Paradise Lost

The environmental expert currently occupying the White House was quick to assign responsibility for wildfires burning in California. Using the venerable Republican strategy of blaming the victim, he tweeted:

“There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor.”

In fact, these fires are fueled mostly by grass and chaparral; forest land, not so much.

“Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost…. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!”

In fact, California each year sends more dollars to D.C. through federal tax payments than comes back into the state via Federal spending. (As is the case with most “blue” states.)

My former hometown, Santa Rosa, was devastated by wildfire in 1964. Continue reading Paradise Lost

Can You Hear Me Now?

The Verizon guy in the TV commercials is so friendly and down to earth, we know that his and the company’s mission is to provide their customers with the best plans at the most reasonable costs. Just ask firefighters battling the blazes in California. Wireless communications are vital to provide and update information, manpower deployment and battle strategies. Imagine their surprise when service suddenly slowed to 1/200th of the normal speed. “It essentially rendered those very routine communications almost useless or completely ineffective,” said the Santa Clara County Fire Department captain whose team had been deployed to Lake and Mendocino counties in northern California.

Verizon Wireless had a simple explanation. The department had purchased an “unlimited” data plan, but when a certain usage threshold is reached, transmission speed slows precipitously. Verizon also had a simple solution: upgrade the plan at twice the cost.

Verizon said their practice is to remove data speed limits for emergency responders in emergency situations and they are “reviewing the situation” and “will fix any issues going forward.” They also said the speed restrictions had nothing to do with the Federal Communications Commission’s termination of net neutrality regulations that, among other things, had prevented Internet service providers from charging more for speeding up delivery of certain content. The three-Republican two-Democrat FCC, led by Trump appointee Ajit Pai, voted 3-2 to abolish the regulations.

Making America Great Again.

Santa Rosa Update

The Environmental Protection Agency announced last week that it had removed household hazardous waste from 5,500 properties in Napa and Sonoma counties, three-quarters of those destroyed or damaged by fire.

Sonoma County has begun process of adjusting tax assessments. The Assessor’s office was not damaged, but was closed for several days because of mandatory evacuation. Fortunately, aerial views simplify assessing properties that have been reduced to ash. Others, in rural areas or suffering partial losses, require on-site inspections and will take longer. The fires occurred the same time tax bills were being prepared. Tax revenue will obviously be lower; the real hit may come next year. The city of Santa Rosa estimates it has lost a third of its tax base.

The California Insurance Commissioner estimated insured losses will exceed $3 billion. Rebuilding costs will be high. Property owners will need to decide to rebuild exactly as what was lost, with required code upgrades, or to make changes. Shortages of contractors, construction labor and basic building materials will drive up costs. Renters, in what was already an extremely tight market, face uncertainty about what their landlords will do. Many will leave the area to find employment and housing, likely to not return.

Who is coming to Santa Rosa? Lawyers, swarms of lawyers, from all around the country. Although the cause of the fire has yet to be determined, law firms, eager to sue Pacific Gas & Electric, are invading Santa Rosa. As a former resident of Santa Rosa once said to journalists sleuthing the Watergate story, “Follow the money.” The giant utility PG&E has deep pockets and of course, is widely disliked. Sparks from power lines downed by high winds are one possible cause of the fires. The attorneys aren’t waiting; they’re advertising on billboards and TV, and setting up town-hall style meeting for prospective clients. And if PG&E lawsuits don’t work out, there’ll be plenty of other generally loathed, big-money targets to sue: insurance companies.

Climate Change – Real or Hoax?

fire-8754The western United States has suffered a large increase in wildfires in over the past three decades. A new study reports that the area burned is twice what used to be normal. That’s an additional 16,000 square miles of scorched earth. The report blames climate change; more specifically, climate change caused by human activity.

The higher temperatures dry the air, sucking moisture from plants, trees and dead vegetation. Millions of trees are dead, killed by warm-weather beetles. Less snow fall means less snow melt which means drier ground.

The report concludes that wildfires may eventually become smaller as there is less to burn.

For some amusement, read the comments below the Los Angeles Times story. Deniers are eager to flaunt their willful ignorance by posting the same dreary, debunked bromides.