Sunday, September 30, 2007

Expressing One's Environmentalism in Day to Day Life

Here are two related views on what it means to be a "day to day" environmentalist.

Dear Editor, “While reading the article covering the poll which questioned non vegetarian environmentalists, I was shocked to see that the majority, if not all of the responses, stated that a meat-eating environmentalist is nothing more than a hypocrite. I consider myself to be a pretty active environmentalist, as well as a meat-lover. As I sat down and tried to think of all the people I know whom I would consider to be environmentalists, I realized that the majority of them do eat meat! I think that by telling people they are hypocritical based on one of their actions and overlooking the good they do, is nothing more than discouraging. Becoming a vegetarian is ONE of the many things people can do to help better the world, but if someone was to make a list of all the things environmentalists should be doing, I would have to guess that none of as are fulfilling all the "requirements." So, how I look at is is – do what you can to make a difference, but realize there are ways to save the environment without becoming the "perfect environmentalist," if there even is such a thing! Signed by Meika Hollender, Burlington, Vermont http://www.earthteam.net/green_news/issues/0904.htm)

In this New York Times piece, Applebome calls us lazy. His lack of optimism is
refreshing.

Our Towns
Human Behavior, Global Warming, and the Ubiquitous Plastic Bag
By PETER APPLEBOME

YORKTOWN HEIGHTS, N.Y.

When she moved to the United States from Germany seven years ago, Angela Neigl brought with her the energy-conscious sensibilities of life in Europe. You drove small cars. You recycled every can, lid and stray bit of household waste. You brought your own reusable bags or crate to the market rather than adding to the billions of plastic bags clogging landfills, killing aquatic creatures on the bottoms of oceans and lakes, and blowing in the wind.

But, alas, there she was Friday morning, lugging her white plastic bags from the Turco’s supermarket, like everyone else, figuring there was no fighting the American way of waste.

“When I was first here, I brought my own bags to the market, but they would stuff the groceries in the plastic bags anyway. Finally, I gave up,” she said. “People are very nice here. It’s more relaxed. But the environmental thing is a little scary.”

You could have learned a lot, I guess, about the politics of global warming from the lukewarm response President Bush received last week from skeptical delegates at his conference on climate change and energy security. But in the most micro of ways, you can learn plenty any day of the week at the Turco’s or the Food Emporium in Yorktown Heights, the Super Stop & Shop in North White Plains, the A.&P. or Mrs. Green’s Natural Market in Mount Kisco or just about anywhere Americans shop in Westchester County and beyond.

And the lesson for now pretty much seems to be that no matter how piddly the effort, no matter how small the bother, well, it’s too much bother.

“I know,” said Vicki Strebel, another Turco’s shopper, when asked about bringing a reusable bag rather than taking home the throwaway plastic. “I should, but I don’t. I’m sorry. I’m too busy. Things are too crazy. If I got the bags, I’d probably forget to put them in the car.”

Plastic bags are not the biggest single issue out there, and no expert on global warming would suggest solutions rest wholly with decisions made by individual consumers. On the other hand, it is estimated that the United States goes through 100 billion plastic bags a year, which take an estimated 12 million barrels of oil to produce and last almost forever. And if individual decisions can’t solve the problem, the wrong ones can certainly compound it.

Once upon a time, the question was plastic or paper, which had its own somewhat uncertain calculus of virtue and waste. Now, it has begun to dawn on people that you don’t need either. Most supermarkets these days sell sturdy, reusable bags for 99 cents that people can use instead of plastic ones.

Except almost no one does. For lots of different reasons. They buy them and forget to use them. (Truth in advertising: Count me among the serial offenders.) They figure they can reuse the plastic bags for garbage and dog-walking duties. They find them unhygienic; we fell in love with the throwaway culture for a reason. One reusable bag can hold the contents of several plastic ones, but that’s too heavy for the elderly or the frail to carry. It’s just not what we do.

Of course, there are exceptions. Trader Joe’s, for example, offers a variety of reusable bags and has raffles for free food or gift certificates for people who bring their own bag, so people use them.

San Francisco banned petroleum-based plastic bags in large supermarkets and pharmacies, which, depending on your mind-set, was visionary leadership or the green nanny state in action.

After Ireland enacted a stiff tax on the bags in 2001, consumption fell by 90 percent.

Mrs. Neigl says when visitors come from Germany, they’re baffled by the local customs, the tolerance of such stupendous, routine waste.

But having lived here for a while she gets it: all that open space, the lustrous green acres just 35 miles from Manhattan. “I guess people aren’t so concerned about the environment because they have so much of it,” she said.

Of course, people are aware it’s not that simple. But all too often awareness changes before behavior does.

At most of the grocers I visited you can find a quite remarkable Time magazine special issue on global warming. On its cover is a heartbreaking picture of a polar bear on a lonely frozen peninsula surrounded by what was once ice and is now water.

It would be a downer for supermarket décor, but in the absence of political leaders from the White House on down hammering home the message that the free ride of endless excess is about to run off the cliff, maybe it takes that kind of image on giant posters next to the cornflakes to get people’s attention.

Plastic bags are a small part of the picture. (Sport utility vehicles, McMansions, long commutes, anyone?) But you think, if we can’t change our behavior to deal with this one, we can’t change our behavior to deal with anything.

E-mail: peappl@nytimes.com

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Perils of Reverse Commuting Using Public Transit

This morning you could have seen me on the 903am San Bernardino Line train from Los Angeles Union Station to Claremont. If I missed that train, the next train was at 1103am and my seminar at CMC started at 1030am. Knowing that the supply of such reverse commute trains going from the city to the eastern suburbs was small, I arrived at Union Station at 730am. I also arrived this early because if I had taken a later taxi from Westwood, I would have gotten stuck in congestion.

So, it took me 2.5 hours to go from Westwood Los, Angeles to Claremont, Los Angeles by taxi and public transit. Can you travel 2.5 hours in St. Louis and still be in St. Louis? I would guess that you would be in Chicago. I did enjoy my trip to Claremont McKenna College. http://www.claremontmckenna.edu/econ/seminars/

The train does attract a group of people I do not run into in my typical "university" life. I over-heard a number of exotic discussion ranging from drugs, to dating advice, to the challenges of having a boyfriend in prsion. I was having trouble doing my referee reports with all of these juicy tidbits of gossip flying around the train car.

In other news, I'm impressed by how intellectual property flows. I found a cool figure from my Green Cities book reproduced in this
Report Presented at the World Economic Forum . I'm waiting for my royalty check and my chance to meet either President Clinton at the WEF or is it WWF session.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Solar Roofs as Conspicuous Consumption

UCLA teaching starts on thursday. There are plenty of students now here on campus.
I'm trying to start some research on the demand for solar paneled homes.

If you are a long time reader of this exciting blog, you may remember this classic;
greeneconomics.blogspot.com/2005/08/giving-hybrids-traction-veblen-status.html
where I discuss how the Prius signals your "greeness" to others and this increases demand for this vehicle among the greens.

I am now interested in whether observable solar panels have a similar effect.
One interesting point is that I've been told that there is population heterogeneity.
Some home builders are designing roofs that have solar panels built into them but do not look "weird" --- they look like any other roof. It will interest me whether social scientists can explain the patterns of who buys a solar panel roof versus who buys a solar panel roof "disguised" as a typical roof.

http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-solar25sep25,1,2162627.story?coll=la-headlines-business&ctrack=1&cset=true

Sun-powered homes defy a cool housing market

Builders say buyers are seeking them out, and solar industry officials say growth is going through the roof.

By Elizabeth Douglass
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

September 25, 2007

With foreclosures rising and home prices diving, there is a bright spot in California's residential real estate market: Solar-powered homes are starting to outsell traditionally electrified new homes in several markets, and developers are stepping up their use of the technology.

Perhaps it's only fitting for a state that so openly celebrates its sunshine. Still, the growing popularity of household solar power is an encouraging sign for the thousands of solar enthusiasts and vendors gathering in Long Beach this week.

"Those builders are seeing that they'll get more buyers coming to their developments when they have solar. They sell like hot cakes," said Bernadette del Chiaro, energy specialist at the advocacy group Environment California.

Julie Blumden, a vice president at SunPower Corp., a San Jose-based manufacturer of solar roof tiles, said builders using solar were selling homes faster than nonsolar competitors -- an important factor in a slow market. "The increase in sales velocity is actually paying for the solar systems," she said.

SunPower, which sells its solar tiles to builders including Lennar Homes and Grupe Co., said it had orders to provide solar systems for 3,000 new homes in California in the coming years.

"The last time we saw interest in solar that was anything close to this was back in the 1980s, the first time there were federal tax credits for solar energy," said Julia Judd Hamm, executive director of the Solar Electric Power Assn. and co-chair of the Solar Power 2007 conference underway at the Long Beach Convention Center. "But the numbers then aren't even comparable to what we're seeing now."

Solar power is hotter than ever, helped by California's ambitious Million Solar Roofs rebate program, federal tax credits and growing public and political support for renewable power of all kinds. The U.S. solar industry saw record growth last year, with California the largest market by far, according to a study by the Prometheus Institute for Sustainable Development. And 2007 is shaping up to be another big year, industry officials say.

The boom also has swelled the community of solar products and pitchmen.

Both will be on display at the solar conference and expo, which is expected to draw more than 11,000 attendees in Long Beach, up from 8,500 at last year's event in San Jose, organizers say. Tonight, the show is free to the public from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Exhibitors will be hawking photovoltaic solar panels in all forms, with some companies showing off systems that embed the technology in carports, roofing tiles and other structures. Some will be targeting individual homeowners, while others will be angling for business with utilities that want to boost their use of renewable power.

California's largest electric utilities, including Edison International's Southern California Edison Co., PG&E Corp.'s Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and Sempra Energy's San Diego Gas & Electric Co., have signed deals to build power-plant-sized solar facilities in and around the Mojave Desert or negotiated contracts with companies putting up such plants.

"Obviously, there are a nearly unlimited number of rooftops available in California and across the country" for individual solar power production, Hamm said. "At the same time, the whole concept of utility-scale plants is really just starting to gain momentum. So it's going to be a combination of the two."

California's $3.3-billion Million Solar Roofs program is based on the notion that businesses and homeowners would install solar systems faster if the cost was partially offset by rebates and incentives. The goal is to create 3,000 megawatts of new solar power in California by 2017 and to build solar power systems into half of all new homes by 2015.

"We were at 1% in 2004, and we're probably only at about 5% of all new homes right now," said Del Chiaro of Environment California. "It's good growth, but we're going to have to ramp up quite significantly to get to that 50% mark."

The solar power industry is drawing its share of star power.

Cable television mogul Ted Turner, who will deliver one of the keynote speeches launching the show today, teamed up this year with New Jersey solar developer Dome-Tech Solar to form a venture called DT Solar. Turner, chairman of Turner Enterprises Inc., said the renamed solar company would continue its focus on designing and installing large-scale projects and was expanding into California and other U.S. markets.

"Clean alternative energy is going to be a huge market because it's going to be done all over the world and it's got to be done right away. We're out of time," Turner said.

"Solar has probably the most potential because the sun is everywhere."

Hamm and others are encouraged by the explosion of start-up companies and new products in the solar industry, as well as by the technology's growing popularity with the public. But she knows solar is still a small fry in the electricity world.

"I don't think anybody in the solar industry thinks that solar is the answer and is eventually going to take over," she said. "Right now, solar electricity is about one-tenth to two-tenths of a percent of the entire U.S. energy mix. It's barely even a dot on the radar screen."

elizabeth.douglass@latimes.com

Monday, September 24, 2007

Decentralization of Public Goods Provision: The Case of Los Angeles Tree Planting

Suppose you want to plant 1 million trees in your city and your name isn't Johnny Appleseed, how are you going to get this job done? The Los Angeles "solution" is to give them away for free and hope that the gift receivers actually plant the tree somewhere. This Los Angeles Times article questions whether this cheap strategy is working. Behavioral economists would say that receiving the gift would make the recipient feel that he "owes you" and to follow through with what he promised to do (to plant it).

Now rather than appealing to folk's guilt about not doing the right thing --- the Mayor of L.A could appeal to their pocketbook! This Wharton Study by Grace Wong and Susan Wachter studies the real estate returns to greening your local area.

http://real.wharton.upenn.edu/%7Ewongg/research/index2.html

http://www.latimes.com/news/local/los_angeles_metro/la-me-million24sep24,1,3834860,full.story?ctrack=1&cset=true

From the Los Angeles Times

A million L.A. trees: Will they take root?
The city is giving them away, but no one knows if they are being planted.

By David Zahniser
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

September 24, 2007

Monica Barra went to South Los Angeles last month to attend a jazz festival. She went home with a free tree, a one-gallon African sumac that she lugged around on a Sunday afternoon past the shops and restaurants of Leimert Park.

The college senior took the tree on an impulse, though each tree recipient was required to fill out a "pledge to plant," a form smaller than an index card and a signature feature of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's plan to plant 1 million trees across Los Angeles.

Six weeks later, Barra's leafy friend has yet to make contact with the soil. Because Barra has no land of her own, the tree sits in her apartment in Redlands, roughly 60 miles from Los Angeles.

"I just really like having trees and plants where I'm living," said Barra, who majors in literature, historiography and urban studies. "And it was free."

Villaraigosa has trumpeted his Million Trees LA initiative as a cornerstone of his environmental agenda, bringing it up before audiences as far away as London and Hong Kong. Each time, the mayor's refrain has been the same: "We're planting 1 million trees," a phrase that brings to mind a populace working harmoniously to transform Los Angeles into a verdant forest.

The reality, however, is that, in many cases, organizers are not so much planting trees as giving them away, offering them up by the hundreds at fairs, festivals and farmers markets, many of them in the summer in a year of intense drought.

So far, no one has checked to see whether those trees have been planted, are still alive or even are in Los Angeles, one of several cities pursuing massive tree initiatives.

More than two years into his term, Villaraigosa is roughly one-tenth of the way toward his tree-planting goal. Of the roughly 110,000 he lists as planted, more than half -- 51% -- were given away to the public. Of those given away, more than a third were seedlings: slender wisps that die unless they are planted immediately, tree advocates say.

The giveaway strategy has proved controversial among the city's environmentalists, who praise the mayor for focusing on trees yet worry that the program has been too fixated on a numerical goal.

"It's giving away trees to get your numbers up," said Peter Lassen, a member of the city's Community Forest Advisory Committee.

The issue is especially relevant now that Villaraigosa aides say they expect as many as 70% of the trees to be distributed to private property owners: 700,000 trees over the life of the program.

With each weekend giveaway, more people have filled out the pledge cards. And Barra's experience is hardly unique.

Teacher Yvette Davis took an olive tree and an African sumac from a Million Trees booth the same day as Barra. Both went onto a patio.

Then there's Koreatown resident Keita Mellion, a 26-year-old musician who also picked up a free tree at the jazz festival. Mellion has struggled to keep his seedling alive since August, when he went out of town for a week and a half and made no plans for watering it.

"I don't think the environment is very conducive to it," said Mellion, describing the tree that sits on his apartment patio, still encased in its one-inch plastic container. "It looks dried up."

Although Million Tree coordinator Lisa Sarno said Villaraigosa's team expects one out of every four trees to die, Lassen said the usual mortality rate for a tree given away at a fair is at least 50%.

The spur-of-the-moment tree adoptions are drawing sharp questions from Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn, whose district has the fewest shade trees in the city, according to a city survey. Hahn said visitors to a festival are not necessarily dependable candidates for expanding the city's urban forest.

"It's sort of like adopting a bunny at Easter," she said. "People say, 'This will be fun.' And then it falls by the wayside. They don't have time, they go on vacation, and they're not really committed to it. Only the problem with [the trees] is you can't give them back. They just die."

Villaraigosa's tree team defended the 187 tree adoption events held so far, saying they are part of a civic engagement process that is essential to the program's long-term success. They also said they will develop a follow-up system by the end of the year.

"People love things that are free," said public works commissioner Cynthia Ruiz, the mayor's spokeswoman on the program. "And when they learn about the benefits of the trees, it's a win-win for everyone."

Villaraigosa's office says the city will be noticeably greener once the project is finished. And although the mayor's team said in July that it expected to reach 1 million by 2012, Ruiz said that deadline is increasingly less important.

"I'm not so much focused on the time frame," she said. "I'm just focused on having a successful million tree program."

In some ways, the Million Trees initiative resembles a larger agenda promoted by Villaraigosa immediately before and after he took office.

Since his election in 2005, the mayor has retreated from his plan for seizing control of the Los Angeles Unified School District, settling for a few dozen "partnership" schools. Despite his promise to get more money out of Sacramento, Villaraigosa watched helplessly this year as state lawmakers raided local transit funding to balance their budget.

Still, few programs had as much difficulty gaining traction as the tree initiative, which has been repeatedly reworked. When the program was launched, Villaraigosa originally promised to add 300,000 new trees in the city's parks. As of July, the Department of Recreation and Parks had planted 4,200, according to the mayor's office.

Although Million Trees was billed as a $70-million program when it was rolled out last year, the mayor has raised just $3.2 million in private donations so far; $11.2 million has come from public agencies, four-fifths of it from the Department of Water and Power and the Port of Los Angeles.

Backers of the program point to its tangible successes: rows of sycamores, oaks and citrus trees added to neighborhoods that include Cypress Park, El Sereno and Boyle Heights.

Furthermore, nonprofit groups involved in the program say it should be judged not only on the numbers but also on its other benefits, from tree-care workshops to classes that will teach 8,000 students the value of having shade to cool the city.

"If you have a kid that walks home from school with a seedling and learns about what the tree can contribute to the environment, there's a value there that transcends the tree's actual survival," said Larry Smith, who heads the nonprofit North East Trees.

Behind the scenes, environmental groups long resisted the 1 million goal, saying such a number is arbitrary and could lead to hastily offered plants and fewer long-term benefits.

Tree advocates recommended that Villaraigosa take 10 years, not four, to reach his target, Smith said.

Meanwhile, one group decided it would rather hold just one tree giveaway each year: a massive citywide adoption of fruit trees in January, the height of the rainy season.

Andy Lipkis, president and founder of Tree People, said his group is pursuing the slower, more painstaking work of showing residents how to plant and care for a tree over the long term, even if that results in fewer new trees.

"We didn't want to buy into a numerical goal, not because numbers aren't important but because we've seen that whenever they're locked into a numerical goal, no matter what their higher goals were, at some point, they focus just on getting the numbers," he said.

Tree People embarked on a campaign similar to Villaraigosa's nearly three decades ago, asking Angelenos to plant 1 million trees in preparation for the 1984 Olympics.

But unlike the mayor, Tree People did not consider a giveaway tree as planted unless the owners went to the trouble of mailing back a postcard stating it had gone into the ground.

Villaraigosa's Million Trees program was formally launched one year ago, after 12 months of planning with half a dozen tree organizations. The mayor said it would beautify the city while creating shade to cool its low-income neighborhoods.

The concept was based largely on a "canopy analysis," a study that examined the places that had the fewest shade trees. Not surprisingly, the survey found that neighborhoods with large, mature trees -- the kind that form a soaring arc over a street -- were usually the ones with the greatest wealth. Consider the giant jacarandas that tower over sections of Sherman Oaks or the camphor trees that line the streets of Hancock Park.

With tree cover the thinnest south of the 10 Freeway, the Million Trees initiative has gone to such places as the jazz festival in Leimert Park, Ralphs supermarket on Crenshaw Boulevard and the farmers market in Watts.

On a hot day in July, the Koreatown Youth and Community Center -- one of the groups carrying out the Million Tree program -- provided 174 trees to patrons at the Watts market, held each Saturday in the parking lot of Ted Watkins Park.

Two-thirds of them were seedlings.

Yet seedlings are the most hotly contested component of Villaraigosa's arboreal initiative.

Smith predicted that no more than one in four will survive.

The tree could dry up "just between the time you put it in your car and you take it home," Smith said.

Sarno, Villaraigosa's top advisor on the trees program, said the mayor plans to reduce the program's reliance on seedlings. But that decision was made after more than 20,000 seedlings had been given out.

In May, tree groups distributed 2,300 seedlings at the two-day UCLA Jazz & Reggae Festival. And in June, organizers gave away 338 outside La Curacao, a department store in Pico-Union popular among Central-American immigrants.

The seedlings demonstrate how difficult it is to add trees in a city with a high concentration of renters and low-income residents.

Million Tree participants would much rather give away trees in one- and five-gallon pots, said Dore Burry, environmental manager for the Koreatown Youth and Community Center. The problem, he said, is that the people who approach his booth at festivals and fairs frequently want something they can pop into a shopping bag.

"In South-Central, you don't have sprawling estates where they have open space," he said. "But they're willing to plant a seedling, because they have 10 to 15 years before they have to worry about it."

Hahn said she picked up three seedlings at various events over the years, none of them affiliated with the mayor's initiative. Two died and one never made it into the ground, she said.

Even the mayor's employees have been slow to get seedlings into the soil. One fragile seedling, which has a Million Trees sticker on its plastic pot, sits on the carpet on the mezzanine of City Hall.

david.zahniser@latimes.com

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Can a Retired Berkeley Professor Rebuild New Orleans?

UC Berkeley is an ambitious university. I encourage you to take a look at this link http://alumni.berkeley.edu/California/main.asp

In the current issue, this Alumni Magazine makes the case that Berkeley is the epi-center of cleaner energy research (see
http://alumni.berkeley.edu/california/200709/margonelli.asp)
such that we can maintain our standard of living with suffering from climate change's consequences.

In addition, this issue provides an interesting profile of a retired Berkeley Professor named Edward Blakely. Edward faces the challenge of helping to rebuild New Orleans. This subtle article provides an insider's look into the challenges he faces.


feature 2007 September / October
Patching a broken city
by Sara Catania

Former Berkeley Professor Edward J. Blakely brings order to New Orleans’s hodgepodge bureaucracy, and urgency to its laissez-faire citizenry.
It was just past seven on a balmy Tuesday morning last February, and the streets of New Orleans's moribund Central City were temporarily bustling. Barbecues hissed as hip-hop throbbed from car stereos and the open windows of seemingly abandoned homes. Residents displaced to Houston, Atlanta, and Baton Rouge had returned, filling vacant lots with folding chairs, card tables covered with floral cloths, and coolers. They'd come to witness the Mardi Gras return—after a one-year, post-Katrina hiatus—of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club. Founded in 1909 to provide African-American residents with insurance, the benevolent society is now known primarily for sponsoring Fat Tuesday's largest and most famous African-American parade.
At La Maison, a wood-frame house built in the mid-1800s and more recently converted into apartments, the celebration was in full swing. Partygoers ducked through a second-story window to a balcony overlooking the parade route through the old working-class neighborhood. Their host was tenant Edward J. Blakely, a soft-spoken urban planner and former Berkeley professor who had arrived in January to take on the professional challenge of a lifetime: orchestrating the city's belated post-hurricane rebirth. Before long the parade began, with New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin in the lead astride a chestnut mare. Nagin spotted Blakely and beamed. When announcing Blakely's hire in December 2006, Nagin could not have been more bullish, declaring, "We think he's the best in the world to help us get through this recovery."
Blakely's bona fides testify for his selection. He rose from an impoverished childhood in San Bernardino to earn a master's degree at Berkeley and a doctorate at UCLA . His 40-plus years of experience include advising governments in Korea, Japan, South Africa, and Europe, as well as two Oakland mayors; authoring or coauthoring four books; and chairing Berkeley's Department of City and Regional Planning. He has served as a dean at urban planning departments at The New School University in New York City and the University of Southern California. He currently chairs the Urban and Regional Planning program at the University of Sydney while heading a team studying urban climate change and global warming for the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, a think tank based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
And yet one of Blakely's strongest assets may have been pronounced in his early assessment of the challenge of putting the Big Easy back together: "There are forces here that would rather have failure than success." His trademark piercing candor, interpreted by some as the hubris of an outsider, is something that narcissistic New Orleans has rarely tolerated in the past.
Nagin's parade horse trotted off, and the "Province Prince" appeared. A two-tiered float fronted by a massive statue of a feather-clad warrior, it embodied a Zulu tradition that began as a counter to the exclusively white parades and evolved (some say devolved) into a spectacle of campy ethnic stereotypes. As the float trundled past, Zulus on board decked out in blackface and afro wigs hurled doubloons, beads, spears, footballs, and rubber snakes at the outstretched hands of the surging crowd.
One by one, Blakely's guests slipped down to the street, but Blakely had no interest in flying prizes or any other aspect of the parade. "Not my kind of thing," he said.
The Mardi-Gras-at-any-price mentality is just one of many hurdles confronting Blakely as he tries to refashion the city known more for great beignets than for good business sense. Other challenges include the precarious state of the levees, floundering schools, a resurgence of gun violence in the streets, and the drifting homeward of unemployed, homeless residents. There is an intractable, impossibly diffuse, and dysfunctional local government bureaucracy; a culture of pervasive corruption that has left the city with zero Wall Street credibility; and the issue of race—or, more precisely, racial politics—which may be the biggest barrier to the city's recovery.
We get people saying 'we want you to deal with the race issue, the schools.' Every problem the city has, they suddenly want me to fix.
African Americans make up the largest percentage of residents who have not moved back to the city. The more affluent white neighborhoods along the Mississippi River that suffered mild hurricane and flood damage (the so-called Sliver by the River) are largely revived, while some predominantly African-American neighborhoods that were all but destroyed remain mostly empty. This disparity has intensified an already sharp racial divide. Blakely, who like the mayor is African American, is frequently sought out by residents looking for a champion. "We get people saying 'we want you to deal with the race issue, the schools,'" Blakely said. "Every problem the city has, they suddenly want me to fix."
But Blakely frequently reminds residents and city leaders that his job, simply put, is to generate revenue and build momentum for new housing and businesses, to get the work going, and to show the city how to keep it going when he leaves.
When it comes to specific goals, Blakely is evasive. He won't say what, precisely, he intends to accomplish before he departs, or when, for that matter, he plans to take his leave. He has suggested variously that he will leave within a year, that he will be done when the mayor says he is, or when the people say he is, or when he can't get access to the funding needed to keep his projects moving. Such responses acknowledge the perils of speaking with certainty about a future that is anything but clear. Since August 2005, when 480 billion gallons of water poured into New Orleans, covering 80 percent of the city and festering for weeks, more than 1,400 Louisiana residents have died as a result of Katrina. As of Mardi Gras 2007, much of the city that was damaged or destroyed was still in ruins. More than 200,000 New Orleansians remained displaced, and the city was operating with half its pre-Katrina budget and staff. The total cost of the disaster approached $250 billion. None of this was news to Blakely when he arrived. But after six weeks on the job, he was beginning to grasp the profound depth of the city's need. As he stepped away from the parade and brewed a fresh pot of coffee, he reflected, "It's like nothing I've ever done before."
Yet the magnitude of the mess is what appeals to him. As executive director of the New Orleans Office of Recovery Management, Blakely's goal is to amass enough funding to build large-scale housing and commercial developments that target specific high-visibility, high-impact areas. He has identified 17 zones for various degrees of redevelopment. The work ahead includes an overhaul of the devastated African-American community known as the Lower Ninth Ward, to include housing, commercial centers, schools, and community centers. Other projects range from an 80-acre regional, mixed-use residential, shopping, and hotel complex in New Orleans East, to a facelift for a modestly damaged commercial strip in Village de l'Est, the Vietnamese community on the eastern edge of the city. Smaller projects are scattered across the remainder of the incorporated area.
Initially Blakely had expected work to begin in September 2007, but by early summer he acknowledged that it was taking longer than he expected to raise the estimated $1.1 billion required to move forward. That funding includes hundreds of millions of dollars in federal disaster relief that must be wrested from competing recovery programs, as well as a sizable chunk that must be appropriated from recent city bond issues. Blakely remains confident that he can pull the money together and that the work will be underway by yearend. Once these "seed" projects are off the ground, Blakely's theory goes, they will boost public confidence and lead to private investment, which will lead to even more private investment and more development. Combine this "spread effect," as Blakely calls it, with the ongoing work of his agency, and the city will be on its way back.


A realist with an outsider's advantage, Blakely has heard the arguments that location-wise, at the bottom of the Mississippi Delta, New Orleans is a geographic mistake that should not be repeated and hence not rebuilt. His response is that the city should be rebuilt, but rebuilt better. So he walks the line between the ennui that holds sway over so much of city life, and the seriousness of his mission. "The level of stress here is so low it destroys the possibility of doing good things," he said, his bespectacled demeanor softened somewhat by drooping eyelids and a neatly trimmed salt-and-pepper moustache complementing his equally neatly trimmed hair. "I just have to keep it in mind."
One has to wonder, though, in a city where power is cultivated through long-term personal relationships, whether Blakely has any real clout. Does anyone have to listen to what he says?


Planner-speak can be as mind dulling as any specialized language, but Blakely has a knack for conveying his ideas in quick, often witty bites. During his early months in New Orleans, he has shopped aspects of his still-evolving plan to city council members and agency heads, to foundation boards and businesspeople, to college committees and community groups, as well as to the media. When explaining the importance of reducing the city's reliance on tourism, because the jobs it generates are mainly low-wage, he said, "We've got to stop selling T-shirts." When outlining his plan to woo lucrative new industries such as a biomedical center that would develop products and services for export to Latin America, he said, "It's not the beds that count, it's the biomedicine."

Blakely, 69, takes a scavenger's delight in finding new value in the city's neglected resources. He's working to boost shipping through the city's underutilized port ("We were the biggest port in the Gulf and we went to sleep on our assets."), and he's pushing for expanded cargo service at the eerily empty airport ("We're not carrying enough freight—that's where the real money is these days."). When Blakely learned that the city loses half the water it pumps each day because of massive leaks in the municipal sewer system, he saw opportunity. Why couldn't the city fix the leaks, capture that surplus and turn it into a commodity instead? And he wants shuttered housing projects repaired and reopened for 1,000 workers immediately, with a companion training program.

While singularly focused on putting the pieces in place to begin redevelopment, Blakely is not forging ahead in a vacuum. He's incorporating locally developed plans into his strategy, most notably the Unified New Orleans Plan, a $5.5 million proposal more than a year in the making that combines the work of dozens of government agencies and community groups. In the end, though, the plan he comes up with must satisfy his own vision for the city. "If you haven't built a city, you might want to listen," he challenges. "I'm not bashful about that."

"This is the biggest and most challenging reconstruction since the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake," said Gary Hack, dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Design and member of the winning redevelopment design team for the World Trade Center in New York. A big part of that challenge for Blakely is being an outsider in the consummate insider's town. He refuses to partake in the good-old-boy approach, preferring to build his own networks in his own way. He golfs, plays tennis, bikes, and is a vegetarian, retaining the athletic physique of the erstwhile college quarterback who captained his UC Riverside team to an undefeated season (he was named Athlete of the Year in 1959 and later inducted into the university's Hall of Fame).


A wealthy man by virtue of a sustainable living community he helped develop in Southern California, Blakely said he initially refused the $150,000 annual salary for the New Orleans job, but Nagin insisted. "He wanted to hold me accountable," Blakely said. "He felt that by paying me I would feel more bound to the city."

Rule number one in the Blakely book of leadership—if such a thing existed—might be Act like you're the boss. Blakely refers to himself as New Orleans's renewal "coach" and asked a city council member who was formerly with the New Orleans Saints NFL team to arrange a photo op with the team during summer training. The message: "I'm here rebuilding the city and here rebuilding the team." During a January press conference, he and his 17-member staff appeared in matching purple polo shirts embellished with gold fleurs de lis (the logo of the New Orleans Saints football team).

For New Orleans, Blakely's methods are unprecedented. For Blakely, it's a familiar role, one that enables him to meld erudition and the real-world chops he's honed for years. While at Berkeley, he worked long and steadily in the redevelopment of Oakland and aided in the city's recovery from the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 and the Oakland Hills firestorm of 1991.

One has to wonder, though, in a city where power is cultivated through long-term personal relationships, whether Blakely has any real clout. Does anyone have to listen to what he says? The short answer is no, and Blakely is the first to acknowledge it. "It's like a doctor," he reasons. "You've got your patients. You hope they'll do the right thing. If they don't, there's nothing you can do about it."

The experience that probably best prepared Blakely for the sort of power-leveraging he needs in New Orleans was his tenure, post 9/11, on a citizen's advocacy panel called the Civic Alliance to Rebuild Downtown New York. As a co-chair, Blakely had a hand in nearly all the alliance's accomplishments, said Robert D. Yaro, chair of the alliance and president of the area's Regional Plan Association. A week after the terrorist attacks, when government agencies were swamped with disaster recovery, Yaro, Blakely and several others devised a $5 billion downtown transportation proposal that is now under construction. Later, Blakely took a lead role in quashing a developer's plan to site a suburban-style shopping mall at Ground Zero, helping to persuade the Port Authority to buy out the lease for $400 million. And Blakely helped secure and dole out millions of dollars in community redevelopment funds in the area. "Ed is the consummate professional," Yaro said. "He brings an authority and integrity to the process that is above the fray. We needed that in New York after 9/11, and New Orleans needs rogram."

When Blakely arrived in New Orleans in January, his City Hall office consisted of an empty, fluorescent-lit room furnished solely with 17 straight-backed chairs, one for each member of his staff. No matter. He didn't spend much time there anyway. He led neighborhood bicycle rides to meet with residents and community groups and seek input for his plan. He weighed in on renewal at every opportunity, openly criticizing programs that didn't work.

Regarding state and federal aid, he told business leaders, "We are … not going to kiss anybody's ring—or any other part of the anatomy," and said he would help the city generate investments from private sources. When a television reporter asked Blakely if he would incorporate green space into redevelopment projects to guard against future flooding, he replied: "What I'd like to see … is spaces that produce green dollars. … It's a lot better to have a small factory knocking down a surge than a blade of grass." In Blakely's first meeting with the state-run Louisiana Recovery Authority, when the body wavered over granting his request for control of a $117 million infrastructure fund, his response was unequivocal. "If I don't have it, I go home," he said. The agency acquiesced.

At times Blakely's impatience crosses the line into snobbery, particularly when his verbal barbs veer away from the politics of the city to its people. He noted that the city pumped $100 million into this year's Mardi Gras while blighted homes and piles of debris still dominated neighborhoods. He concedes that trying to stop Mardi Gras "would be foolish," because "there's something too deeply ingrained in the culture not to spend the money. But would I invest a lot of time and money in it? No."

But by assuming responsibility rather than dodging blame or public outcry over his perceived insults, Blakely has won the support of city leaders as he sells them on the transformative effect a good urban plan can have on wideranging city woes. For New Orleans he devised a five-point recovery strategy that reads more like a wishful cure-all: Continue the healing and consultation; improve safety and security in all communities; develop a more diverse and robust economy; build an infrastructure for the 21st and 22nd centuries; and establish a smart and sustainable settlement pattern. Blakely sees these points more as guiding principles than concrete goals—a way of trying to shape and manage the fast-moving, scattershot approach that had been driving city development. "This is a train," he said. "We're going to be riding on the side of it, but there are things we can do from here to improve it."

Of course, none of the rebuilding will make any difference if the levees fail. Blakely is as aware of this reality as anyone. "If we have even a small breach on those dikes," Blakely said, "it's over." He is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on elevation plans and other ways urban design can increase the safety of New Orleans residents. In the short term, he wants to eliminate the "low house/ high house" phenomenon popping up around town. "You've got one house up here, another down low," he said, gesturing. "As soon as the surge comes, the low house just knocks over the high one. It's like a bowling alley." But, he said, overall redevelopment in New Orleans can't wait for an unassailable levee safety guarantee. "If I take all that stuff into consideration I wind up doing nothing," he said. "I don't have time for that."
Sara Catania is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles who specializes in reporting on criminal and social justice.

Friday, September 21, 2007

National and City Quality of Life Rankings Published in October 2007 Reader's Digest

Today, I won a "silver medal" in the contest for whose writing does yahoo news view as popular. The "Gold Medal" (see below) does look kind of interesting but in my biased opinion, the world quality of life rankings is the most interesting story.

To be serious for just one second, what I think we did right in this October 2007 Reader's Digest piece is to incorporate data on economic opportunities, local pollution levels, and global "good environmental" citizen indicators and create a ranking index based on all of these criteria. While people may quibble about our index weights, this approach builds on Sen's work on the Human Development Indicators report. A city or nation that scores high on our index offers economic opportunities, high environmental quality of life and one doesn't have to feel guilty that your lifestyle is exacerbating global public challenges such as climate change via producing more greenhouse gases.


Most Emailed News

1. Glamorous politician wants law to allow 7-year itch

Reuters - Fri Sep 21, 4:00 AM ET
Sent 7,334 times
BERLIN (Reuters) - Bavaria's most glamorous politician -- a flame-haired motorcyclist who helped bring down state premier Edmund Stoiber -- has shocked the Catholic state in Germany by suggesting marriage should last just 7 years.

2. Can't beat quality of life in Scandinavia, says world ranking

AFP - Thu Sep 20, 11:18 AM ET
Sent 6,519 times
PARIS (AFP) - Nordic countries take the greatest care of their environment and their people, according to a ranking published on Thursday by the publication Reader's Digest.

Reader's Digest Piece that Makes Yahoo's Most Popular News

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Zoning in Mexico City

This is an interesting case study related to the recent literature in urban economics on how zoning laws shape land use patterns. In Mexico City, a developer wants to build a huge skycraper near a major park. He has bought the land up cheaply and now wants to build a "Green" building. The land he bought up was zoned for commercial buildings under 5 stories tall. Since it was zoned for this activity, he was able to buy this land cheap. His profits equal = price per apartment unit * Units - cost of land - cost of construction - cost of lobbying for the zoning change.

This developer must have reasoned that he is "too big to fail" and that knowing that he has powerful friends in government that he would be able to change the zoning of this land parcel.

If this case study generalizes, then do zoning rules bind? Or do they just affect the distribution of income? By binding, I mean does land get allocated to its highest value use? For example, suppose that in New York City a large parcel of land near Central Park is zoned solely for auto repair shops. This would be a crazy allocation of land. The Coase Theorem would say that a Don Trump should buy the land from the auto shop and build a skyscraper once he has received zoning approval. It is true that Trump's new building might impede the view of the park for other pre-existing skyscrappers. The Coase theorem would say that owners in those apartments may need to be compensated but ignoring these external costs, my point is that it can be inefficient for zoning boards to stick to their past rulings ignoring market signals about alternative uses of land that past laws have consigned to categories such as "commericial" that may not be the best use of the land.



September 20, 2007
Mexico City Journal
A Tower Fight, but Just What Borough Is This?
By ELISABETH MALKIN

MEXICO CITY, Sept. 19 — An influential developer plans an enormous skyscraper at the edge of the city’s giant central park. A celebrity architect is commissioned, and the ambitious mayor unveils the proposal at city hall.

Instantly, the prospective tower’s largely genteel neighbors rise up in arms. They vow to tie the plan up in lawsuits and procedural reviews. There is also a reclusive investor, a much-questioned relationship between the mayor and the developer and a building on the site that, though it has long been ignored, preservationists now want saved.

It could be New York.

But this is Mexico City, and the fight over what would be Latin America’s tallest skyscraper — at 300 meters, or 984 feet — takes on a tinge of high drama.

The developers and their allies in city hall say the tower will catapult Mexico City into the ranks of the world’s great cities, alongside emergent Asian capitals where skyscrapers grow ever taller. For Mexico City to compete globally, “we will need dozens of projects like this,” said Jorge Gamboa de Buen, the chief executive of the project’s developer, Grupo Danhos. “The city will have to learn to deal with the issue of these projects.”

Opponents say the tower is simply illegal. “They are twisting the law around like a pretzel to get their objectives through,” said Denise Dresser, an academic and commentator who is helping organize opponents. She said the city’s support for the tower recalled the days when authoritarian governments built big public works projects whether anybody wanted them or not.

The leftist mayor, Marcelo Ebrard, a likely presidential candidate in 2012, is determined to make his mark on the city.

“No other city in Latin America will have a tower of this size now,” Mr. Ebrard said when he presented the project with Mr. Gamboa de Buen in late July. “We’re ahead of everybody else.”

Mr. Ebrard’s chief political opponent on the project is a 28-year-old conservative, Gabriela Cuevas, the elected official in charge of the delegation (similar to a borough) where the site lies. The project’s supporters argue that she has jumped on the issue to further her career.

“It’s not politics to want to apply the law,” Ms. Cuevas said. “It’s a matter of what Mexico you believe in.”

The legal core of the debate is the site’s zoning, which is now limited to commercial buildings of just five stories. The site cost Danhos just $18 million, far less than if zoned for a high-rise.

The developers need a change in zoning, which is up to the city legislature, dominated by Mr. Ebrard’s party. “They bought the land cheap, and now they want the legislature to modify it just for them,” Ms. Cuevas said.

The 70-story tower would loom over the edge of Chapultepec Forest, the vast park that dates to before the Spanish Conquest. It will be called the Bicentennial Tower — ready, Danhos executives hope, by 2010, when Mexico celebrates 200 years of independence from Spain.

Bypassing Mexico’s own well-known architects, Danhos sought out a global star, the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. Alluding to Mexico’s pre-Columbian past, Mr. Koolhaas’s design joins two pyramidal forms. One editorial cartoonist redrew the design as a coffin holding the remains of the city’s urban plan.

Danhos will split the $600 million investment with an investment company owned by the Spanish billionaire Amancio Ortega, the press-shy founder of the Zara clothing chain and the eighth-richest man in the world, according to Forbes.

Although there are skyscrapers nearby, the site is surrounded by a middle-class neighborhood of low-rise houses, offices and stores. Several blocks away, though, lies one of the wealthiest neighborhoods, where high walls shield expansive houses.

The tower would also abut the intersection of two main traffic arteries, one of the city’s worst bottlenecks. With the cars it would bring, opponents argue, the city should find it impossible to approve the environmental and urban impact studies.

If all this sounds like a city with no real plan, it is. Mexico City is pocked with high-rises hulking over residential streets. And 15 years of unchecked development in the western suburbs has created a mini-city of towers, Santa Fe, without proper roads or public transportation leading to it.

Opponents have seized on the mess in Santa Fe to bolster their case against the mayor and Mr. Gamboa de Buen, who worked together as city officials to launch Santa Fe. Mr. Gamboa de Buen blames succeeding mayors for ignoring the area.

The tower would be built according to strict international environmental and earthquake standards, using little water and energy. And Danhos promises underpasses and other improvements to deal with the traffic.

For now the project has been slowed by legal wrangling over the building currently on the site, an example of mid-20th-century functionalist architecture designed by a Russian émigré, Vladimir Kaspé. The National Fine Arts Institute rushed through an upgrade of the building’s protected status last month.

The opposition says it is growing, hiring a well-known environmental lawyer, adding celebrities and enlisting support from people in less privileged areas.

“It’s not like other countries here,” said Mike Rios, a retired teacher who has fought new construction in his working-class neighborhood. “In Japan, when it’s ecological, they can’t touch it. Here, it’s just the opposite.”

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A New Bill of Rights?

The Internet is filled with great stuff. It amazes me that anyone gets any work done with all of this posted excitement. While Google Scholar is a productive tool for finding papers I should read before I write a paper, most of the Internet is just plain old fun. The digital divide may have a positive effect on productivity by allowing people to focus on what they are supposed to be doing!

Here is a quote from some dude that I found really funny;

Randy R:
"We have a god-given right to be fat, and no liberal is going to force me to be healthy!" 6.19.2007 1:10am

Quoted Here

I guess this guy would not be a big fan of benevolent paternalism and potato chip taxes or at least the "self" who wrote this quote. How do we respect each others differences when one's choices have social negative consequences? If this guy gets too fat and goes on DI, my taxes go up to pay for him. His choices become my problem. Do we vote this guy off of our "island" like on Survivor? Or do you try to incentivize him to act "better"?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Here Comes the Sun

I wonder what John, Paul, George and Ringo would think of this NYT editorial today? It is a little bit too deep for me. My son has a book about the field of astronomy. There is a section on a potential manned flight to another solar system. The author says that people would have to board the space craft knowing that they would never arrive at the final destination. Instead, the space travelers would pair off and have children and their children's children's children's .... would eventually land at the destination. This book made me wonder how the laws in this new society would be enforced but this New York Times editiorial suggests that it is almost time to book a flight to this distance solar system.


September 17, 2007
Editorial
There Goes the Sun

We know, when we stop to think about it, that the Earth is in fact a planet of rock and water, with an existence quite separate from our own. But we don’t believe it in our bones. Perhaps the best proof is the discovery of a planet orbiting a star called V 391 Pegasi, some 4,500 light years from us.

That planet appears to have survived the transformation of its sun into a red giant. That is the very fate predicted for our own Sun some five billion years from now, when it will swell to a size that engulfs the orbits of Mercury and Venus. But to suggest that Earth might survive the Sun’s senescence is to say something about this lump of rock we live on, not our species. And yet we have trouble reading it that way.

Most of us have come to terms with the notion that the Sun will swell catastrophically — some day. Five billion years is roughly 25,000 times longer than Homo sapiens have lived.

Still, once upon a time, even to talk about that distant catastrophe was to assume that it would somehow be a human event. You may remember learning about Earth’s eventual fate with a sinking feeling.

The grimmer realization of recent decades — a time of looming man-made cataclysms — is that we do not live in geological or astronomical time. We live in ethical and cultural time, that is, human time. The sensible questions are how to live that time to the fullest and how to stave off a premature ending.

Do People Fear Heat Waves Too Little?

A sociologist at NYU wrote a whole book on the Chicago Heat Wave in the 1990s that killed dozens. As I recall, most of the victims were poor and black. Does the popular media devote more attention to shocks that affect middle class whites? Climate change will increase the number of heat waves --- so it is very interesting to explore how society copes and adapts to this expected trend. My colleague Ann Carlson has written a paper that I plan to read.

I can't read it yet because I'm devoting my recent life to downloading the PSID into a stata panel format that I can actually work with. The good news is that it is easy to download each wave of the data. A wave might be the 1997 or 2005 cross-section. The problem is that different variables mean different things in different waves! I ask for consistency in this life. If E2027 is "marital status" in the 2005 wave, then E2027 could be "have you had a sex change" in the 1997 wave. This is making me nuts!



Heat Waves, Global Warming & Mitigation

ANN E. CARLSON
University of California, Los Angeles - School of Law

UCLA School of Law Research Paper No. 07-20
Issues in Legal Scholarship, No. 7, 2007

Abstract:
Why do heat waves, which annually cause far more death, on average,
than any other natural disaster, provoke little public reaction? Heat
waves will become more common place and heat wave deaths more
frequent as temperatures increase from climate change. Models predict
that annual heat wave deaths in the U.S. by 2050 will easily surpass
the death toll from Hurricane Katrina. This Article analyzes
extensive data about heat waves, evaluates why heat waves seem not to
raise widespread public concern and suggests that mechanisms already
exist - though widely ignored - to mitigate the worst effects of
excess heat. These mechanisms include careful emergency planning, the
provision of air conditioning availability and funding, and larger
structural changes in the delivery of electricity, energy efficiency
and land use planning. Yet the nature of the victims of heat waves
combined with cognitive mechanisms that cause individuals to
systematically underestimate risk from heat waves and the fact that
heat waves cause little property damage all contribute to a failure
by many jurisdictions to adopt policies and programs that can
mitigate heat wave deaths.


Ann Carlson's Paper

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Absorbing Growth Without Browning the City or Region

Today's Los Angeles Times has an interesting piece focused on the surprise that Southern California has "surplus" water despite the fact that the region keeps growing. While more people and jobs are now located in this paradise, water consumption per-capita has been falling faster than the scale of growth has increased. The net effect is that aggregate demand has declined.

The general point here is that aggregate scale effects (i.e growth) does not have to degrade the environment if the per-capita footprint declines.

Joel Schwartz and I make a similar point in the case of vehicle emissions. Here is a preliminary draft of a paper that will soon appear in the Journal of Urban Economics.
www.owlnet.rice.edu/~econ461/papers/UrbanAirPollution.pdf

We document that despite growth in miles driven, aggregate emissions have sharply declined because emissions per mile have sharply declined.

http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-water15sep15,1,420790.story?coll=la-headlines-california&ctrack=2&cset=true
From the Los Angeles Times

Soaking up lessons of last drought

It's been dry, and one city is mandating conservation, but water officials have spent years building reserves.

By Hector Becerra
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

September 15, 2007

Watering the lawn under the moonlight. The specter of "water police."

If the current water shortage is beginning to sound a lot like the great drought of 1990-91, grab a glass of water and chill.

Although Long Beach is beginning mandatory water restrictions and other communities are expected to join suit, the Southland's water supply is in significantly better shape than it was 17 years ago.

Officials say they learned from that drought and spent the ensuing years building up water reserve capacity. Despite the record dry conditions, the Metropolitan Water District has 14 times more reservoir and groundwater storage than it did in 1991, with many local reservoirs flush with water. This is giving the region a buffer against a reduction in supplies from Northern California and the Colorado River.

Moreover, the region has learned to conserve in dramatic fashion.

In 1991, the average household used 210 gallons of water a day. Today, thanks to low-flow toilets, new shower heads and changes in behavior, that number has declined to about 180 gallons, according to water officials.

In a sign that the conservation message is sinking in, the Metropolitan Water District said it delivers the same amount of water -- 2.1 million acre feet a year -- to Southern California now as it did in 1990. That's despite having 3 million more customers.

Water officials warn that more restrictions -- and possibly higher rates -- are on the way in the coming months. But they said this was not yet a crisis.

In fact, water officials and weather experts believe that further restrictions might result in enough savings to deal with the continued dryness and a recent court ruling that could yield a 30% reduction in water deliveries from Northern California.

Moreover, they argue that mandatory water reduction is important because Southern Californians need to learn how to do more with less as the region's population grows and water supplies remain finite.

"Never have so many people had water so cheap, so clean and so uninterrupted as Southern California has for the last 50 years," said Bill Patzert, a climatologist for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge. "We just need to use water more rationally."

The drought of 1990-91 bore some similarities to today. There were record dry conditions that affected not just Southern California but the two areas where the region gets much of its imported water: the Colorado River and Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

In response, the state cut water deliveries to the region -- only the second time in history that had happened.

Southern California was jolted. Restrictions on water use were imposed, prompting complaints from both residents and farmers. At the height of the drought, water deliveries to Southern California were reduced by half. Lawns shriveled and turned brown.

But there are also major differences between 1990-91 and today. Back then, water levels at state reservoirs were so low they were considered to be "essentially empty" -- creating a severe shortage of water for customers.

Today, the water supply is much more plentiful thanks to lessons learned from the drought.

"It taught us a lot," said Debra Man, chief operating officer and assistant general manager for the Metropolitan Water District, which delivers water to most of Southern California. "We learned that we had to really diversify our water resources. We had to be prepared for some of the worst-case drought events."

More than $3 billion has been spent on increased water storage above and below ground. In 1999, water importers built the 260-million-gallon Diamond Valley Lake in Riverside County. Also, before 1990, the MWD did not focus on groundwater storage. That changed because of the drought, and now aquifers are carefully managed.

The MWD had only 225,000 acre-feet stored in 1990. Today, the district has 2.7 million acre-feet in storage. An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons, enough to cover an acre 1 foot deep or supply two households for a year.

Also over the last decade, officials moved to diversify the water supply. The district signed an agreement with an agency in the San Joaquin Valley to hold 350,000 acre-feet of MWD water from the State Water Project, which delivers water from Northern California to much of the Southland. The district has since signed agreements with other farming areas and desert water districts outside of Southern California to store an additional 700,000 acre-feet.

Man said a goal of the MWD is to reduce its reliance on water from the Colorado River and the State Water Project from 50% of the district's supplies to 26% by 2025.

Despite these improvements, regional water officials said they expect more mandatory water rationing because of the current drought and water problems. Long Beach took the first step Thursday, imposing rules on when residents can water lawns and how restaurants serve water to customers.

Southern California is seeing its driest year on record. In addition, the region could see as much as 30% of its water supply cut because of a federal judge's ruling last month.

U.S. District Judge Oliver W. Wanger ordered protective measures for a tiny endangered fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Delta smelt grow to about 3 inches and live about a year. A so-called indicator species that is a harbinger of ecological conditions in the delta, the smelt were declared threatened in 1993.

Long Beach officials said Friday that the city expects a water shortage and that it needs its residents to conserve more. Also, they said they hoped to permanently change how residents use water.

"This is a proactive step, and we're hoping other cities follow," said Kevin Wattier, general manager of the Long Beach Water Department. "Let's be prudent and tighten our belt as much as we can."

Over the years, more people have relied on devices such as low-flow toilets and shower heads, and municipal codes have been enacted to require new buildings to carry these devices. More water is recycled, and there has been a push for people to landscape with plants that do not require as much water.

But a lot more has to be done, experts say. Over the next half-century, according to a recent state projection, California's population will grow by nearly 75% to about 60 million people. And the water supply is not going to keep up, officials said.

The MWD is having to dip into its reserves because of the drought conditions, a concern because those are designed to be saved for an emergency, such as a major earthquake.

And though the region has depended on water from the north, there have been signs over the years that that reliance needs to be eased.

In 2003, the MWD lost its exclusive rights to surplus water from the Colorado River because Arizona and Nevada began to get their full share. MWD lost half of its water from the river when that happened.

"We're living in a desert," said Patzert. "We should be using less water."

hector.becerra@latimes.com

Friday, September 14, 2007

Extra Reading for those with spare time

How many minutes a day do academic economists read? I posit that we talk more than we read.

Permit me to add to your long list of "unread" materials that you earnestly mean to read at some point.

1. Kahn's Readers Digest Debut

2. http://www.aeaweb.org/articles/issue_detail.php?journal=AER&volume=97&issue=4&issue_date=September%202007


3. Journal of Environmental Economics and Management
Volume 54/2, published September, 2007

Cover 2/Editorial Board
p. IFC
Full text via ScienceDirect

Do greens drive Hummers or hybrids? Environmental ideology as a determinant of consumer choice
Kahn M.E., p. 129
Full text via ScienceDirect

Innovation without magic bullets: Stock pollution and R&D sequences
Goeschl T. and Perino G., p. 146
Full text via ScienceDirect

Culture and public goods: The case of religion and the voluntary provision of environmental quality
Owen A.L. and Videras J.R., p. 162
Full text via ScienceDirect

Water demand under alternative price structures
Olmstead S.M., Michael Hanemann W. and Stavins R.N., p. 181
Full text via ScienceDirect

Land use regulation and the provision of open space in suburban residential subdivisions
Lichtenberg E., Tra C. and Hardie I., p. 199
Full text via ScienceDirect

Groundwater use under incomplete information
Saak A.E. and Peterson J.M., p. 214
Full text via ScienceDirect

North-South trade and industry-specific pollutants
Michida E. and Nishikimi K., p. 229
Full text via ScienceDirect

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A Day in the Life of a Los Angeles Economist

At 11am Pacific time on thursday 9/13, I'll participate in an hour long discussion on Green Cities on Bloomberg radio. I hope that somebody will listening! If you have a low value of time, you can listen in at this
Radio Station.

I was told that Eddie Lazear and Hal Varian have been two recent guests so I will be dragging down the average quality here as usual. Radio is the right medium for me. People like to hear my speaking voice and listeners can't see my eyebrows and hairless scalp.

On thursday night, I'll be in downtown Los Angeles at the Wired Nextfest sposored by Hitachi. I hope to see some cool futuristic exhibits like a robot economist who always makes sense or a car that runs on salt water and then emits cotton candy.

Perhaps it is time for school to start soon? The quarter does begin in two
weeks.

Would Higher Gasoline Prices Help Us Lose Weight?

In the spring of 2006, I came close to signing on as a faculty member of Washington University at St. Louis. Thus, I could have been a member of this student's PHD committee. So, permit me to offer him some comments.

His causal story is pretty clear. If gas prices were $5 a gallon, we would walk to the local store and walk to the bus or metro stop rather than driving everywhere. Extra exercise would burn more calories and we would get thin.

Charles Courtemanche estimates an enormous effect. If this was reported correctly, an increase in U.S gas prices to equal Italy's would help us to shrink by 30% in weight!

I have some questions for Charles;

1. Given that most poor people don't have cars and that poor people are gaining the most weight, how does his theory explain this fact?

2. Can he test for heterogeneous treatment effects? For example, do young people (age 20-30) lose the most weight when the price of gasoline goes up?

3. Glaeser, Shapiro and Cutler have argued that "easier access" to calories such as 7-11 stores and french fries is why we are gaining weight. They argue that the time price of accessing such tasty fattening calories has fallen over time. One complementary story that would meld Charles' work with the Glaeser et. al. work is that people make fewer "fun" trips to fast food stops when the price of gas is higher. Is this correct?

weight gain = intake - calories burned off

my point is that the rising price of gas could reduce intake as well as increase the burn off and I'd like to see both quantified.

4. Is Charles sure that people exercise more when the price of gasoline is higher? This would require time diaries and micro data to test this interesting claim?

5. Has he explored cross-country data; consider a simple regression of;

BMI in nation j = constant + b1*% smoke + b2*Price of gasoline + U

is b2<0?

6. To Charles' credit, this is a nice question and not all young economists have their work written up in Yahoo!


Higher gasoline price seen trimming down Americans

Tue Sep 11, 4:43 PM ET

Higher U.S. gasoline prices may slim more than just wallets, according to a new study from Washington University in St. Louis.

Entitled "A Silver Lining? The Connection between Gas Prices and Obesity," the study found that an additional $1 per gallon in real gasoline prices would reduce U.S. obesity by 15 percent after five years.

The report, written by Charles Courtemanche for his doctoral dissertation in health economics, found that the 13 percent rise in obesity between 1979 and 2004 can be attributed to falling pump prices.

Gasoline hit a low of less than $1.50 per gallon in 2000 before moving back to a record high of $3.22 in May 2007.

Higher gasoline prices can reduce obesity by leading people to walk or cycle instead of drive and eat leaner at home instead of rich food at restaurants.

Courtemanche said he became interested in the link after rising gasoline prices made him think about eschewing his car for public transport.

"I was pumping gas one day, thinking with gas prices so high I may have to take the Metro," he said, referring to the public transportation system serving the St. Louis area.

Courtemanche said he figured he would get an extra 30 minutes of exercise per day by walking to and from the Metro station.

Obesity, defined as having a body mass index greater than 30, has been considered to factor in as many as 112,000 deaths annually.

U.S. health costs related to obesity are estimated at $117 billion per year as studies sponsored by the U.S. government have linked it with high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Would Dick Cheney Be an Effective Mayor of Santa Cruz, CA?

I made my Public Radio debut today. I participated in an interesting hour long program exploring why Eugene, Oregon is one of the Greenest Cities in the United States and also exploring what Santa Cruz, CA is doing right in terms of environmental sustainability. I was impressed by the other people on the panel.

If you'd like to listen to the whole thing. You can find it here listed under September 11th;

http://www.kusp.org/shows/totb.html

Talk of the Bay - Tuesday, September 11
KUSP’s Emily Quirk asks how green a city can be. Santa Cruz is among cities and counties across the country with so-called green building programs. On this program officials in Santa Cruz and other cities explain these policies and how they could help work against global warming.

I tried to make some smart points and to highlight some unintended consequences of "smart growth" regulation in terms of how it affects housing supply. One official from Santa Cruz said that all new buildings in Santa Cruz must be "green buildings".
I asked him how much does this raise the cost of new construction and this in turn reduces housing affordability in this area. All economists would agree that if we want to encourage residential energy efficiency you should also incentive incumbent residents to also increase their energy efficiency since the bulk of durable homes are not new homes.

If you manage to listen to the whole interview, you will hear me crack a couple of jokes with one good one focused on my optimism that Dick Cheney would be a "green mayor" if he was elected Santa Cruz's mayor. My point is that if he wanted to be re-elected then he would have an incentive to recognize that his environmentalist voter base would force him (perhaps against his own preferences) to back green policies or face being thrown out of office. Monitoring and disciplining politicians is an important way to allign incentives of politicians and distracted voters.

The radio stations suggested that I will be invited back for a sequel!!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Apartment Owners as a Forgotten Interest Group with An Incentive to Fight for Greener Chinese Cities

Gary Becker has recently blogged about the environmental causes and consequences of China's growth. Becker and Posner have been thinking about what coalition of interest groups could work together to encourage China's leaders to mitigate their economy's emissions. Posner has focused on international Coasian forces such that "downwind" victim nations make side-payments to China to encourage regulatory adoption.

Permit me to enter a new horse in this race. Siqi Zheng and I have a paper that will be published soon in the Journal of Urban Economics. In case you haven't read it yet,

2007-10 Land and Residential Property Markets in a Booming Economy: New Evidence from Beijing a free copy is available here:

http://www.anderson.ucla.edu/x17603.xml

We document that housing towers located in the polluted parts of Beijing (south of the Central Business District) sell for a large price discount. The owners of such units have an incentive to lobby for government programs that will reduce particulates because such air quality gains will help to raise the value of their apartment units (see the work of Ken Chay and Michael Greenstone based on USA data).

As the number of upper middle class urbanites in China grows, condo ownership will rise and this could be an interest group that lobbies (out of self interest) for externality mitigation. Now you might counter that those who own pieces of housing towers in the nice parts of cities (such as to the North of the CBD in Beijing) will have an incentive to lobby for the status quo so that their quasi-rents from having access to rare clean air will remain in place (see the work of Sieg et. al in the International Economic Review in 2004). But, this correct logic would require some subtle general equilibrium thinking on the part of home owners in the nice part of town. They would need to solve free-rider problems and calculate how much their condo values would fall if air quality improved.

So my policy solution would be to give the Chinese leaders the rights to land randomly distributed across major cities. This would make them a residual claimant on improving quality of life and the negative externality would vanish!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Close to the World Trade Center Site: A "Consumer City" Renaissance

This article provides an interesting case study of urban renewal. After 9/11, I had thought that Wall Street job sprawl would accelerate due to the perception that downtown Manhattan would experience more attacks. I had thought that risk averse yuppies wouldn't want to live near a risky place and would want to move to the safe suburbs. This article highlights how I was wrong. It is an interesting bayesian updating issue how long did it take for people to feel safe again.

For a look at Chicago data on this subject (based on real estate prices near terrorist target threats see http://ksghome.harvard.edu/~aabadie/research.html

This New York Times article makes one ugly mistake. It states;

"The rebound is a testament to the healing power of billions of dollars in government aid, like the federal Liberty Bond program, which provided more than $6 billion in tax-exempt financing for reconstruction downtown, as well as various rent and wage subsidies from redevelopment agencies."

Now how does Patrick McGeehan know this? Is he serious about the counter-factual that this part of New York City would not have rebounded if the feds hadn't subsidized reconstruction? Perhaps there would have been a "first mover" problem, but I"m optimistic that some risk loving Don Trump wannabe would have stepped in and started building new housing if he thought that people thought that terrorism risk had receeded due to good work by Homeland Security. The key parameter in determining the health of this community is the subjective risk perception that another deadly attack will occur there. Does Patrick M. really believe that the government bonds mitigated this risk?



September 9, 2007
Near Ground Zero, a Mixed-Use Revival
By PATRICK McGEEHAN
Six years ago, in the aftershock of the terrorist attack that reduced the World Trade Center to a smoldering pile, local officials wondered whether people would want to live or work around the financial district again.
Today, as new residents fill converted office buildings and jam the raucous block party that erupts nightly on Stone Street, the more likely curiosity about Lower Manhattan is: Where did all these people come from, and how can they afford to live here?
Despite the slow pace of reconstruction at ground zero, the area below Chambers Street is humming with activity, much of it designed to appeal to the well-heeled professionals who are transforming the neighborhood. Already, it has added hundreds of condominium units and hotel rooms, a thriving restaurant row, a private school charging $27,000 a year, a free wireless Internet service, a BMW dealership and an Hermès boutique.
A Tiffany & Company jewelry store is coming soon, and plans are in place for the arrival of grocery stores, the type of business that the area has long lacked.
“There were very few who would have predicted that Lower Manhattan would have rebounded as quickly as it has, despite all of the false starts and delays and emotional overlays,” said Carl Weisbrod, president of Trinity Real Estate and former president of the Alliance for Downtown New York. “There were few people who were quite that optimistic.”
The rebound is a testament to the healing power of billions of dollars in government aid, like the federal Liberty Bond program, which provided more than $6 billion in tax-exempt financing for reconstruction downtown, as well as various rent and wage subsidies from redevelopment agencies.
Optimism abounds now among developers and merchants, who are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into real estate along the narrow streets of Lower Manhattan. They are counting on the district, in its next incarnation, to be not just a collection of office towers and trading floors, but also a self-sustaining residential neighborhood that will appeal to families.
Even accounting for the exodus of residents immediately after 9/11, the population of Lower Manhattan has increased by more than 10,000 in the last six years, according to census data. To accommodate new residents, more than 6,000 apartments have been created in the last four years, through conversions or construction, and an additional 5,000 are planned, according to the Downtown Alliance.
Office space, now in short supply, is renting for more than it did before 9/11. Over the next several years, around 14 million square feet of commercial space is scheduled to be built, replacing the offices and stores destroyed on 9/11, according to data compiled by Cushman & Wakefield, a large real estate brokerage.
The economic rebound is indisputable, but it has left some downtown merchants with mixed feelings.
Karena Nigale has found the new financial district to be more attractive as a place to run a business, but less affordable as a place to live. Since 9/11, she has opened two hair salons — each called KK Salon — within a few blocks of the New York Stock Exchange.
Ms. Nigale started out catering to investment bankers and traders with $25 shaves and $40 haircuts. But she has expanded to serve a broader clientele, staying open on Saturdays to serve residents of the area.
“Before, this neighborhood was operating from 8 in the morning until 5 o’clock in the afternoon,” and on weekdays only, Ms. Nigale said. She expected her business would soon become a seven-day-a-week operation.
Ms. Nigale lived above her first salon until the din from the carousers on Stone Street below her windows, along with a rent increase of more than 30 percent, drove her out. Unable to afford a suitable apartment in the sizzling downtown market, Ms. Nigale and her 11-year-old daughter decamped to the Jersey City riverfront about a year ago.
“I need two bedrooms, and there’s nothing for less than $4,000 a month around here,” Ms. Nigale said, speaking from the larger salon she opened on Maiden Lane last year. A place to park would cost at least an additional $400 a month, she said.
Her business, though, is thriving. Her young customers all have “big watches, expensive handbags,” and no qualms about the cost of her services, she said.
Indeed, the Downtown Alliance, the neighborhood’s business improvement district, estimates that the median annual income among the households in the financial district is $165,000, which is about triple the figure for Manhattan as a whole.
While salons and grocers may be welcome in the neighborhood, economic development officials argue that maintaining downtown’s position as a global corporate center is important for the city and even the nation.
Nearly 20 million square feet of office space has been lost since 9/11, from the destruction of the World Trade Center, the damage to the Deutsche Bank building and the conversion of older office buildings to residential use. Still, said William Bernstein, the acting president of the Downtown Alliance, “The financial industries will always be the backbone of Lower Manhattan’s economy.”
A recent sign that downtown’s traditional role remains viable is the decision this summer by JPMorgan Chase & Company to build a headquarters for its investment bank on the site of the ruined Deutsche Bank building. The Chase building will stand just a few blocks from where Goldman Sachs is building a 2.1-million-square-foot tower. Both are within a block of ground zero.
And 7 World Trade Center, which contains 1.7 million square feet of space, is open and more than half leased. The other buildings planned at ground zero would add 12 million square feet of office space in coming years.
Office rents downtown are 10 percent higher, at $45 a square foot, than six years ago, and the vacancy rate has dropped below 7 percent, according to data from Cushman & Wakefield.
Business owners are finding other uses for some older office buildings besides turning them into condos. Across Broad Street from the stock exchange, a former Bank of America building has been transformed into the Claremont Preparatory School.
Starting its third year, the school has several hundred students from prekindergarten through eighth grade, said Michael C. Koffler, the chief executive of MetSchools, the operator of Claremont Prep.
About 40 percent of them live downtown, and he expects that number to grow as more apartments become available and the neighborhood gains more stores like a Gristede’s supermarket planned on Maiden Lane and a Whole Foods proposed for nearby TriBeCa.
“You see children in baby carriages all the time,” Mr. Koffler said. “You see people walking dogs. There will be many more apartments with three bedrooms, meaning the development community is acknowledging that this will be a community of families.”
For some, the neighborhood’s growing pains have been a frustrating disruption.
Tazz Latifi’s pet supply shop, Petropolis, sits three blocks south of ground zero in the street-level space of an older apartment building. Since she opened in March 2006, her business has had to weather the relentless reconstruction of the surrounding blocks, Ms. Latifi said.
Her first unpleasant surprise came last year, when the building was emptied for a conversion to luxury condominiums. Since then, she said, Con Edison has dug up the street outside her shop three times. In recent weeks, some of the local streets have been closed because of last month’s fire at the Deutsche Bank building, in which two firefighters died.
“It’s frustrating for the residents here,” said Ms. Latifi, 38. “I have so many customers that have moved because of the noise and the air quality.”
Peter Poulakakos has had a front-row view of the less tangible changes through the windows of Ulysses’ pub on Stone Street and the six other food-service businesses he and his partners operate nearby. Talking over a standing-room-only crowd on a Thursday night in late summer, Mr. Poulakakos recalled that the street, which was first paved in the mid-17th century, was a trash-filled alley a decade ago.
Now, closed to traffic and lined with restaurants and bars, it is the stage for one of the liveliest social scenes in Manhattan, a slice of South Beach tucked into the financial district — minus the palm trees and bikinis.
Inside Ulysses’, which stays open until 4 a.m., couples were dancing to salsa music blaring from a D.J.’s booth. Next door at Adrienne’s Pizza Bar, which serves until midnight and was named after Mr. Poulakakos’s mother, a pair of women were buying a $12 four-cheese pie to take home.
A belief in the downtown economy’s ability to recover from disasters, financial and otherwise, runs in the Poulakakos family. Mr. Poulakakos’s father, Harry, ran the Wall Street mainstay Harry’s at Hanover Square for decades. He closed it in 2003 after his wife died, but his son and a partner revived it as Harry’s Cafe and Steak.
In April, Peter Poulakakos took a bigger leap, opening Gold Street, a restaurant that never closes, at the base of 2 Gold Street, a 51-story building where two-bedroom apartments rent for as much as $5,900 a month.
“Downtown still has a ways to go, as far as progress,” Mr. Poulakakos said. But the tide of sentiment about its prospects has clearly turned, he added.
“We get a lot of customers who used to live down here,” Mr. Poulakakos said. “They say, ‘I wish I was living here now, because it’s so different.’ ”

Friday, September 07, 2007

Publishing in Reader's Digest and the American Economic Review in the Same Month: Should I be Proud of That?

The October 2007 issue of Reader's Digest has a cover story on "The Magic Power of Sleep". It also has articles on "Catching a Serial Sniper", "The 3-Second Risk that can Kill" and Martina McBride. My favorite part starts on page 128. Fran Lostys and I have published a piece called "Living Green: Ranking the best (and worst) countries". To give a preview, Finland is #1 while Ethiopia is ranked last at #141.
Reader's Digest has 80 million readers (including their web views). That may be more than the JPE?

The September 2007 issue of the American Economic Review will have a short paper by Dora Costa and myself titled; "
Costa, Dora L. and Kahn, Matthew E.: Surviving Andersonville: The Benefits of Social Networks in POW Camps.

I must admit that I take some pride in being able to publish for different audiences. Don't worry, I know that I'm not Krugman. I'd like to believe that popular writing, blogging and academic writing are complements.

When I was a young man, I hoped to publish in Econometrica and People Magazine in the same month. I now claim to have achieved one of my life goals!

Did 9/11/2001 Cause Significant Public Health Damage to Ground Zero Workers?

Most social scientists are interested in causality. Today's New York Times highlights a fascinating question. Did working to clean up ground zero cause significant bad health outcomes for those exposed? The conventional wisdom is "yes" but the Times reports today that this inference is based on a strangely collected sample and has been analyzed by a group of doctors and researchers who the New York Times claims has a political agenda tied to labor unions. The Times hints that this group have a bias towards findings that support worker claims that they are victims who merit compensation from the local government.

This case strikes me as a fascinating test to see if structural researchers can do a better job on a causal question than reduced form guys. Here are some of the issues;

Your goal would be to recover estimates of a health production function. We observe now whether a workers who was exposed to the aftermath of 9/11/2001 is in good health. Did the exposure causes "excess sickness"?

To answer this question, you need to impute the counter-factual of what this worker's health would have been had she not been there for those weeks after 9/11.

The challenge for the researcher is self selection and heterogeneity. Who chose to work at the site? How much were they exposed? Did they engage in any unobserved self protection? Did the researchers sample a representative sample of the 9/11 workers or collect a non-random sample where sick people are over-represented?

Do people have any incentives to over-state their sickness (whiplash!) to try to cash in and collect $ from the state?

Are the doctors competent enough to diagnose who is really sick or not? If people are sick today, how do you know that the "smoking gun" is 9/11 rather than other trends such as family history, smoking, other sources of stress?

Good luck separating out all of these factors but billions of $ are stake here in compensation and the lawyers will get rich!


September 7, 2007
Accuracy of 9/11 Health Reports Is Questioned
By ANTHONY DePALMA and SERGE F. KOVALESKI

Much of what is known about the health problems of ground zero workers comes from a small clinic in Manhattan that at the time of the trade center collapse had only six full-time doctors and a tiny budget.

Yet in the weeks after 9/11, its doctors stepped into the fray in the absence of any meaningful effort by the city, state or federal government to survey, interview or offer treatment to potentially sickened recovery and cleanup workers.

Since then, the clinic, the Irving J. Selikoff Center for Occupational and Environmental Medicine, based at Mount Sinai Medical Center, has examined more than 15,000 workers and volunteers and has overseen the examination of 5,000 more at clinics elsewhere.

Those programs have received more than $100 million from the federal government for tracking and treating those workers. The clinic’s doctors published the largest and most often quoted study of recovery workers’ ills. And they have testified about the health problems before city and federal committees.

But six years after the disaster, it is clear that while the center’s efforts have been well meaning, even heroic to some, its performance in a number of important areas has been flawed, some doctors say. For years after 9/11, the clinic did not have adequate resources or time to properly collect detailed medical data on workers exposed to ground zero dust.

The clinic’s doctors presented their findings in what other experts say were scientifically questionable ways, exaggerating the health effects with imprecise descriptions of workers’ symptoms and how long they might be sick.

Researchers in this field say that the clinic’s data collection was so badly planned that its usefulness may be limited. Others say that doctors at the clinic, which has strong historical ties to labor unions, have allowed their advocacy for workers to trump their science by making statements that go beyond what their studies have confirmed.

Dr. Albert Miller, a pulmonologist who spent more than three decades at Mount Sinai before moving to Mary Immaculate Hospital in Queens in 1994, worries that the actions of the center’s leaders have harmed the legitimate cause of workers who might be in need of help. “They are doing the workers a disservice,” he said, “because any time you veer from objective and confirmable statements, you’re destroying your own case.”

“They are people with a cause,” Dr. Miller said.

Even now, there is debate about how harmful the dust was, and whether it could cause cancer or debilitating chronic diseases, although there is emerging medical consensus that workers who arrived at ground zero early and stayed longest were at greatest risk of getting sick. Medical studies by the Fire Department, and most recently by the city health department, show that the dust has caused diseases like asthma and sarcoidosis (a lung-scarring disease) in a small percentage of rescue workers.

Although the Selikoff clinic’s research has found signs of ill health in more workers than other studies, it generally tracks the same trends. But that has not lessened the skepticism of critics.

The clinic’s leaders acknowledge that their efforts were troubled. But they challenge anyone facing the same hardships to have done better. The doctors point out that they took on ever-increasing responsibilities with federal financing that came in fits and starts. They had to continue their clinical care while collecting data, and clinical care had to come first. They tackled an unprecedented epidemiological challenge with too little money, too few records and too little time to plan properly.

“I’ll accept that we could have done some things better and there’s always room for improvement,” said Dr. Philip J. Landrigan, who has overseen the clinic’s efforts to help ground zero workers. “You have to have a thick skin in this business.”

While organized labor has steadfastly supported and praised the Selikoff Center’s efforts, other doctors say its missteps have heightened the anxiety of New Yorkers who expected the center to answer medical questions that have unsettled the city since 9/11.

There remains confusion about whether government officials should have done more to protect workers from toxic materials at ground zero. The city is still contesting thousands of lawsuits from workers who claim they were sickened while working at ground zero, even as it is providing millions of dollars to Bellevue Hospital Center to treat people sickened by the dust.

And experts agree that the clinic’s imperfect work — done alone and under difficult circumstances — might have long-lasting consequences if the poorly collected data eventually skew the results of future studies. Should the clinic come to conclusions different from other medical researchers, say experts, those contrary findings would confuse the overall health picture, delaying scientific consensus. The city would then have lost valuable time in developing a precise picture of diseases from this kind of disaster and the public health response needed.

Dr. Steven Markowitz, who runs a ground zero screening and monitoring program at Queens College, and who worked at the Selikoff Center in the 1980s, says there is no doubt that the clinic, for all it has accomplished, has also let people down.

“Frankly,” he said, “it was reasonable for the public to expect more.”

A Logical Choice

Forty-eight hours after the attack, Dr. Robin Herbert, Dr. Stephen Levin and other Mount Sinai doctors met at a Westchester County home to figure out how to respond to the disaster at ground zero. They agreed to volunteer extra hours to see sickened workers, and to gather medical information on them. And in the weeks and months that followed, the Selikoff Center was virtually the only place for workers to turn to.

While federal officials warned those on the pile to protect themselves from the dust, they also said that the chance of developing serious long-term illnesses was low. And city officials stressed that the risk of illness from exposure was minimal. They also faced enormous legal liability if workers on the smoldering pile got sick.

Thomas R. Frieden, commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene since 2002, said in a recent interview that the threat of lawsuits in no way shaped the city’s response. Rather, he said, the city did not step in more forcefully because clinical treatment is not one of the department’s responsibilities. But, he said, it was something the Selikoff Center did well.

Few people in New York’s medical community were surprised that the center had taken the lead. After all, the Selikoff Center, named after a pioneering asbestos researcher who died in 1992, was founded in the mid-1980s with political backing from New York labor leaders. It was well known for serving injured union workers, including those with lung diseases, a major concern of Dr. Selikoff’s.

But on 9/11, the center was focused mostly on repetitive strain injuries, the workplace hazard of the moment. Still, ground zero workers complaining of a persistent cough started showing up on Oct. 2. It was not until April 2002, six months later, that the Federal Emergency Management Agency provided the center with $12 million to support a program to give physical and mental health examinations to 9,000 workers.

But the clinic got no money to begin a comprehensive research program, or to make any long-range plans for tracking or caring for injured workers.

“We were told very unequivocally that we were not being funded to do research,” recalled Dr. Herbert, who has been a part of the of the screening program since its inception. “We were being funded to do screening.”

Without money or time to plan, they started collecting data anyway, knowing that it would be necessary to track the rise of symptoms related to dust exposure. But the medical history questionnaire they pulled together was an unwieldy 74 pages long, full of questions that were too vague to be useful. When combined with X-rays and breathing tests, the examination process took more than three hours and scared off many workers. Some of the data was collected on paper and stored in boxes.

“It took me three months just to figure out where the information was and how it had been kept,” said Dr. Jeanne Mager Stellman, a medical researcher who was hired as deputy director of the data center in April 2006. “I don’t think they knew what they were getting into.”

Dr. Stellman resigned last November for personal reasons but continued to work on several mental health studies of ground zero workers. “This is a program that’s done enormous good for 20,000 people,” she said, “but it’s a program that has not yet met expectations.”

The clinic’s doctors also faced significant problems because critical information was simply not available. There were no records of how many people worked at ground zero or for how long. No one knew exactly what was in the dust or how much contamination each person at the site breathed in. And since many workers had not seen a doctor regularly before Sept. 11, there was no reliable way to confirm when respiratory symptoms and ailments started.

By contrast, the New York Fire Department, which monitors its 15,000 firefighters, knew exactly how many firefighters had been exposed. And mandatory annual checkups provided precise medical histories.

It was not until 2004 that the Mount Sinai clinic started to receive federal financing for analysis — about $3 million a year for a data and coordination center. The money was part of $81 million in federal aid for medical tracking — half to cover firefighters, and the rest for ground zero workers.

By then, it was too late to undo some of the missteps made early on.

A Misleading Impression

The Selikoff Center has been criticized for blurring the line between scientific observation and alarmism in acting like an advocate for worker causes. But its doctors say that an aggressive approach is necessary in occupational health because employers tend to challenge complaints about workplace safety.

“I’ve spent my whole professional life walking that line,” said Dr. Landrigan, who founded the center in 1986 with Dr. Selikoff. “You can collect facts and be rock-solid certain about those facts, but you know quite well that those facts are only a piece of the puzzle. The intellectual question then is: ‘Do I have enough information to issue a call for action?’ ”

Last year, as the fifth anniversary of the attack approached, the center produced a major report that was published in Environmental Health Perspectives, a scientific journal of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, a federal agency. The report said, and Dr. Landrigan declared at a major press conference, that 69 percent of 9,442 responders examined had reported “new or worsened respiratory symptoms.”

In fact, a chart accompanying the report showed that 46.5 percent reported the more serious lower respiratory symptoms, which lung specialists consider to be indications of significant health problems (17 percent reporting shortness of breath, 15 percent reporting wheezing, and 14 percent listing cough with phlegm), while 62.5 percent of the workers reported minor upper respiratory symptoms like runny noses and itchy eyes.

The decision to combine the two categories of symptoms was criticized by medical experts, but it made a powerful — and misleading — impression on the public and the press about the nature and scale of the health problems.

“There is not a scientific reason to lump those two together,” Dr. John R. Balmes, a professor of environmental health and medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, who reviewed a version of the report before it was published, said in a recent interview. “Science is better served separating them.”

Dr. Miller, who called the press conference a “public relations extravaganza,” said: “I’m not as worried about a runny nose as I am about shortness of breath.”

In fact, the 69 percent figure — though it deals with symptoms, rather than actual diseases — suggests a more alarming picture than other studies. For example, a report by the city health department released last week showed that about 4 percent of 26,000 ground zero workers reported developing asthma after working on the pile. And the Fire Department’s sarcoidosis study focused on 26 new cases of the disease since 9/11.

Dr. Landrigan, in an interview, defended the way he presented the findings, maintaining that symptoms like a persistent runny nose could have indicated more serious lower respiratory problems.

The clinic was also criticized for suggesting that the symptoms were longer lasting than their own evidence indicated at the time. No symptom, major or minor, had persisted for more than two and a half years when the study was done, and a condition is not generally considered chronic until it lasts at least five years, doctors say. Yet Dr. Herbert said at the press conference that many workers would “need ongoing care for the rest of their lives.”

Newspapers, including The New York Times, gave prominent play to Dr. Herbert’s statements about the lasting nature of the problems. For some experts, her words went too far.

“It’s very hard to predict the future,” said Dr. Markowitz. “I know people want answers, and I know people want to give answers, but we really have to stick to the scientific method if we want to understand the truth.”

One thing is certain. The press conference galvanized many more workers to seek medical exams. More than 1,000 additional workers signed up for monitoring and 500 new workers continue to enroll each month even now.

Dr. Landrigan said he and his colleagues did not exaggerate their findings to scare workers. But other experts said the doctors may have caused a panic.

“We have patients constantly saying after one of these pronouncements, ‘Am I going to die?’ ” said Dr. David Prezant, deputy chief medical officer of the New York Fire Department, who has overseen several epidemiological studies for the department.

Dr. Prezant said that the Selikoff clinic’s statistics sometimes so worried workers that they neglected proven treatments to seek unorthodox cures that have questionable results.

In what many critics regard as the clinic’s most disturbing recent miscue, Dr. Herbert said in a 10-minute audio interview posted in May on the Web site of The New England Journal of Medicine that she was seeing the beginning of a “third wave” of disease, referring to cancer. In her interview, which accompanied a separate article on ground zero health effects by doctors not affiliated with the Selikoff Center, she named specific types of cancer — leukemia, lymphoma, multiple myeloma — and expressed concern about “synergistic effects” caused by chemicals in the dust, a controversial contention among medical experts.

She was instantly criticized by doctors outside Mount Sinai, who felt her comments were irresponsibly speculative because there is no evidence yet to conclusively link exposure to the dust to cancer. But the city’s tabloid newspapers seized on Dr. Herbert’s comments, prompting another panic among some recovery workers.

In an interview last month, Dr. Herbert defended her comments, explaining that she was speaking as a clinician and sharing her observations about diseases she was seeing with other clinicians.

“I feel that it is our job to communicate as clearly as we can what we do know, what we worry about, what are possible red flags,” Dr. Herbert said. “We have to strike a balance between not exaggerating and not waiting to act until we have absolute proof.”

Praise From Unions

Today, union officials stand by the work the Selikoff Center has done.

“Sinai should be canonized for the services it is providing,” said Micki Siegel de Hernandez, the health and safety director for District 1 of the Communications Workers of America. “The doctors have really established relationships with responders who walk in. This is the place where workers know that the people care and have the expertise.”

Only late last year did the center and the other clinics begin getting federal money to treat ill workers — $17 million then and more on the way. About 10,000 are now receiving treatment, which generally consists of prescription medication or counseling.

Most days, dozens of ground zero workers make their way to the clinic on East 101st Street. Dr. Jacqueline Moline, who now directs the programs, said some workers show up to be examined for the first time. Others come back to be re-examined. All of them expect answers, but for most, uncertainty has become a constant part of their lives. The center continues to collect data from each of them, and Dr. Landrigan said he expected to publish as many as 10 new reports within the next 18 months.

Eventually, doctors and scientists analyzing the long-term effects of the dust will take into account not only Mount Sinai’s studies but those of the Fire Department, the city’s health department and other sources. Clinical studies will continue for decades.

The Selikoff doctors acknowledge their mistakes, but they do not apologize for speaking out aggressively about the potential health dangers.

“If our advocacy has brought in people and we’ve saved their lives because we’ve identified health problems, whether they’re World Trade Center-related or not, I’ll take that any day of the week,” said Dr. Moline. “And if that’s our epitaph — that we talked loudly and we brought people in for health care — so be it.”