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Susie Cagle's Posts


San Francisco plans expensive ‘managed retreat’ from rising seas

When you live on a coastline, looking down the barrel of imminent and unstoppable rising sea levels, sometimes "managed retreat" is your only option. What if we rerouted the highways before they ever flooded?

Apricot Cafe

That's the thinking behind San Francisco's Master Plan for the city's western shoreline. This retreat is not just managed, but proactive. KQED reports on the "test case" that other coastal cities will be watching: a more than $350 million plan to move the Great Highway and allow the surf to reclaim its turf.

"A lot of the things we're recommending at Ocean Beach are very expensive," says Benjamin Grant, who manages the Ocean Beach Master Plan for the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR). "But you have to set them against the costs of the band-aid measures already taking place."

Read more: Cities


Dodge made ‘God made a farmer’ Super Bowl ad, and I made an angry face

Farmers: We like them! So does Dodge, I guess, because there's not any other clear reason why the American car company would make this ad except to try to associate itself with a trade close to America's scrappy -- and white male -- identity.

From Dodge's portrayal, you'd hardly know that almost a third of farm operators are women, and the population of farm owners of color is growing by full percentage points each year. You'd also hardly know who does most of the work on most of those farms.

Read more: Food


Right-wingers want to teach kids that climate change is a fairy tale

Photo by Shutterstock.

Last month, Arizona, Colorado, and Oklahoma all introduced bills that would make teaching about climate change in public schools less a science and more a political debate. The bills -- based on model legislation from the supremely evil American Legislative Exchange Council -- would require schools to teach that climate change is "controversial" and not widely accepted scientific fact.

From DeSmogBlog:

In the past five years since 2008, among the hottest years in U.S. history, ALEC has introduced its "Environmental Literacy Improvement Act" in 11 states, or over one-fifth of the statehouses nationwide. The bill has passed in four states [-- Louisiana, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas] ...

ALEC's "model bills" are written by and for corporate lobbyists alongside conservative legislators at its annual meetings. ALEC raises much of its corporate funding from the fossil fuel industry, which in turn utilizes ALEC as a key -- though far from the only -- vehicle to ram through its legislative agenda in the states.

The bills use almost the exact same language. Oklahoma's, for example, calls for ...


California high-speed rail construction not exactly moving at high speed

The Golden State is set to begin construction on its much-vaunted (and much-moneyed) high-speed rail project this summer, a line that would run from Southern California to the San Francisco Bay Area. Amtrak is on board and the Department of Transportation is pumped, but despite having less than six months to go until they break ground, California hasn't bought the land where the train is supposed to go yet. Like, none of it, not "a single acre." Oops.

drawing of California's planned high-speed train
California High Speed Rail Authority

The Los Angeles Times reports:

The complexity of getting federal, state and local regulatory approvals for the massive $68-billion project has already pushed back the start of construction to July from late last year. Even with that additional time, however, the state is facing a risk of not having the property to start major construction work near Fresno as now planned.

It hopes to begin making purchase offers for land in the next several weeks. But that's only the first step in a convoluted legal process that will give farmers, businesses and homeowners leverage to delay the project by weeks, if not months, and drive up sales prices, legal experts say.

If the first 130 miles of rail aren't completed by 2018, at a spendy rate of $3.6 million each day, the project stands to lose federal funding.

One major roadblock will be Central Valley farmland that has been skyrocketing in value due to a booming global tree-nut market. The longer California drags its feet, the more expensive those farms, and in turn that train, will turn out to be. The first stretch of the project is only 29 miles, but involves the purchase of about 400 different parcels, many of them fancy farmland that owners are reluctant to part with.


California levies record $1 million fine against Chevron for refinery fire

Nearly six months after a Chevron refinery erupted in flames in Richmond, Cailf., there's a tiny bit of charred justice for residents of the San Francisco East Bay area.


In an announcement Wednesday, California's Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) said it would be fining Chevron $963,200 for the fire -- the biggest fine ever levied by the agency, and the biggest fine Cal/OSHA was even legally able to levy.

Cal/OSHA enforces workplace-safety law, and this judgment stemmed directly from 25 violations the agency said Chevron had committed. From the San Francisco Chronicle:

The state said 11 of the violations were willful and that Chevron had disregarded known and obvious hazards, a category that carries a fine of $70,000 per instance. Twelve other violations were deemed serious, with fines ranging from $6,000 to $25,000 apiece. The other two violations were minor.

Cal/OSHA found that Chevron officials ignored their own reliability department's urging in 2002 that they replace the pipe that ultimately failed. Company inspectors told managers that the line was vulnerable to corrosion.

The line had lost more than 80 percent of its thickness to corrosion when it finally ruptured, a separate federal investigation has found. ...


Cyclists are the happiest of us all


Despite getting run over, doored, harassed, and generally being treated as second-class citizens of the road, bicyclists are the happiest of all commuters. Go figure!

The finding comes via an Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium study released this month. Those who walk to work, the study found, are nearly as happy as cyclists, who are about three times happier than solo car-drivers.

Of course, your commute happiness is improved if you're on your way to a good job that makes you a lot of money, but income gap aside, even rich workaholic bikers still had safety concerns that chipped away at their smile scores.

New York Daily News columnist Denis Hamill sees your safety concerns, cyclists, and he raises you a head injury, because that's the only explanation I have for Hamil's ragey column on New York's bike lanes that, he says, have "disfigured the city in a logistical and aesthetic way."

Read more: Cities


Monsanto CEO acknowledges climate change, open to GMO labels, thinks veggies suck

Image (1) monsanto_withered_c.gif for post 40274The Wall Street Journal sat down with Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant in what were probably some very nice chairs for this comfy little edited Q&A. The global agriculture giant is "battered, bruised, and still growing," according to the WSJ, whose cup runneth over with pathos for poor Hugh. The interview kicks off with: "What's the harm in disclosing genetically modified ingredients to consumers?" Yes, Hugh, please tell us about the harm.

Grant says California's Proposition 37 -- which would have required GMO foods to be labeled, and which Monsanto spent millions to defeat (weird, WSJ, y'all left that bit out!) -- "befuddled the issue." But Grant says he's personally "up for the dialogue around labeling." Why? Because he thinks GMOs are so great of course! (Come on, you knew that answer.)

They're the most-tested food product that the world has ever seen. Europe set up its own Food Standards Agency, which has now spent €300 million ($403.7 million), and has concluded that these technologies are safe. [Recently] France determined there's no safety issue on a corn line we submitted there. So there's always a great deal of political noise and turmoil. If you strip that back and you get to the science, the science is very strong around these technologies.

GMO haters gonna GMO hate! And Grant would rather be in the future than in the past. "I think some of the criticism comes with being first in a lot of these spaces. I'd rather be there than at the back of the pack." On the whole, Monsanto has "mended a lot of fences" and "turned things around" recently with the general public, according to Grant, in part because of "consistent messaging." I will give him that!

One of Grant's and Monsanto's messages, apparently: Vegetables taste crappy. This should definitely help the company with the 18-and-under crowd, at least.


Campaign to label frankenfoods goes viral

organic-gmo-tomato-carousel Want to be able to tell the difference between a natural fish and a genetically engineered frankensalmon in the dystopian food future? It looks like you may not be required to live on the crunchy West Coast for that.

After California's GMO-labeling Proposition 37 failed to pass last fall, bills that would require labels for genetically modified food are rolling in Oregon and Washington, and similar initiatives are picking up steam in Minnesota, Missouri, and New Mexico, as well as in Connecticut and Vermont, where GMO-labeling legislation failed to pass last year amid threats of legal action from Monsanto.

New Mexico could be the first state to pass such a law. State Sen. Peter Wirth of Santa Fe, who is sponsoring the legislation, says the bill is aimed at "leveling the playing field" for food actually grown in fields.

Minnesota is home to the headquarters of General Mills, Hormel, Cargill, and Land-O-Lakes, which were all big contributors to the fight against Prop 37, but citizens groups are pushing legislators to pass a label law there too (and the local Fox affiliate covers them pretty appropriately). Meanwhile, Missouri's legislation would just target genetically modified meat and fish.

The most interesting take on the national GMO label fight comes from the belly of the beast: the International Dairy Foods Association, which just had its annual meeting. From Meat Poultry News:

Read more: Food


Guacamole Sunday: A better name for the Super Bowl, or a crappy marketing campaign?

It's a good thing that unexpected California frost didn't freeze out the state's avocado crop. It's not just the Golden State that loves nature's butter. Americans' appetite for avocados has exploded over the last decade, jumping significantly in 2012 alone, in no small part due to marketing campaigns by foreign avocado growers. This weekend, Americans are expected to eat several tons of avocados on "Guacamole Sunday" while watching the Super Bowl.

Nate Steiner

Twilight Greenaway at the Smithsonian's Food Think blog:

Last year, according to the produce industry publication The Packer, about 75 percent of the avocados shipped within the U.S. in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl came from Mexico. Most of the rest came from Chile. And that translates to a lot of the creamy green fruits. This year Americans will eat almost 79 million pounds of them in the few weeks before the big game -- an eight million pound increase over last year and a 100 percent increase since 2003.


Good news for peer-to-peer car-sharing

It's a good news day for peer-to-peer car-sharing, and those hideous and somewhat disturbing furry pink mustaches I keep seeing around San Francisco.

The detachable pink mustache alerts ride-seekers that this ride is a Lyft.

Today the California Public Utilities Commission said it has reached an agreement with Zimride, the parent company of fast-growing California ride-share purveyor Lyft, to suspend a cease-and-desist notice and $20,000 citation against the company. The PUC is still reviewing its regulations on car-sharing programs in the Golden State and hasn't yet reached similar deals with Uber or Sidecar, which are technically still outlaws, though they don't have the creepy mustaches to match.

This was good timing for Lyft, which announced this morning that it would be expanding to Los Angeles neighborhood by neighborhood in an attempt to cover all that concrete sprawl. And it's not just Lyft that has its sights set on bigger and better car-sharing markets. From Techcrunch:

The move into L.A. marks the first expansion market for Lyft, which became available to riders in San Francisco last summer. To expand into Southern California, the company sent a team to recruit drivers and build the initial community infrastructure in the city. That means interviewing drivers, inspecting their cars, and generally attempting to instill the Lyft culture into the new market. ...

Lyft isn’t the only ride-sharing service that is looking to broaden its footprint. San Francisco-based competitor SideCar recently launched its service in the Seattle area, and is looking to expand even more aggressively in the coming months.