Sunday Reading – 08/28/16


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.

Here’s what the proposed Las Vegas Raiders stadium could look like – The Raiders officially applied to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to obtain the trademark for “Las Vegas Raiders,” and on Thursday the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee released a stadium proposal — complete with renderings — for a potential Raiders Stadium with a projected $1.9 billion pricetag. Although a future move to Las Vegas is still just a possibility, this plan for a 65,000-seat domed stadium is very real. Images courtesy of MANICA Architecture.

vegas%202.vadapt.767.high.88 Read More > at Fox Sports

The first self-driving taxis are cruising around Singapore – Uber announced that it will start self-driving trials in Pittsburgh later this month, but it was beat to the punch by a much less well-known company. Starting today, nuTonomy will offer rides to Singapore residents in specially equipped Mitsubishi i-MiEV or Renault Zoe electric vehicles. As with Uber, passengers won’t be alone with a robotic driver like Silicon Valley’s hapless Jared. A nuTonomy engineer will be along to monitor the vehicle, and a safety driver will “assume control if needed to ensure passenger comfort and safety,” the company wrote.

The rides will be free to start with, and the company will stick to an area called “One-North” for the tests. Municipal officials designated the 2.5-square-mile residential zone specifically for self-driving trials in an effort to reduce congestion in the city, where 5.5 million residents live in a region about three times the size of Boston. Pick-ups and drop-offs will also be limited to certain areas to avoid traffic concerns. Read More > at Engadget

Green Sturgeon Numbers on the Rise? Time Will Tell… – Green sturgeon is a rarity these days for a fish species found in the San Joaquin-Sacramento Delta – because its numbers could be increasing.

While high-profile Delta species such as Delta smelt and winter-run Chinook salmon are at record lows and facing possible extinction, that doesn’t seem to be the case with Sacramento River green sturgeon – listed as threatened by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) under the Endangered Species Act in 2006.

Recent efforts to assist green sturgeon appear to be helping. Whether the increase marks a long-term trend is to be determined.

Data collected through the month of June from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s rotary-screw trap surveys at the Red Bluff Diversion Dam (RBDD) showed a juvenile green sturgeon 2016 Relative Abundance Index – which measures catch per unit volume – at an all-time high for the survey at over 30 fish per acre-feet of water volume sampled.

This represents a 34 percent increase from the previous high in 2011. For comparison, the 2015 index was 3.3 fish per acre-feet. Read More > from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Can California Voters Make Responsible Policy? – This November, Californians – in addition to electing or re-electing local, states, and federal office-holders – will be deciding the fate of at least seventeen statewide ballot measures (and countless local/regional ones). These measures address some major policy issues, such as the fate of California’s death penalty, adult recreational marijuana use, and pharmaceutical price controls. With so many complex and consequential issues on the ballot, the question lingering overhead is whether Californians are prepared to make such important decisions.

Next week, the Hoover Institution will release its July-August 2016 issue of Eureka. This issue explores responsibility at the polls: 1) are Propositions 51 and 53 fiscally responsible, 2) is Proposition 55 responsible budgeting, 3) is Proposition 57 a responsible step toward criminal justice reform, and 4) are Californians capable of being responsible policymakers in the polling booth?

The measures Californians are being asked to decide are complicated and serious policy questions – issues experts take lifetimes to understand. The consequences, both intended and unintended, can be huge. Couple this with the increasing volume of the measures, ballots are becoming quite overwhelming. Then you also add in the fact that voter turnout is declining and electorates are largely uninformed on non-presidential candidates and issues. All of this wouldn’t be an issue for California’s initiative system if reforming or repealing a policy passed via the ballot was easy. But the system was specifically designed to be inflexible…

At the end of the day, though, California needs to figure out a way to ensure Californians are confident and capable of knowledgeably weighing judgement on ballot propositions.

For a more in-depth look at these topics, keep your eye out for the July-August 2016 issue of Eureka at hoover.org/publication/eureka to be released on Tuesday, August 30. Read More > at Real Clear Markets

Judge allows higher developer fees for schools; Dublin, Fremont will benefit – A judge has ruled in favor of allowing the state to collect higher fees from developers in order to help school districts such as Dublin and Fremont to build new classrooms and alleviate overcrowding.

State Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny issued his ruling Tuesday against the California Building Industry Association and in favor of the State Allocation Board, which voted in May to trigger the higher fees.

The building association sued to prevent the increase, claiming the state had money left in its school construction bond fund. That money is reserved for seismic improvements, but the association argued in its suit that it could be used instead to fund construction. The group also argued that the higher fees would boost home prices, negatively impacting buyers and builders.

…The state board declared in May that state bond funds for new school construction were no longer available, which allowed it for the first time to trigger the highest-level impact fees on homebuilders that the law allows. The building association slapped the State Allocation Board with a lawsuit the same day the panel voted to trigger the higher fees.

The ruling’s impacts could be tempered if Proposition 51, a $9 billion state school construction bond, is approved by voters in November. The measure would replenish the state bond fund and state matching dollars for new school construction. That money was depleted last fall, which allowed the state to trigger the higher developer fees. Read More > in the East Bay Times

Uber Loses at Least $1.2 Billion in First Half of 2016 – …In the first quarter of this year, Uber lost about $520 million before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, according to people familiar with the matter. In the second quarter the losses significantly exceeded $750 million, including a roughly $100 million shortfall in the U.S., those people said. That means Uber’s losses in the first half of 2016 totaled at least $1.27 billion.

Subsidies for Uber’s drivers are responsible for the majority of the company’s losses globally, Gupta told investors, according to people familiar with the matter. An Uber spokesman declined to comment.

Bookings grew tremendously from the first quarter of this year to the second, from above $3.8 billion to more than $5 billion. Net revenue, under generally accepted accounting principles, grew about 18 percent, from about $960 million in the first quarter to about $1.1 billion in the second.

…The second quarter of 2016, which ended in June, could represent a nadir for Uber. The company’s losses will likely fall. In July, it cut a deal with its largest global competitor, Chinese ride-hailing behemoth Didi Chuxing, washing its hands of its massive losses in that country. Didi gave Uber a 17.5 percent stake in its business and a $1 billion investment in exchange for Uber’s retreat. Uber lost at least $2 billion in two years in China, people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg in July. Uber won’t see any losses from China on its balance sheet after August, the company said on Friday’s investor call.

Uber’s backers range from venture capital firms like Benchmark Capital to the investment bank Goldman Sachs. Altogether, Uber has raised more than $16 billion in cash and debt. Its latest valuation is a whopping $69 billion. The company has effectively redistributed at least $1 billion to the Chinese working class in the form of heavy subsidies to drivers there. “Uber and Didi Chuxing are investing billions of dollars in China and both companies have yet to turn a profit there,” Uber Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick wrote in a letter announcing the company’s departure from China. Read More > in Bloomberg

Best Buy posts higher profit, better online and store sales – Best Buy’s profit jumped 21 percent as the nation’s largest consumer electronics retailer increased sales online and tried to create a better shopping experience in the stores while it also cut costs.

Its shares soared 19 percent after the company said online sale rose 24 percent to $835 million, a beacon for investors who have watched Amazon.com eat away at the sales of almost every traditional retailer. The stock surge marked the largest daily percentage increase since mid-December 2008.

Revenue at established stores, an important measure of a retailer’s health, also managed a gain of 0.8 percent when Wall Street, according to a survey by FactSet, had expected a decline of 0.4 percent. The company has been working on revamping its stores and improving sales staff training to convert browsers into buyers. Read More > in the Associated Press

Backers drop plan to allow Delta anglers to keep more striped bass – The state Fish and Game Commission on Thursday will no longer consider a controversial proposal to allow anglers to catch and keep more nonnative Delta bass.

On Tuesday, backers pulled a petition that sought to increase the size and daily bag limits for nonnative striped and black bass in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Michael Boccadoro, a spokesman for the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta, said supporters were frustrated that they would only be allowed 10 minutes at Thursday’s meeting to make their case to the commissioners.

Boccadoro’s group represents Kern County farming interests who for years have blamed the nonnative bass for eating endangered Delta smelt and Chinook salmon. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

Bill to end Daylight Saving Time in California fails in Senate – A San Jose legislator’s efforts to abandon Daylight Saving Time ended Tuesday when the state Senate rejected a measure that would have allowed California voters to end the twice-annual ritual at the ballot boxes.

Assembly Bill 385, authored by Assemblyman Kansen Chu, D-San Jose, fell four votes short of the 21 votes needed to pass the upper house.

Chu could not immediately be reached for comment. But he has previously remarked that he couldn’t understand why anyone would want to “do this fall backward, spring forward thing twice a year.”

The legislation won support from an unusual mix of lawmakers: 11 Democrats and six Republicans. But 10 Democrats and seven Republicans opposed it. Read More > in The Mercury News

Delta tunnels don’t pencil out, UOP economist says – A prominent Sacramento-area economist says Gov. Jerry Brown’s $15.5 billion plan to overhaul the troubled Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta doesn’t make financial sense, with costs far outweighing the benefits.

Jeff Michael of the University of the Pacific, who has been a persistent critic of Brown’s plan to build a pair of massive tunnels beneath the Delta, said the project would likely deliver just 23 cents worth of economic benefit for every $1 spent.

Even under the most optimistic scenario, the tunnels, known as California WaterFix, would generate just 39 cents worth of benefit, Michael wrote in a 24-page report released early Wednesday.

The State Water Resources Control Board has launched a grueling hearing on the details of the plan, which is expected to last well into 2017. Meanwhile, Brown’s administration is scrambling to secure environmental approvals from two federal agencies that supervise endangered fish species found in the Delta. State officials believe it’s crucial to get those approvals before President Barack Obama leaves office next January, or risk losing momentum on the entire project.

A preliminary cost-benefit analysis, conducted in 2013 for the state, concluded that the project makes financial sense. Michael’s report said the 2013 study was flawed because it overestimated the benefits of the proposed project. State officials say the 2013 study will be updated. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

Law Schools Cut Back to Counter Tough Financial Times – For years they were considered the cash cows of academe, spinning off profits that could keep money-losing parts of the university afloat.

But most law schools today are struggling to break even, buffeted by plummeting applications, a shrinking job market, and the constant pressure to avoid slipping in national rankings. … Because they rely so heavily on tuition and face a variety of other cost pressures, many and possibly most of those schools are operating at a deficit.

The growing number of universities that are subsidizing struggling law schools “are certainly not happy about the money running the other way,” said Paul F. Campos, a professor of law at the University of Colorado at Boulder whose biting critiques of law schools in blogs and books have made him a polarizing but influential figure in legal education. He estimates that at least 80 percent of law schools are losing money — a figure that an ABA spokesman said could not be confirmed. Read More > at Chronicle of Higher Education

Ramen is displacing tobacco as most popular US prison currency, study finds – Ramen noodles are overtaking tobacco as the most popular currency in US prisons, according a new study released on Monday.

A new report by Michael Gibson-Light, a doctoral candidate in the University of Arizona’s school of sociology, found the decline in quality and quantity of food available in prisons due to cost-cutting has made ramen noodles a valuable commodity.

“[Ramen] is easy to get and it’s high in calories,” Gibson-Light said. “A lot of them, they spend their days working and exercising and they don’t have enough energy to do these things. From there it became more a story, why ramen in particular.”

Gibson-Light interviewed close to 60 inmates over the course of a year at one state prison as part of a wider study on prison labor. He did not identify the prison to protect the confidentiality of the inmates.

He found that the instant soup has surpassed tobacco as the most prized currency at the prison. He also analyzed other nationwide investigations that he says found a trend towards using ramen noodles in exchanges. Read More > in The Guardian

Inspector General Confirms EPA Broke Law, Failed to Study Environmental Impact of Ethanol – …In 2007, Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act, which was and signed into law by Pres. George W. Bush. Among other things, the 2007 legislation increased the Renewable Fuel Standard that mandated biofuel production, primarily ethanol, and the blending of at least some of that ethanol into the gasoline supply.

The law also stipulates that the U.S. EPA must conduct studies every three years and report to Congress on the air and water quality benefit, or lack thereof, by adding corn-based ethanol to gasoline. The purpose of that part of the law is to make sure solutions to the country’s energy needs don’t adversely affect the environment.

The 2013 AP investigation characterized the use of ethanol as having a far more negative impact on the environment than the EPA and Dept. of Energy predicted. The AP reported that with corn effectively subsidized, farmers put millions of acres of land formerly devoted to conservation into corn production, destroying animal habitats and polluting water supplies.

For its part, the EPA agreed with the IG that the agency failed to follow the law and produce the studies. The EPA said it will produce a report on the impacts of biofuels by the end of 2017 — seven years late.

Though it’s now complying with that part of the law, apparently the agency feels the triennial requirements in the law are still optional. The EPA said that it will investigate whether the ethanol mandate is making other environmental issues worse, but it will do so by September 2024. The reason that study will take another eight years, the agency claims, is that it will be time-consuming and resource-intensive. Read More > at The Truth About Cars

Lyft Shuts Down Carpool Commute Feature As Drivers Opt Out – In March, ridesharing startup Lyft announced a new option for commuters in the Bay Area. Drivers using Lyft Carpool could earn up to $10 per ride on their normal commute by picking up other workers heading in the same direction.

Five months later, Lyft will shut down its carpool feature after not enough drivers opted into the program, FORBES has learned. On Thursday, the company notified the engineering team responsible for launching and running Lyft Carpool that they will be transitioned to other products.

A Lyft spokesman confirmed to FORBES that the startup is “pausing” the carpool product: “While we think a scheduled carpool feature is the right long-term strategy, it is too soon to scale to a meaningful level where supply matches demand. We learned a lot and will apply it to new and existing projects — like Lyft Line — as we drive our vision forward to solve pain points in commuting.”

Commuting remains the unattainable white whale of the ridesharing industry, a tempting goal that represents a much larger share of driving than taxi use. When Lyft launched Carpool in March, the company cited statistics like 76% of Americans drive to work alone and Bay Area commuters specifically spend an average of 75 hours stuck in traffic per year. Read More > in Forbes

Where Are the Tallest People in the World? – It’s good to be tall. Tall people live longer, are considered more attractive, and make more money – an extra inch of height is correlated with an additional $800 in income. Taller people are more likely to report experiencing happiness and less likely to feel sadness or physical pain.

But it’s not just good for an individual to be tall; it’s good for a society in general.

Countries with tall people are wealthier, have longer average life spans, and are less likely to have experienced conflict. There’s no better sign of a country’s health and wealth than height.

…Rather than genetics, diet and well-being during infancy and adolescence are the primary determinants of a country’s average height. During these growth periods, the body has the greatest need for nutrients. Sickness and malnourishment in childhood can mean a loss of three to four inches in height.

…The data shows that while Americans used to be among the tallest in the world, that is no longer true. It also demonstrates that height growth seems to be stagnating across much of the world. Which raises the question: Does this mean that much of the world has reached its full height potential? Or has our health stopped improving?

There is no better example of how prosperity affects height than the great height divergence of North and South Korea over the last 60 years.

In the 1940s, the average person born in either North or South Korea was just about the same height – a little less than 5’ 3”. Today, the average 18-year-old in economically developed South Korea is more than 1.2 inches taller than in the impoverished North.

…Europe is the land of giants. Besides Australia (ranked 18th), all of the 20 countries with the tallest people are in Europe, and the majority of those are in the northern part of the continent. Some research suggests Northern Europeans have a genetic predisposition to tallness – at least compared to their neighbors to the south – but more important is the widespread prosperity in the region. No area of the world has more high income, low inequality countries. Read More > at Priceonomics

How Uber plans to put its own drivers out of business – Uber spent years amassing an army of 1 million drivers around the world. Now it says it wants to “wean” customers off of those very drivers.

Beginning this month, the ride-sharing company will begin deploying self-driving cars — equipped with cameras, lasers and GPS systems — to pick up passengers in downtown Pittsburgh, Bloomberg Businessweek reports. The custom Volvo SUVs will offer free introductory rides and, at least for now, be supervised by engineers in the driver’s seat.

The idea, the company says, is to eventually replace human drivers with automated systems. The fleet of 100 new vehicles, will come with tablets in the back seats to tell customers what’s happening and to discourage them from interacting with their drivers. Read More > in The Washington Post

California crime measure triggers 52,000 fewer arrests – A 2014 California voter-approved initiative that reduced penalties for certain drug and property crimes has led to the lowest arrest rate in state history as police frequently ignore those illegal activities, experts say.

Proposition 47 lowered criminal sentences by reducing them from felonies that can bring long prison sentences to misdemeanors that instead bring up to a year in jail.

…It’s too soon to say whether the changes are helping spur rising crime rates, though Lofstrom and other researchers are watching the relationship closely.

Law enforcement officials said drug offenders may now commonly be cited and released, or ignored because there may be little penalty if they are arrested. There were about 22,000 fewer drug arrests last year.

“The de facto decriminalization of drugs may have an impact,” said Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood, president of the California State Sheriffs’ Association. “We do know that there’s a lot less arrests being made, which means there are a lot more people on the streets using drugs.” Read More > in the Associated Press

Bay Area Start-Ups Find Low-Cost Outposts in Arizona – …As start-ups across San Francisco and the Silicon Valley try to contend with high salaries and housing costs, many are expanding to lower-cost cities in the West and employing more people like Ms. Rogers. For Phoenix, which is about a 90-minute flight from San Francisco, the Bay Area’s loss is its gain.

The Phoenix metro area was hit hard by the housing bust, but it is experiencing a strong recovery. The unemployment rate has recently fallen below 5 percent, the lowest in eight years, and several Silicon Valley companies, including Yelp and Uber, have opened new offices in the region. A reviving downtown Phoenix now has a cluster of companies that make business software.

At the end of last year in the Bay Area mega-region — including both the San Francisco and San Jose metropolitan areas — there were 530,000 tech and engineering jobs, a 7 percent increase from a year earlier. Phoenix has about one-fifth as many tech jobs, but the total grew 8 percent from a year ago, according to Moody’s Analytics.

“The Bay Area’s explosive growth is almost too much for the region,” said Jackson Kitchen, an analyst at Moody’s Analytics. “They are bidding up wages so high that companies are saying, ‘Let’s expand to Phoenix or Boise or Salt Lake City where wages and real estate are that much cheaper.’” Read More > in The New York Times

Council members, community angered over Zimmerman comments – During Austin’s Thursday City Council meeting many students spoke up from several city-funded groups asking for continued support.

It was what Austin City Council member Don Zimmerman said after the group of students addressed the council in Spanish that is sparking a lot of reaction on Twitter. The students were asking for funds to help their after-school program.

“I’d ask for everyone here, including the children, when you grow up, I want to ask you to pledge to finish school, learn a trade, a skilled trade, get a college education, start a business, do something useful and produce something in your society so you don’t have to live off others. Thank you.” Zimmerman said.

Shortly after he made this comment boos could be heard reverberating throughout the audience.

Council member Delia Garza spoke an estimated two hours later saying, “Earlier council [member] Zimmerman said something that was really offensive and it happened really quickly and now I’m hearing from members of our community that they are disappointed that more of us didn’t stand up and say something. And I want our community to know that we do not condone what he said. And we have your back.”

A 20-second applause followed Garza’s statement. Read More > from KXAN

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About Kevin

Mayor - City of Oakley, Data Center Manager of Mainframe Operations and Optimization – USS-POSCO INDUSTRIES, Co-Founder and Board Member - Friends of Oakley A Community Foundation, Advisory Board – Opportunity Junction, Commissioner - Contra Costa Transportation Authority, Board Member - Tri Delta Transit and Transplan
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