Urban Land Institute Reviews “Railtown”

Cover imageULI, the national nonprofit of real estate professionals and others interested in downtown development, reviewed my book Railtown to find out just what is going on with rail in Los Angeles:

Railtown chronicles the latest chapter in the Los Angeles saga—the city’s transition from a smoggy, car-loving, freeway-dominated megacity to an emerging cluster of walkable urban centers linked by public transit, including light and heavy rail as well as buses. This saga resembles a Greek tragedy. The central figure’s fatal flaw—the political geography of metropolitan Los Angeles and the inability to agree on a plan—drives the narrative while optimistic local leaders who view rail as the solution to the region’s traffic and environmental problems struggle to convince politicians, 88 self-centered cities, and the county electorate to accept yet another reinvention.

The review is not all positive, as the reviewer seems to have challenges with what he calls a “dense” read, but he says “for those wanting to understand the details of Metro Rail’s checkered history, this is the book to read.”

Solving The Colorado River Water Shortages Through Policy

National Public Radio’s environmental reporter Abrahm Lustgarten investigates the history of the Colorado River water allocations and finds that bad policy is as much to blame as drought and climate change for the current shortages:

Lustgarten says conservation and increased efficiency in farming could reintroduce enormous quantities of water back into the Colorado River system. By Lustgarten’s estimate, if Arizona farmers switched from growing cotton to growing wheat, it would save enough water to supply about 1.4 million people with water each year.

But, Lustgarten adds, “There’s nothing really more politically touchy in the West than water and the prospect of taking away people’s water rights. So what you have when you talk about increasing efficiency or reapportioning water is essentially an argument between those who have it, which are the farmers and the people who have been on that land for generations, and those who don’t, which are the cities who are relative newcomers to the area.”

Notably, the area features one of the country’s largest coal-fired power plant at the Navajo Generating Station, dedicated almost exclusively to moving water around the Colorado River states. So the drought and water situation affects our energy supply and related pollution as much as anything. Re-examination of water rights, coupled with better financing mechanisms and rate structures, could therefore go a long way to solving both the water shortages and pollution from energy generation.

Streetsblog Podcast On The Changes In Store For California Transportation Analysis

Yesterday I had a chance to talk to Damien Newton at Streetsblog California for his podcast #DamienTalks about the changes underway to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) on transportation analysis.  Damien is particularly interested in the California Infill Builders Federation opposition to the change from auto-delay to vehicle miles traveled, so we discussed the politics around their legislation to halt the change:

Today #DamienTalks with Ethan Elkind, about the efforts to reform how the state measures transportation impacts of a proposed project. Currently, the state measures how a project impacts car travel time, but a change to state law will turn that rule on its head so that we’re encouraging projects that don’t produce more car trips instead of just mitigating the ones that do.

Not surprisingly, there is pushback. Surprisingly, it’s coming from a group that should gain from the change from “LOS” to “VMT.”

You can access the podcast here or via Damien’s site linked above.

California’s Big Step Toward A Cleaner, More Distributed Energy System

body-0-1376425473419With more solar panels, internet connected home appliances, electric vehicles, and small-scale batteries, California will soon have millions of “distributed” energy resources it can tap into to make the grid more efficient and clean. The entity in charge of managing the grid just made it much easier to connect and aggregate these items as a bulk resource:

California is already busy creating new regulations and market structures to integrate rooftop solar, behind-the-meter batteries, plug-in electric vehicles and fast-acting demand response systems into its grid. This week, California’s grid operator took another step down this path — one that could allow these resources to tap the state’s grid markets as a revenue-generating resource, possibly as early as next year.

On Wednesday, the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) published a proposal (PDF) for creating a new class of grid market players, known as distributed energy resource providers — DERPs for short. In simple terms, the proposal sets rules for how DERs can be aggregated and dispatched to serve the same grid markets open to utility-scale energy installations today.

As the rules roll out and get refined, the state will become an international leader on integrating these resources into the grid, while providing owners of these assets with an additional revenue stream — further encouraging their deployment.

Executive Actions That Obama Can Take On Climate Without Congress

waxman_220px-Henry_Waxman_official_portrait_111th_CongressFormer Representative Henry Waxman breaks down the options for the president’s final 18 months in office:

Executive authority, especially under the Clean Air Act, provides numerous paths for meaningful climate action. It can deliver popular, pro-growth, business-friendly pollution reductions that today are not possible through legislation. That is the legacy of one of our most important laws, and it can shape the legacy of this administration and the next.

Waxman goes on to list potential options to reduce emissions in aviation, cars and trucks, and other industrial sectors outside of electricity. It’s worth reading the whole thing.

“Midnight in Harlem” — Tedeschi Trucks Band

Susan Tedeschi has a beautiful voice, influenced by African American gospel traditions, while Derek Trucks is the most impressive lead slide guitar player I’ve seen. So it was great news when the two decided not just to get married in real life but marry their music. The best result of this union in my opinion is “Midnight in Harlem,” with Trucks (nephew of one of the founders of the Allman Brothers) shredding one of the better guitar solos of all time at the end:

Maryland Governor Approves Major New Light Rail Line

purple_line_preferred_alternative_mapIt’s huge news for the Maryland suburbs of Washington DC.  The Purple Line is a light rail connector filling in the spokes of the heavy-rail Metro system and connecting two major dense suburban centers. The project was suddenly in doubt when Larry Hogan was elected governor last November, a surprise win for a conservative in an overwhelmingly liberal state.  Hogan had campaigned against the wasteful spending of the project and has made more money for automobile infrastructure a priority.

But Hogan’s transportation secretary came out in favor of the project, and the federal transit agency had already pledged support.  The governor is still flashing his conservative bona fides by requiring cost cutting on the project and more county contributions.  He also wants the private contractors who build it to step up with financial support.  Overall, those positions could be very helpful for the economics of the project.

Here’s more detail:

The line would still have 21 stations and run from Bethesda in Montgomery to New Carrollton in Prince George’s. It would pass through Silver Spring and the University of Maryland’s College Park campus. The Purple Line will connect to Amtrak and MARC commuter rail stations and will be the first rail line to directly connect spokes of a Metrorail system designed decades ago to carry commuters between the suburbs and downtown Washington.

Hogan also was influenced by Washington-area politicians and business leaders, who said the project was crucial to improving transit and encouraging growth inside the Beltway.

“The Purple Line is a long-term investment that will be an important economic driver for Maryland,” Hogan said. After expressing skepticism in the past about what he saw as overblown forecasts of how many jobs the project would create, he said construction alone would create 23,000 jobs in Maryland over the next six years.

And hey, I’m not claiming credit, but Tuesday night I give a presentation for Washington DC Purple Line advocates on LA’s Metro Rail history, and on Thursday the conservative new governor approves the line. You make the call.

Our “Heritage Of Freedom” Extends

Supreme Court Justice Anthony “Heritage of Freedom” Kennedy may have had me worried yesterday about his views on health care subsidies, but his views on personal liberty just resulted in an historic decision this morning that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right:

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Congratulations to my same-sex couple friends and family and their loved ones, and to all of us who benefit from living in a more just society.

Justice Kennedy Votes To Uphold Obamacare Subsidies
Justice Kennedy and Berkeley Law Dean Sujit Choudhry in September

Justice Kennedy and Berkeley Law Dean Sujit Choudhry in September

I didn’t quite believe that the Supreme Court would uphold Obamacare subsidies to people with health insurance through federal exchanges, as the court voted today.  Part of my doubts came from comments Justice Kennedy made in a visit to Berkeley Law last September.  From my write-up at the time:

But Kennedy turned more serious when discussing the state of politics and culture in the country.  In short, he is quite concerned, even alarmed, at what he perceives to be the lack of civility in the country and even worse at the lack of appreciation among younger generations of our “heritage of freedom.”  He said our democracy is still vulnerable, people around the world are watching us, and it’s incumbent that we teach the younger generation to appreciate what we have.  He cited the example of a former communist country where democracy is breaking down and alarmingly, no one seems to care.  He also described how at least in communist Poland great thinkers went into teaching and instilled democratic values in students for decades, whereas our educational system is now lagging.

I worried that Kennedy’s rhetoric on “heritage of freedom” might indicate an extreme ideological aversion to Obamacare.  After all, he had already gone on record (in a losing vote) that the law exceeded federal constitutional authority under the commerce clause. Would he use some bad drafting despite clear intent to strike down the subsidies now?

Mercifully, the court — with Justice Kennedy — ruled correctly, following basic steps of statutory interpretation when there are conflicting terms or phrases in the law.  But Kennedy sure had me doubting for the last nine months.

Repurposing Used EV Batteries For Mobile Charging

It’s one of the best uses I’ve seen for used EV batteries — putting them to use as mobile charging devices for EVs. That’s what Freewire is doing, and their product is a top four finalist for the SAFE energy security prize, to be announced at the end of July. Here’s the promo video:

You can read more about what it will take to boost a market for used EV batteries in Berkeley / UCLA Law’s Reuse and Repower report.

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