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
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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
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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

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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

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