Thursday, May 15, 2008

"Air Quality is the Key" to the Central Valley's Future

NOTE: We've moved! Visit us at the California High Speed Rail Blog.

The Central Valley has long been the forgotten region of California - as Southern California and the Bay Area dominate the state's media and politics, the Central Valley's needs often appear to go unmet. Yet this region is one of the fastest-growing parts of our state, and will make up the bulk of the high speed rail route. The Central Valley needs economic development assistance, major transportation infrastructure development, and a program of smart transit-oriented development to replace the growing reliance on sprawl. And as rail advocate Alan Kandel reminds us, the high speed rail project will help with another core need of that region - cleaning up the notoriously polluted air of the San Joaquin Valley:

Here’s what’s puzzling. With as bad as the air in the Central San Joaquin Valley is alleged or purported to be, there isn’t a single Central Valley based municipality that has even a semblance of passenger rail service above and beyond what’s provided by Amtrak California, except maybe in Stockton and Tracy which are served by the hugely successful Altamont Commuter Express to and from the south Bay Area. To those folks, that must be a godsend.

What’s amazing is, over the years patronage numbers on Amtrak’s “San Joaquin” trains – right up there with their “Pacific Surfliner” and “Capitol Corridor” train counterparts – have soared! These three services are ranked in the top six in the national Amtrak system. These didn’t attain these noteworthy spots by accident either. And, I’ll bet an even greater number of Valley (and state) residents will be traveling via Amtrak in the days, weeks, months and years ahead even, given gas prices going up the way they are. Yet, understanding this and with as much as people embrace and use the passenger train service, why, it seems, the thinking isn’t directed to electrified light- and/or heavy-rail intracity services in Central California boggles the mind.

In fact, a 2006 Fresno Bee article explained that lung problems have soared among residents in recent years, and the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District estimated that to counter this trend, the region needed to eliminate 400 tons of pollution per day by 2011. High speed rail would help accomplish that task.

High speed rail is going to be a godsend for the Central Valley. It will link Sacramento, Stockton, Modesto, Fresno, Visalia and Bakersfield to the rest of the state, bringing jobs and economic opportunity to its residents. It will make travel much easier for them - and cheaper as well. Most importantly, it will help clean up the region's worsening, polluted air.

Instead Arnold Schwarzenegger and freeway advocates propose to drop $6 billion on modernizing and upgrading Highway 99 between Stockton and Bakersfield. With soaring gas prices - and diesel nearing $5 a gallon - is this the best use of money for upgrading Central Valley transportation?

In contrast to Southern California and Bay Area HSR critics like Martin Engel, the Central Valley is very strongly supportive of the project. Central Valley politicians like Cathleen Galgiani have helped provide leadership at the state level, and Rep. Jim Costa (D-Fresno) has been a strong advocate of HSR, helping create the project when he was in the state legislature and helping build support for it in Congress. Virtually all of the chambers of commerce up and down the Valley support the project, and local governments in towns like Fresno and Visalia are already beginning to plan their downtown developments and transportation strategies around high speed rail.

But it may have been a comment on Alan Kandel's post that said it best:

Being concerned about what you breath is the ultimate quality of life issue, and people who can leave some times do. I left due to the lack of any meaningful effort to address the issue. The Great Valley Center was talking about new towns of 80,000 to 100,000 people on the far western side of the valley and I knew AQI was only going to get worse.

You can defend yourself or at least take some action to limit your exposure to crime, or blight or school quality, or any number of issues in the community, but you can't take a break from breathing the air.

I said it at the time to my classmates in Leadership Fresno and here it is again; air quality is the key to nearly every issue in Fresno and the SJV.


Rafael said...

My understanding is that Fresno's air quality problem is partly the result of being downwind of the Bay Area. If more people there use zero emission vehicles like electric trains, it will add to the air quality improvement in Fresno.

Without that improvement, cities in the Central Valley will not attract the businesses and highly qualified people they need to grow faster than the rest of the state. That outcome is desirable because

a) there is limited scope for population growth in the Bay Area and Southern California, especially with regard to increasing infrastructure capacity and,

b) the Central Valley is a more natural fit for the greentech revolution already underway, giving the state a third economic heart that is much less susceptible to earthquakes than the other two and,

c) greater wealth means higher tax revenue, essential for fighting crime, improving schools and upgrading the local transit infrastructure.

Robert Cruickshank said...

That's only partly the cause of the problem in the Central Valley - the region itself generates significant amounts of pollutants, and HSR will provide significant cuts in that - whether it's air pollution generated in Fresno itself or generated in the Bay Area and blowing inland.

Bay area bum said...

a) The scope for population growth in the bay area is not limited. Just look around the bay for all the opportunities for infill housing, not to mention what would happen if we allowed just a little bit of density

b) why is the central valley a "more natural fit" for greentech? Do they have a Stanford or a Cal with all of the university-related agglomeration effects? Do they have tons of VCs looking for clean tech investments?

c) but if you continue to sprawl, then upgrading the local transit infrastructure becomes more expensive.

I have no problem with the central valley growing, but it would be nice if they could do so in a more logical way than willy-nilly sprawl eating up farmland.

Back to HSR, it seems that part of the conditions of receiving a HSR station should be revised city plans that will help prevent this sprawl. Greenbelts perhaps? maybe a requirement to change zoning would be useful as part of a HSR station?

Rafael said...

@ bay area bum -

a) Infill housing reduces property values and increases earthquake risk. Besides, more housing means more cars, which means you need higher transportation capacity. Except, you can't build any more roads because of all the infill housing.

Unless you're planning to build Marincello after all or ask the Army Corps of Engineers to fill the Bay, there is a limit to how much more growth California's existing mega-conurbations can accomodate at reasonable cost.

b) There are no cows in Palo Alto, they're in places like Atwater. Plus, there are major waste recycling centers in places like Vacaville.

UC Davis is one of many places where this new green tech is being developed. However, the actual implementation requires land - lots of it - and people who aren't above getting their hands dirty.

c) What makes you think Central Valley cities like Fresno - represented in Congress by rail advocate Jim Costa (D) - are congenitally incapable of learning from others and planning transit-oriented development?

AB 3034 forces communities along the chosen route to compete for early funding. Those that can point to plans consistent with CHSRA objectives for smart growth will come out ahead.

Marla said...

Contamination of the ground resulting from the ongoing and periodic discharge of untreated sewage creates a severe public health hazard. 50+/- yr cover-up.
CLICK HERE: Fresno, CA massive cover-up
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The city would have two more air pollution control and monitoring stations under a World Bank-assisted project by CPCB. “Along with our monitoring stations in Mulund and Sion, we intend to have two more in the suburbs and in south Mumbai, respectively, for monitoring air quality round-the-clock,” said DB Boralkar, Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) member-secretary....