A state-created review board set up specifically to examine California's $98.5 billion high-speed rail project says lawmakers should postpone borrowing billions of dollars to finance the first stage of the bullet train at least until federal financing is certain.
From Ralph Vartabedian and Dan Weikel in the LA Times: "But in a report Tuesday, a panel of experts created by state law to help safeguard the public's interest raised serious doubts about almost every aspect of the project and concluded that the current plan "is not financially feasible." As a result, the panel said, it "cannot at this time recommend that the Legislature approve the appropriation of bond proceeds for this project.""The peer review group report raises important issues for the Legislature to weigh as we consider any appropriation for the project during this year's budget process," said the leader of the state
"Although the panel has no legal power to stop the project, its strong criticism, coupled with recent polls showing public opinion has shifted against the proposal, is giving some key political leaders pause."
Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), a longtime supporter of the program."
"The project has won major support from organized labor, some big-city mayors and many state lawmakers. But Tuesday's report adds to a string of negative assessments from the state auditor, the state inspector general, the legislative analyst, the UC Berkeley Institute of Transportation Studies, as well as the transportation committee in the U.S. House of Representatives."
Rep. Dan Lungren, a conservative Sacramento-area Republican in a tight relelection fight, says he wants to blow up O'Shaugnessy Dam and restore Hetch Hetchy Valley. But since Lungren has been on the opposite side of environmentalists for years, his position is drawing deep suspicion.
From the Chronicle's Carolyn Lochhead: "Opponents include two of California's most powerful Democrats, Sen. Dianne Feinstein and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, both residents of San Francisco, along with city and business leaders."
"If the purpose of this is to spend large amounts of money investigating a really dumb idea, then Lungren is on to something," said Jim Wunderman, president of the Bay Area Council, a business group. "I can't tell you what is deep in his heart and mind, but we're suspicious. He represents a region that has the most water consumption per capita of anywhere in California. ... If his issue is conservation and recycling, he certainly could spend more time focused in his own district."
"San Franciscans may get to vote on the idea in November if the Restore Hetch Hetchy advocacy group in San Francisco collects 7,500 signatures to get it on the ballot. The city "doesn't recycle a drop" of its Sierra water, said Mike Marshall, the group's executive director. The city uses it once and then "treats it as sewage and dumps it in the bay."
Scant snow in the Sierra, but that doesn't mean anyone is worrying about a potential drought -- at least not yet. The Bee's Matt Weiser tells the tale.
"The first Sierra Nevada snow survey of the winter found more grass than snow in some locations, yet state officials said the dry conditions are not yet a reason to worry about water supplies."
"The survey conducted Tuesday found the water content of the mountain snowpack at just 19 percent of average for the date, one of the lowest readings ever recorded for this time of year. But it remains early in winter, and officials at the state Department of Water Resources said there is still plenty of time to catch up."
"Fortunately, we have most of winter ahead of us, and our reservoir storage is good," department Director Mark Cowin said in a statement."
"Near Echo Summit along Highway 50 on Tuesday, at 6,800 feet elevation, the Water Resources snow survey crew measured only 4 inches of snow depth. Much of the survey site had more exposed grass and brush than snow."
The state, again, is proposing a fee on rural residents to help pay for fire protection. Thus far, these so-called fire fees have been blocked either in the courts or by public opinion. The UT's Mike Gardner has the story.
"The latest draft released Tuesday maintains a base $150 annual fee on homes in rural areas, including an estimated 73,000 in San Diego County that are within what’s called “state responsibility areas” defended by Cal Fire."
"But the new incarnation that goes before the state Board of Forestry and Fire Protection Jan. 11 seeks to clarify several provisions that had confounded San Diego County officials and homeowners alike."
"For example, the revisions would impose a $150 fee on duplexes. Parcels with two different single-family homes would be charged a combined $300, however."
"Also, the proposed regulation amends the definition of habitable structure, which determines who pays how much. For example, there had been some ambiguity, pointed out by San Diego County, that the previous wording left open the possibility that each jail cell and hospital room could be subject to the fee as a “habitable structure.” Instead, the state would bill each jail or hospital a flat $150."
And our "Money Can't Buy Me Love" file comes the tale of a 2,000-year-old Roman brothel token that was found in London. The experts are intrigued.
"The bronze coin, or spinitra, is thought to date back to the first century AD and has an imprint of a man and woman having sex on one side, with the roman numerals for 14 on the other."
"The woman appears to be lying on a bed or couch on her front, with the man positioned behind her.'
"Experts believe that the numeral on the reverse of the coin could indicate the cost of brothel entry or the price of the activity depicted.'
"The spinitra was found by pastry chef Regis Cursan, who was combing the banks of the river near Putney bridge when he made the discovery. He donated the item to the Museum of London, where it has gone on display."