Tag Archives: West Sacramento

West Sac Gets Serious About Streetcars

(This seems like a no-brainer. – promoted by blogswarm)

Once upon a time, a network of streetcars and commuter trains knit the small cities of the Sacramento area together with the urban core. And then, for a variety of reasons – the popularization of automobiles, corporate buyouts, shifts in zoning laws and the rise of low-density suburban developments – the infrastructure that supported a walkable urban center withered away for a half century or so.

And yet recently, the cities of West Sacramento and Sacramento have been exploring the possibility of running a streetcar line across the Tower Bridge over to the Capital Mall, linking it up with Sacramento’s existing light rail system. This makes sense as part of a larger recent development trend towards reurbanization, reflected in the Railyards project in Sacramento and the flurry of condos being thrown up in West Sacramento. Were the population density to get high enough, and the streetcar priced reasonably enough to actually make the use of it a real alternative to driving across the Tower Bridge into Sac (or, in the other direction, from Sac to the Rivercats stadium), establishing a streetcar could help build the kind of walkable, urbane neighborhoods that this country used to have before the car changed everything, and which cities like Sacramento are going to need in the future when post-peak gas prices render low density development unfeasible.

And yet, that’s a big if, according to Sacramento History Blog. Sac History argues that the postwar shift to suburban development in West Sac and Sacramento’s other commuter burbs was what killed the streetcars in the first place. As housing density thinned out, and streetcar lines fanned further and further out from the core of the city, the cost of operating the trains at greater distances began to outstrip the revenue from a thinly-dispersed ridership scattered over a longer distance. Eventually, the streetcars went bust. If this plan is to avoid the same fate, higher levels of density are going to have to be planned and built along the streetcar route, to guarantee adequate ridership. Given the move towards higher density already underway, I think it’s entirely possible.

This ties into an interview that the Sacramento News and Review did with Sacramento Mayor Heather Fargo in its Earth Day edition a month ago. At the end of the interview, the discussion turned to transportation and sustainability:

On public transportation: There’s a recommendation in the master plan that there be affordable public transportation within a quarter mile of everybody? How do we do that?

I don’t know how feasible that is. I think there are some other things we need to think about. I think it’s relatively easy to provide transit in the urban core. But as you get further out and the densities go down and the model gets more suburban, I’m not sure how you do that. I’m not even sure it would be smart because you’d be driving a lot of miles to get to people who may or may not want to get on the bus.

You know, there’s a lot of interest in fixing up downtown and the central city and the urban core. It’s older, it’s funkier, it’s fun. But, frankly, it’s not that hard.

No one is really addressing how you fix the suburban model. It’s much more fun to figure out how to fix R Street, rather than trying to figure out how to fix Northgate [Boulevard].

You go to Valley Hi, or south Natomas, and try to get people to use transit. Are they really going to ride a bus to the grocery store? Maybe in places like that we just need to switch to little electric vehicles. You know, the little golf carts? Maybe we stripe the street differently, or not, and let people drive what normally wouldn’t be considered a street-safe vehicle on certain streets. But allow someone to take their little electric car to the grocery store, instead of their big gas-guzzling vehicles. Maybe that’s a way to reduce emissions and reduce congestion and make the community more livable. Otherwise, how do you ever make a community that’s six units to the acre dense enough to support transit?

You’re talking about retrofitting the suburbs.

Someone’s got to figure it out. We have this suburban pattern all over California. Our best brain-stormers typically have been central-city focused. It will be interesting to get people like the American Institute of Architects and others to think about, “OK, how do we fix it out there? What do we do?” I think we need to figure that out before we go any further north than North Natomas.

This is the real tough spot in the whole puzzle of sustainability. How to retrofit the suburbs in terms of transportation infrastructure so that they can transition down the line to a reality where gas is so expensive (and the environmental costs of carbon emissions are so destructive) that it threatens the very car commuter culture that they were planned around? How do we fix that, or tinker with it to make it get by somehow?

Commuter rail is one existing solution, running more and more trains on existing lines such as the Capital Corridor, and perhaps running new lines out on the old tracks to Woodland or Winters, or up the Valley to Yuba City or Marysville, but what I’d really like to see is the light rail extended out to Davis, like they were talking about back in the early 90s. I would much rather hop a train or light rail and not have to bother with the mad commute of Hummers on speed through the tangle.  Truth be told, I’d probably spend a lot more time in Sacramento if there was such an extension.

Feeder networks are the other side, making sure that you’ve got good bus networks, or bike lanes, or even just adequate train station parking, feeding people into the big mass transit nodes at both ends. Sacramento’s light rail is getting better about this, and in Davis, Unitrans buses are somewhat useful for getting to the university, but less so for getting to the train station directly (and at any rate, the use of natural gas may bite us as that peaks down the road as well). The electric cars that Fargo talks about are all over the place here in Davis, and might be another good solution, especially given our plentiful sun and wind that could be tapped for energy needs in the suture (DMUD, anyone?). Many other suburbs have a long way to go in that regard, though, and I hope Fargo and other forward-thinking mayors and city councils are starting to think about it. And as I wrote a while ago, increasing the urban density in existing cities’ downtowns, within walking distance of things like train stations and basic amenities, could help to alleviate future post-peak transportation pressures as well.

California invented sprawl. Hopefully we can invent a way out of it as well that still allows the next generation to afford housing.

originally at surf putah

Central Valley Water News Roundup + Fabian Nuñez haiku

(originally at surf putah – promoted by Brian Leubitz)

One of the upsides to the unusually dry winter and spring that we’ve had this past year in California is that it gives us a bit of much-needed breathing room to try and figure out how we’re going to avoid becoming Katrina West the next time the floodwaters get high enough. My fears back in the fall about the levees not being repaired by the time the rain started falling in earnest thankfully proved wrong. That being said, water control is always an issue in this state, and the scale and complexity of the problems we face pretty much guarantee that it’s always on the table for discussion, somewhere or another. In recent water-related news:

West Sacramento’s levees have seepage problems of the same sort that threaten the houses sitting behind the Natomas levees, and thus might not be as stable as previously assumed. The good news is that those problems were discovered when the city proactively started taking core samples from its levees. Far better to find out in advance than just keep building houses behind them and find out when the levee blows in the middle of the night in some winter storm.

On the west side of Yolo County, I agree with County Supe Matt Rexroad that having a flood control expert on hand is a good thing for Yolo County and the city of Woodland, even if we might not necessarily agree on the best means to solve the problem. Woodland got pretty close to flooding last year, it’s a good idea to have a full-time expert working on it.

Moving south towards the delta,  the Chronicle reported a couple of days ago that Judge Frank Roesch has ordered that the pumps in Tracy that send water to East Bay and SoCal communities and farms either find a way to operate them without killing endangered species or shut down. This is on top of the ongoing discussions of how to come up with a framework to deal with the gordian knot of delta levees, water exports and floodplain development that Cal Fed hasn’t been able to solve.

Going east towards the foothills, Bayne of Blog recently blogged about Sacramento Congressman Dan Lungren moving towards calling for to be drained and restored. Usually a cause of environmentalist groups going back to ur-naturalist John Muir himself, the conservative Republican congressman seems to honestly be interested in the possibility of restoring the scenic valley in his district. While San Francisco officials oppose the move, UCD science blog Egghead reports that a recent Masters Thesis by UCD Geology grad student Sarah Null argues that the same water flow could be maintained without the dam.

While it’s not actually Central Valley levees under discussion, meterology blogger Jeff Masters over at Weather Underground has a couple of posts up (1, 2)reviewing what went wrong with New Orleans’ levee system that are worth a read. The Army Corps of Engineers do not come out looking very good, to say the least. Always worth a read.

Finally (ok, this last bit’s a bit of a stretch, but the rice is grown with irrigation, so it kind of relates), Hank Shaw from the Stockton Record has coverage of the pre-match trash-haiku’ing between Mike Villines and Fabian Nuñez about the upcoming Great Sushi Roll-off. Nuñez’s haiku?

Sushi challenge on
The public very happy
We aren’t naked chefs

Land-locked Clovis man
Makes worst Republican Rice
Since Condoleeza

Núñez sushi wins
Feral cats at Capitol
Reject Villines’ swill

Who knew Fabian was a poet?

And It Begins – Cabaldon Announces for the 8th Assembly District

(This is better than the quick diary that I wrote. – promoted by Brian Leubitz)

Well, it’s not exactly a surprise, but the entry of Chris Cabaldon – West Sacramento five-time mayor and runner-up to current Assemblywoman Lois Wolk (D-Davis) in 2002 – into the race officially begins the campaign to succeed Wolk in 2008, who is term limited and will be running for State Senate to replace Mike Machado (D-Linden) in the fifth district. Ah, you gotta love the term limits-induced merry-go-round in Sacramento.

The 8th district includes most of Yolo and Solano Counties, minus the city of Vallejo and the rural parts of Yolo County north of Woodland; in a nutshell, the I-80 corridor. The district is strongly Democratic, ad the winner of the Democratic primary will be heavily, possibly prohibitively favored to win the general.

Cabaldon’s announcement, interestingly enough, was in Davis in front of the train station, not West Sacramento, and he was flanked by Democratic officeholders from all over Yolo County – from Davis, County Supervisor and former Assemblywoman Helen Thompson, City Councilman Don Saylor, and Mayor pro tem Ruth Asmundson; From Woodland, County Sheriff and mayor Dave Flory, Vice Mayor Skip Davies, and City Councilman Jeff Monroe; From West Sacramento, County Supervisor Mike McGowan, Vice Mayor Oscar Villegas and City Councilmen Wes Beers and Mark Johannessen. One notable absence was outgoing Assemblywoman Lois Wolk, who has not yet announced who she is endorsing, if any, in the race to replace her. Republican County Supervisor Matt Rexroad, while not endorsing anybody in the race (claiming that his endorsement would be “the kiss of death” anyways), looks to me to be endorsing Cabaldon between the lines in this post (which is currently down; I’ll re-link it when his site gets back up and running). Clearly, Cabaldon is trying to get himself out there early as the Yolo County candidate, before anyone else announces.

Cabaldon’s supporters and detractors tend to cite the same thing – building in West Sacramento – to support their opinions. Supporters tend to point to his bringing Ikea to West Sac and contruction of condo housing as part of the recent revitalization of the port city; detractors tend to view him as excessively pro-corporate and pro-sprawl, and Cabaldon’s current campaigning on the issue of controlling urban sprawl to be hypocritical. Not really ever having set foot in West Sacramento before or after Cabaldon’s tenure, I can’t really say one way or the other whether it helped or hurt the city, but that’s the discussion. I don’t suspect that Cabaldon’s having come out last year as gay will affect the race much either way, since the district and most of his competitors are pretty socially liberal.

Those rumored to be considering a run are Steve Hardy (D-Vacaville), a City Councilman from Vacaville who came in 3rd in the 2002 primary, and Yolo County Supervisor Mariko Yamada (D-Davis), who was involved with the short-lived Davis DFA meetup and is generally considered to be the progressive candidate in the race. Having gotten to know Mariko a bit during the Dean campaign (over before it began, sadly), I hope she runs.

For those interested, there are a couple good discussions simmering on over at The Davis Vanguard on Cabaldon (here and here), as well as potential challengers here.

If the California presidential primary is moved to February, the state races will be the second in a series of three elections in ’08, and will likely end up with pretty low turnout. Who this helps is anybody’s guess this far out.At any rate, it should be fun to watch, and if the rumored Wolk-Garamendi, jr. race in the 5th State Senate district also pans out, 2008 could be a very exciting year for Yolo politics.

related websites:

Christopher Cabaldon for Assembly
Mariko Yamada’s County Supervisor page
Steve Hardy’s City Council page (scroll down)


originally at surf putah

Christopher Calbadon to run for AD-08

Christopher Calbadon, the openly gay mayor of West Sacramento (and a Calitics advertiser), has announced that he will run for the Assembly in 2008 when Lois Walk is termed out.  Find his website here and the website of his Coming Out Stories episode here. Calbadon seems set to be the frontrunner with Davis Councilmember, and rumored candidate, Don Saylor endorsing Calbadon.  Calbadon has a strong record of success in West Sacto and would appear to be a really good candidate.

Hey, wouldn’t this be a great Breaking Blue item?

A “Far-Left” Manifesto for Yolo County

(Surf Putah, which you will find in the California friends of our blogroll, is a great site for Yolo Cty. politics. – promoted by Brian Leubitz)

Well, I’ve made the cut, having been linked in the “Yolo Blogs” category over at Republican Yolo County Supervisor Matt Rexroad’s new website (which looks quite nice, really). Along with the link (a good web resource for Yolo County in its own right), Rexroad gave this site this little introduction:

If you want to know what the people at the far end of the spectrum in Davis are doing….surf Putah.  I really can’t explain this stuff. Generally, if you find an opinion expressed here Matt Rexroad will be on the other side.

Since I’ve been identified as the far end of the spectrum, I figure that it’s as good a time as any to lay out what us inexplicable far-out Davisites are thinking about Yolo County. Ironically enough, I find myself to the center, or at least in a slightly different direction, from many self-defined “progressives” here in Davis, especially on the issue of development, the axis which city politics seems, rightly or wrongly, to revolve around. Mostly, though, I find that the perpetual battle over political labels to be a fairly useless one, since it assumes a coherent binary political debate, when in fact things tend to be far more complex in real life. I believe that governments ought to balance their budgets responsibly, instead of borrowing and spending with bond measures; am I a conservative? I believe that people generally ought to mind their own business, and that government and religious beliefs are best kept separate where neither can mess the other up; am I a liberal? I believe that all people are created equal, and ought to be treated as such; am I a progressive?

So for the benefit of both Rexroad and those who might follow his link to my site I’ll toss out where this inexplicable far-left blogger would like to see Yolo County headed:

1. Making it possible for Yolo farmers and ranchers to make a decent living, so that they can grow crops instead of subdivisions. The reasons why it is getting harder and harder for small farmers and ranchers to get by are complex, and the roots of the problem more often than not lie well outside of Yolo County. And yet, preserving a healthy and locally-rooted agricultural industry is something that should be central to any vision of a future Yolo County. Protecting farmland from development by easements, or buyouts is one way to help curb development pressure on productive ag land, but it is perhaps more important to ease the market pressures of falling agricultural commodity prices and rising fuel and other operating costs. Encouraging fuel-intensive or alternate fuel usage, aided by ag research over at UC Davis, might help to insulate Yolo agriculture from rising gas prices. Requiring school lunches to preference local farmers and ranchers might help to provide more demand for those products. Teaching gardening in elementary school, as they do at Fairfield Elementary school out in the county, might help to diminish the urban-rural split as well, and give our kids more appreciation for the folks who grow their food.Encouraging new agricultural industries in the county to replace the loss of all those closed tomato canneries in the past decade would help too.

Ultimately, reversing the decades-long national policy of free trade deals that flood domestic markets with foreign imports, and national policies that encourage overproduction are the real key to saving the family farm. Food is one thing, like military technology, that is a bad idea to rely on foreign imports for. We shouldn’t be flying walnuts in all the way from China when we can grow them out perfectly well in Winters.

2. Keeping development off the floodplain, and strengthening the flood control measures where we have already built close to rivers. The Yolo Bypass is a sound approach to the long-term pressures of river systems and seasonal flooding, and Yolo County has been smarter than many counties in this regard. Woodland desperately needs some way of guarding against winter flooding on Cache Creek, and hopefully some hydraulically sound solution will be found in the next couple of years, whether it be stronger levees or some bypass channel upstream of town. While the pressure for more housing is and will continue to be acute because of population growth (more on that below), we need to be steadfast about avoiding Natomas-style floodplain sprawl, because the moment any houses are built there we will collectively be liable for paying for their protection, indefinitely. In places such as West Sacramento, where flooding will always be a problem, we need to make sure that their levees are hardened to withstand severe flooding.

3. Providing adequate housing so that the children of Yolo residents can afford to actually live in their hometowns. This is one area where I part ways with many Davis progressives, in that I do not believe that a no growth or even slow growth model is either smart or just. When a town limits its housing stock like Davis has done, it might preserve the population size of ther town, but the nature of the community cannot but change with the skyrocketing housing prices. As long as people continue to have children, as long as the university increases its student and professorial population (which it will, since it is tied to state demographic growth), and as long as people want to move into this county of ours, we are going to have to have reasonable housing options. Yolo County has both one of the higher rates of growth in the state as well as one of the higher birthrates. All those people are going to have to find somewhere to live.

My sense is that we’d be better off encouraging the cities of Yolo county to start urbanizing in their downtown cores, close to the highways and train stations, to at bare minimum a level of density that our cities reached at the turn of the 19th century (the tallest buildings in most Yolo towns are perversely often the oldest ones). Build up a couple stories, get some people in those downtowns, and then get the downtowns built up along walkable, new urbanist lines, so that people don’t have to drive everywhere just to go about everyday life. This will allow more housing to be efficiently defended by floodwalls where floods threaten, and it should make room for many Yoloites who are currently priced out of even renting here anymore, let alone own houses. Additionally, when suburban housing is built, aim for smaller lots and smaller two story houses the way you used to see in the 20s and 30s, instead of the spread-out ranch tract housing that uses land as if it’s still cheap. Land is expensive, and denser housing makes better and more economical use of that land. And enough already with the huge luxury mcmansion developments for out of towners.

4. Support more small businesses to fulfill city needs, avoid big box megastores. As I wrote during the Measure K debate last November, there is a need for more and better retail in Yolo County, especially here in luxury boutique-saturated downtown Davis, but that we ought to be encouraging small and locally owned businesses to fulfill those needs rather than inviting big box retailers in to suck up the whole market, and siphon that revenue out of the county to some out of state corporate headquarters. Far too often it is posed as a false choice between the status quo and big box megastores, when in fact a third way is possible. One of the problems is that commercial rent is far too high in Davis, but as best as can be done, the city governments and county government should work to ease whatever barriers to starting businesses exist for small local businesses.

5. While this might be seen by some as working at cross-purposes to #4, we really need a living wage for the county, to say nothing of the über-expensive city of Davis as well. People who work in town ought to be able to afford to live in the same communities, or failing that, in the county. While the statewide minimum wage hike of $7.50 goes partway, a hike to a living wage of $10 or higher would help a great deal, and lessen the class segregation that we get when rents get so rediculously high. Living wage ordinances in other towns have shown that they don’t destroy the local economy as predicted, and that the recipients of those wages tend to plough most of that money back into the local economy, creating a virtuous economic cycle. Finally, a living wage is simply the right thing to do, since anybody who works hard every day at a job, any job, deserves the dignity of being able to make ends meet.

6. Along with this, since the National and State governments seem incapable of getting universal health insurance passed, we need to find some way of at least covering children, from prenatal through delivery and child medical care. A significant number of the working poor in Yolo County either are children or have children, and helping to cover the often exorbitant costs of child healthcare would not only go a long way towards lessening that burden on those families (in effect, a net wage raise), it would also help to guarantee that those children got adequate health care, immunizations and so on. This in turn helps to limit problems for the county down the road dealing with epidemics and overtaxed emergency rooms. Disease does not recognize any difference between rich or poor, insured or uninsured, citizen or immigrant; we’ve all seen how quickly a cold or flu can move through an elementary school or a daycare.

Anyone who claims to be in favor of family values ought to be willing to help make sure that people don’t get bankrupted by the costs of giving birth, let alone raising a kid. It is in our best interest personally as well as as a societally to make sure that these kids are covered, at least until the state and federal government get their acts together and get something funded. Since Yolo is a fairly poor county government-wise, this will have to be a fairly bare bones plan without accompanying state funding, not unlike any serious levee solutions. Assemblywoman Wolk, we’re counting on you to help talk some sense into the Governor.

7. More state parks. We have in this county both beautiful hiking up in the hills to the west of us, as well as a beautiful river to the east. Why there aren’t more state parks or recreational infrastructure helping people to get to them is beyond me.

8. The reestablishment of the old interurban train network in the Central Valley. The Capitol Corridor has been a great success since its inception a decade ago, but relatively little work has been done to apply the same logic to the Valley itself, and try and link the cities and towns of the Sacramento Valley together like they once were abnout a century ago, before the rise of auto-fueled sprawl. The old train lines are still there, connecting most cities up and down the valley to Sacramento, and yet they sit virtually unused for commuter traffic. Fixing them up a bit and running basic commuter lines on them would help to take traffic pressure off the highway system, and help us to accomodate what population growth the region will see in the decades to come. It also uses a lot more fuel, which brings us to the next point:

9. Countywide efforts at conservation and alternative energy. As our populations grow, and global warming gives us hotter, dryer summers, we will see increased stresses on our water and electric usage. As peak oil runs hard into increasing global demands for fuel, gasoline and natural gas are going to persistantly rise in price, hurting commuters, farmers and businesses alike. We should be getting ahead of the curve by working to lower our communities’ water and energy footprints, and thus our exposure to price increases and shortages. Having UCD’s stellar environmental engineering research at the ready is a huge advantage; let’s take advantage of it.

10. A justice system that treats all Yolo residents as equal members of their communities, that serves and protects Black and Latino citizens as well as White citizens. Doug Paul Davis over at the Davis Vanguard has done such great reporting on this issue that I won’t try to duplicate it, but rest assured our police forces and justice system need serious revamping on the issues of racial profiling and how we combat crime in general. While gang violence is real, criminalizing an entire neighborhood, as was done in West Sacramento, seems to me to violate the rights of the very citizens that our justice system is ostensibly supposed to protect. Likewise, while out of towners commit crimes in town, treating huge swathes of our community as perpetual suspects does real and lasting harm to the community as a whole. We can do better.


So there you have it, one Yoloite’s “far-left” take on things. While I expect that Matt and I disagree on several of these issues, i’m not sure that he and I are diametrically opposed on all of them. Statewide and nationally, however, I suspect that our political differences are clearer and less common ground possible to reach. I leave the question of whether the above opinions are way off the end of the spectrum up to the reader.

(originally posted at surf putah

Still Working On Those Levees…

(The levees should see some money out of the bond packages. Problem is that we have to wait for the legislature and governor to allocate those funds. That must be the top priority. Also, check out wu ming’s blog, Surf Putah – promoted by SFBrianCL)

An article in yesterday’s Chronicle suggests that we could be in for another nail-biter of a winter storm season. While the bond measures thankfully passed, the funds won’t be available until next June, while repairs on last year’s erosion damage are still ongoing, and running out of time before the rains start:

More than one month into California’s flood season, engineers are scrambling to repair 71 deeply eroded spots that water officials worry could lead to collapse of the delta’s levee system, which protects more than 500,000 people and property valued at $47 billion.

The nearly unprecedented repair efforts — such work is generally not done this close to winter, when weather is bad and water levels high — come after the state spent the summer and $176 million strengthening 33 other sites it feared could lead to levee breaches when battered by winter storms.

“I expected at this point in time to be patting everybody on the back saying we solved the erosion problems for the year,” said Les Harder, deputy director for public safety for the state Department of Water Resources. “Instead, we now have another 71 to do. We’re actually further behind than when we started.”

High floodwater levels in both the Sacramento and San Joaquin watersheds lasted well into the late spring, making both surveys below the waterline and repairing storm damage difficult. To make things worse, we still don’t really know what the levee system is actually made of, although the state hs begun frantically taking core samples from urban levees (the government of West Sac had the sense earlier this fall to start doing the job on its own, instead of waiting for the state to get around to it).

At least Lois Wolk is looking a bit ahead to dealing with the root cause of the problem (ie. sprawl in the floodplain), with land use restrictions:

Assemblywoman Lois Wolk, D-Davis, whose district includes major parts of the delta, favors a similar distribution formula where areas of highest population and risk get first attention. But she also insists land-use rules need to change.

“We need to create good policies that don’t put more people at risk,” Wolk said. “Development continues where it should not be — behind these eroding piles of dirt. No one should be under the illusion that everything is fine.”

Of course, the Water Reclamation Board got fired by Schwarzeneggar last summer when they made the same suggestions on reining in development in the floodplain, and were replaced with developer-friendly types. Here’s hoping Arnold v. 5.0 will pay attention a little better than v 3.0 did, before Natomas or Rio Vista looks like this:

In related news, the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency is considering charging fees on urban development and using the revenue to purchase development rights on adjacent ag land in Yolo and Sutter counties to prevent development in the floodplain, in hopes of preserving the current hydraulic system in a manner similar to the Yolo Bypass. By preserving ag land adjacent to the Sacramento River, floodwaters past a certain level would be drawn away by weirs and other waterworks, and allowed to flood fields in exchange for payments to farmers. The idea sounds good, and the fact that Sacramento is pursuing it is great news for Yolo County, which as a small county simply doesn’t have the resources to fund the same sort of easements or flood protection. In the future, if we’re smart, government will do more of this sort of thing, thinking in terms of hydrological watersheds instead of artificial county boundaries.

In his book The Retreat of the Elephants about Chinese premodern environmental history, Historian Mark Elvin makes a strong case for the dangers of relying upon massive levee systems to defend urban centers, and the problems that occur when manmade defenses against water encourage more development behind  levees, when combined with the inevitable decline of those hydraulic systems over time, and the natural propensity for rivers to silt up, change course, erode their banks, etc. Before an area is developed and levees established, it is easier to set aside open areas such as the Yolo Bypass to lessen water bottlenecks during a flood, but that once those areas are built in, the whole economy ends up locked into a system that is expensive to maintain, and which tend to get underfunded and neglected until the next disasterous system failure.

We cannot change the way that the Sacramento River drains through the Central Valley, and we can’t do much about the cities that already exist, but getting smarter about developing on higher ground, concentrating growth in well-defended urban centers, and hardening the levees we have, are well within our grasp, should there be the political will to resist selling out to developer interests for short term political gain. While “no growth” is not a reasonable solution, smart growth, especially in a region so vulnerable to flooding, should be a no-brainer.

Now let’s all cross our fingers and hope that this winter doesn’t send us a pineapple express to rain on the snowpack, like has happened in past El Niño years.

Originally posted at Surf Putah