Sunday, February 05, 2023

We're subsidizing the wrong electric vehicles

I read that Tesla raised the price of their popular Model Y SUV after the US altered the tax credit rule to make the Model Y eligible for tax credits. The Tesla Y is the most popular Tesla in my area so I looked up the specs. It's a relatively heavy vehicle at ~2,000 kg or ~4,400 lbs. But it can only carry a relatively paltry 433 kg of passenger + cargo. That's about a 5:1 ratio between vehicle and payload. 

I've been eying a Tern GSD and one of my friends has been bragging about how his top of the line GSD R14 was the best purchase he's ever made. He's 6'5" tall and he carries his similarly tall 10 year-old son and everything they need for the school and commute run between central Boulder and their mountain home. The Tern GSD S10 weights 33.5 kg (before accessories) and can carry an additional 200 kg! That's a 1:5 ratio between vehicle and payload.

That means this family with two Tern GSDs can haul 400 kg, or almost as much as a Tesla Y at about 1/5 of the cost (before the tax credit).  I know that the battery range on a eBike is much shorter than for the Tesla, but cyclists can easily find regular outlets to charge their eBikes up while taking a break. 

Vehicle kgVehicle Capacity kgBattery WhCostTax Credit
Tesla Y1929-201043381,000$54,990 - $57,990$7,500
Tern GSD S1033.6200400-900$5,399$0
2*Tern GSD S1067.2400700-1,800$10,798$0

You can add a trailer to one of the Tern GSDs and haul just as much as the Tesla Y!

Best of all, you can roll eBikes onto a train and then roll off at farther destination. Or you can carry them in an elevator up to your apartment rather than pay for expensive car parking stalls. 

I digress, if only we had a transportation system with great train service and bicycle-friendly roads.  Sigh. 

Enjoy this video, including the end where the young couple exit from a Taipei rail station near the beach. 

 

Remember Carbon Intensity of eBiking vs Driving? I use about 10 Wh/mi when utility cycling around my hilly area, often with shopping and other cargo. When I Tweeted about this, a father who carries 2 children and groceries on his Cargo eBike Tweeted back that he gets about 14-18 Wh/mi on his eBike and about 250-300 Wh/mi in his EV. That's similar to the Model Y performance. 

So a family riding on 2 Tern GSDs will use about 35 Wh/mi while the same family & cargo on the Model Y will use 250-300 Wh/mi. The Model Y is very efficient for such a heavy vehicle. They are both pretty efficient compared to an ICE car. 

The current problem is the global supply constraints on batteries. The same battery materials that go into one Model Y could build 200 eBikes. Do we build one electric SUV for one family, or 200 cargo eBikes for 100 families? If we focus only on replacing cars one for one with electric ones, then we will miss out on all the savings from mode shifting to lighter, more efficient electric vehicles.

Researchers in Europe did the math and concluded that fixating on larger and longer range EVs while battery supplies are constrained can increase CO2 emissions by slowing the global mode shift required.

The new electric SUV market under battery supply constraints: Might they increase CO2 emissions?

Again, looking at the micro view, an EV lowers CO2 emissions relative to an ICE car. But, zoom out and look at the macro view, putting too many eggs in one basket (literally too many battery packs in a large EV) vs a bunch of baskets (eBikes), can increase global CO2 emissions. 

We're subsidizing the wrong vehicles. If we really wanted to reduce emissions quickly, we would be subsidizing eBikes and scooters, transit, and building safe and supportive infrastructure for micro-mobility ASAP. We're not and that's the tragedy. 

The College Board is a conservative organization

I'm bemused by the brouhaha over the College Board dropping "controversial" and important subject matter in the AP African America History after Florida Governor DeSantis and other conservatives objected. 

What did we expect? The College Board is a fundamentally conservative organization that preserves the status quo. They long offered subject matter tests for Greek and Latin, which is taught at elite private schools, while they did not offer any tests for Asian languages until the addition of Japanese in 1993. They didn't even offer Mandarin until 1994

What's inexcusable is the deference that we gave to the defenders of the unequal status quo. 

When I applied to the University of California, we had to have studied 3 years of a foreign language tested by the College Board. CB did not test for any Asian languages in the 1980s. Thus, I studied German in high school, sitting in the same classroom as Peter Thiel, a native German speaker who immigrated from Germany. 

I would have loved to have studied Mandarin instead, but my high school only offered languages accepted by the University of California, while only accepted languages tested by a testing service organized to sort students from elite high schools in the Northeast for elite colleges of the Northeast. 

This kind of circularity was mind boggling to observe but I sucked it up and studied German and Latin in HS. It was so unfair that all the Asian American students, many of whom spoke an Asian language at home, could not enjoy the same privilege as white students who got to learn a language at public school that they can use to speak with their parents and grandparents at home. 

Because of US immigration law that severely restricted immigration from Asian countries before 1966, most of the Asian American kids in my HS were immigrants who spoke an Asian language at home. 

We had to learn a THIRD language just to get into California's public universities. 

Our test scores for European languages were evaluated against kids learning only a second language. Even worse, we got no credit for knowing Asian languages. 

The College Board has power in part because we give them power. We can cut them out. 

What if, we didn't give value to AP test scores and the curriculum they represent? What if we taught a more in-depth curriculum, tailored to the needs and interests of the students? We'd lose some uniformity, but be more relevant to each student. We might even foster more love of learning for its own sake. 

Colleges and universities can just request a list of the books and readings used in history classes rather than rely on the AP test to create a de facto curriculum. Have kids supply a writing sample from their history or literature classes. 

Aside: 


Friday, December 23, 2022

Destroying the NIMBY Sewage Capacity Talking Point: Another Zombie Myth

Meta:

I was coached to give an executive summary so people know where I am going. 

Executive Summary

  • Sewage Capacity is not a reason to deny infill housing in established areas of Los Angeles County. 
  • It's cheaper to service sewage from infill housing than for sprawl housing because you are using capacity that already exists and is currently underutilized. 
  • Infill housing reduces or eliminates the cost of declining water flows, reducing costs to existing residents.  
  • Infill housing spreads the fixed costs of infrastructure among more customers, reducing costs to existing residents

And was also told to add more color pictures, like this One Water Cycle graphic by Brown and Caldwell, 2017. 

Where I normally start my ramblings:

After I signed that petition, Change.org offered me another one to consider. 

Their algorithms offered me Oppose the mass build apartment complex on Little Britain Rd (Rt 207)


It was such a classic display of NIMBY Kettle Logic about horrible traffic and parking woes, which they themselves contribute towards. This area is simultaneously such a historic area that it should not be desecrated with more traffic, while it is already so traffic-choked, that it cannot accommodate one more car.

But, since I had just been thinking about the societal impacts of chemistry and engineering, I homed in on the arguments about sewage. 

  • A massive build like the one being proposed will dramatically change the character of our neighborhood.
  • It will also have a significant impact on traffic in the surrounding area.
  • It will further tax our already heavily burdened water and sewage systems, and potentially have damaging environmental impacts to the Quassaick Creek and its wildlife.
The build puts additional strain on the current water supply and added pressure to the city sewage system’s downstream capacity.
Residents in the town of Newburgh are currently nearing our maximum agreed sewage usage with the city.
...
In 2004 the town updated their intermunicipal sewer agreement with the city to increase the amount of sewage the town sends to the city treatment plant at 2,000,000 gals/day with the ability to send an additional 2,000,000gals/day providing the town pay to enlarge the current city facility. This previously cost taxpayers $1,250,000 to construct the necessary facilities. According to the November 3 town planning board minutes, the town is currently sending 2,000,000 gals/day already and at their first allotment. They have 2,000,000 more gallons owed to them, but much of that has already been allocated to other projects.
As stated in their draft scope, the proposed apartment complex would produce an estimated 28,380 gals of liquid waste per day. And according to the 2004 intermunicipal contract "when the town’s average flow exceeds 3.4 million gallons per day as evidenced by the last 90-day average flow" a second expansion will need to be constructed by and paid for by the town residents, unless we insist the cost be passed on to the builders of these new projects.

The US Census office estimates that Newburgh, NY has a 2021 population of 28,834. 

If 28,834 people send 2,000,000 gals/day of sewage to the treatment plant, that's 69.4 gallons per capita per day (gpcd). How many times are they flushing every day?!?! Or do they have many industrial facilities? Why are they using so much water?!?!

In contrast, 4.8 million Los Angeles County residents and a lot of businesses & industrial facilities sent 242 MGD of sewage (in 2021) to the Joint Water Pollution Control Plant (JWPCP), 50.4 gpcd. 

If Newburgh residents were as water-thrifty as Angelenos, they could house 10,000 more people and have cheaper sewage service as well because they would be spreading fixed costs among more customers. 

JWPCP has a design capacity of 400 MDG, we've added ~1 million people to the service area in the last 20 years, and we are still using only 60% of the capacity. We can add millions more residents without needing any more sewage treatment capacity. 


JWPCP is a huge plant that serves almost half the people in the most populous county and one of the largest manufacturing centers in the US. 



If Newburgh residents were really concerned about not overrunning their sewage capacity, they should look at water saving household appliances, low-flow toilets and low-flow shower heads.  But, perhaps they are just not interested in providing homes for people. 

They do seem interested in providing homes for cars. One of their objections to this apartment complex is that it will only provide 515 parking spots for 259 homes. 

Enough poking fun at Newburgh NIMBYs. We have plenty of NIMBYs at home in Los Angeles County to poke fun of. 

Gratuitous diagram of JWPCP, a social network tying together 4.8 M Angelenos


Consider the problem of declining water flows. This is a serious and expensive problem for established areas that are not building housing fast enough to offset improvements in water efficiency.  Californians in existing developed areas are using about 2% less water per year. If that is not offset by infill, this causes problems for both drinking water and sewage systems. 

California Urban Water Agencies surveyed their members and wrote a white paper on Adapting to Change: UtilitySystems and Declining Flows. Go to Section 6 (page 22), Impacts of Declining Flows on Wastewater Treatment Plant Operations. 40% of urban systems reported effluent quality problems. 

Lower flow means longer residence times in the sewage pipes, which exacerbate production of gases. That's both an odor and a corrosion problem. It also decreases the amount of hydraulic pressure, which works with gravity to move sewage towards the treatment plant. 

In fact, the less hydraulic pressure you have, the more energy you need to apply (e.g. sewage lifting stations) to push the effluent along. We have so much excess capacity in our existing sewage mains, it's costing us more energy to pump it to the treatment facilities.  

You also need to spend more unclogging pipes. We sometimes have to put fresh water into the sewage mains to reduce the residence times, clear clogs, and provide hydraulic pressure. 

We'll save the problem of declining flows on drinking water systems for another day. Spoiler, it's cheaper and safer for everyone if we concentrate new residents in existing areas rather than build new sprawl. 

Bonus Sewer Content:


* C&EN News = Chemical and Engineering News is the monthly general interest magazine for members of the American Chemical Society. Bad Dad and I both hold BSs in Chemistry and he also has a PhD in Chemistry (while I hold a PhD in Chemical Physics). Although our work is far from what most people consider chemistry, we still enjoy learning about happenings in the Chemistry world and the policy implications and societal impacts of Chemistry. Editorial leadership of C&EN News eliminated coverage of science policy and societal impacts. Sign the petition if you disagree

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

SCAG, HQTA & RHNA: Acronyms you never heard of but should understand

 I've given a talk in December 2022 and am scheduled to talk again in January and February 2023 to groups comprised mainly of older homeowners concerned about lack of transit and wheelchair-accessible housing in their communities. Most are unaware that those are connected. 

This is a GIS layer map of High Quality Transit Areas (HQTA) in the 6-county area under the control of the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG).  

The High Quality Transit Areas (HQTAs) is within one half-mile of a well-serviced transit stop or a transit corridor with 15-minute or less service frequency during peak commute hours.

Founded in 1965, the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) is a Joint Powers Authority under California state law, established as an association of local governments and agencies that voluntarily convene as a forum to address regional issues. Under federal law, SCAG is designated as a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) and under state law as a Regional Transportation Planning Agency and a Council of Governments.

The SCAG region encompasses six counties (Imperial, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura) and 191 cities in an area covering more than 38,000 square miles. The agency develops long-range regional transportation plans including sustainable communities strategy and growth forecast components, regional transportation improvement programs, regional housing needs allocations and a portion of the South Coast Air Quality management plans

Seniors want to stay in their own homes, or at least in their own communities. And they want frequent transit to serve them. They've looked around and are deeply unhappy with what they have found. Why can't we have frequent and good transit like other places they have vacationed at? 

Why doesn't the South Bay have good transit? We're visibly a transit hole. High quality, frequent transit does not touch most of the residential areas of the Beach Cities, El Segundo, Torrance and Palos Verdes Cities. 

Is it because wealthy people can afford cars and don't need transit? Nope, not if you compare to Santa Monica, Culver City, Pasadena and Beverly Hills. 


When we purchased our home in the late 1990s, we researched bus lines, bike commutes and USGS geologic maps. We really liked that the Torrance 8 bus ran between our home, daycare, workplace at 30 minute frequency throughout the day and even more often during peak commute hours. Those buses were well-used by people who worked in El Segundo and lived along the route in Torrance, North Redondo Beach and Hawthorne. 

Over time, the service degraded noticeably and wasn't reliable any more. That's the main reason why I ride my eBike during the day and drive at night. Transit isn't viable for me any more, even if I want to take a bus to dinner and then walk home (burn off dessert) or catch a ride home with my dinner companions. Even during peak hours, the buses are infrequent and often get canceled at the last minute. 

I used the Internet Archive to look at bus schedules from 2005. The Torrance 8 ran 41 trips every weekday in 2005


In 2022, the Torrance 8 runs only 13 trips every weekday. 


Moreover, the southern terminus of the route used to be at Newton St and Hawthorne Blvd, a short walk from hundreds of homes. Now the route has been shortened to end at the intersection of two state highways, Pacific Coast Highway (CA1) and Hawthorne Boulevard (CA107). To reach the stop, people have to walk farther from their homes and cross wide highways with 7-9 lanes of deafening traffic. 


When I regularly took the bus, they were well-utilized. Most seats were occupied at peak hours. Even after peak, about half the seats were taken by people out shopping or going to their retail/service jobs. 

Buses operate at a loss. That's why we pay taxes to subsidize them. But roads and parking lots also operate a loss and we never question whether or not they are necessary. Fuel and registration fees cover only about half the costs of roads; the rest comes from general funds. 

The cost of "free parking" is borne by customers or tax payers, including those that didn't drive there. The subsidy is flowing towards drivers, not bike riders. In fact, pedestrians receive the lowest subsidy, then bike riders (cost of bike racks), then transit riders, then drivers. 

But I digress. Let's get back to poor bus service. The seniors I talk to all want frequent buses that run near their homes. They would prefer the buses to run past their existing homes, but are willing to move to a condo or apartment complex within their communities if that is the only way they will get high-quality transit. 

Sounds good. Let's pick some areas to serve intensively with transit, and then build lots of homes there. The more transit riders there are, the better service we can maintain; it's a virtuous cycle that serves seniors aging out of driving well.  

Not so fast, building housing is politically toxic throughout the southland. Today's seniors have elected (for decades) local leaders running on platforms of preserving the "neighborhood character" of their "unique community", and fighting "overbuilding" and "Sacramento overreach". 

Elected leaders are suing the state of California about whether they should be exempt from state housing law (like the Housing Accountability Act) and questioning both the legality and the numbers in the Regional Housing Needs Allocation

The State of California's Department of Housing and Community Development (the CA analog of the Federal Government's HUD), tells each regional planning authority how many homes their region needs to build to provide for existing and future residents. Each region decides for themselves how they want to allocate those homes based on their goals and values. 

After years of considering data and testimony from academics, elected officials, planning professionals and advocates for hundreds of groups, SCAG approved a formula nick-named "The Coastal Plan". It's just a formula that can be programmed into an Excel spreadsheet macro. You can download it from SCAG, and I've made it in to a shared Google Sheets

The formula is a product of our professed values. We claim to value opportunity, so we assign more housing near where the jobs are. We claim to value clean air and want to lower Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, so we place homes in HQTAs. We claim we want to address inequality, so we assign more low income housing to places that traditionally have not provided lower income residents. 

Conversely, it assigns more higher income housing in poorer communities that can benefit from the tax base provided by higher earners. It's not forced gentrification or ghettofication. It's just trying to level the playing field to help everyone succeed. The goal is to work together with neighbors to solve regional problems like pollution, congestion, and the housing crisis. 


Just select your city of interest in cell D5. Here's Torrance, the city that runs Torrance Transit and presided over its demise. Torrance is big mad at their 6th Cycle RHNA "quota" of 4,939 homes over the next ~8 year RHNA cycle. They have never been given such a high allocation before. Their 5th Cycle allocation was 1,450, and they didn't even meet that.  

I pulled the details of a few cities and placed them at the top of this sheet


I paired Torrance with their neighbor, Gardena; and Redondo Beach with neighboring Lawndale. Notice how the smaller cities are given higher RHNA allocations than their larger and more affluent neighbors. They are assigned 2-3x as many homes per capita. 

Is it because of job access? Look at the SCAG GIS map of Job Centers. Torrance is smack dab in the middle of one of the largest job centers in Southern California, with ~129,000 jobs. 


Let's look at the HCD Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) Data Viewer, the Jobs Proximity Index layer


Both loudly-complaining cities, Torrance and Redondo Beach, have more jobs and easier access to jobs than Gardena and Lawndale, hence they were assigned more homes in the Jobs column. 

What explains the big differences then? 

Go back and look at the HQTA map. It's all based on existing population in the HQTAs within each jurisdiction. 

The more people already living inside the existing HQTAs used in the planning formula, the higher their  HQTA-based RHNA allocations. Most cities like jobs (with the possible exception of pre-pandemic San Francisco) so they don't play as many games with that.  

Cities know that the way to finesse lower RHNA housing allocations is to minimize the areal coverage of HQTAs in your city, and then to minimize the number of people who live in the HQTAs. 

This is how El Segundo, home to LAX and the 121,000 jobs in the LAX job center, 


and with 3 light rail stations inside of their cities and one just over the border at LAX, got allocated just 1 home due to HQTA. Yes, just 1 home! 


When El Segundo fought to avoid permitting homes east of PCH, this is the subtext. They gave up land to Hawthorne to avoid having homes in their jurisdiction near a rail station. 


Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but South Bay seniors who want to live in wheelchair accessible home with viable public transit will have to move away. Transit sucks now and will not be added back if it will expand HQTA coverage area. No new homes will be built in HQTAs if local officials can stop it. 

(This is also why California enacted laws to preempt local officials to force them to permit home building in HQTAs.)

It's all connected to the decisions made by the people we elected and the incentives they operate under. When they talk about preserving the "neighborhood character" of your "unique community", and fighting "overbuilding" and "Sacramento overreach", they collect donations and win elections. 

They don't tell you that they will never allow expansion of HQTAs within their jurisdictions if they can help it. This is a large part of the subtext of the fight over Metro C line extension routing. Your elected officials are fighting to ensure you don't get access to rail transit (which is harder to cancel/decrease than bus lines) so that they won't have to build housing. 


They don't even want to build in existing HQTAs lest it expose them to higher RHNA allocations in future cycles. So instead, they talk about shadows and view sheds, impose high parking minimums. These all serve to reduce the number of homes that can be built and the number of people in the homes.

They don't tell you that the kind of low-density zoning they are protecting will only every yield townhomes with stairs, built on top of car garages. Low density zoning and height limits makes building accessible apartments with elevators prohibitively expensive to build. They hope developments don't "pencil out" (can't be built profitably), so that the developers go away. 

What homes do get produced will be very expensive because they have to cover the parking and land. If you can build 2 stories of housing over 1 story of parking, they have to charge a lot more than if they built 4 stories of housing over the same parking structure on the same land. To maximize affordability, they could even stop requiring parking since seniors and the disabled are much less likely to drive or own cars anyway. Parking is another proxy war to suppress housing. 

If you want to solve a problem. then you solve the problem. You don't spend decades screaming the problem doesn't exist. You don't enact ordinances that make the problem even worse. You don't sue people who point out that the problem exists. You don't defund researchers who collect data and evidence on the problem. 

This applies to climate change and our regional housing crisis. 

Enough, tonight. I just want to point out that it's all related. 

Enjoy the Metro C Line (Green) Extension to Torrance Project Simulation Video. Think about how you want to live as you or your parents age out of driving. Think about where you want your children and grandchildren to live as the planet gets hotter and hotter. Do you want them on the cooler coast with you? Then make room for them. 


I know that I will fight for a light rail route that is closer to my home. And I will also fight for a 7th Cycle RHNA allocation that can't be gamed by climate arsonists. 

Even if we get a higher RHNA allocation based on light rail routing, California law gives us local control about where we place that home growth. We can and should spread it out, particularly as our area ages. The medical industry jobs in Torrance keep growing, and South Redondo Beach is very close to those jobs. 

Aside:

Coastal Los Angeles Communities are facing a Silver Tsunami of aging residents and a dearth of younger families. Housing is so expensive, our children move far away. (A few may live with us.) The SCAG RHNA formula projects future housing needs based on demographics of existing residents. If you have few current residents of child-bearing age, then you won't have many births or future residents to house. 

Since we have moved homes affordable for young, families so far into the inland deserts, they were assigned higher RHNA allocations than older communities along the coast.  I included the data for Coachella in my comparison table. 

Coachella has 14,277 Households in 2020, while Culver City has 17,146. Yet, Household Growth in Coachella is projected to be 5,794 while Culver City's is only 296. That's a 20-fold difference! 

If you push young people out of your city, you will be assigned lower RHNA numbers. But then, who will help you change your senior diapers? How often will you see your children and grandchildren?

Anyway, stop fixating on "winning" a game of foisting housing elsewhere. Plan for a better future for yourself by planning for a more inclusive future in your community. 

Thursday, December 08, 2022

Your child's low income teacher

I hear so much vitriol spewed against building low income housing, predicting all sorts of negative outcomes. Crime! Blight! Traffic! Ghettoization! Gentrification! 

Your children's teachers are listening. I've been advised to use color pictures to spice up the tables of data. So I pulled this photo off the website of Washington Elementary School, the ES with the highest concentration of Title I students in RBUSD. 


UCLA Professor John Rogers told the League of Women Voters of Los Angeles County at one of our meetings that the 10th percentile (in earnings) public school teacher in California needs to pay an astronomical portion of their income in rent if they wanted to live in a 1 bedroom apartment in the county where they teach. 

Insert horror face emoji. 

I looked up some statistics for Los Angeles and Redondo Beach and he is horrifyingly correct. 

My school district's budget page contains the most recent budget for 2022-2023

Here's their list of certificated teachers (doesn't include non-certified teachers' aides). There are 463.8 Full-time Equivalent certificated teachers. Some work part-time schedules. 


Here's the salary schedule for each classification and step (years of experience). The 10th percentile teacher is an early career elementary school teacher, earning in the low $60,000s, possibly still paying off student loans for a bachelors plus 1 year of grad school. 

That sounds like a pretty good salary, right? Consider the 2022 HUD Income Limits for California. Scroll down to Los Angeles County. Each column represents limits for # of people in the household. So a single teacher would be in column 1, and fit in the low income category (below $66,750).

That young, energetic teacher that your child loves so much? They are the very people you are excluding when you block low income housing. 

Qualifying for low income housing is much easier than securing it. 

Consider that Redondo Beach's Section 8 program has 4,260 people on the wait list as of September 2022. It was last opened to the public (briefly) in 2015. (7 years ago!)

  • 441 households enrolled in the city’s Section 8 program
  • 117 families
  • 324 seniors/disabled

In the quarterly briefing

  • 6 people got new contracts for housing+vouchers
  • 4 people were permanently off the program (died, moved away, earned too much)
  • 119 households signed contract renewals

Demand for housing assistance is so high, RB's Section 8 program is limited to only Very Low Incomes (below $41,700); Low Income households like teachers do not qualify. 

Some private landlords of new properties have to set aside a certain number of homes at Below Market Rate (BMR) in a negotiation with cities referred to as Mixed-Income Cross Subsidies (typically 10-20% set aside as BMR). They typically also prioritize public sector employees working in the city. That's helpful for attracting and retaining teachers who have a choice of school districts to work in. 

You have to build homes in order to have BMR units. Because Redondo Beach builds so few homes, and approves almost exclusively townhomes (no apartment buildings), they have produced a total of 2 subsidized units in the last decade according to one study I read. 

That leaves Redondo Beach school teachers--and most workers--out in the open market. 

Someone earning $60,000/yr can afford 30% for rent, about $1,500/month. 

Rentcafe.com says that there are no apartments for rent in RB below $1,501/mo. Only 5% of them are below $2,000/mo. The average apartment is $825 sq ft and rents for $2,939. 

HUD publishes Small Area Fair Market Rents by zip code for Los Angeles County. They are set to approximate a 40th percentile rent in a zip code--typically older, no-frills housing. The High School is in 90277, but inland 90278 is slightly cheaper.  The columns are for studios, 1, 2, 3 & 4 bedroom homes. 


If our benchmark young elementary school teacher rented a studio, they would pay 39% of their gross $5,000/mo salary to rent a shabby studio for $1,940/mo--if they could find one. They would then join the ~80% of Los Angeles County renters that are rent-burdened, spending more than 30% of their income on rent. 

If they didn't want to be rent-burdened, say if they also need to eat after paying off student loans, they could get a studio apartment in Inglewood, or a 1 bedroom apartment in Lennox. But, then, they would need to get a car and factor in car payments, gas, insurance and maintenance. Those costs could easily run $500-$750/month, so teachers might be better off with a more expensive apartment near work that they can bike to. 

Teachers are very smart. They are listening. They are trained to process, analyze, and interpret information. What take-away message do you want them to hear? 

Do you want to be like Daly City, which built an apartment complex that can house 25% of their school district's staff

Or do you want to be like San Francisco, who started planning at the same time, and is still debating equity while Daly City teachers have already moved into new homes?

Addendum 16 Dec 2022

Young school teachers are likely to be in an income-based student loan repayment program that caps their student loan payments at 10% of their discretionary income. 

Urban trees and the zombie carbon sequestration myth

Last summer, my city passed a tree protection ordinance that fines people for removing trees--even those on private property in side or back yards (where they don't shade public sidewalks or road asphalt). It was sent for legal review and will come back on December 20, 2022 for final passage. 

I'm not a lawyer, but I will say as a scientist that it is claptrap. 

So much nonsense was spewed that would fly under the radar of people not in the trenches of housing policy. I suspect that using the need for street trees to push through a more expansive policy is designed to make infill housing (eg ADUs*enabled by SB 9) harder or more prohibitively expensive to build. 

But, I want to push back on the pernicious myth that carbon sequestration through urban trees is better than building infill housing. 

Let's do the math!

A mature urban tree can absorb about 20 kg of CO2 per year. MIT Climate Issues rounded that to about 50 pounds. (Click through to read how they debunk some of the 'nature-based solutions' talking points.)

The EPA, US Environmental Protection Agency, reports that the Greenhouse Gas Emissions from a Typical Passenger Vehicle is 8,887 grams CO2/gallon or 404 grams CO2/mile using the US passenger car fleet average. 

The largest employers in my city are Northrop Grumman (next to a light rail station) and our local school district (disbursed around the city, not served well by transit).  Since school teachers cannot afford the median house price of $1,587,500 

or even the median condo price of $1,007,000

teachers drive in from elsewhere. The only places in LA County actively building new apartments and condos in substantial numbers is Downtown LA (DTLA) or Old Town Pasadena. 

If they want to buy an older single family home, like this one that sold yesterday in Whittier for $630,000, they also face a long commute. 

The Whittier house is 27-29 miles to Redondo Union High School depending on the route. Old Town Pasadena is 30 miles each way. 

A round-trip commute for just one of the hundreds of teachers in our city that cannot afford to live here is about 60 miles/school day. 

60 mi/day * 404 g/mi = 24,240 g/day = 24.24 kg/day

It would take a mature tree more than a year to sequester the carbon emissions of just one day's commute for a teacher commuting in from where they can find housing that they can afford.  

I looked up more data. 

California requires 180 school days/year. There are a few additional teacher prep and in-service education days, but let's use the lower 180 number. 

I looked up the RBUSD budget and see that there are 463.80 Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) teachers in the district. 

24.24 kg/day * 180 days * 463.8 teachers = 2,023,652 kg/year 

That would require 100,000 trees just for in-bound commuting teachers

That's just a few hundred of the 25,000+ jobs in Redondo Beach according to the research arm of Southern California Association of Governments (our regional housing and transportation governing body). 


I can't ensure that all infill homes will go to teachers in the community. 

I do know that teachers have to live somewhere, so they need homes. It would be great if they could live close enough to participate outside of school in the communities where they teach, and if they didn't need to drive a car to work.

The benefits of workforce housing:

  • Planet (fewer climate-wrecking CO2 emission)
  • Community (the teacher can be more present)
  • Public health (fewer car miles = less air/water pollution)
  • Teacher health (long driving commutes have well-documented detrimental health impacts)

Now substitute teacher for any other job in our city. This includes store clerks and caregivers to the elderly or young children that make just above minimum wage. They take care of us. We need to take care of them. We won't be able to build enough ADUs to fill the need. But, we can build enough apartments and condos, in a thoughtful way, to reduce the need for climate-destroying and space-gobbling automobiles. 

Asides: 

ADU = Accessory Dwelling Units or Granny Flats or In-Laws' units. ADUs generate a little extra density in single-family neighborhoods, create homes without generating much external impact. In fact, when used to house caregivers or those needing care, or local essential workers, they reduce car traffic or Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) overall.

Keeping low-density existing homes is NOT better than replacing them with higher density housing, even accounting for embodied carbon. But, I'll cover that myth in another post. 

I hear lots of chatter about preserving or increasing urban tree canopy in order to combat the urban heat island effect. That's a good idea. I'm all for trees. In fact, we bid aggressively on both our home purchases because they had more trees compared to other homes in our budget/area. More on that later. 

Redondo Beach has no native trees. It was a coastal prairie according to UCLA's Urban Wildlands Group (Dept of Geography). I'm stuck wondering what proponents are calling "Heritage Trees". 


Sunday, September 18, 2022

Engineering Disinvestment

You can engineer disinvestment in communities with weaponized zoning. Let me show you how it was done in my community. 

Behold, the Redondo Beach Zoning Map


Let me zoom in on two sections, South Pacific Coast Highway 1, and Artesia Boulevard. According to the City's own Traffic Volumes Study, they get roughly the same traffic volumes, 29,000-39,000 vehicles/day (dark green). I verified it on the Caltrans Traffic Census Program website. PCH at Palos Verdes Blvd gets 30,000-33,000 vehicles/day while PCH/Torrance Blvd gets ~40,000 vehicles/day (blue). 


Artesia Blvd used to be CA 91 but the cities assumed control, so their traffic volumes are no longer measured and reported by Caltrans. I looked up a bunch of traffic studies on the Torrance, Lawndale and Redondo Beach websites and it looks like the RB section of Artesia gets about 35,000-40,000 vehicles/day. 

Let's take a closer look at the zoning map in these two areas. 

South PCH has large areas of Single Family Home R-1 zoning. It's low density by design. Yet, the commercial and mixed use areas along PCH from Avenue A to Prospect are all C-2-PD, C-4A, MU-3A. PD stands for Pedestrian-Oriented. 


Along the Artesia Corridor, the residential zoning is R3 or R2, 2-3x as dense as along PCH. Yet, the commercial and mixed use areas along Artesia Blvd are zoned mainly for lower-intensity MU-1 and C-2, with 3 blocks zoned at C-2-PD. 


Redondo Beach Ordinance 10-2.1706: Commercial, industrial, and other nonresidential parking standards.


This zoning has a major impact on how the land is developed and how much the land is worth. Take a look at the parking minimums. A restaurant in C-2 needs one parking stall per 50 sf of dining space, including aisles or one space per 4 seats. A restaurant in C-2-PD only needs 20% as much parking, or one space per 250 sf of dining space. 

This guarantees vast moats of parking lots, and no new sit-down restaurants can be permitted. Look at the west end of the RB Artesia Corridor. The only restaurants are take-out or drive-through (blue boxes). Even the coffee shops, Starbucks and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf must be drive-through. 

Needless to say, walking through this area is dreary and hot, with all that asphalt. There is one sit-down restaurant, Las Brisas, that predates the parking ordinance and is allowed to operate. However, should they want to sell the place, and the new owner wants to remodel, they will be subject to the current rules. 

According to the city's own 2019 study (Appendix A), existing uses along Artesia only have half as much off-street parking as is currently required. Yet, only 0-95% of that is used at peak times (except at 2 small parcels, where people park on the street or in adjacent lots). Here's the parking census at peak times. See all that green? That's 0-40% utilizations at peak. The rest of that time, the asphalt is mostly empty. 

Donald Shoup explained in The High Price of Free Parking that 85% parking utilization is optimal for attracting customers in cars. Above that, people don't bother to drive there. Below that, they can confidently go with the expectation that they will find parking nearby. 

It gets worse. A 2009 South Bay Sustainability Report showed that Artesia gets 67.4% of their visitors from within half a mile (walking distance) of the corridor while Riviera Village (South PCH area) gets only 31.7%. Artesia gets another 6.5% between 0.5 and 2.0 miles (bicycling distance) while South PCH gets none, 0%. 

Here's a map of the 1/4 and 1/2 mile study area. 

The Artesia Corridor leads the South Bay in percentage of dollar sales that come from people who live within walking distance, 38.5%. Riviera Village in South RB only gets 13.3%. 


That was 2009. What's changed since then? Well, infill of R1 to R2 or R3 townhomes is nearly complete. The Artesia Corridor residential density is now 17,000 people/square mile, 2-3x denser than the R1 zoned areas of South RB. While SRB has the main library and post office, the smaller NRB branch libraries and post office are highly utilized. So are the grocery stores and pharmacies. In fact the Walk Score of this NRB mixed use development is 86/100, Bike Score 64/100. 


Meanwhile, this "Pedestrian Oriented" stretch of South PCH in SRB has a lower Walk Score of 76/100, Bike Score 49/100. 


Why is the less dense neighborhood with a lower Walk Score zoned for Pedestrian-Oriented use while the denser neighborhood is zoned for parking lots? Why does one neighborhood get sit-down restaurants and the other gets parking lots and drive-through businesses with idling cars? 

It all comes down to who is "deserving" of nice things, like sit-down restaurants; and who deserves to serve as a car sewer for people driving between the freeway and the beach.

The HOLC "Redlining" map provides a clue. The Riviera area gets a Green rating due to Covenants that "Restrict ownership to the Caucasian race in perpetuity. All providers are strictly enforced."

The Artesia Corridor (formerly Redondo Beach Blvd) gets a Low Red rating due to "Mexicans, Japanese & Italians".  

This is ancient history, right? These covenants have not been legally enforceable for 50 years. 

In the 2020 Census, LA County was 26.7% non-Hispanic white/47.9% Hispanic/14.2% Asian/8.3% Black/2.2% Mixed. 

Yet, this SRB census tract is 75.3% white/10.4% Hispanic/9.5% Asian/1.5% Black/3.3% Mixed. It is an outlier many standard deviations away from the mean. 

It didn't happen by accident. 

Zoning has become the proxy for race. "Preserving Neighborhood Character" and Single Family zoning restricts the number of new people who can move in. It also ensures that the new people who move in (if they didn't inherit their home) have to be very high bidders. Because whites have more net worth than any other group, the new people who do manage to buy there are much whiter than the general population. 


In contrast, the census tract containing the 2008 mixed use building on Artesia is 55.9% non-Hispanic white/14.6% Hispanic/16.5% Asian/4.4% Black/8% Mixed. This is more integrated than usual for a coastal Los Angeles County suburb. This census tract started out more diverse. Through infill, it was able to preserve diversity even as it gentrified. 

The ratio between Blacks and Asians reversed in the last 25 years, but nearby Madison Elementary School has both a Title I designation (22% low-income children) and an annual multi-cultural potluck that is lit. The children live in homes where dozens of different languages are spoken. The school population is 34% non-Hispanic white/29% Hispanic/13% Asian/5% Black/15% Mixed. 

[Note: I wrote about this building in New Construction Subsidizes Old; it has been called "a failure" by Mayor Bill Brand, who subsequently (with aid from some council members) downzoned Artesia so that nothing taller the commercial height limit is 1-story now.]

A 20-year old North Redondo Beach Business Association survey showed that the business owners along the one-mile stretch of Artesia, between Inglewood and Aviation, represented 20 different countries with many first-gen immigrants. 

Which brings me back to Engineering Disinvestment. By requiring parking minimums that existing buildings don't meet, and forcing new construction to meet the new impossibly high standards, and then piling on FAR (floor area ratio) and height limits, the city can ensure that nothing "pencils out".  Nothing can be replaced. It will just slowly rot. 

When business owners retire, the lot is their retirement fund. When they try to sell their lot, no one can pay very much. If the new owners modernize it, it would trigger the new zoning and parking rules. This is literally robbing these small business owners of hundreds of thousands of dollars on small lots, perhaps over a million on the larger lots. 

Anyway, I may lament the lack of sit-down restaurants in my neighborhood, but at least I enjoy a 15-minute neighborhood where I can visit the library, post office, grocery, pharmacy, UPS/Kinko's, hardware store, and even a sewing machine store that sells high-end Swiss Mettler thread. 

The shop owners that I depend on, though, are being robbed of their life's savings.

In the words of Frank Wilhoit (the composer):

Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

eBikes vs Direct Air Capture

Following up on my previous post about the relative carbon intensity of eBiking vs driving. and another post about utility cycling around town...

I read that the Denver eBike Voucher program has already put 2,100 eBikes on the streets. I did a little back of the envelope math. 

Suppose each of those bikes replace 3,000 mi/year of automobile travel in gasoline vehicles that get 20 mpg in the city. Then they collectively avoid almost 3 Million kg of CO2/yr or 3,000 mT (metric tons).

3,000 mi/yr * .444 kgCO2/mi * 2,100 eBikes = 2,797,200 kgCO2/year 

Further suppose that the eBike riders are using 10 Wh/mi or .01 kWh/mi (calculation from Utility Cycling). Collectively, they are using 63 MWh/yr.

3,000 mi/yr * .01 kWh/mi * 2,100 eBikes = 63,000 kWh/yr = 63 MWh/yr

The electricity comes from the grid, and Colorado's grid has a CO2 intensity of 537 kgCO2/MWh. We need to subtract that from the CO2 savings. 


537 kgCO2/MWh * 63 MWh/yr = 33,831 kgCO2/yr

Unleashing 2,100 eBikes being ridden instead of cars for ~8 mi/day (short, local trips), makes 2,763.4 mTCO2 disappear every year. 

2,797,200 - 33,831 = 2,763,369 kgCO2/yr = 2,763.4 mTCO2/yr of avoided CO2 emissions per year. 

As the Colorado grid becomes cleaner, the CO2 savings grow.

There are many ways to make CO2 disappear from the atmosphere and they all have issues. People love nature-based solutions, but we're emitting too fast for them to be effective. If it's sequestered in a tree, then a fire can release all the carbon back into the atmosphere. If it's sequestered in soil, and someone comes and plows it up, some of it is released again. Trapping CO2 in the ocean, e.g. with kelp, is very inefficient and will only take a nibble out of current emissions. 

There are a couple of high-tech solutions, Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) and Direct Air Capture (DAC). CCS can only be done at the source, like in the outflow of a power plant. CO2 is concentrated right at the source, but removing it costs 30-40% of the energy you just produced in burning stuff at the power plant. 

But, CCS is viable (as long as you have a place to sequester the CO2 forever), and the people who produce the CO2 pay for removal of the CO2. That makes accounting easier. Those who pollute, pay. 

But all of us are out there, driving cars, flying in airplanes and getting stuff delivered in trucks.  We're not going to carry around a CCS plant in our vehicles.  So we emit CO2 into the atmosphere where it gets well-mixed.  

Remember thermodynamics class in college? The more disordered a system, the more energy it takes to bring order to it?  DAC is enormously expensive and energy-intensive compared to CCS, which is already expensive and energy-intensive. 

No wonder people question whether DAC is a good use of money vs not emitting so much CO2 in the first place. I think those people are right, it's a waste of money. 

However, we've emitted so much CO2, that we painted ourselves into a corner. We don't want to pay for DAC, but we have to do it anyway. Did I mention that it's enormously expensive and only the government has that amount of money to spend? 

DOE announced it will spend $3.5 Billion to build 4 DAC plants. That won't even cover the full cost of building them or include the cost of running them. 

Meanwhile, a single bike lane installed in Thailand in 2015 has removed $1 Billion worth of DAC CO2 removal in avoided vehicle trips. And they use smaller vehicles like motorcycles in Thailand. Click through the read the very detailed journal article! It takes a while to load, but the full article is available for free. 

It sucks that individuals emit CO2, and the richest emit the most, but we don't price carbon so we socialize the cost of building DAC plants to clean up after the rich. Yes, we will all end up paying for Kylie's 2 minute private jet jaunts around Los Angeles. Removing the CO2 she dumped may end up costing the public more than it cost her to take the flight.

The Energy Information Agency (a part of the US Dept of Energy, DOE) estimates that Direct Air Capture (DAC) to pull that much existing CO2 out of the atmosphere costs about $250/mTCO2, not counting the cost of putting it someplace. Let's just use $300/mTCO2 for our calculations*. 

The value of not driving 2,100 vehicles 3,000 mi around the city is worth ~$830,000/yr in DAC CO2 removal.

2,763.4 mTCO2/yr * $300/mTCO2 = $829,011 

Suppose they gave a rebate of $400 for each bike, then Denver spent $840,000 in vouchers. 

But, the vouchers can only be spent in local shops, which generate sales tax. By the time you add that in, the two numbers are roughly equal.  

But the eBikes keep rolling, year after year (my eBike is 5 years old), avoiding CO2 emissions while you have to keep using huge amounts of energy pulling CO2 out of the atmosphere and throwing lots of $ at DAC year after year.   Avoiding CO2 emissions by swapping eBikes for cars looks like a pretty good deal. 

Anyway, Denver gave out vouchers of $400 ($1,200 for low income) and an additional $500 for more expensive cargo bikes capable of carrying passengers or lots of cargo. They also targeted delivery workers, who put in a lot of miles. 

It may take more than a year for the avoided cost of CO2 to pay for the vouchers. But, it has other benefits of reducing traffic congestion, air pollution and improving public health. It's a very cost-effective program and we should scale it up and replicate it. 

Which brings us to the California Air Resources Board (CARB) meeting on Wednesday, August 24, at 3:30 PDT. Click on the link to register for the Zoom meeting.
The California Air Resources Board (CARB or Board) invites you to participate in a work group meeting to discuss the Electric Bicycle Incentives Project. We invite all stakeholders to attend and provide their input and feedback on program design. The meeting agenda and any handouts will be posted to the Low Carbon Transportation Investments and Air Quality Improvement Program website ahead of the meeting.
California set aside $10 Million for eBike rebates/vouchers, but has yet to select a vendor or even an implementation program (despite promising a roll-out in July 1, 2022). So attend the meeting tomorrow and tell them to quit studying equity and just do something. They can refine the system later as they study the outcomes. 

If you want, cite the economic efficiency of avoided CO2 emissions versus future DAC. 

I'll get you started with the math. 




If each bike displaces 3,000 vehicle miles/yr at .444 kg/mi = 1,332 kgCO2/yr. 

But they will use 30 kWh = .03 MWh/yr of electricity

.03 MWh/yr * 225 kgCO2/MWh = 6.75 kgCO2/yr

That's 1,332 kgCO2/yr - 6.75 kgCO2/yr = 1,325.25 kgCO2/yr

A metric ton is 1,000 kg so each eBike results in 1.325 mTCO2/yr in avoided emissions, worth $398/yr.

* Estimates of the cost of DAC are about as real as the Hyperloop because we have so little real data.  The International Energy Agency report on DAC:
There are currently 19 direct air capture (DAC) plants operating worldwide, capturing more than 0.01 Mt CO2/year, and a 1Mt CO2/year capture plant is in advanced development in the United States.
So all the DAC plants currently in existence can pull 0.01 Million metric tons (1,000 kg) CO2 out of the atmosphere. That's 10,000 mT. The modest Denver program avoids almost 3,000 mT/year of emissions. I would say that the Denver eBike subsidy is the most successful existing CO2 removal program in the US. 

No wonder countries around the world are increasing their eBike subsidies.