Friday, November 18, 2011

On Meeting CFASE, & the POLA DEIR for BNSF SCIG...

It is no surprise that opposing opinions are raised at public hearings. Several that were expressed struck me as being either completely unreasonable, or at best, completely unsupported.

Rather than engaging in "he said / she said" type disputes, or engaging in prolonged, unproductive name calling, I thought I'd talk direct with those opponents, and try to better understand where their information comes from.

Mr. Jesse N. Marquez, of the Coalition for a Safe Environment (CFASE) was kind enough to give me a few moments of his time, and a copy of one of his group’s press release packages. He also explained how the conclusion expressed as number 15 "A decrease in your house value" was arrived at. While I expressed my reservations about both the result and the procedure used to arrive at that result, Mr. Marquez still offered to send me the source data used to arrive at the conclusion.  As of this posting, it has not arrived.

It is my intent to address each and every item raised in the press package given to me. To insure that I am not inadvertently misstating CFASE positions, I will try to scan their actual documents into this blog, and to then address their content.

The first document is titled "Is this Your Families Future???"

            The following image with text is a true scanned copy of the document noted above.  It has not been altered in any way other than automatic resizing by my html editor.

            If I am given information that refutes or my comments and or opinions and understanding as expressed herein, I pledge to analyze it and if I am wrong, in whole or in part to acknowledge that at least as prominently within my blog as I have these comments.

            Everything contained herein (except the quoted flyer from CFASE) is my own opinion.  I am not employed by the Port of Los Angeles, or BNSF.  I am not a sub-contractor or independent contractor for either. 

This posting is a continuation of my own campaign against misleading information being presented by Opponents of Progress Sycophants (OOPS!).



"close quote

That a potential for environmental impact exists is not in dispute.  That is, after all, the reason that such projects must have Environmental Impact Reports prepared, submitted, reviewed by staff, and be subjected to review and analysis by the General Public.

                Independent professional analyses are prepared toward that end.  A Draft Environmental Impact Report has been prepared for the Port of Los Angeles, for the Southern California Intermodal Gateway Project, proposed by BNSF.  In my opinion, it addresses all of the required and pertinent issues required in an EIR.  It is clear that CFASE disagrees.

                Let’s analyze the above document provided in the CFASE press release kits.  I’m told non-colorized copies were distributed throughout the Wilmington area the day prior to the November 16, 2011 public hearing at the Wilmington Senior Center.

                Assume the stated number; of two million truck trips a year is correct. (The DEIR notes one million more containers), but with existing volume, some empty trucks, etc. the CFASE estimate does not seem unusual or to be an unreasonable estimate.  The statement that the Port and BNSF refuse to build the project on port tidelands property or use clean zero emissions and low noise trains and trucks is NOT a correct statement.

1.       The Port of Los Angeles representatives explained the difference between on-dock, and near-dock intermodal systems.

a.       The Tidelands Grant Act specifies which projects may be in tidelands areas and which may not.  This is not a volitional regulatory constraint.

b.      There are physical requirements and limitations for rail served intermodal facilities. NONE of the on-dock sites currently available in the Port of L.A. are physically suitable for such a facility.

c.       ALL of the sites potentially available for an intermodal facility in Tidelands areas are needed for on-dock facilities.

2.       Zero emission freight trains or similar utility freight moving systems do not exist.  MagLev™, Linear Synchronous Motor (LSM) and Linear Inductive Motor (LIM) technology have been postulated and treated as if they already exist for heavy freight service. 

a.       There is no operational heavy freight, container moving system using these technologies in operation anywhere in the world today.

b.      Advocates of such systems claim zero emissions for heavy freight container movers, is certain, using statistical data compiled from studies involving lightweight commuter trains.  Trains that in turn are 30% to 40% lighter than conventional light rail commuter trains!  All this data is based on the underlying assumption that the 30% to 40% lighter than conventional light rail trains will also be operating at peak efficiency nearly 100% of the time, and both magnetic and aerodynamic drag will be almost negligible.

c.       One company (General Atomics) has built a prototype 20’ (TEU) container mover and (closed circuit) experimental track in San Diego.  Their website offers no insight into when it will be available for commercial use; what the test data shows in terms of operating costs, what the power costs will be, what the carbon emissions  costs will be, how they will deal with oversized containers (40’ and even larger extended containers over 50’), what, if any the impact on extreme weight differences between two consecutive containers would be on a system that requires equal weight distribution over the entire container mover for optimal operation.

d.      The Port and BNSF are not refusing to use this technology.  The technology is simply not available for commercial, heavy freight.

3.       Zero emission truck use-this is more of a direct mis-representation.  Both the Port and BNSF have promised to use LNG or better trucks, over a specific identified planned ramp up period.  No more than 10% of trucks will not be LNG or better.  They (BNSF & the Port) have deliberately left the options open to use hydrogen and or electric if either of those technologies is proven to viably exceed LNG in the future.

4.       BNSF has agreed to buy newest technology diesel engines and reserve them for operating into and out of the intermodal facility.  Yard switch engines will be all electric generator type.  Overhead cranes will be all electric, and further, will regenerate electricity back into the grid when containers are being downloaded.  Lastly, yard hostlers will be limited in number (10) and all will be nonpolluting LNG or electric.

I have to call a “100% FOUL” on the last introductory sentence in the scanned flyer above.  It is simply untrue!

The flyer makes certain statements of negative events that will be caused by, or result from the project.

1.       It claims the project will cause an increase in premature deaths.  There is zero support for this in the CFASE flyer.  Contrary to inferences, the project will result in emissions that are considered to be 17 times less than the Port’s CAAP.  CAAP was designed to clean the air.   In fact the CFASE lists CAAP as one of THEIR accomplishments!  At best, this is unsupported & irresponsible hyperbole.  At worst, it is intentionally or very carelessly misleading.  I call a 100% FOUL for this item.

2.       Claimed to cause an increase in asthma, other generic respiratory problems and COPD. No support provided to demonstrate newer, cleaner technology, fully compliant with CAAP will cause an INCREASE in these ailments.  I am told the spouse of one of the CFASE “leaders” is a doctor that prepared a 1986 study showing increases in adverse health that were attributed to railroad proximity.  I don’t know the objectivity of that study; its professional reliability, nor whether it has any relevance what so ever for the DEIR proposed technology. I give zero credence for the claim.  As stated, it is not worthy of belief.

3.       Causes lung & other cancers.  No support provided.  No medical / health analysis for similar projects presented to the POLA Environmental Management during the public hearing.  I give zero credence for the claim.  As stated, it is not worthy of belief.

4.       Cause an increase in heart attacks and other diseases.  Like the above items, zero support for the specific claim was provided.  Having had a heart attack, AND having lived inside the Port of L.A. for over 15 years less than a quarter mile from frequently used rail lines, I was most interested in this claim.  MY heart attack was a combination of heredity and lifestyle.  My genetic father died of high cholesterol induced coronary artery blockage when he was 51.  I too had a similar heart attack at 55.  Though I smoked for 40+ years, it was caused purely by arterial blockage.  No support for the position provided. I give zero credence for the claim.  As stated, it is not worthy of belief.

5.       Increased temporary and permanent disabilities.   No support.  This one hardly seems worth addressing. They cannot even identify the medical conditions or nature of these ailments that we are supposed to be in fear of? No support.    I give zero credence for the claim.  As stated, it is not worthy of belief.

6.       There is no justification for claiming this will cause an increase in insurance of any kind, including health care coverage. I give zero credence for the claim.  As stated, it is not worthy of belief.

7.       Job losses due to illness. No support or basis. I give zero credence for the claim.  As stated, it is not worthy of belief.

8.       Increased “deadly” port diesel train & truck air pollution.  IF true (and no support was provided to support this), then moving the SCIG inside the port would appear to provide no net gain to anyone.  It can be argued equally, that failing to build SCIG as proposed, will result in the same thing due to increased traffic of uncontrolled traffic.  The claim is meaningless.

9.       Increased truck & train traffic passing near homes, schools and community.  This is a broad brush statement that mixes subjective half-truths and a true claim so broad as to be meaningless).  Of COURSE there will be an increase in trains and trucks in the community!  IF it is NOT BUILT, then there could also be an increase in trucks in the neighborhoods and near the schools.  Building the project does not cause that.  Forcing two million more trucks on to the 710 and other corridors would.  . I give zero credence for the claim.  As stated, it is not worthy of belief.

10.   Increased accidents. ZERO SUPPORT for the claim! In fact, it is equally probable that less rather than more accidents would take place, due to the removal of 1.5 million ‘plus’ trucks from the 710 freeway.  I give zero credence for the claim.  As stated, it is not worthy of belief.

11.   Increased insurance rates, increased and more serious accidents- complete conditional speculation!  I give zero credence for the claim.  As stated, it is not worthy of belief.

12.   Increased BNSF facility, train and truck traffic noise.  I give 2 out of 3 possible! I assume the facility could generate more noise. More trains, could also generate more noise.  These are items that can be mitigated by two fairly simple fixes (sound walls).  The third claim is untrue.  This project will remove trucks further away from the TI freeway, NOT increase them.  Further trucks going to and from SCIG are specifically PROHIBITED from going as close to the one neighborhood potentially affected (West L.B.) as they currently do.  Wilmington routes do not appear to be significantly affected by SCIG.  66% accurate at best; same credibility I’d give any ‘half-truth’.

13.   Increased global warming impacts from more air pollution. Assuming global warming were still a concern after numerous so called experts have been documented to have falsified evidence, then one has to concede the corollary or inverse is true. IMPROVING air quality as per the Ports CAAP could only REDUCE “global warming impacts”.  Position unsupported and argumentative at best.  Zero credibility.

14.   Diversion of public services to support accidents and emergencies.  Not demonstrated. Increased tax revenue from the facility and higher container volume could just as easily result in increased services!  Elimination of 1.5 million trucks already on the freeway could actually save lives as well be eliminating congestion and rush hour gridlock.

15.   Lastly, my favorite.  CFASE alleges “The project will cause a decrease in your house property value” 

a.       This is a completely untrue statement.  The project as proposed has no potential to affect property values negatively.  It does on the other hand have the potential to benefit property values by (1) reducing air pollution, (2) reducing nearby (TI) traffic for BNSF intermodal destined containers (3) IF allowed by Long Beach City Council, building of a sound attenuation wall between the West side neighborhoods and the TI Freeway (4) Reducing container traffic on the 710 freeway enabling commuters to make better use of this important regional link.

b.      When asked about this, Mr. Marquez said he has all kinds of studies showing houses next to rail lines sell for less than house further away do.  The latter is a true statement.  Example: A house overlooking a pleasant outside view (ocean, park, etc.)  WILL normally sell for more than one next to; close to or affected by train noise.  This is called external inadequacy (formerly called external obsolescence).  The affected neighborhoods have already suffered whatever ‘decrease’ in property value that the market recognizes for being so close to the TI freeway, the existing rail line, and most significantly the overwhelming presence of the huge refinery on the other side of the proposed SCIG.  Modernizing the same site between a dirty, unattractive freeway where heavy construction equipment is regularly stored (and operated) is NOT LIKELY to further decrease property values.  The refinery already operates 24 hours a day.  The freeway is used 24 hours a day.  Historic markets have already penalized the neighborhood as much as they are likely to for this external inadequacy.

c.       Just as the schools buffer the residential neighborhood from the freeway; the freeway buffers the schools from the proposed SCIG, which in turn serves as a buffer between the refinery and the neighborhoods!  If the refinery were not in existence, then I’d have to concede the possibility of expanded rail use reducing property values.  With the refinery, it is not likely.  There is only so much that a perceived external inadequacy will reduce property values by.  Most appraisers opine somewhere around 5% to 10% for a serious condition.  In rare exceptions it can be more –normally in very upscale areas where property values are already very broad and diverse.  In conforming areas, the impact is usually lower.   The reason is that at some point in dropped property values, investors will buy the property as a good deal (less than surrounding values).  10% less than prevailing values will often produce entry level or step up buyers.  10% to 25% will produce investment for rent buyers whose only concern is return.

d.      One thing that COULD cause a new drop in value is the action of Coalition for a Safe Environment CFASE itself!  Established markets already have groups they appeal to.  These are people that know the area and accept it.  When someone starts running around in an irresponsible manner,  claiming property values are going to crash because of all kinds of horrible (new) health risks; then even though those risks are not, or may not be real and supported risks, the market MAY decide the condition they already accepted is in need of further consideration or discounting!  The fear mongering becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy!

e.    Right now the number one thing causing property values to decline in West long Beach is the high unemployment rate!  The number two thing is the high recent foreclosure rate and the probable high future foreclosure rate if jobs are not brought into the area immediately!

f.      Since late 2009 to late 2011, 90810 median property values have been trying to stabilize around $260,000 to $240,000 based on quarter to quarter comparisons that I recently performed (November, 2011), using NDC for all of 90810.  Unless a new storm of foreclosures hits next year as it is forecast to do[1], we should not see a much larger reduction in median value.

g.    The properties fronting to (located across the street from) the park and school along Webster are actually more likely to sell for more than the interior neighborhood properties closer to Santa Fe, or that do not have park like views [2]or school convenience.  Even though this places them closer to the freeway.  While there are many people who see schools and parks as negative features due to reduced privacy and associated school children’s playground noise.  On the other hand, there are many more people (with kids) that see park frontage and school proximity as a very substantial positive.  At least until someone tells them it is a stew of toxicity that is going to kill them and make them so miserably sick in the interim, that they’d be happy to go!

Opposition to any change is fine if that’s in the residents heart and mind.  There is always the temptation to throw in every argument one can think have, “plus the kitchen sink”.  It is human nature. 

It’s the wrong approach to take though, when the type of opposition itself has a good chance of causing the damage that you fear most. 

If MY property value goes down and I can attribute it to unfounded fear caused by CFASE; or future nuisance lawsuits by CFASE (or any other self-serving, ambulance chasing, pseudo environmental groups), then I will be looking for neighbors to join me in suing them!  There is a difference between those that sincerely believe in what they are doing and saying, and those who are looking to capitalize on it monetarily, or through enhanced political power. 

I tried to keep an open mind while reading CFASE press release kit.  In my opinion, there was little contained within it that appeared to be fact based. It appears more as if designed to tug at heartstrings, and play on fear.

I will address the so called three alternative Port Tidelands sites in a separate blog shortly. 

I read the CFASE mission statement.  On the surface it sounds commendable.  With more than fifteen seconds thought it is less commendable.  The statement itself shows a clear bias and fails to define its own euphemistic “Environmental Justice” terminology.

The information provided by CFASE is according to Mr. Marquez compiled from many sources.  Some is scientifica. Some is not.  The CFASE website and it's affiliates sites suggest reliance upon volunteers...even when it comes to taking air quality measurements.

If data is being reported as scientific information, I'd like assurance that it was obtained by qualified professionals, using established scientific methodology, with published results, open and available for peer review.  I don't want well intentioned amateurs taking measurements that are subsequently reported as scientific facts.

Amateur technicians can be trained to operate instruments.  Professional usually also have a code of ethics to adhere to, and are not supposed to be swayed by concerns of self interest.  When and if they are, then their professional peers can test and refute their findings. 

[1] B of A and Chase are both reported in numerous industry publications and sources to be holding back nearly a million more defaulted or expected to default mortgages with intentions of releasing them to the market in starting in early to mid-2012.
[2] Based on my own personal research in late 2009 as a prospective buyer in the area.

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