Posts tagged ‘Southern California’

When the Media Loses Its Skepticism - High Speed Rail Edition

I have said for a long time that I don't really think there is a lot of outright media bias in the sense of conspiring to bury or promote certain memes.   But there are real issues with the leftish monoculture of the media losing its skepticism on certain topics.

For example, high speed rail is one of those things we are just supposed to do, from the Leftish view.  Harry Reid's justification for a high speed rail line is typical:  he wants to see  "America catch up with the rest of the world".  Everyone else has these things, so it must be some failing of ours that we don't.  For the left, the benefits of high speed rail are a given, they are part of the liturgy and not to be questioned.  Which means that it is up to outsiders to do the media's work of applying some degree of skepticism whenever a high speed rail project is proposed.

Thus we get to this article on high speed rail about a supposedly "private" rail line from LA to Las Vegas.  As is usual in the media, none of the assumptions are questioned.

Greg Pollowitz gets at some of the more obvious problems.  First, it is fairly heroic spin to call a line that currently is getting $4.9 billion in public subsidies "privately funded."  Second, he points out that, like the proposed California high speed rail line, this is a train to nowhere as well

And second of all, having grown up in Los Angeles — and having lied to my parents to drive to Vegas since the time I was 16 years old — I consider myself somewhat of an expert on the Los Angeles to Vegas drive. (CNN, Fox, MSDNC — call me!) I remember Victorville fondly as the place where we’d make our food-stop and pick up some In-N-Out burgers for the final half of the journey. And I can tell you this: There is no way anybody would ever drive through L.A.’s notorious traffic only to stop halfway and hop on a train on the other side of the El Cajon Pass and in doing so give up their personal transportation once they actually get to Vegas.

I want to reality-check their usage numbers.

DesertXpress estimates that it will carry around five million round trip passengers in the first full year of operation,with the company charging fares of around $50 for a one-way trip.

OK, right now there are about 3.7 annual air passengers between Las Vegas and the southern California airports, according to rail supporters.  It is hard to get at drivers, but the Las Vegas tourism folks believe that 25% of 36 million annual visitors to Vegas come from Southern California, so that would mean about 9 million total or about 5 million driving.

What this means is that to make this work, they are counting on more than half of all visitors from Southern California (and remember this includes San Diego) taking the train.  Is this reasonable?

  • The train is supposedly $50 (I will believe that when I see it).  Currently JetBlue flies from Burbank to Las Vegas for $56 in a flight that takes 69 minutes (vs. 84 for the train and remember that is from Victorville).   The standard rate from LAX, Burbank, or Long Beach seems to be around $74-77.
  • Airplanes leave for Las Vegas from airports all around LA and in San Diego.  Let's take a couple of locations.  Say you live near downtown LA, not because that is likely but it is relatively central and does not feel like cherry picking.  Victorville is a 84 mile 90 minute drive AT BEST, with no traffic.  The Burbank airport is a 15 mile, 18 minute drive from LA.  LAX is just a bit further.  Victorville is 82 miles and 90 minutes from Irvine and 146 miles/144 minutes from San Diego.  Both of these Southern California towns are just a few minutes from an airport with $70-ish flights to Vegas

So are drivers going to stop half way to Vegas, once they have completed the hard part of the drive, to get on a train?  Are flyers going to drive 1-2 hours further to get to the rail terminal to say $20?  Some will.  But will more than half?  No way.

Postscript:  If you really want to promote the train, forget shoveling tax money at it and pass a law that the TSA may not set up screening operations at its terminus.  That might get a few customers, though the odds this would happen, or that it would stick over time, are minuscule.

Try To Spot Who Has Been Left Out

Here is Kevin Drum, where he quotes from an Op/Ed about a new Southern California "Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy"

The plan includes expansion of housing near public transit by 60%....and projections of more than 4 million new jobs — with public transit within half a mile of most of them. Amanda Eaken of the Natural Resources Defense Council praised it as "the strongest transportation plan" in the history of "car-loving Southern California."

.... SCAG's new plan is born of the realization that as a region, we have to grow up, not out. That doesn't mean Hong Kong skyscrapers in Whittier and Redlands. It does mean more apartments near light-rail stations and more vibrant mixed-use areas like the ones in downtown Pasadena, Ventura and Brea. It doesn't mean wresting the car keys from suburban commuters. It does mean making jobs and housing accessible via foot, bike, bus and rail.

Here is his comment on this:

In theory, a plan like this should have almost unanimous support. Developers like it because they can put up denser buildings. Environmentalists like it because it's more sustainable. Urbanists like it because it creates more walkable communities. City governments like it because it creates a stronger tax base.

There's really only one constituency that doesn't like it much: every single person who already lives in these communities and hates the idea of dense, high-rise construction near their homes. So there's going to be fireworks. It'll be interesting to see how the NIMBY bloc gets bought off.

Can you spot which group of people whose  preferences have been left out?   He considers the preferences of planners, developers, environmentalists, urbanists, and current community residents.  That's everyone, right?

Yeah, except for the freaking people who are moving in and actually shopping for a home.  Apparently if you are looking for a place to live in California, everyone except for you has a say in what living choices you will find.  Want a suburban home on an acre of land -- you are out of luck (unless you get an existing one that is grandfathered in, but those are really, really expensive because they are what everyone really wants but no one in power in California will allow to be built).  Your chosen lifestyle has not been approved by your betters.

 

Balloon Boy in a Prius

I absolutely couldn't believe what I was listening to on NPR the other day, with the breathless coverage of the moron in Southern California who for some reason couldn't slow his Prius but did manage to alert the national media.   Your brakes on your car can stop it even at full acceleration. Why couldn't he?  Why didn't he shift into neutral?  Why didn't he turn the engine off?  How amazing was it that a one in a million problem (because even if the sudden acceleration issue is a real hardware problem, it is very, very rare) occurs at just about the exact height of the Toyota panic in SoCal, the world's largest media market?

I am glad someone else is showing some skepticism.  The media is just incredible.  I used to feel guilty that I was too hard on the media in stories like this in my novel, but now I think I stopped short of reality.

Only A Company Living Off of Government Pork Would Make This Decision

Aptera apparently wants to build electric cars using our tax dollars.  They are looking for a manufacturing plant location.   They seem to be homing on an one of the last locations on the planet I would build a new manufacturing facility:

At least we learn that the company is might soon be closing in on a new production facility as a result of a new application to the DOE's AVTMP [advance vehicle technology manufacturing program]. The loan application asks for a 10-year facility plan, which meant Aptera needed to actually come up with such a plan. Aptera's production schedule "calls for more than 10,000 units in the first 3 years and more than 300 employees," so it is looking for a new place to build the cars somewhere in Southern California, specifically somewhere in San Diego County.

High land prices?  Hugely expensive land use and environmental regulations?  High taxes?  Really high local wages?  Perfect, lets build an auto assembly plant!

Where's Coyote

On the road this week in Southern California.

Asymmetrical Explanations

Crime rates seem to bounce up and down over time.  Has anyone noticed that city governments typically ascribe rising crime rates to uncontrollable demographic trends while crediting falling crime rates to improved policing?

The drop comes nine months after Mayor Antonio
Villaraigosa and Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton vowed to
crack down on gangs. But though previous anti-gang campaigns have
involved mass arrests and high-profile sweeps, this effort has been
more targeted.

And in its most radical shift, the LAPD is putting aside decades of
suspicion and turning for help to gang intervention workers, many of
whom were gang members.

....Overall, Los Angeles has recorded [289] homicides so far this
year, with Bratton saying he believes the city will end the year with
the lowest number of killings in 37 years (in 1970, there were 394
homicides). Authorities believe the help of gang intervention workers
has made a difference, but they acknowledge that they can't fully
explain the drop.

By the way, I will be waiting for those who ascribe rising crime rates in Southern California to illegal immigrants to admit their mistake this week.

Cotton Growing Dying in Phoenix -- Good!

I have written a number of articles about the ridiculous subsidies paid to cotton growers in Arizona.  The AZ Republic has a semi-nostalgic look at the decline of cotton farming in the Valley, mainly due to the pressure of urban growth.  I say:  Good!  How have we tolerated a situation like this so long:

This year, Arizona farmers planted 215,000 acres of cotton, a 66
percent drop from the 633,000 acres in production in 1981, said Rick
Lavis, vice president of the Arizona Cotton Growers Association.

"I wish we could grow more and the prices were better," Lavis said.

Cotton averages 55 cents per pound, up from five years ago, Lavis said. But it costs 75 cents a pound to produce, he said.

"Doesn't sound very profitable, does it?" Lavis asked. "If the trend
lines tell us anything, it probably is continuing to be a diminishing
commodity because of urbanization and price. If you're not making back
the 72 cents to 75 cents a pound that it costs to produce it, cotton
growers may say, 'Gee, I need to grow something else.' "

A variety of federal subsidies, including guaranteed payments, price
supports and below-market loan rates, keep cotton profitable for
Arizona farmers, Lavis said. When cotton prices rise, subsidies
decline, he said.

You mean at some point when prices are 20 cents under the cost of production, farmers might eventually consider planting something else?  Duh.  Farmers, generally rational sorts, would have made this decision long ago if it weren't for the enormous federal subsidies mentioned in the last paragraph that keep cotton profitable.  And this underestimates the total subsidy, since farmers in Arizona (as well as Southern California) use millions of gallons of subsidized water, ofter priced below cost, usually priced below what we other citizens pay, and always priced below what a true market clearing price would be (which explains why Lake Powell is drying up).

In this post I list information on cotton subsidies
-- over $100 million in Arizona just for cotton in 2003, and 2006 appears to be a worse year.  And notice the top three subsidy recipients are all Indian Tribes with very, very profitable casino operations.  These are not struggling family farms.  Most every one of these farmers on the top subsidy list are in cities (Goodyear & Queen Creek for example) that are right at the wavefront of Phoenix expansion and so probably sit on a fortune in real estate.  I am sure they are happy to have the USDA pay them a half million dollars a year so they can cover the carrying cost of their land until they find the right developer to buy it for millions.

Its All Monopoly Money

A lot of bad legislation has been passed to protect consumers from the "scourge" of monopoly.  The most common fear is that some company will lock up the market and then start raising prices.  This never happens in real life, because entry in most markets is far easier than most people imagine, particularly in modern America where there are so many accumulations of capital looking for a way to be spent.  In fact, the only time such price-gouging monopolies are ever sustainable is when they are backed by the coercive power of government.

The milk market, for decades one of the most egregious examples of government price-fixing for the benefit of producers over consumers, provides us with a perfect example of this phenomena:  A cartel charging too high of prices that is taken on by a maverick price-cutting outsider, who was on a path to success until the feds slapped him down.

In the summer of 2003, shoppers in Southern California began getting a break on the price of milk.

A
maverick dairyman named Hein Hettinga started bottling his own milk and
selling it for as much as 20 cents a gallon less than the competition,
exercising his right to work outside the rigid system that has
controlled U.S. milk production for almost 70 years. Soon the effects
were rippling through the state, helping to hold down retail prices at
supermarkets and warehouse stores.

That was when a coalition of giant milk companies and dairies, along
with their congressional allies, decided to crush Hettinga's
initiative. For three years, the milk lobby spent millions of dollars
on lobbying and campaign contributions and made deals with lawmakers,
including incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.).

Last
March, Congress passed a law reshaping the Western milk market and
essentially ending Hettinga's experiment -- all without a single
congressional hearing.

The most hilarious (or disgusting, depending on my mood) part is listening to the statements of other milk producers complaining about the new competition and price-cutting, something the rest of us in business face as a matter of routine, but from which the privileged few in the dairy business are shielded:

Hettinga's operation was "damaging to the marketplace," said Elvin
Hollon, director of economic analysis for Dairy Farmers of America.
"Nobody ever envisioned there would be such large handlers" outside the
pool.

"So," Hollon said, "the regulations had to change."

and this:

In an interview later, Nunes called the milk legislation a victory for
"every dairy farmer in America except those who were gaming the
system." He added, "People out there were making millions of dollars a
year off the backs of America's dairy farmers . . . that was a wrong
that was finally righted.

That last paragraph is so brazen you may not even get it ... he is referring to competitors that are charging lower prices.  They are "making millions of dollars off the backs of America's dairy farmers" the same way the Honda Civic made millions of dollars off the back of the Yugo.  Under the new law passed by the dairy industry's cronies, Hettinga can still operate like he has been, as long as he pays $400,000 each year to his competitors to make up for the fact that he is out-competing them.

I will say I probably would like this guy -- he is able to look on the bright side:

"I still think this is a great country," Hettinga said. "In Mexico, they would have just shot me."

Yeah, we're much better here.  The government only rapes rather than kills you.