David Levinson on CalHSR and OPM and a big, fat, I told you so

David Levinson, the Transportationist, discusses a piece by Dan Walters in the SacBee about the blatant money pour into CalHSR.

Levinson’s comment:

This is an interesting act of Hubris on the part of the CAHSRA. If the entire line were to be funded with 100% certainty in short order, it would not matter which segment were built first, as they would all ultimately get built.

But 100% certainty is certainly lacking in this case, the funding stars are hardly aligned (much less the right-of-way acquired or the lawsuits settled). The risk is that this line will indeed be a line to approximately nowhere from nowhere. It will be great for the Fresno exurbanites living in Corcoran, Hanford, or Selma, or perhaps the dozens of tourists seeking to go to the Italian Swiss Colony outside of Madera.

Like Cortés who scuttled his ships to eliminate any idea of retreat, the authority is burning the public’s money on a useless segment. (Unfortunately for the Aztecs, Cortés succeeded, others who unsuccessfully applied the same strategy are generally unmentioned in the history books). Presumably this is to help ensure further lines are built. (You have to build the rest to get anything useful).

First of all, here’s the website for the Italian Swiss Colony that David is referring to. Who would miss that? Today, Italian Swiss Colony, tomorrow, ABBAWORLD and the World’s Largest Rubber Band Ball!

How to respond? It’s hard to argue with people who are smarter than me, and David is definitely smarter than me. But here goes:

1. It’s fighting words to suggest that the San Joaquin Valley is “nowhere.” I suspect Dan Walters is going to get his fanny handed to him on that statement. People in rural places in California are a bit mysterious to me: they sort of feel like they are entitled to the same level of services provided in the urban coastal areas while living in small towns and farms. Rural Iowans, my peeps, don’t generally think this way: there’s city, and there’s country, and if you live in the country, you burn your own trash and drive your pick up and you don’t really expect there to be transit for you.

2. Nonetheless, even if the SJV isn’t exactly “nowhere”, a reasonable person might pause at spending $4 billion to build HSR there. Just saying.

3. I sooooooo predicted this. Gen Giuliano who generally knows all things will argue that she thought of this first, but she is wrong, as she so often is when she tries to claim she thought of something before me (Ha!)*. Last year at UCLA’s Alumni Dinner, I sat next to some insufferable dude who, when HSR came up and I winced, lectured and lectured me about how it would be The State’s Salvation. Sure, whatevs, but I made my prediction: CalHSR will slap down a segment in the SJV somewhere–just race to get something built, right away–and then give state senators little rides on the system—as an attempt to get something—anything—built as a proof of concept. Which they will then use to say “oh, sure, only four people ride it a day, but if you want riders, you have to get us the money to build the rest.”

Ohhhhh noooo nooo he told me, patting me on my head, the ignorant twit that I am. The first segment will connect Los Angeles and San Diego, he said knowingly. THAT’S the highest value segment. THAT will be a proof of concept.

So why is CalHSR doing what I predicted instead of what he predicted? Well, when you aren’t so helplessly politically naive that you don’t recognize the writing on the wall/enormous money grab that HSR is (and if you have experience building projects), you’ll see that this is the easiest segment to build. They don’t have any endangered species on their hands (yet; none that the EIR shows anyway); they don’t have to deal with the screaming and empowered opposition that they will encounter when they even whisper the proposed alignments for LA, San Jose, and San Francisco; and they have boosters on both ends of the things slavering to get the project done.

My next prediction: the project will mismanaged but not so grossly mismanaged that they are finally shut down by idiot California voters, who will give them another bond measure in five years.

*Just to put this in perspective, every time I say “I’m thinking about writing a paper about X,” Gen usually says something like “OH, I wrote that paper in 1989.” AND SHE DID.


By all means, let’s freeze Federal wages

We want the wage differential between the private sector and the public sector to become EVEN BIGGER so that even more of the talented people go into the private sector, thereby increasing the inability of the Federal government to provide oversight of oh, I dunno, the Countrywides and the Enrons of this world.

Smooth move, Obama. This one is right up there with Clinton’s sell-out on welfare reform. (Yes, I know, plenty of people think welfare reform was a great idea. Here’s the deal: it was political posturing over chump change; it was symbolic politics—just like the earmark crap; only welfare reform kissed up to both liberals who hate poor people (but pretend they don’t) and conservatives who hate government). Awesome bit of empty sleight of hand

Obama is officially running scared.


Environmental benefits of the service economy

This volume of Ecological Economics has a manuscript that examines the environmental benefits of the transition from services to manufacturing. From the abstract:

A service transition is supposed to lead to the decline of energy intensity (energy/GDP). We argue that this interpretation is overly optimistic because the shift to a service economy is somewhat of an illusion in terms of real production. Several recent studies of structural effects on energy intensity have made the error of using sector shares in current prices, combined with GDP in constant prices, which is inconsistent and ignores the different behaviour of prices across sectors. We use the more correct method of sector shares in constant prices, and make an attempt to single out the effect from the real service transition by using two complementary methods: shift share analyses in current and constant prices, and Logarithmic Mean Divisia Index (LMDI) for 10 developed and 3 emerging economies.

A service transition is rather modest in real terms. The major driver of the decline in energy intensity rests within the manufacturing sector. Meanwhile, the transition to a service sector had a small downward impact on energy intensity in 7 of the developed countries (and no impact in the others). For emerging economies like Brazil, Mexico and India, it is the residential sector that drives energy intensity down because of the declining share of this sector as the formal economy grows, and as a consequence of switching to more efficient fuels.

This is an interesting paper, one that drives home the necessity of manufacturing transformation rather than simply trying to chase polluters elsewhere.

The full citation:

Henriques, Sofia Teives and Astrid Kander. 2010. The modest environmental relief resulting from the transition to a service economy. Ecological Economics 70 (2): 271-282.


Livability and Lipstick Jungle’s Thanksgiving

Alan Pisarski has a nice essay up over at the New Geography on the emptiness of the word “livability”:

Livability is one of those once innocuous words, like sustainability, that now receive almost unquestioned acceptance in the bureaucracy, academia and the media. After all, words like sustainability and livability have no acceptable negative form. Who could be in favor of anything unlivable, insensitive, unhealthy or unsustainable?

And my favorite line of the entire essay:

Well it turns out I was living the livable life style when I was growing up in Queens, New York in the fifties and didn’t know it. Here all along I just thought we were poor.

Go read it.

You can argue that the opposite of all these concepts is the Dread Pirate Roberts of our time, sprawl, but then we’d have to admit all these buzzy-words amount to same concept.

When I was reading this essay, I remembered an episode of Lipstick Jungle, where Brooke Shields’ superwoman character Wendy Healy decided that they would have a ‘locavore’ Thanksgiving. It’s a strange episode–by this time the writing on the show had started to circle the drain–but it was striking to me how Wendy is furious that her husband Shane (played by the immensely beautiful Paul Blackthorne) spends the day trying to help out one of his friends whose dog has died instead of with the family. I suppose we’re all supposed to be on Wendy’s side, but honestly: I get that people who don’t have pets don’t get the human-animal bond, but losing a animal is like losing a human friend; statistics show that among long-term pet owners, they are likely to keep a pet longer than the average person sustains close relationships with any non-family humans.

Anyway, regardless of whether you get it or whether you think a “dog is just a dog” and Thanksgiving should be “sacred family time” where you spend the day watching football with your kids (which you can do every Sunday) and tell your miserable friend to suck it up, helping out a friend in need on Thanksgiving is arguably a better, more morally justifiable position than playing the role of the dutiful husband to maintain appearances at your privilege-fest of locavore Manhattan.

I think we’re supposed to assume that the woman who is grieving for her dog is trying to suck Wendy’s husband into an affair, but I live in a world where I don’t fear my husband’s female friendships, even when there are emotions involved!

I know, I know. As one of my male friends explained to me the other day, old women like me tend to get threatened and catty when confronted with a PYT who is better than us. But on Thanksgiving I think it’s good form to relax on the hag/harpy/cat job assigned to us in the patriarchy.


Blame California! Thomas Sowell on the Housing Boom and Bust

The thing I love about Thomas Sowell is that I get six new research ideas every time I listen to him talk. He’s primarily a theorist: he’s not interested in testing the libertarian stories he’s strung together to conclude “Government is bad.” I am, however. It seems to me that there would be some interesting empirical work testing his assertions about California land values here.

So unlike my armchair theorizing earlier this week, the spatial origins of the foreclosure crisis are, according to Sowell, in California.

He makes me furious, and he makes me think. And he’s an amazingly productive scholar.


One of the cool things about sticking around…

is that eventually you get to know your intellectual heroes, and then you get to work with them.

Peter Gordon and Robert Cervero have been my intellectual heroes since graduate school. While other planning students were muttering under their breath about “libertarian enemies of planning,” I was reading more and more of Peter’s work, enjoying the very productive conflicts he and his coauthors, Harry Richardson and Jim Moore, raised in the peaceful world of entirely too much groupthink in planning. Robert Cervero veritably alarmed me with his scholarly productivity: if he was the standard, how in heaven’s name was I ever going to get an keep an academic job? Fortunately, the standards for mere mortals are a bit lower than the pace Professor Cervero sets.

One of the joys of moving to USC for me was getting to know Peter, Jim, and Harry better, and all of them–particularly Peter–have been tremendously good to me.

So I was recently approached by a journal editor to ask whether I would be willing to write a commentary on a back-and-forth exchange between these two sets of authors.

Um, do the words YES YES YES YES FREAKING YES mean anything to you? Mind if I stroll into the cone of silence here and scream my head off like a meth-addicted cheerleader on steroids?

WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

Stay posted.


An argument for breaking up the spatial monopoly of the finance industry?

I’ve heard various arguments about how walkable cities are doing better than us bad sprawled cities in terms of foreclosures. But one of the things the TEA partiers say strikes me as having some merit: the spatial monopoly of power held in the northeast US. Old money families, new money power brokers, old money universities, and real seats of social and financial power.

I was reflecting this morning on the foreclosure maps I made last night, just to look around. Now, there are some troubles here with granularity, but still, one of the things that will occur to you if you read Michael Lewis’s the Big Short concerns just how little other regard the men (and I mean men) of the financial industry have. They could care less about the human consequences of their behavior because they’ll never face the consequences of it, and it’s all a game to them they just want to win. Money is only a way of keeping score. (Can’t you just play polo or something where you knock your own teeth in? Crimoney.) Anyway.

The spatial aspects make me wonder. What do you think?

If you think of New York City as the place which houses people who helped orchestrate the bubble, take a look at their consequences:




Bad, but not nearly as bad as Los Angeles. I know, I know, there are those folks talking about walkability has helped placed retain value, but I’m still less convinced it has to do walking than simple deep pockets. Isn’t it easier to come up with dodges and cheats to line your own pockets if your victims AREN’T your neighbors? Like those “fat and stupid Americans” that coastal US residents love to look down on?

Let’s look at Chicago:




Dallas:




And one region of the world where I have long contended their *local* growth machine has *no interest* in stopping US military engagement:




Before anybody gleefully concludes that this is God’s way of punishing suburbs, take a look at Portland:




Charlotte:




And Boston;