Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Spain, California and high-speed rail

In the current issue of the New Yorker:

"What did Spain do with its European money, its cheap debt?" [Cesar] Molinas said. "We made empty buildings and airports and high-speed trains." (As the Madrid banker told me, "The cost embedded in taking someone by high-speed rail to Galicia is so high that it would be cheaper just to give people in Galicia a free plane ticket.") Molinas would have preferred investments in what is often called human capital, the very stuff that the crisis was forcing Spain to stint on. "Now we are cutting education, research and development, health care. People making the laws don't understand." (Letter from Madrid, Nick Paumgarten)

That Spain's high-speed rail system wasn't making much money---not even enough to operate the system---isn't news to readers of the SF Chronicle, which had a front-page story telling us that little more than a year ago. The folks who write the Chronicle's editorials, however, apparently don't read their own paper, since they published a dumb pro-high-speed rail editorial---taking the "long view"!---after our state legislature okayed the bonds to finance the-train-to-nowhere segment of the project in the Central Valley.

Cesar Molinas on what ails Spain.

Kathy Hamilton has been monitoring the ongoing California High-Speed Rail follies. Her latest column is here.

The best source of analysis of the whole misbegotten project is here.

Of course Scott Wiener supports the boondoggle, as does Mayor Lee.

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Wooding on Wiener's bogus CEQA "reform"

George Wooding provides another public service---like his article on the street bond a few years ago---with his thorough take-down of Supervisor Wiener's phony CEQA "reform." (Wooding's piece is published both on the Westside Observer and in the newsletter of the Coalition of San Francisco Neighborhoods):

So far District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener has failed to demonstrate that his newly-proposed amendments to San Francisco’s environmental appeal laws are necessary. That’s not stopping him, as he continues tinkering with San Francisco’s open government laws. 

Wiener’s legislative changes are primarily designed to reduce the amount of time citizens have to review and appeal environmental impacts to proposed development projects. Wiener seeks to restrict appeals regarding projects to a short time period, so that government and project developers can then go behind closed doors to modify projects without further citizen oversight...

Wiener states that his legislative goal is to codify the environmental appeals process. Currently, public environmental appeals can be filed by average citizens throughout the life of any project. Wiener wants to limit the public’s ability to appeal to only 20 to 30 days after the first entitlement/permit is issued. 

Once the public is shut out after 30 days, project malfeasance may then commence in earnest. For an example of malfeasance, just look to the Parkmerced development deal, over which four City supervisors---including Supervisor Wiener---were referred to the Ethics Commission for official misconduct, as a result of withholding 14 pages of project amendments from the public until after the Supervisors voted on the deal...

Susan Brandt-Hawley, an environmental preservation attorney, wrote in the SF Bay Guardian’s September issue: “The truth is that while environmental review takes time and costs money, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process usually moves quickly. In terms of litigation, a recent report recounted 11 CEQA lawsuits filed against San Francisco last year, while many hundreds of projects were approved in the City. A more in-depth analysis by the Public Policy Institute of California found that only one CEQA lawsuit is filed per 354 projects, a fraction of a percent.”

The fraction is actually less than three-tenths of one percent. Wiener’s proposed legislation to restrict CEQA appeals seems to be taking a sledge hammer to pound a nail. When asked for data, the SF Planning Department didn’t even know the number of CEQA appeals, negative declarations, or exemptions filed last year before the Board of Supervisors. More importantly, the Supervisors have rejected every environmental appeal in recent memory, despite Wiener’s claim that the Board approved one appeal relating to a Telegraph Hill development project...(emphasis added)

See page 22 of "CEQA Reform: Issues and Options" for a graph illustrating how few projects are lititgated under CEQA.

Read the following excerpt from Wooding's 2011 article on the street bond in light of this morning's item ("572 city workers paid more than governor") in Matier and Ross:

...In 2003 the City had just 2,918 employees earning over $90,000 in total pay, excluding fringe benefits, costing $314 million. In 2010, the City had 11,838 employees earning over $90,000, an increase of 8,920 such employees, who now cost $1.47 billion, an increase of $1.15 billion, by the stroke of the Mayor's pen signing the City budget, and a compliant Board of Supervisors passing Annual Salary Ordinance increases. Clearly, the unfunded salary increases exacerbate our unfunded pension problem, largely driven by overly-generous top salaries, which isn't being addressed in pension reform ballot measures, or discussed by City officials. Thank you Willie Brown and Gavin Newsom for our terrible roads and our abundance of highly-paid, managerial employees...

No wonder he's laughing: $260,547 a year!

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The corruption of youth in the 1950s

Reading the review in the NY Times today about Frederick Wertham's 1950s crusade against violence in comic books---supposedly corrupting the youth of America---brought on a Proustian stream of memories of my youth in Marin County. 

I remember in particular that one of the places where I bought comic books, a drugstore in downtown Corte Madera, took Wertham's concerns to heart. One day the proprietor, the genial Bernie Kaplan, had a stack of comics with the covers torn off ready to send back to the distributor in response to the scandal. 

That seemed like a terrible waste to me. Kaplan was probably more concerned about the disapproval of people like my parents, who were more important customers than kids buying comic books. 

On the other side of Corte Madera plaza, Leo Enright seemed less concerned about corrupting us, and he always had a dizzying supply of comics on a large rack at the back of his soda fountain/grocery store. But I never liked the Tales From the Crypt-type comics. They just seemed creepy, and I still don't like today's zombie/vampire movies and TV shows. Creepy.

No, my favorites were Combat Kelly and Kid Colt---a proto-Clint Eastwood-type character. Both comics had a very high body count. Kid Colt dispatched the bad guys with his two pistols, but Kelly used a variety of means, including machine guns and the butt of his rifle.

But I was apparently incorruptible and have still never fired a gun or ever had any interest in doing so. And I've never killed anyone---not yet, anyhow. In any event, I soon moved from reading comic books to the sports page---the SF Chronicle, of course---and the oeuvre of John R. Tunis.
I then graduated to Mad Magazine, which is when the real "corruption" began, as I discovered the joys of cultural/political subversion. More importantly, I learned that everything that grownups believed was bullshit.
My 12-year-old friends and I thought
this Mad cover was real clever

Surprising to learn that a smart guy like C.Wright Mills bought into Wertham's hysteria.

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