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Oil Trains:

Bakken crude refineries, now being built or planned for the North Dakota oil play region, cost in the range of $300M-$600M each.

Or, perhaps the industry is looking ahead at port cities being ideally situated for refineries to produce product intended for export into global markets rather than domestic supply? So, what does that have to do with "oil independence" in the U.S., which is one of the principle justifications the industry uses to push ahead with its plans. Could that be what this is really about? Trading our safety for their future profit-taking in global markets?

Had the Bee been a little more generous with its word-count limit, I would have mentioned that the industry could build new refineries in remote locations well to the east of our cities and away from any densely populated or environmentally sensitive areas

It may sound like a prohibitively expensive demand, but when you consider that the Alaska pipeline cost $8 billion (in 1977) and the Keystone pipeline estimates run about $6 billion (expected to be double that, if/when its built), then even high estimates of $2-4 Billion to build a refinery elsewhere, and spare us shipping to locations like Benicia or San Louis Obispo, through some of our most densely populated areas, doesn't seem unreasonable, even by industry standards. Certainly not impossible. In fact, a new refinery built in North Dakota to process Bakken crude from the Dakota oil play actually cost less than $650 million.

Current estimates for building the Keystone pipeline stand at about 6 billion dollars and are expected to double, if/when it is built.

Your editor waited a couple of months and still no one asked, why are we running these damn trains through our cities?, let alone offer the people of our region a reasonable answer as to why we should even permit them to do so. Your editor has written the newspapers, sent public comment to officials here and in Benicia and elsewhere, made comments to planning commissions, city Councils and the public record. But so far he has not had a word in return. Not even in opposition. Just more jabber about getting more information to deal with an emergency, "if" it happens, or word of a few protests trying to stop the trains altogether (which ain't gonna happen).

So, what is happening is that 1.4 (or 2.5) million gallons of Bakken crude will be rumbling through your back yards daily. And, no matter what preparations we make, we cannot avoid the inevitable.

When it comes, the one thing we can all count on is the legion of excuses, finger pointing and dodges, barely hidden under all the hand-wringing and condolence speeches the industry and our politicians can muster. I can hear them now, "Hey, that was a one-in-one-thousand year accident. No one could have planned for a major earthquake (or whatever) happening at the same time the train was passing by your crowded soccer stadium, and &blahblah...."

They might even do better than that, since they've now got the BP model of how to spin major irresponsibility into some kind of "We put safety first" message.

So how credible are the arguments that it isn't "economically feasible" to build rail lines that don't go through our cities, and/or new refineries in remote areas to the east that don't require using or updating existing refineries located in our most heavily populated coastal cities?

I'm afraid no one, not our public officials, not our reporters, are going to seriously put the question to an industry that treats matters such as public safety as a cost of doing business. An accounting that has a calculus for market-values but none at all for real-values.

If you want to know why we can't keep these damn trains well away from our cities, our homes and our children, then you'll have to ask the question yourself, and keep asking until our politicians and media respond with a determination to see that the correct answer is that these trains will not be permitted to pass through our communities and endanger ourselves our children and our environment. Not even risk it.

It can be done, but you, dear readers, will have to make it so. Just don't take "better tank cars" or "more training for first responders," or "it's not economically feasible" as an answer.


OSH Hardware

Which is not to say Councilman Warren is a bad representative of the people in his district. He may be an excellent council menber. And, in the scheme of things, this matter of the lost hardware is not terribly important. One more thoughtless consequence of our overriding deference to letting market-value overrule real-value. But it does indicate something symptomatic in our politics of today -- the easy, pro forma dismissal of the people who don't live in neat little "jurisdictions" and haven't the luxury of staying within boundaries to which political maps might like to asign them. So it is not so much the response, or the particular official who made it that caught the attention of the Z. Rather it is the normalizing of such responses, as if it was quite ok to simply send the citizen back to ground zero, to knock on someone else's door. I'm sure all our Council menbers do the same in one fashion or another. But Councilman Warren is my representative, and as far as I'm concerned, he's the only door I've got for matters that impact our District.

Oil Train - Letter to the Editor,
Sac Bee

July 26, 2014

Re: "Safety rules for oil trains get on track" (Editorial, Sac Bee, July 25):
Contrary to the Bee editorial, the current conversation about rail shipments of hazardous materials through our towns and cities is decidedly off track. It won't be on track until the conversation is about demanding the oil and rail industries route their trains well away from densely populated or environmentally sensitive areas. Certainly, if these giant industries such can build pipelines across entire states or think about running them from the Canadian border to the Gulf, they can build rail lines for hazardous materials using remote locations. Until our public officials insist the only real safety is to keep those trains away from populated areas, all this talk about "safety rules" is really about a disaster waiting for a train wreck to happen. Real safety means preventing a catastrophe in the first place. That conversation hasn't even started yet. [sig. Red Slider]

Glass Half Empty?

Some of the simplest ideas with the greatest benefit for conserving water and other resources seem to slip through the cracks of our media and official conversation. Among them, grey-water conservation and front-yard gardens are two outstanding examples. How come they don't get the attention they deserve?

What these two topics seem to have in common (besides the fact that they are related to one another in practice) is that they are both ideas which invite the public to be involved by choice and self-interest, rather than simply making us subject of rules and regulations passed from on high.

The Z wonders if there Is there some reason for this apparent omission, or do we simply lack the imagination to understand that people adapt and gravitate towards things that make a direct, visible improvement in their lives and the lives of their families and communities.

True, it's a far cry from the way lawmakers are generally disposed to manage problems. They seem to favor imposing laws and applying the fear of getting caught to compel certain behaviors and make deep cultural changes. We think it much more productive for them to trust and consult with the public they serve, and find solution sets which don't simply extend the punishment aegis of a nation that is already the most punitive in the world.

Greywater Recycling

While it is true, there have been major advances in de-regulating greywater installations, making it possible for the average homeowner to employ simple greywater systems, it took decades of vigorous advocacy and considerable effort to persuade our legislatures to relax the straight jacket that made greywater management a prohibitively expensive, over-regulated non-option for the average person. There are still serious obstacles that discourage their wider use.

The California Legislature made significant progress in 2010 (see Sierra Club Newsletter) relaxing some of the nation's strictest laws on greywater recycling. It also left some large loopholes that still vex many homeowners. Chief among them, the provision that permits local jurisdictions to impose stricter laws than the California codes require.

False mythologies and fear mongering have also played their part. False "Public health" concerns have had a large role in helping the opposition keep tight restrictions on these systems. However, those claims have been thoroughly discredited.

In over a billion man-years of usage nation-wide, The CDC failed to find a single case of infectious disease attributed to a home-use greywater system. And most of those system were put in illegally, by non-professionals, without permits or other controls.

(we agree with other observers that the actuality cannot possibly be zero cases. But however many they may be, they certainly don't loom large enough to warrant the excessive caution many states have shown.)

Some cities, beholden to their trade unions, specialty businesses and other profiteers, have imposed tighter restrictions, caving in to special interests with a greater fondness for their pockets than they have for the earth.

The people of San Franciso, for one, have been fighting a running battle with their own planning and code enforcement departments who have been pressured by their unions to keep plumbers busy and the costs up. While drought-saavy states like Texas, Arizona and Nevada long ago did away with all permit requirements for simple greywater systems, California still has a ways to go.

Approximately 1,700,000 greywater systems have been installed by homeowners in California. Of those, only 1 in 8000 have legally required permits. Not only do our restrictive policies on these systems fail to prevent a large number of people from employing them, they insure that those who do, do so without overtly seeking advice or help on designing their systems properly.

We also lose the added benefit that the state might otherwise be actively encouraging people to use greywater recycling. If we hadn't sat on our hands so long, we would undoubtedly be way ahead of the curve on water conservation.

Front Yard Gardens

So, what's so special about front yard gardens? We have a few in Sacramento, but why the fuss over those? The press does a fair job of garden reportage of all types, urban gardening (good), community gardens (very good), even roof-top gardening (good, too). No big deal, front-back, same-same, yes? Besides, we've got all those HOME&GARDEN sections to fill. Coverage enough. Nothing special about front yards.

Well, no. There is something quite special about front yard gardens. For one thing, up until 2007, front yard fruit trees, vegetables and other alternatives to mostly lawnscapes, were outlaws in this town. You couldn't do it, not without risking code violations. They were singled out and hunted down. Then things changed, the ordinances were rescinded and it was a new season for the front yard. Almost.

You still don't see a lot of front-gardens, especially of the edible variety. Some zeroscape, low-water plots are appearing here and there. But on the whole, not much—still, acres and acres of lawn after thirsty lawn, block after water-guzzling block.

What is peculiar about this is that the special benefits of front-yard gardens are so outstanding, and yet they are little thought about by the general public. One wonders why they are downplayed in our press and other media, and receive so little specific attention,. When they appear in print or video, the value of their location is rarely treated as important. It is only some aspect of the gardening itself that is of interest. Indeed, The Bee has a feature in its Home& Garden section that is almost entirely devoted to featuring one ornamental or another, for seasonal color or some other attractive purpose. There is little focus on edible front yards and the value they offer homeowner and community alike beyond being pretty. At times, they seem to be touted as mere interest points surrounding the real feature of the space -- its lawn.

A Sac Bee search on 'front yard gardening' turned up a total of 138 articles none of which, as far as the Z could tell*, really focused on the front yard as an option to lawn growing or made special mention of growing vegies, fruits, herbs or other edibles there.

A search on "grey-/gray-water similarly produced only a single article in their H&G Section. It seemed to for some kind of an event mentioned in their calendar feature.

[*We admit we were unable to read the articles themselves, and had to judge matters by titles alone. Each article we tried to retrieve was grey'd out, and solicited a fee before we might actually read it—part of the Bee's recent decision to monetize its archives and turn an important public resource into a revenue stream as well. We have more to say about that decision in a Page 3 story in this edition of the Z &ed.]

The direct and indirect benefits, in addition to saving substantial water over lawn irrigation, are especially visible and worthwhile to individuals who opt to do front yard gardening. And while it is true, back yard and other forms of veggie gardening provide similar benefits, there are some that simply don't happen within the privacy of a fenced backyard or on roof-tops. Here are a few of the more obvious advantages of front-yard veggie gardens:


reframing Sam Goldwyn:

"If you want to send a message, try The Z Newspaper"


What the Z will be doing is connecting the unconnected dots, asking the unasked questions, taking a close look at how your news and information is being framed for you, and offering solution-sets our local media either can't imagine or don't wish to have its readers and viewers imagine.

So what does that mean, "connecting the dots"? Better than telling, allow us to show you with a small illustration about how print media deals with questions of bias in its pages.

If you're anything like us, you pick up your morning paper, glance through the pages read a few articles, maybe an editorial or two. And maybe, as often as not, you put the paper aside with this parting thought in your mind, "They're so fucking biased, I can't believe it."

If it's bad enough, if it's obvious enough, we might complain on occasion. And, if the Bee or Channel 13 or whomever gets enough complaints they might respond. How does the Bee respond? Why they do the column-inches count and maybe a number-of-stories written count, sorted neatly into piles of opposing sides—left/right, men/women, rich/poor, up/down or whatever the particular that serves as the dividing bias-line. Then they present us with the result and, Voila! there's not much difference in the coverage, and they've got the counts to prove it.

If you're a Bee editor, you might punch that tidbit home with a "proof-of-no-bias" statement like, "It is clear that the bias lies in the ideology of the reader, not in the coverage by our paper."

Of course, the media never reveals the formula they use in deciding to which side of the bias-line an article will fall. But for the sake of argument, let's assume their process is good, in column-inches/number-of-articles terms. And the results reflect that. In truth, our local press, with some glaring exceptions, are fairly well balanced in those terms. The unasked question, however, is whether those are the terms in which bias, slant, hidden agendas and the like are really hidden? So, ok, the accusers are now the accused no matter which side they complained from.

Then why, even after it's been "proven" that we, and not our press, is the carrier of the bias, do we still come away with that nagging feeling, There's something wrong with this picture.? Could it be because there is something wrong with the picture? Maybe that the "no bias proof" we've been handed is really little more than device for distracting readers from the real bias the paper has covertly inserted into its stories and covered up? A slant which they don't want their readers to even think about.

Let's look at a very tiny corner of a huge story with lots of questionable coverage and agenda masquerading as journalism, and other twists and turns -- The generic, running story of the Kings and their new quarters. We'll just look at a very small corner, one that appears only in an occasional line or quote that you'll find among the endless King stories the Bee sees fit to print, and about how the Kings in Sacramento are the gateway to making basketball the national pastime of India, if not of the world. You've read the line, here and there. Not a lot. Not enough to accuse the Bee of some case of bias or overwhelming hoopla about 'internationalized basketball'. Just a little quote from the owners, now and again, or an aside about us becoming some international sport nexus, that sort of thing

I can't say, perhaps the owners really believe it will happen. Perhaps the Bee does too. But with all the immediate, local issues and impacts this arena deal has had, and still has, it does seem strange to read about this unexamined, speculative fantasy creeping into stories about the Kings. Among the many really pressing and interesting questions a reporter might have asked and reported on, why does this little fantasy pop up?

You know, I once came up with this idea that I felt could not only make our town a real world-destination and showcase, but pump the economy by orders of magnitude beyond anything the best predictions of Kings-arena success could imagine. I told the idea to Tony Bizjak. You know what he said back to me? "We get a lot of wild ideas from people. If we printed them all we wouldn't have any room left for the news."

Now, I'd be the first to admit what I had to propose (The CEAV Project) might be totally crackpot. I don't know; neither does anyone else. It's never been seriously examined. I did make four formal presentations to the Cal Expo Board of Directors, and while they were busy totally ignoring our proposal, they were spending considerable time and money examining any developer proposal that was offered (all of which turned out to be completely unworkable). I did write articles and send information to the Bee. At the presentations I made (or tried to make if I wasn't cut short by some board member) there were often several Bee reporters present. After the meeting they interviewed any developer who was handy. But not one of them came over to me and asked a single question. Why was that do you think?

In all the years Cal Expo was arena shopping and fooling around with Gerry Kamilos and and a few other inside-track developers, the CEAV Project wasn't mentioned once in the hudrends of articles the Bee wrote about the subject.

Now we have even wilder speculation about "World Basketball" making it into the pages of the Bee and other local media sources. You think maybe it's because the people proposing these crackpot ideas have influence, money and fit with the agenda of the Bee and other local media? Certainly, it is not at all unreasonable to ask, "why?"

The answer is right in front of us, actually, in the pages of the Bee. If you look closely, the magic of sports fantasia begins to morph into a dot which connects to a whole lot of larger issues and their dots. With a few unquestioned hints, the Bee has planted the idea that, with a sportzy palace and a couple of home-town teams, we're on the way to a hoop-full of sports-minted gold and the world-mecca of the sports and entertainment industry.

What the little India hoop-craze fantasy leads to are some unexamined dots about the future economic stability of our city that rides on some grand world-at-our-door motif. You don't have to be a z-axis thinker to want to ask a whole lot of serious questions about making this thing pay off— here and now. Because if it doesn't pay off, big time, we're in deep doo-doo.

Nobody really knows. But, in ten or fifteen years (the time it takes, according to leading sports economists, to really know if these projects are going to succeed or fail) we could have a very large, very expensive white elephant on our hands, while the investors run off to the bank to cash out (Cleveland Silverdome fashion) and the builders went to the bank long ago, and we're left holding the bag . So there's a big dot that needs to be connected about slanting news, even a little, to mask real serious questions that needed to be asked.

That dot also leads to questions about what kind of anchor it is that a City would tether its economy to the success of some sports/entertainment venue, which connects to a dot about who and how it was decided that our future would depend on whether we citizens got swept into this sports-mania (along with whether the KIngs have a winning or losing season). Instead, it is simply taken for granted that we all sit in the stands (those that can afford to) like good fans and not bother about who should really be designing the future of our communities and scripting our realities and the realities of our children for generations to come. And those dots may well be connected to ones about who besides the very well-off will even be able to afford to go to more than a few games a year with their families....

Now add those to current questions about the mayor's "stong-mayor proposal" and whether that aids and abets the further exclusion of citizens from major processes and decisions about the future shape of our city.

But that's how the agenda and bias you don't see work. They spread out in all directions, and they are designed so that the reader (that "ideologically biased reader") is too busy pondering his/her own bias to even notice. Make no mistake, it's the Bee and other local media that script these matters and how we think about them from the beginning. Perhaps we should ask yet another question about where the dots lead that have turned the Bee into little more than a marketing division for Kings Inc.?

We're not saying sports aren't an important part of our culture, or they can't be "Big Fun" (to borrow a phrase from another venue that is due some close examination of its own).But when a small, if noisy and enthusiastic, minority of citizens (about 15% by most counts), and a few wealthy out-of-town investors and some local businesses and developers with vested interests can script a reality that will be the way we all do business for a very long time, then serious questions about whose scripting this "reality", and do we wish to live in it, have to be asked.

Certainly, our media has played a major role in promoting this and other realities. But they really haven't asked any of the serious questions that needed to be asked. In this case, they did manage a few stories marginally dealing with the risks the arena project engendered. Strangely, those stories came out only after our City Council had taken its final vote to approve the project. A fact (dot) that is certainly connected to why they championed excluding the public from voting on the matter, and a process which would have undoubtedly brought with it the vigorous debate that would have answered many of those and other questions before decisions were actually made.

I like sports. And I certainly hope the Kings do well and our soccer team is well supported, and they and the River Cats provide a whole lot of entertainment and some economic return for our residents. But is the business of the private, tax-exempt sports industry, really what cities are about and what they ought to be hitching their wagons to?

We won't hazard an answer here, though a good many nationally and internationally recognized sports economists have warned mid-sized cities like ours of getting involved in these kinds of deals. But we will raise these questions so that readers can think outside the very narrow frames our press and media have provided us and would like us to stay within.

Dot by dot, then, we move on to ever larger and more important questions about the quality and kind of lives we want to imagine for ourselves and the future of our city. We're no longer even talking about arenas or strong-mayor proposals or CEAV projects (all subjects that will be dealt with in future editions of the Z.)

No, we're talking about asking a lot of questions, on a whole lot of subjects. We're talking about examining frames and agenda and the unnoticed and unasked.

Above all, we're trying to exercise our imagination to look beyond the scripted realities of our press and public officials at those more distant realities they don't bother to mention. The ones that may just decide whether we survive as a species or a planet.

We'll have a lot to say in future issues about the collision between real-values and market-values. At present, there doesn't even seem to be a calculus for real-valued ideas and needs that would get them anywhere close to the tables where decisions are made about the future of our City.

We will ask why so many major projects get moved through the back rooms of City Hall, rather than through the front-doors of the Planning Department, where they really belong, the way everybody else has to do it.

So,that's what connecting dots is about. And "Framing?" what's that about? Well, consider the Bee's recent frontpage headline and lede—Johnson's legacy riding on fight for strong mayor - /outcome likely to determine if he'll run again". Looks like typical realpolitik yammer, yes? But consider the association being made in our press between Johnson's reputation and another term as mayor with whether the strong-mayor proposal succeeds or not. The way its framed virtually says, if you don't support the strong-mayor proposal then you don't support the mayor or his continuing in office.

Now that doesn't matter for those who don't like Johnson and don't want to see him run or win another term. But for the rest, its framed to suggest vote for the strong-mayor system or you're voting against Mayor Johnson. Indeed,supporters of the proposal have also suggested (as reported in the Bee) that our Mayor, with a strong-mayor system in hand, will be even more successful in his next term.

That's just another framing, presuming one accepts that he has been a success in his current term, that the strong-mayor proposal is just for him, or that it won't eventually fall into the hands of a mayor down the line who is a real tyrant and threat to our city. strong-mayorship", in those hands, can and will do enormous damage with the focus of power such a tool brings with it.

That's what framing does and our media uses it all the time to persuade you in one direction even when they seem to be talking in another. It applies to matters as large as circumventing a public vote about commiting substantial public assets and a restructured economy to a underwrite a risky private project, down to something as small as reporting that some jaywalker was "...also found to have drugs in his pocket."

It's not the overt, run-of-the-mill, FOX NEWS, variety of bias that's dangerous. It's the covert kinds that you hardly notice,if at all. They are a real threat to our being informed and conscious citizens. Indeed, one tactic sometimes used is to deliberatly plant a little obvious bias that we can all complain about, simply to distract us from the hidden ambitions being used to run a covert agenda. And, if I seem to be picking on the Bee, I'm not. That's not our agenda. It's just that they are such a large and obvious target for doing this kind of manipulating.

So, that's just a hint at what The Sacramento Z will be up to in issues to come. We're a z-axis bunch (that is, when we become a 'bunch' and there's more on board than just me). We'll have more to say about the z-axis and z-axis thought, too. For now, don't expect us to be on well-traveled roads (read your usual papers and watch your usual news for that). You may often not even find us on the less-traveled roads.

Z-axis is 90-degrees from those other two axis -- the one's we normally do all of our 'either/or' fighing over. Z-axis isn't partial to labels, scripted talking points or favorite burning causes. Z-axis is much more partial to roads not-traveled and, when we spot one, we're very apt to take it just to see where it might lead.

So, if you like what you find here, tell your friends. If you want to see this project flourish, offer to help in any way you can (except money. we don't take none of that). If you have a z-axis thought or wild but...idea, write it down and submit it. And if you want to get the most out of what the Z has to offer, then put aside the labels,exercise your imagination, and see where it leads. That can do wonders for a world that seems all too broken most of the time.

Omoiyari, your editor.

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