Tag Archives: nimby

Brown, Newsom clash over merits of obstruction

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Zorro drew his sword. Paladin went for his gun. TJ Hooker whipped out his stick. When in peril, Californian heroes find salvation in a sure and deadly weapon. In our finest tradition, lieutenant governor Gavin Newsom faced the looming threat of Donald Trump’s wall, shouted not in my backyard and brandished the ultimate equaliser: the California Environmental Quality Act. According to the Los Angeles Times

“There’s something called CEQA in California — NEPA at the federal level,” Newsom said. “There’s indigenous lands and autonomies relating to governance on those lands. There are all kinds of obstructions as it relates to just getting zoning approval and getting building permits. All those things could be made very, very challenging for the administration.”

I’m not saying the wall is a good idea. Nor am I suggesting opposition to it is a bad thing. If you’re against it, you should oppose it by any legitimate means possible.

The point I’m making has nothing to do with the wall and everything to do with the seductive power of laws and processes that were intended to promote thoughtful stewardship of land and resources, but have instead become tools that allow anyone with a grievance – real or imagined – to block infrastructure development.

Around the same time that Newsom was making his stand, governor Jerry Brown called out for regulatory reform, to solve California’s housing shortage…

What we can do is cut the red tape, cut the delays, cut whatever expenses we can afford to do without to make housing more affordable and therefore increase the stock and therefore hopefully bring down the costs.

You want affordable housing, efficient transportation and fast broadband? Then someone has to grab a shovel and dig. But if the cost of a project is doubled or tripled, or if it is hopelessly tangled in endless challenges, then ground will never be broken.

Newsom’s defiance is no threat to Trump’s wall. Federal preemption is a simple fix that can be baked into any authorising bill. But Newsom’s example legitimises self centered nimbys and rent seekers, and impedes reform of well meaning laws that they have warped into weapons of woe.

Blocking improvement hurts the environment too

by Steve Blum • , , ,

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.

Google Fiber gets initial enviro okay in San Jose, could be model for California

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

I hope they survey me, Robin. The Batcave still has dial up.

Google Fiber is taking a harder look at San Jose. The city has prepared the initial environmental assessment, more than 400 pages long, which declares there will be no significant environmental impact if Google builds out a fiber to the home system there

The proposed Project includes the following components: The installation of approximately 2,300 miles of fiber optic cables (consisting of about 1,340 miles of below ground installation and 960 miles of aerial installation using existing utility poles); the installation of approximately ten Local Aggregation Sites either inside pre-fabricated communications shelters (fiber huts) or enclosed within existing commercial buildings; underground utility vaults and utility cabinets; and connections directly to customers. With the exception of the Local Aggregation Sites and connections to customers, the fiber cables, vaults, and cabinets will be located within existing public right-of-ways or easements.

That’s not to say there’s absolutely no possibility of environmental degradation. This is California, after all. So among things, biologist will check for nesting birds before work is done, and if any trees have to be cut down, a bat survey will be done. Workers will get special training so they can spot anything of historical or archeological value. There are special procedures to be used around waterways and conditions relating to noise and air quality. And it goes on. But the bottom line is…

The project described above will not have a significant effect on the environment in that the attached initial study identifies one or more potentially significant effects on the environment for which the applicant, before public release of this draft Mitigated Negative Declaration, has made or agrees to make project revisions that clearly mitigate the effects to a less than significant level.

It’s not time to pop the champagne corks yet. Both city and Google reps have said no decision on whether to build out in San Jose, or other Silicon Valley cities, has been made (h/t to the Baller-Herbst list for the pointer). If it ever happens, it won’t be before the environmental review is completed. Now that the initial report has been posted, there’s a 30 day window, which closes on 12 November 2015, for anyone to challenge it.

It appears that San Jose has reached some kind of agreement with Google for blanket permission to build the network. The report references a “master encroachment permit from the department of public works for work in the public right of way”, for example. If this can get past the Nimbys, it could be a template for broadband development throughout California.

We can only hope.

City of San Jose’s draft initial study and mitigated negative declaration for citywide Google Fiber
Appendix A: typical facilities and fiber hut site plans
Appendix B: air quality report
Appendix C: noise report

To nimby or not to nimby is the dilemma for Seattle and Portland broadband upgrades

by Steve Blum • , , , , , , ,

Not every emerald city has a wizard to rely on.

Broadband doesn’t arrive by magic. It needs stuff. Like poles and towers and boxes that don’t necessarily match the neighborhood decor. That simple fact is often lost on nimby homeowners who want to be able to watch four channels of Netflix HD movies at once, but don’t want a small, green box planted anywhere nearby.

Seattle and Portland are two cities where it’s difficult, if not impossible, to install telecoms street furniture. But that might be changing.

Following the midnight exit of Gigabit Seattle, the city’s new mayor wants to make it easier for real companies to upgrade infrastructure. So he’s proposing to end a requirement that broadband providers in general, and CenturyLink in particular, get permission from homeowners before installing boxes in nearby public right of ways. The need to go through hundreds of separate negotiations has effectively blocked broadband improvements. Mayor Ed Murray plans to ask the city council to roll back the individual veto it gave homeowners in 2009, a move CenturyLink claims scuppered 60 upgrade projects affecting 21,000 homes.

Portland is one of the 34 cities blessed by Google and allowed to compete to be on its fiber-to-the-home list. To stay in the running, cities have been told to hand in a fiber-ready checklist by next month. One of the items – easy access to public right of ways for equipment cabinets – is causing consternation in Portland, which currently doesn’t allow them (h/t to Karl Bode at DSL Reports for the pointer). But the city council will consider changing its policy and, perhaps, adopting Google’s standard terms, as San Antonio did.

Public policy debates in San Francisco and Overland Park, Kansas can easily be hijacked by loud, self-absorbed interests. Not coincidentally, those two cities have sunk to the bottom of the Google Fiber priority list, and other broadband upgrade projects have been stalled. Seattle and Portland, though, still have a choice.