Thursday, February 23, 2012

2012-02-23 "Buying local puts more into Napa economy" by Erica Amy Martenson
Martenson is a Napa resident and Napa County Green Party member.
The Napa County Green Party joins in opposition to Starbucks opening at First and Main streets across from the Napa Valley Coffee Roasting Company, and joins in favor of Napa Local’s proposal for an ordinance regulating formula businesses modeled after the ordinance in Fairfax, Marin County.
One of the Green Party’s 10 key values is community-based economics, which it believes must be the cornerstone of any sustainable economic program. As an alternative to an economy owned by either the government or large corporations, Greens favor a Jeffersonian model with ownership and control spread as widely as possible among people at the local level.
In addition to the positive cultural, social, psychological and environmental benefits of having successful, locally owned businesses, they bring an economic benefit as well. According to research, three times more money stays and recirculates in the local economy when one buys goods and services from a locally owned business rather than a corporate chain.
This is true for a number of reasons. First, local businesses are more likely to purchase their supplies, products and services from other local businesses. Second, the profits go to the owners, who then spend much of their money and pay taxes in their own community. Finally, locally owned businesses tend to give back more to their community in the form of charitable contributions. In sum, local businesses keep money circulating within the community, rather than sending it to distant corporate headquarters.
Some opponents of this type of regulation cite downtown Napa’s empty storefronts as a concern. However, if there are empty storefronts, it is because rents are clearly too high. Perhaps property owners are keeping them high, speculating that at some point the big players, the large corporate chains, will come in; but we, as a community, should not allow that trend to happen unchecked and uncontrolled. The future of downtown Napa should not merely be sold to the highest bidder without consideration of the impact.
As the gap between rich and poor in the United States gets ever wider, at the local level we must implement programs and policies designed to narrow that gap. One way to do that is to keep money in the community where it is made by encouraging not only the creation, but also the success of locally owned businesses. It is the responsibility of the City Council to do just that.

Monday, February 20, 2012

2012-02-20 "Slow-growth group: Smaller Napa Pipe plan may be too small" by Peter Jensen from "Napa Valley Register"
Napa County planning staff is touting its vision for a smaller Napa Pipe project as providing a compact, walkable neighborhood, but a local group is questioning if it’s too small to make that possible.
Staff and developer Keith Rogal are offering competing proposals for the project, with Rogal advocating a 2,050-home project on 134 acres, while staff supports a 700- to 945-home project on 63 acres.
The developer’s original proposal was for 3,200 homes, then 2,580, and finally 2,050. The project will be mixed-use and have a hotel, a living facility for seniors, and other retail and commercial spaces.
Both proposals will be offered at the county Planning Commission’s meeting Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the Napa Valley Opera House, 1030 Main St. Members of the public are invited to question staff and the applicant. Another meeting will be held March 19, and residents can offer comments at that meeting. The commission will make a recommendation on the project after the public comments.
Planning Director Hillary Gitelman has said the smaller project allowed staff to strike a balance between providing the compact, walkable neighborhood the developer envisions with the reduced housing needs the county anticipates having.
Eve Kahn, chair of Get a Grip on Growth, said when she first read the staff proposal she was pleased with the vision for a smaller project. It didn’t require an exemption to limits included in the county’s growth management plan — “one of my big battles,” Kahn said.
But she questioned if the project’s size would be enough to support a school at the site and retail facilities, elements of keeping traffic off the roads.
“Once you cut it down small enough, you just put even more people on the road,” Kahn said. “A sustainable, walkable community goes out the door.”
Kahn’s group raised concerns about the project in a letter to county planners after the project’s Draft Environmental Impact Report was released in 2009. It did so again after a supplement to that report was issued last year.
The applicants propose possibly setting aside a 10-acre site for an elementary school, while county staff’s proposal does not.
Kahn said she was also concerned about what kind of tenants the development would attract, saying it might appeal more to people looking to purchase a second home, not working-class families.
“My fear is you’re going to have a lot of tourists and hotels and not the workforce housing we need,” Kahn said. “We need housing for our workers and it needs to be in a place that fits their lifestyles.”
Kahn said she was opposed to the project, and said building it would jeopardize opportunities to bring light-industrial development to the area.
“It’s the last big light-industrial space,” Kahn said. “This project should get turned down now.”
Bernhard Krevet, president of Friends of the Napa River, said his organization still needed to wade through the details contained in the voluminous environmental report for the project, but said staff’s proposal potentially posed less impact to the environment.
“In a way, I like the reduced (project) because it would reduce some of the pressures on our natural environment,” Krevet said.
Krevet questioned putting the residential units nearest the river, which both proposals do, as that area is prone to be the most impacted by flooding or sea levels rising.
Krevet said his group raised concerns about the project’s environmental impacts in two letters, one in 2010 and another in 2011. The group is still researching and Krevet couldn’t yet say if its concerns were adequately addressed.

Monday, February 6, 2012

2012-02-06 "Tim Lincecum slims down with swim routine, loses appetite for McDonald’s" by 'Duk from "Big League Stew"
Tim Lincecum's bank account may be getting a lot fatter, but the Freak's physique is headed the opposite way. After using 2011 to bulk up in an attempt to gain endurance, Lincecum appeared at the Giants fanfest this past weekend and said he had lost 22 pounds over the winter.
It's kind of hard to believe that Lincecum had 22 pounds to lose in the first place, though not as hard as believing the pitcher's claim that he weighed close to 200 pounds when taking the mound last season.
With the added poundage not providing the benefit he thought it might, Lincecum took to using a counter-current pool to get down to around 175 pounds from 197. He also cut down on his famous trips to In-N-Out while eliminating other outlets entirely.
Bad Ronald!
"You take your first bite of a McDonald's burger and it's like 'Why did I buy this?'" Lincecum said to reporters.
"You feel instantly sick. That's what ended up happening with all these places and why I started eliminating them. I take a bite and I'm like 'I can't even finish this.' So I just started going for stuff that made me feel better. I'm not crushing vegetables by any means, but I'm definitely eating better."
Lincecum said all of this while wearing a hat for Tacolicious [], a San Francisco dining phenomenon that relies on local farmers for their ingredients. So perhaps he really is easing his way past the drive-thru routine of an early 20-something.
Speaking of tacos, Lincecum also expressed doubt that Brian Wilson really eats Taco Bell despite endorsing it all of last postseason. But just like gordita enthusiast Justin Verlander, the super-fit Wilson said he's been known to make a run for the border.
"Yeah, I've had Taco Bell," Wilson told Bay Area Sports Guy. "C'mon, I'm human."

Sunday, February 5, 2012

2012-02-05 "Pay attention to how important agriculture really is" from "Vallejo Times Herald"
Telling you that agriculture is important in Solano and Yolo counties is not news to any of us. But if we told you that agriculture is the engine behind a $2.5 billion sector of our economies, you might be interested. When we add that agriculture is our region's brightest promise to increase jobs and prosperity, we know that we now have your full attention.
That's exactly what happened when a study on this subject came out last year. It got the attention of farmers, processors, bankers, government and academia. They all wanted to know how they could be a part of growing this broad, yet integrated sector known as the food chain industry cluster, which makes up 10 percent of our shared economy. That interest resulted in a tremendous turnout for the Solano and Yolo Counties Joint Economic Summit in December.
"The Food Chain Cluster: Integrating the Food Chain in Solano and Yolo Counties to Create Economic Opportunities and Jobs" report describes the food chain as the full spectrum of economic activity related to agriculture -- from seed to the table -- from before the crops get into the fields, to the goods and services used in farming, to the value-added processing that converts crops into consumer goods.
The report highlights some opportunities and challenges to adding more value to agriculture. The opportunities range from increasing demand for high-value products that we grow, such as almonds and walnuts, to the fact that seven out of the top 10 seed producers in the world are located here. While having established food processing facilities is one of our strengths, the need for additional slaughtering facilities and other essential processors was identified as a weakness. Regulatory issues, costs of operations and the lack of a chilling capacity are some of the other challenges to overcome.
The purpose of the summit was to engage participants in building strategies that will preserve, promote and expand our agricultural industry and all of the value it brings to our communities. A key message we heard was the need for the urban public, the business community and economic development staffs to have a better understanding of the importance of bringing processing facilities to the region. This will bring growers much-needed contracts for their commodities -- an economic incentive to keep agricultural production local. New processing facilities will also generate a wave of other job-producing companies that will spur retail purchases, home sales and other positive drivers for our local economy.
The summit reinforced this region's capacity to continue to grow our food chain cluster. One speaker suggested we could make our Agricultural Valley the next Silicon Valley. For this to be possible, we need to capitalize on our competitive advantages -- highly productive lands, plentiful water, top-notch research at the UC Davis, an entrepreneurial spirit, and an unwavering passion to preserve and promote agriculture.
In addition, the summit underscored how agriculture -- farming and ranching -- has evolved to remain competitive. Agriculture is more mechanized and less people-intensive than it once was. The vast majority of the jobs along the agriculture food chain -- 77 percent -- are in processing, distribution and support services. On average, the future growth in these sectors represents jobs paying around $24 per hour. These jobs will more than likely be in our cities, but some -- in the best interests of both agriculture and the cities -- will be located in unincorporated areas. Both counties have already set aside areas for this type of growth.
Summit participants discussed obstacles, such as ready access to capital and competing regulatory interests of federal, state and local governments. Overcoming these obstacles will require a new kind of collaboration. Bankers and government need to rethink their roles to become even better partners in growing the food chain.
In the coming weeks and months, you will see more results from this joint economic effort. Our respective Boards of Supervisors received presentations on Jan. 24 on the basic road map of the most promising actions we can take together. You have our commitment to finding the funds for a public-private partnership for an agriculture ombudsman program to serve Solano and Yolo counties. We need an ombudsman to help agriculture-related entrepreneurs turn their ideas into reality and create better partnerships between our businesses and regulators.
In many ways, what we have in front of us is an old-fashioned barn-raising. Our challenge is how each of us can commit to adding more value to agriculture. This cannot be about what the "other guy" should be doing. In a barn-raising, everybody pitches in because that's what communities do to meet the need. Our communities are in need right now and agriculture is at the heart of the solution.

Mike Reagan
Supervisor, County of Solano

Duane Chamberlain
Supervisory, County of Yolo

John Vasquez
Supervisor, County of Solano

Don Saylor
Supervisor, County of Yolo

Saturday, February 4, 2012

2012-02-04 "Renewable energy costs are starting to come down" by David R. Baker from "San Francisco Chronicle"
The price of renewable power contracts signed by California utilities more than doubled from 2003 through 2011 but has now started to plunge, according to a long-awaited state report issued Friday.
The report is the most detailed accounting yet of the costs of California's push to use more solar, wind and geothermal power. Until now, most of those costs have remained hidden from the public. The California Public Utilities Commission, which issued Friday's report, has for years published quarterly updates on the number of contracts signed but has never before included the costs.
A state law passed in 2002 and expanded in 2006 required California utilities to get 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by the end of 2010, a goal that has since been expanded to 33 percent by 2020. The law set off a scramble among the utilities to sign contracts with companies building wind farms and solar power plants.
As a result, contract prices rose steadily as the deadline loomed, according to Friday's report. In 2003, the utilities paid an average of 5.4 cents per kilowatt hour for renewable power contracts. By 2011, the average reached 13.3 cents per kilowatt hour.
But it is starting to tumble.
New contract bids submitted to the utilities last year were about 30 percent lower than in 2009, according to the report. Those contracts haven't been signed yet, so they weren't included in the 2011 average. More developers have entered the field, and the worldwide drop in solar panel prices has slashed the cost of building photovoltaic power plants.
"This shows it's an industry that is maturing, and the prices are now coming down," said state Sen. Alex Padilla.
Last year Padilla, D-Pacoima (Los Angeles County), authored a bill requiring the commission to issue an annual report on the costs of renewable power contracts. Until then, the contract details had remained confidential until three years after each facility began delivering electricity. California utility customers, who will ultimately pay for the increased use of renewable power, had no way to know how much was being spent.
"Sharing this additional information is a step forward," Padilla said. "There's a broad consensus out there that this is the direction the state of California should be going in, but there are still some naysayers."
Renewable power remains more expensive than electricity generated by fossil fuels.
The utilities commission uses a benchmark called the "market price referent" to represent the cost of buying electricity from a new natural gas power plant. In 2011, the market price referent ranged from 7.5 cents per kilowatt hour to 12 cents per kilowatt hour, depending on the length of the contract.
Last year's high renewable power contract prices may turn out to be a bit of a mirage. Now that prices are falling, some of the more expensive renewable power projects will probably be abandoned, analysts say. And California utility customers don't pay for a new wind farm or solar plant until the facility is up and running.
"Remember, some of the projects you were seeing in 2010 will never get built, said Matt Freedman, staff attorney for The Utility Reform Network consumer group. "In the short term, it's putting upward pressure on rates - that's the truth. In the long run, it potentially provides a lot of rate stability."
According to the report, the cost of renewable power actually delivered to the utilities last year, from wind and solar facilities, averaged between 8 and 9 cents per kilowatt hour, far lower than the contract costs for projects that had not yet been built.
Pacific Gas and Electric Co., the state's largest utility, estimates that renewable contracts will add about 1 to 2 percent to customers' bills each year through 2020, said spokeswoman Lynsey Paulo.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

2012-02-02 "Berkeley Jewish farm mixes agriculture, learning" by Carolyn Jones from "San Francisco Chronicle"
Sometimes chard is something you saute in garlic, and sometimes it's a political and spiritual act.
On a vacant lot in West Berkeley, chard is all of the above. So are snap peas, carrots, beets and other vegetables. Chickens are, too. Even aphids.
Urban Adamah farm, located on a 1-acre lot on San Pablo Avenue, merges agriculture with education, charity and Judaism to create a Kibbutz-like fount of good food and comradery.
"I never planned to come back to Berkeley, but now that I've found this place I never want to leave," said Hayley Currier, 23, one of Urban Adamah's dozen or so volunteer farmers who live together in a communal house near the farm. "Now I want to do this forever - subversive farming, mixing agriculture with social justice."
The farm was founded a year ago by Adam Berman, a UC Berkeley Haas School of Business graduate who had worked on urban farms on the East Coast. Starting a farm was a way for him to combine his business background with his other passions: farming, the environment and helping the poor, with a twist of Judaism.
Urban Adamah (Adamah means earth in Hebrew) hosts Jewish celebrations, classes and guest speakers, and Hebrew-language banners adorn the farm fences. But the farm is open to everyone, regardless of beliefs.
"For me, part of being Jewish is to try to make the world a better place," Berman said. "The tradition is for every generation to work to improve the current realities they're living in. For us, we see a need right here."
That need is fresh food. Pockets of Berkeley, West Oakland and Emeryville have a dearth of grocery stores, so Urban Adamah gives away vegetables and eggs. In six months last year, the farm gave out 3,000 pounds of food to food banks, a church, a community health clinic and the public through a weekly giveaway. This year, they hope to give away 10,000 pounds.
"It's a great model," said Berkeley Councilman Darryl Moore, who represents West Berkeley. "It gives young people a chance to work in the community, and it's great for families and school kids in the neighborhood, too."
The farm offers field trips, camps and classes on growing vegetables, beekeeping, chickens, composting and other farming challenges. The volunteer farmers, who serve three-month stints and receive free room and board, lead many of the classes, deliver food and tend to the crops.
At a field trip Thursday, second-graders from the Oakland Hebrew Day School learned how to make pesto with parsley and arugula, fired their own pita bread and enjoyed lunch amid the rows of kale and bok choy.
"The Jewish connection is that we live on the earth, God created the earth and we take care of the earth just as we take care of each other," said Bat Sheva Miller, the school's director of Judaic studies. "This is a good, hands-on way for the students to learn that."
Urban Adamah pays for seeds, soil and other expenses through donations, class fees and by selling earthworms. The land is donated by Wareham Development in San Rafael, which eventually plans to build a laboratory on the site.
"We thought the farm was a fantastic short-term use for the site," said Chris Barlow, a partner in the firm. "I'm full of admiration for the place. Hats off to them."
When Wareham gets approval to build on the site, probably in 2013, Urban Adamah will move to another vacant lot. Berman ideally would like to see urban farms on vacant lots throughout the country, and he's planning one in Memphis.
It shouldn't be difficult to uproot the farm when the time comes. All the crops are planted in raised beds, and the office is a trailer. Even the fruit trees are in pots.
"For me, urban agriculture is a gateway to environmental and social issues," Berman said. "It's about sustenance, inspiration and education. Plus it's fun."

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

2012-02-01 "Local Ports Lead the Way on Environmental Innovation" by Patrick Burnson from "Bay Crossings" newspaper
A major breakthrough toward a more sustainable cargo network has been announced by the Port of Stockton.
Two years ago, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced the award of a $30 million TIGER grant for the ports of Oakland, Stockton and West Sacramento to develop the infrastructure necessary to establish a container-on-barge service between the Central Valley and the San Francisco Bay area. Now the Port of Stockton is making ready to take advantage of this development.
The port has selected Savage Companies to manage the M-580 Marine Highway Corridor between the Port of Stockton and Port of Oakland. Savage will immediately begin marketing the M-580 Marine Highway to potential customers of the container-on-barge service, and operations are scheduled to commence during the first quarter 2012.
"We are very pleased to have selected Savage to manage our Marine Highway program," said Port of Stockton Port Director Richard Aschieris. "The strength of their proposal combined with their existing supply chain capabilities insures the Northern California Marine Highway will offer efficient and extensive services to anyone shipping by container in our region and beyond."
The Port of Stockton received $13 million of the grant to support the purchase of two 140-ton mobile harbor cranes and to make the necessary improvements at the port to support the project. The port has purchased the two cranes with a scheduled delivery later this month. In addition to the cranes, the port has purchased two barges to be dedicated to the project. The barges are scheduled soon to undergo modifications in order to handle containers.
Spokesmen noted that the M-580 Marine Highway will help to reduce congestion along the I-580/I-5 corridors and the improve air quality and public safety in the region.
The Port of Stockton also sponsored the Association of Pacific Ports 2012 Winter Conference in Hawaii last month. Port Commissioner Elizabeth Blanchard was among the officers and directors, as were Executive Director Mike Giari and Commissioner Dick Dodge from the Port of Redwood City.

Redwood City Port Tenant Receives Geothermal Grant -
More port news includes the announcement from the Port of Redwood City that port tenant Potter Drilling has received one of 32 grants issued by the U.S. Department of Energy for projects to accelerate the development of promising geothermal energy technologies and help diversify America’s sources of clean, renewable energy.
Thirty-two innovative projects in 14 states will develop and test new ways to locate geothermal resources and improve resource characterization, drilling and reservoir engineering techniques, which will enable geothermal energy sources to help reduce the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels.
Funded through Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, these advances will play an important role in achieving the national goal of generating 80 percent of U.S. electricity from clean energy sources by 2035.

California Exporters Finish Strong in 2011-
California’s exporters turned in another strong performance in November, marking the 25th consecutive month in which the state’s merchandise export trade increased on a year-over-year basis.
The value of goods shipped abroad by California businesses in November reached $14.07 billion, a nominal gain of 12.7 percent over the $12.49 billion reported in November 2010, according to an analysis by Beacon Economics of foreign trade data released in January by the U.S. Commerce Department.
Total U.S. merchandise exports were up 12.1 percent over the same period. California’s exports of manufactured goods edged up 9.6 percent to $8.57 billion, while non-manufactured exports—chiefly raw materials and agricultural products—were up 16.3 percent to $2.14 billion. Re-exports, meanwhile, rose by 18.7 percent to $3.36 billion.
"Even in inflation-adjusted terms, 2011 will easily turn out to be the best year ever for California’s export trade," said Jock O’Connell, Beacon Economics’ international trade adviser.
Through November, the state’s merchandise export trade for 2011 amounts to $145.81 billion. The best previous year was 2008, when exports through the first 11 months totaled $141.26 billion (in 2011 dollars).
Overall, the California economy is showing strong signs of turning the economic corner. Beacon Economics’ Founding Partner Christopher Thornberg said job growth, consumer spending, non-residential construction and industrial vacancies have all showed signs of strong improvement in recent months. "Much of the momentum behind California’s economy can be traced back to the state’s resurgent export sectors," Thornberg said.
While Beacon Economics expects the state’s export trade to continue expanding in 2012, it warns that the pace of growth will likely slow. "The near-term outlook has some risks," O’Connell said. "Europe is flirting with recession, and the dollar has gained 10 percent in value since August as a result, reducing a portion of the newfound competitiveness of U.S. products." 
"Fortunately, our two biggest foreign markets, Mexico and Canada, remain on more solid economic footing," he said.