Topic: Infrastructure
Aug. 3, 2017

California officials are notorious for ladling on one environmental regulation after another, forcing developers to spend years or even decades producing waist-deep environmental-impact reports and dealing with endless regulatory hassles and litigation. The main tool environmentalists use to stop growth is the 1970s-era California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). It’s the equivalent of placing a “sue me” sign on every job site. . . . CEQA also remains uncorrected because of a disturbing double standard. Whenever there’s a big publicly funded project backed by prominent lawmakers, the first thing backers do is to exempt it from the act’s requirements. Why reform a poorly functioning law when it can be used to stop projects you don’t like, but never inhibits the ones you do like?

Aug. 2, 2017

Despite the frequent portrayal of long commuting as the norm, only 2.2 percent of the nation’s workers travel 90 minutes or more, one way to work. Moreover, that long commuting is concentrated in and near just a few combined statistical areas (CSAs), the larger the larger metropolitan area definition that combines adjacent metropolitan areas like Bridgeport-Stamford with New York, San Jose with San Francisco and Riverside-San Bernardino with Los Angeles. Figure 1 shows that 17 of the 25 metropolitan areas with the largest share of 90-plus minute commuters are in or adjacent to just four combined statistical areas (CSAs). . . . None of this is surprising, considering that each of these markets is plagued by urban containment land use policies that force up house prices. Harvard research indicates that domestic migration is being driven by the differential in house prices and people have been leaving the New York, Washington and San Francisco CSAs for other parts of the country. Seattle has done better, simply because its expensive housing is still a bargain compared to the much more onerous house costs in coastal California, from which migrants are being drawn.

July 31, 2017

Despite a systemwide drop off in ridership, almost all BART employees will receive a $500 ridership bonus in their paychecks next month as part of their labor contract, the transit agency said this week. San Francisco Chronicle columnists Matier & Ross first reported the bonus, which will go to 3,600 employees BART employees, except for around 12 or so managers who report to BART General Manager Grace Crunican.

July 27, 2017

The measure by state Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, whose district suffered heavy flood damage in February, would require state agencies to speed up permit processing and approval for certain types of flood-control projects. Current law already allows authorities to exempt or delay permit requirements during emergencies. Yet other high-priority projects still have to go through the normal permitting process. That leads to delays.

July 26, 2017

Slowly – but surely – we are learning that the near-catastrophic failure of Oroville Dam’s main spillway wasn’t truly caused by weather, even though the state claims that in seeking federal aid for repairs. Rather, it resulted from poor engineering and construction when the nation’s highest dam was rising more than a half-century ago as the centerpiece of the State Water Project, and poor maintenance since its completion. The latest evidence is a huge report by a team of engineering experts, headed by Robert Bea and Tony Johnson of the University of California’s Center for Catastrophic Risk Management. It concluded that the dam’s fundamental flaws were compounded by decades of neglect by the state Department of Water Resources (DWR) and the Division of Safety of Dams (DSOD). . . .But there’s an even more pertinent question raised by the Bea-Johnson study – whether the state is even capable of competently building and maintaining huge public works projects. One recalls the more recent example of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, one third of which was replaced after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake revealed the section’s flaws. It not only took a quarter-century to design and build the futuristic replacement, but costs wound up four times their original estimate and after it was completed, it was revealed that there were major construction flaws that the Department of Transportation didn’t disclose but investigative journalism by The Sacramento Bee exposed. When asked about it, Brown infamously replied, “Shit happens.”

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