Blocking improvement hurts the environment too

27 December 2015 by Steve Blum
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I don’t know if anyone has ever specifically asked, but if I had to bet I’d guess that most Californians would rate traffic congestion as a bigger problem than Internet speeds. Occasionally waiting a few seconds while Netflix buffers is annoying. Spending an hour in traffic just to travel a handful of miles is soul destroying. It’s no coincidence that three Silicon Valley companies – Google, Apple and Tesla – are at the forefront of self-driving car development. There’s nothing an uber geek hates more than being forced to spend an hour or two of prime thinking time staring at the barely moving bumper of the next car ahead.

It’s a pity then, that California’s environmental review process doesn’t give credit for reducing existing problems, rather than just handing out demerits for any conceivable infringements. In reading through the 400-plus pages of San Jose’s environmental assessment of Google’s potential fiber build, it seems perverse that the effect of an extra maintenance truck or two on city streets needs to be explained away, while the potential for reducing car trips by the thousands doesn’t count for much. The study mentions it, but only by way of saying honest, it doesn’t conflict with local policies or plans

Throughout the operation of the proposed Project, the increased access to high-speed internet supports the objective of transportation demand management identified in the Santa Clara County Congestion Management Program (VTA 2013). As part of the plan, the strategies used to manage transportation demand are the use of telecommuting and new working arrangements. These strategies are possible through the “computer facilities that link to the worksite” including high-speed internet. When telecommuting and new work arrangements are available, they reduce [vehicle miles traveled] and increases accessibility.

The California environmental quality act – CEQA – gives Nimbys all the tools they need to stall or pick apart any kind of infrastructure upgrade on the basis of the flimsiest hypothetical impacts imaginable. Far greater benefits often take a back seat, with the cost of delays or the harm of maintaining the status quo never considered and those responsible never held to account.