Threat of Gas Station Closures Is No Joke

Jeff Miller
California State Assemblyman representing the 71st Assembly District

April 1st is best known for April Fools jokes…and while I wish the topic of this editorial was also a joke, unfortunately it is not.  

At the beginning of next month, The California Air Resources Board (CARB) is set to impose regulations that threaten to close more than 6,000 gas stations statewide – which will result in increased gas prices, higher unemployment, dirtier air, and will seriously jeopardize $3 billion in gas tax revenues that our State needs for vital services.

Several years ago CARB adopted regulations requiring gas stations to install new equipment to reduce air pollution levels – something many of us strongly support and agree needs to be done.

However, due to bureaucratic delays, high fees, and onerous regulations, only 1 in 5 gas stations statewide have so far been able to comply.

Adding to this challenge is the present worldwide financial crisis which has frozen needed financial capital for small business owners to be able to finance the necessary upgrades – a major barrier that even CARB has acknowledged is a huge problem in the effort for compliance.

The other major hindrance has been the lack of certified and compliant equipment by regulators.

It was not until October 2008 – six months prior to the implementation deadline- that CARB finally certified an alternative system that helped minimize major obstacles that services stations were encountering at the local level.  

As a result of the deadline, equipment costs have soared from $17,000 to as much as $85,000 per station for compliance.

Even if every single station in the State could secure financing, obtain the necessary approvals and contract for installation, more than 200 systems would need to be installed each and every day to achieve compliance – an impossible task.

So what does it mean with less than 28 days to go and more than 78% of California’s 11,000 gas stations out of compliance?  

It means widespread closure of gas stations throughout the entire State – resulting in thousands of people being laid off and a financial blow to California revenues that we simply cannot afford.

Inner city areas will be especially hard hit.  Anticipated problems include: increased gasoline prices as a result of decreased competition, increased crime and blighted areas due to station closures, and most ironically, increased pollution resulting from longer drive times to find compliant gas stations that are still open.
The remedy for this crisis is simple – to allow all service stations a one-year extension for compliance – an action that is not unprecedented and one that ensures that station owners ultimately comply.

We encourage all Californians to call on Governor Schwarzenegger and the California Air Resources Board to grant an extension before it is too late – otherwise the only April Fools victims will be hardworking California motorists and our environment.

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Roger Rabbit and Me

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Judge Doom: Eight lanes of shimmering cement running from here to Pasadena. Smooth, safe, fast. Traffic jams will be a thing of the past.

Valiant: So that’s why you killed Acme and Maroon – for this freeway? I don’t get it.

Doom: (smugly) Of course not. You lack vision. I see a place where people get on and off the freeway. On and off. Off and on. All day, all night. Soon, where Toontown once stood will be a string of gas stations, inexpensive motels, restaurants that serve rapidly-prepared food, tire salons, automobile dealerships, and wonderful, wonderful billboards reaching as far as the eye can see. My God, it’ll be beautiful.

Gee whiz. Back in January, I suggested that the Obama administration – if it’s serious about infrastructure investment and breaking through long disputes – might finish a Southern California freeway link that’s been in the works for a half century. For that crime, I was savagely, personally (and inaccurately) attacked as some kind of 21st century Judge Doom from "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?"

To read the commentary about my Fox & Hounds column, you might have thought I’d suggested cutting down rain forest, or running a road through a state park. Instead, what I suggested was the completion of the 710 link, which abruptly ends in Alhambra, six miles short of where it’s supposed to end – in Pasadena. This isn’t a particularly radical or controversial idea, except for those who seem to think the community in the link’s way — South Pasadena – is sacred ground.

South Pasadena isn’t actually threatened by completion of the link. Caltrans is studying building the road as a tunnel, which I favor. Even if the freeway was above ground, which I wouldn’t oppose but don’t believe is politically viable, the property in the path of the freeway was bought up by the state in the 1960s. In fact, voters in Alhambra and Pasadena – which have seen more traffic because of the failure to complete the freeway – have endorsed it. This is a classic case of a small entity – South Pasadena – blocking the longstanding plans of an entire region.

But you wouldn’t know that to listen to the commentary.

It started with Kevin Roderick’s blog, La Observed, with the highly inflammatory and misleading headline, "Should Obama Break South Pasadena?" I don’t want to break South Pas and never wrote that. Roderick said I was an "advocate." (I’m not an advocate of the freeway or of anything else for that matter. I’m not part of any campaign. I’m a journalist with a column on a web site, trying to make an argument).

Roderick suggested I was demanding Obama take my side. (I don’t have a side – if folks never want to build the 710 link, fine with me.) He called my view  a "narrow SoCal position" – my position wasn’t narrow or SoCal. I was making the broad argument that if the Obama administration is serious about its big promises of pushing forward a long-delayed project that has broad support, this is the kind of thing the administration should push. It’s been part of federal plans and state plans, and has been endorsed over and over again by most of the local communities (with the obvious exception of South Pasadena, which has fought it in the courts for more than 30 years). The problem, of course, is that every infrastructure project faces strong opposition from some neighborhood or community. If you’re serious about building infrastructure, you’ll face opposition even from projects that are justified and long in the planning.

Roderick also suggested I was doing special pleading for Pasadena, where I grew up, but haven’t lived since I was a high school senior in 1991. South Pasadena, he concluded, is some sort of transit paradise (I suppose because of the lightly used Gold line), and the sort of place we should be supporting. I’m not aware of South Pasadena being any more committed to mass transit than Pasadena, which also has the Gold Line and a fantastic bus system.

Provoked by Roderick, environmental blogs piled on. Lastreetsblog.com suggested I was calling for an above-ground link. I’m not. The blog also suggested the road would "devastate" downtown South Pasadena. How exactly? The blog suggested that the locals opposed it. No, South Pasadena opposes it. The other neighboring cities – larger than South Pas, by the way – have voted to support it.

I almost felt responsible, until I remembered that this link was first planned in 1949 – 24 years before I was born.

Why does any of this matter? The controversy over the stimulus package is still white-hot. The nation has huge needs in terms of roads, highways and bridges, but the package is light on infrastructure. The attacks on my little old Fox & Hounds Daily post are a demonstration of why. There’s a strong anti-road strain in Democratic environmentalism: all roads are bad, freeways are especially bad, and to suggest that one be completed is evil.

I must admit, I share some of that attitude. New freeway construction has encouraged sprawl. We need to invest much more in public transit – really in transportation infrastructure of all kinds. But we have a president who has called for road and bridge building as part of a promise to rebuild America. He’s also talked about getting past knotty problems. The 710 link fits both.

At the very least, the Obama administration might push for a resolution to this dispute once and for all. Right now, we’re halfway there. Planning for the link continues. Freeway signs all over the Southland indicate that the 710 Freeway goes to Pasadena.  Property in the path of the link is in state hands, rather than private hands. In Pasadena, there’s a stretch of freeway – and a big hole in the ground – where the link would connect with the 210. In Alhambra, there’s an ugly deadend at Valley Boulevard.

The bottom line: Kill it or build it. A half-century of limbo is enough.

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Will the Special Election Force an Extension for the Tax Commission?

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

The Commission on the 21st Century Economy, which is studying a potential restructuring of California’s tax system, is required to report its recommendations to the governor and legislature on April 15th. Beginning work in January, many observers questioned the ability of the committee to get anything done in such a short timeframe considering the complexity of the mandate  — studying the current tax system and a slew of possible changes— and making recommendations for change in less than four months time.

The commission intended to keep to its schedule but politics may intervene.

Since the commission began its work in January, the big story out of Sacramento has been the budget resolution. The voters in a May 19 special election must approve portions of the budget deal, more than a month after the tax commission report is due. Given that the major issue on the special election ballot has to do with continuing taxes for two more years if the spending limit measure is passed, the commission’s report would reverberate through the special election one month later.

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Can a radio ‘fatwa’ lead to a change in Republican leadership?

Chandra Sharma
Political Communications, Redistricting and New Media Strategist

Radio hosts John and Ken are anything but happy about the budget’s recent passage. In the public eye, they led the charge to oppose any new taxes in a budget deal, and did their best to pressure Republican legislators throughout California to oppose the compromise that was reached between the Governor and legislative leaders.

The ouster of Senator Cogdill as minority leader by the Senate Caucus struck them as a step in the right direction, but clearly had little effect on the actual budget process as new leader Dennis Hollingsworth was unable to stop his three colleagues – Cogdill, Ashburn and Maldonado – from crossing the aisle to vote for the Democrat budget. One might think this is all history now, but heads are still being placed on a stick down in Los Angeles. The newest target – Assemblyman Jeff Miller.

Confused yet? No, Jeff Miller was not one of the so-called six losers who voted for the Democrat budget. At face value, Miller, a freshman Assemblyman from Corona, would appear to be a solid conservative in line with the radio hosts’ views on the subject. But nonetheless, a fatwa has been issued, and a drive to recall the legislator has been launched.

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A Manhattan Project for Alternative Energies Now

David S. White
Principal of the Law Firm of David S. White & Associates, West Los Angeles, specializing in litigation, arbitration and mediation of real-estate-related disputes and litigation since 1977; www.dswlawyers.com

It is time now to stop enriching countries who won the geographical lottery and sit atop giant pools of fossil fuels deep below, but who despise us.  What is needed is nothing less than a Manhattan Project for Alternative Energy, and it is needed right now.  Hear that, President Obama?

The history of American economics is one of boom and bust, as I have often written about here.  The busts usually turn into booms when a new technology takes hold.  It was railroads in the earlier 19th Century, then a spectrum of amazing transportation and communication inventions from the later 19th through the earlier 20th Century, which brought us telephones, electric lights, phonographs, and the first wired cities for both, and cars, planes, and other mechanized things we now take for granted.  World War II’s urgent need for America to gear up militarily ushered in a boom that went on for decades as we morphed from manufacturing tanks and planes into missiles, bombers, the whole nuclear industry, and the Space Race, which took us to the moon and back in 1969 (it also took me to Woodstock in ’69, but, that is for another column).  In the 70’s and 80’s we all learned to love (or hate) computers, which became integral parts of many of our lives, and then in the 90’s it was the Internet, which gave rise to all the DotCom companies which, by the end of the 90’s led to the DotBomb bust.  The 21st Century has brought us gizmo’s galore, including PDA/Smartphone’s, featuring the ubiquitous Blackberry®, which many of us would no sooner forget to bring into a business meeting than we would forget to wear pants, or dresses.

Now that our economies, and much of the worlds’, are stretched so thin you can almost hear the drumhead beat of layoffs, downsizing, foreclosures, multi-Trillion Dollar deficits and the like, the answer to our woes is staring us right in the face.

The "Manhattan Project," was the name for the highly secret project to develop the atom bomb, supposedly urged on by Albert Einstein in a famous letter to FDR, which has become part of American folklore and can be found in the online Einstein archive (for the curious).  The project was formally named the "Manhattan Engineer District (MED)," and it was run from about 1939 through 1946 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, commanded by General Leslie R. Groves, a remarkable fellow also made famous in many books and movies.  The US, UK and Canada were the official participants and all did an excellent job of keeping it so secret that the world was truly astonished when atomic bombs detonated over both Hiroshima (on Monday, August 6, 1945, at 8:15 a.m. (JST) the "Enola Gay," a sole American B-29 bomber, dropped" Little Boy") and Nagasaki (On the following Thursday, August 9, 1945, at 11:02 a.m (JST) the first plutonium bomb, "Fat Man").  Nobody had even heard of such weapons and few had even dreamed such a thing possible.

The Manhattan Project was the largest focused scientific project of its time and perhaps any other time.  From humble beginnings as just a small 1939 research project, it eventually grew to employ 130,000+ people at a cost of nearly $2 billion WWII USD (which is roughly, $24 billion in 2008 dollars – CPI based- a mere drop in the bucket compared to just what has been handed out of your tax dollars and mine to Citigroup, alone!).  It accomplished the unthinkable and undoubtedly ended WWII before the US had to risk, and possibly lose, the lives of hundreds of thousands more US servicemen and women, including my father and two of my uncles, his brothers, on one side, and my mother’s brother, on the other side – all waiting in either Southeast Asia or the Philippines to be in the invasion force – indeed, I might not now even be here to write this article if those A-bombs had not dropped, WW II had not ended when it did, and my Dad had never come home from a land invasion of Japan (but, that too, is another story).

What we need now is to assemble the Mother of All Blue-Ribbon, Nobel-Elite, Top Scientific Minds alive- task force to start up a Manhattan Project to develop alternative sources of energy.  Put them out somewhere quiet and secret like New Mexico or Nevada, fund them with whatever they need, and tell them they can stop and go back to their regular lives when they come up with useable, practical, economically viable, electric car and truck batteries that last a long time and go fast and far, and other alternative fuels to heat our homes, power our cities, and even de-salinate ocean water to meet the world’s growing needs.  Incentivize it with special Nobel Prizes, oodles of competition-prize money, and whatever else motivates scientists; open parts up to private innovators and inventors working in garages and basements across America right now.  It doesn’t have to be so secret; it just has to be massive and effective.

We have the smarts, we certainly have the labor, and exciting new industries, technologies, and alternative sources of energies offering jobs and whole new ways of life will be the result – real, viable ones that work and are cheap and put an end to the day when we pay such King’s Ransoms to countries that hate us but sell us oil, thus enriching themselves to build fantastical things in their desert homes and to use chunks of that money to invest in American properties and businesses.  In fact, do such a good job that they can drink that oil, because there won’t be much else to do with it.  Do it now.

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Kotkin: Dysfunctional California; Dysfunctional L.A.

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

Urban scholar Joel Kotkin of Chapman University takes turns laying into what he describes as a dysfunctional California in a Newsweek article; then goes after a dysfunctional Los Angeles in a Forbes magazine article.

While Kotkin offers some hope that California can rebound from its paralysis as it has in the past from down periods, this time through the efforts of individual entrepreneurs, he says Los Angeles’s hope rides in getting rid of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, whom he gives low marks.

Read the Newsweek piece on California, “Death of the Dream,” by clicking here.

Read the Forbes piece, “The Decline of Los Angeles,” by clicking here.

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Now is not the time to scale back on marketing

Caroline Beteta
President and CEO of Visit California

During a recession, when everyone is bunkering down and cutting back, it’s very tempting for tourism agencies to scale back on tourism marketing. Some destination marketing organizations (DMO’s) across the country and in California are scaling back, for example, on international marketing and focusing more on drawing tourists from their own back yard – reminiscent of strategies used after 9-11.

As the Chair of the U.S. Travel Association, and President & CEO of the California Travel & Tourism Commission (CTTC), I believe it is even more critical than ever that we find ways to keep our investments in out-of-state domestic and international marketing going. As President Obama recently said in his State of the Union address, now is the time for long-term investing, an opinion shared in MediaWeek by Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of WWP Group. Sorrell said, and I agree, “When times are tough, it’s time to invest, not cut. This comes from years of research dating back to Ogilvy’s Alex Biel and Millward Brown interaction surveys. All show that if we cut marketing during such times, the impact is damaging and it can take you longer to get back to where you were.”

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A Rose by Any Other Name

David S. White
Principal of the Law Firm of David S. White & Associates, West Los Angeles, specializing in litigation, arbitration and mediation of real-estate-related disputes and litigation since 1977; www.dswlawyers.com

“”What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. – Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene II, William Shakespeare (1564 –1616).

Recent comments, and particularly, who made them, indicate that the idea of Nationalizing the Big Banks may be something that we are going to be living with very shortly: “This idea of nationalizing banks is not comfortable,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). “But I think we’ve got so many toxic assets spread throughout the banking and financial community, throughout the world, that we’re going to have to do something that no one ever envisioned a year ago, no one likes. To me, banking and housing are the root cause of this problem. . . . I would not take off the idea of nationalizing the banks.”

We here in America emphatically do not like the word: “Nationalize.” For one thing, it has come to be associated with people like Fidel Castro, whose new, post-Batista (1959- present) government nationalized property owned by some big U.S. corporations, like United Fruit’s lucrative sugar mills in Cuba’s Oriente region, and then added insult to injury by pegging compensation at low valuations, a small fraction of the full, real value, which the corporations themselves had used, in order to keep their taxes low.

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Convention Founders Really Want Legislative Reform, Not a Convention

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

After sitting through Tuesday’s five-and-a-half-hour, standing-room only summit on the possibility of a California constitutional convention, I came away with two strong impressions.

1.    A constitutional convention, while it would be difficult and dangerous, is something California should do. There is so much frustration with the status quo here, and so many different ideas about how to fix things, that we need a top-to-bottom review of our state constitution. We need to pare back the convention (it runs more than 150 pages), and look at all three branches – the legislative, executive and judicial.

2.    The Bay Area Council and other good government groups, in their heart of hearts, don’t really want a constitutional convention. They want legislative reform – changes in how laws are made, budgets are passed, and lawmakers are elected.

Many of the ideas that were offered Tuesday were good-from changing two-thirds to turning the legislature into a unicameral -but the agenda, constitutionally speaking was narrow. There was no talk about California’s outdated judicial branch. There was very little discussion of the structure of the executive branch, the powers of the governor, and the problems of regulatory bodies – like the Public Utilities Commission and the Coastal Commission – that are partially embedded in the state constitution. What there was: a lot of talk about "controlling" or "focusing" the agenda of a constitutional convention.

I understand the appeal of a narrow agenda and the desire not to let a convention get out of hand. (The last convention, in 1879, did get out of hand, and an entire article devoted to discrimination against the Chinese was added to the constitution). But a narrow agenda also will undermine the effort. For a constitutional convention to be embraced by voters and people on both sides of the partisan divide, it needs to be – in perception and reality – a wide-ranging, fair-minded look at the whole document.

And voters should be suspicious of a summit on constitutional reform that meets for more than half a day without discussing the state’s miserable courts, hearing from a judge, or discussing the governor’s power. (The post is the most powerful in the state, and among the most powerful governorships in the country. Even if you like it that way, it’s remarkable to have a discussion about a constitutional convention without the subject coming up). I also didn’t hear much about how to pare down the document.

If the groups behind yesterday’s event (full disclosure: among the sponsors was the centrist think tank that employs me, the New America Foundation) are serious about holding a convention, they need to accept they won’t have control. It’s the nature of the beast. They need to talk not about specific reforms, but instead focus on the principles they want a new constitution to embody. (My suggestions: a new document should be 1. much shorter 2. easy for citizens to understand 3. reflect the modern economy and technology 4. focus on restoring accountability to California’s systems)

If what the groups really want is major legislative reform, then what these groups ought to do is stop talking (there’s been discussion of all the ideas advanced Tuesday for years) and start fundraising and organizing for a series of ballot initiatives to do just that.

For my part, I’ve turned around on the subject. When the idea of a convention was first raised last year, I was wary of it (though I love spectacles and liked the idea of a big splashy event, perhaps in the old capital of Monterey, perhaps with delegates wearing powdered wigs). But now I think the value of a holding a wide-ranging convention is great. And the risks – governmentally and politically – are not that great. Voters after all would have to sign off on any recommended changes from the convention.

Such a gathering would attract attention – on Tuesday, the summit attracted a huge crowd on a Tuesday – and educate Californians about their history and how their government works. The value of that education – and the resulting engagement – would be worth the trouble of putting on the convention, even if very few changes come out of it.

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Shocking Cost of Green Energy

Charles Crumpley
Editor and Publisher of the San Fernando Valley Business Journal

Imagine taking a nice Sunday excursion into the desert a few years from now. Maybe you’ll pass some Joshua trees and some spectacular geologic formations. But chances are, the feature you’ll see most will be miles and miles of high-voltage transmission lines.

Yes, massive transmission lines will soon dominate the desert scenery around Los Angeles. That’s thanks to the quest to boost alternative electrical power. Utilities in California are required to get one-third of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

Up till now, transmission lines that stretched across the hinterlands haven’t been particularly common because electricity-generating plants have been close to most cities.

But most alternative energy plants will be far from the city, such as the wind turbines to be built in the Tehachapi mountains north of Los Angeles and the seven solar plants that were announced a couple of weeks ago to be sited in the deserts generally east of Los Angeles. That means miles of high-voltage lines must be built to get the electricity from there to here.

I’m no electrical engineer, but I saw one report that said the kind of transmission line needed to carry the variable jolts of juice that come from renewable power plants is different from the line needed to carry uniform current from a traditional generating plant. That means the new lines can’t simply hook onto existing lines, and that, of course, multiplies the cost of the transmission lines needed for renewable plants.

Regardless, it is a certainty that the cost of the new lines will be shocking. One report from electric grid operators that came out a few weeks ago said the cost to build new transmission lines nationwide for wind power will be $100 billion. Add that to the more than $700 billion to build wind farms in the western Great Plains and elsewhere, and you’ve got an amount equal to the big stimulus package signed last week, and that’s just for one renewable energy source. Ratepayers, of course, will get stuck with the bill for that.

Oh, and you know you can count on another thing: lawsuits. Stretching new high-voltage lines across virgin land will mean getting the assent of landowners and various authorities. That will create quibbles about compensation, which, in turn, will cause delays and legal expenses – and add to the cost of building the transmission lines.

Environmentalists are likely to file suit, too. In an op-ed on these pages headlined "Jolt From Renewable Energy" in the Feb. 9 issue, local lawyer Ari Bessendorf wrote that environmentalists likely will object to the lines that will transport electricity from the Tehachapi wind power project to Los Angeles because they will traverse environmentally sensitive areas.

Beyond the costs and the lawsuits, there’s the Sunday drive aspect. The notion of taking a quick trip out of town to escape civilization for an afternoon will be far less appealing if you know you’ll be driving parallel to a network of high-voltage cables for much of the trip.

I’m not saying or suggesting that alternative energy shouldn’t be pursued. I am saying that alternative energy creates plenty of new costs, trade-offs and unpleasantries. Those little matters have gotten ignored or brushed aside in the single-minded, near-religious zeal to go green.

Environmentalists like to say that with renewable energy, the fuel is free. That’s true, except that with almost anything free, there are plenty of costs.

Charles Crumpley is editor of the Business Journal. He can be reached at [email protected]

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