• Obama on the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday

    President Barack Obama spoke before thousands on March 7, during a commemorative ceremony for the 50th anniversary of the events of “Bloody Sunday,” when more than 600 non-violent protesters were attacked by Alabama state troopers as they attempted to march from Selma to Montgomery for voting rights:

    It is a rare honor in this life to follow one of your heroes. And John Lewis is one of my heroes.

    Now, I have to imagine that when a younger John Lewis woke up that morning fifty years ago and made his way to Brown Chapel, heroics were not on his mind. A day like this was not on his mind. Young folks with bedrolls and backpacks were milling about. Veterans of the movement trained newcomers in the tactics of non-violence; the right way to protect yourself when attacked. A doctor described what tear gas does to the body, while marchers scribbled down instructions for contacting their loved ones. The air was thick with doubt, anticipation, and fear. They comforted themselves with the final verse of the final hymn they sung: (more…)

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  • My Kindle, My Birds & Me

    By Lionel Rolfe

    After several years of deliberation, I finally purchased a Kindle.

    I now own my very own digital reading device that has all the books I can read on it. There’s lot that’s unsettling about the device, but that’s not entirely bad — just caused a bit soul searching.

    Getting the Kindle turned out to be a really big deal for me, and a revelation. For one thing, I realized how much I was an old man living through revolutionary times.

    I am preparing for exiting this veil of tears, not right away, I hope, but soon enough. I’m stumbling down the last league. As a result, I no longer feel a compulsion to be on the cutting edge. I’ve lived long enough to see too many cutting edges come and go. One of the things that my friends know about me is that I’m quaint in my appreciation of music. I grew up turning pages for my concert pianist mother, especially when she played the Kreutzer. I played classical guitar until I was 13 or so and haven’t touched an instrument since.

    But music never lost its magic. I just felt that there were others who could give it that magic better than I. When I got into my late teens, jazz proved intriguing. Folk, blues, and the very greatest voices like Paul Robeson and Edith Piaf turned me on. Rock never made the cut. I rarely heard that much genuine genius in it, and mostly I saw it as an essentially corporate product. When Bob Dylan electrified his guitar, I lost interest.

    It is sadly obvious that the digital transformation of our times are shaking things up like was done by Gutenberg and his Bible a few centuries back.

    Printed books were really an incredibly comfortable and convenient medium —and may remain so forever, as far as I know. I’ve always enjoyed reading in bed, reclining rather than sitting, and holding a book in whatever is the best position at the moment. But let me tell you the simple truth that lies behind all great changes. They are based on simple things.

    Print replaced men and women sitting at a desk with a quill, with no hope of their words getting around much. Then you could replace those quills with typewriters and typesetting machines and printing presses and give your words a whole new universe. Then there’s the digital revolution, which might end up being as important as the Gutenberg press.

    For the past few years I haven’t been able to do much reading lying in bed. Mostly, I read while sitting at a computer and the thought of reading War and Peace there is most unattractive. Great books, I think, are meant to be read leisurely. I read enough journalism and the like while sitting down in front of my computer, but getting into a real book, that’s become another matter.

    Let me explain. When I finally retire to my bed, and could maybe read a real book, I can’t because my African Gray Oliver and three cocktails also live in my bedroom. When I get home, they expect attention because with my appearance, the flock wants to celebrate that I’m home. That doesn’t mean reading a book.

    This problem was easily solved by my wonderful new Kindle. I no longer have to keep a light on to read a “book.” The page provides its own light, and that’s enough. I remember back in my days, they used to sell reading lights, but they never really worked well. Finding a place to clip them to something proved to be a bigger problem than it should have been. True, with a Kindle, you can also read on the beach, with light spilling out from the heavens everywhere.  Or you can read in the darkest closet, if you want. Here is where I made a revelation that might not seem so earth shaking at first, but it truly is.

    Now, I’m not blaming  the parrots for having kept me from doing a lot of good, soul-satisfying reading of late—but maybe I am. It’s an issue of how could I read comfortably with the birds. When you get older, it’s hard to get comfortable. You have new aches and pains, you toss and turn to find the best position, whether you end up on your backside or front. But with a Kindle, which is lighter than most books, you can turn off the lights to quiet the birds down, and all the light in the world is only one place—the page you’re focusing on. Bird problem solved. I can now read the Bible and all of Shakespeare if I want and the birds don’t have to know the better.

    My birds are tyrants. They want my undivided attention. Sometimes I have to say no. I’m not playing with you tonight. That means no putting them on my shoulder or rubbing their little heads. If the light stays off they’ll usually ignore me. But if even a small light is on so I can read, they pester me until I give up reading. They yap at me like ill-mannered canines, saying you’d better take me out or I will shit on your carpet.

    Kindles break with tradition in one very big real way. There’s utterly no type design, no worry about kerning or face. I ran a book publishing company with my ex-wife Nigey Lennon with mixed results, and a few modest successes. It was a totally Un-Kindle kind of operation. We worried about fonts and type and paper and such the way theologians argue about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

    I have worked in a lot of editorial offices. When I started out, we had clunky old Underwoods and nasty typesetters in the back shop that hardly paid attention to our proofing marks. Today, you can do everything from composing a story to editing it and then turning it into type yourself. No difficult and expensive and balky typesetters needed. You don’t have to direct the printer how to lay out the lead slugs. You do it on the computer. So it’s natural, perhaps, that creating “content” or “product” as they call us writer types nowadays, is not much admired. Nobody talks rhapsodically about “content providers.” So don’t mind if I still get a bit romantic about the good old days, when Mark Twain set his own type.

    Reading on a computer is like working in a word factory—whereas luxuriating with a book that can take you to myriad parts of this universe, that’s a whole other thing. In my world, real reading needs to be done lying down, perhaps with your back propped up with velvet red pillows and a glass of port nearby. You need to be unseemly comfortable. There’s nothing wrong in injecting some hedonism into the proceedings.

    Now I can laugh now at how Nigey used to pore over the history of the fonts we used for the books we published. That was a major part of book publishing. Nigey would work for hours, matching not only the history but the psychology of the manuscript to the particular font’s history. She knew it was more art than science, but that didn’t make the task any the less urgent.

    I’m afraid the Kindle made a mockery of all that. It has a very limited range of faces—more sans serif faces, that all good typesetters know make for lousy reading. They have only one half-way decent serif face—Palatino. So I read everything from Sherlock Holmes to Mark Twain as well as my own book on the Kindle’s Palatino.

    I use my computer screen to keep aware of the world. But, as much as I defend journalism, and worship my mentor and former boss Scott Newhall, editor of the San Francisco Chronicle who believed that journalism should be nothing less than “daily literature,” I know there’s a difference between literature and journalism.

    Before I got my Kindle, I did manage —  with a period of  — to get through half of a Marquez novel, but it took me several weeks to do so—in fits and snatches, before I gave up. That wasn’t his fault, it was my damned birds. In the last few weeks since I got my Kindle, I’ve been getting a lot of reading done.

    As a result of getting a Kindle, I’ve taken another giant step into the future. I’m toying with the idea of joining the ranks of people who are always staring down at their smart phone. Yeah, and I just bought an iPhone. But that’s a whole other later conversation.


    Lionel Rolfe is the author of a number of books available at Amazon in paperback and ebook form. His titles include a novel, “The Misadventures of Ari Mendelsohn: A Mostly True Memoir of California Journalism,” and his nonfiction, including “Literary LA,” “The Fat Man on the Left,” “The Uncommon Friendship of Yaltah Menuhin and Willa Cather” and “The Menuhins: A Family Odyssey.”

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  • Summer is All Fun at The Garage

    By John Farrell, Curtain Call Writer

    Wet Hot American Summer … The Play? is being presented, through March 21, at Long Beach’s Garage Theatre.

    There is no poetry; there is no message; hell, there isn’t even much of a play.

    Don’t let that stop you from seeing the production. Buy a bottle of wine or a beer from their combined ticket office and concession stand, get a seat (and because the actors enter from all over the place no seat is safe, mind you) and relax and enjoy, even in you don’t quite understand what is happening, who is who or what is what.

    Wet Hot American Summer is a written and directed by Ryan McClary, based on the less-than-successful 2001 film screenplay by Michael Showalter and

    . The plot, such as it is, sets the story on the last day of summer camp at Camp Firewood, with a crowd of the usual inept misfits — and those are just the camp counselors.

    If you can make sense of the story, you are better than we are. There are more than 19 roles, 11 actors playing multiple parts and action that come in from the audience, through the audience, all around the audience. Don’t worry, you don’t have to pay attention. Just enjoy. The play includes everything from a talking can of vegetables to the crashing Skylab, a homosexual wedding, a final version of Godspell that is actually Les Mis, and a whole lot more very funny, very intense silliness.

    Three actors have single roles: Jonelle Holden as the very drunk, very funny Allan Smithee, Maribella Magnana as Acker McBlackberry, her best friend who thinks she is a play director but can’t read, and Jacob Burns as Ken Marino, a Hollywood star who might be a figment of a cough-syrup induced high.

    The cast is athletic, assertive and often hilariously provocative. The Garage Theatre does a great job with lighting (Matt Richter is the lighting designer) and the small space is well used, with some of the audience sitting right up on the stage platform.

    Don’t go for a theatrical experience. Just go to Wet Hot American Summer to have a good time. That is guaranteed.

    Tickets are $20 and $15 for students. Performances are at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, through March 21.

    Details: (562) 433-8337; www.thegaragetheatre.org
    Venue: Garage Theatre
    Location: 251 E. 7th St., Long Beach


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  • Peninsula Symphonic Winds Orchestra Shows its Diversity

    By Melina Paris, Music Columnist

    While attending a rehearsal for Peninsula Symphonic Winds Orchestra, the last thing I expected to hear was Queens’ 1975 hit, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” but that I did, and it was powerful.
    The complexity of this song begs to be performed by an orchestra. The vocals were appropriately covered by the saxophone, the instrument perhaps most like the human voice. Considering the structure of this song, which consists of a ballad segment that ends with a guitar solo, an operatic passage and a hard rock section, it completely fits.

    The local Peninsula Symphonic Winds Orchestra is made up of seasoned amateurs from college age to retirees.

    Trombones, euphonium, trumpets, oboes, flutes, French horns, saxophones tubas, clarinets, bassoons and percussion or kettledrums make up this all-volunteer orchestra. Its recent rehearsal at Harbor College also included an electric bass for “Bohemian Rhapsody.” 

    The orchestra performs four concerts during the year. Three performances take place at the Rolling Hills Covenant Church Community Center, on Silver Spur Road in Rolling Hills. The actual church is elsewhere in the city on Palos Verdes Drive North. 

    “The Community Center is in a very funky old building with high ceilings and great sound,” Peninsula Symphonic Winds Orchestra Director Richard Babcock said. “It used to be a roller- skating rink and a movie theater; now (it’s) used for church services and community events.”
    The orchestra rents the community center three times a year on Sunday afternoons. The fourth concert, “Picnic and Pops,” takes place outdoors, alternately between Peninsula and Palos Verdes high schools. 

    Their repertoire is broad, playing concert band music, marches and show tunes. They do classical transcriptions of 19th century music, transcribed from orchestra to band. They also feature soloists, sometimes from the band, and sometimes guest soloists and conductors.

    The Orchestra is working on a recording project now, a first time experience. The goal is to make it as good as possible. It will take place in the studio at Harbor College.  

    “Hopefully, just hopefully, it will end up on iTunes and available to the public,” Babcock said.
    They record all of their live concerts, but this is a different experience without the audience. They will not overdub it and hope to get it down in just one take. When that’s finished, their next project will be a jazz-themed concert including big band and swing music.

    “This is a great place for young people—teenagers and people in their 20s—to get more experience playing.” Babcock said. “We play a lot of music and we play it hard. We don’t rehearse it a long time so they get to play a lot of music and experience different challenges.”
    The Orchestra is good for retired folks, too.  

    “They have this instrument they learned when they were younger,” Babcock said. “Then they got caught up in job and family and then, they get to resurrect that part of their life. I’ve seen and experienced some wonderful things with folks in that.” 

    “For working people with a nine–to–five, they get to have that break in the middle of the week. You start thinking differently. Few people think like a musician in their regular day jobs.” 
    Babcock teaches music at Chadwick School and he gets to do that every day with children, but when he comes here, it’s a different experience for him.

    “It really helps in my life or in anyone’s life. It’s an oasis.”

    Peninsula Symphonic Winds Orchestra originally performed at the Norris Theater. It was a great place for them, but very costly. They are completely self-funded and not attached to any government or school. They detached from Harbor College in 2003 and became an educational nonprofit 501(c)(3). The orchestra needs to always solicit funds and donations to keep going. 
    “The Community Center is a great place and much cheaper,” said Babcock. “It works.”

    The Orchestra will have its 20th anniversary concert a year from May. Babcock is a little surprised it has already been another decade. They are already rehearsing a piece for the celebration, which was commissioned for their 10th anniversary, “The Coast Is Clear,” by Tom Kahelin.
    Euphonium player (among other instruments) and Random Lengths News photographer, Phillip Cooke is a member of the orchestra. 

    “From day one I was amazed how talented the group is,” he said about the orchestra. “Despite being a smaller group, every instrument shines. I just wish we had more venues to play at.” 
    Details: www.palosverdes.com/peninsulawinds

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  • Food: Science or Sense?

    By Lori Lynn Hirsch Stokoe, Food Writer and Photographer
    On Feb. 22, scores of food aficionados convened at the Ports O’ Call Restaurant in San Pedro to discuss and debate “Food: Sense or Science?”

    Do we eat with our mouths or with our minds? And is eating—both a basic necessity and one of life’s great pleasures—still fun? Food is one of today’s most fervently discussed topics, ’round the clock, from the mass media of television and radio, to the Internet and bookstore shelves. In asking “Food: Sense or Science?” the purpose of CULINARIA Query 2015 is to examine the place food currently has in our collective consciousness and to reconcile eating, feeling and information.

    In the Query & Lecture Series: “Food: Sense or Science?” Philip M. Dobard, vice president, SoFAB Institute served as moderator of the discussion. Panelists included  Noramae Munster, certified raw food chef and culinary director, Ports O’Call Waterfront Dining, Joshua Goldman, mixologist, sommelier and restaurateur; partner, Soigne Group; managing partner, Brilliatshine, James L. Melikian, president, The Popcorn Man, and Lesley Jacobs Solmonson, senior editor, Chilled Magazine; editor-in-chief, SoFAB Magazine; Author, Gin: A GlobalHistory; and co-author, The 12 Bottle Bar, and (yours truly) Lori Hirsch Stokoe,www.tastewiththeeyes.com food writer, food photographer, recipe developer, and caterer.

    SoFAB is a nonprofit cultural enterprise. It documents and celebrates the food and drink of all cultures through exhibits, programming and a range of media. SoFAB is growing into the nation’s most comprehensive cultural institution studying food and drink.

    What is it about food that we have become so obsessed with, and how is this fascination manifesting itself in our culture? Can we simply appreciate a tomato? Or must we know if the seeds are of an heirloom variety, if it is organic or grown locally?

    Dobard began by acknowledging how food had brought all of us together in the room, and asked the panel to consider if all processed food was bad for us. When a lettuce leaf is picked, then washed and brought to market, it has indeed been “processed.” And that masa which is made into corn tortillas is processed, but again, not necessarily bad.  Goldman explained the difference between “naturally grown” processed foods – such as ingredients made from seaweed versus items like unnatural additives used to prevent colors and flavors from separating in popular sports drinks.

    Are we overthinking food? Dobard asked. 

    “We have lots of information regarding the food we eat, but may not necessarily be making the best choices available to us,” Munster said. 

    She also talked about the 80/20 rule applying to food choices, suggesting that by simply making healthy choices 80 percent of the time it could help lead to better overall health.

    The subject of organic food was discussed in detail—a big dilemma being its cost. Solmonson made the case that while some families may want to make healthier choices, they are not able to make it happen when it comes to the family budget. Others in the audience believed a non-organic apple from the 99-Cent Store is equally as nutritious as a much more expensive organic apple from Whole Foods Market. Melikian emphasized that more nutritional information needs to be taught in schools, while healthy food choices need to start at an early age at home.
    We discussed what is commonly called “kid food,”–when parents may be eating a healthy dinner, yet serve hot dogs, grilled cheese, or delivered pizza to their children – believing that their children would not eat “adult food.” Could the healthy foods that adults are eating be prepared in a way that would be irresistible to children? Solmonson added that every parent’s dilemma is how to add as many vegetables as possible into the child’s diet.

    Farmers are not producing the tastiest vegetables, but the most profitable, Goldman argued, resulting in kids’ lack of enthusiasm for fresh vegetables. He also says it doesn’t necessarily need to take more energy to prepare fresh vegetables. We can teach simple techniques to put something delicious and nutritious on the table. For example, place fresh carrots in a plastic bag, add butter and spices and pop it in the microwave for a healthy, tasty, fresh veggie side dish in minutes.

    “When it comes to nutrition, is there information overload?” Dobard posited.
    Solmonson believes the Internet and smart phones have had a huge impact, but the problem may be that not all the information available at our fingertips is correct. Often the most popular opinion goes to the top of the Internet search, but unfortunately it may contain false information about the food. Goldman suggests the Internet is a fantastic tool, but one must take the time to research to be certain that the source is reliable.

    The panel discussion ended with a question-and-answer session during which the audience shared stories of family health and history and opinions of the panel’s remarks. It was a lively couple of hours, with interesting debate and discussion, a diverse and passionate panel, and different perspectives on food culture.

    Ports O’ Call Waterfront Dining offered a complimentary buffet of appetizers including copy cat In-N-Out burgers made with vegetable protein instead of beef, and sushi, pea and mint crostini, truffle mac ’n’ cheese cups and more. The bar featured a tart “skinny margarita” made with agave nectar, as a toast to National Margarita Day. Solmonson capped off the event with a spirited lesson on gin and its history, and a tasting of three very distinct styles of that distilled liquor flavored with juniper and other botanicals.

    “We can either look at food as poison or look at food as medicine,” Goldman said. 
    Everyone seemed to agree that we make our own choices, and in spite of big corporate marketing and manipulative advertising, we live in California, a land of plenty – and it is indeed up to us to make informed decisions about our food, nutrition and health.

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  • Torrance Refinery Explosion:

    A Sharp Reminder of Externalized Costs

    By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor
    On Feb. 18 at about 8:50 a.m., an explosion sent flames and ashes into the sky at the ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance.

    Four workers were injured by the blast and 14 Torrance schools initiated “shelter in place” procedures, keeping their students indoors. CalTech researchers said that the blast was the equivalent of a 1.7-magnitude earthquake.

    A Feb. 25 update report from the South Coast Air Quality Management District stated that the blast “blew off sections of the electrostatic precipitator, venting the fluid catalytic cracking unit, and released spent catalyst into the air which deposited it in the neighborhood on top of cars and homes and other areas around the refinery.”

    The good news was that nobody was killed. Moreover, the AQMD reported that there was no detectable air pollution impacts of the kinds that it normally monitors.

    “Our air monitoring didn’t show an increased air pollution exposure to residents following the explosion,” said AQMD spokesman Sam Atwood.

    In addition, the update report stated that all the asbestos detected afterwards was confined to within the refinery.

    Still, ExxonMobil was needlessly—even foolishly—tight-lipped, and unresponsive to public concerns, in the eyes of Connie Rutter, a retired oil industry consultant, who worked as a refinery environmental officer before establishing her own consulting firm.

    “It just seems to me that the best policy is honesty, even if that puts the company in a bad light,” Rutter said. “The issue with the ash should be handled by clearly naming what it is and hazards associated with it.”

    The bad news is that the direct negative consequences of the explosion—the first wave of externalized costs imposed on the broader community—pale in comparison to the indirect costs, most notably the sharp increase in the already-rising gas prices statewide (a 42-cent increase in one week, compared to 52 cents over the previous three weeks combined). Those, in turn, pale in comparison to the costs of business-as-usual in the oil and gas business, which amount to at least $1,400 per person per year, primarily in health-related costs, according to academic research. In Los Angeles County, according to a 2008 study led by California State University Fullerton economist Jane Hall, twice as many people die annual from air pollution than die in traffic accidents.

    Chaos and confusion dominated the immediate post-blast response, and led to fierce criticism on social media and at a community meeting on the night of Feb. 20. Almost 200 people attended. While some public criticism was directed toward the Torrance Fire Department, the lion’s share of anger and blame was directed toward ExxonMobil, which appeared to be both ill-prepared and uninformed.

    Most notably, ExxonMobil had failed to act immediately to activate two aspects of the Torrance Community Warning System, which it has authority to initiate “if an incident at the refinery warrants immediate community notification.”

    First, the community sirens used to alert residents within a 1.2-mile radius of the refinery to shelter in place; second, the Crenshaw Street Barriers, similar to railroad barriers, used to prohibit traffic between Del Amo Boulevard and 190th Street on Crenshaw Boulevard.

    At the meeting, ExxonMobil’s refinery manager Brian Ablett—just three months on the job—tried to shift blame onto the city of Torrance.

    “The communication is generally not from us, it’s from the city,” he said.

    That much is true—but with an emphasis on “generally.” As explained in a document posted on the refinery’s website, the overall, multifaceted warning system is run by the city. But a note at the bottom specifically cites these two safety provisions as being in ExxonMobil’s hands when immediate notification is required. Ablett further obscured the truth—if not outright lied—when he added that the siren system (which is tested once a month, but was not activated in response to the explosion) was also not operated by ExxonMobil. “It’s the city’s response system, it’s not ours.”

    It’s unclear whether Ablett was lying, uninformed, confused himself, or knowingly deceptive. But it is clear that ExxonMobil as a whole was not on top of things operationally.

    “Honestly, I’m not at all surprised that happened,” Torrance City Councilman Tim Goodrich said at a council meeting the following week. “How many close calls is ExxonMobil willing to have before we have one we’re really going to regret?”

    Indifference to such impacts is commonplace in the oil industry, with only few exceptions, Rutter observed. Exxon had a long history of high-handedness and indifference to the public before its merger with Mobil, epitomized by its response to the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989. Mobil had been more image conscious, as the creating sponsor of PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre.

    “Mobil seemed to act as if once they done that, they didn’t have to do anything more.” Rutter noted. Although “not blatant as Exxon,” Rutter said Mobil “pretty much had the attitude, ‘Hey we’re here to refine oil, you people need gasoline, let us alone.’”

    Buying off the political system is where the industry excels, as illustrated by another recent development. On Feb. 27, the New York Times reported that ExxonMobil had reached a settlement agreement with the state of New Jersey, paying just $250 million in an 11-year-old suit, which initially asked for $8.9 billion in damages for pollution damage to wetlands from two refineries dating back to the 1870s.

    The surprise announcement came just as a ruling was expected from the judge in the case—as the Times put it, “Exxon’s liability was no longer in dispute; the only issue was how much it would pay in damages”—and was immediately denounced by environmental advocates.

    “This is an outrageous abuse of power by the administration selling out the environment and the taxpayers of New Jersey,” Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, told Bloomberg News. “This is a complete giveaway to corporate polluters.”

    But David Sirota of International Business Times drew attention to two key factors: First was ExxonMobil’s contributions of more than $1.9 million to the Republican Governors’ Association since Chris Christie first ran for governor in 2009.

    “That includes $79,000 during Christie’s 2009 campaign and $200,000 during his re-election campaign in 2013,” Sirota reported. “It also includes $500,000 when he chaired the organization during the 2014 election cycle.”

    Second was the fact that a previous Christie-appointed Attorney General, Paula Dow, was a former Exxon lawyer.

    But even if ExxonMobil had paid that $8.9 billion settlement in full, it would only be a fraction of the worldwide externalized costs of the industry on an annual basis. The 2008 study by Jane Hall mentioned above found that “almost $22 billion” would be saved annually in the South Coast Air Basin “if federal ozone and PM2.5 [fine particle, aka “soot”] standards were met,” plus almost another $6 billion in the San Joaquin Valley. Thus, the routine externalized costs of the oil and gas industry far outshadow the acute damages seen in incidents like the Torrance refinery explosion, or even major lawsuits like the one in New Jersey.

    Bringing those massive figures down to Earth, the average health costs per person from air pollution probably remain around $1,400 annually for local residents, despite significant improvements in air quality throughout the past 30 years. While pollution levels locally have improved significantly since 2005 and 2006, when the 2008 study’s data was collected, a followup study lead by Hall, comparing that study with an earlier one in 1989, found little net change in per-capita health impacts.

    “The core point is that enormous progress has been made in reducing pollution,” Hall said. “But new scientific research that indicates a broader array of impacts, and impacts at lower concentrations, along with larger populations in more polluted sub-regions, means that there are still large numbers of significant adverse effects on health in the region.”

    There are no studies that comprehensively capture all the externalized costs of the oil and gas industry. Hall’s studies are typical of how most similar studies are done. They only capture differences in externalized costs between current levels and some future target. In her case, that means full compliance with the Clean Air Act, hence the title of her 2008 study: “The Benefits of Meeting Federal Clean Air Standards in the South Coast and San Joaquin Valley Air Basins.” Specific itemized benefits listed in the report include:

    • 3,860 fewer premature deaths among those age 30 and older

    • 3,517,720 fewer days of reduced activity in adults

    • 1,259,840 fewer days of school absence

    • 2,078,300 fewer days of respiratory symptoms in children

    • 466,880 fewer lost days of work

    The AQMD uses a similar comparative process in evaluating its repeated air quality management plans. These are produced every five years or so, issuing a socioeconomic report several months after the main plan is produced. The last two air quality management plans were in 2007 and 2012, and another is due out next year. The 2007 plan was projected to produce $200 billion in savings, almost $12 billion annually through 2024. Industry costs for new pollution control measures were projected to range from $2.0 to $2.7 billion per year, with benefits topping $14 billion.

    “It’s always easy to quantify [industry] costs,” explained Dr. Elaine Chang, AQMD deputy executive officer for Planning, Rule Development and Area Sources, about covering that report. “We’re trying to quantify the benefits as well. We can see the ratio [of benefits to costs] is 7 to 1, so society is bearing the costs of not internalizing the economic costs of polluting.”

    According to the 2007 report, “The $14 billion includes approximately $9.2 billion for averted illness and higher survival rates, $3.6 billion for visibility improvements [a factor in real-estate values], $966 million for congestion relief, $204 million for reduced damage to materials, and $18 million for increased crop yields.”

    In that report, the lion’s share of impacts were clearly fossil fuel based—congestion relief would apply regardless of the fuel source. The 2012 report involved a much different policy mix, so its projected savings, $10.7 billion, included a much larger share of congestion relief—$7.7 billion. Because the policy mix has such a strong impact on the cost savings produced, air quality management plans are a less accurate gauge of overall costs than the kind of comprehensive studies that Hall has produced. Still, they make the same broad point—the annual externalized costs of fossil fuels dwarf the costs of any headline-grabbing disaster, and thus deserve serious public debate and action.

    This point only becomes more pressing as we add the growing threat of climate change costs—already being felt via increased costs due to extreme weather, from hurricanes to heatwaves and droughts. Toward this end, a 2014 report from the Environmental Defense Fund, “Driving California Forward”, found savings of $10.4 billion by 2020 and $23.1 billion by 2025 from two California programs, the state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard and the savings in transportation fuels under the state’s cap and trade program.

    The report broke these savings down as follows:

    Air pollution and

    public health

    Reductions of PM2.5, NOx, and SOx impacts will clean up California’s air and reduce harm to Californians. This can save $6.0 billion from PM2.5 and $2.3 billion from NOx and SOx.

    Energy security

    Reducing California’s reli- iance on imported energy and insulating the state from energy price fluctuations can save up to $6.9 billion, while also reducing gasoline and diesel consumption by 33.1 billion gallons between 2010 and 2025.

    Climate change

    Cutting climate change pollution will reduce the social cost of carbon by a cumulative $7.9 billion between 2010–-2025.

    In short, this report suggests that public health costs from transportation fossil fuels are only about one third of their total externalized costs. That would equate to more than $4,000 per person annually in the Los Angeles area, based on Hall’s earlier work. It’s something to think about while waiting for the next oil company disaster to strike.


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  • Gaffey Street Improvement Project Moves Ahead as Public Opposition Wanes

    The final Gaffey Street workshop moves ahead to the drafting stage without much strife
    Ivan Adame, Editorial Intern

    San Pedro residents may not get all they want in the when it comes to plans to make improvements on Gaffey Street — namely decreasing the travel time from 5th Street to the 110 Freeway and preventing the homeless from sleeping on the bus benches.

    However, community members may get a safer, public transit friendly and more visually attractive corridor.

    On Feb. 26, the Los Angeles Neighborhood Initiative hosted the third and final community workshop to draft the Gaffey Street Conceptual Plan. The plan aims to improve the safety, efficiency and aesthetic profile of Gaffey Street as part of Mayor Garcetti’s Great Streets Initiative.

    Community members were asked to provide additional feedback on the improvements. Reducing traffic at the terminus of the 110 Freeway was still a primary concern, but both the Department of Transportation and RRM Design Group say that due to zoning, land use and funding constraints, little can be done about it in the immediate future.

    Among the ideas proposed that night were installations of bulb-outs: curb extensions designed to lessen the time it would take to cross a street. These are to be built from 6th Street to 10th Street.

    Other proposals include a transit plaza that would be near the Vons on 13th Street, in which vending kiosks could be used for quick shopping. Also, there are plans for all of the bus stops along Gaffey Street to be furnished with bus shelters.

    “We want to make transit easy and comfortable to use,” said Tony Keith, assistant designer from the RRM Design Group.

    Keith then asked the public to not let the issue of homelessness stunt progress of a greater public transportation.

    “You don’t deny all of us using bus stops because we have a homeless issue,” Keith said. “You don’t solve the homeless issue necessarily, but you address the homeless issue … the goal of this is not to turn Gaffey into a better freeway, but to turn Gaffey into a better place for the community to use.”

    When the public looked over the plans, feedback was recorded by writing and sticking Post-It notes on the displays. One public suggestion for bus stops was to use individual chairs or loveseats at odd angles instead of benches, saying it “prevents sleeping,” and “encourages social behavior.” Another suggestion was for no advertisements on benches.

    There seemed to be a split opinion on whether or not to keep the palm trees in the area, with an equal amount of feedback written for and against keeping them.

    Gale Noon, a San Pedro resident reviewing the display, was concerned about the rotting of old palm trees.

    “I’m fine with getting rid of them and putting more native or more Mediterranean stuff,” Noon said.

    Sue Castillo, Land Use chairwoman for the Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council, said she would like the plan to explain how public art can be incorporated into the project.

    “[A good place] to put public art is bus stops,” Castillo said. “Because bus stops need to be made to feel like a cool place…. We need more people to travel by bus.”

    Given the nearly-volatile public response of the past two meetings — concerning road-dieting, which the city refuted — there was little opposition to the plans on display. James Dimon, chairman of the Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council, said he believes this meeting was a positive step forward.

    “This community needs to … stop door-stopping the [city’s efforts] to spend funds to beautify our community,” said Dimon. “The city listened to what the community wanted… the objections you heard tonight were very limited.”

    However, funding to implement this project isn’t completely secure. It will be funded in fragments. Smaller elements of this project — referred to by several of the speakers that night as “low-hanging fruit”— can be funded and implemented quickly. But it may not be possible to secure funding for everything in a given year. Specific items can take from six months to anywhere between five and eight years.

    As of now, the project was eligible to apply for $1.7 million via Metro’s Call for Project fund, Kate Mayerson, program director for the Los Angeles Neighborhood Initiative, said. The project members are also advocating for businesses and property owners along Gaffey Street to form a business improvement district to produce more funds.

    “As long as the community keeps advocating for this project to be funded, we’re going to do this in phases; we’re going to do it in pieces,” Mayerson said. “But we’d rather start small and work up towards the big ticket items than to do nothing at all.”


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  • AmeriCorps, PV Land Conservancy Partner for Community Day

    By Arlo Tinsman-Kongshaug, Editorial Intern
    AmeriCorps recently partnered with Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy to restore and renovate the White Point Nature Preserve.

    The project, White Point Community Day, was conceived originally by AmeriCorps while visiting the area. AmeriCorps  is a government-sponsored program engaging adults in intensive community service.

    During its eight-week visit to the Palos Verdes Peninsula and surrounding areas, AmeriCorps committed to working with the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy to restore habitats, maintain trails and lead field trips. One of its goals was to host a large community event. Public outreach liaison Katherine Wallace said she noticed there was much work to be done around the preserve.

    AmeriCorps got together with the conservancy and began to organize the event. With AmeriCorps members providing the much-needed extra labor, they would be able to do a large-scale renovation and beautification of the preserve. But AmeriCorps also wanted to reach out to the community.

    “Why should we do all the work ourselves when we can get people in the community to volunteer and help us?” asked AmeriCorps member Isaiah Broomfield. “So, from there came the idea of ‘community day.’”

    The workforce will be comprised mostly of volunteers, with AmeriCorps members training, coordinating and supervising them. One of the main things they will be doing is removing tumbleweeds, which block paths and get in the way of hikers. They will also be weeding the demonstration gardens and will perform general beautification around the preserve.

    This is the third time Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy  has partnered with AmeriCorps. The groups plan to continue their relationship for many years to come.

    Broomfield said some of Americorps’ future projects will also be working in Long Beach with Urban Community Outreach to feed the homeless.

    “Wherever there’s a need, that’s where we’ll go,” he said.

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  • Cargo on the Move

    There’s an Agreement, but a Ratified Contract is Still Weeks Away
    By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor
    From the deck of USS Iowa on Feb. 23, ILWU Local 13 President Bobby Olvera said to the states buried in snow on the East Coast, “Your goods are on the way.”

    Olvera said the Local’s 7,000 workers are committed to working seven days a week and around the clock to get the cargo onto store shelves.

    But in the case of the Southern California ports, that’s three months of port congestion to get through. And, the agreement is just a tentative one until the membership votes on and approves the contract.

    In the coming weeks, negotiators will meet with 90 delegates representing all the locals on the West Coast to review the contract. The Pacific Maritime Association will do the same with its membership.

    The delegates are able to make a recommendation. After reviewing the contract, it is mailed to the rank and file of the ILWU membership, which will then have the opportunity to  discuss the contract with fellow members. Then, a secret ballot will be conducted to approve it.

    In the unlikely scenario that the membership votes against the contract, it would be sent back to the negotiators to iron out the differences.

    However, there are other rays of light at the end of the tunnel. On March 1, three companies that own most of the chassis serving the Port of Los Angeles activated a “gray chassis fleet” of truck-trailers in an effort to improve the flow of goods.

    The landmark agreement among Direct ChassisLink Inc., Flexi-Van Leasing Inc. and TRAC Intermodal will give terminal operators and trucking companies at the twin ports more flexibility in obtaining chassis. Chassis are the wheeled trailers used by trucks to haul cargo containers.

    Eleven of the 13 container terminals at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, as well as the off-dock rail yards, are expected to participate. The two remaining marine container terminals use their own equipment, but could opt to participate in the future.

    Port of Los Angeles and Long Beach chief executives Gene Seroka and Jon Slangerup—both of whom have backgrounds as transportation executives—applauded the agreement in a jointly-released statement.

    “This is a historic agreement that will help our ports overcome a major challenge that has played a significant role in the congestion we’ve experienced,” said Slangerup, a former president of FedEx Canada.

    Seroka, former president of Americas at APL Limited, called the agreement, “a major step forward in addressing the congestion issues that have challenged the San Pedro Bay cargo flow in recent months.

    “The gray chassis pool, along with other initiatives underway to improve efficiencies, will help our marine terminals move effectively toward restoring cargo flow through this important gateway.”

    “Chassis imbalance”—a phenomenon created by pools of non-interoperable chassis—was identified as the culprit of the congestion at the ports. The new agreement will allow more than 80 percent of chassis in service at the ports to be used interchangeably.

    The agreement creates a new chassis supply model from each of the three pool operators overseeing the daily logistics of 81,500 chassis. The pools will remain commercially independent, with each chassis provider competing for business and setting its own leasing terms and rates. A separate third-party service provider will manage billing and other proprietary information.

    Another ray of light appeared in the Feb. 27 edition of the Journal of Commerce. It reported that the Port of Los Angeles was teaming up with terminal operators and harbor drayage company, TTSI, to launch a container free-flow operation also aimed at reducing port congestion, while efficiently delivering import loads to retailers and other large shippers.

    TTSI serves a core group of beneficial cargo owners, like Walmart,  Target and Best Buy that take control of their imports at the port of entry. Together, beneficial cargo owners generate a critical mass of imports each week.

    Four marine terminals that handle imports from beneficial cargo owners—APL, APMT, Yusen Terminals and West Basin Container Terminal—unload these imports from the vessels and stack them in a block. TTSI truckers “peel off” the containers from the block and take them to the Pasha yard in the Port of Los Angeles.

    Either TTSI or other truckers take the loaded containers to the beneficial cargo owners’ distribution centers in the region. The drivers then pick up empty containers at the distribution centers and return them to the harbor.

    This closed-loop operation offers the benefit of reducing congestion at the marine terminals by draying off 400 to 500 containers a day as soon as the import loads are discharged from the ships.

    This results in quicker turn times for truckers without running into jurisdiction issues with the ILWU.

    Improvements in the movement of cargo at ports are stacking up every day. It’s still a question as to whether these improvements will steer the ports away  from the congestion issues they experienced in the past nine months.

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  • Fractured Perspectives

    From the Waterfront to Gaffey Street and Beyond
    James Preston Allen, Publisher
    I am thinking today about the famous Paleolithic cave paintings in Altamira, Spain.  I think about the exquisite images of extinct steppe bison, horses and deer, then wonder if the cave dwellers of that era had the same problem we have today discussing our environment.  I mean did they sit around the cave and argue about how many bison there were and how they would be depicted?  Was it as contentious as, say, the Gaffey Street Conceptual Plan or the Waterfront Development meetings? (more…)

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