Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Proposition 19 and Wildfire Danger

Proposition 19 is such a dangerous scam.  Why are realtors so eager to pass this convoluted proposition that they spent over $63 Million (as of 10/28/2020) to pass it?  Because they will make a lot of money.

Proposition 13 has been amended over the years to give ever bigger loopholes to exploit.  First was the inheritance tax break for heirs

One effect of Proposition 13 and the inheritance tax break has been to create generational inequities between those who have owned homes and those who haven’t. The laws place no limits on how many descendants can take advantage of the benefit, so future generations of Californians whose ancestors purchased houses decades ago will continue to pay property taxes based on values established in the 1970s.
Then came the portability for seniors to make a one-time move within the same county to homes of equal or lesser value.  This was supposed to help people prepare for aging at home.  E.g. help seniors move to a home without stairs or in a less auto-dependent location when they stop driving.  

Some counties extended portability between reciprocating counties, ostensibly so that seniors could move closer to family for help with care.
Propositions 60/90 amended section 2 of Article XIIIA of the California Constitution to allow a person who is over age 55 to sell his or her principal place of residence and transfer its base year value to a replacement dwelling of equal or lesser value that is purchased or newly constructed within two years of the sale. These propositions are implemented by Revenue and Taxation Code section 69.5. 
Proposition 60 allows for the transfers of a base year value within the same county (intracounty). Proposition 90 allows for the transfers of a base year value from one county to another county in California (intercounty) if the county has authorized such a transfer by an ordinance. 
As of November 7, 2018, the following ten counties in California have an ordinance enabling the intercounty base year value transfer:
Alameda, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Tuolomne, Ventura are among the 9 most urbanized counties in California and are home to 75% of Californians.  75% of Californian seniors already have one-time Proposition 13 intercounty portability and all have one-time intracounty portability.

Proposition 13 property tax assessments are already transferable between 10 counties including 9 of the most urbanized ones. 75% of CA's population already have one-time Prop 13 portability at age 55.

Once, there was momentum and counties were willing to extend intercounty portability.  But, counties discovered that this bled their coffers.  Seniors use a lot of public services, especially when their health fails or when they lose driving privileges.  Accepting people who will consume ever larger portions of scarce public dollars while paying lower taxes is a suckers game.  Prop 13 portability stalled.

Existing law allows tax assessment portability only to homes of lesser or equal value. This was marketed as a way for house-rich, cash-poor empty nesters to free up some of their equity for living expenses.  It's bad policy to give things away to all seniors, instead of just targeting low-income people specifically, but this is existing policy.

It's a misnomer to call it a giveaway to all seniors.  About 6 million seniors live in California.  Over 1 million are renters.  Senior renters are the ones most in need.  About half have trouble paying for basic necessities.

Giving money to seniors who were lucky/white enough to purchase homes in the 1970s or earlier is not going to help the seniors in most financial distress.  It's going to take money away from governments, that they could have used to help the real seniors in need.

Prop 19 would allow portability of low Prop 13 assessments to more expensive homes.  If seniors are able to purchase a more expensive home, do they need the subsidy from everyone else?

Business interests have exploited the CA initiative process to do an end run around government and elected officials when they can't get what they want.  They spend a lot of time and money crafting initiatives that sound good, while having stealth effects that they obfuscate with convoluted language.

Proposition 19 is marketed as a way to close the inheritance loophole, which will raise tens of millions per year, but it will create liabilities many times larger.

For instance, the inheritance loophole will still be valid as long as the heirs live in the home as a primary residence at the time of the transfer.  Be prepared for people to move into mom and pop's place for just long enough to get the lower tax assessment, and then transfer the low tax assessment to another home later.

Existing law, Prop 60/90, allows one-time property tax assessment transfers.  Proposition 19 expands that to THREE transfers.  Why settle for one real estate commission when you can get three?  Seniors are going to need it if they move to a rural area and then find themselves unable to drive dark rural roads.  They will need to move back to an urban area that is more friendly to those that can't drive.

[A UC Berkeley geography professor found that seniors who move to rural areas create many low-wage jobs, first in food-retail, then in home healthcare aides. Providing for seniors and the low-wage workers they depend upon is bankrupting rural counties.  That's why counties now refuse to opt-in to Prop 13 portability.]

So why does Prop 19 have these Rube Goldberg rules that tighten the inheritance loophole and redirect the money to fire fighting?  Because the 48 CA counties not participating in Prop 13 portability are mostly rural firetraps.

On the map below, the 10 counties with existing Prop 13 portability are aqua.  The 48 counties that Prop 19 would extend portability to are yellow.

Historical fire data for 1878-2019 is shown in brown.

Fire perimeters for the 2020 fire season is shown in pink.

Although there are many fires in the Southern California aqua counties, they are mostly contained in the rural, mountainous parts of the county.  Urban dwellers in the denser parts of those counties subsidize the few that live in harms way.  That is not true in most of the yellow counties.

Realtors know that Prop 19 would incentivize seniors to move to Paradise and other fire traps.  That's why they added the sop to fire fighters.  But, it would raise only tens of millions per year in fire fighting funds.  California spends a half to a full BILLION on fire suppression annually. That's not counting money spent by the Feds for fire suppression on Federal lands. 

[The Feds own 47.7% of California's land, including 57% of California's forest lands.]

People (and their cars) start fires.  Put more people out in fire country, and they will start more fires.  

Most importantly, prescribed burns to reduce fuels are difficult to do in areas that already have homes and people living and driving in them.  Ironically, prescribed fires aren't permitted if the PM2.5 particulate air pollution is already high and people live in the area.  

People driving cars shed PM2.5 (yes, even electric cars) so they add to the PM2.5 load while simultaneously reducing the allowable load.  It's so circular.  But, once people live in a fire-prone area, it gets harder to do the things you need to keep them safe.

The housing estates will further fragment wildlife habitat. 

Seniors will be socially isolated--especially when they stop driving.

Proposition 19 is just insane social, fiscal, ecological and fire policy.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Nuclear Power Context

I had a really good conversation with my daughter about nuclear power this week.  We've been having a lot of conversations about infrastructure and the environment during the voting period while she filled out her ballot.  

[I'm so proud of her doing the research and voting the whole ballot.  At her age, I left some of them blank, especially the down ticket races & obscure government boards, thinking that others were more qualified to decide.  We all know how that worked out.]

Anyway, I wanted to document our discussion in case your kid asks, too.

The federal Energy Information Administration is a font of information.  Hooray for deep state operatives that collate, quality check and make good information available! 

The US generated about 4118 Billion kilowatt hours (kWh) in 2019. It's impossible to know how much electricity is generated by privately-owned solar panels "behind the meter", but EIA estimates there's an additional 35 Billion kWh.  It's a drop in the bucket, but growing.

The largest chunk of carbon-free electricity in the US is from nuclear, 19.7%.  That's slightly larger than the 17.5% generated by renewables.  

If we were all to magically replace our gasoline powered cars with electric ones, we'd need to double our electricity generation.  If we were to close down all the existing nuclear power plants, we'd have to figure out a way to add carbon free electricity at an unprecedented and extremely difficult rate.  If we were to do both, as some people want, I don't know how we will keep the lights on.

Moreover, large hydropower and existing nuclear power plants in the US were all built 40-90 years ago. 25% of our nations' electricity generation capacity is at the end of their design lifetime and need to be replaced along with the 23.5% that comes from coal.

The US doesn't produce solar panels any more.  (It's dirty and dangerous to produce.  It's expensive to produce safely.)  We rely on Chinese imports.  The Chinese government just announced an aggressive schedule to decarbonize their electricity generation, which may mean exporting less panels to the US.

NIMBYs have stymied wind mill deployment around the country.  

California Governor Newsom announced an executive order that all cars sold in California from 2035 and later have to be electric.  That's 15 years from now and our electricity grid is neither ready or on the way to being ready in time. 

We are in serious trouble unless we dramatically reduce the number of cars we drive, the number of miles that we drive and the size/weight of the vehicles.  This is why I'm such a shill for Ebikes.

In California, I spend a lot of time on the California Independent System Operator site viewing daily electricity data*.  Consider August 16, 2020.  It was a particularly hot day.

Due to a combination of factors, there was insufficient electricity and California experienced rolling blackouts in the late afternoon and evening to keep the grid from crashing over wider areas.  Here's CAISO data for energy sources for that day. 

I replotted the data to put the "Green" energy on the bottom and the most carbon-intensive sources at the top.  EIA reported that roughly half the electricity imports to CA in 2019 were carbon-free. I have no idea what other means so I left it at the top.
Here's a detail of the renewables portion:
When the sun goes down, renewable energy plummets while energy demand rapidly rises. This leads to the infamous CA duck curve.  

Filling this need with batteries would take an insane amount of highly toxic and dangerous batteries.  There aren't enough rare earth minerals to make it happen, anyway.

You could fill the need, in an emergency, by releasing water from dams during the evening to generate hydropower.  But, rivers and streams don't exist solely to be our batteries.  Rivers support whole ecosystems that rely on the cooling power of water flow during the hot afternoons.  This mimics the natural rhythm of snowpack melt, stream flow in Sierras.  Moreover, you can't count on having water to release in drought years.

This gets us back to where we started.  On an annual basis, CA gets about 8-10% of our electricity from Diablo Canyon nuclear plant.  Before the closure of San Onofre, nuclear used to provide ~20% of CA's electricity.  San Onofre and the geothermal power plants near the CA-MX border used to provide SoCal with nearly entirely carbon-free electricity at night.

So we talked about how and where Cobalt is mined; nuclear, battery and coal waste problems, tradeoffs of different sources of electricity, and environmental justice.

It made me feel like I was doing my job as a mom.

* I was the type of teenager that got insider (not public) tours of Diablo Canyon and Forsmark nuclear power plants. People knew that I was interested in science and energy/water, and I also finagled my way into places.  That wouldn't happen today.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Deluxe and Status Anxiety

[I'm going through my drafts folder and found this item from 2007 that I never posted.  I added a link to a recent book and it's time you read what I thought in 2007.]

Kathleen sent me a copy of Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster. Man, that is a depressing book. In brief, scaling up luxury goods meant moving production to large, new factories in China. The cost of production of the luxury goods plummeted to 10-11% of the retail price. Marketing/advertising overtook production in the total price of luxury goods. 

Mark says that the truly depressing movies are the bad ones. In that vein, I recommend that people also peruse Alain de Botton's Status Anxiety  I was especially moved by this quote from page 82 of the hardback edition:
Rather than a tale of greed, the history of luxury could more accurately be read as a record of emotional trauma. It is the legacy of those who have felt pressured by the disdain of others to add an extraordinary amount to their bare selves in order to signal that they too may lay a claim to love.
Maybe that's confirmation bias.

Anyway, Dana Thomas is a business of fashion reporter with good industry access.  Deluxe and Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes are both good reads about the opposite ends of the apparel trade.  

Leaf Blowers: Window on Governance

I wanted to do a quick post about something that seems like a small tweak and highly local, but that is much more complicated and far-reaching.  It gives another data point for "all politics is local" and "think globally, act locally."

With great fanfare, Redondo Beach voted to ban motorized leaf blowers on July 10, 2018 on environmental grounds.  The announcement did not explain the environmental grounds or clearly define what they mean by motorized.  

The notices went out to residents, but not the gardeners.  Renters, about half the RB population, don't hire gardeners. I don't know if property managers that hire gardeners were notified. The gardeners seemed to be unaware of the rule.

When I told gardeners about the rule, they ignored me or told me either that they were unaware of the ban, or that their electric leaf blowers were exempt.

The health hazards of gas-powered leaf blowers are well known.  They are deafeningly loud and expose the users to dangerous levels of carcinogens from fuel and combustion by-products.  The California Air Resources Board has a website explaining the pollution caused by Small Off-Road Engines (SORE).

BTW, the smog pollution includes NO2, which is known to be a very potent and persistent greenhouse gas.

1 hour of lawn mower use produces as much smog as driving LA to Vegas.  1 hour of leaf blower use = driving 1100 miles from LA to Denver.

The numbers are staggering. 1 hour of leaf blower use produces as much smog as a RT to visit my mom in SF and continuing on to northern NorCal to visit my SIL. 2 hours = a RT to Boulder to visit friends. 

Newer cars are much cleaner than older cars.  Our hybrid is cleaner than average so the equivalent SORE use time may be much lower.  In 2020, SORE smog emissions will roughly equal total car smog emissions in CA. SORE emissions will dominate as older, more polluting cars are retired. 

Lawn Equipment roughly equal total car smog emissions in CA and will dominate as the old cars are retired. 

The case against gas-powered leaf blowers is easy and well-known.  What about the much quieter electric-powered leaf blowers?  Are they a harmless alternative?

They don't produce the smog, but they are just as effective at kicking up clouds of dust.  Gardeners wear particle masks when they use leaf blowers to protect themselves, but the rest of us choke in it.

What's in that dust?
  • Pollen: terrible for allergy sufferers
  • Mold: terrible for people with allergies and compromised immune systems*
  • Road Dust: toxic, carcinogenic, causes lung & heart disease and dementia, makes Covid-19 deadlier
Let's normalize using a rake with a broom and dust pan.  It doesn't kick up as much dust or throw it up as high.  Reject that ultra-manicured yard look.

* My stepmother died of pneumonia after her last round of chemotherapy.  She was given a strong cocktail of antibiotics and anti-fungals via IV, but they couldn't save her.  An autopsy showed that she died of fungal pneumonia.  Mold spores got into her lungs and took advantage of her weakened state.  I think of her every time I hear or see a leaf blower.

What about governance?

Leaf blowers are another reason I lost faith in my local government.  I thought that you pass a law, and people obey the law.  If they don't, you call the cops or some other watchdog responsible for enforcing the law.

I called the non-emergency police hotline.  They took the report, but did nothing.  I asked my council member.  They said that the police were not happy about working without a contract. Hopefully, they would do more enforcement of laws after contract negotiations were successful.  

[The city was also spinning up another number and email address where we could report leaf blower violations as a workaround for the non responsive police department.  I emailed that office time-stamped photos of leaf blower use on my block, but never got any responses from them either.]

WHUT? Local teachers were working YEARS without a contract, yet they were still doing their jobs. From the Beach Reporter
In the 14 months since Redondo Beach enacted a ban on leaf blowers, the city has received more than 1,700 complaints and issued just three citations. ... On Tuesday, the Redondo Beach City Council received its answer when it learned that out of more than 1,375 leaf blower complaints to city code enforcement just two citations were issued. Police issued one citation out of 339 complaints. Numerous courtesy notices were also issued.
Up to that point, I had very few interactions with the RB police. Now, with all the BLM and Defund the Police talk, I've been thinking about what functions are appropriate for the police and which would be more effectively dealt with by others. 

Have you looked at your city's budget? I mean really looked at both the discretionary budget and the zombie costs of pensions? Do you know about the VERY generous police pensions relative to all other types of government jobs? They literally have a gun pointed at our heads during contract negotiations. 

Anyway, this has changed the way I see the police and city budgets. It's also changed the way I see local political races and endorsements from police (and fire) unions.  The saga with the RB firemans' union going after the elected officials that refused to merge with the county fire department (and their platinum-plated pension program) was eye-opening.

Even after cutting $150 M, LAPD still gets more than half the city's unrestricted funds.  If you count pension contributions, and they have the most generous pensions, police departments get the lions share of most city budgets.  

The cities work for the police departments, not the other way around.

Moreover, these employees often don't live in the cities where they serve.  They take that money and spend it elsewhere.  It's not an exaggeration to call it colonialism.

It started with my allergies and leaf blowers.  But it made this suburban mom question who really works for whom.  My local police union** taught me a lesson, and it wasn't the one they intended.  When the Defund the Police movement arrived, I was ready to listen.  

**The police union and the police chief are not equivalent. They don't have the same priorities.

Thursday, October 01, 2020

What's your Voting Plan?

I read this 2020 Asian American Voter Survey and got depressed thinking about all the people who don't have a voting plan yet.

Democracy in the US is in peril & it is up to all of us to save it. Under some metrics, North Carolina is no longer classified as a democracy.
An independent academic study founded in 2012, the Electoral Integrity Project addresses three questions:
  • When do elections meet international standards of electoral integrity?
  • What happens when elections fail to do so?
  • And what can be done to mitigate these problems?
Under the direction of Professor Pippa Norris and the distinguished International Advisory Board, the Electoral Integrity Project produces innovative and policy-relevant research comparing elections worldwide. The research team is based at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Was it a fair election? The answer is more than a simple yes or no.  Election integrity is more of a continuum.
Elections are just one of the pillars of democracy.  Another pillar is an informed electorate.  I blog about topics that I don't see in the press, or that I don't feel were treated with adequate nuance.  So, in a sense, my blog is an affirmation of my optimism for democracy.  If more people knew the facts, they could react more optimally to ensure better outcomes for everyone.

It's fair to say, this has been wildly optimistic.  Nevertheless, I persist.  Suppose you have never voted before, or are trying to convince friends and family to become voters, where do you get started?

First, you should get your information from high-quality sources.  In a functioning democracy, you would start with the people who run your elections.  For instance, the California Secretary of State runs the state elections.  The Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk runs the LA County elections.  Finally, the Los Angles City Clerk runs the city elections.

[Substitute your jurisdictions to search for the official sites.]

In Los Angeles County, the county clerk coordinates the ballots and voting for all 88 cities in the county.  It's a huge undertaking as LA Co is both the most populous (10 Million) and the most complex (language diversity) county in the US.
Mandated Languages
Los Angeles County is currently required to provide the following language assistance to VRA voters in addition to English:

The full list of LA County Vote Centers just went live on 10/1/2020. Some are open 5 days (10/30-11/03) and others are open 11 days (10/24-11/03.) The list of over 400 secure Ballot Drop Box locations will be released shortly.  If you are a registered voter in CA, your ballot will be mailed to you.  You can mail it back, or drop it off at a Ballot Drop Box or Vote Center.

When I was eligible to vote for the first time, I was an 18 year old college freshman.  I only knew what my teachers and parents told me, and some of what they said were contradictory.  My fellow students pretended to know the answers, but their information was also suspect.

Various groups were after my vote and bombarded our dorm mail room with pamphlets.  I read and tossed all but one.  The League of Women Voters (whom I had never heard of up to that point) left a brochure that explained each initiative (and CA has a lot of them) in plain English and then listed the Pros and Cons of each of them.

The LWV wasn't after my vote.  They wanted to educate me.  I've used their brochures ever since.  Printing brochures is expensive, so most of it is online.  I'm providing links and explaining the differences between the different sites.

[Aside: Non-partisan means LWV does not endorse or oppose any particular political party or candidate.  LWV also works really hard not to be biased.  LWVC is a registered 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4), which means it does education AND advocacy and I'll get to the advocacy part below.]

You can always start at the LWV US (national) level site at and then navigate to your particular states' site.  In my case, that would be  Follow the links on the right column for the Voter Toolbox for instructions on the logistics of how to vote in your area. You can even Register to Vote online.

Underneath the Voters Toolbox, you will find the CA Voter's Edge widget. (In other states, go to for your state-specific information.)

Type in your zip code (your street address is optional) and click on the green "Find my ballot" button.  The site will query a database and return with every single item you are eligible to vote on in the upcoming election (Federal, State, County, City, special Districts.)

LWV volunteers in every community contact candidates running for office and send them written questionnaires and invitations to upload their bios and other informational data.  (I admit to being a bit biased here, but I think that a candidate that refuses, or is too disorganized, to provide information maybe shouldn't be in public office.)

I usually take my sample ballot, sit in front of my computer, read the candidate stuff, and mark my selections on my sample ballot.  In pre-Covid days, I brought my sample ballot to the Vote Center with me and entered in my selections on the touch screen.  This time, I will be using copying my selections from my sample ballot to my actual ballot, which should be arriving this week in the mail.

CA Easy Voter Guide  is your quick-start guide to general information about the election and plain English explanations of what each CA proposition means. Search on your state's Easy Voter Guide if you live in another state. or gives you your customized ballot information.

The Pros & Cons lay out unbiased information about each initiative.

The advocacy arm sometimes decides to take sides on initiatives (but never on candidates.)

Vote with the League provides arguments on why we hope you will side with us on some issues.

Volunteers analyze, organize, upload and sometimes write all of these materials. The decision to advocate on some initiatives is taken by a committee. (Disclaimer, I have provided research and facts for the committee to consider.) Generally, I think these are pretty good recommendations. 

Occasionally, I feel more strongly on an issue that the committee stayed neutral on (or vice versa.) But, I've never had a strong disagreement, which is pretty remarkable, and why I joined the organization as a volunteer.  If partisan politics isn't your thing and you want to be politically involved with a group that values facts, evidence and expertise, then check out your local LWV chapter.

If you are a California voter, Vote Yes on Prop 15: Schools & Communities First. Don't listen to the propaganda.  It only applies to commercial (not residential or agricultural) properties.  Make Apple and Genentech pay property taxes on the real value of their corporate campuses.

Aside (written weeks ago, may repeat above info):
When I was approaching my very first election as an 18 year old UC Berkeley Freshman, I found a LWVC Pros and Cons printed pamphlet outside my dorm along with lots of flyers from myriad groups telling me to vote this way or that way.  I read them all with a critical eye and the LWV stood out from the rest.  Clear, evidence-based discussion of the issues and what our votes will mean.

As an immigrant, I wasn't familiar with the LWV or the other groups vying for my vote.  Before the internet, you couldn't just look up the LWV history or learn how to join.

I was and am a science nerd.  I did not participate in student government at any level.  It didn't occur to me that LWV needs science nerds until a fellow math major invited me to a meeting.   We discussed a specialized field called voting methods that involved lots of math and computer science.  Everyone there was a teacher and/or a technical person and made me feel welcome.

I signed up to join both the voting methods team and the local chapter.  I went to a general meeting, and found myself helping to write the next Pros and Cons and Vote with the League information for the upcoming election (on a highly technical issue that frequently gets reduced to sound bites).

Pros and Cons is purely informational and lays out all the factual arguments to support or oppose measures.  Lies, distortions and wishful thinking are not tolerated. Facts, context and history with as little bias as possible given human writers and editors.

Vote with the League adds recommendations, if any.  After examining all the evidence and Pros & Cons, the League may feel so strongly that it will make recommendations.  Sometimes, the evidence is mixed and the League will stay neutral.  If there is not enough information or the League lacks the specific policy positions to take a stand, we won't.

LA Times posted their guide:
Here’s everything to know about voting by mail in Los Angeles County