Sunday, April 04, 2021

LTN: One possible solution to decarbonizing transportation

Bad Dad and I were featured in A Local Travel Network for the South Bay Story Map* riding my Ebike and an Escooter we bought for combining with transit just before the March 2020 lockdown.


Click through to see the full wide picture that also includes a BMW electric car.  I have mixed feelings about this project.  I think it is a reasonable baby step, but the South Bay Cities Council of Governments does not appear inclined to offer more than sharrows.  In fact, their South Bay Bicycling Master Plan counts roads with 50+ mph traffic and a sign on the shoulder saying it is a bike route as a bikeway.

The Story Map makes some good points about the South Bay region of Los Angeles County.  This area is home to roughly 1 Million people and 750,000 cars.



70% of South Bay trips are less than 3 miles, yet we do most of them by car. It's both a problem of habit and the built environment. We don't provide safe spaces for people out of cars, so people make trips in cars, even if they would prefer to do otherwise. Spend some time exploring pedestrian and cyclist data using UC Berkeley's Transportation Injury Mapping System



In 2009-2020, there were 100,000 collisions involving pedestrians and cyclists, including ~3100 deaths,  in Los Angeles County.



This is just the people that braved the streets outside of cars. This doesn't even represent the suppressed active tranportation trips that people took in cars or forwent out of (quite rational) fear.

I'll take allies where I find them.  I am accepting the LTN (if they actually build it) as a down payment, but not as payment in full, for the safe streets that we deserve and need as we decarbonize local transportation.

* We were told to be near the intersection of Pacific and 10th street in Manhattan Beach, CA one Saturday morning to film.  We bike through that area on our way to the beach several times a week.  It's one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the region.  The organizer wanted a quintessential South Bay setting with the ocean.  But, I would not have selected a neighborhood that aggressively protects Single Family Home Zoning to preserve the affordability of $30,000,000 ($30 Million) dollar homes.  We have to quit showing SFHs as if they are normal or representative. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Friday, April 02, 2021

Batteries don't grow on trees

This video came across my Twitter timeline and I retweeted it. Rice geophysics professor Cin-Ty Lee explains why nickel and cobalt laterites are found in the areas where biodiversity is greatest. It's pretty heartbreaking.

   

I knew that batteries were very toxic, and that the Cobalt used in them came from DRC*, often using slave or child labor, but I had believed the stories that alternate sources of Cobalt had been found and that would be a nonissue as soon as the alternate sources came online. 

Professor Lee's video made me realize that the most economically viable Cobalt deposits are all in the tropics: Congo, Papua New Guinea and Queensland, Australia.  You reach the deposits either by strip mining in tropical highlands, or mining the oceans.


If you are in the "green-industrial complex" and need to calculate your client's carbon footprint, you end up having to sum the carbon from battery production with the savings that the battery enables.  If battery production includes the carbon released from strip mining tropical rainforests to mine the ore, the potential carbon savings plummets.

I found an open access journal about the Life cycle assessment of cobalt extraction process that gave a picture of the tradeoffs.  Eutrophication means adding nitrogen and silt to waterways from the strip mining.

Highlights

  • The life cycle assessment of the cobalt extraction route is carried out.
  • Blasting and electricity consumption in cobalt mining is damaging to the environment.
  • Eutrophication and global warming are the most affected impact categories.
  • Carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide emission are highest from cobalt mining.
  • Alternative energy sources for electricity generation would enhance sustainability.
One way to avoid destroying tropical rainforests to mine ore is to source your ore from the ocean floor.  I found other articles such as, Deep-ocean polymetallic nodules as a resource for critical materials, that show the potential of deep ocean mining metals used in batteries.  You may not release carbon by cutting down tropical rainforests, but you will make the fishing and tourism industries and coral reef ecologists very angry.  You'll also destroy ocean ecology.  Pesky tradeoffs!

Right now, we're in the battery build up phase.  Eventually, we'll have enough that we can keep recycling them, much as we do for lead-acid batteries.  This will end the destruction caused by mining, but cause other problems.

I did a little research to wrap my head around how much we are talking about.

Lithium-metal batteries are about 10-20% cobalt chemistry, but that includes water, so it's about 1-2% Cobalt by weight.

Teslas have 1060-1200 pounds of batteries or about 55-85 kWh (kiloWatt hours)
The new eHummer has 200 kWh
My Ebike has 0.5 kWh
My Escooter has 0.3 kWh**

Electric cars have 100-500x the batteries and toxicity of Ebikes/Etrikes/Escooters. They are also very very spatially inefficient with road space and urban space (parking).  For rural areas where space is not a problem and distances are large, they make sense.  For the 90+% of Californians and Angelenos living in urban spaces, they are a last solution, not a first solution.

I Ebike about 50 miles on the charge used to move a Tesla X just 1 mile.  Do we really need to move a 4000# car with an additional 1000# of batteries to move one person plus groceries?  I can carry 5 days worth of groceries for 3 on my Ebike without a backpack.  I could probably carry 7 days worth with a backpack, but why bother?

This is why I don't support strongly support electric cars, trucks and buses alone.

We have to get out of single occupancy cars as much as possible, especially in the urbanized areas.

We need to decarbonize transportation using every tool, starting with right-sizing the vehicles for the task.  

We need to use road space more efficiently, which means remodeling our urban environments to make better use of transit and active modes (walking/cycling). 

There is no time to waste.  

We need to do it all at once.

Further reading:


* Just because you rebrand a county from Congo to the Democratic Republic of Congo, doesn't automatically make it so. I refuse to use the Newspeak name.


** A research paper showed the CO2 per passenger-mile for a bunch of different transport modes and the statistic that caught all the media editors' clickbait attention was that shared electric scooters are inefficient.  They are inefficient due to their short lifespans (people trash them) and miles driven in cars by the people who hunt them down, recharge them and restock them.  


A subsequent study showed that privately-owned Escooters are almost as efficient as Ebikes, which are almost as efficient as regular bikes-the most efficient mode of travel ever invented.



Monday, March 29, 2021

Plastic

I vent sometimes on Twitter. Earlier this month, I ran a Twitter poll and learned how hard it is to write an unambiguous multiple choice question.


Is plastic petroleum?

Of the 164 votes, 

  • 72.6% chose "Yes, duh"
  • 3% chose "No"
  • 4.3% chose "Don't know"
  • 20.1% chose "Not enough info to answer"
It's a good thing that I don't have to come up with a grading rubric for this question because you can make a valid argument that any of the choices are correct. 

I started to write an explanation for the answer, but it became quite a long thread.  Since it took so much research and time, it deserves to be put up on the blog.

Until 2 years ago, I didn’t know that materials scientists consider plastic a property instead of a material. You can make plastic from all sorts of polymers that are soft when warm and rigid when cooled. Eg potato starch plastic. 2/ 

Most plastics used in the world are made from fossil hydrocarbons, typically ethane. It used to be made mainly from petroleum distillates but is now often made from fossil gas aka natural gas. 3/ 

Worldwide, plastics use is increasing alarmingly. We should question whether we really need to consume so much. But, in the US, our car dependence is a much, much bigger problem. Landfilled plastics are sequestered. Gas tank hydrocarbons get burned and add CO2 to the atmosphere 4/ 

4/ Quote Tweeted this AirQ thread about how CO2 is lower on weekends because people drive less.


I’m not a big plastic user and live in a community that supports reduce, reuse, recycling. Angelenos produce much less garbage than US avg. Many areas, including mine, haul away yard and kitchen waste for industrial composting. Our recyclables are collected, sorted and recycled 5/ 

The rest of our trash is incinerated at SERRF on Terminal Island, Long Beach. It generates electricity for SERRF and feeds the grid. The ports of LA/LB use a lot of electricity 24/7 so this is synergistic. My city diverts 74% of waste (typical for LA County) and burns the remaining 26% 6/ 

(Our regional solid waste stream is also smaller than the US avg due to state/local government policy choices. Our family also made lifestyle adjustments to reduce it even further. The main driver is that government policies support solid waste reduction.)

I’m still using a roll of Saran Wrap purchased 10 years ago. I used Parafilm in lab when I needed it. I have zero guilt about using plastic when I need it. Right now, my trash is full of takeout containers from local restaurants that need our support during the pandemic 7/ 

Try to reduce single-use plastics in your day to day life as much as you can. Carry that refillable water bottle daily, but keep a case of water bottles in your earthquake kit. The American Chemical Society devoted a special issue to plastics recycling 8/ 

In short, mechanical plastics recycling chops up the long-chain polymers and weakens plastic. So, the current methods of plastics recycling, where new and old plastics are mixed together, is not closed loop or sustainable. Eventually, the plastic will be too weak to do its job of holding stuff. You don't want a container that breaks unpredictably.
THE DYSFUNCTION OF PLASTICS RECYCLING Plastics recycling, as it exists today, is a mess. In 2015, the US recycled only 9.1% of the 31 million t of plastics that consumers threw out, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The vast majority ended up in either landfills or incinerators. In contrast, two-thirds of paper, a third of metals, and a quarter of glass were recycled that year. In the European Union, about 14.8% of the roughly 27 million t of plastic waste was recycled in 2016, according to the European Commission.
But, there's active research into using enzymes to break down plastic back to its pre-polymerized raw feedstock shape. About 40% of it will remain, but it can be turned into low-sulfur diesel fuel--not a bad fuel for long distance trucking or ocean-going cargo ships which operate away from urban areas. 

One of my husband’s former classmates at MIT is working on enzymatic fuel production from plastics and agricultural waste. I am optimistic about the technology, though it is still too expensive. 9/ 

Driving an ICE car is single use petroleum. Using plastic, even if it is incinerated after 1 use, gets 2 uses out of the material. If it is landfilled, it is at least sequestered vs burned and released into the atmosphere 10/

Gasoline accounts for 45% of US petroleum use while all chemical feedstocks (paint, solvents, cleaners, pharmaceuticals, plastics) account for 1.5% https://eia.gov/energyexplained/oil-and-petroleum-products/use-of-oil.php 11/



In summary, that smarty pants state senator is operating on old information. Plastics are made from a variety of sources & petroleum is one of the top 2. Plastics in waterways is a problem, but tire particles are the overwhelmingly major source 12/ 

[oops, I skipped 13/]

EVs, because of their weight, increases tire wear, exacerbating water and air pollution https://greencarreports.com/news/1127424_study-particulate-emissions-from-tire-wear-is-higher-than-from-tailpipes 14/ 

I wrote a detailed blog post about this 15/ Leaf blowers, street sweeping, car tires, fish and you

“Non-exhaust emissions...are currently believed to constitute the majority of primary particulate matter from road transport: 60% of PM2.5 and 73% of PM10.” https://tiretechnologyinternational.com/news/regulations/pollution-from-tire-wear-1000-times-worse-than-exhaust-emissions.html 16/

Under-inflated tires are a huge contributor to tire particles. Remember the Ford Explorer rollover scandal? SUVs are top heavy. To reduce rollover risk, they use special tires that don’t burst when inflated much lower than passenger car tires 17/ 

SUVs and pickups need larger tires, often at lower pressures, so they don’t roll over. Want to know why our regional PM 2.5 just keeps increasing? The answer is almost always cars, especially SUVs. Electric SUVs are greenwash. Electric bikes/trikes in every garage instead 18/fin

I'm not the only one who sees EV-only approaches without remaking our streets to help us move out of cars as greenwash. 

Tackling the climate and air pollution crises requires curbing all motorised transport, particularly private cars, as quickly as possible. Focusing solely on electric vehicles is slowing down the race to zero emissions. 
Only getting out of cars will solve the urban particulate air pollution, road congestion and parking/land use problems. I said URBAN. Rural areas have different problems and different solutions. But, since California is the most urbanized of all US states and Los Angeles is among the most urbanized of all CA and US counties, this is what we need to do right here, right now, where I live. 

10 Million people live in Los Angeles County, 5.6x as many people as Idaho. So I don't want to hear any critiques along the lines of this will not work in Boise or on my Montana ranch. The Netherlands has a bike culture with just 511 people per square kilometer vs 905 for Los Angeles County. 

Sure, NL is flat and LA is surrounded by steep mountains. But that also means we live more densely because most of us live in the flatter broad valleys and coastal plains. Ebikes flatten the hills anyway.  It sure does rain a lot more in NL, though.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Battery Pile-up

I'm usually an EV (electric car) pessimist, but a couple of things make me hopeful.

You can set lofty goals in the future, but stymie real and substantive changes today.  I see that at all levels of California governance.  E.g. you can put an electric car charger on the sidewalk of a downtown LA street, which precludes installing a bike lane later. I walked by the charger below and lamented the lost opportunity.

But, LA actually installed a 'parking protected' bike lane right there, and a bicyclist flipped off his bike one night when he ran into the cable in the dark.  He posted a photo of what he saw in the dark on Twitter.  It went viral.  See the staged photo below, which highlights the black cable in orange.


Notice the narrow width of the bike lane to accommodate private car storage on a downtown LA street.  I may not be a Climate Mayor, but even I know that using streets to move people rather than store private property is a better use of public space.  Don't @ me about customers arriving in cars.  People spend money.  Cars do not.  In fact, providing car parking is a huge expense for business owners and society in general.

There are lots of parking garages in DTLA and our family even uses them sometimes.  But I mainly use transit to get to and around DTLA because it's too crowded to do otherwise.

When I realized that we used our minivan mainly for getting to the light rail station and our annual road trip, we decided to replace it with a folding electric scooter (for coupling with transit) and occasional car rental.   I already had an eBike, and used it for most of my local Beach Cities and West Torrance trips.  If our area had better bike facilities, I could travel even further. Sigh.

Electric cars (what most people refer to as EVs) are very popular in the Beach Cities.  But, I think we should also accommodate smaller electric vehicles, such as my 0.3 kiloWatt-hour scooter and 0.5 kWh eBike.  In contrast, the very popular (in our area) Tesla X has 100 kWh batteries.

Batteries are so toxic, resource-intensive and sourcing their raw materials are so problematic environmentally and socially, I won't go into it here.  It just makes sense to move people around in the smallest package necessary with the least amount of batteries.

But, that's not how we're behaving.  It makes no sense to celebrate replacing 4000 pound ICE cars with 5000 pound EVs while not simultaneously working as fast as we can to get people out of cars in the cities.  

What will we do with the growing pile of spend batteries?  Until recently, they were just piling up dangerously.  Some were sent overseas to poorer countries, that stockpiled or recycled them in (sometimes unsafe ways, especially for their workers).  That is not a long-term solution. 

Available Li-ion battery recycling facilities are few and expensive.  Until recently, there were only three in all of North America.  Furthermore, it would cost ~$91,500 to recycle one MegaWatt-hour (MWh) of Li-ion batteries.  A Tesla X has 100kWh or 0.1 MWh; recycling its batteries would cost ~$9,150.  In contrast, my eBike has 1/200th the batteries and my scooter has 1/300th the batteries.  I can also travel about 40 miles by eBike on the same electricity that moves a Tesla 1 mile.

Ideally, spent batteries should be circular and recycled into new batteries.  While lead-acid batteries are circular, the Exide and Quemetco battery recycling plants in LA County were not good environmental neighbors.  There are limited ways to recycle batteries--smelting (heating to evaporate away all the non-metals), leaching (repeated acid/water washes to carry away the metals) and physical (electrochemical).  


In LA, with our limited water supply, smelting was used.  A small fraction of the lead escaped through the smokestacks.  (I never understood how that happened if strict emissions control equipment were used, but it did.) A small fraction of a large amount created an awful lot of lead pollution in some of the poorest and densest parts of Los Angeles County.

Would we repeat our lead recycling environmental mistakes with lithium batteries?  

Maybe not?

Start with some regulations that force industry to take action, even if it is expensive today: 

The new US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) on the North American auto industry has a 2030 requirement of 75% locally produced content, and use of recycled battery materials could help North American EV manufacturers achieve that.

Add money and cities willing to host recycling plants:

The Canadian firm Li-Cycle will begin constructing a US $175 million plant in Rochester, N.Y., on the grounds of what used to be the Eastman Kodak complex. When completed, it will be the largest lithium-ion battery-recycling plant in North America.
[The articles don't say which process they are using to recycle the batteries.  But, I notice that both plants are near large quantities of water.]

We need to build a lot more of these plants throughout the world. We need to pay attention to make sure that they are built and run safely for both the workers and the surrounding areas. But, this is an encouraging sign that we are getting serious.


Thursday, December 17, 2020

Leaf blowers, street sweeping, car tires, fish and you

I heard arguments for easing up on street sweeping parking tickets during a possible second covid-19 shut-down from both the left and the right.  I'm going to explain why that is a very, very bad idea.

Cities don't spend money to sweep the streets as an excuse to issue parking tickets.  They really do need to clean the streets, especially in coastal communities like Los Angeles.  If we don't clean up our streets, storm drains and waterways, toxins get dumped into coastal waters and we get fined by the EPA.  The fines have enough teeth to prod cities to clean up our street runoff.

Car tire dust is a big, big problem.  

Chemicals in tires break down into a very dangerous toxin that is decimating salmon populations.  This solves the mystery of why, when fish habitat and water flow are restored, salmon continue to die.

Zinc in car tires is a leading source of heavy metal toxins in coastal waters (along with copper from brake dust).

Tire particles are the largest source of microplastics in coastal waters.

I read the microplastics paper and blogged about the painstaking methodology and their results in Heavy Metal in LA.


The tire industry acknowledges that car tire particles make up 60% of PM2.5 and 73% of PM10 particulate air pollution.  This has been confirmed by both microscopic manual separation and identification studies like the one above and by elemental analysis of road dust.

Tire Technology International devoted an entire special issue to the problem of tire dust. It's nice to see industry discuss issues ahead of regulation.  This gives us one more reason to keep our tires inflated.  It will reduce tire dust, improve fuel economy and lower our CO2 emissions.

While regulators are still fixated on fighting the last battle, tailpipe emissions, tire emissions are largely unregulated.  But, the EPA does indirectly regulate tire particles through water quality regulations.

I've written about my loathing for leaf blowers and the health hazards that they pose. Leaf blowers churn up pollen, dust and particulate pollutants. Cars create particulates (road surface wear, tailpipe, tire and brake dust) and churn up road dust as well.  Cars also grind down larger, less dangerous particles into finer, more dangerous ones that can lodge deep in the lungs.

We are in the midst of a raging pandemic. Studies around the world have shown that covid-19 is deadlier as PM2.5 particulate pollution rises. An increase of just 1 microgram per cubic meter of PM2.5 exposure leads to a roughly 10% rise in covid-19 mortality. The Harvard study of the US covid-19 mortality and PM2.5 also studies race and concludes that PM2.5 alone (holding race constant) increases risk by 8% for each microgram/cubic meter.

I bought a home air quality sensor and moved it around the house.  When I put it near a window facing the street, I could see the PM2.5 spike whenever a car drove past.  The road dust got really bad while our city was not able to sweep the streets all the way to the curb due to parked cars.  

When parking enforcement for street sweeping resumed, I saw a decrease in road dust when I opened my windows.  It hasn't rained, so the reduction in road dust is most likely due to more thorough street sweeping.

In the middle of a pandemic, when we are urged to open our windows and ventilate our homes, isn't it important to keep the street air as clean as possible?

Isn't it our self-interest to move our cars and let the street sweeping machines do the most thorough job possible?

Also, why are we storing private property (cars) on the public right of way (street)? What is the point of mandating so much off-street parking in zoning regulations if we're all going to dump our cars on the streets?  

Parking on the street is privatizing public property. Then that leads people to get mad about getting parking tickets when they don't move their cars for the 2 hours a week that the street is swept.  Moving a car off the street is the minimum that people need to do to keep our cities and water clean.

The real outrage is that people privatizing public space is keeping our kids from being biking safely down the street.  The kids are penned between twin rows of parked vehicles with no space for cars to pass them safely--even if they could be seen through the visual clutter of all the parked cars.

Addendum:

The number one thing we can do to reduce tire particulate pollution (in terms of biggest reduction) is to drive lighter cars.  Drive the smallest, lightest car you need for everyday activities. Rent a larger car for occasions where you really need a larger vehicle.

Number two is to drive them less.

Number three is to keep your tires properly inflated.

With climate change, our rain season is going to get shorter.  This means we will have to rely more on street sweeping instead of rain to clean up our tire particle pollution.  The best way is to create less in the first place.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

The Water-Energy Nexus

Since moving back to California, I joined the League of Women Voters California Water Committee aka the Water Buffaloes.  Volunteers around the state that monitor happenings in California water and try to educate the public so that we can make better collective decisions.  

There are so many people who benefit from operating in obscurity, they sow disinformation so they can keep the doing the things that benefit them, but harm the rest of us.  Shoveling against the tide of misinformation never stops.

One of the hallmarks of LWV is that we update our knowledge by keeping abreast of regulatory changes and new knowledge.  I help out with the science stuff, and I work with other volunteers with expertise in law, journalism and education.

In order to help update the public's knowledge about California, we are writing a new series about California Water and the League.  I especially like the cartoon because Climate Change has changed everything about California water and I don't think most people have realized how much danger we're in.


Four of the planned eight articles are currently posted, and more will be dropped monthly.  I've written Water is Related to Everything and The Water-Energy Nexus.  The editor took out this great graphic showing the State Water Project and the relative heights of the water lifts needed to reach SoCal.



Did you know that water uses account for 19% and 30% of CA electricity and natural gas consumption respectively?

And that it's circular.  Water has embedded energy. Energy has embedded water?  Read The Water-Energy Nexus

Thursday, November 05, 2020

Transportation News

I'm feeling rather sad at the moment. Waves hands at all this.

I just wrote up my monthly roundup of Natural Resources happenings in Los Angeles County for LWV.  A lot happens in my little county of 10 million people. If LA Co were a country, we'd have the same population of Azerbaijan, Portugal, Sweden or Hungary.

To keep it shorter, I focused on transportation this month.

On October 15, UCLA Luskin Center held a fantastic seminar on Understanding the History of LA Traffic.  You can read the accompanying paper, A Century of Fighting Traffic Congestion in Los Angeles: 1920-2020.


I learned about the difference between facility pricing (pay to use a specific toll road or to cross a bridge) and cordon pricing (pay to enter a congested area like central London) and corridor pricing.  Los Angeles is the first in the world to study corridor pricing and using the money for reparations to the communities in the corridor.  

This is huge, and I'm so proud of Los Angeles for putting environmental justice front and center in the framing.

For instance, if you want to travel from Long Island, NY to New Jersey, you need to cross Manhattan.  You could pay a toll on the Trans-Manhattan Expressway and bypass surface streets, minimizing your impact on those communities.  Or you can pay nothing and clog the surface streets of Chinatown while traversing between the Manhattan/Brooklyn bridges to the Holland Tunnel.  This leads to horrific traffic congestion, air pollution and traffic deaths in Chinatown.

Under corridor pricing, you pay to traverse through a corridor.  It doesn't matter if you take a freeway, an arterial or side street.  You drive through, you pay for the externalities that you impose on the residents of that area.

Figure 2.1 from RAND Tech Report Autonomous Vehicle Technology: A Guide for Policy Makers. This figure relies upon data from page 922 of this NHTSA report.

We're already doing it on a smaller scale by charging solo drivers to use the carpool lanes on I-110.  Community groups serving communities along the I-110 corridor can apply for some of the funds raised from the tolls for active transportation projects.  But, this favors communities with people experienced in the ways of writing grant proposals.  Those are generally not the communities with the greatest needs. It also limits how the money can be spent, and those may not be the greatest needs.

Corridor pricing means the money will go to the communities in the corridor automatically.  People are hashing out what that would look like.  More money for public health?  Retrofitting homes and schools for air filters? Cash for residents?  Free transit for residents?

Meanwhile, I made a video about the kind of transportation changes we really need to make to avoid catastrophic climate change (as if what we are experiencing isn't already catastrophic.)

   

I keep hearing that we can't. We could never get Americans to do this. But, then I wonder why we would rather kill the planet and ourselves (Covid:Masks) rather than do the things that Asian countries like Taiwan are doing.

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.