Monday, October 31, 2011

Thoughts from High Speed Rail discussion at Fresno State

Edit: Apparently, the $100bn claims may have been based on some logic indeed, according to tomorrows newspapers. I will leave this post as-is, and turn on the oven to warm up the crow. For that specific section anyway. There are many other claims that still need be addressed.

A few days ago I posted my full set of notes from a high Speed Rail (HSR) discussion held at Fresno State. I did drop in a couple of comments, but I tried to stick to mostly straight notes.

Here are my thoughts on the speakers, the points they made, and other points about the discussion.

I will begin by talking about the "pro-HSR side". One of the questions raised during the forum brought out the point that the people speaking in support of HSR tended to base their speeches on general statements, while the anti-HSR speakers had more numbers. This is correct. The pro-HSR people talked a lot about all the wonderful things that HSR will bring to California and the central valley, but didn't really quote numbers, and when they did, they were general, such as "thousands".

But that approach may not have been the best one. You see, the audience was made up generally of two groups:

1) Fresno State students taking a class in HSR, and thus, generally well informed about the project
2) People concerned about the project who are either directly impacted by it (property owners on HSR route) or people who have read many negatives about the project and feel strongly against it.

That is, very few people at this meeting were there to learn about HSR. Most already had formed an opinion. The general public has no interest in attending a forum about HSR, either because they don't care, or because they simply know nothing about it.

So someone speaking for HSR should have targeted their discussion to debunk some misinformation and such, instead of using the "intro to HSR speech" that many had already heard. The "intro" speech is best saved for an environment where the general public at large is found, and not a highly specific subset that is attending purely to discuss HSR.

That being said, the anti-HSR people did use many numbers....but they didn't back them up. And the pro-HSR people did not try and debunk them.

For example, David Valadao quoted a whole series of numbers on the potential cost of the project, but kept focusing on his estimate of $100bn. There was nothing to back this up, but he said it with certainty, and people believe it.

It would be interesting to see the reaction of a speaker try and claim that project will cost $15bn. The number is just as made up, of course, but would take the same amount of time to "calculate".

Another set of numbers the anti-HSR people brought out was how many jobs will be destroyed. That's right, jobs destroyed.

One number repeated was that 6,000-15,000 jobs would be displaced in Fresno alone, and the speakers argued that these jobs would NEVER return.

Once again, nothing was there to back it up, but while the HSR people claimed that "thousands" of jobs would be created, the anti-HSR people seemed to have a more solid number, because they made something up and agreed to stick to it.

Yet another scary anti-HSR number thrown around was the idea that each CSU student would have to "pay" $2,000 a year to account for HSR expenses. That number was repeated twice, and targeted at the students, but it's rubbish.

It would be like the pro-HSR people claiming that $42 billion is just over a dollar a taxpayer, per year....spread over a bunch of years. You can take a cost and divide it up in anyway that looks good or bad.

37,000,000 Californians
= $1,135 per taxpayer
Over the 100 year lifespan of project
= $1.13

That's super affordable!

Also, as I mentioned, there were some false comments made by the anti-HSR people, and the pro-HSR people didn't bother to correct them. Indeed, the only time a correction was made was when the moderator or a member of the public directly attacked a point made by a speaker.

That's poor form. If one is speaking for a subject, one should be knowledgeable enough to know what myths will be brought up, and be able to correct those myths with the appropriate facts.

Here are a few myths/lies that were brought up and what should have been said.

Claim, then response.

-Project will cost $100bn
--Business plan comes out tomorrow and will show real cost. Should be nowhere near $100bn

-6,500-15,000 jobs will be lost in Fresno alone, people will move to Florida
--BS, businesses will relocate but not move. People dont just leave to Florida, they have family, professional, social ties to valley

-We're already paying interest on the HSR bonds
--I don't believe the bonds have even been released yet

-HSR went from $32bn to $42bn
--False, the price never changed, just the accounting method, from year of expenditure to year of opening

-HSR isnt using transportation corridors
--False, BNSF is a transportation corridor, and any veering from that has been by express request by representatives

-Driving will always be cheaper.
--It depends. 2020 is almost a decade away. How much did gas cost a decade ago? Say prices double again, and gas goes for $7 a gallon. Google shows the distance from Fresno to Disney as 250 miles. Say a car gets 27mpg (a 2016 model). That's $65 in gas each way. Now add wear-and-tear and such, and you're looking at $80...each way. For a family of five, yes driving may be cheaper. May. HSR MAY offer family packs. Disney charges something like $20 for parking. You're adding a premium of 3 hours of time, each way.

-College students can't afford it.
--Since it'll be indisputably cheaper than driving for an individual, college students will save money.

-Commuters cannot afford $2,000 a month in HSR costs. The home ownership savings from living in Fresno and working in the bay area should easilly cover that.

Those are just some examples of how one of the pro-HSR speakers could have challeneged the claims made by David Valadao. They didnt.

One thing I was especially interested in seeing is how Elizabeth Alexis would present herself. Online, and even in the beginning of her speech, she stated she supports HSR but is simply against the way the agency has behaved itself.

Unfortunately, it quickly became clear that this was not true, she was just using standard anti-HSR talking points that had very little to do with the agency. For example, her claim that each CSU student would have to pay $2,000 a year to support HSR, was both ridiculous and also completely unrelated to the agency. What HSR costs is what HSR costs. The agency isnt in charge of the price of concrete or steel.

Likewise, she tried using other fear tactics against the audience, such as claiming that the central valley was a guinea pig, and that jobs would be destroyed during construction, and after as people left the area. Again, this has nothing to do with how the agency conducts itself, it's just fear. Her claim that the CV would have to deal with pollution because it was chosen first for construction was quickly rebuffed by the moderator who asked if pollution wouldn't be an issue if the CV saw construction last.

While she did make points about the agency and some of the problems it has, she certainly wasn't shy about bashing the project as a whole, and for someone who claims that she supports the project, that's a problem. It's either one or the other, you can't come in and do them both.

Likewise, Valadao spoke against the project as if he was concerned about this specific infrastructure spending, but during the Q&A, he made it clear he was all about the tea-party line which believes that all government spending was bad.

I'm sure if you addressed every single concern, he'd still come back and say "let the private sector build it".

Basically, what I'm saying is that critics aren't a bad thing because many times they bring up points that have been overlooked by group-think. But if you're a critic, and you say you're only against a certain part of the project (ie, routing) but then rant about everything under the sun because you're REALLY against something else (ie, government investment), then that's a problem.

Why not some honesty?

On a final note, the public questions veered off into crazy-land more often than not. I couldn't stop thinking about an episode of Parks and Recreation in which the public forum was 100% crazy people saying crazy things. It rang quite true.

Makes me sympathize with any government organization that wants to cut down on public meetings. That is, a bureaucrat can only take so many crazy rants before checking out.

If only there was some way of screening questions beforehand.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Notes from High Speed Rail discussion at Fresno State

NOTE: This post was edited at 11:45pm Friday to add the section on questions from the audience.

Last night, Fresno State invited four speakers to present their thoughts on the High Speed Rail (HSR) project and answer questions from the audience. The forum was created for students taking a class on HSR, but this presentation was open to the general public.

The format was as follows: Four speakers on the stage were each given 10 minutes to talk about the project. After the speeches were done, questions were asked by the moderator, Bill McEwen from the Fresno Bee, and then the general audience.

Generally, the speeches followed prepared notes. The speakers did not address each others thoughts until the Q&A section, but even then, discussion was focused to/from the audience member and not between the speakers.

The speakers were, in order of speaking:
-Former Assembly Member (29th) Mike Villines, a Fresno Stat alumni. He spoke in favor of HSR.
-Hanford Assembly Member (30th) David Valadao, who spoke against the project.
-Daniel Krause, who works with Rescue Muni, among other organizations, spoke for the project.
-Elizabeth Alexis who works with "Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design" and spoke against the project.


Today I will present the notes I took during the debate. These notes are as accurate as I was able to do, and if I misheard someone or made any other mistake, I apologize and will immediately fix it if brought to my attention.

Tomorrow I will be in LA for the USC-Stanford game, so on Sunday I will try and write up thought on what was discussed. There are many things that need to be clarified, although I'm sure Robert Cruickshank will beat me to that this weekend.


I arrived at 6:50 for the 7pm start time, although the speakers didn't begin until 7:10pm. In standard fashion for this type of event, the front-center rows were empty and the back was quite full. Rest assured, this photo does not show the extent of the crowd in the large room.


Fresno State students generally sat in the back. The members of the public appeared to be mostly composed of white people in their senior years.

Mike Villines spoke first. he said he brought a video, but the organizers were unable to get it to run. His points were as follows:

-This is one of the first times a major investment/jobs program is starting in the Central Valley (CV) first. Neither the feds or the California Legislature ever focuses on the CV first, so we should embrace it.

- This project is in contrast to the traditional oil transportation, like highways and car and planes. Not only is it cleaner and safer, but in the end, it will be cheaper.

- All "against" arguments are always the same. "Now is not the time", "let's do this later", etc.
--Lincoln built the trans-continental railroad during the civil war, when budgets were tough
--Ike built the interstate system, starting in the middle of nowhere, in farm country
--The same naysaying comments were against starting the UC system
--Same comments against vital water system
---Where would we be without these grand projects?

-Ridership numbers have been independently reviewed and verified

-Fares will be competitive

-Outreach has NOT been perfect, but there have been "hundreds" of meetings, so anyone who says there hasn't been outreach is lying.

-There will be disruption, but it will be mitigated

-There is a huge cost to do nothing. Without HSR, roads must be widened, airports must be expanded.

-HSR will minimize urban sprawl. Sprawl is the #1 taker of Ag land.

He ended by telling a story of how Kennedy set the goal for moon landing, and it happened ten years later. He said that the people in the control room at the time had an average age of 28, meaning they were 18 when the goal was set, the same age as many of the students in the room.

David Valadao spoke next. He brought a slideshow which they were able to play. The slideshow was titled "Time to pump brakes on HSR"

I took pictures of the slides, and will add details to clarify what he was saying while the slide was being presented.

Slide 1:

-3% is in reference to the idea that the project only has $3bn in funds and will cost $100bn by his estimate

-He says that the maintenance facility will bring 1,500 jobs to Fresno...but 1,500 businesses will be moved.
--By his estimate, 6,000 to 15,000 jobs will be lost because not a single business that gets displaced will elect to reopen in California.
-Every single business that gets mitigation money will close up and move to Florida. California is too hostile with taxes and regulations and such and nobody wants to live here.

Ed note: For someone whose job is to represent Californians, he sure seems to hate the state.

Slide 2

-Argues that mitigation money will be equal to market value, which is less than replacement cost. Uses example of car. Says HSR would give him $2,000 for his car but it'll cost much more to buy a new one.

-HSR already affecting budgets today because we're already paying interest on the bonds.

Slide 3

-Claims that price of HSR went from $33bn in one day to $42bn the next day. Tells story about how he asked the HSR people why this happens and was told "the old number was assuming the entire project was built in one day, the new number is the real one"
*Old people laugh*

-Claims $100bn is an easy number to estimate

-"My ranch isn't a transportation corridor"

-Argues that it will always be cheaper to drive. Uses story about 5 kids (or family of five?) getting in a van to Disney, much more efficient than paying for each individual ticket.

-Too expensive for college kids

-Too expensive for commuters. Commuters cannot afford $2,000+ a month in HSR transportation costs. Cheaper to move, buy a bigger house.

Slide 4

-Makes emotional appeal that farms aren't just about land, it's about the experience and family history
--Personal value

-States that HSR is NOT a new and exciting idea. Has been talked about for 40 years, old technology.
--Goes off on tangent about how kids these days want things to be mobile, ipads etc.
----HSR is the opposite of mobile, it's fixed (not portable).
--Says airplanes are the future because they're mobile, can get you from anywhere to anywhere and are exciting.

-Claims he has recently talked with Southwest Airlines and they are totally committed to taking people from Fresno to Mojave, no need for HSR to do that.

Ed Note: This whole train of thought was quite....odd. And a flat out lie (see moderator question).

Closing slide

-Claims that expansions of things like the 180 are ok because that "needs to be there".

Daniel Krause spoke next. No slides were presented for the last two speakers.

-HSR is cleaner, safer form of transportation

-Saves farmland, reduces sprawl, has health benefits.

-HSR will be a catalyst for shift in land use patterns.
--Orients local planning towards HSR stations
---renewed focus on city centers will save farms

-HSR is already funding planning processes in cities via grants
--"Catalyst for farmland preservation"
---HSR on it's own won't preserve land, but the focus into the city that the project brings will

-5,000 acres will be lost to HSR construction + indirect losses near the construction.
--EIR is being constantly changed to respond to these concerns

-Current losses dwarf this
--Claims that 1.2 MILLION acres of farmland will be lost by 2050 if urbanization continues as is.

-Won't eliminate sprawl but key component to turn ship around

-Will expand use of and investment in transit
--Most trips under 2 miles, focus on transit will get people to walk to store to buy bread and milk, save air quality
*Old people in audience laugh loudly*
"I...I don't understand why that comment got laughter?"
*Old people laugh again*

-Improvements in air quality and public safety
--35,000 killed a year in cars in America.
---In 47 year history, not a single fatality in Japanese HSR
----Safest form of transportation ever invented

-Driving most dangerous form of transportation.
--Someone needs to calculate lives that will be saved by HSR and put monetary number to it

Finally, it was time for Elizabeth Alexis to speak. Elizabeth began by claiming that she is pro-HSR but against the way the project is being conducted. However, based on everything else she said, this comment did not appear to be true at all. More on that when I do my complete analysis.

-Rail will increase population, actually create more sprawl

-People do NOT want to live near HSR
--HSR stations will be full of taxis and buses and nobody will want to live near the station
---HSR stations are somewhere between a train station and an airport in terms of impact/desirability,

-Job numbers claimed by HSR authority are simply temporary construction jobs, and "fake" extensions of that, for example a job is counted if a construction worker shops locally.
--Construction = huge amount of pollution created

-Business losses will be permanent

-No benefits to CV if project not completed
--Says CV will have to deal with years of disruption and pollution and may be left with something that is never used

-"Central Valley is the guinea pig"

-97% of money is missing
--Bond does not create more revenue (no new taxes) meaning it is taken from general fund

-HSR is directly competing with CSU/UC system for funds because it all comes out of general pot.
--For every $10bn allocated to HSR, the costs to each CSU student will be $2,000 per year

-Environment is too hard to create revenues, there will be no tax increases to pay for HSR.

-HSR will be "pot committed" (Ed: I believe that's the term she used)
--Explanation: Once you start throwing money at project, it's too hard to stop because nobody wants a half finished project
---Further explanation that fear of being pot committed results in heavy restrictions on bond releases to ensure this doesn't happen.
-----California history has shown that every major project like this has ended badly.

Ed note: I didn't quite understand if she was saying the project will keep sucking up money or won't be due to restrictions placed on bonds, but she said it in the order I noted above. That line of thought continued:

-Legislature will be forced to vote yes on funding plans as a result of above

-She said opponents are constantly criticized and called names, detracting from conversation.
--HSR is being run like a political campaign, not a public infrastructure project

-Too many consultants. Each segment has own set of consultants, each set of consultants hires own set of consultants, each set of new consultants hire their own consultants for multiple levels of consultants.

-Consultants mean project is not listening to feedback

-Goes back to point that CV will deal with all the problems and not get results.

And that's it for the straight speaking section.

Next up the moderator asked some questions based on what had been stated.

Question 1 was directed at Villines and asked why there is an artificial 2012 deadline that the agency must rush to reach before the funds are withdrawn.

Answer: The money is to get people to work, and we want that to happen now. The project is absolutely not being rushed as it's been in motion for many years

Question 2 was directed at Elizabeth. The question was about how Elizabteh had claimed that the CV was a guinea pig and there would be much construction pollution. Wouldn't the same pollution be created if the CV segment is built last?

Elizabeth answered that she does not understand why the project MUST start in the middle. She claims that she has asked the HSR people and nobody has explained the advantages of starting in the CV and working out to the coasts.

She then went on to say that the project should only begin if there is enough money locked up to get an initial operating segment done. She quickly clarified that she meant a "real" initial segment, like San Jose to Bakersfield or LA to Fresno.

Question 3 was to Daniel Krause. He asked if Daniel could clarify why if HSR must go through transportation corridors, why they aren't doing that near Hanford.

First he began by referring to the last question and clarifying that yes, the initial segment in the CV must have independent utility, and if all else fails, Amtrak will use it to cut off 45 minutes from the existing trip.

He then explained that existing corridors includes utility corridors and the agency is allowed to move off a corridor when necessary or when requested to.

Question 4 was to David Valadao and went along the lines of "isn't it true that there is no doubt that the first segment will get built?'

He started his response by saying that he disagreed.
*old people cheer*
He stated that lots of people are concerned, and that it will be tough to kill the project but it's not a sure thing.
*more cheers*

Then went on to say that in his personal experience, he has ridden Amtrak and it was empty. He also stated that the existing line is empty and that it is remarkably foolish to build a brand new train line, 2 miles parallel to the existing train, and that running them both made no sense. He closed by replying to the last comment of the initial segment being available to amtrak if nothing else is build and said "that would be a disaster".

Question 5 was also directed at David Valadao, and I was quite surprised by the tone the moderator took.

I did not get down the exact wording of the question, but I will paraphrase it as best as I can remember.

"You stated that Southwest was more than willing to come serve Fresno and fly people to the Mojave. Fresno has tried every trick in the book to get Southwest to come here, including $3 million in direct annual subsidies, and they refuse to serve this market. Why are they willing to serve Fresno if you ask them to?'

Ed Note: Bill, as a longtime writer to the Fresno Bee, knows better than most what Fresno has tried to get service from Southwest and other budget airlines.

The answer was that "Southwest doesn't want subsidies" they want to fly a profitable route, and if there is profit to be made in Fresno, they will gladly take it, like any business would. He said his comment about Mojave was a joke, but he could see service between Fresno and San Jose, but that Southwest would only do that if they could fill a plane. They wouldn't serve Fresno if only three people wanted to board.

Bill followed up by asking how much encouragement Southwest gave about serving Fresno.

Valadao conceded that the answer was none.

Then followed up by saying he was interested in knowing how much it would cost to widen the highways and improve the airports.

At this point, the floor was opened to the public. People could line up and ask questions to either a specific speaker or anyone who was willing to answer.

The first question was
-Does the legislature need to further approve this project or is it ready to begin?
David Valadao responded that no, it just needs continued funding.
Elizabeth Alexis said the project will keep coming to the state for more funds, and that will have to be approved.
Mike Villines disagreed with Elizabeth, saying that the money exists, and the people voted for it, and it's ready to be built.
Elizabeth replied by saying that nothing can be built until they have enough money to build a real operating initial segment.

Next question was a speaker from Tulare County that was directed at Valadao. It was less of a question, an more of a statement. I will paraphrase the legnthy statement he made:
"Valadao, you were only just elected recently. We've been talking about this for much longer. Hanford asked for rail to go through the farm and not the city. Visalia asked for rail to come closer to them. The county approved this. The HSR people listened to what the elected officials wanted and that's why the route goes the way it does. To say they aren't listening is wrong, that's why the route is what it is. And obviously rail can't following existing transportation corridors exactly. Rail can't go down A street and make a sharp right on 1st street*, that's impossible. So yes, rail has to curve and cut through land.. It's hypocritical to say there was no public process."
*Ed note: The speaker used different street names, I presume real ones, but I didn't note them.

*large applause from the back of room, where FSU students sat*

Valadao answered that no, that wasn't true. The county didn't ask for this

The person asking the question interrupted to ask "You're saying the county did NOT ask for this? Because I was at the meeting when they did"

Valadao said he would like to see the record of the meeting.

Elizabeth jumped in to say that while Visalia did want a station, the county did not. She said Kings county didn't want HSR through their cities or through their farmland, but decided to side with the cities because it was better to agree with their request then to not do anything at all.

The person asking the question finished by saying he knew the documents exist.

The next person (from Fresno) said he is a fan of Amtrak northbound, but not southbound, because he refuses to ride a bus. He asked why don't they start building between Bakersfield and LA?

Daniel Krause said that they need a straight section of track to start with.

The person asking the question interrupted to say that the desert is straight, and Daniel Krause said no, there are mountains.

David Valadao added that he agreed, and they should totally start between Bakersfield and LA.

Next question: "Does nobody remember what happened with Diablo Canyon? This thing will cost us $100bn and that doesn't even include the electricity? Where does the electricity come from?" the question continued for quite a bit of lengthy time before the moderator interrupted him and told him to ask a question. He ended with "why are we buying trains from the communist china? We need to do this in America, go america!"
*crowd cheers*

Mike Villines began by saying that all the construction will be local and American. The person asking the questions interrupted with "but the trains, where do the trains come from! They're communist trains!"
Mike Villines continued by talking about how California is the busiest air corridor in the country, and we can't add flights, we need trains.

The next question was "Why not follow I-5?'

Daniel Krause responded that the train needs to serve the people. The person asking the question said the CV doesn't matter and nobody from the CV will ride the train anyway, it should follow the I-5. Daniel Krause just repeated that the train's job is to go where the people are.

The next question was directed at Mike Villines. The person talked about how the pro-HSR people never say real numbers, and the anti-HSR people always come prepared with lots of numbers. He said that if the HSR people want to talk to him about buying his land, they need to come with real numbers. He also asked how the initial segment will run without electricity.

Mike Villines stated that we all get numbers on Tuesday.

The person asking the question continued: We get no information, they don't give us maps or numbers, they don't tell us anything. He says he found out the line will run through his land because a neighbor told him, and he called the HSR people and they denied it, but eventually he got hold of a map that confirmed his land was going to be taken. And even then, he had to take a picture of the map because he wasn't allowed a copy.

Elizabeth agreed and said the process was broken and that the HSR people don't tell anyone anything. She went on to talk about how the process should be like France, and they need to hold 3,000 conversations before drawing a single map.

The next person to ask a question was a man from the Fresno Hispanic Chamber of commerce and the regular Chamber of Commerce. He said he agreed we need to talk numbers - unemployment numbers. He stated that our ancestors left us Hoover Damn, Eerie Canal, etc, what will this generation leave the next ones?
*I believe there was some audience booing*

Valadao began his answer by saying that the best way to create jobs is to have a smaller government. he said that HSR won't create jobs, it will destroy 6,000-15,000 jobs in Fresno alone. he said that HSR will kill private jobs to try to build government jobs, and that always fails.

The man who asked the question continued "We need the money for jobs, we have the money, are you saying we should throw it away?"
*audience shouts yes, boo, throw it out etc*

Elizabeth stated that while the job situation was serious, HSR is not the only solution. She repeated the idea that just 2,000 jobs will actually be created from the project (her "real" numbers)

She then went on to say that because HSR is funded from the general fund, teachers will lose their jobs, as schools will compete with rail for funding. She stated that the current businesses along the line are located there because they like being by freight rail, and once they're gone, they'll disappear forever because the location advantage is gone.

She then made the comment that FURTHER job losses would come when firms in places like SF, that have satellite branches in Fresno, close their valley branches because HSR would be SO convenient that these businesses would have no need to have offices in the valley- their employees would simply come for the day as needed.

The moderator, Bill, then asked "What firms are these based in SF with branches in the valley...?"

Elizabeth replied "like insurance companies and such". She said they'll all consolidate in SF.

And at this point it was 8:45pm and I had agreed to meet someone at 9pm, so I had to step out.

Hope you enjoyed the notes!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

High Speed Rail discussion tonight at Fresno State - open to public

Fresno State will be hosting a town-hall style debate tonight on High Speed Rail.

Thursday night at Fresno State, Elizabeth Alexis of CARRD and Daniel Krause, Executive Director of Californians For High Speed Rail will join former Republican Assemblymember Mike Villines for a debate on HSR moderated by Fresno Bee columnist Bill McEwen. The debate is at 7PM in Fresno State’s Satellite Student Union.
California High Speed Rail Blog

The debate is open to the public.

Hear a buzzing sound when connecting laptop to TV? This is how to fix it

This has been getting a lot of hits, so clearly, it's a common problem! If this advice helps you, or does not help you, I'd appreciate it if you could leave a comment so I can see if the instructions need to be clearer (ie, more pictures and whatnot).

This is 100% unrelated to anything else on this blog, but I am submitting it on the off chance that my recent experience can help someone else out there. Like a public service announcement! I did a few Google searches to help me solve this problem and the web was full of bad advice, although eventually I did find the right solution, which I present below.

The setup:
Connected laptop to TV via RGB cable and simple audio cable. Video came in fine. Audio was mostly fine, except for one problem....

The problem: When laptop was plugged into electricity, the TV speakers made a very annoying buzzing noise. When running off battery, no such noise. Laptop is old, and battery lasts less than an hour, requiring it to be plugged in. What an odd problem to have!

The good news is that there is an easy solution.

Technical name for problem: Electrical interference caused by loop in grounding wires. Basically, when the laptop was plugged in, and the TV/speakers were plugged in, they managed to interfere with each other in some magic electrical way.

Solution: 50 cent three prong to two prong adapter.

Purchased this little thing at the hardware store. 2 for 99 cents.


Three prongs go in one side, two prongs come out the other.

Simply plugged laptop into adapter and then adapter into wall.

Buzzing noise has been vanished forever. Hooray!

So if you have this problem, try this very simple solution!

Further advice if the problem persists:
Note that the adapter has a little metal loop which tries to make contact with a screw in the outlet and act as a grounding device. This will obviously cause the problem to return. Either bend that piece of metal back or remove if it makes contact and the problem returns.

If the problem still exists, try using a second adapter on the TV or speaker system as well to avoid grounding those and encountering interference.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Why do people think that parking in downtown Fresno is hard?

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a forum downtown about development in south Fresno. The mayor of Fresno, Ashley Swearengin, spoke.


Unfortunately, we had to sit and wait because the mayor was late. Honestly, it's not a big deal, we only had to wait around 10 minutes, and other speakers were given the opportunity to "cut in line" and say their part first.

My concern was the excuse given by the speaker.

"Apparently she is circling the block trying to find a parking spot, I'm sure you all understand."

Actually, no. The vast majority of those in attendance were lower income hispanic or asian immigrants concerned about their neighborhood. I'd bet a large percentage took the bus to get to this event.

I drove. But it blew my mind that the speaker could stand in front of 400+ people and suggest that finding parking was hard. You see, the event was held in the convention center complex. Like most convention centers, an enormous parking garage was built for the demand. And like every other garage downtown, it is free after 6pm and all day on weekends. This even was held at 7pm.

You'd think the speaker of an event focused on downtown development would sort of know this.

The garage is pretty much attached to the room where the event was held.

In red, Valdez Hall. Does parking appear to be scarce? Remember, every spot you see in this picture is free after 6pm.


The massive garage is almost literally attached to the hall.

And it has 1,565 parking spots.

Parking was not scarce. I decided to explore the 2nd floor. The ground floor had some cars. The second floor...?



I'd assume the 3rd floor, 4th floor, and roof were just as....crowded.

I really don't understand why the myth of "parking is hard downtown" continues to exist. It's so far removed from reality, it almost seems like a joke sometimes.

And it's frustrating that members of the government continue to distribute this myth. Have people really been so conditioned by 12 acres of surface parking in front of their destination that locating it anywhere else is just too damn confusing?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Fulton Mall should have holiday specials to attract crowds

The PBID Partners of Downtown Fresno recently hired a new president, Kate Borders from Milwaukee. One of their first orders of business with the new head was voting to destroy the mall, and turn it into just another street. A week later, the mayor's office released her preference on what to do with the mall, and her preference was to return it to cars while leaving some token reminders of what once was.

Fortunately, things move slow in politics, and when funds are tight, even slower. As such, even if the mayor gets her way, the Fulton Mall will be around at least until 2014.

For many in Fresno, the reasons to go downtown are few. 40,000 people work in the downtown core, but have little incentive to stay after work. The PBID doesn't have the money or power to transform downtown in one swoop, but can continue bringing people downtown with the same kind of events that have been working for the last few years. That is, even though they voted in favor of destroying the mall, they, nor the city, actually has the money to go through with it.

So let's focus on using what we have. We all know that is a chicken and egg problem with downtown being a proper destination. Few retailers want to set up downtown because they lack (affluent) customers. Few affluent customers want to go downtown because the stores and restaurants they want aren't there.

It is very hard to find a trigger that will allow a pioneering store or restaurant to thrive long enough for others to join them. Indeed, various restaurants have set up shop and failed, and few retailers wish to go first.

I don't live downtown, and I don't work downtown anymore. As such, in the past year, I've gone downtown for the following reasons:

-Cinco de Mayo events
-Mexican independence day events (fiestas patrias)
-Grizzlies game
-Fresno Fuego game
-Amtrak station

I doubt I'm alone. Most people have no problem going downtown for entertainment events, the problem is there aren't enough of them.

Indeed, the PBID are the people who help plan and host many of these events on the Fulton Mall. Their website lists 10 events, held throughout the year, and some like the Cinco de Mayo festival are wildly successful.

I think that Kate Borders should expand on these events to continue to draw people downtown.

Let's start with the upcoming holiday season. The holidays are when most retailers make their money, so it's the most important time to bring people downtown.

What will bring people downtown? Well, we can start by looking at what people actually do for fun in December. In Fresno, that means driving around neighborhoods and looking at Christmas decorations.

Fresno and Clovis have three major Christmas light attractions. Christmas Tree Lane in Fig Garden, Huntington Boulevard near downtown, and Wawona Estates in northwest Fresno.

You can read about them in this Bee article.

One thing these three attractions have in common is that they rely on driving. Because of a lack of sidewalks, and because the neighborhoods are strictly residential, thousands of cars descend on these local streets. The amount of cars then limits walking activities because people don't feel safe walking in the same road.

As a result, the entire month of December sees giant traffic jams from 6pm to 10pm every evening. It's not optimal for anyone. The residents have trouble getting to their garages, and those who come to enjoy the lights get a sub-par experience. Seeing the lights from behind glass isn't as great, and the passengers on the left side of the vehicle get obstructed views.

Further, one cannot set their own pace. Once you're in "line" you're stuck. These meandering cul-de-sacs have limited exits, so drivers cannot come and go as they please. Speeds are restricted by the slowest vehicle, and occasionally you get the unfortunate experience of getting stuck in front of some idiot in a giant pickup truck who won't turn off his headlights.

To address these concerns, Christmas Tree lane offers two walking nights, where cars are banned, and is proposing a bike night this year.

But we can do better. Indeed, Fulton Mall can do better. And quite frankly, it doesn't take much originality to come up with a successful way to draw thousands.

Combine the two traditional events that draw hundreds of thousands of people around the country:
1) Christmas Tree lighting
2) Decorations

Imagine Fulton Mall lit up to rival to setups in these existing roads. But instead of observing the lights from your car, you can walk the length of the mall at your own pace.

No, Im not talking about something boring like this (which should be set up in surrounding streets)

But a full on display, like what private homes do when they go crazy

A home in Boston

You set up something like that, and people will come to gawk at it.

Having this settup on the mall also makes things easy for families.

Have kids with tiny bladders? On Christmas Tree're screwed. Traffic flows one way and there's no escape. At Fulton Mall, you could stop for the bathroom whenever you want.

And how about food and drink? The mall works best when full of vendors, and nothing says "Christmas" like warm comfort food on a cold foggy day.

Hot Chocolate. Roasted Nuts. Caramel Popcorn. Heated Wine. Pretzels. And yes, tacos.

Imagine Fulton Mall lined with vendors selling all the holiday favorite foods. That's something none of these residential roads can set up.

How about a group of carolers entertaining visitors while they eat and drink?

Of course, the anchor would be a giant Christmas tree. Los Angeles as an outdoor pedestrian mall called The Grove which is immensely popular. Their tree lighting ceremony is even broadcast on TV nationwide.

The Grove outdoor mall

One of the sad parts about the mall could be used as a benefit. The mall has many vacant storefronts. This is a perfect opportunity to allow artists to set up holiday presentations that must be isolated from the rain. Imagine a giant recreation of Bethlehem in what was an old bank. People can view the display from the windows, or even step inside.

Other retail spots could be leased to craft vendors and such. Homemade Christmas decorations, flower arrangements, wood carvings, affordable but thoughtful gifts. Again, impossible in the residential streets and unlikely at a corporate regional mall like Fashion Fair.

So what would help set the mall apart in terms of decoration? The block structure could be used to create multiple independent exhibitions. That is, multiple themes.

The area by the security bank could be decorated in the classic style. Think white lights, holly, candles and so on. Hand carved decorations and art.

Another block could be more modern. Think of the flashing light displays set to music, with animated animals and such.

Yet another block could be devoted to different faiths or different styles of decoration.

The best part is, there's room for even more.

This fall, Casino One hosted a beach party downtown.

ABC 30

Sand was brought in, a giant slide was set up, as were portable pools.

You can do the same for Christmas. Giant slide is now a sledding slide. Instead of pools, you can have the kind of temporary ice skating rinks set up at malls around the country. Instead of sand, a snow machine or two could create actual flurries on the mall.

Again, something unique to differentiate Holiday on the Mall from the existing events. There's no way residential street can get together and set up something like that.

So how about it PBID? You could draw thousands of people to the mall over two or three weekends. And because the exhibition would be based on lights, the mall would be full when it usually is dead, after dark. I'm sure the existing retailers would love it.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Amtrak needs to work on their press relations

A few days ago I posted about how Amtrak California has been breaking ridership records. That post has gotten a awful lot of views, and it's been linked to when other people want to point to a source of how many people are riding trains.

That got me thinking about why the real media hasn't reported on the gains made in these individual lines. If a real newspaper had written a similar article to what I did, most people would have preferred to link to that. Take for example the widely read California High Speed Rail blog which linked to my page to make a point about increasing ridership. Sure, my charts are amazing, but while my numbers are real (sourced straight from the Amtrak financial documents of course) I wouldn't blame Robert or anyone else from preferring to cite a major newspaper rather than a lowly blog. That makes it obvious that no other form of media had reported the news.

A quick check to the Amtrak websites confirmed what I suspected, that Amtrak doesn't usually bother to send out press releases highlighting performance of individual lines.

You may have seen your local paper report that nationally, Amtrak hit new highs. The Fresno Bee ran a small blurb that basically said this:

Amtrak announced last week that it had 30.2 million passengers in 2011 — more riders than in any of its previous 40 years of operation.

That's certainly important to get out there, but it doesn't really connect with the reader. A fiscal year isn't a very relateable period of time, and national stats are obviously not indicative of local performance.

But knowing how many people are riding the train that hits your city every month? That's more of an article.

In this case, Amtrak actually did send out a press release (PDF) related to the San Joaquin in late September....three weeks before the July financial report was released to the public.

Operating between Oakland, Sacramento, and Bakersfield with bus service to Los Angeles and other points, the San Joaquin carried more than a million passengers in the state’s fiscal year that ended in June 2011, a 6.7 percent increase over the previous year. It also had the highest ridership of any month in its 37-year history -- 103,933 riders in July 2011.

That's a start, but for whatever reason, local media didn't bite. I think once again the problem was highlighting annual ridership figures, which are too abstract. Another problem was that any reporter wanting to look at month-on-month changes would have to dive into financial reports, the press release didn't provide more background data that may be of use.

The graphic isn't bad however, but again, limited to annual numbers.

What Amtrak should do is be more aggressive about promoting the ridership gains. Almost every single line in the country has experienced gains in ridership this year, and Amtrak should release highly targeted information to the media in locations where the trains run. Only the San Joaquin got a press release, even though the Pacific Surfliner also hit new highs, as have other lines around the country. It doesn't make sense that in the past month, the only two releases related to ridership were the national number and the San Joaquin number.

In fact, Amtrak should aim to get as local as possible. Don't just highlight how many people are riding the San Joaquin every year, send the Fresno Bee a release on how many people, per day, are alighting at the Fresno Station. Do this for Hanford, for Bakersfield, for Modesto...all the way down the line. Obviously, Amtrak would be selective with which numbers they highlight, but when it comes to something Like July 2011, when pretty much everything is up, there's certainly a lot to choose from.

It would certainly be better press than the "Amtrak hits truck" news that we gete every month or so.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Reminder: "Symposium Fresno: A Future of Oppertunities" to be held later today

I'd almost forgotten about this! Lot's of interesting speakers.

Who: Fresno Future Project
When: October 20, 2011 at 5pm
What: A discussion about urban, economical and cultural developments in Fresno.
Speakers include Fresno State professors, government representatives and more.
Where: Fresno Art Museum

Admission is free, but RSVP is required.

The complete flyer with the full list of speakers, contact info and a description of the conversation topics can be found at:

Amtrak California breaks ridership records. Yes, again.

If this post feels familiar it's because Amtrak has been having a very good year, and the California routes have especially been enjoying a surge in riders. The Pacific Surfliner is now the second most popular train line in the nation, beating out the Acela for the #2 spot.

I wonder if all the High Speed Rail press has been working as an advertising campaign for passenger rail in the state?

Just two weeks ago, Amtrak belatedly released their June report, showing the San Joaquin breaking 100,000 for the first time. That was an increase from April, in which the California trains also experienced new records.

Well, records are meant to be broken, and the July number show some more impressive gains.

San Joaquin
The San Joaquin, serving Bakersfield to Oakland and Bakersfield to Sacramento, with 6 trains a day (each way) had 103,933 riders, up from 100,947 in June. This is an all time high for the line.

Of course this means more riders than in July 2010, which at the time was a new high, with 98,377. July 2009 saw 88,505.

What's especially exciting about these numbers is that the planned High Speed Rail line will begin construction in the central valley next year. The line will follow the current Amtrak route from Bakersfield to north of Fresno, before diverging. Many editorials criticized the initial construction segment, calling it "nowhere". Apparently, "nowhere" is a popular place to ride the train, more so than so called "somewheres" along the East Coast (see final chart).

The summer is traditionally the best time of the year for the San Joaquin. Here are the past 13 months.

Year over year improvement, the last three July's have each seen new highs

Pacific Surfliner
The real star of the Amtrak California system. The main focus of this route is to serve San Diego and Los Angeles, but some trains do continue north to Santa Barbara and onto San Luis Obispo.

This July, the train saw an amazing 279,908 riders blowing past the previous all time high of 263,417 set in July of 2010. Last month, the line had 239,984 passengers, so that's an amazing 40,000 new riders from one month to the next. It must be noted that the June->July transition has always shown a large change. July of 2009 saw 256,410 riders.

Like the San Joaquin, each July has exceeded the previous July.

The last 13 months.

Capitol Corridor

This line offers service between Sacramento and San Jose, via Oakland. It is a busy commuter route, and popular with people doing business in Sacramento.

Unlike the other line, the peak is traditionally not in July. As such, it's the only line not breaking a record. 141,767 rode this July, down from 145,495 last month. However, that is the slightest increase over July 2010, which saw 141,479. Both are well above 2009, with 134,746.

The peak is a bit earlier in the year.

Still up year over year, but barely.

And here's how they all look together over the past year.

Finally, here is how the lines compare with the national network.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Home builders betting on big 2012?

Nobody can predict what's next for the economy. We can make educated guesses, but if anyone was able to predict with certainty what was going to happen next, they'd be a very wealthy person.

The last few months, we've heard the word "double-dip" a lot. With poor employment numbers (flat or insignificant gains), troubles in Europe, and a weak commercial market, many argue that this economy is about to head back down into recessionland. Others look at indicators that manage to remain just above positive, like auto sales, and predict that the worst is over, and 2012 will be a much better year for the economy.

I think that even those that see the current weak recovery strengthening would be hesitant to predict a resurgence in the housing market. Indeed, the recession hit the market too hard. From 2004-2008, developers built as many homes as they could, propped up by artificial demand. When the bubble burst, and housing prices fell, those homes no longer had buyers. The mortgage crisis meant that besides those thousands of new homes that were never occupied, thousands more entered the market at distressed values. Values haven't recovered, in fact, 2011 has seen housing prices continue to fall.

Last month, Fresno home prices, which include distressed or foreclosed properties, declined 11.3% compared to a year ago at the same time, according to CoreLogic, a real estate tracking company based in Santa Ana.

Home prices fell by 11.4% in the Madera and Chowchilla area last month compared to August 2010.
Fresno Bee

11% decline in prices is certainly not insignificant.

So are people buying these cheaper homes?

Not really. In Fresno county (yes, the entire county) a grand total of 100 new homes were sold in September. That's down from both 135 in August and 117 in September of 2010.

The median price of a new home has gone from $236,250 in September 2010 to $221,500 this September.

So what does one do when the economic outlook is shaky, current sales are low, prices are falling, and any new inventory will only manage to continue to push prices down?

Well, if one is a home more homes!

A single new development, seen in April of this year. Infrastructure is almost done, and around 200 new homes are ready to pop up.


I've been keeping an eye out in one section of Clovis, and since July, various companies have pushed their home building into the high gear. And it's absolutely baffling.

Either these developers know something that rest of us don't about 2012, or they've been put in a position in which if they don't build, they go out of business. That is, a regional office can't survive if there's nothing to build and nothing to sell. I wonder if the current strategy is to go big or go home. I wonder if they're spending money because they can, and if their gamble doesn't work out, what it means for them.

Here is a map of home building that has erupted in Clovis since July.

Red are parcels where construction is moving at full speed. Roads are being graded, wood is being put up, and cheap vinyl siding is being installed.

Yellow are parcels that are flat and ready to go at a moments notice.

The map shows an area about 2.5 miles wide and a little more than 3 miles high. Parcel sizes vary, but that's certainly more than 1,000 homes currently being built.

And when sales total 100 a month....what are they thinking?


The good news is that the majority of these parcels aren't fresh agricultural takings. That is, many of these pieces of land were purchases in 2000-2006 and vacated in that time. They'd all been sitting fallow and not being productive. Only one parcel that started construction this year resulted in the destruction of an orchard.

The bad news is that when all these homes hit the market, and the buyers don't come running, we're going to see prices continue to fall. Existing homeowners will continue to get screwed over, the city will have to pay for roads and lights but not get taxes in return, and these developers will make their next move to save their own asses.

Troubling, no?

Monday, October 17, 2011

For one neighborhood, people on bikes constitute "a rash of suspicious activity in their area"

Here's a news story that will be sure to perk up your morning. I suggest you watch the video instead of reading the text. The text is an exact transcription of the video, but it's more amusing to watch how serious the people are when making their claims

For example, when Ron Von Tersh says :
"You can see them whizzing by or you know, up and down the street and they have a backpack on, you can tell they're not from around here."

His knowing nod is quite entertaining.

ABC 30: Crooks using pedal power in NW Fresno

The video ends by stating:

Now one women says she even called the sheriff's office just this morning after seeing one of these suspicious bicyclists on her morning run.

What an amazing use of police resources. I can imagine the conversation now:
-"911, what's your emergency?"
-"Help! I'm on my morning run and just saw someone....ON A BIKE!"
-"Officers are on the way ma'am, please go inside and lock the door"

Now let's actually think about this report for a second.

Is it possible that a crook may be using a bike to scope out homes? Yes.
Is it probable? Not really.

If you are an experienced crook, one that isn't stealing out of opportunity (ie, an iPod is sitting on a table), but is taking the time to scope out and plan your heist....does using a bike make any sense?

Lt. Phil Caporale claims that the crooks use bikes because they are less conspicuous. Let's think about that for a second. In Fresno, most people drive. There are plenty of cyclists, but not enough that seeing one is considered normal. Indeed, passing someone on a bike is quite the event because it's so infrequent.

So wouldn't one trying to be inconspicuous use the mode of travel most common in Fresno? Maybe a Corolla or something? I guarantee, no homeowner bats an eye when a car drives by their house. In fact, most homeowners never notice, because it's very common.

On top of that, someone on a bike is fully visible. Sex, age, skin color, hair color, etc, it's all out there. In a car? Much harder to be observed.

So no, riding a bike is not a way to be stealthy.

Now let's imagine this crook notices the home appears to be empty, and this thief wants to strike and steal all your's he going to get them home on a bike and a backpack? Some cash and jewelry, sure, but nothing bigger than a laptop. Game consoles, TV's, movies, desktop computers....none of them fit on the bike. And he can't exactly hit more than one home at a time.

Personally, I'd be more worried about one of those highly suspicious U-haul vans. Or, simply a thief pulling up with a pickup and trailer used by gardeners. Gardeners enter unattended back yards every day, there really is no better cover.

So, why would people be biking around a residential neighborhood with backpacks at 5am or even 2 or 3am (as mentioned in a comment)?

Because of these thing called jobs. You see, not everyone gets to work a 9-5 job. And those jobs that run through the night are the ones with the lowest pay, so those working the late jobs are less likely to be able to afford a car.

Someone who works at a fast food restaurant that closes at 2am still needs to get home. Someone that cleans an office until 1am needs to get home. Someone that opens the diner or the coffee shop at 5am needs to get to work.

And since there's no bus service between 10pm and 6am, one has no choice but to drive or bike.

The sinister backpack? That is where the change of clothes (uniform) and the lunch goes.

So wouldn't these cyclists use the main streets that these residents drive on every day? Well, the only nearby east-west street is Herndon. 6 lanes of 50mph traffic, no bike lanes. Any rational cyclist will prefer to add a mile or more to their trip by detouring through a residential neighborhood than risking a road designed to freeway standards.

Would you rider bike on this road, the east-west street of choice in North Fresno...

Or take a longer, but safer route through streets that look like this?

The problem here is that these residents appear to believe that everyone is like them. Everyone drives, and everyone uses the fastest road possible. Everyone works from 9am to 5pm, and nobody is out past 10.

But that's simply untrue. It's sort of sad that they can live in a city with so much poverty, and so much wealth inequality, and yet not be able to think for a second that the thousands of people working minimum wage jobs to serve them don't have the luxury of leading the same life as they do, and that some people have to bike because that's the only way they can get to their job.

It's not a sophisticated plot, it's reality. And I hope these residents are ready to join it.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Survey says: South Fresno residents #1 priority = better streets

Last night, a forum was held downtown concerning what residents of south Fresno want to see improved. The purpose of this meeting was so city officials could take into account feedback when designing the new plans that will affect how neighborhoods are designed and revitalized in the next few decades.

One of the highlights of the meeting was when one of the presenters revealed results from some surveys they did.

The first question they asked went along the lines of

"Given unlimited funding, what is the first thing you would chose to improve in your neighborhood".
(Unfortunately I didn't jot down the exact wording and the presentation isn't online)

There were no prompts or examples given, the people being surveyed were free to pick anything they wanted. Anything!

The people doing the survey expected responses like "more police", "better education" and "parks", as south Fresno has more crime, lower performing schools and a lack of green space.

But that's not what people said.

Most people said what they would spend money on fixing were the streets. More sidewalks, safer roads, and better looking roads.


I'm not surprised. To build a better community, the local residents need to care about their community. They need to show pride in their community. They need to want to make it better.

But if the front page of the community looks ugly, isn't safe and doesn't work for the residents, then it's hard to care about the rest.

The pedestrian experience is also extremely important in a neighborhood with so much concentrated poverty.


These people lack opportunities and the wealth needed to jump start opportunities. And many of them obviously lack cars and rely on buses.

But does this say "walk here!"?


It's not very inviting. But if you think that's bad, take a load of this bus stop.


At this meeting, there was a testimonial by a senior citizen who has lived in Fresno for 57 years. She stated that she relies on the bus network for everything as she hasn't been able to drive in years. She said that she needs a cane to walk, and the sidewalk is uneven by the senior center, and she's worried she'll fall one day and break her bones.

At least they have a sidewalk.

How invested in the community do you think this man feels? Clearly, the city hasn't invested in him, so what incentive do you think he has to go out and make things better?


One of the only affordable shopping locations in south Fresno, the Walmart, has been built with no pedestrian access, and you're forced to create your own path in the dirt. According to a speaker, 87% of the retail locations that sell food in south Fresno are either fast food outlets or 7-11 style convenience stores. The Walmart is one of the only actual groceries, so many people rely on the cheap produce.

But the shopping destination of many is certainly not inviting for those without cars.



That's no sidewalk, that path you see is dirt that has been packed down by so many pedestrians.

What if the major retail corridor, Kings Canyon, has no sidewalks...on either side of the street on some stretches? This is half a mile from the Walmart.


And what if marked crosswalks are half a mile apart, in a dense residential/commercial neighborhood where people spend a lot of time on foot?


This stretch has many legal crossing points, but with 4 lanes of 45mph traffic, and not a single marked crosswalk, beacon, or sign, pedestrians are on their own. No car will ever yield for them.

I can see why improving the streets is of such importance to these residents. Right now, their main system of transportation, their main interaction with city infrastructure is broken. And that kills commerce, it kills recreation, and it kills the creation of a positive sense of community.

You can't revitalize a neighborhood if nobody is willing to give it a chance. No resident wants to stick around and build his home, his business and his future among blight. You don't need graffiti or broken windows to create blight as cracked or nonexistent sidewalks, barren asphalt landscapes and hostile barriers to walking are essentially government sanctioned blight.

Fixing the street won't guarantee more businesses, more jobs or more opportunities, but letting such a dense neighborhood continue to look like this will never attract the meaningful opportunities that these people need and deserve. So yes, the city should invest in the streets of south Fresno, because it would certainly be a positive step in the right direction.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Building Healthy Communities (BHC) forum tonight

Short notice, but I'll try to attend. This Friday, the Fulton Corridor plan will be released by the city, so we may get a preview. I guarantee many questions will be about the Fulton Mall, especially after the FBID voted to destroy it.


In this time of economic hardship and change, we recognize the importance of being engaged in major decisions impacting the future of the city and their neighborhoods. For this reason, on Tuesday, October 11 from 6:30-8:00 p.m. at the Convention Center there will be an important action meeting with the Mayor, Councilmembers and City staff focused on the city plans for downtown and surrounding neighborhoods.

We want to invite ALL of the BHC partners to this major meeting to discuss the impact these planning processes will make on current and future residents of the City of Fresno with specific focus on the future of downtown and surrounding neighborhoods.

Why is it that flyers always make a point to talk about parking (I'd assume "relaxed" means free, as it is every day after 6pm downtown) but makes no mention of bus service?

Also tonight:
GOP presidential debate on Bloomberg TV (and on their website and the Washington Post Website). That's at 5pm.

At 4pm, US plays a friendly soccer game (Univision) and Mexico plays their own friendly at 6:30pm, also Univision.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Teenage student hit by car, guess who gets the blame

Last Thursday, a teenage girl was hit by a car at 6:30am while walking to her local bus stop.

Police are still trying to piece together what happened. They said incident happened just before sunrise and witnesses say the road was dark which may have contributed to the crash.

The Central High East student attempted to cross Brawley Avenue to get to a bus stop near her house. Neighbor Jeffrey Holland said he was riding his bike home from a nearby shopping center when the girl was struck near the center-divide.

"I was coming around the corner from the recycling base, heard a boom -- and the paramedics were there quick," said Jeffrey Holland, "The windshield was blown in the car, roof was smashed back, the doors were popped open, it looked really bad."
ABC 30

Like most articles about pedestrians or cyclists being hit, the details are vague. I can't find a single other news outlet reporting the story, and the Fresno PD website is no help at all.

According to a witness, visibility was a factor

Holland said the street was dark and the driver may not have seen the girl crossing the road. He said thieves recently stripped the street lights of copper wire and several of the bulbs were out at the time of the accident.

Action News: "Do you think it's a safety concern?

Holland: "Oh yeah. No doubt. They have been out three times. They rewire them, then they're out again."

I have no doubt on his statement. Copper theft is running rampant, and apparently nobody has had the inspiration to design a streetlight in which the copper is inaccessible to thieves. Based on the amount of thefts around town, I'd assume that stealing the copper wire is as easy as loading a cart at the Home Depot.

However, this does raise a few questions:

1) If street lights are so critical to safety and visibility, why aren't they fixed faster? Why isn't copper theft being pursued to a greater extent? People are literally being run over because of these thieves. Aren't they accessories to this?

2) Why don't our lighting systems have redundancies built in? Currently, streetlights are set apart very far apart, so if one dies, the entire road goes dark. In this case, only one side of the road has light.

Mind you, it's not like a lack of lighting excuses unsafe driving. Isn't there that rule that you should never outdrive your headlights?

But that's not the problem with this report. You know how every single report about a bike collisions mentions whether the cyclist was wearing a helmet or not? This article posed no such question about the sobriety of the driver. Or the speed. Reading the description of the car after the collision, it's clear the driver was going at a good clip.

Instead, Fresno PD is quick to lay all blame on the victim, and really, all pedestrians.

While Fresno Police work to determine who was at fault and whether the lack of lighting contributed to the crash, Sgt. Richard Tucker wants to remind pedestrians to take precautions to keep themselves safe.

"Walking in the roadway is not a place to walk, we're asking pedestrians to cross at the intersection, to push the button and wait for it to say walk. And of course the cross walk isn't always a safe zone. We're asking you always look both ways before you cross the road," said Sgt. Tucker.

First of all....walking in the roadway is not a place to walk...? Do you propose pedestrians teleport across roads? Do we use the mythical underground tunnel system? How about the fact that just feet from the scene, there are zero sidewalks? Where would one walk if not the roadway?

And Sargent, do you understand what California law says about intersections...?

Here is what the INTERSECTION of Brawley and Weldon looks like. That's right Sgt, according to California law, this is an intersection. And just because the city couldn't be bothered to paint crosswalks, doesn't mean there aren't three legal crosswalks here.


Sargent Tucker, where are these mythical push buttons you talk about?


Of course, I can see why the officer is confused. The intersection is far from ADA compliant, as the sidewalk on the east side simply ends, and the sidewalk on the west side ends a few yards down.

Wonder if the student, in her wheelchair, will be suing the city for the ADA violation...?


Now, I don't know exactly where the bus stops, but as the school is north of this location, the bus would be traveling north on the east side of the road, so this student crosses here every single day. She probably did look both ways, but perhaps she didn't expect the vehicle would be moving so quickly.

Was any investigation done as to the speed of the car? The article doesn't say anything about the driver, the speed of the vehicle, or really, any of those pesky details.

Also, Sgt. Richard Tucker, as a favor, I've rewritten your statement so it makes more sense.

Sgt. Richard Tucker wants to remind drivers to take precautions to keep their fellow citizens safe.

"Driving in the roadway is not a license to kill, we're asking drivers to not outdrive their headlights, to slow down when visibility is poor. And of course the lit area isn't always a safe zone. We're asking you always scan side to side while driving" said Sgt. Tucker

Much better.

The article then ends with this

In this case the girl survived, but Tucker said there were 10 pedestrian related fatalities in the city last year and Fresno is on pace to exceed that number this year. He said officers with the traffic division will continue monthly operations focusing on pedestrians to drive that number down.

Yes, that's right Fresno PD. Ticketing pedestrians is the right thing to do. Not the drivers of the fast vehicles, it's the pedestrians that must be ticketed. After all, every time one of them gets run over, it's such a damned nuisance. Delays car traffic and all.

On a final note, I tried to find the exact location of the bus stop, but the Central Unified School District website was of no help at all. The list of "proposed" bus stops is clearly not complete, and they offer no bus maps on their website.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Why aren't electric vehicles being pushed where they'd benefit most?

According to the World Health Organization, Fresno has the 2nd worst air quality in the country. Bakersfield, our valley neighbor, is first. This is not a surprise to anyone who lives in the valley or reads the local newspapers.

But what is a surprise is how little people seem to care, especially at the local government level. The feds have established a $29 million annual penalty that the valley must pay (guaranteed for 2012 and 2013, will extend as needed) because the air quality doesn't meet standards. The money will stay in the valley to help subsidize purchases of clean school buses, clean lawn mowers etc etc.

The problem with this system is that $29 million a year won't exactly solve the problem. So if ONLY the fine system is used, we're going to be paying the fine for a very long time (and it will go up in the future).

So what about one of those fabled public-private partnerships? A way in which we can help clean up the air, while actually encouraging business sales?

For example, why not take further action to support the electric vehicle here in Fresno?

I've been reading about a whole range of cities like San Francisco, Boston, Washington DC, Miami etc etc that have partnered with businesses to install EV charging stations to encourage the purchase of electric vehicles.

Chains like Costco and Walgreens have announced programs to bring EV charging stations to their parking lots.

But not in Fresno.

Apparently, our fine urban area of over a million people has a grand total of two EV charging station. San Francisco had more than that 15 years ago.


These stations aren't even "real" charging stations. They've been installed by Nissan to charge their Leaf test drive vehicles at the dealership. Are they open to the public? During business hours yes, but the dealers aren't located in places people would actually need to stop and charge, like the mall, or downtown. And most people aren't comfortable pulling up their non-Nissan vehicle to the Nissan dealership to charge.

Meanwhile, San Francisco has dozens. Look at just this small sample downtown.


Indeed, this map shows us that the bay area has over 100 charging stations. Merced, Visalia and Fresno have a combined total of 6....all of them Nissan dealership installations.


We need electric vehicles more than the bay area does, so why hasn't their been a bigger push to establish them here?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Amtrak's San Joaquin breaks 100,000 monthly passengers for first time ever

Amtrak has finally released their June performance report (2 months late, apparently due to one of those classic SAP switchover screwups) and California ridership numbers continue to impress.

Most notably, the San Joaquin broke the 100,000 barrier for the first time ever, after missing it by 609 passengers in April of this year.

The San Joaquin noted 100,947 riders, a big improvement from 88,638 in June of last year, and up 3,000 from last month.

The Capitol Corridor had 145,495, an increase from 140,941 in June of last year but a small decrease from May.

The Pacific Surfliner recorded 239,984, a massive 30,000 passenger increase from June of 2010, but also less than this May.

All lines have cyclical ridership patterns, so comparing year on year numbers is more informative than the month on month. That being said, the July numbers should be great, as Amtrak California always hits their best numbers during the summer travel season.

And because graphs are always more fun than words, here are the numbers in picture format.

The three state train services, September of last year to this June.


Each line individually, hopefully accurately sized in comparison.

San Joaquin hits 100,000.


Capitol Corridor still near 150,000


Pacific Surfliner is streets ahead, at 240,000.


And how do the Amtrak California lines stack up nationally? Quite well actually.


Keystone, the San Joaquin is coming to get you. Even though the Keystone hits 110mph and the SJ doesn't top 79mph.