The Porter Ranch methane gas leak is emerging from an 'out-of-sight, out-of-mind' situation to more common knowledge, with growing governmental, media, and social focus on this continuing manmade disaster. Likened increasingly to a land-based version of BP's Deepwater Horizon, the leak has serious health implications that are leading to 1000s being moved from their homes and looks likely to have, at the end, the equivalent climate impact equivalent of over 10 years of an average coal-fired plant.* This is both a massive and slow-motion disaster: slow-motion in that capping the leak is a difficult and time-consuming engineering challenge with little ability, it seems, to do more than watch the methane leak (with special cameras) and leak and leak for month after month until is finally capped.  

There are at least four California Senate bills under consideration that call for moratoriums on new gas injections in this storage area, placing financial responsibility for the disaster on 'the polluters', and other measures. (See the material in Senate Porter Ranch Gas Leak Background and Bill Package 010816.)

An old adage is 'never let a good crisis go to waste'.  While wondering what 'good' really means, there is no question that this situation merits 'crisis' status and one question to ask, therefore, is "what can be done to help in the long term based on learning from and within the political focus on this crisis?"  Within this package of proposals, there seems to be a gap that merits filling that will help in identifying and tackling future methane leaks more rapidly, efficiently, and effectively.

In short, it is well past time to institute  more extensive, continuous (okay, frequent/iterative), public mapping of methane leaks along with the requirement to and resources for rapidly addressing leaks.  With something along those lines, California (and the California Air Resources Board (CARB)) could become leading-edge in the nation as to this underemphasized pollution issue and help drive forward the Administration's methane leakage efforts.

Methane leakage is far from only a problem at fracking sites or at major storage sites -- but leakage is a problem through the entire cycle from drilling to end user. Many (including this author) were stunned seeing the work of researchers who mapped methane leaks in Boston and Washington, DC.  As one discussion began,

Residents of Washington, DC are used to jokes about metaphorical hot air, humidity, and the swampy history of their city. But there's something they may not know about the District: it's overrun with methane, which sometimes makes manhole covers explode.

Natural gas is mostly methane, and it is carried through underground pipes to heat buildings and cook food. Those pipes are often old, and this led ecologist and chemical engineer Robert Jackson of Duke University to drive around DC over a period of two months, regularly measuring the air to take methane levels.

He and his research team found methane leaks everywhere, with thousands of places having significantly higher than normal methane concentrations, and some places reaching 50 times normal urban levels (100 ppm vs 2 ppm). A similar study in Boston last year found essentially the same results. In DC, the source wasn't the swamp on which the city was built -- it was fossil fuel.

Those leaks -- all those yellow spikes -- help show the thruthiness lie of 'natural gas has half the emissions when burned' because, well, coal doesn't disappear in the atmosphere between the mine and burning. That 'natural gas' doesn't look so great in total emissions profile if we take well to flame leakage rates seriously. If leakage rates are high enough, natural gas (methane) could actually be worse than coal because methane has roughly 80 times the climate impact of natural gas over 20 years.

Consider all those yellow spikes. Because costing money, they create risks: risks of explosions, risks to health of those breathing the molecules, and risks through worsened climate change impacts.  All those spikes merit erasing ... but can't be dealt with if they remain out of sight (and thus out of mind).

A robust mapping effort would not have to be expensive and could have significant benefits.  Very simply, California could move to put monitoring devices on public vehicles (school buses, police cars, busses).  It wouldn't be perfect coverage but would provide rather robust and frequent monitoring.  Of course, the systems wouldn't have to be limited to only methane.  Note that this has already been done.  Three Google mapping cars were equipped with Aclima monitors to provide air quality data in a test in the Denver area:  

Three Street View cars took measurements of nitrogen dioxide, nitric oxide, ozone, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, methane, black carbon, particulate matter, and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) -- air pollutants which can affect human health or climate change. ...

(And, Google just did something similar around this methane leak.)  

Imagine constantly updated, publicly available information about the air quality of your community. Writ large, from VOCs to CO2 to other pollutants, the pollutants all around us are out-of-sight, out-of-mind.  Data enables decision-making and action.  Visibility fosters support for that action.

California shouldn't let the Porter Ranch crisis go to waste. There should be round-the-clock efforts to reduce and end the leak as fast as possible. The health and safety risks to individuals and community require continuous monitoring and addressing.  There must be measures to address the very real damages that local residents and communities have occurred. Measures are required for reducing risks into the future. And, measures with broader payoff merit implementing.  California should take a lesson from Porter Ranch and act so that methane leakage is never again 'out-of-sight, out-of-mind'.

(A. Siegel is an Energy, Environmental Blogger, at getenergysmartnow.com … where this piece was first posted.)

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 5

Pub: Jan 18, 2016

BILLBOARD WATCH-A dozen years ago, a company called MetroLights put up hundreds of unpermitted advertising signs that mimicked the legal bus shelter and kiosk signs on public sidewalks. A few years later scofflaw companies named SkyTag, World Wide Rush, and Vanguard draped buildings all over the city with multi-story “supergraphic” signs. 

Now an unknown company is blighting the landscape with unpermitted advertising signs on plywood walls thrown up around businesses, churches, and other sites. 

MetroLights, SkyTag, World Wide Rush, Vanguard and others sued the city to overturn its ban on new off-site signs, but ultimately lost those court challenges and had to remove their signs. Whether the company or companies responsible for the latest scourge of illegal signage will follow that path remains to be seen. 

At first glance, signs like those in the photo above look identical to those on fences around construction sites all over the city. But Gary Shafner, an owner of the company that puts up the construction fence signs that are legally permitted under a 2007 ordinance, said that his company, National Promotions and Advertising, is not responsible for the unpermitted signs.

The ordinance requires city permits and strictly regulates sign size, placement, and duration. The signs can only be placed around construction sites and vacant lots. 

Some of the illegal signs have been recently cited by the city. In the case of those around the church on Lincoln Blvd. in Venice, the signs were taken off the plywood fence after citations were issued, but new ones appeared a few weeks later.

 

(Dennis Hathaway is the president of the Ban Billboard Blight Coalition and a CityWatch contributor. He can be reached at: Dennis@banbillboardblight.org. ) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda abrams.

 

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 5

Pub: Jan 15, 2016

VOICES--It’s good to be the king. Ask Herb Wesson. Since his recent self-administered anointment, life running the City Council has been infinitely more enjoyable. Particularly with respect to City Council Rule 93, which Mr. Wesson doesn’t like but which nonetheless requires that City Council meetings be televised, gavel-to-gavel, unedited and with cameras operated “so that they are focused only on the officially recognized speaker.”   

Mr. Wesson likes focusing only on the officially recognized speaker…just not when that speaker happens to be a member of the public trying to address his or her elected representatives. A lesser municipal leader might feel compelled to obey Rule 93, simply because that kind of rule of law is what holds together our society, but not Mr. Wesson. 

He took the bull by the horns and personally directed the camera staff to show speaking members of the public only in a face-obscuring wide shot. As for his own regal visage…well, the Council President is always ready for his close-up. 

Unfortunately for Mr. Wesson, that camera doesn't belong to him, and, given the numerous admonishments he's received over the past six months with respect to his flouting of Rule 93, one might even say that he is pushing his luck. 

City council meetings are telecast for one reason--to afford all Angelenos (regardless of work schedule, car ownership, geographic proximity to City Hall, ability to pay for daycare, or any other factor) the opportunity to observe those meetings and so have a clean shot at being a fully-informed citizen. 

It is not for me or Mr. Wesson or any individual to decide which aspects of the meeting viewers should see or whether certain participants of the meeting should be pictured in close-up, or from a face-obscuring distance, or at a certain audio volume or  etc. It's self-evident, and required by Rule 93, that members of the public watching the telecast should be given a straightforward presentation of the meeting, whereby all participants are presented at the same volume and with equitable framing. 

Channel 35 is taxpayer funded so it's the public who owns the cameras and microphones and gavel with which Mr. Wesson presides over City Council meetings. 

And it's not acceptable for them to be given a telecast in which those of their fellow Angelenos who made the considerable effort to contribute a public comment in person are barely visible, while the members of the Council are without exception presented in full close-up-- a fact that has not gone unnoticed by certain members of the council currently running for office. It's good to be the king.   

Photo: As a result of Mr. Wesson’s camera policy, the author (making a public comment above left) has been reduced to the size of Councilmember Blumenfield’s nose.  

 

(Eric Preven is a Studio City based writer-producer and public advocate for better transparency in local government.  He was a candidate in the 2015 election for Los Angeles City Council, 2nd District.)

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 5

Pub: Jan 18, 2016

STADIUM WARS--Decision time is drawing close for the NFL to pick a team or teams to move back to Los Angeles, and this week the three combatants—the San Diego Chargers, Oakland Raiders, and St. Louis Rams—all submitted their official move requests to the league. 

The Rams have a plan to return to LA by way of a $1.86-billion Inglewood stadium, and the Chargers and Raiders have thrown their lot in together to lobby for a $1.7-billion stadium in Carson. Via the LA Times, we're getting a look at the argument one team, the Rams, made in explaining why they and their Inglewood stadium are the best choice for Los Angeles. 

The Inglewood stadium site has the best location, says the Rams; it's centrally located (between four freeways) and will be less than a mile away from a future Crenshaw Line station. The site will also have 12,675 dedicated parking spaces, plus "32,000 parking spaces available within one mile of the stadium and just under 42,000 available within two miles for large events such as the Super Bowl."

  • The Inglewood stadium would rise in an area that, for its association with the now-gone Hollywood Park racetrack and the recently renovated Forum, is already well-known to Angelenos. 
  • The site has all the necessary environmental approvals and has been primed for construction, so it's basically "shovel-ready" right now, according to the application. 
  • The nearly three-million-square-foot stadium would be the NFL's largest, and would be ready to go by 2019. (As the LA Times notes, the previously mentioned completion date was 2018. There's no explanation given for the new, later date.) 
  • But it's not the size of the stadium; it's how you use it. This one would accommodate two teams equally, offering each their own locker rooms, team offices, and owners' suites. (They are exactly the same in size, so no team would get the unfair advantage of larger locker rooms.) That means the Rams could share with, say, the Chargers, as they've said they're open to doing.
  • The clear roof and open sides of the stadium will protect football fans in "inclement weather" and be four degrees cooler in the seating area than an open stadium (excellent for those warm LA days).
  • The Inglewood stadium isn't just bigger than the one in Carson, it's got more seats from general admission up to the suites and club seats, which translates into more potential dollar signs for the NFL. The stadium would have 70,240 seats, plus room for 30,000 more in standing-room only conditions. It would also hold 274 suites and 16,300 premium seats. 
  • An Inglewood Super Bowl could make up to $50 million more than a Carson Super Bowl, say the Rams.
  • The NFL could take up in the multi-use complex rising up alongside the stadium (on the site of the old Hollywood Park racetrack) and create a central "NFL retail and entertainment district" in Inglewood.
  • The neighboring event venue could possibly host NFL-related events like the annual draft selection. "Other potential NFL opportunities on the campus include an NFL retail store, a West Coast wing of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and NFL-themed hotels."
  • LA was the Rams's stomping ground from 1946 to 1994, and people have not forgotten them. An LA Times poll taken in January 2015 showed that 62 percent of the more than 35,000 respondents wanted the Rams to come back to the city. 33 percent of poll-takers sided with the Raiders, and the Chargers only got 5 percent of respondents' support. The results of an NFL focus group in LA showed that "30 out of 53 respondents preferred the Rams to relocate, followed by 17 votes for the Chargers and 6 for the Raiders."
  • Rest assured there will be no money-related hiccups in the project because Rams owner/stadium developer Stan Kroenke is rich and can definitely pull this thing off, plus he's married to a Walmart heiress. 

(Ok, so what it actually says is "Mr. Kroenke, as developer of the Inglewood project, has a demonstrated ability to deliver on large real estate development projects," but they mean pretty much the same thing here.)

(Bianca Barragan is associate editor at CurbedLA.com, where this piece was first posted.)

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 3

Pub: Jan 8, 2016

VOICES--On Sunday, Jan. 17th at 5:00 pm, residents from all areas of Los Angeles will be wearing black as they gather for a Candlelight Vigil in front of LA Mayor Garcetti's home (The Getty House 605 So Irving blvd, Windsor Square) in memory of all the dogs and cats dying on the streets of LA every day, and the adoptable dogs, cats and rabbits that never made it out of our city shelters. 

The failure to provide World Class leadership by Los Angeles Mayor Garcetti's appointed Animal Services General Manager Brenda Barnette has caused an already broken department to implode. 

The result of the Mayor's failure to address the hundreds of complaints about the General Manager from both her staff, shelter volunteers, the animal welfare community and LA residents, has caused packs of dogs, many of them pets, allowed to roam in North and South Central, Panorama City, and Sunland. 

These hapless animals, many off leash or abandoned by their owners, create a public health hazard. Dogs get hit by cars daily, often fighting just to survive, sleeping under cars in the cold rain, and allowed to breed, as described in the Queen Latifah narrated documentary "Dogs Of South Los Angeles." 

Despite being presented with the facts, the GM has shown a total disinterest in the problem. 

Get more details and then join us next Sunday. Speak out for LA’s animals. 

Action Info: 

Candle Light Vigil 

When: Sunday, January 17th. 2016  5 PM – 7PM 

Where: 605 South Irving Boulevard in Windsor Square. 90005 The Getty House, official residence of the Mayor of Los Angeles, California. Plenty of free street parking. 

Contact Info: 

Paul Darrigo 323-244-8020 

Michael Bell 818-419-9004

Facebook

 

(Paul Darrigo is an animal activist and lives in Los Angeles.)

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 5

Pub: Jan 15, 2016

STRAIGHT SHOOTER--This is not a good week for people concerned about jail violence. First, the law enforcement liability numbers are in, and the results are worse than bad. There’s been a 43.4 percent increase in money paid by the County to deal with law enforcement liability including excessive force claims against the Sheriff’s department -- an increase of  $14.6 million over FY 2013-14 to a robust  total of $48.3 million for FY 2014-15. Second, the LA County Board of Supervisors is poised to adopt a motion this Tuesday, which will remove the last hope of the proposed Civilian Oversight Commission having any teeth or independence. 

Apparently, the Sheriff and Board-appointed Inspector General Max Huntsman are close to sort of being close to a sort of final Memorandum of Agreement which will determine the extent of any access the Commission may gain to internal records of the Sherriff’s Department. So much for unfettered access.     

To be fair, it’s not an easy task, setting up an oversight commission like the one proposed. But what’s unacceptable is that there were measures that could have been taken expeditiously, at the time that civilian oversight was first proposed by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and Gloria Molina in September of 2013. The best example is the concept of “golden key access.” 

I will never forget the first time I heard Miriam Krinsky, now one of Sheriff McDonnell's top advisers, explaining that concept after she'd been on a fact-finding mission to New York for the CCJV. On January 4, 2016 an op-ed in the New York Times, by Michele Deitch and  Michael B. Mushlin, struck the very same note: "The awareness by prison staff that a monitor could show up at any time would check employee misbehavior. The culture of a prison changes when outsiders shine a light on its operations and conditions."    

It is inexcusable for the Board of Supervisors to delay independent oversight measures that will save the county money and keep residents safer. Sheila Kuehl, Hilda Solis and Sheriff Jim McDonnell all ran on the promise to make meaningful civilian oversight a priority and a reality. What are they waiting for?  

(Eric Preven is a Studio City based writer-producer and public advocate for better transparency in local government.  He was a candidate in the 2015 election for Los Angeles City Council, 2nd District.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 4

Pub: Jan 12, 2016

EDUCATION POLITICS 2015--Under Bennett Kayser’s (photo) leadership, the LAUSD’s Budget, Facilities and Audit (BFA) Committee exposed details of John Deasy’s iPad program that helped lead to the former Superintendent’s resignation. Kayser was rewarded for his efforts with a campaign to unseat him that was heavily funded by the California Charters School Association (CSSA) and other corporate education “reformers.” After an election that included accusations that were not ethically sound, a $25,000 “Voteria” payout to one lucky voter and an attack based on Kayser’s Parkinson's diagnosis, Ref Rodriguez replaced Kayser (photo) on the Board. The effects of this change have already been felt in the District. 

Helping to force the resignation of a Superintendent placed on the Board by Eli Broad was an act that required a tenacity that does not seem to be possessed by the current BFA Committee. For example, after a presentation about the ways that the LAUSD Charter School Division is ignoring reports about violations of the ed code, the current Chairperson, Monica Ratliff, directed the Office of General Counsel (OGC) to look into the accusations. 

Had this instruction been followed, it could have been an important step in making sure that the LAUSD is properly regulating the charter schools under its jurisdiction. Unfortunately, instead of conducting an independent investigation, the OGC “communicated [these concerns] to the Charter Schools Division”, which was ironic considering the entire point of the presentation was to point out that the CSD was already aware of the accusations and that they had chosen not to pursue action. Not surprisingly, the CSD reported back to the OGC “that members of the Charter Schools Division have been working diligently on [these] concerns.” 

This conflicted with what the CSD had previously reported and the fact that corrective actions have still not taken place. With this type of inaction, is there any question how the Rodriguez affiliated “Lakeview Charter Academy was insolvent for nine years” without action by the CSD?  

Ref Rodriguez is more specific in his refusal to listen as he blocks  those who disagree with his viewpoints from his social media pages. Since his Facebook page and Twitter feed are promoted on his LAUSD hosted web site, this makes his censorship an example of government “abridging the freedom of speech”. The OGC tries to justify Rodriguez’ actions with the argument that “under the law, communication, even communication with a government entity, is not unfettered.” So much for the ability of citizens “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” 

As the department responsible for fulfilling public records requests, the OGC also utilizes its power to block the dissemination of information that can influence dialog within the District. Despite the District’s anticipation “that responsive records [would] be available on December 23, 2015”, the OGC has still not released information about Disruptive Parent Letters in response to a request that was made on August 17. 

Additionally, a response to a renewed request for information about the forced retirement of former Food Services head David Binkle has been delayed by the OGC for 14 days because “the District needs to search for and collect the requested records from field facilities or other establishments that are separate from the office processing the request.” In previous correspondence they admitted that they were already in possession of at least two documents but would not release them because at that time they were part of an audit that was “the subject of an ongoing investigation.” 

A District that does not take complaints seriously, blocks stakeholders from social media accounts and refuses to release information to the public does not sound like one that is serious about its goal of “parent and community engagement”. Perhaps this goal is meant to be aspirational like “100 percent attendance” or “100 percent graduation”; achievements that are unattainable but that look good on paper. 

Under this scenario, the LAUSD only has to let the public speak but does not have to listen to what they are saying. However, true engagement requires much more, starting with an OGC that does not work against the interests of the people it is supposed to serve.

 

(Carl Petersen posts at Change the LAUSD and was candidate for the LA School Board. He is an occasional contributor to CityWatch.)

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 1

Pub: Jan 1, 2016

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