Rock the Chalk – Saturday, April 22nd from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. at the Civic Center Plaza

Calling all artists! The 2nd annual “Rock the Chalk” art show will take place on Saturday, April 22nd from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. at the Civic Center Plaza, 3231 Main Street in Oakley.

Registration is FREE and ages 6+ are eligible. Participants will be assigned a 3′ x 4′ space by organizers at check‐in. Artwork will be located outside, on the concrete dance floor near the amphitheater. Participants will receive a set of chalk and may bring their own chalk as well but it must be nontoxic and washable. No stenciling is permitted.

All artwork must be family‐friendly. No nude or lewd images, no political or commercial statements allowed. Space is limited and pre‐registration is highly recommended. Check‐in starts at 10 a.m. and work must begin no later than 11 a.m. and be completed by 12:30 p.m.

A panel of judges will award a $50 VISA gift card to the winning entry in each age group – Ages 6 – 10, 11 – 14, 15 – 18 and 19+.

Entry forms are available on the website and at City Hall.

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

Posted in City Info, Community Events | Leave a comment

Project Update: I-680 Express Lanes between Walnut Creek and San Ramon – April 2017

 

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Carpooling & Transit in the Express Lanes

Carpoolers can expect some changes once the I-680 Contra Costa Express Lanes open this summer. Most significantly, carpoolers, clean air vehicles and other toll-exempt vehicles must get FasTrak Flex® toll tags to travel toll-free in the lanes.

Carpoolers can also expect improved enforcement of the lanes. When set in the 2 or 3+ position, the FasTrak Flex toll tags cause overhead beacons to flash and alert the California Highway Patrol (CHP) to visually verify that the vehicle is eligible for toll-free travel. Express Lane toll revenue will be used to pay for increased CHP lane enforcement.

Another benefit to carpoolers and transit riders is the change in operating hours of the lanes to be from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m.; consistent with the express lanes on I-580 and I-680 in Alameda County. The buses that travel I-680 between Dublin and Walnut Creek include County Connection routes 92X, 95X, 96X, and 97X and Wheels route 70X.

Find a carpool! Visit rideshare.511.org
Take the bus! Visit transit.511.org
Get FasTrak! Visit bayareafastrak.org

Construction Highlights

Toll system installation on the I-680 Express Lanes is nearly complete. Testing of the electronic toll signs and the overall toll system continues through opening, currently scheduled for summer 2017. Motorists can expect to see dots, test toll amounts, and notification that testing is underway on the electronic signs. All toll system signs are affixed with static “Under Construction” stickers. While motorists will see prices on the signs, cars will not be tolled during the tests. Nighttime lane closures on I-680 continue throughout the next month.

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Sunday Reading – 04/16/17

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.

California will start charging electric vehicle fees in 2020 – While some states are still offering incentives for electric vehicle buyers, California will soon become the biggest state to start charging fees for EV ownership. California is estimated to account for about half of the country’s EV sales, so the state is keen on recuperating some of the money it won’t be making from gasoline taxes.

The fees will take effect starting with 2020 model year plug-in vehicles, Autoblog reports. Those vehicles will have one-time $100 registration fee upfront, followed by and annual registration fee that varies based on the market value of the vehicle. On the low end, the fees are $25 for a vehicle valued at less than $5,000, but anyone with a $60,000-plus plug-in vehicle will be paying $175 per year to keep their tags up to date. On the other hand, California has the highest gas prices in the country, and even on the high end, those registration fees will end up costing less than three or four tanks of gas. Internal combustion fans won’t be getting a break either: California’s gas tax will hit 30 cents per gallon by November 2017. All told, California’s EV fees are expected to generate $52 billion over 10 years, which will be put back into the state’s budget for infrastructure repairs. Read More > at Engadget

Is a Drunk Witness a Bad Witness? – Picture this: You are in a bar. You have been drinking beer for a few hours. One turned into two turned into five. In a drunken state you leave, and you begin to stumble home. On the way home you witness a violent assault. You immediately call the police and tell them what you remember.

Every day, people find themselves in exactly this kind of situation. Crimes are often committed by drunk people, against drunk people, in front of drunk people. This is particularly true of violent crimes. When we try to solve these cases and hold perpetrators accountable, the accounts of those involved might be the only evidence available. But can we trust these memories?

…According to Monds “We already know that our memories are not perfect; flawed eyewitness memory is one of the key reasons for wrongful convictions. We also know that different substances (e.g., alcohol, illicit substances, and certain medications) can potentially impair memory”.

So, how exactly does alcohol impact eyewitness memory? Most experimental research (like this study and this study and this study) has found that intoxicated eyewitnesses are actually no different from sober eyewitnesses in their account accuracy or vulnerability to distortions. One study published this year even found that consuming alcohol after witnessing a crime made witnesses more reliable, by making them less likely to accept false details given to them by the researcher. Read More > at Scientific American

Dude, Who Plugged in My Plane? – The concept is familiar: Replace car journeys with high-speed, electric-powered travel for the masses. China does it with a famous (and famously expensive) high-speed train network. Last week, the Boeing Co. and JetBlue Airways Corp. invested in another idea: electric planes. If their bet pans out, travelers could start making their first trips in the Teslas of the air in a decade. That could transform the way great swathes of the world get from point A to point B — to everyone’s benefit.

…Big developing countries such as India and China are only now beginning to develop long-distance car cultures. If they follow the U.S. model, at far greater scale, both their already smoggy skies and their ambitious emissions targets will suffer. Electric jets could help them accelerate the process of building aviation links to less-developed rural areas. In effect, such planes could become the high-speed, low-carbon competition for long car rides, expensive commuter rails and trans-city buses.

Until quite recently, electric-powered flight seemed like a stunt more than a pathway to the transportation future. Solar-powered aircraft, for example, are great at raising awareness, but not at moving people around, much less in comfort.

Yet advances in lightweight materials, electric motors and, most importantly, batteries have opened up new possibilities. In 2011, a battery-powered, two-seater aircraft built by the University of Stuttgart flew 62 miles on 25 Kwh of electricity that cost around $3. Three years later, Airbus SE followed with the E-Fan, an all-electric, lithium-battery-powered two-seater. Read More > at Bloomberg

This Driverless Electric Pod Is The Delivery Guy Of The Future – Inside a new type of truck, there are no seats and no windows. The vehicle—which founders call a “T-pod”—is the first truck to be designed to never have a human inside. The driverless design makes it possible, the startup says, to run fully on electric power in a way that can compete with diesel semis on the road today.

…While the pods are on a highway, self-driving technology handles the vehicle, but the remote operator can intervene if needed, with one operator monitoring an entire fleet. When the pod reaches a city and moves onto smaller roads, each vehicle is assigned its own remote operator, who controls it for the rest of the journey. (This is in contrast with some competitors like Otto, Uber’s self-driving truck, which can’t be driven remotely on local roads).

Without a cab for a driver, the vehicle is cheaper to build than it otherwise would have been, and it can also be smaller. Like other electric vehicles, it will be nearly silent, and like other self-driving vehicles, it’s expected to be safer than human-driven trucks. It also won’t pollute.

…Einride plans to test its prototype on Swedish roads in the summer of 2017, and test its first fleet in 2018, traveling between the cities of Gothenburg and Helingsborg. The founders say that although current laws haven’t been tested for self-driving vehicles, there is nothing technically illegal about using the trucks on Swedish roads. (Sweden has also proposed progressive legislation to allow testing of self-driving vehicles, and though the law may not be in place by this summer, companies can apply for permission to start testing early.) To scale up, the company will also have to build a full network of charging stations. Einride aims to have a fleet of 200 pods by 2020. Read More > at Fast Company

Apple has a secret team working on the holy grail for treating diabetes – Apple has hired a small team of biomedical engineers to work at a nondescript office in Palo Alto, California, miles from corporate headquarters.

They are part of a super secret initiative, initially envisioned by the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, to develop sensors that can noninvasively and continuously monitor blood sugar levels to better treat diabetes, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Such a breakthrough would be a “holy grail” for life sciences. Many life sciences companies have tried and failed, as it’s highly challenging to track glucose levels accurately without piercing the skin.

The initiative is far enough along that Apple has been conducting feasibility trials at clinical sites across the Bay Area and has hired consultants to help it figure out the regulatory pathways, the people said. Read More > at CNBC

Commentary: Rolling Stone settles first lawsuit over debunked campus sexual assault story – Rolling Stone has settled with former University of Virginia dean Nicole Eramo over the magazine’s portrayal of her in a since-debunked story about a gang-rape that never happened.

The original article published on Nov. 20, 2014, depicted a horrific story: A young college freshman goes on a date with a handsome fraternity member, who takes her back to a party at the fraternity house and lures her upstairs where half a dozen other members are waiting to gang rape her. After hours of being raped, she escapes and calls her friends, who, rather than taking her to the hospital, tell her to be quiet or else they’ll all be social outcasts. When the woman told her story to a university administrator, Eramo, she was brushed off, allegedly being told that “nobody wants to send their daughter to the rape school.”

Except none of it was true. There was no party at the fraternity house. Her friends weren’t interviewed for the story, and when they finally were, insisted that not only did they beg the young woman to go to the hospital, two of them stayed with her that night to comfort her. And, most damaging at all, the fraternity member with whom she had a date didn’t even exist; the woman made him up in order to make another man (whom she called the night of the alleged incident) jealous.

…The defamation suit eventually went to trial, where it was revealed that Rolling Stone edited out information favorable to Eramo and that the author of the article – Sabrina Rubin Erdely – had an extreme bias against fraternities before she started writing. When publisher Jann Wenner took the stand, he said he regretted fully retracting the article and claimed he had “suffered as much as” Eramo had. Wenner, whose net worth is $700 million and who is still the publisher of Rolling Stone, claimed he suffered as much as a college dean who tried to help rape victims and lost her job while being maligned in the press, through no fault of her own.

A jury found Wenner, the magazine and Erdely liable on three counts of defamation, and were ordered to pay Eramo more than $3 million. The details of the settlement were not revealed, but Rolling Stone called it an “amicable resolution” in a statement provided to the Washington Post. Read More > at Virginia Watchdog

California lawmakers are ignoring new transparency rules – Californians overwhelmingly passed Proposition 54 in November to increase legislative transparency. Some of the Legislature’s rules are already out of compliance.

On a large ballot with a number of highly contentious initiatives, Proposition 54, the California Legislature Transparency Act, was not so controversial. It passed with more than 65 percent of the vote, including a majority in all 58 counties, and enjoyed support from individuals and organizations of all political stripes.

Now, many of those same interests are sounding a warning that the Legislature is failing to implement the measure, which could lead not only to diminished transparency but also to confusion and delay over the passage of legislation.

Prop. 54 amended the California Constitution to require that bills — and amendments to bills — be made available to legislators and posted on the internet at least 72 hours prior to a vote to pass the legislation. In addition, individuals now have the right to record and broadcast all public legislative proceedings and, starting January 1, 2018, audiovisual recordings must be made for all proceedings, posted on the internet within 24 hours and maintained for public access for at least 20 years.

But according to a broad coalition of organizations that supported Prop. 54 — including the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, California Taxpayers Association, California Common Cause, CalPIRG, the National Federation of Independent Business/California, the League of Women Voters of California, California Forward and Californians Aware — the Legislature is not living up to its responsibilities under the measure. The groups detailed their misgivings last week in a letter to legislative leaders.

In particular, the coalition noted that newly adopted Assembly rules would violate Prop. 54 because they do not require a 72-hour notice prior to voting on bills that have not yet been approved by the Senate. Senate rules refer to a customary 72-hour notice guideline, but do not explicitly state the new requirement. Read More > in The Orange County Register

If Tesla Is Worth More Than GM, Why Are Taxpayers Still Subsidizing It? – The big news in the auto world was that Tesla (TSLA) topped the market value of General Motors (GM). That means the car company that gets massive taxpayer subsidies is now worth more than the car company taxpayers bailed out a few years ago. Welcome to the world of crony capitalism.

On Monday, Tesla’s stock closed at $312.39, which meant the startup electric car company, which sold a grand total of fewer than 80,000 cars last year, was worth more than GM, which sold 80,000 Chevy Silverados every eight weeks. (Tesla’s market cap edged below GM’s on Tuesday.)

Is this a case of irrational exuberance gripping investors? Or the electric car version of the 1990s internet bubble? Is the future of Tesla really that bright? We tend not to second guess the wisdom of the markets to get things right, at least over the long term.

But it’s worth noting that whatever Tesla’s growth potential, at the moment the company is heavily reliant on taxpayer support.

For every Tesla car sold (up to No. 200,000), federal taxpayers kick in $7,500 to lower the costs. State taxpayers in a multitude of states pony up still more. In Colorado, they contribute another $5,000 to the electric car kitty, in California, it’s $2,500.

When the Los Angeles Times crunched the numbers two years ago, it found that Tesla buyers had received more than $284 million in federal tax incentives and more than $38 million in California rebates. And that was before Tesla’s banner 2016 year. Read More > at Investor’s Business Daily

Walmart has a new kind of discount — and it’s impossible for Amazon to beat – Walmart is rolling out a new discount for online shoppers that will be challenging for Amazon to beat.

Starting April 19, the retailer will offer a discount to customers who ship purchases to one of Walmart’s more than 4,100 US stores instead of to a home or elsewhere.

Here’s how it works: While checking out online for a purchase — for example, a $1,698 Vizio flat-screen TV — shoppers will be given the option to ship the item to a store or have it sent elsewhere.

If the shopper chooses to ship the TV to a store, Walmart will knock $50 off the purchase price. If the customer chooses to ship it to their home, the price will stay the same and Walmart will deliver it for free in two days or less. Read More > at Business Insider

Solar in California – Pushing Boundaries and Testing Limits – Solar power in California continues to grow. But as California becomes one of the first regions in the world to get over 10% of its annual electricity from solar, it will also be the first to hit major obstacles to continued growth of solar generation. Utility-level solar, mostly photovoltaic and also some concentrating solar, constituted nearly 10% of raw electricity generation in California in 2016. When distributed solar is taken into account, this figure rises to 13%. This is an impressive achievement for the growing industry, and well above the national average of about 1% solar on the grid.

With the rapid growth of the solar industry comes the challenge of ensuring that this power can be economically used. At all times, the supply and demand for electricity on the grid must be almost exactly equal; otherwise, the grid will fail. However, the output from solar panels and wind farms is highly dependent on the weather and can be unpredictable, and these plants might not be most productive at the times when power is most needed.

As Jesse Jenkins and Alex Trembath observed in 2015, the costs of integrating variable renewables and managing their short-term fluctuations are real but manageable. The biggest challenge is economic. Solar panels are typically most productive at midday, when the sun is the highest in the sky, while demand is highest in the evening. A grid with a large fraction of solar energy should therefore see prices depressed at midday, which cuts into the profitability of solar. Jenkins and Trembath suggest as a rule of thumb as solar penetration approaches its nominal capacity factor–the ratio between average electricity production and peak production–it will become increasing difficult to deploy more capacity. Solar has a capacity factor of 10-20%, meaning that California may be approaching this “capacity factor threshold.” Read More > at The Breakthrough

Water Supply Boosted For Central Valley Farmers – The US Bureau of Reclamation says the sprawling agricultural districts on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley will now receive a full supply of water from the Central Valley Project.

It’s been 11 years since those farmers and agricultural districts have received a 100 percent allocation. In March, the bureau announced that those growers would receive 65 percent of their requested water.

The April snow survey found water content in the snow at 164 percent of its historical average. The bureau says that makes plenty of water available.

The boost in supplies comes too late for farmers to plant additional crops. But they’ll be able to avoid pumping overdrafted groundwater basins. The federally-run system of reservoirs and canals provides water to irrigate roughly one-third of California’s farmland. Read More > at Capital Public Radio

Regulators call for no commercial salmon fishing on Sonoma Coast until August – Fishery managers on Tuesday advanced a framework for this year’s West Coast salmon season that roughly halves the length of the commercial season in an effort to protect diminished king salmon runs.

Meeting in Sacramento, the tri-state Pacific Coast Fishery Management Council chose the least restrictive of three alternative proposals before them, but nonetheless curtailed the season substantially, even compared with last year, officials said.

Chinook salmon has been a staple fishery for the North Coast, typically ranking No. 1 or 2, ahead of or just behind Dungeness crab. Landings in 2014 for Bodega Bay and Fort Bragg were valued at $7.5 million.

But five years of drought and three years of warmer than usual ocean conditions have taken a toll, reducing survival of young salmon in freshwater streams and upon arrival in the ocean.

Advocates also blame dams, water exports and water management, in addition to degraded habitat and pollution, for long-term effects on the health of the fishery.

In a typical year, the commercial salmon season would open for May and June, and then again in August and September, in the San Francisco region, which runs from Point Arena on the Mendocino Coast to Pigeon Point, located between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay in San Mateo County. Read More > in The Press Democrat

If High School and College Textbooks Were Honest

Urban Outfitters’ CEO says the US retail bubble is bursting, just like housing in 2008 – …The US market is oversaturated with retail space, and far too much of that space is occupied by stores selling apparel.

Retail square feet per capita in the United States is more than six times that of Europe or Japan. And this doesn’t count digital commerce. Our industry, not unlike the housing industry, saw too much square footage capacity added in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Thousands of new doors opened and rents soared. This created a bubble, and like housing, that bubble has now burst. We are seeing the results, doors shuttering and rents retreating. This trend will continue for the foreseeable future, and may even accelerate.

The glut of stores has also pushed retailers into their endless cycle of discounts, he said. That reliance on promotions to get customers to shop has been a drag on both retailers’ and brands’ bottom lines.

Chains such as Macy’s and J.C. Penney have been working to correct these problems by shuttering hundreds of stores. And that may just be the start. A report last year by Green Street Advisors, a real estate research firm, concluded department stores would collectively need to shut down about 800 locations, roughly 20% of the anchor space in malls around the US, to get back to sales productivity levels of 10 years ago. Read More > at Quartz

Who Are Egypt’s Coptic Christians And What Do They Believe? – Deadly bombings at two Coptic Christian churches in Egypt this weekend have brought attention to a long-persecuted religious minority with ancient roots.

Bombs went off at two Coptic Christian churches in Egypt on Sunday, killing more than 40 people and injuring dozens of others. The attacks occurred on Palm Sunday ― one of the holiest days in the Christian calendar. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks, and Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi declared a three-month state of emergency in response.

The Coptic Orthodox Church split away from the broader Christian community in 451 A.D. The Coptic Church diverged from other Christians during the 5th century in part due to differing beliefs about the nature of Christ. Coptic Christians believe that Christ had two natures ― one human and one divine ― united as one “without mingling, without confusion, and without alteration.” Catholics and other Christian denominations believe in the incarnation of Jesus, which similarly holds that Christ was both fully human and fully divine. But at the time of the split, Coptic Christians were accused of believing in monophysitism ― the belief that Christ had only one, divine nature.

Coptic Christians trace their founding to the apostle St. Mark. Tradition holds that Mark brought Christianity to Egypt and founded the Coptic church during the first century. It is one of the oldest Christian churches in the Middle East and was the first founded in Africa.

They comprise the largest Christian community in the Middle East. In Egypt, Coptic Christians make up the majority of the country’s roughly 9 million Christians. There are some 12 million members worldwide, according to the World Council of Churches. Read More > in The Huffington Post

Why tiny electric planes and $25 tickets could be the future of regional air travel Imagine taking your next trip of a couple hundred miles. New York City to Boston, for example. Or Houston to Dallas. Tampa to Miami.

The obvious choice now might be to drive. But what if you could show up at an airport at one of those cities, bypass security checkpoints, board a small hybrid-electric plane with luggage in hand, and be on the ground at your destination in about an hour — all for $25 each way?

A company called Zunum Aero hopes to make that a reality, so that future travelers who normally take a car, bus or train for regional trips won’t think twice about flying. The Washington state-based start-up says that since 2013, it has been developing a fleet of hybrid-electric planes that would make those kinds of inexpensive, short-haul flights possible. Read More > in The Washington Post

Will Democrats Get Another Supermajority Vote That Could Raise Gas Prices? – The power of the California Democratic Party’s supermajority was mightily tested last Thursday, with the nail-biting passage of a $52 billion transportation package that will add 12 cents to the price of gasoline.

What does that bode for the other big lift coming up in the Legislature, the reauthorization of the state’s landmark climate change legislation, cap and trade? The carbon auction system survived a court challenge Thursday — with the California appeals court affirming the legality of the program — but it’s an open question whether cap and trade can survive a bruising political battle and the likelihood of tacking on more to the price of gas at the pump.

…Supporters of cap and trade are seeking a supermajority vote this year to affirm the program’s legal standing and eliminate doubts that have reduced participation in the state’s carbon market, which has allowed companies to trade permits at auction since 2012.

The original law, AB 32, has a 2020 deadline for meeting its target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels, and that has opened questions as to whether it can operate past that date. Critics say that the law is a an illegal tax because it passed with a simple majority vote. A two-thirds vote to extend the program would resolve both questions.

…But if the program is extended in its current form, the price of allowances could greatly increase, according to a nonpartisan analysis. Depending on allowance prices, the cost of gas could rise from 15 to 73 cents per gallon by 2031, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office. Read More > at KQED

Why California’s Wholesale Electricity Prices Are Turning Negative – The extraordinary success of solar power in some pockets of the world that combine sunshine with high investment in the technology mean that governments and energy companies are having radically to rethink the way they manage—and charge for—electricity.

California is one such a place.

On March 11, it passed a milestone on the route to powering the whole state sustainably. For the first time, more than half the power needs of the entire state came from solar power for a few hours that day, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA).

…The spikes also have a big effect on wholesale energy prices, which dipped to zero or even to negative territory this spring during certain hours in California, the EIA said. That’s in sharp contrast to the same hours (8am to 2pm) in the month of March between 2013 and 2015, when average hourly wholesale prices ranged from $14-45 MW/h.

…The abundance of renewable power at certain times means grid managers have a new task on their hands—dealing with all the energy.

We don’t yet have batteries capable of storing huge amounts of electricity, and grids can only support so much. There are times, therefore, when really successful renewables have to be “curtailed,” or stopped from feeding the grid, to prevent surges. (Just as there are times when other “baseload” power sources need to step in, for example when the sun’s not out and at night.) Read More > at Route Fifty

California Road-Tax Hike Is Really A Pension Tax – Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic legislators have caused a stir with their plan, which passed the legislature on Thursday, to increase taxes to pay for the state’s unquestionably decrepit infrastructure of roads and bridges. Instead of thinking of this as a new transportation tax, however, Californians should see it as a pension tax, given the extra money plugs a hole caused by growing retirement payments to public employees.

Consider this sobering news from the CalMatters’ Judy Lin in January: “New projections show the state’s annual bill for retirement obligations is expected to reach $11 billion by the time Brown leaves office in January 2019—nearly double what it was eight years earlier.” That’s the state’s “annual bill,” i.e., the direct costs taken from the general-fund budget. That number doesn’t even include those “unfunded” pension liabilities that according to some estimates top $1 trillion.

That’s more than double the $5.2 billion a year the Brown administration hopes to raise from a plan that would boost gas taxes by 12 cents a gallon, raise the vehicle-license fee by $25 to $175 a year (depending on the value of the vehicle), impose a $100 annual fee on electric cars because they don’t currently pay gas taxes and include a large hike on diesel fuel. Money is fungible, so if the state overspends on pensions, it has to make it up somewhere else.

The story refers to the Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act of 2013, which was the governor’s only attempt in his administration to rein in pension costs. Because that reform applies to new state hires, it won’t produce noticeable savings for years, the article explains. As I’ve often noted, it also was unnecessarily modest and exceedingly cynical. Read More > at Reason

Citation Nation – In April 2013, when California resident Derick Neal rolled through a red light, it was no surprise that he received a ticket. What did surprise Neal was how much his mistake would cost him. While the base rate for his infraction was $100, he ultimately was on the hook for nearly $500 by the time state assessment fees ($100), county assessment fees ($70), court construction fees ($50), emergency medical-services fees ($20), and more got tacked on.

Neal’s ticket was no isolated incident. Local governments increasingly are using tickets, fines, and fees to generate income, rather than to deter crime or enhance public safety. The funds derived from these sources are treated as part of the annual revenue base, and sometimes even built into governments’ budget baselines. This phenomenon, which has been dubbed “taxation by citation,” has troubling implications. While most citizens understand that penalties and fines are key components of effective law enforcement and public-safety protocols, few are likely aware that governments use citations as a means to enact stealth tax increases.

Examples abound of communities generating immense revenues from tickets and other fines. In Colorado, numerous towns generate anywhere from 30 percent to 90 percent of their yearly revenue from tickets and court fees. Similarly, multiple towns in South Carolina rely on traffic fines for more than 60 percent of their annual budget. Washington, D.C. collects more than $200 per-capita in annual law-enforcement-related fees and has floated proposals to increase certain traffic penalties to $1,000.

According to surveys, 90 percent of U.S. mayors are seeking new revenue from sources other than traditional taxes, and 65 percent are looking to increase municipal fees for services. The attractiveness of tickets and fines as revenue generators is underscored by the fact that most people who receive tickets simply pay the fine and move on. Few are motivated enough—or possess the requisite time, patience, and resources—to challenge tickets in court. For those who do, the process in many local jurisdictions can be so time-consuming and convoluted that they simply give up and pay the fine even if they feel they did nothing wrong. Read More > at City Journal

Cartels are growing marijuana illegally in California — and there’s a war brewing – …A combination of ideal growing weather and proximity to tens of millions of potential customers has always made northern California a great place to grow dope. California was the first to permit medical marijuana, in 1996, and this past November, residents voted “yes” on Prop 64, making California the fifth state to legalize recreational pot. Almost two-thirds of the country’s total legal harvest comes from the Golden State. The crop brought in $2.8 billion in 2015, putting it somewhere between lettuce and grapes, and some estimates project the state’s “green gold rush” could become a $6.5 billion market by 2020.

Even as California embraces the booming legal marijuana market, though, it is also seeing an explosion in illegal cultivation, much of it on the state’s vast and remote stretches of public land. National forests and even national parks have seen a surge in large-scale illegal “trespass grows,” some with tens of thousands of plants spread across dozens of acres. As much as 80 percent of illegal pot eradicated in California is grown on federal lands, and that’s just the fraction that authorities find. (Trespass grows occur in other states in the American West, and even in remote areas back east, but at nowhere near the scale of California.)

…Some 50 different toxicants have turned up at grow sites. (“Toxicants” are manmade poisons, while “toxins” are naturally occurring.) Growers use the poisons to keep rodents and other animals from eating the sugar-rich sprouting plants, from gnawing on irrigation tubing, and from invading their campsites in search of food. Acute rodenticides cause neurological damage and internal bleeding. Animals literally drown in their own blood or stumble around until they’re eaten themselves, passing the poison up the food chain to predators like owls and fishers.

Growers bait open tuna cans with pesticides, which are often flavored like meat or peanut butter, or string up poisoned hot dogs on fishhooks. People have found bears, foxes, vultures, and deer with chemicals from grow sites in their bodies. One study of barred owls (Strix varia) in the Pacific Northwest found that 80 percent of the birds tested positive. And for every animal found, there are probably dozens more in a similar condition. Read More > at Yahoo! Finance

The retail apocalypse is having a terrifying impact on one corner of Wall Street – One of the biggest waves of retail closures in decades is killing off malls across the US and taking some Wall Street investments with it.

Struggling with online competition, huge retailers like Sears, JCPenney, and Macy’s are closing hundreds of stores that typically anchor malls, meaning they occupy the largest spaces at mall entrances and drive most shopper traffic.

When a big store shuts down, it triggers a chain reaction that can end with the shopping mall being unable to collect enough rent to cover its debts, forcing it to default. By one measure, as many as a third of the malls in the US are at risk of facing this situation.

…Not all malls are under threat. The industry categorizes malls by their location and the quality of their anchors.

Class A malls — those in wealthy areas with high occupancy rates and upscale anchors such as Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus — are doing fine. But class B malls and those in the C and D territories are at risk of default. Read More > at Business Insider

The number of reluctant part-time workers is still higher than before the Great Recession – Millions of Americans don’t want to work part-time.

The U.S. economy added just 98,000 jobs in March, the smallest gain in nearly a year, after adding more than 200,000 jobs in January and February. Economists predicted that the number of jobs created in March would hit 180,000, so the actual figures fell far short of that. Unemployment fell to a 10-year-low of 4.5% in March from 4.7% in February, but the “real” unemployment rate that includes part-time workers who would rather work full-time and job hunters who gave up searching for work was 8.9%, although this was also down from 9.2% in February.

Part-time work is still a contentious alternative for many workers. On Thursday, Amazon said it will create 30,000 part-time jobs in the U.S. over the next year, nearly double the current number. Of those, 25,000 will be in warehouses and 5,000 will be home-based customer service positions. Amazon AMZN, +1.50% said in January it would create 100,000 full-time jobs over the next 18 months, according to a separate announcement made in January. Last year, Amazon’s world-wide workforce grew by 48% to 341,400 employees. In the U.S., it has over 70 “fulfillment centers” and 90,000 full-time employees. (Amazon did not respond to request for comment.) Read More > at Market Watch

Mission nearly impossible this spring: Finding a home to buy – Anyone eager to buy a home this spring probably has reasons to feel good. The job market is solid. Average pay is rising. And mortgage rates, even after edging up of late, are still near historic lows.

And then there’s the bad news: Just try to find a house.

The national supply of homes for sale hasn’t been this thin in nearly 20 years. And over the past year, the steepest drop in supply has occurred among homes that are typically most affordable for first-time buyers and in markets where prices have risen sharply.

In markets like San Diego, Boston and Seattle, competition for a dwindling supply has escalated along with pressure to offer more money and accept less favorable terms. Read More > in the Associated Press

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TOWN HALL: Community Choice Energy in Contra Costa County

Next month, the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors will decide whether to join a Community Choice Energy program like Marin Clean Energy (MCE) or East Bay Community Energy (EBCE).

This decision would affect county residents in unincorporated areas and would also serve as a model for cities like Oakley, Brentwood, Antioch, San Ramon and Danville.

Supervisor Burgis wishes to offer the public an opportunity to learn more about Community Choice Energy and provide input before a decision is made.

Speakers include:

•County Supervisor Diane Burgis
•Jason Crapo, Dept. of Conservation & Development

•Mark Fulmer of MRW & Associates, Technical Study Author

•Representatives from Marin Clean Energy
•Representatives from East Bay Community Energy

To allow us to accommodate all guests, please RSVP by replying to this email or at supervisor_burgis@bos.cccounty.us.

What’s Community Choice Energy?

A Community Choice Energy program would pool consumer electricity demand within our region. The existing energy utility (PG&E) would remain responsible for transmission, distribution, and billing. Meanwhile, a public entity run by cities and counties, either Marin Clean Energy or East Bay Community Energy, would be responsible for electricity purchasing and generation.

Community Choice Energy providers, like MCE and EBCE, give consumers an option that could increase local renewable energy generation, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and bring additional jobs to the county, all while maintaining or reducing electricity rates.

To learn more or read the county’s technical report on Community Choice Energy, click here. If you are unable to attend either Town Hall, you may also view previous presentations online.

If you would like to provide feedback or have any questions, please contact the Office of Supervisor Diane Burgis at (925) 252-4500 or supervisor_burgis@bos.cccounty.us.

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Why Easter Is Called Easter, and Other Little-Known Facts About the Holiday

By Brent Landau
April 13, 2017

This Sunday, April 16, Christians will be celebrating Easter, the day on which the resurrection of Jesus is said to have taken place. The date of celebration changes from year to year. The Conversation

The reason for this variation is that Easter always falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the spring equinox. So, in 2018, Easter will be celebrated on April 1, and on April 21 in 2019.

I am a religious studies scholar specializing in early Christianity, and my research shows that this dating of Easter goes back to the complicated origins of this holiday and how it has evolved over the centuries.

Easter is quite similar to other major holidays like Christmas and Halloween, which have evolved over the last 200 years or so. In all of these holidays, Christian and non-Christian (pagan) elements have continued to blend together.

Easter as a rite of spring

Most major holidays have some connection to the changing of seasons. This is especially obvious in the case of Christmas. The New Testament gives no information about what time of year Jesus was born. Many scholars believe, however, that the main reason Jesus’ birth came to be celebrated on December 25 is because that was the date of the winter solstice according to the Roman calendar.

Since the days following the winter solstice gradually become longer and less dark, it was ideal symbolism for the birth of “the light of the world” as stated in the New Testament’s Gospel of John.

Similar was the case with Easter, which falls in close proximity to another key point in the solar year: the vernal equinox (around March 20), when there are equal periods of light and darkness. For those in northern latitudes, the coming of spring is often met with excitement, as it means an end to the cold days of winter.

Spring also means the coming back to life of plants and trees that have been dormant for winter, as well as the birth of new life in the animal world. Given the symbolism of new life and rebirth, it was only natural to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus at this time of the year.

The naming of the celebration as “Easter” seems to go back to the name of a pre-Christian goddess in England, Eostre, who was celebrated at beginning of spring. The only reference to this goddess comes from the writings of the Venerable Bede, a British monk who lived in the late seventh and early eighth century. As religious studies scholar Bruce Forbes summarizes:

“Bede wrote that the month in which English Christians were celebrating the resurrection of Jesus had been called Eosturmonath in Old English, referring to a goddess named Eostre. And even though Christians had begun affirming the Christian meaning of the celebration, they continued to use the name of the goddess to designate the season.”

Bede was so influential for later Christians that the name stuck, and hence Easter remains the name by which the English, Germans and Americans refer to the festival of Jesus’ resurrection.

The connection with Jewish Passover

It is important to point out that while the name “Easter” is used in the English-speaking world, many more cultures refer to it by terms best translated as “Passover” (for instance, “Pascha” in Greek) – a reference, indeed, to the Jewish festival of Passover.

In the Hebrew Bible, Passover is a festival that commemorates the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt, as narrated in the Book of Exodus. It was and continues to be the most important Jewish seasonal festival, celebrated on the first full moon after the vernal equinox.

At the time of Jesus, Passover had special significance, as the Jewish people were again under the dominance of foreign powers (namely, the Romans). Jewish pilgrims streamed into Jerusalem every year in the hope that God’s chosen people (as they believed themselves to be) would soon be liberated once more.

On one Passover, Jesus traveled to Jerusalem with his disciples to celebrate the festival. He entered Jerusalem in a triumphal procession and created a disturbance in the Jerusalem Temple. It seems that both of these actions attracted the attention of the Romans, and that as a result Jesus was executed around the year A.D. 30.

Some of Jesus’ followers, however, believed that they saw him alive after his death, experiences that gave birth to the Christian religion. As Jesus died during the Passover festival and his followers believed he was resurrected from the dead three days later, it was logical to commemorate these events in close proximity.

Some early Christians chose to celebrate the resurrection of Christ on the same date as the Jewish Passover, which fell around day 14 of the month of Nisan, in March or April. These Christians were known as Quartodecimans (the name means “Fourteeners”).

By choosing this date, they put the focus on when Jesus died and also emphasized continuity with the Judaism out of which Christianity emerged. Some others instead preferred to hold the festival on a Sunday, since that was when Jesus’ tomb was believed to have been found.

In A.D. 325, the Emperor Constantine, who favored Christianity, convened a meeting of Christian leaders to resolve important disputes at the Council of Nicaea. The most fateful of its decisions was about the status of Christ, whom the council recognized as “fully human and fully divine.” This council also resolved that Easter should be fixed on a Sunday, not on day 14 of Nisan. As a result, Easter is now celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon of the vernal equinox.

The Easter bunny and Easter eggs

In early America, the Easter festival was far more popular among Catholics than Protestants. For instance, the New England Puritans regarded both Easter and Christmas as too tainted by non-Christian influences to be appropriate to celebrate. Such festivals also tended to be opportunities for heavy drinking and merrymaking.

The fortunes of both holidays changed in the 19th century, when they became occasions to be spent with one’s family. This was done partly out of a desire to make the celebration of these holidays less rowdy.

But Easter and Christmas also became reshaped as domestic holidays because understandings of children were changing. Prior to the 17th century, children were rarely the center of attention. As historian Stephen Nissenbaum writes,

“…children were lumped together with other members of the lower orders in general, especially servants and apprentices – who, not coincidentally, were generally young people themselves.”

From the 17th century onward, there was an increasing recognition of childhood as as time of life that should be joyous, not simply as preparatory for adulthood. This “discovery of childhood” and the doting upon children had profound effects on how Easter was celebrated.

It is at this point in the holiday’s development that Easter eggs and the Easter bunny become especially important. Decorated eggs had been part of the Easter festival at least since medieval times, given the obvious symbolism of new life. A vast amount of folklore surrounds Easter eggs, and in a number of Eastern European countries, the process of decorating them is extremely elaborate. Several Eastern European legends describe eggs turning red (a favorite color for Easter eggs) in connection with the events surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Yet it was only in the 17th century that a German tradition of an “Easter hare” bringing eggs to good children came to be known. Hares and rabbits had a long association with spring seasonal rituals because of their amazing powers of fertility.

When German immigrants settled in Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries, they brought this tradition with them. The wild hare also became supplanted by the more docile and domestic rabbit, in another indication of how the focus moved toward children.

As Christians celebrate the festival this spring in commemoration of Jesus’ resurrection, the familiar sights of the Easter bunny and Easter eggs serve as a reminder of the holiday’s very ancient origins outside of the Christian tradition.

The Conversation

Brent Landau, Lecturer in Religious Studies, University of Texas at Austin

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Spring 2017 – Balfour Road Interchange

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April 19 – Big Asteroid Is Heading Close to Earth

From VOA News

Science & Health
by – Walter Wisniewski

A relatively large asteroid will cross Earth’s orbit around the sun this month. Astrophysicists and astronomers say there is no chance of a collision, but it will be the closest flyby of an asteroid that large for at least another 10 years.

Asteroid 2014 JO25, discovered three years ago, is about 650 meters (2,100 feet) in diameter, 60 times as large as the small asteroid that plunged into our atmosphere as a meteor and exploded over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk in 2013. That blast was felt thousands of kilometers away and caused havoc on the ground, damaging more than 7,000 homes and offices and injuring 1,500 people.

Asteroid 2014 JO25’s pass by Earth on April 19 will be a near miss, cosmically speaking. The U.S. space agency NASA said no one should worry: “There is no possibility for the asteroid to collide with our planet, [but] this will be a very close approach for an asteroid of this size.”

The Minor Planet Center of the International Astronomical Union classifies 2014 JO25 as a “potentially hazardous asteroid.” (Astronomers classify asteroids as “minor planets”; when they pass close to Earth they are termed “near Earth objects.”)

An animation of the intersection of Earth’s orbit and that of 2014 JO25, prepared by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a unit of the California Institute of Technology, makes it look like an awfully close call, but the hard facts are more reassuring: At its closest point, the asteroid will be about five times as far from Earth as the moon is, more than 1.75 million kilometers away (1,087,400 miles).

Although the asteroid is expected to be twice as reflective as our moon, it will be difficult to spot in a night sky filled with stars, and certainly not without help. Scientists say the sort of telescope amateur astronomers use should be adequate to pick out the space rock as it whizzes across the sky at 120,000 kilometers per hour (74,500 mph).

EarthSky.org, a website that follows developments in the cosmos and throughout nature in general, has posted an article with detailed information to help sky-watchers find the asteroid on April 19, and for a day or two afterward.

Professional astronomers also will be tracking 2014 JO25 closely. Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory, an extremely powerful radio telescope center, will study the asteroid for five days.

After all, it’s not often that something as big as this comes along, even a couple of million kilometers from home. NASA says 2014 JO25 hasn’t been this close to Earth in the past 400 years, and it will be at least 500 years before it comes back for a repeat close encounter with our planet.

Asteroids actually pass close to Earth fairly often, but it’s their size that matters. Asteroid 2017 GM made one of the closest passes by Earth ever seen — 16,000 kilometers (9,900 miles) above sea level — less than a week ago, on April 4. Little notice was taken, however, because that chunk of space rock was about the size of a small car.

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