate he was going 125 mph, weaving through cars, using up more and more miracles and quickly decreasing his supply of them. Somehow, he didn’t hit anyone. I thought about calling the CHP and ratting the little weasel out, but figured if I called, the kid would be all the way back to the crack house he calls home by the time anyone could arrest him. The incident was just that day’s proof of something I have been saying for months: People are driving like idiots.

Turns out NHTSA agrees and has statistics to back it up.

Since there are fewer people out on the roads actually driving during the COVID-19 lockdown, the overall number of traffic deaths has dropped in the time since the pandemic started. That’s good news, right? Depends how you look at it. While total deaths did drop, the fatality rate per miles driven spiked. Drivers of the relatively few cars still out on the road are crashing with far more verve.

NHTSA just released some specs. When you look at the second quarter of 2020, the first full quarter of the pandemic, total traffic deaths have decreased by three percent compared to the second quarter of 2019. That translates into 302 fewer fatalities than the same period last year. I’m not discounting that drop, since Each man’s death diminishes me, For I am involved in mankind. However, the traffic volume didn’t drop just three percent, it dropped more than 16 percent. There should have been a lot fewer deaths than there were. The difference is idiots like the one I encountered.

NHTSA said that because traffic volumes decreased more significantly than the number of fatal crashes, the traffic fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles travelled is projected to increase to 1.25 in the first half of 2020, up from 1.06 in the same period in 2019.

“Road safety is always our top priority, and while we are encouraged by today’s reports showing a continued decline in total fatalities in 2019 and into the first half of 2020, we are concerned by the trend since April showing an increased fatality rate,” said NHTSA Deputy Administrator James Owens. “Now, more than ever, we should be watching ourselves for safe driving practices and encouraging others to do the same. It’s irresponsible and illegal to drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol, taking risks not only with one’s own life, but with the lives of others.”

A NHTSA release went on, stating that during the height of the national public health emergency and associated lockdowns, driving patterns and behaviors changed significantly, and that drivers who remained on the roads engaged in more risky behavior, including speeding, failing to wear seat belts, and driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Traffic data indicates that average speeds increased during the second quarter, and examples of extreme speeds became more common, while the evidence suggests that fewer people involved in crashes used their seat belts.

In other words, and this is me talking, not NHTSA: people are idiots, and what can we do about that?

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Sunday Reading – 10/11/2020

The following links are just news items and opinions that pass my desk throughout the week. I don’t necessarily support or advocate any of the items, they are just interesting reads.

Why California had rolling blackouts – Mainly: poor planning

Two months after Gov. Gavin Newsom called for an investigation into California’s first rolling blackouts in nearly two decades — during which time residents were twice warned that blackouts could return — a group of key state agencies released their preliminary findings.

The findings raise serious questions about the ability of California’s electrical grid to meet ambitious environmental goals, including 100% clean energy by 2045 and Newsom’s recent order banning the sale of new gas-powered cars in 2035. The agencies pinpointed three main reasons why nearly 1 million customers lost power over the course of two days in August:

  • Inadequate preparation for a “climate change-induced extreme heat storm.”
  • Insufficient energy in the early evening hours due to the state’s increased reliance on clean energy.
  • Complex market mechanisms, including one that allowed power plant operators to sell energy to other states even as a shortfall loomed.

To prevent future blackouts, the three state agencies that oversee energy — the California Independent System Operator, California Public Utilities Commission and California Energy Commission — said they would revise their plans to account for extreme weather events, ensure energy generation and storage projects are completed on time, accelerate new projects, and “enhance” market practices.

The state has struggled to meet its own deadlines for transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy. After the rolling blackouts, it voted to keep four controversial gas-powered plants running, although they were supposed to be phased out by the end of 2020. And over the past three years, it shut off some gas generation in anticipation of battery storage it has yet to build, according to the Los Angeles Times. From Calmatters

‘Micro weddings’ are a thing. California desert wedding planners create ‘little love bubble’ – Wedding industry data show about half as many weddings are expected to occur in California this year, with the coronavirus pandemic derailing large gatherings and state guidelines permitting only ceremonies.The state saw more than 241,000 weddings last year, a figure that’s expected to drop by roughly 50% in 2020, according to data from research firm The Wedding Report. Total associated sales were about $7.1 billion last year, and expected to be close to $3 billion this year.

While event planners are seeing many nuptials postponed, weddings that are going forward tend to be smaller, more intimate events. Palm Springs area hotels, once full of hundreds of guests for weekend destination weddings, are putting together new elopement and “micro wedding” packages for couples who want to make it official regardless — or perhaps because — of the pandemic.

Receptions are not allowed under current California guidelines for Riverside and San Bernardino counties. But some micro weddings are culminating in small dinner parties anyway, with loved ones gathering in small groups at boutique hotels or prviate estates. Other couples, like Chung and Gorman, are eloping.

“Micro weddings” have a way of narrowing the focus, Jones said, on what the day is all about: celebrating love and cherishing the present.

“The fact that people are still doing this, what does that tell you?” she said. “That love and commitment are important to everybody, and they’re going to make it happen.” Read More > in the Desert Sun

Enrollment Is Dropping In Public Schools Around the Country – Orange County, Fla., has 8,000 missing students. The Miami-Dade County public schools have 16,000 fewer than last year. Los Angeles Unified — the nation’s second-largest school system — is down nearly 11,000. Charlotte-Mecklenburg in North Carolina has 5,000 missing. Utah, Virginia and Washington are reporting declines statewide.

Comprehensive national data aren’t available yet, but reporting by NPR and our member stations, along with media reports from around the country, shows enrollment declines in dozens of school districts across 20 states. Large and small, rich and poor, urban and rural — in most of these districts the decline is a departure from recent trends. Over the past 15 years, data from the U.S. Education Department show that small and steady annual increases in public school enrollment have been the rule.

Six months after schools around the country shut their doors amid coronavirus lockdowns, these fall enrollment declines come as schools have been scrambling to improve remote learning offerings and to adopt safety procedures to allow buildings to open for in-person classes, sometimes just a few days a week. In many parts of the country the start of the year has been marked by multiple changes in planswidespread confusion among teachers and families, deep concerns about safety, and worries about unequal access to technology.

“We are not alone in this,” Chris Reykdal, Washington state’s superintendent of public instruction, said in a statement this week announcing a 2.82% decrease in enrollment statewide, driven by a 14% drop in kindergarten. “As our nation continues to fight the spread of COVID-19, states across the country are seeing changes in K–12 enrollment as families make decisions about the safest and most effective learning environments for their children.” Read More > from NPR

Amazon’s Massive $10 Billion 2020 Prime Day – Amazon.com Inc. has announced its Prime Day event, which some experts say pulls in more revenue than any other day in the company’s calendar. Estimates for the day, which lasts almost two days, are that revenue could top $10 billion. The hugeness of the figures can be put into context. It is more revenue than Nordstrom Inc., the old-line national retailer, should register for the entire year.

Prime Day runs from midnight Pacific Time on October 13 through the end of October 14. It covers 19 nations: United States, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, Spain, Singapore, Netherlands, Mexico, Luxembourg, Japan, Italy, Germany, France, China, Canada, Belgium, Austria, Australia, Turkey and Brazil. The only people who can participate are Amazon’s 150 million-plus Prime members. However, anyone without a Prime membership can sign up for a free 30-day trial.

Research firm eMarketer forecasts Prime Day sales will reach $9.91 billion, of which $6.17 billion will be in the United States. Last year, Amazon sold 175 million items over Prime Day. That figure could top 200 million this year. Even Amazon faces a delivery challenge at that level, despite its extensive warehouse and sophisticated logistics system. eMarketer principal analyst said, “While demand will be strong, the event will be more difficult to plan for than in previous years.” Read More > at 24/7 Wall St

Is Great Barrington Declaration A Solution To Endless COVID Lockdowns? – Let’s be honest. As we approach late autumn and then winter in the northern hemisphere, nobody knows what’s going to happen. We may see another surge in coronavirus cases, or we may not. We may see flu season exacerbate the effects of COVID, or we may not. We just don’t know.

Making the situation worse is that this uncertainty is absolutely killing the economy. Go downtown in any major American city. It’s a ghost town. We can’t live like this indefinitely. Is there some other approach that we can take as a society to minimize the harm of COVID while maximizing productivity and happiness? A group of successful and respected infectious disease experts says yes, and they have written a statement that they have called the Great Barrington Declaration.

The authors refer to their approach as “Focused Protection,” the gist of which is “to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk.” Not that this really matters (because public health policy shouldn’t be a popularity contest), but more than 10,000 scientists and medical practitioners have signed it.

Are the authors right? I certainly think so. Back in May, we reported on a Swedish epidemiologist who believed that lockdowns did nothing other than delay the inevitable; i.e., they simply push new infections down the timeline. Therefore, while lockdowns can be useful to avoid overwhelming hospital bed capacity, they may not lower the overall number of cases. In other words, we’re destroying the economy while essentially accomplishing nothing.

Worse than that, like all policies, lockdowns are having negative unintended consequences, such as delaying cancer detection and treatments and increasing the number of people with depression or other mental illness. Divorce has increased. Some have argued that, in terms of saving lives, the costs of the lockdown outweighed the benefits. Read More > from the American Council on Science and Health

Proposition 68 grants boost efforts that benefit salmon, steelhead – The California Natural Resources Agency announced today it is directing nearly $50 million in Proposition 68 funding to 15 projects that can immediately help improve ecosystem health for Central Valley salmon, steelhead and other native fish.

The projects – ranging from floodplain restoration and gravel enhancement to the installation of fish passage and fish screens – will help boost the viability of salmonids and other native fish in the Sacramento River mainstem, the Yuba, Feather, American and Mokelumne rivers, Putah Creek and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. They are expected to improve food availability, spawning, and/or rearing habitats for salmonids and improve habitats in the Delta for salmonids, Delta smelt, and longfin smelt.

State agencies including the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Department of Water Resources and the State Water Resources Control Board worked in partnership to select the projects for funding.

Voter-approved Proposition 68 of 2018 authorized more than $4 billion in funding for natural resources-related programs including habitat conservation, expanded access to parks and water resilience projects. The measure directed $200 million to the California Natural Resources Agency to support multi-benefit water quality, water supply and watershed protection and restoration as part of improving environmental health in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river systems.

This $50 million was allocated in the 2019-2020 state budget from Proposition 68 to fund habitat improvement projects. Read More > from the California Natural Resources Agency

California’s big budget bet fizzles out — will Newsom support new taxes? – Well, it doesn’t look as though California’s big bet on a federal stimulus package that would allow the state to reverse $11 billion in budget cuts is likely to pay off.

In a Tuesday tweet that sent shock waves through Wall Street, President Donald Trump announced he was ending negotiations on a coronavirus relief package until after the November election, accusing Speaker Nancy Pelosi of trying to “bailout (sic) poorly run, high crime, Democrat States.” The move has massive implications for California, which planned to rescind cuts to state employee salaries, courts and the UC and CSU systems if the feds supplied aid by Oct. 15. (Late Tuesday night, Trump expressed support for more stimulus checks and small-business aid.)

It also raises the question of whether Gov. Gavin Newsom will change his mind about levying new taxes on millionaires and big businesses as other revenue sources dry up and the state racks up billions of dollars in delayed payments owed to K-12 schools and community colleges. The governor’s press office did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. Read More > at Calmatters

Dollar General Aims at Higher-End Shoppers With New Store Concept – Value-oriented retailer Dollar General will soon be testing the waters of a slightly more affluent customer base than it’s typically served in the past. On Thursday, the company unveiled its new popshelf store concept initially meant to attract families earning between $50,000 and $125,000 per year.

The 16,720 Dollar General Stores currently in operation are, in general, found in smaller and less affluent communities. The company says about 70% of its stores are found in towns with populations of less than 20,000, and that 75% of the nation’s consumers live within five miles of a store. This location strategy has largely removed the much bigger Walmart as a prospective head-to-head competitor, but it’s also meant Dollar General tends to serve lower income families. CEO Todd Vasos has said in the past that the majority of its business comes from families with annual household incomes of less than $50,000. Other estimates indicate the retailer’s core customers are families earning less than $40,000 per year.

Popshelf stores won’t simply be located in more affluent zip codes, however. The merchandise mix will be different too. Whereas Dollar General stores focus on consumer staples, popshelf will feature home decor, party supplies, entertainment goods, and other non-consumables that “bring joy” to shoppers. The company isn’t completely abandoning its value-oriented basics roots, however. Thursday’s announcement explained that 95% of the items sold in popshelf stores will cost $5 or less. Read More > in The Motley Fool

Bay Area home prices soar with suburban boom – With millions out of work, and restaurants, shops and retailers closing, one spot in the economy shines for thriving and affluent professionals — Bay Area real estate.

As if the devastating pandemic had passed over the tech campuses, Spanish-tiled roofs and Tesla-filled garages of Silicon Valley, luxury home sales exploded in August and drove median prices up 16 percent from the previous year to levels approaching the market peak in 2018.

The median sale price for an existing single family home in August in the Bay Area was $975,000, according to DQNews data. The gains were driven by a limited supply of properties for sale and a greater portion of high-end homes selling, agents and economists said.

Year-over-year prices soared throughout most of the nine Bay Area counties: increasing 19 percent to $1.73 million in San Mateo; 18.6 percent to $1.34 million in Santa Clara; 18.6 percent to $770,00 in Contra Costa; and 13.4 percent to $975,000 in Alameda. The pandemic has continued to cool demand in San Francisco, where prices gained 3 percent to $1.55 million, according to DQNews.

The number of Bay Area homes sold grew by about 9 percent from last August, as traditional spring buyers waited until summer to tour and close deals. Read More > in The Mercury News

Vallejo City Council Declares Public Safety Emergency – The Vallejo City Council unanimously approved a motion Tuesday night declaring a public safety emergency in the wake of several officer shootings of people of color.

The declaration will allow the police chief and city manager to hire staff and adopt police reforms more quickly. The police department is being urged to expand community policing and independent oversight measures, while identifying more opportunities for transparency.

Vallejo spokeswoman Christina Lee said the department faces “a crisis of legitimacy and trust” amid rising crime rates and an avalanche of police misconduct allegations.

The problems at Vallejo PD have been going on for years. Vallejo and its police department were hit hard by the 2008 recession — during which the city declared bankruptcy — and the ramifications can be felt to this day. Additionally, between 2015 and 2017, the city paid more money per officer to settle civil rights lawsuits than nine other Bay Area law enforcement agencies, according to the East Bay Express.

Milpitas mayor threatens to sue California over homeless housing project – When Santa Clara County won nearly $30 million in coveted homeless housing funding from the state, county officials were practically jumping for joy. But in Milpitas — where the new housing project will be located — it’s a different story.

Milpitas Mayor Rich Tran is threatening to sue the state, the county, and anyone else involved in plans to turn the city’s Extended Stay America hotel into long-term housing for homeless residents under Project Homekey. He argues the project, which is exempt from the city’s usual permitting process, was rushed through without input from Milpitas officials or community members.

“A lot of folks here in Milpitas, we feel kind of left out in the cold,” Tran said in an interview. “The more folks in town are getting into this fast-moving process, the more we’re concerned about not having a voice.” Read More > in The Mercury News

Iran’s declining regional influence – Following the signing of the Abraham Accord between the UAE, Bahrain and Israel, US President Donald Trump last week trumpeted his peace-making credentials at the UN General Assembly. “These groundbreaking peace deals are the dawn of a new Middle East,” he declared.

The response to the accord from Tehran was decidedly less rosy. Long having posed as champions of the Palestinian cause, Iranian regime figures lined up to deride the agreement as “scandalous” and “treasonous”. Yet it is reasonable to assume that the plight of the Palestinians is not Tehran’s primary concern here.

The Palestinians were perhaps not front of mind for the UAE, Bahrain and Israel during their discussions, either. A key factor that seems to have drawn them to the negotiating table is their mutual disquiet at the reach of Iran.

Indeed, the accord, which promises to normalise relations between the Gulf states and Israel, may portend the crystallisation of a regional anti-Iran bloc and could lead to an Israeli presence in the Persian Gulf. That will set alarms bells ringing in Tehran.

Since the removal of Saddam Hussein in 2003 and the rapid growth of pro-Iran players in Iraq, many observers have been fearful of Tehran’s projection of influence across the Middle East. Now it would seem that the ground has shifted. Tehran is on the back foot, overextended and relatively friendless. Read More > in The Interpreter  

Gov. Newsom Says He Is in ‘No Hurry’ to Reopen Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood – Don’t expect DisneylandUniversal Studios Hollywood and Knott’s Berry Farm to open anytime soon, according to California Gov. Gavin Newsom at a press conference Wednesday.

He said there is “no hurry in putting out guidelines,” but state officials are continuing to work with amusement parks in California after the pandemic prompted closures in March. He called the process “very complex,” adding, “We don’t anticipate, in the immediate term, any of these larger theme parks opening until we see more stability in terms of the data.”

Newsom also revealed, following reports last week that Disney executive chairman Bob Iger had stepped down from the state’s economic recovery task force, that there were disagreements in working out guidelines for reopening Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood and other theme parks. Read More > at Variety

Newsom announces plan to conserve 30% of California’s land and coastal waters – Saying more needs to be done to preserve nature as a way to help address climate change, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday committed the state to a goal of protecting 30% of California’s land and coastal waters by 2030.

Newsom signed an executive order directing the state’s Natural Resources Agency to draw up a plan by Feb. 1, 2022, to achieve the goal in a way that also protects the state’s economy and agriculture industry, while expanding and restoring biodiversity — the vast variety of animals and plants — that live in areas as varied as the Bay Area’s tidepools to arid deserts in Southern California to mountain forests across the Sierra Nevada.

California becomes the first state to commit to the “30 x 30” goal — a growing effort by dozens of environmental groups, scientific organizations and the National Geographic Society to preserve at least 30% of the world’s land and oceans in their natural state by 2030.

How much of Newsom’s announcement was symbolism was not entirely clear Wednesday. In California, 47% of the state is already owned by the federal government, mostly in national forests, national parks and desert lands owned by the federal Bureau of Land Management. Read More > in The Mercury News

Apocalypse Never – We are frequently warned that humanity is beset by ecological catastrophes that could kill off civilization, perhaps even our species. Not so, insists environmental activist Michael Shellenberger in his new book, Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All.

Shellenberger, whose activism led Time to name him a “Hero of the Environment” in 2008, argues that while significant global environmental problems exist, they don’t constitute inexorable existential threats.

Shellenberger’s analysis relies on largely uncontroversial mainstream science. He points out that climate change has not made natural disasters more harmful to human life and wealth, and that fires have declined 25 percent around the world since 2003. (They have become more frequent and dangerous in some specific areas in the past decade, though not to historically unprecedented levels.)

He uses data to question frightening predictions about species extinctions. Warming will affect sea levels and food production, he grants, but the problems thus caused would be manageable by an ever-wealthier human race.

The book is a sustained argument that poverty is humanity’s most important environmental problem and that rising prosperity and increasing technological prowess will ameliorate or reverse most deleterious environmental trends. Read More > at Reason

The Plastic Pandemic – The coronavirus pandemic has sparked a rush for plastic.

From Wuhan to New York, demand for face shields, gloves, takeaway food containers and bubble wrap for online shopping has surged. Since most of that cannot be recycled, so has the waste.

But there is another consequence. The pandemic has intensified a price war between recycled and new plastic, made by the oil industry. It’s a war recyclers worldwide are losing, price data and interviews with more than two dozen businesses across five continents show.

The reason: Nearly every piece of plastic begins life as a fossil fuel. The economic slowdown has punctured demand for oil. In turn, that has cut the price of new plastic.

Already since 1950, the world has created 6.3 billion tonnes of plastic waste, 91% of which has never been recycled, according to a 2017 study published in the journal Science. Most is hard to recycle, and many recyclers have long depended on government support. New plastic, known to the industry as “virgin” material, can be half the price of the most common recycled plastic.

Since COVID-19, even drinks bottles made of recycled plastic – the most commonly recycled plastic item – have become less viable. The recycled plastic to make them is 83% to 93% more expensive than new bottle-grade plastic, according to market analysts at the Independent Commodity Intelligence Services (ICIS). Read More > at Reuters

Discovery enables adult skin to regenerate like a newborn’s – A newly identified genetic factor allows adult skin to repair itself like the skin of a newborn babe. The discovery by Washington State University researchers has implications for better skin wound treatment as well as preventing some of the aging process in skin.

In a study, published in the journal eLife on Sept. 29, the researchers identified a factor that acts like a molecular switch in the skin of baby mice that controls the formation of hair follicles as they develop during the first week of life. The switch is mostly turned off after skin forms and remains off in adult tissue. When it was activated in specialized cells in adult mice, their skin was able to heal wounds without scarring. The reformed skin even included fur and could make goose bumps, an ability that is lost in adult human scars.

“We were able to take the innate ability of young, neonatal skin to regenerate and transfer that ability to old skin,” said Ryan Driskell, an assistant professor in WSU’s School of Molecular Biosciences. “We have shown in principle that this kind of regeneration is possible.”

Mammals are not known for their regenerative abilities compared to other organisms, such as salamanders that can regrow entire limbs and regenerate their skin. The WSU study suggests that the secret to human regeneration might be found by studying our own early development. Read More > from Washington State University 

Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven copyright battle is finally over – The band were sued for copyright in 2014 over claims they had stolen the song’s opening riff from Taurus, by a US band called Spirit.

Led Zeppelin won the case in 2016, but it was revived on appeal in 2018.

A court of appeals upheld the original verdict earlier this year. Now, the US Supreme Court has declined to hear the case, definitively ending it.

Stairway To Heaven regularly appears on lists of the greatest rock songs ever written, and the case has been one of the music industry’s most closely-watched disputes. Read More > in the BBC

These 24 planets may be more ‘habitable’ than Earth, astronomers say – Who needs to flee to Canada when there are 24 planets more suitable for life than planet Earth?

Astronomers have discovered two dozen planets, all more than 100 light-years away, that are perfectly capable of sustaining human life as 2020 continues to rear its ugly head in our end of space.

These “super-habitable” worlds are older, bigger, warmer and have more moisture than Earth, according to the study, led by Washington State University geobiologist Dirk Schulze-Makuch and published in the journal Astrobiology.

There’s no confirmation that life exists on these planets, but the study used those characteristics to search for super-habitable potentials across 4,500 exoplanets, simply defined as planets that orbit stars outside of our own solar system. Read More > in the New York Post

15 Percent of Tibet’s Population Transferred to Chinese Training Centers as Mass Labor Program Expands: Report – More than 500,000 Tibetans have been transferred to Chinese training centers since the beginning of 2020, as an existing mass labor initiative expanded in the region. The figure accounts for roughly 15 percent of Tibet’s total population. According to a new Reuters report, published Tuesday, the militaristic recruitment program primarily targets rural farmers who are then trained to support Chinese industries.

Its presence in Tibet, fueled by quotas established by Chinese authorities, marks a significant expansion of a labor program also seen in Xinjiang, an autonomous region in the country’s northwest. In Xinjiang the initiative is linked to internment camps that China officially calls “vocational” facilities, where researchers estimate at least 1 million Uighurs were detained over the past several years. Documents obtained by the Associated Press last year confirmed that those held at the detention centers were subject to ideological instruction and behavioral re-education. The Chinese government claimed to have released detainees from the camps in December, but concerns about subsequent forced labor practices surfaced soon after. Read More > in Newsweek

Political Ignorance Is Bliss – …Because it illustrates the irrationality of getting angry over something you can’t change. I can’t change the weather. However, I can adjust my own behavior in response to the weather. It makes no sense to seethe at the heat spell—I should switch on the A.C. and move on with my life.

…Consider also that the psychological harm of “losing” in politics is greater than the psychological benefit of “winning.” A 2019 working paper by Sergio Pinto, Panka Bencsik, Tuugi Chuluun, and Carol Graham finds that the loss of well-being experienced by partisans when their party loses is significantly larger than any well-being gain experienced by the winners. And seeing one’s side lose an election can have surprisingly devastating results. Immediately after their candidate lost the 2016 presidential election, the decline in life satisfaction experienced by Democrats was greater than the adverse effects of losing a job—a life event that has some of the worst documented effects on people’s well-being. Estimates based on recent survey data suggest that roughly 94 million Americans believe that politics has caused them stress, 44 million believe that it has cost them sleep, and 28 million believe that it has harmed their physical health.

I suggest looking to the advice offered by the ancient Stoics for coping with fate. “When a dog is tied to a cart,” philosophers Zeno and Chrysippus analogized, “if it wants to follow it is pulled and follows, making its spontaneous act coincide with necessity, but if it does not want to follow it will be compelled in any case. So it is with men too: Even if they do not want to, they will be compelled in any case to follow what is destined.”

Electoral outcomes are, for all practical purposes, a matter of fate over which we as individuals have no control. We can either accept them and adjust our behavior accordingly or we can pointlessly obsess over them to the detriment of our own well-being.

…Perhaps most troubling of all is partisans’ willingness to dehumanize those on the other side. A study by Vanderbilt University’s James Martherus and others found that more than half of partisans rated members of the opposing party as less evolved than members of their own party—they located out-party members farther away from an image of a modern human on a scale showing the stages of human evolution. Martherus and his colleagues also presented partisans with a fake report, accompanied by a photo of broken chairs, about a cookout where a fight had broken out, causing a rush to the exit and a number of injuries. When the event was affiliated with the Republican Party, Democratic subjects were more likely to agree that the eventgoers were “like animals”; a similar result was found when Republicans were told the gathering was Democratic. A different study yielded a similar finding: About 20 percent of respondents believe that many members of the opposing party “lack the traits to be considered fully human—they behave like animals.”

Dehumanization is a grave social problem: It can lead to discrimination, increased punitiveness, and violence. Indeed, 18 percent of Democrats and 13 percent of Republicans “feel violence would be justified” if the other party wins the 2020 presidential election. Read More > at Reason

One form of exercise proves to be most effective for long-term weight loss – WEIGHT LIFTING, also known as resistance training, has been practiced for centuries as a way of building muscular strength. Research shows that resistance training, whether done via bodyweight, resistance bands or machines, dumbbells or free weights, not only helps us build strength, but also improves muscle size and can help counteract age-related muscle loss.

More recently it’s become popular among those looking to lose weight. While exercises such as running and cycling are indeed effective for reducing body fat, these activities can simultaneously decrease muscle size, leading to weaker muscles and greater perceived weight loss, as muscle is more dense than fat. But unlike endurance exercises, evidence shows resistance training not only has beneficial effects on reducing body fat, but it also increases muscle size and strength. Read More > at Inverse

U.S. service economy grows again in September, ISM finds, and employment turns positive for first time in seven months – The huge service side of the U.S. economy — retailers, restaurants, banks, hospitals and the like — expanded in September for the fourth month in a row and employment also grew for the first time since the pandemic began, a survey business executives showed.

An index of nonmanufacturing companies rose to 57.8% last month from 56.9% in August, the Institute for Supply Management said Monday.

Any number above 50% means more companies are expanding. Strong gains in both the ISM service and manufacturing indexes suggest the recovery set down more roots in September. Read More > at MarketWatch

AMC Entertainment Expected to Run Out of Liquidity Within 6 Months – Despite AMC Entertainment Holdings opening over 80% of its movie theaters by mid-October, ratings agency S&P Global says the theater operator’s financial condition is dire and it expects the chain to run out of money within six months.

That outlook could change if AMC is able to raise additional capital before then, but S&P doesn’t see that as likely. It warned the risk of default is great as it lowered its rating on the theater operator to CCC- from CCC+.

AMC has danced around the brink of bankruptcy as it restructured its debt, but as the potential for any movie blockbusters to draw in crowds this year fades, S&P’s outlook for the theater operator has darkened considerably. It wrote, “We believe a liquidity crisis is all but inevitable even if the company were to fully reopen all of its theaters.”

The Christopher Nolan spy movie Tenet didn’t draw nearly as many people in as was hoped, taking in just $3.4 million in its fourth week, and now more big-budget movies are being pushed out until 2021. The twice-delayed James Bond film No Time to Die was pushed back yet again till next year, leading Regal theater parent Cineworld to shut down all of its theaters in the U.S. and U.K. Read More > at The Motley Fool

The ecological impact of fences – Humans have swamped the planet with fences, but there is a gaping hole in knowledge about their ecological impact – an issue scientists are now drawing attention to.

“Fences are so common that they have become nearly invisible, even to ecologists,” says Alex McInturff from UC Santa Barbara, US, lead author of an international paper published in the journal Bioscience.

“The fact that we’ve wrapped the Earth with enough fencing to reach the Sun makes it especially surprising that we don’t have a clear understanding of the scope, scale and types of ecological effects they have.”

…On an ecological level, the researchers discovered fences can create “no man’s lands” – much like those with barbed wire during World War I – that only allow a narrow range of species and ecosystems to flourish.

Even fences designed to protect conservation areas, keep out invasive species or shield wildlife from vehicle collisions can have unexplored ecosystem consequences. Read More > at Cosmos

The Pirates of the Highways – On America’s interstates, brazen bands of thieves steal 18-wheelers filled with computers, cell phones, even toilet paper. And select law enforcement teams are tasked with tracking them down.

“If you have enough of something and you can sell it for cheap enough, you can make it disappear very quickly, and your profit is 100 percent,” said Manteca Police Department Sgt. Joe Ahuna, who has worked on cargo theft cases in California’s Central Valley region.

In fact, some of the highest value and thus most targeted loads in recent years have been snack nuts. When a drought greatly diminished the supply of nuts, thereby raising the demand for them, seasoned truck thieves became more interested in going after nuts than they were big-ticket electronics or medicine. Nut theft reached a peak in early 2015, with 31 nut heists costing carriers more than $5 million.

“How are you to track individual nuts?” said Sgt. Shawna Pacheco, a supervisor in the California Highway Patrol’s Golden Gate Investigative Services unit and a member of its Cargo Theft Interdiction Program. “When those nuts get transported to a warehouse where they are processed — some are legal and some are stolen — but all are crushed and bagged, so good luck telling the difference.” (Similar networks of licit and illicit buyers are relied on to fence everything from lunch meat to designer clothes, and the same strategy is at play today in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Sheriffs in North Carolina recently tracked down a stolen semi carrying 18,000 pounds of toilet paper.) Read More > at Narratively

The Crypto State? – Throughout history, world powers—Spain, the Netherlands, France, Britain—have found themselves routinely replaced by more dynamic rivals. Today, many speculate about whether the United States will cede place to China as the global superpower. What if this is the wrong way to look at the question, though—and what if we’re living through a more radical transition? What if all contemporary states are in the process of being replaced by a new kind of “state,” as different from existing governments as they themselves differed from ancient empires or primitive tribes?

Technological development creates new sources of power, and it’s possible to discern a logic to that growth. First, information: Google knows more about you than your government ever will. Second, community: Facebook brings more people together on a single collective platform than any society, including China or India, can match. Third, currency: Bitcoin is a new kind of money, decentralized and free from political control. Fourth, law: smart contracts are computer programs working without human intervention. All that remains is to combine these elements, and a new form of governance will be born. What might it look like?

In an essay published in 2017, Mark Zuckerberg offers a philosophy of history to explain the rise of Facebook. The arc of that history moves from tribes to cities to nations—and now to something beyond. “Today we are close to taking our next step,” he writes. The truly remarkable thing is not that Zuckerberg thinks that humanity is becoming a global community—implausible as that claim is—but that he thinks his company, which he obviously does not regard as merely a company, can help make it happen: “Facebook stands for bringing us closer together and building a global community,” he says. “In times like these, the most important thing we at Facebook can do is develop the social infrastructure to give people the power to build a global community that works for all of us.”

When Zuckerberg calls Facebook the “social infrastructure” for community, the term is the very one that you would use to define the state. The state makes human communities possible; it builds them, organizes them, and keeps their members together. Or, as Zuckerberg puts it, it supports us, keeps us safe, informs us, and includes and engages us. Of course, Facebook, with no territory and no claims to territory, is dedicated to building a global community not in physical but in virtual space. By freeing itself from geographical constraints, this new community would be open to every person on the planet. Read More > at City Journal

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The Spare the Air Alert has been extended through Tuesday, October 13


The Spare the Air Alert has been extended through Tuesday, October 13

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Electric Bicycle Rebate Pilot Program Launches in Contra Costa County

Residents of Contra Costa County can now receive cash rebates for new electric bicycles (ebikes) through a pilot program launched by 511 Contra Costa (511CC).

A limited number of $150 rebates ($300 for low income residents) are available for residents of each Contra Costa city to assist in the purchase of e-bikes, e-bike conversion kits, and electric mopeds (with a maximum speed less than 30 mph). E-bikes are clean fuel vehicles that provide riders with an excellent alternative to driving when traveling short to medium distances on local streets.

“We’re proud to partner with 511 Contra Costa on this effort”, states Contra Costa Transportation Authority Executive Director Randell Iwasaki. “E-bikes offer several key benefits as an alternative to driving – they reduce congestion, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, eliminate parking dilemmas, and can help bridge those first and last mile trips to transit – plus they are just really cool.”

Post purchase rebates are available for county residents who purchase e-bikes on or after October 1, 2020, and will be distributed on a first come, first served basis.

“One of our goals is to introduce Contra Costa residents to this energy efficient mode of transportation by helping to reduce costs and raising awareness about the benefits of e-bikes in their communities,” said Kirsten Riker, Project Manager, 511CC.

The Contra Costa Transportation Authority’s local Measure J sales tax is the funding source for this program and others like it to encourage alternatives to the single occupant vehicle.

To learn more, visit 511CC.org/rebate for information about rules, resources, and current rebate availability by city.

About 511 Contra Costa
511 Contra Costa is a county-wide program that strives to reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality by providing the public with information, resources, and tools that promote mobility options beyond driving alone. More information is available at http://www.511contracosta.org.

About The Contra Costa Transportation Authority
The Contra Costa Transportation Authority (CCTA) is a public agency formed by Contra Costa voters in 1988 to manage the county’s transportation sales tax program and oversee countywide transportation planning efforts. With a staff of twenty people managing a multi-billion-dollar suite of projects and programs, CCTA is responsible for planning, funding and delivering transportation infrastructure projects and programs
throughout the County. CCTA also serves as the county’s designated Congestion Management Agency, responsible for putting programs in place to manage traffic levels. More information about CCTA is available at ccta.net.

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Join Us for a Fun Halloween Drive-Thru Event

The City of Oakley will be hosting a “Halloween Drive Thru” event on Saturday, October 31st from 12noon – 3pm.  Admission is FREE and guests must pre-register to attend.   The event will be limited to no more than 200 vehicles per the Contra Costa County Health Dept. COVID19 restrictions for drive-thru events.  NO motorcycles or open convertibles permitted.

Click here to register

The Oakley Recreation Center parking lot located at 1250 O’Hara Avenue will be transformed into a fun Halloween experience.  Guests must remain in their cars at all times – the Recreation Center office will be closed to the public.

Guests may decorate their vehicles to add to the fun.  This is a family-friendly event, it won’t be too scary for even the youngest guests.  Students from the Oakley Youth Advisory Council will be on site in costume.

The “Friends of Oakley” non-profit organization will be accepting donations on behalf of their Christmas Basket program that provides food and gifts for families in Oakley.

Cars will enter the site northbound on O’Hara Avenue, turning right at the stop light into the parking lot.  Cars may cue up along O’Hara Avenue to wait to enter the lot.

For more information, call Cindy at (925) 625-7044 or email:coelho@ci.oakley.ca.us  

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Management Plan Advisory Committee for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta National Heritage Area

The Delta Protection Commission is creating a 15-member volunteer body, the National Heritage Area Management Plan Advisory Committee (NHA Advisory Committee), to provide the Commission with recommendations on the development of the Management Plan and to seek input from diverse stakeholders. The NHA Advisory Committee will generally meet quarterly.

The application form (PDF) is available. For more information on the NHA and the NHA Advisory Committee, see the NHA factsheet (PDF) and NHA Advisory Committee Charter (PDF). Applications are due by 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, October 28, and can be sent to submit@delta.ca.gov .

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2020’s States with the Best & Worst Representation on Election Day – WalletHub Study

With WalletHub’s National Voter Representation Index at 87 percent and very different demographic groups supporting Donald Trump and Joe Biden, the personal-finance website WalletHub today released its report examining the States with the Best & Worst Representation on Election Day.

To identify those states, WalletHub’s analysts compared the distribution of the 50 states’ voters to the distribution of their electorates by key demographic characteristics, including age, race and gender.

Voters’ Representation of California’s Electorate:

  • Overall Representation: 89.36%
  • Racial Representation: 84.11%
  • Age Representation: 86.65%
  • Gender Representation: 97.32%

For the full report, please visit:

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What’s Different About Voting in California This Year?


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The COVID-19 pandemic means that there are several big changes to how you’ll vote in the 2020 election — and honestly, there are some you might not be aware of at this stage.

Read on for a rundown of the major differences about voting this year.

Everyone’s getting a mail-in ballot

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, if you’re registered to vote you’ll be receiving a mail-in ballot by default, without requesting it. Even if you’re usually an absentee voter, you’ll still be getting just that one mail-in ballot this year.

Remember: It’ll be sent to the address at which you’re registered to vote, so check that your address is correct here. And if you’re not already registered to vote, do that here.

If you see information online about the deadline to request a mail-in ballot (Oct. 27), don’t worry. That deadline is for requesting a new mail-in ballot — say, if you’ve made an error filling out the one you were already sent.

Everyone should bring their ballot along to vote in person

One big thing to know this year: if you decide you want to vote in person on Election Day itself, you should bring the ballot along with you.

Why? It’s because people who opt to vote-by-mail always have to bring their ballot with them if they decide to vote in person, as proof they didn’t already mail it and aren’t therefore voting twice. It’s just that this year, all registered voters in California are getting sent a ballot in the mail — i.e becoming mail-in voters by default, even without requesting it.

So what happens if you arrive at the polls without your ballot, because you forgot it? Or perhaps you’re a student who doesn’t live full-time at the address at which you’re registered to vote, where the ballot was sent? Unhoused people or those who have no fixed address might also be affected by not being able to bring a ballot to the polls.

The good news: Without a ballot you can still vote in person, but you may be required to vote provisionally. A provisional vote is a vote that’s subject to extra checks (i.e., that you’re actually registered to vote in California, or that you didn’t already complete and mail your ballot.) This extra layer of confirmation takes time, and therefore means your vote might not be counted on Election Day itself — although it’ll eventually be counted.

If you didn’t bring a ballot because you didn’t actually register to vote, you can register via what’s called Same Day Voter Registration (also known as Conditional Voter Registration.) If you’re doing this on Election Day itself, you can register and vote at the same time at your polling place — find it here.

If you’re unhoused or have no fixed address, you can still register to vote by providing a description of the place where you spend most of your time if you don’t have a street address, including cross streets. You can do this via online application — deadline October 19 — or on the paper voter registration application you can pick up at any Department of Motor Vehicles field office, or many post offices, public libraries, government offices or your county elections office by request. You can also do it on the day you vote in person, with Same Day Voter Registration.

If you have been displaced from your home by a wildfire and won’t be able to access your ballot, you can fill out a one-time Vote-by-Mail Ballot Application and list a new mailing address where you’d like to receive your ballot for the November 2020 election.

Your ballot is being given more time to get there

We know folks have voiced concerns about how changes at the U.S. Postal Service might impact the delivery of completed mail-in ballots.

In California, your ballot must be postmarked on Election Day at the latest, but the deadline for mail-in ballots to be received has been extended to Nov. 20 — from Nov. 6 — to allow your ballot extra time to reach your county elections office. You’ll also be able to drop off your completed ballot by hand at any drop box, polling location or county elections office.

Voting in person will probably look different

You can still absolutely vote in person at the polls despite receiving your mail-in ballot (remember: bring it along), but the voting experience and your polling place may be very different because of the pandemic.

Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Sonoma counties are opening most locations for early voting from Saturday, October 31st to Monday, November 2nd.

Counties have been advised to maintain social distancing protocols and to have face coverings on hand for voters who don’t have one.

Poll workers will also be provided with the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) to reduce their own risk. Some polling places may also be consolidated. More information should be coming as November draws closer.

Results will take longer than usual

The coronavirus pandemic will almost certainly increase the adoption of voting by mail this year. More mail-in ballots to count means a longer vote-counting process, and that means that close races might not be decided for days — or even weeks — after Election Day. This is also true for the presidential election.

At a time in which so much is in flux, it’s important to remember that a longer vote count is expected and not a sign of fraud or error. It’s happened as recently as 2018, when some California congressional races were not decided until weeks after Election Day, as mail ballots and provisional ballots were counted.

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Incoming: mail-in ballots

Don’t forget to check your mailbox this week, because today, counties are required to begin sending out mail-in ballots for the November election. It’s the first time in California history that a mail-in ballot will be sent to every active registered voter — and this year there are more than 21 million, a record high. If you have questions about voting logistics, check out CalMatters’ voter guide or submit your question to be answered.

Of the 21.2 million active registered voters, 46.4% are Democratic, 24.2% Republican and 23.7% No Party Preference, according to a breakdown released Thursday by Secretary of State Alex Padilla. This represents a comeback of sorts for the GOP, which fell behind No-Party-Preference voters in 2018 — although Republicans now make up a smaller share of the California electorate than they did in 2016, when they represented 26.8% of registered voters.

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