Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Will the California Farm Bureau Join the 21st Century?

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

So this is an odd article (from the California Farm Bureau):

As the state's High-Speed Rail Authority plans an 800-mile high-speed rail system that will help alleviate congestion on roadways and transport passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in a little over two and a half hours, California's agricultural landscape is likely to change dramatically.

An estimated 300 miles of the project is expected to go through the Central Valley—one of the most productive farming regions in the world.

"There has been a real concern by agriculture about the route that the California high-speed rail project ends up taking and how it is going to impact those properties, as well as properties adjacent to the proposed project corridor," said Andrea Fox, California Farm Bureau Federation governmental affairs legislative coordinator. "While the routes of the project are being planned, we cannot lose sight of the many benefits of California agriculture, not only to support the state and nation economically, but to feed people locally and around the world."

This doesn't really make sense. The ROW they're looking at is very narrow, and follows an existing rail corridor. Sure, some farmland will be lost, but the amount we're looking at is a tiny percentage of the overall acreage in the San Joaquin Valley. It's not like this thing is a 12-lane freeway.

Further, it's totally unclear how HSR would itself have a negative impact on farmland or farmers. It would free up valuable freight rail space, and make it less necessary to have to widen either Highway 99 or Interstate 5, projects that could also wind up taking farmland.

What really seems to be going on here is a concern about sprawl, as well as a desire to use bond money for ag interests:

Merced County Farm Bureau Executive Director Diana Westmoreland Pedrozo foresees this project as creating real problems for the future of agriculture in the Central Valley.

"Unless the state has some real land-use rules to be attached to this project, it will be a nightmare for agriculture," Pedrozo said. "So far, my local, regional and state governments have not given me any confidence in their ability to actually protect and preserve our ability to feed our future generations and ourselves. You are talking about the only place on earth that can do what we do."...

"CFBF supports the concept of mass transit, but we must insist on protecting agricultural land and preventing urban sprawl. Because our success depends on a healthy environment, we are committed to solutions that work," Fox said. "Considering California's projected $21.3 billion budget deficit and the existing $100 billion bond indebtedness, coupled with the need for new water projects and improvements to existing transportation and other infrastructure, we are concerned about cost-effectiveness of this project."

The irony is that we who support HSR are some of the strongest supporters of preserving agricultural land and preventing sprawl. As we've explained numerous times on this blog, HSR is a much better way to limit sprawl, as it encourages in-fill transit-oriented development as opposed to sprawl. I have also repeatedly expressed my belief that the state should push through land use rules strictly limiting sprawl in critical agricultural areas like the San Joaquin Valley, the Sacramento Valley, the Salinas Valley, the Imperial Valley, Ventura County, and other places.

The rest of Andrea Fox's comment there shows that like many other local Farm Bureaus in the state, the California Farm Bureau is hopelessly locked into a 20th century model of how state infrastructure should look. They seem to want more freeways and roads, yet don't understand how that brings more sprawl than HSR would. Whereas HSR would channel population growth to existing cities, freeways would channel it to exurbs. Instead of making Fresno more dense, the Farm Bureau seems to support letting Los Banos sprawl all over the place. It makes no sense from the stance of preserving agricultural land.

California does have a water problem. But that problem is driven partly by global warming, which is causing less rain to fall in the state. Shouldn't the Farm Bureau, whose members are by far the largest consumers of water in the state, be supportive of methods to cut down on carbon emissions and slow the rate of global warming so as to slow the decline in average annual rainfall?

Further, the San Joaquin Valley has some of the nation's worst air quality. Surely the Farm Bureau supports clean air for its workers, its crops, and its neighbors?

The California Farm Bureau is picking a fight with the wrong people. HSR and its supporters are allies of California agriculture, not its enemies. It's time the California Farm Bureau embraced sustainable and carbon-neutral transportation. In return we will be more than happy to embrace their effort to stop sprawl. They have nothing to lose and everything to gain.


YESonHSR said...

Somewhere I read that the ROW land needed was less than one of these
large Housing tracts that seem to pop up all the time..where is this group when that happens? And if BNSF sell part of its ROW very little extra will be needed..

Alon Levy said...

HSR will also reduce oil consumption; this will lower the pressure to convert farmland to energy crops, which are causing food crises.

Rafael said...

The Farm Bureau is probably not the agency with responsibility for urban planning. Sprawl occurs because individual farmers choose to sell all or part of their land to developers.

The more direct concern relates to farmers who must cross the railroad tracks to reach (some of) their fields. Currently, there are plenty of private grade crossings in addition to the public ones for hardened rural roads. HSR will deliver full grade separation for some subset of the public roads.

Since the tracks are supposed to run at grade through almost the entire Central Valley, that will lead to the permanent closure of many private grade crossings and hence, substantial detours for the affected farmers. Fields that currently have just freight tracks running through them will be bisected. One option would be for farmers in affected areas to swap land holdings with each other such that (most of) their fields are fully on one side of the tracks.

A secondary concern may be the farm Bureau's as-yet imperfect understanding of the impact of noise and vibration on livestock and crops. Will the milk go sour, will the almond yield per acre go down etc. (Hint: ask the French)

A tertiary issue is gradual large-scale subsidence due to excessive groundwater extraction during drought periods. As the NY Times recently reported, some parts of the Central Valley are sinking at a rate of roughly a foot per year. The corresponding deformation of railroad tracks is small due to the distances involved, but it might be an issue for HSR maintenance because of the much tighter geometry tolerances that apply for safe operation at 220mph. CHSRA ought to commission a study on that specific point once the ROW is secured to find out if there's a potential problem decades down the road.

As for trying to tell farmers how much water they're allowed to pump out from under their own land, good luck with that.

Rob Dawg said...

This doesn't really make sense.It may not make sense to you Robert. That does not mean it doesn't make sense. Dividing/transversing land uses is disruptive. To deny that fact only marginalizes the CAHSR project. Accept that HSR has negatives along with positives and you'll regain some credibility.

Anonymous said...

Oh sure - you're a veritable prince when it comes to fighting against sprawl - as in the REAL beauty of HSR is connecting outback central valley towns to urban centers in the Bay Area - to make it REAL fast easy and convenient to commute in for work from 150 miles east. Which of course, is the very definition of sprawl. I was in modesto this weekend and new saw luxury developments up against cow pastures and freight tracks to one side, and vast stretches of old neighborhoods with tons of FOR SALE signs on the other, and for those beautiful brand new luxury neighborhoods - Raley's super huge grocery stores with floors literally shining like glass, repleat with mini- shopping centers, - and not a customer in sight. Empty parking lot. Sprawl sprawl sprawl sprawl sprawl. Wow how much more economically productive for the state that place would have been as a cow pasture or a corn field.

Hey - you REALLY want to fight sprawl, do exactly what she's suggesting - put land use rules in place that limit ag land to ag uses, prevent new urban development in the area, limit transportation methods that make it too convenient to live there, and force everyone in the state to build up density in the existing urban centers in Bay Area and LA areas. THEN, HSRs connect urban centers - without stopping in between. Now, that would prevent sprawl.

NONIMBYS said...

Sprawl.. well lets start by bulldozzing PaloAlto and the rest of the sprawl and remake them chicken farms again..O thats right its already a town..its not sprawl
when its your Ralleys or shall I say in PAs case WorldFoods.

Anonymous said...

A non-stop HSR adjacent to I-5 and over the Grapevine would not cut up any farmland and would not be intentionally sprawl-genic.

The Palmdale detour is a dead giveaway that the HSR has been commandeered by developers. The Farm Bureau is just now picking up on the obvious.

Nothing of this magnitude happens in California but what big money twists it to its benefit. Sprawl it and overbuild it. Developers and contractors make out like bandits.

jim said...

First of all, the growth is coming to the valley whether or not there is HSR, So you can have growth with good network of transportation in place to make life bearable or you can do what has been done for years, wiat until after the growth occurs and then suffer in traffic for years until a solution is built. Planning is put to individual cities, not hsr. If its important to Fresno or Tulare to stop sprawl then they can insist on density instead. Most cities so far have chosen to sprawl. That's the choice of local residents. Let the other cities reach their share of density that equals what San Francisco and Oakland have done, and save their farmland at the same time.

jim said...

Or better yet, we should stop letting people move here period, THAT would solve 90 percent of our problems. Every body here now gets to stay. Other can only visit for one week. Don't build anything. I mean think about it -- we all live here already. Who cares of other people can't. We can fix it up real nice for ourselves and and enjoy it before tis too late. The parks won't get any crowded. Tahoe will stop turning green. No more prisons to build, no more schools to build. Close the door and lets party. We can work out the problems we have easily so long as there aren't a constant influx of unruly newcomers messeing with the program. Even the illegals can stay. Close i-80. then you remember that hands across america thing back in the 80s - I envisions "buns across the Sierra" where we get 37 million americans to smoke up, join hands from Shasta to El Centro, face west, and moon the USA. ( we have all the food and all the weed too )

TomW said...

Anon @ 9:08pm wrote: the REAL beauty of HSR is connecting outback central valley towns to urban centers in the Bay Area - to make it REAL fast easy and convenient to commute in for work from 150 miles eastWhich of course, is the very definition of sprawlNo it isn't. See http://www.cdc.gov/healthyplaces/terminology.htm, which defines sprawl as: A development pattern characterized by the following traits:
1) No boundaries; unlimited outward expansion
2) Low-density residential and commercial settlements
3) Widespread strip commercial development; sporadic or “leapfrog” development
4) Responsibility for land-use and zoning decisions fragmented among various jurisdictions
5) Private automobiles dominate transportation options; inconvenient or no public transportation available
6) Great differences in economic status among residential neighborhoods
7) Land-use segregated into specific zones; no mixed-use development
HSR counters (1) by making it more desirable for people to remain close to HSR stations, increasing density and thus also countering (2) and (3). Further, it also encourages transit use, countering (5). It has no immefiate effect on (4), (6) or (7).

People commuting from city to city does not lead to sprawl - commuting from low denisty suburbs to city centres does.

Rob Dawg said...

Sprawl is a wonderful solution to all the problems of urbanism.

"Not-Sprawl" is: Constrained urban boundaries
conscribing a high density mixed use setting with no strip malls (or big
boxes) served by public transit and governed by a regional monolithic
government with centrally controlled and powerful development authority
that includes forced social integration of all strata of rich and poor
into common residential areas.

Doesn't sound very desirable to me.

The following is offered as a definition to the term "Sprawl". It was
created by planning staff at the McHenry County, Illinois, Planning and
Development Department. McHenry County is in the Chicago Metro Area. Much of
McHenry Counties development appears to have
characteristics of "SPRAWL" however, in their opinion, a good definition for
"SPRAWL" does not exist. Staff created a definition which they feel is
comprehensive and universal. They are looking for comments and feedback
which may improve this definition.

"SPRAWL" - haphazard exurban development
characterized by: 1)inefficient, conspicuous consumption of raw land,
typically built at low densities resulting in conflict with established
rural land use patterns; 2)abandonment of existing infrastructure in
of new public facilities; 3) location outside existing service areas,
disrupting continuity and heightening demand and associated costs for
services; and; 4) heavy dependence on automobiles as opposed to mass
transit or other non-auto related transportation modes.

Robert Coté, a well recognized skeptic of the sprawl theory has also proposed a succinct definition:

Sprawl is private ownership of exurban land beyond the reach of public policy development dictates.

Rob Dawg

bossyman15 said...

There will be always a sprawl. Every time human population increases, there's sprawl. It should be smart sprawl by making cities more denser and not spread out.

only for the money said...

Aononmous 10:20 writes:

A non-stop HSR adjacent to I-5 and over the Grapevine would not cut up any farmland and would not be intentionally sprawl-genic.

The Palmdale detour is a dead giveaway that the HSR has been commandeered by developers. The Farm Bureau is just now picking up on the obvious.

Nothing of this magnitude happens in California but what big money twists it to its benefit. Sprawl it and overbuild it. Developers and contractors make out like bandits.

Boy have you hit the nail right on the head. Its all about money.

Rob Dawg said...

The Los Angeles Urban Area is the densest conurbation in the US. Is that where we want to go?

Alon Levy said...

Rob: the LA area has the highest standard density, which means it has dense suburbs. The highest weighted density are, as expected, in NY, where a few people live on large tracts in New Jersey and many live at high density in New York City.

Of course, sprawl can coexist with density. Singapore is dominated by single-use towers in parks; outside a tiny CBD, its street layout resembles this of a US suburb more than this of a US city. It's still dense by Western standards (but not by Tiger standards), but it's unwalkable, and beneath the law and order veneer has many of the same social problems that plague American housing projects. I would much rather have a city develop like Eastern Queens, which has moderate densities but is walkable and could be densified in the future, than like Singapore, which is Le Corbusier's wet dream. (Speaking of Le Corbusier, a lot of the sprawl-style development favored over the 20th century came because of urban planners who liked it, like Le Corbusier, Robert Moses, and Herbert Hoover, rather than because of market forces.)

Dan S said...

Rob Dawg said...
"Not-Sprawl" is: Constrained urban boundaries conscribing a high density mixed use setting with no strip malls (or big boxes) served by public transit and governed by a regional monolithic government with centrally controlled and powerful development authority that includes forced social integration of all strata of rich and poor into common residential areas.

Doesn't sound very desirable to me.

Well, that's what makes horse races, I guess, because that does sound desirable to me. I might choose different adjectives, though. Rob, sounds like you just don't want to live in the city, which is fine. But lots of folks love city life, and good reasons for it include the convenience of nearby stores, restaurants, and jobs (!), and the rich set of city services that are provided by the government and staffed by people from all income classes who, if possible, are living nearby as well.

As for a stop in Palmdale, I do think we have to leave it to the good people of Palmdale to do their best to avoid the "sprawl." While adding stops between SF and LA can encourage people to use the train for commuting, I don't think it's a reason to make all trains go non-stop through the valley. True, planes go non-stop, but that's a limitation of their technology -- it costs a lot in terms of dollars and through-time to get an airplane to make an intermediate stop. But a train is pretty good at coming to a stop, exchanging some passengers, and then resuming the trip quickly.

I would say, just because developers may have jumped on the process to try to twist the planning for their benefit does not invalidate the notion of having stops between SF and LA. Certainly lots of good arguments exist for which route and which stops to make along the way, but I think those stops are an intrinsic benefit of the technology (i.e., trains) and are an important added value to the system as a whole.

P J said...

I doubt the Palmdale business is exclusively driven by money...it would be silly to skip Stockton, Modesto, etc. and their respective riders on a norcal-socal line, even if the line is less efficient than an I 5 route

However, I think the points raised by the farmers are among the most legitimate concerns put forth. Most the stuff coming from the peninsula is homeowners irrationally worried about property value; here the point about eliminating grade crossings is a legitimate and real concern.

That being said, this shouldn't kill the project. Instead, the rail authority should step in and make this not an issue, such as mediating the land swaps amongst farmers with land on both sides of the tracks

For the sprawl issue...I think we can look to other nations with similar train networks and see that sprawl wasn't a disastrous consequence. Moreover, if the network is not built, sprawl still happens, in exurban communities and the like. The network shifts "sprawl" such that it happens near train stations, causing "vertical sprawl," a generally good phenomenon

jim said...

Its an improvement but I'd like to see a larger font. At least the next largest size. Also how about the ability for posters to ad images to their post using the [img]

flowmotion said...

@ PJ -

Other nations have far better land use planning that the US does. It doesn't make sense to compare a traditional european city-center with autotopias like Fresno.

While rail service will create "vertical sprawl" by creating jobs in the central valley, it's also fairly obvious that all those office buildings growing up in the CAHSR animation will also create horizontal sprawl in the form of new subdivisions to house the workers.

Again, HSR is not a transit panacea. It really only does one thing, and it does it well, and that's taking people out of airplanes.

Richard Mlynarik said...

Certainly Palmdale was driven by civic boosterism (aka real estate scams), but also by good geotechnical information and a route choice that minimizes risk (construction and operating).

The geology of the Grapevine is that of barely cohering and historic-age massive landslides -- nothing any sane engineer would choose to tunnel through or construct upon any sort of structure which is supposed to be both long-lived and dimensionally stable. Some of the geotech background is on the (horrifically bad and unsearchable) CHSRA web site as part of the state-wide EIR: check it out.

The Palmdale routing choice is, of course, the polar opposite of the utterly corrupt Pacheco (= BART MUST BE EXTENDED FOR PBQD'S BENEFIT NO MATTER WHAT THE PUBLIC COST) route disaster, that of course maximizes tunneling, maximizes geological uncertainly (= construction risk, = ECO opportunity, = construction company profit), minimizes ridership and maximizes operating difficulty while maximizing kickbacks.

Anyway, Palmdale versus Grapevine is about the only correct technical engineering decision that CHSRA's World Class Consultants have made, and ought be acknowledged as such. Hooray.

Anonymous said...

@Richard Mlynarik

The Tehachapis quake of 1952 doesn't count for anything?

Are you sure that when the CHSRA starts mining the Tehachapis it won't encounter something every bit as formidable as what would be encountered on the Grapevine?

Maybe CHSRA should consult Herr Herrenknecht first to see what someone who actually bores tunnels thinks would be harder to costruct.

Anonymous said...

So a little background:

The California Farm Bureau is completely owned by hard right Republicans. I have been writing about them for some time on Daily Kos, about how they write "news" articles with a decidedly right wing slant, and how they take position on ballot measures that have nothing to do with ag or farming.

That is what this is - an attempt by anti-HSR groups to run a little propaganda through this fairly powerful group. It is not about farmers concerned about HSR on their own.

The Farm Bureau is schitzophrenic on the issue of rural development. On one hand, they don't want to limit the ability of farmers to sell their land for huge profits. On the other hand, they recognize that every farmer who sells out makes things harder for the rest of the farmers, and cuts their membership.

I hope we can develop some good counterpoints about how HSR is good for farmers. For example:

- We have to upgrade transit. It can be HSR or another lane on Hwy 99, for about the same cost. Which has more impact?

- HSR will probably lead to a reduction in air pollution in the increasingly smoggy central valley. Less pollution means that there will be fewer restrictions on farmers with respect to tractors, dust, and other pollution issues.

- HSR will link 6 California public universities. Imagine how valuable it will be to farmers to be able to hop on the HSR and in an hour be at Davis to consult with the experts there. Imagine how nice it will be for their kids to have access to those universities, or for their kids attending there to be able to come home quickly and easily, without need for a car.

- HSR will link those communities to inexpensive air travel nodes in Los Angeles and the Bay Area, making it easier for farmers to travel and lessening the need for a new airport which would consume huge amounts of ag land.

- HSR will make it easier for urban dwellers in the central valley to get around without a car if they live near a station, which means that more dense residential will be appreciated, and less sprawl into the farmland.

- HSR could be a great opportunity for a farmer's market and farm tourism. Imagine if you ran one at a station in the central valley that was an easy HSR hop from the Bay Area - might mean that people who now drive their produce in to the city could stay closer to home.

- The reality is that on most farms today, that most have at least one resident who works at an outside job. HSR could increase possibilities for those spouses and kids.

- HSR makes day trips to museums, amusement parks, and all kinds of cultural opportunities easier for the kids who live in the central valley.

Get the farmers thinking positive!


Anonymous said...

As far as grade crossings separating fields going away, that can be mitigated somewhat by bridges and tunnels if it is necessary to run the ROW through the center of anyone's parcel.