Sunday Reading – 01/12/20


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.

Mike Rowe for California Governor 2022 – …California is cruising for a bruising. The economy is lopsidedly dependent on a shrinking base of major industries. You can count them on one hand: technology (but only tech that rapidly scales from startup to global footprint, along with the vaults of the capital to do so), biotech, entertainment and tourism. That’s a narrow base for a $3 trillion economy. Energy, banking, and aerospace have largely flown the coop. Agriculture would love to if it could; maybe global warming will give it more options. Manufacturing? Good luck with that.

The state’s water system is stuck in the 1960s. The highways and roads are “some of the poorest in the country,” according to the San Jose Mercury News. The state’s two largest public pension funds, CalPERS and CalSTRS, are short about $140 billion and $110 billion respectively between assets and obligations. CalPERS thinks it will catch up with greater-than-market returns in a mix of stocks, bonds and alternatives. Seven percent annual return? No sweat! Let’s go for seven point five.

Stop right here, say the critics. Hasn’t California been running budget surpluses since 2011? True enough. But while we’re on the topic, hasn’t the stock market also gone up since 2011? Yes. And California real estate values, too? Yes, again.

…California may be okay now, but its leading indicators are worrisome, to put it mildly. The buzzards will come home to roost, rapidly, when stock and real estate prices stop rising.

What California must do is broaden its base of industries and not be dependent on the few I mentioned earlier along with its addiction to stock and real estate gains. Why I like you as California governor, Mike, is that you’re the perfect spokesman for the kind of industries and jobs that California needs to bring back: Manufacturing jobs, highway expansion jobs, water system jobs, energy jobs. Dirty jobs, as someone said. So many of our young people need these kind of jobs if they want a hope of staying in California. They can’t all score 800 on the math SAT or have their parents pay bribes to USC. Read More > at Forbes

Fate of $5 billion Concord Naval Weapons Station redevelopment remains uncertain – The saga of Lennar Corp.’s proposal for a $5 billion buildout of the Concord Naval Weapons Station will drag on — maybe.

Concord selected Lennar (NYSE: LEN) in 2016 to develop a master plan for the 2,327-acre site near the North Concord BART. Lennar’s broader plan for the entire project calls for 13,000 homes, of which 25% would be set aside for low-income residents. The site would include 6.1 million square feet of commercial space, including 2.3 million square feet for a college campus, up to six public schools, 800 acres of parks and open space and several community facilities such as police stations, fire stations and events spaces.

The Concord City Council was supposed to vote on Tuesday evening on whether Lennar had satisfied a requirement to negotiate a project labor agreement with the Contra Costa Building Trades Council. After about two years of talks, the two sides failed to come to terms and hit an impasse last fall.

The Tuesday meeting stretched on until 1 a.m. Wednesday morning after more than six hours of council deliberations and public comments from more than 80 speakers. The council decided to delay the vote and hold a new meeting Wednesday evening. 

On Wednesday night, the council chose not to vote on the original agenda item that had been presented and instead passed a resolution asking Lennar and the trades to go back to resume negotiations and come back with a plan. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times 

California’s new building codes will make solar panels the next home appliance – On the stroke of midnight this New Year’s Eve, the American dream will get a makeover. In California, the nation’s most populous state, every newly-built home must now come with enough solar panels to satisfy its electricity needs.

It’s a quiet revolution tucked into the building codes approved unanimously by the California Energy Commission (CEC) in 2018. Solar panels are installed on just 20% of new homes in the state. That figure will rise to 100% for every home under four stories tall (with a few exceptions; pdf). The CEC expects this to add 74,000 new solar installations in 2020. By comparison, there were 127,000 residential photovoltaic systems installed in 2017, many on existing homes. Community solar programs approved under the new mandate will add even more.

The cost of the solar systems—about $8,400 per unit on average (pdf)—will be offset by long-term savings, predicts the CEC. Builders are rolling the installation costs into 25-year leases so buyers do not pay upfront. The CEC estimates solar systems add $40 per more in monthly mortgage payment but save about $80 on electricity bills each month.

That all means builders are going to treat solar as an essential amenity, says Vikram Aggarwal the CEO of the home energy marketplace EnergySage. He anticipates homebuilders will soon give buyers the options of upgrading anyone with the latest in solar and battery storage just like they would with a top-of-the-line kitchen. “With this mandate, solar is just like any other appliance,” says Aggarwal. “You may upgrade it…and give homeowners the opportunity to customize it.” Most younger home buyers are willing to pay up to 3% more for homes that save them on utility bills, and 50% of buyers say an energy-efficient home is a top priority. Read More > at Quartz

California Governor Pushes $1.4 Billion Plan To Tackle Homelessness – As the homelessness crisis in California grows more acute, Gov. Gavin Newsom is planning to ask lawmakers for $1.4 billion to pay monthly rents, build more shelters and provide treatment to those struggling with finding long-term housing, the governor’s office announced on Wednesday.

Newsom also signed an executive order directing agencies to locate public properties near state roads and highways that can be used for short-term emergency shelters. The order additionally calls for using 100 camping trailers for temporary housing and the development of a multi-agency “strike team” to help get people off the streets.

A report released Tuesday from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development underscored the depth of the homelessness problem in California, finding that more than a quarter of the nation’s homeless population resides in the state, totaling about 151,000 people. Read More > at NPR

Fecal Bacteria In California’s Waterways Increases With Homeless Crisis – The presence of fecal bacteria in water is usually the result of problems with sewer systems and septic tanks. But water quality officials agree that the source of at least some of the fecal bacteria is California’s growing homeless population, most of whom don’t have reliable access to toilets.

“I’ve carried 5-gallon buckets that were unambiguously being used as toilets,” said David Gibson, executive officer of the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board, describing his experience cleaning up homeless encampments. “They were taking it to the San Diego River, dumping it there, and rinsing it out there.”

Fecal contamination of waterways is a widespread problem and becoming more urgent in states with large homeless populations. In Seattle, homeless people living in RVs are accused of dumping raw sewage straight into storm drains, which flows directly to local waterways. In Oregon, workers cleaning up homeless camps along the Willamette River in Eugene routinely find feces and needles.

California has the largest homeless population in the nation, estimated at more than 151,000 people in 2019, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. About 72% of the state’s homeless slept outside or in cars rather than in shelters or temporary housing. Read More > at Route Fifty

California Cities and State Regulators Are Coming for Your Gas-Powered Leaf Blower – Californians blows a little too much for the likes of state regulators and city governments, both of whom have been leading the charge against gas-powered leaf blowers and lawnmowers.

Some 60 cities in the Golden state have already passed bans or restrictions on gas-powered landscaping equipment. Now the California Air Resources Board (CARB)—which regulates emissions in the state—is crafting long-term plans to phase them out statewide, according to reporting from the San Francisco Chronicle.

CARB will lower the allowable amount of emissions these machines can produce this year, with an eye toward zeroing out all such emissions by 2022. Other local governments have been less patient, passing or proposing immediate bans that have Earth-saving potential.

…According to a CARB factsheet, small off-road engines (aka SOREs) are a significant source of emissions in the state. “Operating the best-selling commercial lawn mower for one hour emits as much smog-forming pollution as driving the best-selling 2017 passenger car, a Toyota Camry, about 300 miles,” notes the agency.

These bans can nevertheless be hard on landscaping businesses. Electric lawncare equipment, they say, isn’t practical, and doesn’t offer the same level of performance as gas-powered equivalents. One business owner told the Chronicle he had stopped accepting jobs in the city of Mill Valley after they banned gas-powered leaf blowers. Read More > at Reason

Macy’s is closing 30 stores — here’s the full list – Macy’s is closing 30 stores in early 2020.

In 2016, Macy’s said it would close 100 stores after it reported six consecutive years of declining sales. Since then, it has been closing these locations as their leases expire.

A representative for the company did not comment on whether this recent wave of closures was included in the 2016 plan but said that Macy’s “regularly reviews” its store portfolio and would update investors on its investor day on February 5.

The representative told Business Insider that regular, non-seasonal employees who are laid off and unable to find a job at nearby Macy’s stores would be eligible for severance.

See the list of Macy’s upcoming store closings below:

California
Somersville Towne Center, Antioch
Read More > at Business Insider

Harvard Study Shows the Dangers of Early School Enrollment – Every parent knows the difference a year makes in the development and maturity of a young child. A one-year-old is barely walking while a two-year-old gleefully sprints away from you. A four-year-old is always moving, always imagining, always asking why, while a five-year-old may start to sit and listen for longer stretches.

Children haven’t changed, but our expectations of their behavior have. In just one generation, children are going to school at younger and younger ages, and are spending more time in school than ever before. They are increasingly required to learn academic content at an early age that may be well above their developmental capability.

In 1998, 31 percent of teachers expected children to learn to read in kindergarten. In 2010, 80 percent of teachers expected this. Now, children are expected to read in kindergarten and to become proficient readers soon after, despite research showing that pushing early literacy can do more harm than good.

In their report Reading in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose education professor Nancy Carlsson-Paige and her colleagues warn about the hazards of early reading instruction. They write,

When children have educational experiences that are not geared to their developmental level or in tune with their learning needs and cultures, it can cause them great harm, including feelings of inadequacy, anxiety and confusion.

Instead of recognizing that schooling is the problem, we blame the kids. Today, children who are not reading by a contrived endpoint are regularly labeled with a reading delay and prescribed various interventions to help them catch up to the pack. In school, all must be the same. If they are not listening to the teacher, and are spending too much time daydreaming or squirming in their seats, young children often earn an attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) label and, with striking frequency, are administered potent psychotropic medications. Read More > at Foundation for Economic Education

Alcohol Is Killing More Americans Than Ever – More and more Americans are drinking themselves to death. A new study this week finds there were around 72,000 alcohol-related deaths among people over the age of 16 in 2017—more than double the number of similar deaths recorded two decades earlier.

The study, published Wednesday in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, relies on death certificate data. It found there were almost 1 million alcohol-related deaths among people over age 16 documented in the U.S. between 1999 and 2017. In 1999, there were 35,914 such deaths, amounting to a rate of 16.9 deaths per every 100,000 people over 16 that year; in 2017, the number ballooned up to 72,558, or a rate of 25.5 deaths per 100,000 people.

For context, just over 70,000 people in the U.S. died of overdose from illicit drugs like heroin and fentanyl in 2017—a reality that’s rightly been recognized as a dire public health crisis. Across all recreational drugs, cigarette smoking is the only thing deadlier than alcohol, with an estimated half a million deaths annually.

Though a majority of deaths involved men, the climb in deaths over time increased faster for women. People between the ages of 45 to 74, non-Hispanic American Indians, and Alaska Natives were also disproportionately more impacted. Read More > at Gizmodo

CA120: In California, Super Tuesday means super confusion – In less than four weeks, 15 million Californians will be receiving ballots in the mail for the March 2020 primary.

Just under 4 million Republicans will have an opportunity to reaffirm their support for Donald Trump, or select from a few little-known challengers.

Around 7 million Democrats will see a host of well-known candidates, many of whom have been barnstorming the state in search of voters, endorsements and fundraising.

And what about the 4 million-plus independent voters who are eligible to vote in the Democratic Primary? Most will see no presidential candidates at all.

What??

Yes. On March 3, 2020, in one of the hottest primary elections in recent history, where California is set to play a more important role than usual as the largest state on Super Tuesday, there will be approximately 3.5 million voters receiving blank presidential ballots. That’s more blank ballots in California than there are potential Democratic presidential primary voters in all four early primary/caucus states, combined. Read More > at Capitol Weekly

California to examine effect of blackouts on communication – When the nation’s largest electric utility preemptively shut off power last fall to prevent wildfires in California, customers lost more than just their lights — some lost their phones, too.

Data from the Federal Communications Commission shows 874 cellphone towers were offline during an Oct. 27 power shutoff that affected millions of people. That included more than half of the cell towers in Marin County alone.

The outages mean people who depend solely on cellphones couldn’t call 911 or receive emergency notifications, compounding the dangers associated with an unprecedented power outage in an era dominated by wireless communication.

…In advance comments to the legislative committee, California’s four largest wireless companies — AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon — say they generally make sure their major telecommunication hubs have at least between 48 hours and 72 hours of on-site backup power. They use mobile generators at other sites, but said the generators don’t work at every cell tower.

Also, the companies said the electric company warns them about blackouts just two hours ahead of time, making it hard for them to get their mobile generators in place and to keep them fueled.

AT&T spokesman Steven Maviglio said the company is experienced in managing large-scale outages, but noted “the power companies’ decision to shut off power to millions of Californians in October was the largest event our state had ever seen.” Read More > from the Associated Press

U.S. Cancer Death Rate Drops by Largest Amount on Record – The cancer death rate in the U.S. dropped 2.2% from 2016 to 2017, the largest single-year drop ever recorded, according to the latest report from the American Cancer Society, continuing a longstanding decline that began a quarter-century ago.

The drop is largely driven by progress against lung cancer, though the most rapid declines in the report occurred in melanoma. Advances in treatment are helping improve survival rates in the two cancers, experts say.

Falling smoking rates have played a big role in the decline in lung-cancer deaths, cancer doctors say, as well as improvements in detection and treatment. For melanoma, the report singles out the emergence of drugs like Roche Holding AG ’s Zelboraf that target the molecular roots of tumors and therapies like Yervoy from Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. , which enlist a patient’s own immune system in the cancer fight.

Roche, Bristol and other drug makers have spent tens of billions of dollars in recent years developing new therapies such as Zelboraf, Yervoy and new generations of the treatments. The $123 billion world-wide cancer drugs market is among the industry’s biggest and fastest growing, which has prompted companies to double down on their research and promises even more agents that could make a dent against tumors. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

Soy-Boys & Unions Sink America’s Biggest Milk Producer – Borden Dairy Company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Monday amid rising milk prices and what court filings described as an “unsustainable” debt pile, reported Bloomberg.

Borden was founded in 1857, one of America’s oldest and largest dairy producers is the second major dairy company to fold in months.

Dean Foods, the nation’s largest milk producer, filed for voluntary Chapter 11 in November, citing unsustainable business practices, changing consumer trends, and rising competition.

Besides too much debt, the company blamed shifting consumer trends, one where American refrigerators are being stockpiled with almond, soy, rice and nut milk, instead of traditional dairy products.

The filing also outlined an abundance of milk supply despite spot prices rising 27% in 2019, even as retail prices and margins are plunging. The mechanics behind the demise of Borden is also how Dean Foods failed.  Read more > at Zero Hedge

California metros among top 10 for package theft – 23 million Americans have had packages stolen from their doorsteps, including 11 million last year. The holidays are prime time for theft.

In California, the situation is even more bleak. A new report from SafeWise.com puts three of the top 10 metros for porch piracy in the Golden State.

The website analyzed FBI statistics and Google searches about stolen packages to develop its list of the leading metros for porch piracy.

They were:

1. San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, California

2. Salt Lake City, Utah

3. Portland, Oregon

4. Baltimore, Maryland

5. Seattle–Tacoma, Washington

6. Chicago, Illinois

7. Austin, Texas

8. Denver, Colorado

9. Los Angeles, California

10. Sacramento–Stockton-Modesto, California

List and data is compiled by SmartWise and does not reflect statistics on all U.S. or California cities. Read More > at California City News

Uber joins forces with Hyundai to create flying taxi – San Francisco-based ride-hailing company Uber and South Korean car maker Hyundai Motor have come up with a plan to develop air taxis for the not-so-distant future.

The companies unveiled the prototype of their electric four-seat air vehicle at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Monday, which would have a speed of 180 miles an hour and a range of 60 miles.

Uber and Hyundai Motor Company announced the new partnership on Monday to develop Uber Air Taxis for a future aerial ride share network, unveiling the new full-scale aircraft concept. Hyundai is the first automotive company to join the Uber Elevate initiative, bringing automotive-scale manufacturing capability and a track record of mass-producing electric vehicles. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

U.S. Trade Deficit At Three-Year Low As Oil Imports Dip – Rising petroleum exports and diminishing crude and oil product imports helped the U.S. post its lowest trade deficit in three years in November, government data showed on Tuesday.

The U.S. monthly international trade deficit declined to US$43.1 billion in November, from US$46.9 billion in October, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Total U.S. exports of goods and services increased by 0.7 percent to US$208.6 billion in November, while imports of goods and services decreased by 1.0 percent to US$251.7 billion.

Crude oil imports dropped by US$132 million and other petroleum product imports fell by US$410 million in November from October, according to the detailed imports data.

U.S. imports of crude oil in November—adjusted for seasonality and inflation—dropped to their lowest level since records began in 1994, according to AFP.

In November last year, America’s total petroleum trade surplus increased to US$800 million to hit the highest petroleum surplus ever recorded, according to MarketWatch estimates of the data. Read More > at Oil Price

The economics of unused gift cards – Every year, Americans spend billions of dollars on gift cards. But what happens to the money when the cards aren’t redeemed?

The most desired item on wish lists this past holiday season wasn’t a pair of Airpods, a Nintendo Switch, or a Baby Yoda plush toy.

For the 13th straight year, the present of choice was the gift card.

In 2019, Americans purchased an estimated $171B worth of these plastic cash substitutes, ranging from $500 prepaid Visa cards to grandma’s annual $25 Cheesecake Factory “nibble.”

Gift cards are so popular that they account for 55% of the average shopper’s entire annual gift budget.

Most people who receive a gift card are quick to put it to use: More than 70% of all gift cards are redeemed within 6 months of purchase, according to one survey.

But after that first 180 days, the rate of use tends to stagnate. At the one year mark, just under 80% of cards are redeemed — and as time passes, they are less and less likely to see the light of day.

At any given time, 10% to 19% of gift card balances remain unredeemed — and around 6% of gift cards are never even used.

These small percentage points add up to big money when you consider that, over the past 10 years, more than $1 trillion in gift cards have been sold.

Between 2005 and 2015 alone, unredeemed gift card balances amounted to an estimated $45.7B. That’s a hell of a lot of Cheesecake Factory dinners! Read More > at Hustle

Is This the Beginning of “Amazon’s Apocalypse”? – Last November, the world’s largest sporting goods company, Nike, announced it was leaving Amazon. It would yank all its products from Amazon.com and sell them exclusively on its online store.

Nike is the biggest retailer to break up with Amazon, but it’s not the first. From mom-and-pop stores to retail giants, more than one million businesses are ditching Amazon and selling online independently.

As we all know, Amazon is king of online shopping. It runs the world’s biggest online store, which makes up more than half of online sales in the US.

What you may not know is that most of the stuff listed on Amazon.com are not products of Amazon. They come from other retailers known as “third-party sellers.” For a fee, Amazon has granted them permission to put their stuff on its “shelves.”

In 2007, only 26% of products sold on Amazon were from third-party sellers. Today, more than 53% of all Amazon products are from third-party sellers, according to Statista.

For a long time, Amazon has served as the online “storefront” for most retailers. But that’s quietly changing. Read More > at Riskhedge

Five States Face Federal Lawsuit Over Inaccurate Voter Registrations – In 378 U.S. counties, voter registration rates exceed 100% of the adult population, meaning there are more voter registrations on file than the total voting-age population, according to a new analysis by the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch.

Based on data the federal Electoral Assistance Commission released last year, the new analysis indicates that a minimum of 2.5 million voter registrations are wrongly listed as valid. It suggests widespread lack of compliance with the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), which requires states to remove people who have died, moved, or are otherwise ineligible to vote from the rolls. While having excess registrations isn’t proof of voter fraud, voter integrity advocates note that it does create opportunities for deception, such as allowing people to vote twice in different precincts or submit invalid absentee ballots.

Last week, Judicial Watch sent letters to election officials in 19 counties in five states – California, Colorado, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Virginia – warning that they could face a federal lawsuit for their failure to update voter rolls.

Eleven of the 19 counties are located in California, which has had habitual problems updating its voter rolls. Last year, Los Angeles County settled a lawsuit and agreed to clean up its voter rolls after Judicial Watch revealed that it had 1.6 million more voter registrations on file than the eligible voting population in the county. As of last year, the entire state of California had a voter registration rate of 101%.

It doesn’t appear that California counties have fixed the problem. San Diego County removed 500,000 voter registrations from its rolls last year following Los Angeles’ settlement, but according to Judicial Watch’s analysis of federal data, San Diego still has a registration rate of 117% – one of the highest in the country.   Read More > at Real Clear Politics

Last year’s hottest housing fight just got resurrected — here’s what to know – For the third year in a row, California lawmakers will consider a controversial housing proposal that would force neighborhoods to allow taller, denser housing near public transportation and job centers.

San Francisco Democratic Sen. Scott Wiener — whose Senate Bill 50 has twice been beaten back, in different forms, by an assortment of constituencies focused on California’s housing crisis — on Monday announced revised legislation aimed at satisfying concerns over local control, among other issues, that blocked the bill last year.

Wiener has argued that the best way for California to address its crushing housing shortage is to permit the construction of more apartments near public transit. Increasing the housing supply and density, he contends, will lower rents, reduce traffic and cut emissions from greenhouse gas.

Here are a few big things to know:

The new plan would let cities craft their own housing plans — but wield a big stick against those that don’t comply.
Last year’s bill would have forced cities in counties with more than 600,000 people to allow 4- and 5-story apartment buildings near rail stations and ferry lines. No longer could cities restrict housing around Bay Area BART lines and L.A. Metro lines to single family homes.

“Job-rich, high opportunity” communities with good schools and major employment centers would also be subject to higher density requirements, regardless of whether they were near good transit. Cities in “smaller” counties would get softer density requirements, a concession extracted by lawmakers representing Marin County and other anti-development enclaves.

Single-family-only zoning would be gone.
Untouched from last year’s bill is a provision that would let the vast majority of California homeowners convert an existing single family home to a duplex, triplex, or fourplex, regardless of where they live.

The proposal takes its cue from a growing national movement toward density as a solution to sky-high housing prices. Oregon and Minneapolis passed similar measures last year, drawing national media attention and the scorn of anti-development activists. Read More > at CALmatters

2020’s Best & Worst States to Raise a Family – Raising a healthy, stable family sometimes requires moving to a new state. And the reasons for moving are often similar: career transitions, better schools, financial challenges or a general desire to change settings.

But wants and needs don’t always align in a particular state. For instance, a state might offer a low income-tax rate but have a subpar education system. However, families do not need to make these kinds of tradeoffs. They can avoid such problems by knowing which states offer the best combination of qualities that matter most to parents and their kids.

To help with the evaluation process, WalletHub compared the 50 states across 50 key indicators of family-friendliness. Our data set ranges from median family salary to housing affordability to unemployment rate. Read on for the complete ranking, relocation advice from our panel of experts and a full description of our methodology.

California ranked #17

Raising a Family in California (1=Best; 25=Avg.):

  • 12th – % of Families with Young Kids
  • 42nd – Child-Care Costs (Adjusted for Median Family Income)
  • 3rd – Infant-Mortality Rate
  • 47th – Median Family Salary (Adjusted for Cost of Living)
  • 37th – Violent-Crime Rate
  • 29th – % of Families in Poverty
  • 50th – Housing Affordability
  • 37th – Unemployment Rate
  • 11th – Separation & Divorce Rate  Read More > at WalletHub

Local Law Enforcement now bound by California’s Facial Recognition ban – As of Jan. 1, law enforcement agencies across the state are prohibited from using facial recognition technology for a period of three years.

In October, Senate Bill 1215 was signed into law, banning police and deputies from using the technology. Some local governments like Oakland had already put a stop to the practice.

There are several reasons behind the ban. In addition to privacy concerns, a federal study found that the technology is more likely to misidentify people of color. But many law enforcement officials claim it was an excellent crime-fighting tool and that its absence will be an impediment to public safety.

The law is already being felt in San Diego County, which has one of the largest facial recognition programs. The Tactical Identification System (TACIDS), administered by the San Diego Association of Governments, conducts 25,000 scans a year. That program has now been placed on hold. Read More > at California County News

Two Small but Highly Productive Agencies – When a large public agency is confronted with a new problem or added responsibility the tendency is to hire new people to handle the new work. There are several problems with this approach. First it is often difficult for a public agency to identify prospective employees with the needed experience and qualifications. Delays in deploying competent people in a timely manner often lead to very bad outcomes. It should also be noted that whenever someone is hired by a large agency the tendency is for that individual to remain on the payroll long after the need for his or her services has passed. It is partly because of this reaction to new problems and responsibilities that large agencies tend to continue to grow in size.

But there is another model of how things can work that seldom gets the attention it deserves. Below are two examples of Bay Area agencies that have achieved astonishingly high levels of achievement with very small staffs.

The Contra County Transportation Authority (CCTA). While BATWG regards the CCTA as still too highway-oriented and still too accepting of the destructive sprawl that continues to occur in eastern Contra Costa Counties (as well as in other counties), we are very impressed with how the Authority operates. Well led by Executive Director Randell Iwasaki, with a staff of 20 carefully-selected managers and support personnel, the CCTA effectively manages the design and construction of many highway and other major infrastructure projects. In part because of the lack of a large staff it is able to acknowledge and correct errors quickly, make decisions quickly and pay for properly completed work quickly. Because of these essential but rare attributes and because it packages and phases its projects thoughtfully, the CCTA normally receives multiple bids per project. When a responsive and effective owner is able to attract that level of bidding interest, competition usually drives costs down. Because of its rapid responses to problems and general efficiency CCTA projects almost always come in on time and within budget, and without bogging the Agency down in the protracted battles with contractors that so often plague other Bay Area agencies with staffs of hundreds, or even thousands. Read More > from the Bay Area Transportation Working Group

Did Jeffrey Epstein Kill Himself? – In July 2019, Jeffrey Epstein, already a convicted sex offender, was arrested and charged with sex trafficking by federal prosecutors. On August 10, Epstein was found dead in his federal jail cell at Manhattan’s Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC).

The New York City Medical Examiner’s Office ruled Epstein’s death a suicide by hanging, but a forensic pathologist who observed the four-hour autopsy on behalf of Epstein’s brother, Mark, tells 60 Minutes the evidence released so far points more to murder than suicide in his view. Dr. Michael Baden’s key reason: the unusual fractures he saw in Epstein’s neck.

The medical examiner’s office said it stands “firmly” behind its finding of suicide by hanging, arguing that fractures of the hyoid bone and cartilage can be seen in both suicides and homicides.

Still, questions linger.

Epstein was directing money to be deposited in other inmates’ commissary accounts in exchange for protection, sources say, because he feared for his life. But the government says Epstein was suicidal and made his first, failed suicide attempt weeks after he arrived at MCC.

According to a federal indictment, on July 23 Epstein was found “on the floor of his cell with a strip of bedsheet around his neck.” The government says it was a failed suicide attempt, but Epstein claimed his cellmate, 52-year-old former police officer Nick Tartaglione, attacked him. Tartaglione, who is accused of murdering four men, denied that and his lawyer says: “Absolutely nothing like that happened.” His lawyer also says Tartaglione was cleared by jail officials.

Epstein was put on suicide watch after the incident, but one week later, “at the direction of the MCC’s psychological staff,” he was taken off suicide watch and “required to have an assigned cellmate.”

Cameron Lindsay, a former federal warden and prison consultant, told 60 Minutes this was “a monumental failure on all levels.” Read More > from “60 Minutes,” CBS News

Methodists Agree on Compromise to Split Denomination – Factions in the United Methodist Church (UMC) have reached an initial settlement around its intractable division over LGBT marriage and ordination—offering $25 million to a group of conservative congregations who want to break away and form a new denomination.

For both conservatives and progressives in the church, this compromise comes as an answer to prayer.

Various groups were slated to once again propose different plans for a split at the UMC’s general conference in May, but under the new agreement, they will abandon the proposals and put their full support behind the Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation, which was announced Friday. Read More > at Christianity Today

Kama Muta: A New Term for That Warm, Fuzzy Feeling – Some emotions you seem to recognise the moment you feel them – you know when you’re angry, surprised, embarrassed or jealous. And yet you probably can’t name one of life’s most wonderful emotions (in fact, even psychologists have only recently begun to study it). It’s hiding in plain sight: without realising what you were feeling, you’ve probably experienced this same emotion in diverse situations such as when reunited with family or others you love; in worship; at a wedding; when you first held your newborn baby; when your team won a championship; or when a kitten climbed into your lap, licked your hand, curled up and fell asleep there. You might have felt it marching in a social-movement demonstration, or participating in a support or recovery group.

Now think back. At any of those times, was there a wonderful warm, fuzzy feeling in your heart? Did you cry tears of joy? Were you choked up with happiness? Did you get goosebumps or chills of delight? Feel so buoyant you were almost floating? Perhaps you put your hand on your heart and said ‘Awww!’ If you had these sensations, you were probably feeling this mysterious emotion. Next, you probably wanted to hug everyone, or call your grandparents to tell them how much you love them.

Although there is no exact word in any everyday language for this emotion, English speakers seeking to name the feeling might call it, depending on the context: being moved, touched, team pride, patriotism, being touched by the Spirit, burning in the bosom, the feels, or, when evoked by a memory, nostalgia. However, none of these terms captures precisely what the emotion is – and using any one of them conceals the fact that though it has many names, it is one emotion. So we coined a scientific term for it, ‘kama muta’, borrowed from the ancient Sanskrit where it meant ‘moved by love’, written in the beautiful Devanāgarī script as काममूत. Read More > at Real Clear Science

Human-caused ignitions spark California’s worst wildfires but get little state focus – It could have been another bad wildfire year in California. A bountiful summer crop of quick-to-burn dead grass carpeted the hillsides. Autumn was warm and dry. A record-breaking stretch of fire weather hit the Bay Area in October.

But it wasn’t. California wildfires charred about 270,000 acres in 2019, the smallest number since 2011. The three fatalities and roughly 735 burned structures were a fraction of the catastrophic losses of the previous two fire seasons.

The lower than expected toll followed an unusually wet spring and big snowpack, which slowed the start of the fire season. The installation of backcountry fire cameras gave firefighting crews early notice of ignitions. When flames approached, evacuation orders were swift and sweeping.

But most critically, widespread preventive power shutdowns by the state’s largest electric utility diminished the chances of human-related ignitions at critical times — during high, hot winds that can fan a single spark into the kind of unstoppable inferno…

The power blackouts were “likely highly effective in terms of reducing the losses associated with the fire season,” said Stanford University researcher Michael Wara…

The controversial blackouts disrupted the lives of millions of Californians, including Wara, who spent 6½ days without electricity. But the 2019 record suggests that if the state and utilities take more steps to prevent ill-timed ignitions, lives and property will be saved.

…It doesn’t matter how dry the vegetation, how fierce the winds or how high the temperature; if there is no ignition, there is no wildfire.

Outside of the Sierra Nevada and the state’s northernmost tier, there is little lightning, nature’s ignition source.

That means that, in much of California, more than 90% of the wildfires are started by people or their equipment. In coastal counties from Sonoma to San Diego, almost all the starts are human related. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

Nearly 200 People Arrested Across Australia For Deliberately Starting Bushfires – The fires have caused at least 18 deaths, destroyed thousands of homes, millions of hectares of land and killed hundreds of millions of animals.

A total of 183 people have been arrested by police in Queensland, NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania for lighting bushfires over the last few months, figures obtained by news agency AAP show.

In New South Wales, 24 people were arrested for arson, risking prison sentences of up to 25 years.

In Queensland, police concluded that 103 of the fires had been deliberately lit, with 98 people, 67 of them juveniles, having been identified as the culprits.

Around 85 per cent of bushfires are caused by humans either deliberately or accidentally starting them, according to Dr Paul Read, co-director of the National Centre for Research in Bushfire and Arson. Read More > at Summit News

President Trump Signs Law to Curb Unwanted Robocalls – American phones may be a little less plagued by annoying, spammy robocalls in 2020—thanks to the passage of bipartisan legislation on the second to last day of 2019.

President Trump on Monday signed the much-anticipated Pallone-Thune Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence, or TRACED Act into law. Following a year of negotiations across and between both chambers of Congress, the bill aims to crack down on the millions of unwanted rings of Americans’ phones each month by implementing new requirements for telephone carriers and directing several federal agencies to more aggressively combat criminal callers.

The passage is part of a months-long federal push to put an end to the robocall epidemic that’s seemed to balloon since a March 2018 court decision put an end to the Obama-era Federal Communication Commission’s 2015 rules intended to curb them. As 2019 progressed, the pre-recorded messages that target consumers through computerized auto-dialers became more and more maddening: Americans received more than 5 billion robocalls in November, a month after being targeted by a record-high of 5.7 billion. Congress was split on a lot this year, but many lawmakers came together early on to help combat the calls. The Senate passed Sen. John Thune’s, R-S.D., TRACED Act by a vote of 97-1 in May, and the House passed the Rep. Frank Pallone’s, D-N.J., Stopping Bad Robocalls Act by a vote of 429-3 in July.

In late November, lawmakers from both chambers reconciled the two separately approved anti-robocall bills into one streamlined piece, and both the House and Senate went on to pass the new version in December.  Read More > at Route Fifty

About Kevin

Mayor - City of Oakley, Manager of Mainframe Operations and Optimization – USS-POSCO INDUSTRIES, Co-Founder and Board Member - Friends of Oakley A Community Foundation, Commissioner - Contra Costa Transportation Authority, Board Member - Tri Delta Transit, Transplan, San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority and RD 2137, Advisory Board – Opportunity Junction
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