IN THIS ISSUE – “Runaway Regulatory Train”
- Hardball or Sleazeball Campaign Tactics in Governor’s Race?
- Reasonable Water-Use Rules or “Runaway Regulatory Train”?
- Californians’ Water-Saving Habits Slip
- The Last Drought was Epic, Study Finds
- Delta Tunnels “Good for Fish” Leading Expert Reports
OTHER RESOURCES & PARKING SPACES
- State Dept. of Finance Reports High Employment & Inflation
- CARB Vehicle Emission Standards May Backfire, US EPA Chief Says
- Homeless Can Park Live-In Cars As Long As Necessary, Seattle Judge Rules
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FOR THE WEEK ENDING MARCH 16, 2018
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Hardball or Sleazeball Politics in Governor’s Race?
An independent political action committee paid for an ad slamming Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom partly with money from groups that are backing his run for governor.
Welcome to the wild ways of campaign money, circa 2018.
The ad comes courtesy of the Asian American Small Business Political Action Committee, one of scores of campaign organizations that by law must be disconnected from candidates who may benefit from their spending.
Its name aside, the Asian American Small Business PAC is funded by Chevron, AT&T, Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and many other big business and labor organizations that are political players in Sacramento.
The anti-Newsom ad, like many of its ilk, employs ominous music, fuzzed-up photos and a narrator who uses innuendo as she cites an affair Newsom had in 2005 when he was San Francisco mayor. All that is typical of attacks by independent campaign groups. What sets this one apart is its funders.
One is the California Teachers Association, which has endorsed Newsom for governor and donated $29,200 to him in December. A few months earlier, the teachers’ union gave $25,000 to the Asian American Small Business PAC.
The California State Council of Service Employees donated $29,200 to Newsom for Governor in February, at about the time the ad surfaced. A year earlier, the SEIU, which largely represents government workers, gave $10,000 to the Asian American Small Business PAC.
Same with the Union Pacific Railroad, the PricewaterhouseCoopers accounting firm, the San Francisco-based garbage and recycling company Recology and the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians, which own casinos in San Diego County. They and others donated to Newsom’s election effort and to the PAC, which seeks to derail Newsom’s campaign.
Top executives with 21st Century Fox gave to Newsom for Governor, while the corporation gave to the PAC. Donors to Newsom’s gubernatorial campaign accounted for more than a fourth of the $420,000 raised by the PAC in 2017.
For now, the ad lingers on the committee’s website and has not been broadcast. But as of Dec. 31, the committee had $256,000 in the bank, which means it could fund wider distribution as the June primary election nears.
Dave Low, executive director of the California School Employees Association, called the ad a “complete surprise.” The union, which represents public-school employees who are not teachers, donated $29,200 to Newsom in February and $12,500 to the PAC last year.
Low said he called Bill Wong, the longtime consultant to the PAC, demanding that the ad be taken down. When his request was rejected, Low decided that the school employees’ union no longer would give to the committee.
“It’s not something CSEA would fund or back,” Low said.
Wong, who declined to comment, left as the committee’s consultant in November and now is a top aide to Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, overseeing Assembly Democrats’ campaigns.
In the past, Wong was an adviser to Treasurer John Chiang, another Democrat running for governor. The Asian American Small Business PAC contributed $20,000 to Chiang’s gubernatorial campaign in 2016. Chiang has denied any responsibility for the ad.
By law, donors to the PAC and other outfits like it cannot dictate how their money is spent. They gave believing their money would benefit Democratic candidates who are Asian-American and their donations would help ingratiate them with Asian-American lawmakers.
Jennifer Webber, an Oakland consultant who works for the committee, sent an email to justify the ad: “People from within and outside the Capitol are calling for its culture to change. The PAC felt it was important to raise these questions about Newsom so Californians can evaluate whether he is the person who can lead that change. We don’t think he is.”
Rebecca Zoglman of the California Teachers Association called the spot “disappointing” and said it “screams a little bit of desperation.” It fails to focus on issues that matter, such as public education and health care, Zoglman said.
Donors who were shocked by the how their money was spent should have considered the group’s history. Although it’s run by and supports Democrats, it spent $124,000 in 2015 to defeat state Sen. Steve Glazer, a Democrat from Orinda.
To help Glazer’s Democratic opponents, the committee tried to prop up a Republican candidate who had dropped out of the race and endorsed Glazer. In attack mailers sent to Republican voters, the committee said Glazer had been “advising liberal Jerry Brown” and managed Brown’s 2012 campaign for a ballot measure that raised income and sales taxes to help fund schools.
The statements were intended to inflame Republicans who were considering supporting Glazer. Leaders of the unions that gave to the committee winked at the duplicity in 2015 because they hoped to replace him with a labor-friendly Democrat.
Not one to forget, Glazer said in an email that “the people behind this committee are sleazeball operators without integrity or conscience who have no business working in California politics.” That, of course, assumes integrity and conscience are part of the job description.
Reasonable Water-Use Rules or “Runaway Regulatory Train”?
It seemed like the sort of thing any drought-wary Californian could support.
The state’s water cops were poised last month to pass a set of rules prohibiting what most everyone agrees are wasteful water uses –like letting water from a hose without a nozzle flow into a storm drain.
But no change in California water policy ever comes easily. The State Water Resources Control Board’s proposal to impose permanent conservation rules – such as prohibiting hosing down driveways, watering lawns less than two days after it rains and washing a car without attaching a shut-off nozzle to the hose – ran into a cascade of opposition. Leery of ceding any power to the state, practically every major water agency in California, from Sacramento to San Diego, stepped up to complain the water board was overstepping its legal authority.
The controversy comes at a delicate time. Eleven months after Gov. Jerry Brown declared an end to the drought, water usage is starting to creep back up in California: Urban consumption increased 5 percent last year as mandatory conservation restrictions were lifted, although usage was still 16 percent below the 2013 baseline figures used by the state water board.
Now, with California experiencing a dry winter and the possibility of another drought, Californians’ stomach for conservation is about to be tested again. The state water board plans to resurrect its proposal in April. Separately, the Legislature is working on a pair of bills that in some respects would go even further in governing how much water Californians are allowed to use.
Designed to make conservation “a California way of life,” the legislation would impose a long-lasting, comprehensive framework on water usage – drought or no drought. AB 1668 and SB 606 would establish overall standards for indoor and outdoor water consumption. Local water agencies would have plenty of input on how the standards are set, but if they miss the targets they could get fined thousands of dollars.
The idea is to get Californians to gradually consume less water.
“There’s a lot of things we can do to be more efficient, and that’s the goal of this,” said Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, D-Glendale, author of AB 1668. “It’s very important considering that we’re going now into another drought, it looks like.”
State officials are convinced that Californians are committed to saving water. During the drought, when mandatory cutbacks were imposed, the most frequent complaint from the general public was about neighbors over-watering their lawns and flouting the rules, said Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the state water board.
“The average Californian wants to conserve and wants everybody else to conserve, and wants it to be as fair as possible,” Marcus said. A Field Poll in 2016, when the drought was still severe, showed that 74 percent of Californians said curtailing water use was “very important.”
Nonetheless, local water agencies are constantly on guard against efforts at the state level to restrict local water usage. They fought the cutbacks
Brown mandated in 2015, during the worst of the drought. It cost them millions in revenue; and most water agencies in the Sacramento area said it was unfair that they had to slash use by 36 percent even though the region’s actual water supplies were in fairly good shape.
“Most agencies didn’t have a need to take a 36 percent cut,” said John Woodling of the Sacramento Regional Water Authority, which represents area water agencies. “They had more water supply available than that. That was really state top-down rationing.”
So perhaps a blowup over the state water board’s proposal was inevitable. Marcus’ agency is proposing to permanently ban certain practices that were temporarily forbidden during the drought. Hotels and motels would have to remind guests, in writing, that they can reuse their towels and sheets. Cities wouldn’t be allowed to water grassy medians, with certain exceptions. Homeowners couldn’t water their lawns so heavily that the water runs into the sidewalk or street.
The board says it has ample legal authority – granted by the state’s Constitution – to impose restrictions on the “waste and unreasonable use” of water. Nonetheless, the proposal was tabled after local water agencies protested. The agencies didn’t disagree with the proposals themselves but said the board was going too far in defining what’s considered an “unreasonable use” of water. That phrase is a crucial element in California’s complicated system of water rights.
“You’re impacting water rights plain and simple,” Sacramento attorney Rob Donlan, representing several local water agencies, told the board in February.
Jeffrey Mount, a water-policy analyst at the Public Policy Institute of California, said the water districts fear one regulation will lead to another. “If the state is going to step in and regulate how long you can hold a garden hose on your driveway, why wouldn’t they step in and regulate everything else?”
The state’s farm lobby is equally concerned. Farm groups say the water board’s proposed rules on urban water usage could eventually lead to regulations on the types of crops farmers can irrigate. “There’s the potential they’ll make similar decisions encroaching on agriculture,” Mike Wade of the California Farm Water Coalition said in an interview.
Marcus said fears of a runaway regulatory train are unfounded. The water board is only prepared to take steps that are in line with societal views on water use.
“It’s not like we’re saying, ‘Don’t have a lawn,'” she said. “Plenty of people have suggested we should ban lawns, but that’s not reasonable yet. Someday it might be, but not yet.”
So if a simple ban on watering driveways stirs up a fight, how can the Legislature expect to pass an even more ambitious series of conservation measures? The answer lies in the local control that AB 1668 and SB 606 allow water districts to keep.
After going nowhere in the Legislature last year, the bills have been revised to give local water agencies a greater say in establishing the usage targets they’ll have to meet.
“We felt it was extremely important to go bottom-up instead of top-down,” said Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Los Angeles, co-author of SB 606. “We’re going to respect these (local) districts.”
The drought emergency mandates required local districts to slash usage by as much as 36 percent, depending on historical consumption patterns. The legislation takes a different approach.
For indoor use, the legislation would set a single statewide target for local districts to meet: 55 gallons a day per person, gradually declining to 50 gallons by 2030.
For outdoor use, the targets would be set by the state in consultation with the local districts. The Department of Water Resources would set targets for each district based on data supplied by the district on climate, landscape sizes, available water supplies and other factors. Agencies that have broadened their supply portfolio through recycling or other means would have greater leeway to use their water even in dry conditions.
The Sacramento region, where lawns are big and summers are hot, traditionally has been one of the heaviest water users in the state. Last June, for instance, the average city of Sacramento resident used a total of 144 gallons of water a day, according to the water board. The figure was 76 gallons for Los Angeles and 47 for San Francisco.
The plan proposed by the Legislature, by acknowledging differences in climate and other factors, could give Sacramentans greater leeway to continue keeping their lawns green. Woodling, of the Sacramento water authority, said area water agencies are becoming more comfortable with the legislation.
The state’s largest water agency is already on board.
“It’s recognizing the unique circumstances of each agency,” said Deven Upadhyay of the influential Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which is supporting the legislation. “As many of us are looking at making investments in things like recycled water, some in seawater desalination, some in storage, you want to know you’re going to be able to utilize those supplies as you go into drought. That’s why you invest in those things.”
Failure to meet the targets would leave districts open to financial penalties, but fines wouldn’t kick in until 2027. “It’s a very gentle glide path to start moving people to these efficiency standards,” Hertzberg said.
Environmental groups tend to favor very strict regulations on water use, but some are on board with this relatively moderate piece of legislation. Tracy Quinn, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the bills strike the right balance between conservation and local flexibility.
“It is a much more equitable way of ensuring long-term reliability of our supplies,” she said.
Californians’ Water-Saving Habits Slip
California’s water conservation habits, refined and improved over five years of drought, are quickly evaporating.
For the seventh time in the last eight months, the amount of water saved by urban Californians has declined, according to new data from the State Water Resources Control Board. In other words, lawn sprinklers are back on, showers are getting longer and overall, California’s water use, after five years of conserving, is now back to where it was before the drought began.
“You don’t want to jump to a conclusion and say the sky is falling, everybody has forgotten how to conserve,” said Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the water board. “But having been through what we’ve been through, we obviously want people to stay aware and redouble our efforts.”
Overall, urban residents reduced the amount of water they use by just .8 percent in January, a far cry from the whopping 20.7 percent reduction in January 2017, compared to January 2013, the baseline year the state uses.
Marcus attributed January’s meager conservation totals to hot, dry weather around the state that month, particularly in Southern California, where temperatures hit the 80s on multiple days, prompting people to turn on lawn sprinklers, which account for half of all urban water use in the state.
Second, after last winter’s relentless storms and floods, with Gov. Jerry Brown declaring the drought emergency over in April, media coverage of water conservation fell, she noted. And finally, cities, water districts and private water companies in many cases removed water conservation advertising and rules — like limits on the number of days landscaping could be watered — that had been in place during the 2012-2017 drought.
A big reason for the heavier use now is that Southern Californians cranked open the faucets this winter.
While residents of the nine Bay Area counties continued their conservation habits — cutting water use 6.9 percent in January, compared with January 2013, the South Coast area, which includes Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange County and San Diego, did the opposite: Residents there used 3.8 percent more water in January than five years ago.
Los Angeles topped them all, using 15.2 percent more compared with five years ago, while Bakersfield saw an increase of 13.5 percent, Riverside 3.1 percent and San Diego 1.4 percent.
By comparison, most big Bay Area cities used less. San Francisco cut water use 12.2 percent over the same period, San Jose Water Company customers cut 9.6 percent, East Bay Municipal Utility District customers cut by 5.3 percent, and Santa Cruz cut by 15.7 percent. But Contra Costa Water District customers — located in hotter inland areas — increased use by 3.9 percent.
The overall statewide trend is making some people nervous. Despite rain and snow last week and more in the forecast for next week, much of this winter has been dry. The Sierra snow pack, which supplies nearly one-third of the water for farms and cities in California, on Thursday was just 38 percent of normal.
Still, most reservoirs are looking good, at average levels or near full, due to the very wet winter last year. But rainfall totals around the state since Oct. 1 are barely half of average in Northern California this winter and about a quarter of average in Southern California.
The Last Drought was Epic, Study Finds
Just how bad was California’s last drought?
For most of Southern California, it was either the worst or second worst since the century Columbus landed in the New World, the Ottoman empire was started and Joan of Arc was burned at the stake.
In other words, it was one of the worst since the 1400s, according to a study released Monday by the California Department of Water Resources.
Compiled by examining trees in the southern half of the state, the study put the five-year drought in some historical perspective. It was conducted in cooperation with the University of Arizona’s Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, which looked at trees in 46 different sites from the southern Sierra Nevada to just north of the Mexico border.
The study largely dovetails with previous estimates that the latest drought, which was declared over last spring by Gov. Jerry Brown, was historically significant. It also suggests that while lengthy dry spells in California are nothing new, two other prolonged droughts also stand out: one starting in 1452 and the other in 1775.
“Periods of widespread drought are evident throughout the past six centuries, but most events are limited to three or four years,” the report said. The tree-ring evidence indicates the latest drought was the “worst five-year drought in the past six centuries, as measured by the percent of average precipitation or streamflow.”
DWR Director Karla Nemeth, in a prepared statement, said the study confirms “what we’ve long believed and said. The norm for California’s climate is to move back and forth frequently between wet and dry conditions, and water conservation must be a way of life.”
Generally speaking, the last drought was more severe in Southern California than in the north state.
DWR’s report comes at a crucial moment in California’s current “water year.” Two storms scheduled to hit the state this week could dump as much as 100 inches of snow on the Sierra Nevada, according to the National Weather Service. Sacramento is expected to get 2 to 3 inches of rain.
That raises hopes of a “March miracle” that could bring precipitation to normal or near-normal levels after weeks of dry weather.
Heading into this week’s storms, the Sierra snowpack is just 37 percent of average for this date. DWR’s eight-station index, which measures a mix of rain and snow in the Sacramento Valley, is at 47 percent of average.
Delta Tunnels “Good for Fish” Leading Expert Reports
One of California’s foremost experts on freshwater fish believes there may be hope for restoring native salmon to abundance – but there’s a catch: California must build the controversial Delta tunnels, he says.
“The expected costs are tremendous and there is a lot of concern over that, but our paper is about what’s good for fish,” said Peter Moyle, a professor of fisheries with the University of California, Davis Center for Watershed Sciences. “Will the Delta tunnels be good for fish or not? I think they will.”
Moyle co-authored a 63-page report with colleagues John Durand and Carson Jeffres that was released on Tuesday. It proposes a comprehensive game plan for restoring the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and saving native fish from extinction. Achieving this goal, according to the report, will require restoring a great deal of riverside habitat in the northern and western Delta. Saving the native fish, the report says, will also probably require building the Delta tunnels, or something resembling them.
The tunnels, known officially as California WaterFix, would create a new conveyance system under the delta at an estimated cost of $17 billion. Such an alternative water diversion system, the authors explain in their paper, could help alleviate strains on the Delta currently caused by powerful water pumps at the south edge of the estuary, as long it is coupled with large-scale habitat restoration projects.
The paper was commissioned by Orange County Coastkeeper, which received guidance and direction in the effort by the Municipal Water District of Orange County, according to meeting reports from late 2016 and early 2017. Garry Brown, the executive director of Orange County Coastkeeper, said his organization funded the paper and that no funding came from water agencies.
But Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of the group Restore the Delta, which opposes the tunnel project, believes the paper’s findings were influenced by the MWD. The district receives water from the Delta via the State Water Project and potentially has much to gain from the tunnels, which its supporters say will improve the consistency and reliability of deliveries.
“I believe Dr. Moyle delivered a theory based on the opinions of the people who funded his work,” Barrigan-Parrilla said. “It’s really heartbreaking. [Peter Moyle] is going to wind up on the wrong side of history.”
Moyle said that for him, “What matters is being on the right side of protecting native fishes. Critics need to come up with a comprehensive, realistic plan for fish conservation that takes into account major changes to the delta that are likely to happen in the not-too-distant future.”
The new report comes at a time when the Delta smelt is nearer to extinction than it has ever been and when Chinook salmon numbers have plunged following years of drought-related stress. In fact, Moyle co-authored a report just 10 months ago predicting that most of California’s native salmon and trout would vanish over the next few decades.
“We predicted they’d go extinct if present trends continue,” he said. “The new report is a plan to make present trends not continue.”
The paper – entitled “Making the Delta a Better Place for Native Fishes” – aims to provide lawmakers and policy directors with a framework to reverse the trends that have made the Delta such a hostile place for native fish that evolved to thrive in an estuary environment.
After decades of aggressive water diversions, much of the Delta now functions ecologically more like a Mississippi basin swamp than like an estuary. One key feature of an estuary is that freshwater flows relatively consistently through the system, toward the sea. That flow pattern has been disrupted in much of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, Moyle explained.
“We have an ecosystem in most of the central and south Delta that just isn’t suitable for most of the native fishes we want to have around,” he said.
Currently, two large pumping stations at the south edge of the Delta draw water into a pair of canals taking the water south and west. The pumps, run by the United States Bureau of Reclamation and the California Department of Water Resources, are so powerful that they actually reverse the flow of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers at times, confusing migrating fish and drawing them toward remote backwaters and the pumps themselves. This phenomenon has killed many millions of salmon, smelt and other native species over several decades.
The new report outlines a state-mandated project called EcoRestore, initially introduced several years ago as a mitigation to the Delta tunnels project. EcoRestore would protect or revive about 30,000 acres in the Delta region – mainly floodplain and inter-tidal habitat. The report’s authors suggest expanding this project while focusing restoration efforts on a region of the estuary sometimes called the “North Delta Habitat Arc.” This area begins in the Yolo Bypass floodplain region southwest of Sacramento and extends south and west along the course of the Sacramento River. It has been spared some of the most drastic impacts and landscape alterations seen in the south Delta and to biologists is a key area of focus for habitat restoration projects.
“This is where the best opportunities are for habitat restoration, and the best place to spend money for restoration,” Moyle said.
The paper doesn’t exactly introduce any new concepts in Delta restoration. What it does do, Moyle said, is present the needs of the Delta in one cohesive document.
“People know what the fish need,” he said. “It’s more a matter of connecting all the dots to make a coherent restoration program.”
Where the report is likely to fire up debate and criticism is its discussion of the hotly contested Delta tunnels. The project’s detractors have long warned the tunnels could easily lead to increased volumes of water being removed from the Delta – which they say could push salmon and other species over the brink.
“If they build it, salmon will do worse than they are now, and we’ll lose Delta smelt,” Barrigan-Parrilla said.
Moyle acknowledged there are risks associated with building and operating the tunnels, but it’s still a project he stands behind. Moyle said he feels the objections to WaterFix are misguided – at least as far as rebuilding salmon runs is concerned.
“The status quo is not sustainable; it will result in the likely collapse of many remaining stocks of desirable fishes even with large investment in restoration projects,” the new report warns, referring to the existing water diversion system.
Moyle and his co-authors make the case that a pair of tunnels could alleviate the reverse-flow problem by diverting water from the north end of the estuary. This water would be moved underground and would connect to the existing conveyance system. The south Delta pumps would be throttled back, or even shut down for much of the year, and the end effect would be an uninterrupted seaward flow of water – exactly what could restore the Delta to health.
“But there are a lot of ifs, buts and ands here,” Moyle said.
For one thing, huge fish screens must be installed in front of the tunnel intakes to prevent increased mortality of salmon – barriers that the report cautions might not be effective. The report also cautions that the tunnels will only benefit fish populations if all possible mitigations, including floodplain habitat restoration, are completed. Moreover, the authors warn that, once the tunnels are built, total water exports must not increase.
That’s what John McManus worries will happen. The executive director of the Golden Gate Salmon Association, a fishery advocacy group, McManus agrees with Moyle that the existing water diversion system threatens to annihilate Central Valley Chinook. However, he says the huge size of the proposed tunnels is reason to believe they will be used to take unsustainable volumes of water from the Sacramento River.
McManus added that a single-tunnel version of the project – now being considered by the state – could also be harmful to fish. Moyle’s report assessed a single-tunnel alternative but decided it would be little better than the status quo “because it lacks flexibility” and would mean running the Delta pumps at relatively high rates.
The research community seems generally skeptical of the capacity for the proposed tunnels to benefit fish. A study published in February by the U.S. Geological Survey concluded that the project would likely increase negative impacts on juvenile Chinook salmon. Rene Henery, California science director for the group Trout Unlimited, feels Moyle has endorsed the tunnels because he considers the better alternative – reducing overall water exports – politically unfeasible.
“But so many things, until they happen, are politically unfeasible,” Henery said. He added that “forcing an infrastructure project that is so controversial” could widen society’s political fissures and make progress in environmental restoration an even more arduous task than it already is.
Brown, at Orange County Coastkeeper, said his group does not necessarily support the tunnels.
“But I think it’s okay to have a discussion about them,” he said. “Some people have become so committed to the fight against California WaterFix that they will overlook the finer points in the paper about habitat.”
Moyle says saving fish species was just one reason he wrote the report. He also was eager to help bridge a significant political gap between Northern and Southern Californians. Decades ago, Delta water was exported primarily for use by San Joaquin Valley farmers and cities in Southern California. Today, millions of people in the Bay Area use the Delta’s water, too.
“The idea is to present this as a common problem,” Moyle said. “We all get water from the Delta now, so it’s a statewide problem. It’s everyone’s problem.”
CARB Vehicle Emission Standards May Backfire, US EPA Chief Says
The Trump administration’s chief environmental regulator signaled a coming showdown with California, warning the state won’t dictate the future of ambitious automobile fuel economy regulations enacted by the Obama administration.
“California is not the arbiter of these issues,” said Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt. California regulates greenhouse gas emissions at the state level, “but that shouldn’t and can’t dictate to the rest of the country what these levels are going to be.”
The EPA faces an April 1 deadline to decide whether Obama-era corporate average fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks from 2022 to 2025 are attainable or should be revised. President Donald Trump’s administration already ripped up the EPA’s conclusion that no changes are needed, issued by the agency during former President Barack Obama’s final weeks in the White House.
During a wide-ranging interview with Bloomberg News on Tuesday, Pruitt dismissed the possibility of setting standards beyond 2025, casting doubt on an offer by California officials who have said they would consider easing current standards in exchange for extending them beyond that year. The state is developing its own standards through 2030.
“Being predictive about what’s going to be taking place out in 2030 is really hard,” Pruitt said. “I think it creates problems when you do that too aggressively. That’s not something we’re terribly focused on right now.”
Pruitt said the EPA is not “presently” looking at extending standards beyond 2025. California Air Resources Board Chairman Mary Nichols has signaled a willingness to discuss altering the state’s auto rules in the near term if the Trump administration agrees to develop efficiency targets further into the future.
Automakers aggressively lobbied Trump to take a new look at the standards, arguing they need to be reviewed in light of surging light-truck sales, low gasoline prices and tepid demand for plug-in vehicles.
Even so, the companies have repeatedly stressed in recent weeks that they hope the federal government and California will continue coordinating their tailpipe emissions policies. They’ve also invested billions of dollars in electric cars aimed not just at California but also overseas markets, especially China.
Pruitt said setting fuel economy standards that are too aggressive would be counterproductive.
“The whole purpose of CAFE standards is to make cars more efficient that people are actually buying,” Pruitt said. “If you just come in and try to drive this to a point where the auto sector in Detroit just makes cars that people don’t want to purchase, then people are staying in older cars, and the emission levels are worse, which defeats the overall purpose of what we’re trying to achieve.”
The current debate was set in motion seven years ago, when automakers agreed to a trio of coordinated fuel economy rules overseen by the EPA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and CARB that get more stringent each year through 2025. The requirements target a fleet average of more than 50 miles per gallon — equivalent to about 36 mpg in real-world driving.
“We want to hear from those folks in California and hear from the political leadership and try to make some informed decisions, but also say at the same time, we have a job to do,” Pruitt said. “We’re going to do our job. And if there are steps being taken to impede that, we’ll have to address that.”
Reached by telephone Tuesday, Nichols said, “My only comment is, ‘nothing new.’ That’s it.”
“California has been setting its own tailpipe standards for the better part of half a century,” said Roland Hwang, transportation director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “There are hardliners in the auto industry who would like to see us blunder into a confrontation, but there are also a lot of auto people with whom I talk who’d like to figure this out.”
Pruitt did not directly answer whether he would seek to revoke waivers from the federal law that allows California to set its own air pollution requirements. But, he signaled his concern with California’s outsize role. “Federalism is not one state dictating to the rest of the country what should occur in the area of CAFE,” he said.
State Dept. of Finance Reports High Employment & Inflation
California’s unemployment rate fell to a historic low of 4.3 percent in December, while the U.S . unemployment rate held steady at 4.1 percent. California inflation rose 2.9 percent in 2017, the highest since 2008, while U.S. inflation increased to 2.1 percent in 2017, the first time above 2 percent since 2012. The U.S. real gross domestic product growth rate increased by 0.8 percentage point to 2.3 percent in 2017.
Homeless Can Park Their Live-In Cars As Long As Necessary, Seattle Judge Rules
Steven Long, 57, has been calling his 2000 GMC Sierra pickup “home” for the last few years. Now he’s got a judge agreeing with him and the court papers to prove it.
Then again, if the judge’s recent ruling stands, say its critics, Seattle could become one of America’s most crowded, and socially lenient, places to live and sleep in your vehicle.
The outcome has the potential to make Seattle a haven for car and truck live-ins who prefer not to be harassed by police and parking-enforcement officers.
King County Superior Court Judge Catherine Shaffer saw to that on March 2 in an unusual ruling. Long’s rights were violated, she concluded, when police towed his pickup for being parked too long on a city street.
It was, after all, his home.
Shaffer said Long’s cumulative $900 fine was excessive under the 8th Amendment, which protects against “excessive fines.” She also ruled that the impoundment violated the state’s Homestead Act, which protects homes — including vehicles in which their otherwise homeless owners live, she noted — from being easily seized and forcibly sold.
Shaffer knocked about $300 off the fine and said the city did not have to stop impounding cars but would have to take into account that vehicles with live-in owners are homes, not merely transportation. The truck already was back in Long’s possession after he agreed to pay the fine in small installments.
City officials decried the decision.
The judge’s ruling effectively creates “a constitutional right to park one’s car wherever one wants, for as long as one wants,” Assistant City Atty. Michael Ryan said in court documents. King County, which includes Seattle, last year counted 2,300 people — about 20% of its homeless population — living in vehicles.
While Ryan and others see the ruling as further aggravating housing problems in Seattle, where the real estate market is among the nation’s hottest and most expensive, Long’s supporters mark it as a victory for the poor and homeless.
“This important decision may have a far-reaching impact, providing relief for many other people in our community who are struggling and choosing to make vehicles their homes in an effort to survive this affordable-housing crisis,” said Long’s attorney, Alison Bilow, from Columbia Legal Services, which provides free legal help.
Long’s pickup didn’t look like what most think of as a home, of course. It was an old truck, mostly in need of repairs, and sat broken down and unable to move in the same central Seattle parking spot for months.
Still, at night, when Long returned, it was a place where he could sleep and be safe.
Then one day in October 2016, it wasn’t.
“I came home, and it was gone,” said Long, who favors hard hats and sports a wild gray beard. He had just finished his janitorial shift at Century Link Field, Seattle’s football and soccer stadium, when he arrived at the empty parking space that night. “I was in total shock.”
Some nearby property owners saw the truck more as a nuisance than an abode. All of Long’s possessions were kept under a canopy in the truck’s bed and he slept in the cab. He had been homeless for four years, unable to find or afford intermittent housing even with his janitorial job.
“Everything I had was in that truck,” he said. “My tools, everything.”
Court records note that Long told police a week prior to the tow that he lived in the truck and couldn’t move it every 72 hours, as required by law. The officers left, but days later, Long found a $47 parking ticket on his windshield. The truck remained in the same spot, then disappeared a few days later.
At the impound lot, Long was told he owed $577 for the tow and storage, with an additional $27 added daily. Either he paid or the truck could be sold. He agreed to a $50-a-month payment plan and got his truck back, which he stored at a friend’s place out of town and began working on an appeal of the fines.
He borrowed a 1982 Chevy pickup to live in and continued to work janitorial and similar jobs.
“While the city didn’t charge him with a crime, they took his home — his most valuable asset — and left him to sleep in the same location on the ground under a tarp,” his attorneys said in a statement. “He was only able to secure the release of his home weeks later by agreeing to fees and fines which are overwhelming to a person experiencing homelessness.”
Attorneys thought Shaffer’s ruling was the first of its kind in the U.S. It may be, but other cities are facing the same issue. Los Angeles began looking for solutions after a federal appeals court in 2014 struck down a 1983 ban against living in cars.
In 2016, L.A. approved a measure to permit parking and sleeping in certain industrial or commercial districts. Los Angeles has an estimated 8,000 people living in vehicles, but the city has been slow to get its safe-parking program off the ground.
Other cities also have gone the safe route: Santa Barbara has a program with designated overnight parking lots. It also provides services, outreach aid and bathrooms. Seattle had several safe zones but is now down to one, and that’s set to shut down in April.
That could change in the wake of Shaffer’s ruling — and the city announced Wednesday that it would indeed appeal the judge’s decision.