Studies in the News 07-107    


October 4, 2007


California Research Bureau

California State Library

Environment, Growth Management and Transportation Supplement




          Contents This Week




             Chemicals threaten SF Bay

             Commission panel recommends against toll road.

             Court backs states’ measures to cut emissions

             Delta levees under great flooding risk

             Draft report from Delta task force

             Gray whale recovery called incorrect

             Lake Tahoe getting warmer

             More dying trees in the Sierra

             More early action measures on GHGs

             New dams could harm salmon

             Rural sprawl raises wildfire risk                                   

             Urban development and climate change




             Flexible access to carpool lanes safer

             Growth in highway costs

             Trends in road privatization

             How and why people walk to transit

             Transit and GHG reductions

             Response to issues on cross-border trucking

             Traffic congestion rankings




Introduction to Studies in the News


Studies in the News is a current compilation of items significant to the Legislature and Governor's Office. It is created weekly by the State Library's California Research Bureau to supplement the public policy debate in California. To help share the latest information with state policymakers, these reading lists are now being made accessible through the State Library’s website. This week's list of current articles in various public policy areas is presented below. Prior lists can be viewed from the California State Library's Web site at


The following studies are currently on hand:







Pulse of the Estuary, 2007: Monitoring and Managing Water Quality in the San Francisco Estuary. By the San Francisco Estuary Institute. (The Institute, Oakland, California) October 2007. 88 p.


["Scientists are closely monitoring flame retardants and commonly used    pesticides in San Francisco Bay, as rising levels of toxic chemicals threaten birds, fish and marine mammals. Mercury, PCBs, dioxin and invasive species remain at the top of the most-wanted list of nasty threats to the bay. Yet, over the last several years, the concentrations of bromine-containing chemical flame retardants known as PBDEs have risen in both water and soil on the bay bottom….State health officials have found the chemicals in the bodies of marine mammals and in bird eggs and dead embryos and are concerned that the chemicals will interfere with reproduction, a danger observed in laboratory animals." San Francisco Chronicle (October 1, 2007) 1.]


[Request #S07-107-843]






Staff Report and Recommendation: Foothill Transportation Corridor Toll Road. By the Staff of the California Coastal Commission. (The Commission, San Francisco, California) 2007. 236 p.


["The proposed Foothill South toll road would likely drive an endangered mouse to extinction, wipe out vital habitat, shatter the peace of a popular campground and even worsen global warming. The report, which recommends the commission deny approval for the 16-mile toll road, also raises worries about effects on surfing and scenic views at the popular Trestles Beach. 'It would be difficult to imagine a more environmentally damaging alternative location for the proposed toll road,' the report says. 'No measures exist that would enable the proposed alignment to be found consistent with the Coastal Act.'" Orange County Register (September 29,

             2007) 1.]


[Request #S07-107-847]







Green Mountain Chrysler, et al. v. George Crombie, Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, et al. U.S. District Court, District of Vermont. September 12, 2007. 244 p.


["A federal judge in Vermont gave the first legal endorsement to rules in California, being copied in 13 other states, that intend to reduce greenhouse gases emitted by automobiles and light trucks…. The judge rejected a variety of challenges from auto manufacturers, including their contention that the states were usurping federal authority. The ruling follows a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in April that the EPA has the authority to regulate heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide as air pollutants…. A request for a waiver in the case of the emission standards was made in December 2005, and the EPA administrator has said he will make a decision by the end of this year…. A lawyer with an environmental advocacy group predicted that the ruling would 'put a lot more pressure on EPA to grant the waiver.'" New York Times (September 13, 2007) 1.]


[Request #S07-107-756]






Technical Memorandum Delta Risk Management Strategy Phase 1: Topical Area: Levee Vulnerability; Draft 2. By URS Corporation and Jack R. Benjamin & Associates, Inc. (Department of Water Resources, Sacramento, California) June 15, 2007. 119 p.


["Delta islands may flood more than 200 times in the next century, and there is a chance of up to 30 or more levees crumbling simultaneously at a cost of $35 billion.... When its 1,345-mile levee system is breached, fresh water from the Delta pours over low-lying islands, creating a vacuum that is filled by saltwater 'gulp' from the San Francisco Bay. A total of 166 islands have flooded in the past century. What would be unprecedented, at least since the Delta wetlands were reclaimed, would be a devastating earthquake." Stockton Record (July 6, 2007) 1.]


[Request #S07-107-700]







A Vision for Durable Management of a Sustainable Delta: Draft. By the Staff of the Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force. (The Task Force,

Sacramento, California) September 11, 2007. 15 p.


["The Task Force indicated that building big things may not solve the Delta's troubles. Rather, it calls for fundamental change in how the Delta is governed. Noting that at least 220 government agencies have jurisdiction in the Delta, the task force proposes a new governance structure with wide authority to treat environmental values and water supply equally. This new entity must have the money and legal authority to control land use, water flow and environmental restoration. 'Humanity must learn to work with nature to achieve desired goals in the Delta. The state must seek a new balance that neither prioritizes human engineering over the ecosystem, nor abandons the Delta.'" Sacramento Bee (September 18, 2007) 1.]


[Request #S07-107-748]






"DNA Evidence for Historic Population Size and Past Ecosystem Impacts of Gray Whales." By S. Elizabeth Alter and others. IN: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 104, no. 38 (September 18, 2007) pp. 15162-15167.


["The success story of the Pacific gray whales' full recovery from near-extinction is wrong, according to a new genetic analysis that pegs the current population at only one-third to one-fifth of historical levels. By examining subtle variations in DNA taken from 42 modern whales, scientists have concluded that between 78,500 and 117,700 gray whales lived before the heyday of commercial whaling in the 19th and 20th centuries. That finding suggests that the about 22,000 gray whales now swimming along the California coast remain a depleted population…. The findings provide further evidence that this year's abnormally high number of skinny whales is a sign of deterioration of the vast ocean ecosystem that stretches from Baja California to the Bering Sea." Los Angeles Times (September 11, 2007) 1.]


[Request #S07-107-755]







Tahoe: State of the Lake Report: 2007.  By the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center. (The Center, Incline Village, Nevada) August 2007.


[“Lake Tahoe, the jewel of the Sierra once so crystal-clear that Mark Twain likened boating on it to floating on air, is warmer and soupier than ever before as a result of climate change and human activities…. . Conditions appear to be getting worse, even as environmental and planning agencies work to reduce runoff from residential and commercial development and improve water quality in the lake. The most significant finding is how much the Tahoe climate is warming.”  San Francisco Chronicle (August 16, 2007) 1.]

[Request #S07-107-764]

                    Report. 25 p.


                    Press Release. 3 p.







"Apparent Climatically Induced Increase of Tree Mortality Rates in a Temperate Forest." By Phillip J. van Mantgem and Nathan L. Stephenson. IN: Ecology Letters, vol. 10, no. 10 (October 2007) pp. 909-916.


["Trees in the Sierra Nevada are dying at a rate nearly double that of two decades ago, and scientists say global warming is likely to blame…. Climate change can bring about both drought and drenching rain, but in the arid Sierra Nevada, temperatures are warming without a marked increase in precipitation. What's more, the moisture that until now has fallen as snow may turn to rain. This is less beneficial for trees, since the water immediately drains downstream rather than slowly melting over a period of months…. So far, the tree die-offs have been 'gradual and subtle. But if the forests are as sensitive as the study suggests, they may be subject to greater declines in the future." Stockton Record (August 8, 2007) 1.]


[Request #S07-107-768]







Expanded List of Early Action Measures to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions in California Recommended for Board Consideration: Draft.  By the Air Resources Board Staff.  (The Board, Sacramento, California). September  2007. 189 p.


["Environmental regulators proposed a slate of new emissions rules for the semiconductor, trucking and port industries -- measures designed to kick-start the state's compliance with an ambitious greenhouse gas reduction law.  The new rules, which would go into effect in 2010, are among the first steps the state plans to take under AB 32, the far-reaching global warming legislation of last year. The measures represent just a sliver of the overall reductions needed to each the law's greenhouse gas targets -- a roughly 25 percent reduction by 2020 -- but environmentalists nonetheless said the proposals represent a solid step forward." San Mateo Times (September 7, 2007) 1.]


[Request #S07-107-767]






"Directed Connectivity among Fish Populations in a Riverine Network." By Robert S. Schick and Steven T. Lindley. IN: Journal of Applied Ecology, doi:10.1111/j.1365-2664.2007.01383.x . (September 2007)


["Spring-run Chinook salmon and other fish in the rivers of California’s Central Valley could be hurt by more water storage dams…. Schick used analytical techniques from network science to study the relative importance of individual populations of salmon within the valley. He examined how the addition of large water-storage dams blocked access to habitat and fragmented these populations over time. He also established the locations of the current surviving salmon populations in the Central Valley…. In addition to identifying problems linked to the dams, the network analysis identified potential solutions." Environment News Service (September 24, 2007) 1.]


[Request #S07-107-763]







Dangerous Development: Wildfire and Rural Sprawl in the Sierra Nevada. By Autumn Bernstein, Sierra Nevada Alliance. (The Alliance, South Lake Tahoe, California) September 2007. 53 p.


["Having a picture window on the wilderness may be a dream come true, but the spate of new homes on the peaks, ridges and wildland areas threatens a disastrous fire. And taxpayers are picking up the bill for extra fire-protection measures…. El Dorado County has seen the biggest increase in residences built in fire prone areas, but Nevada and Placer counties are close behind. Bernstein said the communities, in many cases, cannot afford to maintain roads, build new infrastructure and pay for the fire protection necessary to keep up with the growth…. Quickly spreading development on the urban-wildland boundary is a problem all across California, which has an ecosystem designed to burn." San Francisco Chronicle (September 18, 2007) 1.]

[Request #S07-107-747]






Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change. By Reid Ewing, National Center for Smart Growth, University of Maryland, and others. (Urban Land Institute, Washington, DC) September 2007. 172 p.


["Forty percent of the planet-heating gases that Californians emit come from transportation, and with its booming population and sprawling suburbs, the state's greenhouse emissions will continue to soar unless it dramatically changes the way it builds cities and suburbs…. Compact development -- mixing housing and businesses in denser patterns, with walkable neighborhoods -- could do as much to lower emissions as many of the climate policies now promoted by state and national politicians…. A growing consensus of experts is homing in on the everyday zoning decisions of local officials and county planners." Los Angeles Times (September 21, 2007) 1.]


[Request #S07-107-753]







HOV Lane Configurations and Collision Distribution on Freeway Lanes: An Investigation of Historical Collision Data in California. By Ching-Yao Chan, California Partners for Advanced Transit and Highways, and others. (UC Berkeley Traffic Safety Center, Berkeley, California)  2007. 18 p.


[“Allowing drivers to go in and out of freeway carpool lanes when they want to results in fewer and less severe accidents…. Researchers found that limited-access carpool lanes had 3.6 collisions per mile compared with 3.2 collisions per mile for continuous-access lanes. It also found that 19% of collisions on restricted carpool lanes involved injury compared with 8.9% on continuous-access lanes. The study analyzed statistics from freeways in Northern California and Texas…. The study adds ammunition to the Orange County Transportation Authority's attempt to persuade Caltrans to loosen carpool access on freeways in Orange County as a way to relieve congestion.” Los Angeles Times (August 8, 2007) 1.]


[Request #S07-107-765]






Growth in Highway Construction and Maintenance Costs. By the Office of Inspector General, U.S. Department of Transportation. (The Office, Washington, DC) September 26, 2007. 44 p.


["We found that highway construction and maintenance costs nationwide grew approximately three times faster from 2003 through 2006 than their fastest rate during any 3-year period between 1990 and 2003, substantially reducing the purchasing power of highway funds. These increases are largely the result of escalation in the costs of commodities used in highway projects, such as steel and asphalt, and reflect structural, not transitory, economic changes. Consequently, we expect these commodity costs to remain elevated, and possibly continue expanding, in the near term. Finally, we found that highway project cost growth varied across states due primarily to differences in costs of transporting commodity inputs."]

[Request #S07-107-856]







Road Privatization: Explaining the Trend, Assessing the Facts, and Protecting the Public. By Phineas Baxandall, U.S. PIRG Education Trust. (The Trust, Boston, Massachusetts) September 2007. 28 p.


["In general, privatization makes sense only for activities where the private sector has a clear comparative advantage over public provision of those same services. The common characteristics of road privatization deals are that they enlist a private intermediary to borrow large sums of money backed by a schedule to collect multiple decades of steadily increasing toll rates. Private proposals should thus be judged according to the relative costs and benefits of enlisting this intermediary to borrow and to hike tolls. Governments can borrow upfront sums at substantially lower cost than can private companies. Government is also more democratically accountable than private companies when it comes to setting tolls."]


[Request #S07-107-752]







How Far, By Which Route, and Why? A Spatial Analysis of Pedestrian Preference. By Marc Schlossberg and others, Mineta Transportation Institute, San José State University. (The Institute, San Jose, California) June 2007. 100 p.


["There is an increasing interest in community walkability, as reflected in the growing number of state and federal initiatives on Safe Routes to School, the new concern over a national obesity epidemic, and the rising interest in smart growth and related policy approaches to urban development. In each of these cases, walking is recognized as a key mode of travel, and increased walking is viewed as a key goal. Despite the seeming simplicity of the goal of building communities that are good places to walk, planners and policymakers actually know very little about how the local built environment affects people’s willingness or capacity to walk to access their desired destinations. The central research questions for this study are thus: 1) How far do pedestrians walk to rail transit stations? and 2)  What environmental factors influence their route choice?"]

[Request #S07-107-751]







Public Transportation’s Contribution to U.S. Greenhouse Gas Reduction. By Todd Davis and Monica Hale, Science Applications International Corporation. Prepared for the American Public Transportation Association. (The Association, Washington, DC) September 2007. 43 p.


["The report explores the net carbon dioxide (CO2) savings for the United States that is achieved by public transportation's current level of service. The report also examines additional savings that might be achieved if public transportation passenger loads were increased, as well as other ways to achieve CO2 savings.  The report also reviews the contribution of public transportation to land use impacts." TRB Newsletter (October 2, 2007) 1.]

[Request #S07-107-860]






Department of Transportation Response to Inspector General Report on Issues Pertaining to the Proposed NAFTA Cross-Border Trucking Demonstration Project. By Mary Peters, Secretary, U.S. Department of Transportation. (The Department, Washington, DC) September 6, 2007) 65 p.


["Mexican commercial carriers that have enjoyed a little-publicized right to send trucks beyond a restricted U.S. border zone in recent years have a better safety record than their U.S. counterparts, federal transportation officials said… The 859 Mexican carriers had 1.21 percent of their drivers removed from service after failing roadside inspections -- for violations such as not possessing a valid driver's license -- between 2003 and 2006. By comparison, 7.06 percent of all U.S. truck drivers were taken out of service after failing inspections during the same period.' San Diego Union-Tribune (September 19, 2007) 1.]

[Request #S07-107-749]







The 2007 Urban Mobility Report. By David Schrank and Tim Lomax, Texas Transportation Institute, The Texas A&M University System. (The Institute, College Station, Texas) September 2007.


["It's easy to pity California for suffering the worst traffic in the country by far, with five cities ranking among the nation's 13 most congested. But there's also a reason for other states to be envious of the Golden State.  Put simply: California does more -- and perhaps works harder -- than any other state when it comes to battling road delays. That's important because with the state's population expected to surge in the coming decades, those delays only are going to get worse."]

[Request #S07-107-754]

                    Full report. 138 p.


                    Summary report. 53 p.