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Archive for October, 2013

San Francisco Considers Soda Tax


San Francisco is the latest city to consider a soda tax. It would raise $31 million per year for health and education programs at schools. While the powerful sugar lobby has defeated tax measures in other cities, this will happen sooner or later.

Supervisor Scott Wiener plans this week to introduce a ballot measure that would set a tax on sugary beverages. The proceeds would fund health, nutrition and activity programs for city youth. Wiener’s proposal would levy a tax of 24 cents on each can of soda sold in the city, where fast-food restaurants are already prohibited from handing out free toys in kids’ meals high in fat, salt and sugar.

Wiener said a mounting body of research has documented the link between sugary beverages and obesity and diabetes – and that voters are willing to tax the sweet drinks if they know that the money will help keep kids healthy. A statewide Field Poll released earlier this year found that 68 percent of voters would support a soda tax if the proceeds went toward improving nutrition and fitness programs in schools.

Wiener’s proposal would add a tax of 2 cents per ounce on all sugar-sweetened beverages, defined as drinks with 25 or more calories that have added sugary sweeteners and are less than 50 percent fruit or vegetable juice. The money would go toward health and exercise programs at city schools, recreation centers and nonprofit organizations that contract with the city.

Hopefully, Safe-Routes-To-Schools projects will also be eligible for funding.

slurm

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EV Obsession

In 2012, there were 13 million bicycles sold in the US. If kids bikes are included, the number was 18.7 million. By comparison, the total number of electric vehicles sold was less than 52,000. In fact, there are more bikes than cars (of all kinds) sold in the US.

I point this out, because some states have an obsession with promoting EV sales:

In an effort to spur lackluster sales of electric cars, California, New York and six other states said on Thursday that they would work jointly to adopt a range of measures, including encouraging more charging stations and changing building codes, to make it easier to own an electric car.

The goal, they said, was to achieve sales of at least 3.3 million vehicles that did not have any emissions by 2025.

The states, which represent more than a quarter of the national car market, said they would seek to develop charging stations that all took the same form of payment, simplify rules for installing chargers and set building codes and other regulations to require the stations at workplaces, multifamily residences and at other places.

They said they would also promote hydrogen fueling stations.

Not saying EV’s are necessarily a bad thing. But people already own zero-polluting vehicles: bicycles. States should prioritize bike infrastructure over hydrogen infrastructure.

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Friday Night Videos

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We’ve seen the absurd ways that cities subsidize parking. In Seattle, they’ve gone full-circle, using eminent domain to seize a parking lot and turning it into…a parking lot:

Myrtle Woldson, 103, owns a long-term parking lot near the Seattle waterfront valued at $7 million. When the city approached the Spokane resident about allowing it to lease space to help ease the parking crunch during construction of the Highway 99 tunnel and the seawall, she declined, city sources say. Now the City Council is moving to condemn the property to provide more short-term parking for businesses, tourists and shoppers.

Around 100 on-street parking spaces will be lost during the Alaska Way Viaduct construction. To “mitigate” the parking loss, Seattle proposed leasing Woldson’s parking lot. Woldson already provides parking — just at a market rate. Woldson declined the lease offer as too low. So rather than meet her price, Seattle will just seize her lot through eminent domain.

Seattle is also considering whether to build a parking garage on the lot. Because if there is one thing the waterfront lacks, it is parking:

seattle_parking

 

 

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The Supreme Court will be hearing a Rails-To-Trails case in Wyoming. It could have major implications for similar trails all over the country:

At issue in Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust v. USA is the Forest Service’s program for turning abandoned railways into trails, or rails-to-trails. Brandt, of Fox Park, owns 83 acres of land he acquired from the Forest Service in 1976.

The land was once part of a government easement for a railroad that operated from 1904 to 1995. The Laramie, Hahn’s Peak and Pacific Railroad Co. operated the track, which ran 66 miles from Laramie, Wyo., to the Colorado line. After the railroad was abandoned around 2000, some land was preserved as part of the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest. Other areas, including Albany and Fox Park, were developed privately.

In April 2005, the Forest Service announced it wanted to convert the railway into a public trail. About a year later, the agency sued Brandt and others, claiming it has a right to roughly 28 miles of land. The service said it has a “reversionary interest” in the land under the 1875 General Railroad Right-of-Way Act.

A federal district court and later a federal appeals court agreed, ordering Brandt to turn over title to the land. William Perry Pendley, president of the Mountain States Legal Foundation, a nonprofit representing the Brandts, said the case may settle long-standing legal issues surrounding the rails-to-trails program.

There has been an explosion in litigation over rails-to-trails projects. In the past year alone, $49 million has been paid out to people owning land alongside trails. Trail projects are paying as much as $1 million per mile in compensation. Conservative “property rights” groups have been especially active in the litigation.

What is insane about these cases is that even after paying out this windfall, the government does not get ownership of the property. The trails generally run on an easement. The payments are actually compensation to owners for the “decline” in property value caused by the trail — even though bike trails generally increase property values.

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The Scorched Earth Policies Of Congressman McClintock

Congressman McClintock is well-known for trying to stop Federal funding of CA high-speed rail. Even though it would bring modern rail service into his district, and employ thousands of constituents.

His opposition to Federal spending in his district goes way beyond transportation projects though. As one of the most right-wing members of Congress, he put a halt to a variety of programs that would benefit his constituents. It has made him popular with Tea Party types — until this summer when it all blew up. Literally:

rim_fire

The colossal Rim Fire (pictured above) not only damaged the local ecosystem, it devastated the Yosemite tourist economy. Moreover, it was a catastrophe that never should have happened:

A cluster of controlled fire and tree-thinning projects approved by forestry officials but never funded might have slowed the progress of the massive Rim Fire in California, a wide range of critics said this weekend.

The massive blaze at the edge of Yosemite National Park in the Sierra Nevada mountains has scorched an area larger than many U.S. cities – with some of that land in the very location pinpointed by the U.S. Forest service for eight projects aimed at clearing and burning brush and small trees that help fuel wildfire.

The projects, which were approved by the U.S. Forest Service but never funded by Congress, would have thinned the woods in about 25 square miles (65 square km) in the Groveland District of the Stanislaus National Forest, much of which was incinerated by the Rim Fire. About 9,000 acres (3,642 hectares) were suitable to be deliberately burned as fire prevention buffer zones in 2012, the Forest Service said in a document provided to Reuters.

Thanks to Sequestration and austerity, the Forest Service was unable to do its usual brush clearing. Who would have predicted this would result in a giant forest fire? Amazingly, McClintock is unapologetic:

There is also skepticism over the relative importance of planned burning among some lawmakers, including Congressman Tom McClintock, a third-term conservative Republican in whose district the Rim Fire has burned. More dire than a backlog of Forest Service controlled burns, McClintock says, is the precipitous, 25-year decline in logging of bigger, money-making trees on public lands. “If we were harvesting the same amount of timber we once did, we’d have fewer fires but also a revenue stream for the treatment of many thousands of acres (hectares) that we’re not treating today,” he said.

In other words, he wants a free-market solution to a government problem. Good luck with that. The reason for the decline in logging is because of the decline in the market price for timber.

But it gets worse. No sooner is the fire put out and the tourists come back, then McClintock votes to shutdown the government! With the park closed again, the economy takes another hit. For some business owners, it is too much:

And so last week, when the government closure ended, when busloads of foreign tourists resumed their stops in Groveland on pilgrimages to America’s natural treasure, Harris stood outside her deli, with its “Going Out of Business Sale” sign, and sobbed. She has sold off her sandwich counter and ice cream display and will close at the end of the month.

The Visitor Bureau estimates more than $15 million lost just in hotel bookings. We may never know the full extent of the economic damage, as many workers are seasonal or part-time. Hopefully, McClintock won’t try to cut their unemployment benefits.

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The NY Times is reporting that articulated subway cars is being considered by the MTA:

Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials are envisioning a subway car of the future that offers New Yorkers an out, ending the era of the captive car population.

This month, in a 142-page document outlining needs for the next 20 years, the authority noted the benefits of articulated trains — similar to accordion-style buses — that have no doors between cars, allowing unrestricted flow throughout the length of the subway.

“This will both maximize carrying capacity,” the authority said, and allow passengers to “move to less-crowded areas of the train, balancing loading and unloading times at all doors.”

The inclusion of articulated train cars in the report, a mild surprise to some transit advocates, does not guarantee that the cars will reach the rails anytime soon, or even at all.

It is unclear how serious the proposal is. There is just a single sentence mentioning the use of articulated train cars in the 142-page report. Nonetheless, it is a long overdue enhancement that would bring the subway system into the 21st century.

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