Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Drought and poor air: Short-term thinking will haunt 2014

This country has a serious problem with planning for the future, and the lack of forward thinking is no clearer than in Fresno.

If you've read the Bee over the past few months, you've been hit over and over again in the head with two major themes:

-California is in the middle of a serious drought
-Air quality is worse now than it's been in years

The two are linked of course, and are the result of long-term weather patterns; the same system that is keeping the rain away is stagnating the air. The problem is that many local planning decisions can help alleviate these concerns, but instead, local government turns a blind eye and makes it worse.

It seems like only once it's too late to make a meaningful change is when the people are called to act.

Let's start with water, which will probably be the headline throughout 2014.

And Fresno and Los Angeles now have more in common than dirty air. Both endured their driest calendar year on record.

This is no typical rainfall time in California, however. Fresno has only 3.01 inches of rain this year, falling well short of its lowest previous total of 3.55 inches in 1947. The average annual rainfall in Fresno is 11.5 inches.

Even stranger, San Francisco -- averaging more than three inches of rain in December alone -- has only 3.38 inches for the entire year, meteorologist Dudley said.

Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/2013/12/30/3690952/wacky-weather-bakersfield-gets.html#storylink=cpy

Perhaps more unsettling is the Sierra snowpack, where about 60% of the state's water resides each year. The snowpack is less than 25% of its average size.
Fresno Bee

Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/2013/12/30/3690952/wacky-weather-bakersfield-gets.html#storylink=cpy
  photo drought_zps5e51722f.gif

Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/2013/12/30/3690952/wacky-weather-bakersfield-gets.html#storylink=cpy
 The current lack of rain is not a surprise. Last year was dry too. The forecasts show no change. We should be worried, especially about this:

Reservoirs, the state's drought buffers, are dropping. The largest reservoir, Shasta in Northern California, is only a little more than one-third full, which is 58% of average for late December.

Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/2013/12/30/3690952/wacky-weather-bakersfield-gets.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/2013/12/30/3690952/wacky-weather-bakersfield-gets.html#storylink=cpy

And yet water usage is going on as normal. No drought has been called. Lawns continue to be irrigated multiple times a week. Sidewalks everywhere drenched by broken sprinklers. Gutters filled by waste. Indeed, the lack of rain means even more water use, as the sprinklers can't be turned off on account of rainfall.

If attention is given to thee problematic activities, it will be when it's too late to make any meaningful change.

Worse, long-term city planning policies call for more of the same. You know those useless berms of grass and shrubbery that front every strip mall? The 30 feet between the sidewalk and the 7-foot soundwall separating an avenue to the homes?

That landscaping is never used. No one sets up a picnic there. No one tosses a ball, reads a book, or plays with the dirt.

It's there for the visual delight of motorists, greenery that constantly gets watered so those driving by have something pleasant to look at.

It's a waste. And it's required by local government.

To build in Fresno, or Clovis...or anywhere, one MUST build a landscaped area no one will use and constantly water it so it always looks nice. Regardless of how dry the reservoirs are, and the lack of snow on the mountain.

Farms will lie fallow to ensure that these lawns look green
 photo lawn_zpsb11e486f.png

It's not just the city that calls for massive waste of water. I recently highlighted the Westlake project which will involve building a massive artificial lake so that a developer can sell "lake-front homes." There is no natural source of water, so the lake will receive water piped in, where it will sit, evaporate, and need to be constantly replenished.

The city sees no problem with this, and supports the project.

There ave been no calls for conservation when it's clear to anyone trouble lies only months ahead, and no changes to ridiculous planning policies that will simply make the situation more grave for decades to come.

Mind you, this is the city that had to be forced kicking and screaming into actually charging its residents for the amount of water they use.  It's not just Fresno though. Las Vegas, which depends almost entirely on Lake Mead also takes the approach where they ignore any water problems until they go away. Yes, they've been forced to be more restrictive with their landscaping, but nothing is asked of the massive tourism industry aside from tiny "help us conserve water" signs in hotel bathrooms.

That city is spending close to a billion dollars to build a "third straw" to suck water from the very bottom of the reservoir. Rather than deal with the fact that the city is using more water than is available, they're spending the money to make sure they can suck every last drop dry. And then? There's no plan, just hope.

Air quality also shows the lack of thinking about the future. The air quality has been terrible for the past month, with the exception of two days when a "storm" came in and blew the bad air out.

Air quality improved, and so, wood burning was allowed. Yes, even though any wood burnt on that day would just linger in the air until the next wind event, it was allowed until the accumulation got too bad. Now, of course, it's banned again.

It's another example of waiting until it's too late. "Air quality is bad don't burn wood!" - doesn't it make more sense to prevent the wood burning that causes the air to get bad in the first place?

Instead, we deal with this, every day.

 photo cb6265e9-7025-49ca-9a93-02480cec8aab_zpsfb4772aa.jpg

There's planning problems again of course. Wood burning doesn't have as big effect as the cars do. Again with the Westlake example, approving more auto-oriented developments just mean more driving, more poor air, and more advisories to stay at home.

On the business side, it's the same thing. More and more drive-thrus keep popping up - every bank, coffee shop and restaurant seems to have one these days. As I've talked about before, when those in charge call a bad-air day, they encourage people to abandon activities like biking, rather than  having the power to shut down drive-thrus and the wasteful idling. Starbucks and friends don't care that the idling cars are cutting days off peoples lives - they have convenience to sell.

Electric vehicles? Nope. Fresno stills lags the state and country in infrastructure for EVs. I need to check on Blackbeards again, but last time I was there, what was supposed to be the first public charging station in the region was a year behind schedule. On the plus side, I did see a Fed-ex eelctric delivery van the other day.

Every few months, the internet lights up with news stories about how cities in China have dug themselves into a massive hole, because they have out of control pollution. People shake their head and call it a shame that the country is making the same mistakes the west did 100 years ago, rather than learning from the past.

While Fresno has nowhere near the levels of pollution as China, the air quality in the valley is still hazardous and leads to deaths. While we wonder why China can't seem to think outside the short term, the reality is that local politicians and bureaucrats can't either. The valley has experienced serious drought before, and had to deal with massive economic consequences. The valley has also had decades of bad air, but the lesson doesn't seem to get through.

This summer, if the drought continues, and you hear some official call for a voluntary program that helps people reduce their landscaping water use, remember this post, and ask them where they were when conservation should have begun - before water levels reached hazardous levels.

Happy new year. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Downtown Update: Peeve's, Broadway, Fulton Mall

I did some rounds downtown this week, and took some (but not enough) pictures. I decided to combine them into one update.

Peeve's Public House, the successor to the Fresno Brewing Company on the Fulton Mall had their grand opening for a small market which sells only local goods. There's a good selection of items, and prices range from attractive to ludicrous.

 photo 2013-12-20221126_zps3d6a45f8.jpg

The bar area hasn't changed much from the FBC days, although they have a larger menu of drinks. Hooray for cider on tap. On the other hand, their non-alcoholic drink menu (coffees, teas) has shrunk.

 photo 2013-12-20223200_zps7d11f362.jpg

Outside, they've decorated their tree. In the past, I've said that the "Downtown Fresno Partnership" should do more to make the mall a holiday destination, especially by investing in lighting. It's a shame that they've done no such thing - there's nothing festive about the mall.

 photo 2013-12-20225301_zps4126c6d1.jpg

Ok, not exactly nothing, theres a nice light display on the tallest building.

 photo 2013-12-20220029_zps302ed5de.jpg

The building sits across from the ice skating rink, which this year is again a huge success. Even after 9pm, there were many people.

 photo 2013-12-20215552_zps02e7c003.jpg

 photo 2013-12-20215821_zpsdbf20c6c.jpg

A couple of tourists near Peeve's asked me if I knew anywhere in the area that sold hot chocolate  - the pub didn't. I suggested the rink, but it wasn't the case. Come on Downtown Fresno people, ice skating 101 - you sell hot chocolate.

Speaking of hot chocolate, this caught my eye - a new cafe coming to the mall. Shame it wasn't open for the rink.

 photo 2013-12-20215645_zpsc3abe730.jpg

Meanwhile, a block over (and pictures taken on another day obviously). the Broadway streetscape project is FINALLY under construction. It's been well over two years since the project was announced. Sadly, the project will include no bike lanes or back-in parking. Meanwhile, San Francisco has announced a project that includes both - with the bike lane being protected from traffic.

San Francisco design:

And what construction looks like on Broadway:

 photo 2013-12-19162303_zps82dbb720.jpg

 photo 2013-12-19162259_zps1fa760ce.jpg

 photo 2013-12-19162249_zpsf325e859.jpg

While the project is meant to help pedestrians, by reducing crossing distances at intersections, in typical Fresno fashion no accommodations have been made during construction. Suddenly, the sidewalk ends at a sign, and one is forced to deal with it. An easy ADA lawsuit that Fresno would lose.

 photo 2013-12-19162240_zps676d92ce.jpg

Finally, while I didn't take a picture, there's been no construction movement on the GV Urban property on Broadway.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Groundbreaking for new downtown apartment building this weekend

This project has flown under my radar. It's called "South Tower" and will be on Fulton, just north of the 180 freeway.

 photo southtower1_zps1b21125a.png

TFS Investments will be putting up this new building directly across from another property they own. It's going to be in the art deco style which is really interesting, because it respects the architecture of the area, and is something you rarely see going up these days.

 photo South_Tower_development_rendering_zpsb22eb0a2.jpg

The building will replace what used to be some badly run-down home, and pop up the density of the area.

 photo southtower2_zps79270643.png

I wish it was a floor or two higher, but it's still great for the neighborhood - and great to show that GV Urban isn't the only game in town when it comes to downtown residential.

The Business Journal has the news:

A groundbreaking ceremony for the new South Tower residential project south of the Tower District is planned for 10:30 a.m. Friday at 541 N. Fulton St. in Fresno. An 11 a.m. coffee reception will follow.

The $4.5-million venture is headed by TFS Investments, which serves as the owner and developer. Marvin Armstrong, Architect designed the building, which will feature 32 apartments and eight live-work units.

The two-story building will span 230,000 square feet and feature an art-deco-inspired style. It will stand across the street from TFS Investments’ two-story Fultonia apartment complex. South Tower was originally called Fultonia West, but the builder decided to change to a more recognizable name.

Rents at the complex will range from $575 to $900 monthly. The units range from 700 square feet to 900 square feet.

They have a Facebook page here.

  photo southtower3_zpse68a1acb.jpg

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Three minor trail updates coming to area

Some small trail news from Fresno and Clovis.

Fresno will be adding five new drinking fountains on the sugar-pine trail that runs along Shepherd. I'd prefer lights, but it's something. While Clovis has many amenities along the trail, Fresno does not.

Fresno will also be adding in another new section of trail along Herndon.  A couple of months ago, they approved an addition between Fruit and Palm. Now it will be between Marks and Valentine. Green is existing, orange is new.

Google Map

  photo trail2_zps039ac3a3.png

Clovis will be adding a new half-mile trail on the far east side of town, along the Enterprise Canal. The trail will connect from nothing to nothing. Makes no sense really.

In green, an existing trail (north side of canal), in orange, the proposed trail, unconnected, on the south side of the canal, dead-ending in nothingness. Supposedly it will be ready in just a month, so I'll take pictures.  Highway 168 is on the south of the new terminus, and I don't know if there are any provisions for a tunnel. Temperance has no crosswalk at the other end of the new segment.

Google Maps

  photo trail_zps853a15dc.png

I'm still waiting for any word on the Clovis old-town trail gap filling project. 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Fulton Mall Alternate Analysis Reports Available for Public Comment

The city has used the Thanksgiving weekend to put up the massive "Alternate Analysis Report" for the Fulton Mall on their website. The choices of course, are to keep the mall, or to destroy it.

The public comment period runs until January 13.

It's 382 pages of fun, so I haven't made my way through it yet, but the folks at "Save the Fulton Mall" have pointed out something quite bothersome:

 photo fultonmall_zps6c6454d7.jpg

That doesn't make sense. The plan is to bulldoze a park and turn it into a standard road. That doesn't have any aesthetic impacts? Turning a pedestrian mall into a street doesn't have land use/planning impacts? It doesn't affect recreation, transportation or traffic? Huh? The plan involves bulldozing playgrounds to add parking spaces, that by definition is an impact on recreation and transportation...

And I'd think cutting down dozens of mature trees downtown and adding asphalt would have some impact on air quality. Is it significant? I don't know, isn't the point of the EIR to tell us?

On the plus side, these ridiculous omissions might bite the city in the ass if they're taken to court.

I'll plow my way through the report over the next few weeks, and I hope the rest of you do the same.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

3rd pedestrian killed in two weeks, Bee jumps to blame victim

In all of 2009, four pedestrians were killed in Fresno.

Over the past 3 weeks, three were killed by motorists, and one by a train. This is actually the second time this very year in which three pedestrians were killed in such a short span of time. I don't know the total, but I would wager it's trending higher than the 14 last year.

The latest incident happened at an intersection adjacent to Fresno State. The person killed was a high-school special ed teacher, who apparently was also studying at Fresno State. It happened on Shaw, between the college campus and the student neighborhood, filled with apartments, frats, and some restaurants. You know, the kind of place one finds heavy pedestrian traffic.

 photo shaw5_zpsf4350547.png
ABC 30

Naturally, because the motorist 'did not see the man," he was free to go. No word on the height of the driver

Here's how the Bee reported it:

A jaywalking pedestrian was killed Tuesday evening after a driver struck him in front of Fresno State in northeast Fresno, police said.

That's right, The Bee begins by accusing the victim of breaking the law in the very first line. I say accusing, because the rest of the story contracts this claim of "jaywalking".

The man, described in his 40s, was walking across Shaw Avenue from Jackson Avenue about 6:20 p.m. when a driver of a Toyota Matrix hit him, police Lt. Phil Cooley said.
Shaw and Jackson? That sounds like the intersection of two streets.... yup, sure looks like an intersection to me.

 photo shaw1_zpsdf08bbc1.png

The campus of course is visible on the north side. The area filled with student apartments is on the south side.

Does the law confirm that this is an intersection? Absolutely.

365.  An "intersection" is the area embraced within the prolongations of the lateral curb lines, or, if none, then the lateral boundary lines of the roadways, of two highways which join one another at approximately right angles or the area within which vehicles traveling upon different highways joining at any other angle may come in conflict.
 photo shaw2_zps2aa7970b.png

Pretty obvious right? It's important because there are crosswalks at every intersection. So now that we know that this is indeed an intersection...

275.   "Crosswalk" is either:
(a) That portion of a roadway included within the prolongation or connection of the boundary lines of sidewalks at intersection where the intersecting roadways meet at approximately right angles, except the prolongation of such lines from an alley across a street.

Then we have now confirmed that this intersection has crosswalks. As do all intersections, except alleys. Jackson is most certainly not an alley.

 photo shaw3_zps8bae6060.png

In this case, we have three unmarked crosswalks, even though it's a very busy place for pedestrians to be. Doesn't matter, a crosswalk doesn't have to be marked to be a crosswalk.

21950.  (a) The driver of a vehicle shall yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection, except as otherwise provided in this chapter.

It's simple. Intersection means crosswalk, means pedestrian right of way. Driving 101.

So if the Bee article is correct on the location, then it looks like they've libeled the victim by starting the story off by naming him as a lawbreaker, when that doesn't appear to be the case.

Isn't it odd that they were so quick off the mark to do this? What was the last time you saw a story start like this:

"A murderous motorist racing along Shaw avenue slammed into a pedestrian...."

You don't. Unless you're reading the article in a tabloid, and the victim was a celebrity. The Fresno Bee is not a tabloid. They shouldn't litter their article with accusations against the victim, and they should probably consult basic traffic law. You know, the stuff every driver is supposed to know, and one would expect the reporter would confirm before publishing.

The article was updated this morning, it now starts as follows:

An Edison High School special education teacher was identified as the man struck and killed by a car Tuesday night while walking across Shaw Avenue near Fresno State.

Alex Lark, 43, began his career at Fresno Unified in 2005 as a special education aide. He became a teacher in 2012 and taught at Phoenix Elementary Academy and Edison High School.
Fresno Bee
No accusation. No "accident". Much better. Not perfect though.

The wording has been changed to show that the real problem is the police officer on the scene. 

Fresno police said Lark was jaywalking across Shaw Avenue near Jackson Avenue, in front of Fresno State, about 6:20 p.m. when he was struck by a Toyota Matrix sedan. Lark was taken to Saint Agnes Medical Center, where he died.

Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/2013/11/19/3620203/pedestrian-killed-crossing-shaw.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/2013/11/19/3620203/pedestrian-killed-crossing-shaw.html#storylink=cpy
An article by the college paper goes into further depth.

The driver told police he didn’t see the victim, (Fresno police Lt. Phil) Cooley said, and it appeared to have been a tragic accident.

He said no charges were expected against the driver.

Cooley added: “There are a lot of pedestrians near campus. Please use the crosswalks.”
The Collegian

Assuming both articles have reported the location correctly, it appears that Lt. Phil Cooley has made a mistake. A serious one. Does Fresno PD not know what an unmarked crosswalk is?

Sadly, as we've observed before, that seems to be business as usual.

Earlier this year, Sgt. Richard Tucker blamed pedestrians for not wearing the right type of clothing when walking. That was in response for a child killed in a school zone that lacked sidewalks.

In that same article, "Capt. Andy Hall said the simple solution would be to hold pedestrians accountable." Yup, the solution to an explosion in pedestrian fatalities is citing pedestrians following the law, or existing in a city which doesn't always build sidewalks by schools.

Incidentally, here's a map of collisions involving pedestrians and bikes for the year 2011 (only recent data I could find).

Looks like Fresno State has a serious problem they're not addressing. Presumably, they're busy focusing on innovative ways to expand parking lots.

 photo shaw4_zpsd8308a20.png

The other two incidents in these past two weeks were the "short driver" excuse, in which a Fed-ex driver ran over a pedestrian, fled the scene, and was not charged, and the following:

Hit-and-run near Fresno Rescue Mission kills pedestrian

A male pedestrian was killed Thursday night in a hit-and-run crash near the Fresno Rescue Mission, and police are looking for an older-model Ford pickup that fled after the crash.

Police were dispatched to G Street and San Benito Avenue about a report of a truck that hit a man about 8:15 p.m. and dragged him south on G Street.

Police found the man's body in the middle of the road at G Street and Belgravia Avenue about seven blocks south of the mission. Evidence at the scene indicated the truck fled east on Belgravia Avenue.
The man was later identified by the Fresno County coroner as Jimmy Hill, 66.
Fresno Bee

Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/2013/11/14/3610046/southeast-fresno-hit-run-crash.html#storylink=cpy

After the jump, the original copy of the Bee article that inspired this post, which is no longer online.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Meta: Comment spam-filter issues

Hey folks,

Just wanted to apologize at the delays in your comments being posted. For whatever reason, almost every single comment is now being sent into the "possibly spam"  folder, rather than automatically be published. I haven't changed any settings, so I don't know if something is going on at Google's end.

It's especially strange because that includes those of you signed into an account with a history of commenting. You'd think that after the 20th time hitting "not spam" the filter would have figured it out... Anyway, it may take a day or two for me to be able to manually approve them, so sorry about that.

As for those of you commenting anonymously, your comments sometimes head straight to the real spam folder, which gets about 10-30 spam comments a day. As you can imagine, it's a bit hard picking them out between all the real spam, so my apologies if I miss it. If you could start your comment with something like REAL as the first word, it would be easier to find.

It's 2013, why hasn't the spam issue been solved?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Add "short driver" to the list of excusable reasons when a pedestrian is killed

Once upon a time, "I didn't see him" was not an excuse. The rule was, if you hit something or someone, you were "driving too fast for the conditions," or "not exercising due caution." Most cops, it seems, have forgotten the rule, and take "I didn't see him!" as a perfectly valid excuse. Fresno PD seems to have recently expanded that leniency in the death of a pedestrian this week in Fresno:

Officers also determined it would have been impossible for the driver to see the pedestrian because of the driver's short stature and seating position. The driver faces no charges.
Fresno Bee
Does the driver not deserve blame for failing to adjust their seat properly? Perhaps an inquiry as to why someone who can't see the road is driving in the first place? Of course not. It's not their fault they were dealt a short deck, and driving is a right after all.

 photo kid1_zps886cffe6.jpg
Apparently legal now

Did I mentioned the driver was maneuvering a Fed-ex big rig? I guess being a commercial driver of an enormous truck does not obligate one to be able to see the road.... or feel a collision.

The driver of the rig had no idea he had struck and seriously injured the pedestrian, Fresno police said Tuesday.
If you can run someone over in downtown Fresno, and not even notice, something is wrong.The driver failed in adapting to an urban environment. Fed-ex failed in assigning this person to a large truck, and the state licensing system failed in giving them a commercial license without restrictions.

 photo kid3_zpse86b3dd8.jpg
It turns out, the "gangsta lean" is a sophisticated method to waive liability in a collision

According to a witness, the pedestrian was at fault because the truck had a green light. Based on the investigation being concluded in under 24-hours, it seems as if the police department have taken the word of the witness as fact. I'd bet a large pile of money that no video evidence was obtained, or even searched for. Never-mind an investigation into speed and cellphone use.

Now to be fair, this specific part of town is home to many transient individuals who do occasionally have a habit of randomly wandering into the road. I once had quite the scare when I encountered a homeless lady standing in the middle of a lane, in pitch darkness. Of course in my case, as it was so dark, I was driving at a speed which allowed me to come to a complete stop without hitting her. Novel concept, I know.

In this case, the collision happened around noon, so visibility wasn't a factor. And even if the pedestrian did step into the road without the light, the driver should have seen him coming.

This is what the driver would have seen, approaching the light. Any pedestrian would be clearly visible well in advance of entering the roadway. To not only be unable to see a pedestrian AND not notice the collision is highly troublesome.

 photo kid4_zpsd0586c88.pngAll four corners are highly visible

 On the plus side, the Bee reported this as a collision, and not an accident.That's progress.

 Meanwhile, on Sunday, just 15 miles away...

A pedestrian was killed Sunday evening after a GMC Suburban hit the man while he was crossing at an intersection in Selma, police said.

The victim, believed to be in his mid-30s, was walking north crossing the intersection of 2nd and Sylvia streets about 5:20 p.m. when the woman driving the Suburban fatally struck him, Selma police Sgt. Terry Reid said. The woman stopped and has not been cited, Reid said.
Fresno Bee

Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/2013/11/03/3588807/selma-pedestrian-hit-killed-by.html#storylink=cpy

Four marked crosswalks, a playground and skate-park on one corner, church on the other.  According to Google, the speed limit is 30, and only 25mph a couple of blocks later.

  photo kid2_zpsa7d45e50.png

Open and shut case right? The law is pretty clear as to what happens at a crosswalk...

Officers said it is not clear if the driver will face any charges.

The Central Valley has a serious problem with road deaths, and police departments that shrug their shoulders are a major part of the problem. What ever happened to accountability? 

Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/2013/11/05/3591295/fedex-truck-driver-didnt-know.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/2013/11/05/3591295/fedex-truck-driver-didnt-know.html#storylink=cpy

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Westlake: Another Granville Disaster

Update: Kiel Shmidt has put together an excellent map of the project, how it compared to another Granville development (Running Horse) and the city boundaries.

That map can be seen here.

The Fresno Bee has published their article on the subject, including some good pictures of the site. That article can be read here.


In 2005, Granville proposed a giant exurban residential development west of Fresno.

Now they're making moves to actually build it.

They're calling it Westlake, and they want to use 430 acres to build 2,600 new homes....and a giant lake. In typical Granville fashion, they want to do this in the middle of nowhere, far from jobs, businesses, and entertainment. Well, not nowhere - the area has plenty of productive farms.

The project will be in the center, west of Grantland, where the canal meanders through. 

 photo westlake1_zpsb8674e1e.jpg
Sound familiar? Yes, these are the same people who want to build a medical college 20 miles out of town, because according to them, there's no suitable land anywhere closer. This project is marginally closer - 10 miles away from downtown, and 3 miles from the 99, but it's clearly still leapfrog development at its worst. Why not build the college here? Because the college is just a way to get more housing approved further away.

Incidentally, the same developer owns an enormous parcel just 3 miles from downtown....which they want to use for commercial almond farming. They're also the same developer who strongly supports the eradication of a pedestrian mall downtown, claiming that making it a road will "revitalize" the area. Of course these projects do everything possible to destroy downtown, by sending people as far away as possible, so you shouldn't be surprised when I tell you I don't exactly trust them on that note.Would you?

 photo westlake2_zps8005f2ed.jpg

So what can make building 2,600 homes in the middle of nowhere even worse?

Building a giant artificial lake, in an area experiencing a drought, surrounded by farmers desperate for water. As the Bee reported just this week:

Pine Flat Reservoir is a ghost of a lake in the Fresno County foothills — a puddle in a 326 billion-gallon gorge.

Holding only 16% of its capacity, Pine Flat is the best example of why there is high anxiety over the approaching wet season.

Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/2013/10/27/3574965/reservoirs-need-a-wet-winter.html#storylink=cpy

Dwindling reservoirs should be a wake-up call to Californians, said Mark Cowin, director of the state Department of Water Resources. The state has not declared a drought, but now is the time to prepare additional water-conservation ideas for next year.

Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/2013/10/27/3574965/reservoirs-need-a-wet-winter.html#storylink=cpy

 "January through May 2013 were California's driest in about 90 years of recordkeeping," Lucero said.
Fresno Bee

Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/2013/10/27/3574965/reservoirs-need-a-wet-winter.html#storylink=cpy

The Granville solution? Building what essentially amounts to a giant evaporation pool, an artificial lake that will constantly need fresh water pumped in.

 photo westlake3_zpsbb52d05d.jpg

Can it get any worse? Naturally.

Notice in the map above, that the lake is one continuous body, with no crossing points. In other words, the street grid, which is currently made up of major roads every .5 miles, will have no east-west route for a mile and a half. Dakota and Ashlan will lead to a dead end. Gettysburg will be forced to transform from a quiet street to a major arterial.

In other words: A lot more driving, as people are forced to detour.

Naturally, they claim this project will be pedestrian friendly, environmentally friendly, support mixed use and "reduce dependency upon the automobile."

Come again?

Ignoring, for a second, the location of the project.... the site plan makes it impossible for most residents to NOT drive anywhere and everywhere.

Say a resident wants to go to the "community commercial" which will "meet the local needs."

Can they get their, walking? Nope. There's a lake in the way. Residents are going to get in the car, and drive a couple of miles just to get somewhere that should be a five minute walk.

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How about the neighborhood school? Same problem. So close, but so, so far.

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Now look 30 years in the future, when Granville, and their developer friends, have populated every nearby parcel with homes. Anyone trying to go east, you know, towards the rest of the city, has a lake in their way. 2 mile instant detour.

What was that about reducing dependency on the automobile?

Naturally, such a situation calls for mitigation. More money for transit? A new bike trail? No, of course not.

The solution, like all solutions in Fresno, mean widening every area road, and adding traffic signals at every intersection. Like magic, all the extra traffic is "mitigated." Bikes? Pedestrians? Transit users? Internal circulation? I guess those concerns get paved away under new lanes.

I could have sworn the state passed a greenhouse gas reduction law, but apparently it doesn't apply to Granville, or Fresno.

Anything else wrong with this project? Come on too easy...

Every development in Fresno is required to add community green space - parks. Granville is going to build a whopping 55 acres!

And by park, they mean lake. You know, the private lake surrounded by the new homes. In other words...no community green space. And apparently that's ok.

In fact apparently everything about this is ok. Mind you, I'm not the first to raise these concerns. Back in 2008, the "Council District 1 Implementation Committee" drafting a letter noting their concerns with the project. They also noted that there are serious water concerns, including that of a depleting water table. They mention that a project of this size that's auto dependent will clearly have a significant carbon footprint. They also noted that the employees of the commercial retail will likely not be able to afford a lakeside home, meaning residents will commute (drive) to town, and retail employees will commute (drive) into the development.

That last concern is the same as with the Millerton College Plan. They intend to build thousands of homes, and claim there will be little traffic, ignoring that the people who study and work at the college will likely not live in that community, due to the price.

The committee listed many other concerns, including the enormous cost of annexing a giant development so far divided from the rest of the city.

You can see that letter at the very end of the enormous project report. (Warning, massive PDF).

Shovels aren't scheduled to hit the ground this year, as Granville is amending the plan somewhat (swapping homes around), meaning the city has to approve this again. Of course, they will. When a developer says they want something, Fresno gives it to them, consequences be damned.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Clovis gets grant for solar bus stop lighting

One of our frequent commentators is going to like this news.

Clovis has received a grant from Homeland Security to install solar lighting systems at various bus stops around town.

I find homeland security to be an absurd waste of money, so I think it's fantastic that Clovis is milking the cow to actually produce real benefits for local residents. I don't understand how a light at a bus stop is meant to deter terrorism ... but it's money the transit system can use for a good cause - customer service.

I've argued previously that Clovis and Fresno should apply for every possible grant they can process, and this is a good example of the benefits. It's especially nice to see that Clovis remembers they have a transit system, even though it doesn't operate at night, and has very few shelters.

Here are the details:

Grant: $73,950
To buy: 36 "pole-mounted" solar bus stop lights
To buy: 6 "shelter mounted" solar bus stop lights

A company called "Urban Solar" will provide the pole-mounted units, which will operate for 4 hours after dusk, and two hours before dawn. "Sol Inc." will provide the shelter units, and their systems will be on all night.

Presumably, the shelter system can last longer as panels will occupy the roof of the shelter, while the pole unit will be a single panel on top of the light.

The primary purpose of the pole units are so that the driver sees waiting passengers. They provide very localized light at the stop. Again, it's sort of odd because Clovis transit doesn't run past 6pm... but any sidewalk lighting is good. Currently, many Clovis sidewalks can be very dark, as the street lights are aimed exclusively into the road. On another positive note, these lights will advertise the existence of bus stops, which many people may not realize exist. Perhaps better awareness of the bus stops will lead to louder demand for night service?

Fresno, which does offer slightly longer night service, would do well into looking at the Clovis installation. The cost seems very reasonable, especially when paid for by the feds.

Here is what the pole unit looks like, according to the manufacturer website:

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The shelter unit will be installed on existing bus shelters, and provide light to the seating area.

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Installation is to be finished by the end of the year.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Small Gap in Herndon Bike Path to be Filled

There's a small improvement coming to the Fresno bike network.

As everyone from Fresno is well aware, if you're in the north part of town, Herndon is the only way to go east or west...if you have a car. 6 lanes of 50mph traffic might get you across quickly in a motor vehicle, but it's an obstacle by bike. Sure, it's legal to bike on Herndon, but no one would ever actually do it.

The streets to the north of Herndon are calm and quiet...but they don't really connect. You can always go south, but that's a .5 mile detour just to get to the next road.

The city is attempting to solve this issue by creating a multi-use path on the north side of the avenue. Why wasn't it built when the six lanes of asphalt were? I don't know. But for now, every year some money trickles in which is used to fill in gaps.

This time, it's for the gap between Fruit and Palm.

Here's what the path does west of Palm.

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And here's what the path does east of Fruit

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According to this resolution (PDF), $260,000 will buy about .3 miles of trail. The cost seems very high to me, but it's in line with what Clovis paid for a trail expansion earlier this year.

Once this is done, one will be able to bike comfortably along Herndon from Ingram to Marks, which is 2.5 miles.

Monday, October 7, 2013

When parking minimums attack

Moving around Clovis or Fresno, it's easy to see that almost every business has a parking lot that is too big for even the busiest of days. The reason is due to parking minimums. The city requires that businesses provide a certain amount of spots, which is odd, because cities tend not to demand that businesses provide things to customers. There's no law, for example, that a movie theater must provide popcorn with every ticket, or that a supermarket must fill every grocery cart with chocolate.

But parking is special, it must be provided, usually in very large quantities. Because this regulation exists, you'd think there would be many hyper-local studies on the use. Nope, all the rules come from an old book with old studies from places far, far away. That can lead to hilarious demands....and disastrous results.

One item that came before the planning commission recently was a proposal to re-use the Gottschalks building at Sierra Vista Mall. That building was part of the 2008 mall expansion, but has been vacant since 2009 when the chain went out of business.

The new tenant that wants to come in is an indoor electric go-kart joint. While that indicates that the mall is still desperate for tenants, and has given up on finding an anchor, it will be nice to see the space used for the first time in over 4 years. The location also makes sense, as the nearby movie theater is probably the most successful part of the mall.

Go-karts are an interesting example of land use, because they occupy a lot of space, but can only attract a few people at a time. Sadly, the city doesn't make this distinction, and considers it a standard commercial use. Take a guess at how many spots you think such a use needs, and how many the city is requiring...

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A go-kart place and a department store use space very differently. The large track, for example, is always mostly empty, allowing for races. At most, you might get 20 people racing at the same time. On an exceptionally busy day, you might get 20 more people waiting in line. Add a staff of 5, and you've got yourself a peak crowd of 45. Let's just go ahead and round up to 50.

Logically, one would assign parking demand based on how many people would use a building.

In this case, we could expect maybe 50 people at peak-of-peak. One most also consider that go-karting is a social activity, so people carpool. 

Kids party? 5 people per car/van.
Teens at night? 4 people per car/suv

If every single person drives alone, a parking lot of 50 would be more than enough. Realistically, you shouldn't expect more than 20 cars at any given time.

How correct is my estimate?

According to a company that actually build these tracks, the largest go-kart installations need 12,000-15,000 square feet of space for parking and ticket sales.

 Essentially, 50 spaces once you factor in the aisles and such.

So far I'm guessing 20 spots will be used, with 50 needed for peak-of-peak. A manufacturer is also claiming 50, and we can assume they also recommend for peak use.

Let's try one more approach ... simply visiting existing go-kart locations and seeing how well their lots are used.

Clovis has go-karting, at Blackbeards. In fact, that location has two go-kart tracks, bumper boats, three mini-golf courses, water slides, batting cages, an arcade, and more. That location has two parking lots, the lower one, with 60 stalls, and the upper one, with 120. I go there occasionally to use their batting cages, and have never seen the upper lot even open. Meaning 60 stall can handle the demand for parking for a place many times larger than this proposed use.

Don't take my word for it, look at Google.

Lower lot....about 15 spots used when this image was taken.
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Upper lot (almost never opened, and so always empty). 
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One can also go to Fresno, to Boomers. Same situation: go-karts, arcade, mini-golf etc etc

They have 200 parking spots, but that includes an empty retail pad, so really they have around 100.

Survey says....about 13 used.

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Did the city do such an analysis? Nope, the city is content to use a one-size-fits-all approach to parking, an approach that has never been studied locally.

What they're requiring here is:

1,000 square feet = 5 stalls in a commercial center.

That means the requirement for "at least" 300 stalls, easily 10 times as many as are needed. That's not even considering that at a mall, people park once and visit multiple shops.

"Fortunately," the building already exists as part of the mall, so the parking issue was handled when it was built. The mall has over 5,000 spots, so approval was not an issue...this time.

Another applicant was not so lucky.

Remember how I brought news of another McDonalds moving into town? Have you wondered what happened to it?


McDonalds, as you may know, is a very large chain, which makes a whole lot of money. Indeed, if I had to ask anyone in the world how many parking spots get used in a suburban drive-thru fast-food restaurant, I would ask McDonalds. They're the experts. I may not like their product, but I think we can all admit that they have every part of their operation down to a science.

And yet Clovis has denied their application because the city thinks it knows how many parking spots McDonalds needs, and knows better than McDonalds. On one side, we have a multinational corporation which runs dozens of local stores, and has probably done hundreds of studies on parking demand. On the other side, we have a very generalized parking generation manual.

Clearly that manual knows best.

In this case, McDonalds wanted to build on a corner lot, which looks to be part of an existing shopping center, but isn't. They planned to build their own parking, and meet the requirements by sharing with the center for the remaining spots. Problem is, a tenant of the existing center (El Pollo Loco) got to veto this arrangement because as part of their lease they have an exclusive chicken license.

So they came back asking for a variance to the requirement.

Current requirement, 1 spot per 100 square feet.

Which for them meant 36 slots required, and they proposed 21.

The city rejected the variance, because in their expert opinion, a shortage of spots would cause parking lot congestion, even though McDonalds thinks their customers will have more than enough parking. The city was also concerned about the new site plan (PDF) which located the driveway closer to the intersection. That's a more valid concern, forced upon the chain because they're not allowed to use the existing driveways in the shopping center.

At no point did the city express concern that the site plan was terrible for pedestrians, and that a drive-thru stacked against a major corner was an abysmal use of space. As always, parking and "congestion" was the issue.

I won't shed a tear about McDonald's being sent home, but that doesn't mean it was right.

Maybe it's time for Clovis (and Fresno) to base their parking minimum requirements on actual local studies, and not generalized outdated national recommendations. It doesn't make sense to leave a lot empty because the current regulations are assumed to be perfect.

Bonus News:

The Atlantic Cities recently ran a story about absurd parking minimums for schools in Mesa. They provided a cool chart which shows that Fresno is in line with cities like Dallas and Phoenix. Nothing to be proud of, but could be much worse. At least we're not Mesa.

Bonus News 2:

In June of 2012 I wrote on how Blackbeards, home to a go-kart example, would be the first location in the city to get public EV charging stations.

In January of this year, I noted that it still hadn't been built

 As of August.....still nothing. The solar umbrellas were about 25% done last time I was there. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Fresno Governments Should be Proactive about Stranded Tourists During Federal Park Shutdown

Every year, millions of people come through the Central Valley to visit the area national parks. In 2012, Yosemite saw 3,853,404 visitors, Sequoia got 1,106,584 and Kings Canyon received 566,810. Sadly, I can’t look up monthly stats because the National Parks website is closed (seriously), but it’s safe to say that even an off-season month like October gets significant visitors. Indeed, due to the weather, it may be one of the best months to visit.

Of those visitors, countless make their journey from international locations, primarily Europe. I know every time I visit, I hear more French and German than English in the National Parks. While not all those visitors pass through Fresno, many do arrive at FAT or drive through the city on the highway.
Fresno has done little to capitalize on this tourism, as most see the area cities as little more than a rest-stop and a chance to try In-n-Out. Right now is prime time to change that, at least a little bit.
A trip from Europe to Yosemite isn’t planned at the spur of the moment, and is probably impossible to cancel at last minute. After all, planes have been booked, vacation days have been requested, and backpacks purchased.

Rather than leaving these visitors to struggle to find activities, the city and county should try their best to direct visitors to other local attractions. Remember, while San Francisco is calling, it should be expected that most had already set aside time for that during their trip. 

While the parks may be closed, outdoor recreation is still possible. The area is full of mountain lakes to kayak on, and trails to hike. A local tourism expert can provide info on the differences between the lakes, boat rental information, and directions. 

Other unknown destinations exist as well. The Cat Haven, just a few miles east of Clovis, is an interesting destination for anyone, and is well worth a visit. In the city, the underground gardens and the Fulton mall can also provide for a few hours of sight-seeing. Agriculture also provides a destination, as I guarantee the produce here is better than that found in Stuttgart. 

It’s food, in my opinion, where the area shines brightest. Without orientation, a European tourist might assume that River Park provides the best cuisine of the land, with its bright lights and full parking lots. In fact, if they were to poll a passer-by, they might come to the conclusion that Elephant Bar is the highlight of the state. Of course, we all know that’s not true. On their own, a tourist would never stumble upon Tacos Tijuana, Dusty Buns, Organic Fresno, or the “pho collection” on McKinley….never mind countless other delicious local favorites. 

Even if these tourists are only captured for a day, it’s money and exposure that’s badly needed.
So Fresno, Clovis, and County….get something going ASAP. Set up a stand at the airport, and put up a sign on 99. It may not quite be Yosemite, but surely some time with the Ansel Adams exhibit at the Fresno ArtMuseum can lessen the pain?

Incidentally, Yosemite is not fully closed…

Signs will soon be posted around the Yosemite Valley to warn visitors they have less than two days to leave. The only people who will be let into the park will be those driving through to another destination.

According to the website, visitors can still drive through the park, just not stop. Just say you need to get across Tioga Pass, and you’re welcome in. Better than nothing right?

Saturday, September 28, 2013

New Google satellite imagery for Fresno! (Spring 2013)

Some parts of the country, including major cities like Boston, only get updated satellite imagery from Google every 3 or so years.

For Fresno, it's never more than a year before we get the freshest pictures. The latest update, rolled out last week, shows Fresno and the surrounding area as of March 15, 2013.

The previous update, pushed out November of 2012, featured images from August 26, 2012. I did a photo summary of that as well.

That's less than 7 months between updates! Older images are still accessible via the history slider in Google Earth. 

These updates are a great way to follow development in the area, and see how fast some areas are still growing.

Here are some quick examples.  Note: When you zoom into an area with Google Maps, the automatically switch you to the 45 degree view, taken by plane. That hasn't been updated since 2010, so switch back to satellite to see the new stuff.

I've provided links to previous photo tours I've done, if applicable. 

Downtown, 1612 Fulton was nearing the final construction phase, marked as 1. Site work for the GV Urban Broadway project is visible at number 2.

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Work on Fresno High is visible. Those "bunkers" in front are now gone.

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Over in Clovis, the newest super-strip-mall is now open for business. I did a construction tour here. See the employee parking in the back? Less than 40 cars, meaning many employees are actually parked up front.

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Nearby, the newest trail construction is visible

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Further east, also in Clovis, house construction marches on

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Well out in the middle of nowhere, the environmental disaster known as "Millerton New Town" has begun to move forward.

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Back in west Fresno....Surprisingly, the "Marketplace at El Paseo" (aka, strip-mall 17) isn't visible... and yet now the enormous mass of Target and such is clear if you drive by. Those things pop up like weeds.

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With the way these imagery updates have been coming, I wouldn't be surprised if we get September pictures uploaded around December.

Any other major sites I may have forgotten to look at?