Urban Edginess

Where the City Meets its Future.

Month: May, 2012

Comment on Los Angeles Times Editorial of November 9 2011 regarding High Speed rail

The LA Times recently editorialized in favor of High Speed Rail in spite of the tripling of its estimated costs and 13 year delay in its completion date. During my tenure as Chairman of the High Speed Rail Authority, from about 2002 through 2005, I repeatedly warned that the estimated costs in the projections at the time were dependent upon project implementation commencing on the planned dates. Unless they did so then the estimated costs would escalate rapidly, as they have. Each year’s delay raises costs substantially as it does in all infrastructure investments whether or not they are HSR, the building of bridges or new freeway lanes.

Nevertheless, I maintained then as now that establishment of a realistic high-speed rail system was the single most significant thing that California could do by itself to stave off the looming economic (jobs) and environmental disaster that even in 2003 I believed we were inevitably plunging into. Here’s why:

1. High speed rail is the least expensive means to provide mid-length transportation in California. The cost of new freeways to carry the same number of people greatly exceeds that of High Speed Rail.
2. Unlike freeways,  capacity of High Speed Rail is greatly expandable by simply adding more cars to each train or increasing the number of trains, over the four per hour projected. On the other hand, a freeway lane once at capacity can take no more automobiles leaving the only options  forcing people to increase occupancy of each vehicle or building additional prohibitively expensive lanes.
3. The rebuilding of degraded infrastructure or even the building of increased road capacity increases jobs, but not economic growth (New technologies, new factories and the like) to the extent  HSR  done in every place it has been tried.
4. HSR substatially reduces carbon pollution into the atmosphere irrespective of the electric generation source used. In Japan this was enough for that country to meet its Kyoto treaty obligations. And, these are real reductions not merely moving the emissions around to other aspects of the production chain, such as to some extent is the case with nuclear energy.
5. The only realistic mechanism for restoring deteriorating city centers (and reduce local and regional car trips) is by creating viable transit centers there with HSR stations as its hub. ( I made sure California’s HSR plan included this in its design, resisting intense pressure by many urging us to avoid city centers on cost and political grounds.)
6. California lacks a transportation backbone system that ties local, regional and long distance transportation. HSR is the only transportation system in the world that can provide this today.
7. HSR construction and operation has provided a substantial increment to GDP in every country where the trains operate.


Reflections on the Impact of Social Media and Mobile Communications and Computing on Society.

First some facts:

1. Today, only 55.3 percent of all Americans between the ages of 16 and 29 have jobs.
2. In the United States today, there are 240 million working age people. Only about 140 million of them are working.
3. According to CareerBuilder, only 23 percent of American companies plan to hire more employees in 2012.
4. Since the year 2000, the United States has lost 10% of its middle class jobs. In the year 2000 there were about 72 million middle class jobs in the United States but today there are only about 65 million middle class jobs.
5. According to the New York Times, approximately 100 million Americans are either living in poverty or in “the fretful zone just above it”.
6. According to that same article in the New York Times, 34 percent of all elderly Americans are living in poverty or “near poverty”, and 39 percent of all children in America are living in poverty or “near poverty”.
7. In 1984, the median net worth of households led by someone 65 or older was 10 times larger than the median net worth of households led by someone 35 or younger. Today, the median net worth of households led by someone 65 or older is 47 times larger than the median net worth of households led by someone 35 or younger.
8. Since the year 2000, incomes for U.S. households led by someone between the ages of 25 and 34 have fallen by about 12 percent after you adjust for inflation.
9. The total value of household real estate in the U.S. has declined from $22.7 trillion in 2006 to $16.2 trillion today. Most of that wealth has been lost by the middle class.
10. Many formerly great manufacturing cities are turning into ghost towns. Since 1950, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s population has declined by more than 50 percent. In Dayton, Ohio 18.9 percent of all houses now stand empty.

The most significant take away from the above dolorous statistics and the perhaps the most predictive of the future of American society is the sudden and calamitous reversal of traditional American expectations that each generation expects to enjoy greater economic and material success than the prior generation.

To step away from examining the political and economic causes of that reversal, hopefully without ignoring or diminishing them, it may be worthwhile speculating on whether or not there are other contributing or exacerbating causes.

One possible and I guess one can call a positive influence on this seeming slide is the emergence in our economy and society of the pervasive and ubiquitous impact of mobile communication and social networking. To look at it in one way, those most proficient in using the devices, have the potential to provide for pennies almost all ones needs except food and shelter. If that is even remotely so, what remains of the incentive to work hard and achieve material success, if such success is directed in part at acquiring those things necessary to travel to and impress others or to entertain oneself? And in terms of personal satisfaction, proficiency in manipulating the device may be adequate for many and if truth be known more personally rewarding than what was available for most people only a generation ago.

So, if I am right that access to basic food, basic shelter and inexpensive mobile communication devices and applications may satisfy an increasing number of the emerging generation, who grows the food, who delivers it, who builds the shelters and the devices? Robots? Perhaps that is why Amazon purchased Kiva Robots. What happens to the economy if a sizable portion of the population chooses to travel less, buy less clothing or cosmetics and the like?

And what sort of world is being created? Do those without food and shelter take it by force from those who have, like they did thousands of years ago? Who fights to preserve this rudimentary lifestyle? Does the industrial economy continue to contract and along with it the metaphors for work such as credit and money? Do they find less and less upon which to, well, work so that gambling appears as valid a use for it as any? And what is the purpose of education? Are these new people, lazy parasites for opting out as they may do? If so, what do you make them do instead, work on the farms?

(See also Trenz Pruca’s Journal)

The Nation Article Regarding Planning for “Mega” Infrastructure Projects

Flooding of Rojana Industrial Park, Ayutthaya,...

Flooding of Rojana Industrial Park, Ayutthaya, Thailand, October 2011 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have followed with interest the ongoing reports regarding the “Mega Projects” being proposed to ameliorate Thailand‘s periodic flooding problems.

As one of the principle draftors and administrators of California’s massive Coastal Plan and Program and past Chairman of California’s High Speed Rail Authority, I have gained some experience in reviewing the design and impacts associated with Mega projects and flood plain planning. It has been my experience that there are a number of reasons why these type of Mega projects may, in the long run, fail and prove  too costly for the nation. Here are a few:

1. Among the many studies that will be undertaken, each project will be subjected to risk, cost-benefit and similar analyses. They will, inevitably and reasonably, force the project to be  sized below that necessary to handle the very crises that caused the project to be considered in the first place. For example, in building a project with a life of say thirty years because of fear of a 100 year flood, at some point it will be demonstrated that the cost of building something that has only about a 1/3 chance of being needed and must be rebuilt 3 times is unreasonable and some smaller sized project would be more appropriate. (This problem has plagued, for example, the debate on the level of earthquake protection needed for Nuclear power plants. To build to a level adequate to handle the ultimate reasonable earthquake size often would be prohibitively expensive and unreasonable, so you build to some lesser standard. But, inevitably somewhere, sometime the worst will happen.)

2. These projects often imply, if not require, additional development in the flood plain. The increased water flow caused by the new development into the proposed project will inevitably be underestimated.

3. Retroactively armoring of existing development in the flood plain to protect them from the next flood will increase the water flow at the time of flood, because the reason they flooded in the first place is that the water needed some place to go. This means that the flood waters will either find new places to flood, flow with increased velocity thereby producing greater damage or flow into the Mega projects that inevitably are not sized to account for all of this additional water. Ironically, the armoring itself for more or less the same reason as described in 1. above, will usually be too puny to resist the ravages of the size of the flood that prompted their construction.

4. Allocation of funds for operation, maintenance and replacement often will not be included in initial public cost estimates of the project but assumed to be provided from ongoing revenues, some of which would be expected to come from revenue produced from increased development of the flood plain. Even if they were included and allocated to some extent in the original project costs, they generally will be underestimated, because to include them in current funding would usually render the project not feasible.

What this means is that these mega projects require and are often intended to promote economic development in the flood plain itself and not simply to protect existing development. If  protection of existing property were the goal, the projects almost always would be clearly unaffordable. If  intended to also finance enough growth to pay for themselves, many studies in the US and elsewhere have demonstrated, in a frighteningly large number of cases, they do not.

Remember, operation and maintenance funding must come from somewhere new or the project itself will drain national revenue. As for replacement, one should also be aware that the cost of replacement includes the inflation cost on labor and materials over the years, as well as the interest on the financing of the original project that have not been paid at the time the replacement project commences. Typically when upgrading or replacing infrastructure projects like these there inevitably will be unpaid costs from the original project either because the term of the bonds exceed the expected life of the project or the bonds have been refinanced to reduce current outlays. In the American infrastructure project studies these financing issues often either bankrupted the local entities or required significant, unexpected and at times calamitous increases in taxes. I suspect a large portion of the European sovereign debt crisis can be traced not to lending for the ongoing operation of social programs or general government but on failure of the Mega projects, that were also financed with bonds, to produce the growth expected.
Here in Thailand, you have perhaps the worlds greatest, most innovative, insightful and creative authority on the protection and allocation of the water resources of a nation His Majesty the King. It is a great disappointment to me that some of those who most claim to respect him ignored him on this issue. He seemed well aware that if you are going to eliminate the natural drainage system, you have to develop the equivalent of an alternative flood plain somewhere. His statements over the years were not simply advice and warning, but predictions based on fact and his proposals not simply suggestions but requirements.

The issue is complex and requires more discussion than the format permits. I apologize for its incompleteness, lack of specificity and  brevity of its analysis.

(This post originally appeard in “The Nation” newspaper in Thailand.)

The ABCs of High Speed Rail

From the reports that I read recently about High Speed Rail(HSR)

Taiwan High Speed Rail Shinkansen 700T at plat...

Taiwan High Speed Rail Shinkansen 700T at platform of Banciao Station. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

and the public reaction to it, I have been most concerned about the lack of understanding of HSR, what it is and what it can be expected to do. So, I thought I would prepare a few posts on the ABC’s of HSR in hope that it may provide some clarity and aid in the public debate.

As a former Chairman of the California High Speed Rail Authority, I sometime still follow the news reports about the world-wide High Speed Rail industry. I also served as a director of the California State Coastal Conservency an agency created as part of  California’s massive Coastal Program. In addition, I wrote several sections of the California Coastal Plan and consider myself one of the principle drafters and consultants on the legislation setting up the program.

I mention this by way of demonstrating that I hopefully have absorbed at least a modest understanding of High Speed Rail and regional planning.

HSR What it is and What it is not.

A once and future governor of California, Jerry Brown, referred to HSR as a Buck Rodgers thing,” implying that it is some complex high technology system beyond the ordinary person to understand. It definitely is not.

It is actually an amalgam of two old technologies with which we all are familiar.

The first technology is well over two hundred years old. We all know it as the technology of almost all railroads the world over, steel wheels riding on steel rails. (Note: a version of HSR powered by magnetic levitation is in fact a high technology system but it exists only in a few experimental and operational examples. Almost all HSR remains the tried and true wheel on rail system. Later on I will explain why this is so.)

The second concept, if not precisely a technology, relied upon by HSR is more or less the same as that represented by national highway systems instituted in the US and other countries beginning in the 1950s, for the most part. That was not “Buck Rogers” either.

Before creation of the modern highway systems, it used to take a long time getting anywhere by car, not because the car couldn’t go fast, it did, but because of the roads. The roads of the time required a traveller to often stop at almost every intersection and there were many many intersections. The roads often meandered and curved in ways that were not optimum for efficient higher speed driving. Finally the roads were often poorly and inconsistantly graded and made with materials that puckered or rutted (pot holes and the like) causing vibrations that reduced the speed at which you could drive, not to mention the increased wear and tear on the automobile and its occupants.

Map of planned high speed rail lines in Califo...

Map of planned high speed rail lines in California. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a result, if one wanted to cross the country by car at that time, it took several weeks. Faster than by horse but not optimum for the machine one was riding in.

So the US commenced upon a construction program to run four or more ribbons of high strength concrete across the country from east to west and more crossing the country from north to south. These ribbons of concrete were sturdy, relatively smooth, straight with gentle banked curves for optimum traveling and absent pesky at grade crossings. As a result now a person could drive across the country in about four days, not because his automobile suddenly got faster but because it could travel continuously at designed speeds. In fact the cars of that time could cross the country at about the same time as cars do today. Automotive technology, in response to construction of the Highway Systems, then moved not just to make cars faster but also lighter and more streamlined to save on energy as well as more comfortable for passengers during longer trips.

All HSR does is to take a traditional railroad, straighten out its right of way, flatten its road bed to reduce vibration and eliminate at grade crossings. If this is done, even existing equipment could reach speeds qualifying for the lower reaches of HSR. In fact, I estimate if the road bed were appropriately designed existing equipment could reduce the current travel tome between San Francisco and Los Angeles from the current 10 to 12 hours to about 4 to 5. But existing equipment remains too heavy, uses the wrong fuels and lacks streamlining to operate at maximum efficiency, just like old cars ceased  being optimum for freeway driving.

(Note, for many valid reasons the rolling stock [trains] of modern HSR require construction of overhead transmission lines to provide power to move the trains. The reason for this and its impact will be discussed later on.)

However, just as the highways were more expensive to build per mile given the materials and tolerances required so is HSR more expensive to build by mile than old style railroad

English: Map of designated and eligible high-s...

English: Map of designated and eligible high-speed rail corridors in the United States. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


In 2006 the cost to construct a 4 lane divided highway, according to some estimates, could range from almost $20 million per mile to almost $300 million per mile. The costs for high-speed rail have been variously estimated as falling between $35 and $50 million per mile depending upon many variables. All these numbers obviously are highly volatile and depend upon specific conditions. It is however probably safe to conclude that given equivalent conditions the cost of constructing one mile of HSR is more than adding a single lane to an existing highway and generally less expensive than to construct a 4 lane divided highway.

I future posts I will discuss, rolling stock, relative costs, relative benefits, economics and the nature of some of the criticisms leveled at American HSR efforts.

Ideology and Populism in California’s Coastal Plan

Big Sur, California

Big Sur, California (Photo credit: the_tahoe_guy)

At one time, I played a significant role in the planning and implementation of California’s monumental coastal program. During that period, I often found myself on one side an ideological divide among environmentalists. The split separated those with a focus on the protection and rehabilitation of coastal resources (my leanings) and those that believed that no development is good development. The no development side had a valid point. If we eliminated all development along the coast (or at least, all new development) the natural environment would return to the state nature intended.

As with most absolutist ideologies, it overlooked many inconvenient facts including the fact that no part of California’s shoreline no matter how remote was free from the impacts of the vast migration of population to the coast that had occurred over the last 150 years. Unless we somehow drove off all or most of those people, the resources would continue to degrade as a result of the impacts of their continued presence, no matter how much we restricted future development.

Concerns about the continuing impact of existing development on coastal resources caused me to take the position that the focus of planning, regulation and preservation should concentrate on protecting unique coastal resources and the restoration and expansion of degraded resources. Consideration of simple equity prompted a sensitivity to the nature and extent of the options available to those caught up in the struggle preserve those resources.

Before discussing the economics of the situation, a little story may help elucidate my evolving view about equity in environmental planning and regulation.

Early in the program, we received a development proposal for a small resort hotel on the shores of one of the myriad of inlets along the coast. There was no other development along this section of the coast and the sensitive resources in the area that could be impacted by development of the resort were significant. The developer was someone largely self-financed and not by any means could be described as a “large developer.” In fact, essentially all his financial resources were tied up in this property. During a meeting with him, as I discussed the various concerns we had with the proposed project, he became visibly agitated. Finally unable to contain himself he jumped out of his seat, rolled up the sleeve of his shirt to reveal the telltale tattoo of identification numbers that indicated a survivor of the Nazi death camps. He shouted at me to the effect that the situation he found himself in was almost as bad and that of the concentration camps.

Now, without getting into the appropriateness of his analogy or whether of not it was simply a cynical ploy to play upon my emotions for his benefit, it did place in hard contrast the nature of my actions.

Ultimately, we denied this project so that the Coastal Plan could be completed without compromising its effectiveness by actions potentially inconsistent with that plan as the law required us to do. Although the denial was ostensibly temporary, I am sure the impact on the developer was devastating since he probably was not financially strong enough to maintain his position forcing him into bankruptcy or worse. I also knew that any plan that we came up with would have as one of its goals maintaining this short stretch of the coast free from development.

islands and rocks of California Coastal Nation...

islands and rocks of California Coastal National Monument (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I realized then that my decisions did not simply preserve resources, but often acted against the economically weak, and at times in favor of the economically strong. Our actions actually gave an advantage to the large landowner or the well-funded development corporation who could to lie in wait for political fortunes to change or could afford to spend whatever it took on political and economic consultants to obtain the economic reward from the exploding value of an entitlement for development along the coast. A value that we had created.

This leads me to the economics of the situation and its social impacts. You see, because a permit to develop along the coast became immensely valuable, those with the wherewithal to wait for a politically propitious time or to buy the political and technical consultants (of which, following my departure from governmental service, I was a reasonably successful one) to acquire the prized permit, were often successful. Those without the wherewithal, often lost everything.

As a result, it became my approach and that of several others on the Coastal Commission staff to tell the prospective developers early in the project approval process as precisely as we could what we wanted as part of the development, what resources to protect and equally important what resources to restore or expand. The latter because I believed that absent such action, environmental resource degradation and loss from the ongoing effects of already existing development would continue. If you are not increasing the extent and health of the resource base you inevitably are losing them. This the “No Development” ideologues simply failed to understand.

If the Permit to develop was as valuable as we had made it, then not only could we using that increment in value to improve the resources, I believed we could also use it to reduce the inequities between the economically powerful landowners and developers and the much more common, small entrepreneur. Now the burden was no longer on the agency to maintain an untenable position but upon the applicant who must decide if the value in hand is worth more than the uncertain future value possibly gained by fighting on.

This raised the question whether we merely were forcing current development to bear the costs of governments past errors. The answer is, yes and no. Land use regulation increases the value of the entitlement and the project. That increment is simply redistributed.

On the other hand costs increase, perhaps not to the extent they would be by a failure to regulate in terms of the costs of environmental degradation. In either case however, these costs fall heaviest on those least able to bear them, so among the so-called coastal resources one includes those things considered replacements in whole or in part for that impacted by the increased cost; replacements such access to coastal recreation by the public, preservation and expansion of lower cost facilities and the like.

As a result of this, the plan and the legislation that ultimately emerged attempted to address most of the issues I mentioned above without surrendering its strong focus on coastal resources. This included creation of a regulatory agency with specific, not general, policies to focus the regulation on the particular resources of the coast and to encourage their expansion. Funding for acquisition of those areas of great value for recreational, environmental and even equitable purposes (such as the purchase at fair market value the land of the resort developer referred to above). And finally establishment of an environmental redevelopment and public access agency to begin the process of undoing the damage already done.

Following in the passage of the massive California Coastal Program, alas, those ideologically committed to the belief that no development is good development gradually prevailed in the regulatory program. Ironically this resulted in: favoring the large and powerful developer over the small and financially weak; a hodgepodge of poorly designed projects, both large and small; a spate of inequitable decisions falling primarily on the economically defenseless and; a slowing down of resource preservation and restoration even to the point of interfering with the other agencies ability to carry out the policies they were charged with in the coastal legislation.

Does this make me a “liberal” on environmental matters? Not to a certain segment of the environmental community. I consider myself, if tags are necessary, more an environmental populist who believes that, even in environmental matters, the statement that I have made several times before should qualify every social, political, environmental and collective action we make, and perhaps every individual actions as well:

“Why would anyone be morally bound or wish to be morally bound to a civil society that does not share the goal that its citizens deserve a fair distribution of wealth, income, and power? If the civil society is not dedicated to that end what else could it possibly be dedicated to? What is freedom to those without wealth, income or power?”

Anything less is neither patriotic, good public policy nor moral.

Emerging Lifestyle Changes and their Affect on Development Planning.

1903 World's Work Article

1903 World’s Work Article (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few months ago,in my blog, Trenz Pruca’s Journal,” and more recently here, I commented on Naomi Wolf’s observation that a certain portion of the nation’s younger generation appears intentionally choosing to be less mobile and unmotivated to pursue the high intensity jobs that past generations aspired to. I pointed out that, if her observation is correct, this trend may become exacerbated by the increased use of mobile communication over the past decade or two. Perhaps a major portion of what we purchase, I surmise, is intended for travel to and meeting with other people. Things like automobiles, clothing, cosmetics and the like, for the most part, are intended to facilitate face to face meetings between people. With mobile electronic communication, at least to those who rely upon them (mostly the young who grew up using them for their juvenile socialization needs), such travel and meeting oriented purchases are less necessary, and the employment requirements to acquire the money to obtain them less pressing.

Such shifts in social goals need not be great in order to have a significant effect on the nation’s economy. As I mentioned a mere 3% of potential purchasers eschewing a second car could be enough to eliminate growth in the automotive industry for that year.

Some evidence that this shift already is occurring is provided by the chart I have recently come across that indicates Vehicle Miles Driven in America has declined for the past 7 years and the pace of the decline is quickening.

While the recession accounts for some of the decline, it began prior to the beginning of the rescission (as it did in 1980) but more importantly it has continued and even accelerated following the recession’s end.

If this chart is a harbinger of the future, just think about what it may mean for the future, on jobs, highway construction, automobile manufacturing, climate change, the textile industry and on and on.

What is curious to me is that few economists, commentators or financial pundits that I know of appears to have even glanced at the phenomena much less commented on it except as an artifact of the recent recession. Perhaps they think it is irrelevant.

Before the advent of the highly mobile society in the 1920s economics was the provenance of a few academic scholars. Since its inception the industry has grown such that every mid-sized institution worth its salt, has a house economist (as well as a lawyer and accountant, two other growth industries over the past 80 years). Could it be that they have really been studying the wrong thing all along?

The Adam Smith’s of the world in the 18th Century attempted to generalize the workings of traders and brokers meeting in a few coffee houses in London. Their musings were found useful but inadequate to describe the industrial economies of the 19th Century and by the Twentieth Century re-evaluated again. But were they not simply attempting to generalize the workings of trade in an agrarian society, the dynamics of industrialization and most recently the transportation based economy? In every case they proved to be somewhat satisfactory for describing what lay in front of them, but wholly inadequate in either predicting or describing the transition to another economic paradigm? In other words, perhaps the title of Macro-economics their practitioners assumed for their trade was never very Macro at all, but just a poorly written operating manual for a soon to be obsolete machine.

On the Edge: Stories about the Creation and Early Years of California’s Monumental Coastal Protection Program: Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Areas (ESHA)

Bridge on Highway 101 in Santa Barbara County,...

Bridge on Highway 101 in Santa Barbara County, California north of Los Angeles. this and other coastal highways are heavily traveled. Some 84 percent of the state’s residents live within 30 miles of the coast, and this concentration has resulted in increased land use pressures. Restrictions on coastal development within 1,000 yards of the shoreline were tightened with the passage in November, 1972, of the Coastal Zone Conservation Act. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On the Edge: Stories about the Creation and Early Years of California’s Monumental Coastal Protection Program.

Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Areas (ESHA)

Recently I have been involved in a series of email exchanges with Norbert Dall a long-time expert in matters regrding the California Coastal Commission who has amassed perhaps the most comprehensive library regarding the agency, its history and its activities. The focus of the emails were directed to assisting environmental scientist Michael Vasey‘s efforts to write a paper about the genesis of the California Coastal Commission’s regulatory policies affecting ESHAs. In the last decade or so the Coastal Commission‘s interpretation of these policies greatly broadened their scope. The increase in the reach of the Coastal Commission‘s authority has been accompanied by an equivalent increase in public controversy.

It has been fascinating watching Norbert and Michael‘s meticulous exploration into the subject; combing through inumerable documents and conducting interviews that attempt to refresh almost 40-year-old memories to try to piece together how a concept that originally was ignored but ultimately became so prominent a part of the Coastal Regulatory Program.

I believe it may be helpful to their efforts and anyone else who may have an interest in the subject, to be aware that at the time the Coastal Plan was adopted and the 1976 California Coastal Act passed through the California Legislature, “environmentalism”, as we have come to know it, was in its infancy. Novel ideas and concepts were constantly being thrown around as people struggled with trying to discover the best ways to deal with the negative environmental and social effects of development.

During that time I was responsible for drafting large sections of the Coastal Plan and managing the Commission‘s Interim Development Regulation efforts. Later as consultant to the California State Senate I was intensivly involved in the drafting of the legislation that became The Coastal Act of 1976. From this vantage point I had the opportunity to observe the process at first hand.

In the course of preparing the Coastal Plan, we were initially guided by California‘s previous efforts, most prominatly the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Plan, as well as regional planning theories prevalent in the planning schools at the time.

We began the interim development regulation process and developing the structure of the Coastal Plan by focusing our attention on what was uniquely “coastal.” After all, we reasoned, the Coastal Zone was simply a juridical area designated for special regulation that was not imposed elsewhere. We, therefore tried to identify those “resources” that were specifically associated with the Coastal Zone.

For example, beaches along the ocean could be considered “coastal” along with the dune systems surrounding them. On the other hand, a bunch of sand buried a mile or so inland under some turf generally would not considered a “coastal resource.” Just because something someone thought was valuable but had a tenuous or no relation to the Coastal Zone other than location, especially if it appeared other places inland would usually not be considered a “coastal resource” that would be subject to the heightened regulatory regime being imposed in the Coastal Zone, unless one could demonstrate other things that somehow “connected” it uniquely to the Coastal Zone.

Carrying this concept out further, a natural process or flora or fauna habitat that existed in the Coastal Zone that may be impacted by development, but existed in abundance elsewhere outside of the Coastal Zone was usually not considered in need of unique coastal protection policies no mater how sensitive they may be. This remained so unless it could be demonstrated that there was some unique coastal value involved.

Take the buried sand, undoubtedly someone somewhere would for whatever reason want to have the California Coastal Commission preserve it from alteration due to development. During the early days we, The Commission Staff, would require those urging us to preserve the sand from significant impacts of potential development, to provide some convincing evidence that there was some unique coastal value or as we termed it “coastal resource” involved and not simply something to be used to halt a development proposal.

Similarly some developments were considered dependent upon the coast, such as ports and marinas and the like. If they were to exist anywhere they had to be constructed on the coast and so they were considered “coastal dependent.” Other developments did not have to be sited on the coast and could be accommodated inland. So, where a non-coastal dependent development would impact “coastal resources” it could be denied. On the other hand, in the case of a “coastal dependent development” one had to make a value judgements between “coastal dependent development” and “natural coastal resources.”

In most cases with coastal dependent development, at least in the Coastal Plan there was an assumption that, for a number of reasons, they would in most cases ultimately be built. So it was important that in these cases the analysis was not limited simply to the mitigation of “coastal resource” impacts but avoidance of impacts on other resources deemed significant as well.

It could be argued (and it was) during the development of the Coastal Plan that an extractive resource located in the Coastal Zone was more or less “coastal dependent” (the Coastal Commission went through severe contortions in their attempt to bring flexibility into the process, even to the point of adding something called “coastal related” into the analysis). “Coastal related,” was simply a development that while not impossible to be located outside of the Coastal Zone none the less was singnificantly benefited by a location in the Coastal Zone.

So with reference to the development of the ESHA, it could be argued that off-shore oil was “coastal dependent” (or related) because it had to be extracted in the Coastal Zone since that was where the oil and gas was located. So also were the necessary associated facilities, pipelines and the like. On the other hand, refineries did not have to be located in the Coastal Zone. In some cases it may have been less expensive if they were, but that was not a necessary determinant. Similarly with power plants, which although at the time there was a strong economic argument for siting them in the Coastal Zone, they were clearly not considered “coastal dependent.”

Because everyone was loath to flatly prohibit in the Coastal Plan any particular class of development in the Coastal Zone, and the recognition that large industrial facilities like power-plants and refineries have far greater direct and indirect impacts than say housing, the Coastal Plan eventually evolved from identifying “coastal resources” and fashioning appropriate policies to protect them to developing rules dealing directly with large industrial development.

The Coastal Commission Staff believed that in those cases the evaluation be more comprehensive; sort of like a coastal oriented EIR. It was in those policies in the Coastal Plan dealing with large industrial projects that Norbert discovered the first glimmerings of ESHA, a concept almost devoid of specifically “coastal resource” focused analytical content.

Comments on the Impacts of Social Media and Mobile Communication.

A social network diagram

A social network diagram (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometime in December 2011, I read a short opinion piece by Naomi Wolf in which she mentioned that she had noticed a trend by some young adults for the most part, to choose to live a lower impact lifestyle. This was not the quasi-religious back to nature life styles movement favored by the Hippies of the 1960s, nor was it the life of hopeless desperation that gripped much of the Nation in the 1930s. It seems instead that today the modern descendants of those prior movements are simply deciding on a simpler way of life because the alternative, even if accessible, is no longer as desirable. An ideal life based almost exclusively upon greed is being found unnecessary. For example, today one may satisfy much of ones social needs from home for a few pennies through the use of a smart phone.

The impact of this change on goals, as she pointed out, could be momentous. It does not take many people to decide, for example, that they do not need a second car for its reverberations, for good or ill, to be felt throughout society. In that example, the failure of the automotive industry to grow at a rate equivalent to population growth, replacement and a little more, would have severe consequences to the economy that cannot be remedied by lower prices or financing.

What Ms Wolf did not mention is that some of those entering their most economically productive years are the members of the social network, mobile information and entertainment generation. Their life style choices could exacerbate the economic and social impacts of the trend she writes about.

For example, our transportation, fashion, entertainment and a host of other choices, more often than not, require our traveling somewhere, frequently with the hope to impress those we meet along the way with our abilities, success or whatever else is important to either our income or our sense of self-worth. If we no longer need to travel as much to satisfy those needs, how does that affect the amount and type of clothing we buy, or cosmetics or the need for a second automobile and so on.

Conspicuous consumption of even some of the wealthiest among us may become less caused by acquisition of physical things then it is now. (Why two Ferrari when you do not need to alter your location for most of your social or business needs?) Some of us for instance may decide that public transportation, although longer in trip duration and often lacking in comfort, is mitigated by the fact that it may curtail your mobile, work, entertainment and social needs during your operation of a private vehicle. It would not require more than a few of us to make these choices for it to rock the economy in ways that standard financial theory is unable to manage, based as it is on production and finance. This could cause the economy to contract and perhaps collapse. Similarly it could impact infrastructure and the shape of cities, not to mention houses and offices.

Take for example transportation infrastructure. Should social media and mobile communication even slightly contribute to a decline in per person vehicle miles driven, much of current highway planning assumptions could be effected. For example, will planned additional new or expanded highways needed and if not what happens to the industries dependent on highway construction? What happens to existing highways if income for maintenance and replacement also decreases?

(Strange as it may seem, it perhaps that this social change more than technological invention or energy conservation that delay’s the impact of the hydrocarbon threat to the world’s climate.)

Memoir about the “California Coastal Act of 1976” Legislative Process.

Housing Development On California Coast - NARA...

Housing Development On California Coast – NARA – 543438 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On the Edge: Stories about the Creation and Early Years of California’s Monumental Coastal Protection Program.

The 1976 California Coastal Program in the Legislature: Sheep in wolf’s clothing or the art of the dealing.

In early 1976 the California State Senate, Resources Committee narrowly rejected SB 1579 containing the most controversial portion of the California Coastal Program,* the proposed regulatory regime intended to govern development in California’s 1500 mile long Coastal Zone.

Following that defeat, the environmental leaders intimately involved in the legislation (Including John Zierold, lobbyist for the powerful Sierra Club) settled upon a minor piece of legislation, authored by a little known freshman Senator Jerry Smith, a Democrat from pro-environment suburban Santa Clara County, that had already passed through the State Senate with which to resuscitate the coastal protection legislative efforts (SB 1277).

SB 1577 had failed in the State Senate primarily because of opposition by several liberal Democratic Senators including David Roberti, a powerful Democratic State Senator from Los Angeles. Their public rational included their fear that regulation of the coastline would cause escalating land costs, creating an enclave for the rich and freezing out the poor and middle class from living and enjoying the coast. In fact, their position depended to a great extent on the fierce opposition to coastal regulation by the building trades unions, strong campaign contributors to the Democratic Party.

Roberti had demanded additional protections for low and moderate housing within the Coastal Zone as his price for voting for the bill. Several of the leaders of citizen groups that supported Coastal Protection legislation, but who also believed that the legislation was deficient in this regard, worked with members of the Coastal Commission‘s Senior Staff to prepare the requisite amendments which were then given to Roberti. He offered the amendments in committee and the author of SB 1577 Senator Anthony Beilenson accepted them. Roberti voted against the bill anyway sending it down to defeat.

Interestingly, Peter Douglas, a consultant to the assembly Natural Resources Committee (who over a decade later became the long serving Executive Director of the Coastal Commission) angrily denounced the amendments, insisting, “social issues don’t belong in environmental legislation.” Mel Lane the Chairman of the Coastal Commission publisher of the iconic California magazine “Sunset,” echoed this opinion and furiously accused one of the citizen leaders of, “Killing my Coastal Act.

A few months previously, I had left my position as Chief Counsel to the Coastal Commission to join Smith. I became Chief Consultant to the Select Committee on Land Use Management Organizations, created by the Senate Rules Committee at Smith’s request in order to enhance his environmental credentials. Also, with my appointment, Smith hoped to improve his chances to play a significant role in the Coastal Program legislative process that would otherwise be denied him because of his lack of seniority.

Almost a year prior, the California Coastal Commission adopted the California Coastal Plan, completing a three-year process initiated by a 1972 citizen passed initiative called “Proposition 20″ that set up a State and several Regional Coastal Commissions in order to regulate development along the State’s over California’s 1500 mile coastline while they created a plan to govern future development in the zone.The plan would then go to the State Legislature for their consideration and hoped for acceptance.

Following the State Coastal Commissions adoption of the Plan, several members of the senior permit staff were concerned that most of the Coastal Commissioners believed that they hade done their job and now the future of Coastal Protection was solely in the hands of the Legislature. Those concerned staff, however, believed that such a hands-off approach would inevitably lead to the defeat or emasculation of the Plan in the hurly-burley of power politics in which he with the most money at risk often prevails. Most of the senior permit and legal staff were experienced enough to recognize that complex and controversial matters such as the proposed Coastal Program, in the legislative context, tended to be dealt with in a series of broad compromises and tradeoffs among those with the greatest economic interests at stake. The hands off attitude of the Commissioners, they believed, would leave the program to which they had dedicated three years of their lives without a knowledgable advocate in the private negotiations where most legislative activity gets done.

In addition, the staff realized that the only legislative staff member in Sacramento that one could point to as having a more than passing interest in coastal protection legislation was a man who appeared to them as so limited in knowledge and competence that he rarely was entrusted with much beyond observing and reporting on the Commission‘s activities.

During the three-year coastal planning process, much of staff’s experience with this legislative aide amounted to little more than receiving periodic warnings from him of political catastrophe should the staff actually attempted to protect a resource that offended one or another of the Capital’s more aggressive legislators. In addition, the staff had the clear impression that his goal was to eliminate most of what was in the plan and replace it with what he called the “coastal essence,” that most of the Commission Staff considered more of a noxious odor than a regulatory program. It had been said that Peter Douglas (the same person who would later so vociferously oppose  including social issues into coastal protection legislation) had never met a political objection so small for which he would not be willing to surrender someone else’s interests.

To make matters worse, the Chairman of the Commission, its Executive Director and Chief Planner as well as the aforementioned Douglas also favored a simple bill that would continue the Coastal Commission as it was with watered down authority and more limited jurisdictional reach. Instead of the substantive policies in the Coastal Plan developed over the three previous years, the seemed to believe that legislation containing vague references to the Coastal Plan and its policies stood a better chance of legislative approval.

As a result, these members of the Commission Staff who disagreed with this approach encouraged, supported and conspired with those community based so-called citizen advocates who also had devoted much of their lives during the past three years to developing the program, to become directly involved in the legislative process; not simply as cheerleaders but as active participants defending their own interests in the Plan. These activists were a diverse lot including the Coastal Coordinator of the establishment Sierra Club, Joe Edmiston, a group of teenagers from the bay area energized by their successful participation in Commission business, as well as many others some of whose activities on behalf of local community, social justice and environmental concerns eventually led them to distinguished careers in politics, finance, government and business.

Over time, we evolved a few basic overriding strategies and precepts upon which we would move from the planning and administrative process of the Coastal Commission into the legislative wars. Among these precepts were:

1. The need to have our own model legislation that reflected the Plan precisely, so that all involved would know not only the specific provisions that interested them, but everything else and how it all fit together. In other words these mostly novice citizen lobbyists would become, not simply interested supporters appearing at hearings with signs and slogans, but participants pushing their own particular interests as well as their common ideals. They would flood the halls of the Capitol and be as knowledgeable in the process and the specifics of the legislation as any of the legislators, legislative staff or their opponents and often more so.

2.  Use of an informal rapid communication process among those involved, rapidly apprising them of everything that could affect the legislation. The informal network among the activists already existed and had operated successfully during development of the Plan. The Commission staff increased their direct participation and often kept the rest informed of fast changing events.

3. Placement of a senior member of the staff in a position in the State Capitol that allowed that person to take an active and daily role in the negotiations and control the drafting of any amendments to the bill.

As for the model legislation, I persuaded the executive director to allocate funding for the process. The executive director solicited names of potential consultants from some of the more prominent environmentalists in the state. They recommended  two attorneys, Barrie and Robert Girard be retained to draft a prototype bill. The staff instructed the Girards to include as much as possible of each provision in the Coastal Plan. Bill Boyd, a member of the Commission’s senior permit staff and my successor as Chief Counsel, was chosen to work with them to assure the product met our goals. Although the resulting draft effectively reflected the provisions contained in the governance element of the Coastal Plan that I had written, the Executive Director and Chief Planner had managed to eliminate the substantive policies elements and replace him with vague references to the Coastal Plan document. A meeting among the environmentalists and the Executive Director to discuss the draft was met with the strong objection, by Joe Edmiston and others to  absence of the Plan’s substantive policies, and resulted in inclusion of what would ultimately become Chapter 3 in the final bill.

Meanwhile I had agreed to leave the Commission staff and try to find a way to work into the legislative process. I was the likely choice since, I wanted to do something different, approached political conflict as war by other means, and most of the staff welcomed relief from my mercurial and often overbearing management style. So I joined Smith.

As it turned out the Democratic leadership and John Zierold chose the liberal warhorse, but diffident State Senator, Anthony Beilenson. He and his able, but inexperienced assistant, Gail Osherenko, consented essentially to insert the staffs model bill into the proposed legislation.

Meanwhile, Smith, Zierold and I agreed to work a minor piece of environmental legislation through the Senate so that, should the main legislation fail, it could be resuscitated in the other house thereby keeping it alive. This was not unusual a parliamentary ploy for major legislation. It allowed a bill, defeated in a committee of one house, to be revived, moved through the more obliging chamber and brought back to the entire membership of the original chamber for “concurrence” in the other chambers amendments thereby avoiding any recalcitrant committee and hopefully increasing the legislation’s chances for passage.

The defeated legislation was amended into Smith’s bill that had already passed the Senate and was awaiting action in the appropriate Assembly committees.

The first thing everyone involved agreed to was that the legislation required a principal co-author who was a powerful member of the Assembly. Assemblyman Charles (Charlie) Warren was chosen. Smith and I, who had hoped the Speaker of the Assembly McCarthy would agree to co-author the bill, were not overly enthusiastic about this. Warren, although a powerful member of the Assembly, many considered him as somewhat of a loose-cannon with touches of megalomania. His aide on coastal matters was the afore-mentioned Peter Douglas. Smith, members of the senior staff as well as many within the environmental community and I feared that Warren and Douglas would attempt to wrest control of the bill and weaken it. Fortunately, both were also generally considered not all that effective.

As the previous bill moved through the Senate before its defeat, Osherenko and I attempted to neutralize Douglas by assigning him the job of editing the amendments that Osherenko or I had negotiated. Again Bill Boyd was selected to work with him to make sure that what we had won in negotiations was not lost in the drafting.

The first order of business was for the two principal authors to meet and agree on the provisions of the bill that would appear in the first committee. A day or two before the meeting Smith and I met to develop our negotiating strategy for that meeting. We had learned that the main thrust of Warren and Douglas’ expected demands would   what most of us considered would emasculate  the legislation by, among other things:

1. removing all jurisdiction of the Commission over Coastal Agriculture,

2. eliminating the substantive policies and replacing them with the “coastal essence,” and

3. reversing some of the hard-won agreements with several interest groups, such as the League of California Cities, which had in response to the agreement removed their opposition to the legislation releasing several legislators to vote for it.

(see note below)

Now before proceeding, some comments on a few of the negotiation tactics we had developed and implemented to move the bill along. They were to:

1. Negotiate with each interest group opposed (Both public and private), separately and technically. (Almost every significant interest group had a staff member assigned to the technical negotiations. For example, the ever-present and indefatigable Bill Boyd was assigned to the League of California Cities.)

2. Try to focus the discussions on procedural issues and away from substantive ones.

3. Use the bill’s complexity and our superior knowledge to our advantage.

Smith and I discussed our approach to the coming negotiations with Warren and Douglas. In regard to the coastal agricultural policies and jurisdiction, the Coastal Zone, the proposed Coastal Zone boundary extended many, many miles inland of the Coastal Zone than that created by the initiative. Within that zone, essentially Commission planning and not permit authority would apply. We had always considered this one of the most vulnerable provisions in the Plan. Nevertheless, we committed  ourselves to obtain a substantial offset were we forced to surrender it. Now Smith and I faced two supposed environmentalists, Warren and Douglas who, despite the fact that throughout the predecessor legislation passage through the Senate the Coastal Agriculture provisions resisted attack, insisted on its unilateral surrender in a private meeting.

Smith and I assumed that this demand was a function of Warren’s ego. He was the author of another piece of pending legislation whose goal was to protect California’s Agriculture from urban encroachment. We were prepared to argue that the provision in the proposed Coastal Act had not been under severe attack by any group with which we could obtain a global settlement, and that passage of protection of coastal agriculture could help and not hinder his legislation, especially should his bill include subsuming Coastal Zone agriculture into the less severe state-wide agriculture protection legislation (And we suggested this option to him at our meeting). Nevertheless we assumed that Warren wanted no competition for the title of “Protector of California’s Agriculture,” and that would be the price of his support.

As for the settlements we had eked out with the League of California Cities and others, that Douglas apparently was so opposed to, what we had negotiated, in keeping with our strategy, was in our opinion essentially procedural relief and not a substantive weakening of the legislation. Also, although we tended to be dubious about the standard economic model that said that development would move from areas with more stringent regulation to those areas less restrictive, if it were correct, movement of development pressure from undeveloped areas into already developed ones was a staple of environmental planning. Douglas appeared not to understand this.

Nevertheless, we were confident the accommodation would be proposed again in the first committee hearing, so agreeing with Douglas at the meeting had no adverse consequences that we could foresee.

As for the substantive provisions of the proposed legislation we would stand firm for their retention as payment for the other two concessions.

That evening, I prepared on a yellow legal tablet a list of inconsequential demands, should the discussion require additional give and take, but we considered them all give-a-ways should the meeting go as we expected.

In fact they did go as suspected. Douglas came in with an extensive memorandum justifying their positions. After presenting his conclusions, he and his memorandum were mostly ignored. Warren seemed to lose interest in prolonging the discussions once we agreed to his demands on the agriculture policies and appeared  eager to move things along and avoid arguing over some the technical proposals in Douglas memo. Following our feigned unhappy acceptance or the demand to eliminate the League of Cities accommodation, he rapidly agreed, over Douglas’ objection, to retain the substantive policies and the meeting rapidly ended. We asked Douglas to memorialize the results of the meeting which he did with his usual penchant for self-aggrandizement.

The legislation containing the agreed upon amendments then went into the hearing process before the two Assembly Committees where, as we expected, the League of Cities amendment was re-proposed and Smith accepted it without objection. Thereafter the most significant changes to the legislation occurred during a marathon 13 hour hearing in front of the Assembly Committee on Ways and Means. At this hearing, the official maps delineating the significantly expanded Coastal Zone were displayed along the back wall of the Committee room. Having declined an opportunity to review the maps in detail, the Committee directed those with issues regarding the jurisdictional maps meet with Zierold and the ever-present Bill Boyd and try to work them out. This resulted in an orgy or fluttering maps and flying magic markers and Zierold and Boyd negotiated almost every inch of the jurisdictional line during those 13 hours. In keeping with our standard practice Boyd’s superior knowledge and our approach of giving nothing without getting something in return, the final maps had for the most part surrendered some inland urban areas in return for massive extension of jurisdiction in some rural counties (In an ironic sidelight, the massive increase of The Coastal Zone in the rural counties recaptured almost all the area lost in the negotiations with Warren and Douglas except that now they were subject to the Commission‘s complete regulatory control and not just planning and zoning).

When offered an opportunity to review the final maps the Committee demurred, and so the legislation passed out of the Committee and through the Assembly. No significant changes occurred until after being brought back to the Senate floor it languished until the last moment intervention of then Governor Jerry Brown.

Note: Douglas while working as Consultant to the assembly Natural Resources Committee during this period shepherded hearings in that committee that emasculated the Commission‘s authority over developments conducted by other agencies of the State explaining that it was politically expedient to do so in one fell swoop and not continue the agency by agency negotiations the Commission staff was already conducting with promising results. For example Osherenko and I in negotiations with the Energy Commission represented by Richard Maullin an extremely disagreeable man whose arrogance far exceeded his abilities, we agreed to give up the Commission‘s permit by permit review authority over electric power plants, in return for  the Commission’s ability to designate areas where those power plants could not be sited. In my opinion a sensible compromise, given the fact that power plant permitting complexity requires addressing many issues outside of the Coastal Commission‘s purview. This was however not Douglas’ position. He held the curious position that one can best save the Coast by surrendering it. In any event due to the hard work of Boyd and other Commission staff members we were able to retain most of the accommodations that we had previously negotiated with the Agencies.

* The California Coastal Program had three parts:

1. Funding for the State’s parks and wildlife agencies to buy those lands where no development should occur by the legislature placing a bond act on the ballot to fund those acquisitions.

2. Creation of a coastal environmental restoration and public access agency called the Coastal Conservancy.

3. Passage of the California Coastal Act containing the policies by which future development in the Coastal Zone would be regulated.

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