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Endorsements for the 2008 Election

Political endorsements are new territory for our website, and it is something that I do with huge reservations. However, many feel that this could be the most important election in our lifetime. We face incredible challenges: the economic meltdown, climate change, peak oil, healthcare, foreign wars, and so on. Many of these issues directly relate to walkable neighborhoods and reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil. With so much at stake, I find it difficult to stay on the sidelines and not be active in this election’s political discussions.

In California, there are a few propositions I will explore that are directly related to this website. I will also take a look at the Sacramento mayoral race between former NBA All-Star Kevin Johnson and incumbent Heather Fargo. You may be surprised by my endorsement decision.

U.S. President: Barack Obama

This probably comes as no shock to many of you. The past 8 years under the Bush regime has been some of the worst in American history, and I’ve been critical of the Administration before on this site. While John McCain claims to be a “maverick” on many issues, one issue in particular—working across the aisle with Democrats—he certainly hasn’t displayed this much over the last 8 years, caucusing with George W. Bush some 90% of the time. McCain is far removed from those days a few years ago where it looked like he might change his party affiliation.

This doesn’t mean that Barack Obama gets my endorsement by default. He also doesn’t get the endorsement simply because he’s an inspirational speaker and perhaps the best orator running for President we’ve seen since at least the 1960s. As an Independent, many times I’m just as likely to rail on Democrats as I do the Republicans. But Obama has provided some of the best policies and programs I’ve ever seen from a candidate and perhaps helped restore some of my faith in the Democratic Party. In fact, at the end of this post, I’ve included many of Obama’s positions regarding sustainable communities, mass transit, rail, and energy. I pulled this straight from his website. Even if you despise Obama and would never consider voting for him, I encourage you to read these positions. There are some good ideas that we can only hope both candidates will consider carrying forward as President.

I am not going to go into great detail on all of the reasons I endorse Obama. My feelings are almost identically reciprocated in this fantastic article in the New Yorker on why their editors endorse Barack Obama for President. Photo credit: Flickr user transplanted mountaineer

Proposition 1A – Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act: “YESVOTE

Sacramento Bee Summary: Would provide nearly $10 billion in bonds for a high-speed rail network that would initially link the Bay Area, the Central Valley and Southern California.

My Analysis:

The timing seemed perfect for this bond initiative: gas prices were soaring, airport capacities are nearly maxed out in Southern California, gridlock in California is the worst in the nation, AB 32 climate change goals needed some good projects, et cetera. Then the economy started a severe downward spiral almost overnight. Next, California had the long state budget impasse that did nothing to really fix the long-term financial shortfalls and massive deficit. The Sacramento Bee decided that the economy was the overriding consideration in their reasoning not to endorse Prop 1A, even though they recognized we desperately need this system. I beg to differ, and here’s why.

I consider high speed rail an absolute no-brainer for California. First, let’s look at why freeway expansion just won’t do it. California has stopped building new freeways and expanding capacity for the most part. Most everyone is aware here that freeway expansion induces sprawl development. In addition, there is so little right of way available to expand the freeways in urban areas, and purchasing the right of way is extremely expensive. It’s just not an option. It’s also much more costly to expand the freeway per mile than it is to build a rail system (in most cases). And adding cars to freeways is not exactly the best way to meet the AB 32-mandated greenhouse gas emission reductions to 1990 levels.

Travel by airplane is also going to be very difficult in the future. Southern California airports have nearly reached their maximum buildout and capacity levels. There’s just no more room to expand most of the airports either. (Here’s the proof)

We all know the difficulties with other passenger rail systems in California like Amtrak: most share the tracks with freight rail, making the schedules slow, unpredictable, and unreliable. Having separate tracks would help immensely, but if you’re going to go there, you might as well go all the way for high speed trains.

So, what are we left with for interregional travel? Boats? Our ports are even more crowded. This is why high speed rail is so critical.

The economy is a big issue, yes, but it’s not a dealbreaker. While I do not like the idea of a bond package that further increases the deficit, there is one great thing about high speed rail systems: they’re profitable. Yes, the state is projected to make money back on this project over time ($1 billion per year)—despite having very reasonable fares on the system. The California High Speed Rail Authority, the agency created to oversee the effort, performed a benefit-cost analysis that showed the direct benefits would be more than twice the costs of the high-speed train system.

To see all of the listed benefits of the high speed rail system put together by the authority, click here.

Other website-related propositions:

Proposition 7: Renewable Energy Generation – “NO” VOTE

Sacramento Bee Summary Would require government-owned utilities to generate 20 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2010. It would require all utilities to generate 40 percent by 2020 and 50 percent by 2025.

It seems though just about everyone is against Proposition 7. While the proposition has laudable energy generation goals, the proposition is deeply flawed. The Sacramento Bee provides a fairly good synopsis of why they oppose it. At least it’s good enough for me.

Proposition 10: Alternative Fuel Vehicles and Renewable Energy – “NO” VOTE

Sacramento Bee Summary Would authorize $5 billion in bonds to help consumers and others purchase certain vehicles, including those powered by alternative energies.

I don’t like just handing my money over to energy tycoons, do you?

Sacramento Mayoral Race: None of the Above

The Sacramento race is quite intriguing. The race is actually a run-off election between the incumbent Mayor Heather Fargo and former NBA All-Star Kevin Johnson. This election is a run-off between the top two candidates from the primary, since no candidate received a majority of the votes in that election.

This is a really difficult decision for me, as I usually always vote for a candidate for an office that I feel will really affect me. However, I don’t feel comfortable voting for or endorsing either one. Why? Well, I am not happy with the job Fargo has done as mayor. While I appreciate her pro-smart growth talk and her support for walking and biking, she has presided over the insane sprawling expansion of the outlying areas of incorporated Sacramento. She should have done everything she could to put a stop to it. The city has also seen a significant rise in crime during her term. In addition, it was reported in the Sacramento Bee a while back that she sent a high-rise condo tower developer back to the drawing board because his plans would block the view of the State Capitol from her office. That’s unacceptable.

But, I cannot support Kevin Johnson either. While I do support many of his revitalization efforts in the under-served Oak Park community, there are some troubling statements he has made during his campaign. A couple examples—he said that he would like Sacramento to be more like Phoenix. He also said that Sacramento needs more auto malls to generate tax revenue.

I don’t think I need to say a whole lot to respond to those statements. Phoenix is pretty much the quintessential example of how NOT to design a city in my opinion. Auto malls are struggling across the country and are not the answer for a “green” Sacramento economy. I’m not sold that he understands all of the complexities that come with being a mayor of a major city.

We need a better candidate for mayor, one that will stand up and do the right thing: say no to sprawl. Focus on redeveloping the problematic areas of the city, and encouraging density in strategic locations. Unfortunately, Sacramentans don’t have a choice this time.

Obama’s Smart Growth-Related Proposals from his website:

Safeguard Mass Public Transportation

Every weekday, Americans take 34 million trips on public transportation systems to get to work, school and beyond. Even though recent attacks have happened on public transit in Madrid, Mumbai and London, the Bush administration has invested only a small fraction of the $6 billion that transportation officials have said is necessary to implement needed security improvements. Barack Obama believes that this critical hole in our homeland security network must be addressed. He will fight for greater information-sharing between national intelligence agents and local officials and provide local law enforcement agencies with the everyday tools they need to protect their transportation systems. As a U.S. Senator representing Chicago, Illinois, one of the nation’s major rail transportation hubs, Obama has consistently advocated stronger rail and transit security programs.

Strengthen Livability of Cities

Build More Livable and Sustainable Communities: Our communities will better serve all of their residents if we are able to leave our cars, to walk, bicycle and access other transportation alternatives. As president, Barack Obama will re-evaluate the transportation funding process to ensure that smart growth considerations are taken into account.

Control Superfund Sites and Data: As president, Obama will restore the strength of the Superfund program by requiring polluters to pay for the cleanup of contaminated sites they created.

Use Innovative Measures to Dramatically Improve Efficiency of Buildings: Buildings account for nearly 40 percent of carbon emissions in the United States today and carbon emissions from buildings are expected to grow faster than emissions from other major parts of our economy. It is expected that 15 million new buildings will be constructed between today and 2015. Barack Obama will work with cities so that we make our new and existing buildings more efficient consumers of electricity.

Foster Healthy Communities: How a community is designed – including the layout of its roads, buildings and parks – has a huge impact on the health of its residents. For instance, nearly one-third of Americans live in neighborhoods without sidewalks and less than half of our country’s children have a playground within walking distance of their homes. Barack Obama introduced the Healthy Places Act to help local governments assess the health impact of new policies and projects, like highways or shopping centers.

Build More Livable and Sustainable Communities: Over the longer term, we know that the amount of fuel we will use is directly related to our land use decisions and development patterns, much of which have been organized around the principle of cheap gasoline. Barack Obama believes that we must move beyond our simple fixation of investing so many of our transportation dollars in serving drivers and that we must make more investments that make it easier for us to walk, bicycle and access other transportation alternatives.

Reform Federal Transportation Funding: As president, Barack Obama will re-evaluate the transportation funding process to ensure that smart growth considerations are taken into account. Obama will build upon his efforts in the Senate to ensure that more Metropolitan Planning Organizations create policies to incentivize greater bicycle and pedestrian usage of roads and sidewalks, and he will also re-commit federal resources to public mass transportation projects across the country. Building more livable and sustainable communities will not only reduce the amount of time individuals spent commuting, but will also have significant benefits to air quality, public health and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Require States to Plan for Energy Conservation: Current law simply asks governors and their state Departments of Transportation to “consider” energy conservation as a condition of receiving federal transportation dollars. As president, Obama will require governors and local leaders in our metropolitan areas to make “energy conservation” a required part of their planning for the expenditure of federal transportation funds.

Level Employer Incentives for Driving and Public Transit: The federal tax code rewards driving to work by allowing employers to provide parking benefits of $205 per month tax free to their employees. The tax code provides employers with commuting benefits for transit, carpooling or vanpooling capped at $105 per month. This gives drivers a nearly 2:1 advantage over transit users. Obama will reform the tax code to make benefits for driving and public transit or ridesharing equal.

This isn’t an exhaustive compilation, but just some of what I found. I know he also supports High Speed Rail and Amtrak.

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