Monday, November 24, 2014

San Francisco May Go Back to Chasing the Public Utility Dragon, this time with Broadband

"If there was more competition in the market, people could vote with their wallets," EFF activist April Glaser says, adding that in many U.S. cities, customers only have one or two service providers to choose from. At most, they have four: Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, and Charter Communications. 
San Francisco might be the exception. With more than 100 miles of city-owned fiber optic cable coursing below the streets, the city could create its own robust broadband system, Glaser says — one that would provide a viable alternative to the Big Four. The EFF views municipal fiber the way progressives view public power. If the latter can extricate us from PG&E, the former can free us up from Comcast. 
Whether that's feasible is still an open question. In 2011, the city's Department of Technology reported that much of that cable was "dark," or unused, since the department typically installs 312 strands of backbone cable for each new extension, even though city agencies only use about 12 of them. At the time, Department of Technology officials wanted to lease out the excess for up to $200 per month, per mile — or $1.8 million annual revenue. They ultimately made good on those plans, spokesman Ron Vinson says, leasing fiber to entities like UCSF, and using some municipal bandwidth to supply free wifi to Market Street and to 32 parks. 
But, Vinson says, providing a local network connection for every San Francisco home is a fiber-optic pipe dream. 
"I don't know if we're gonna be able to do something like public power," he says, adding that such a network would require the city to dig up big stretches of sidewalk, then set up the kind of customer service infrastructure that takes big companies 10 years to build.

More @ SFWeekly

Interest in Koryo Museum in Kyoto belies Sour Ties Between Japan, Korea

Choi Sun-il, a 47-year-old South Korean researcher at the Northeast Asia Buddhist Research Institute in Seoul, visits the Koryo Museum every year to study its collection of Buddhist statues. He said he was surprised that there is a museum focusing on the culture of the Korean Peninsula in the ancient capital of Japan. 
Choi held academic conferences the last two springs in Seoul themed on the Kyoto museum. Last year, he also released a book featuring the museum and Jeong.
“It has the potential of becoming a center to allow visitors to get an overall grasp of South Korean culture,” Choi said. 
Whang Cheol-mean, a 54-year-old film professor at Sejong University in Seoul, heard about the museum from Choi. 
Whang, who is also a movie director, decided to create a documentary film featuring the art gallery and the life of its founder. The documentary is titled “Jeong Jo-mun no Shiroi Tsubo” (Jeong Jo-mun’s white pot). 
Tracing the life of Jeong, who interacted with renowned Japanese writer Ryotaro Shiba, Whang reflects on the current chilly ties between Japan and South Korea. 
“We have forgotten our long-continuing exchanges and have been involved in a spat,” said Whang, referring to the recent bilateral relations that have soured over a territorial dispute and perceptions of shared history. “It is just a waste of time.”

More @ Asahi AJW

Anti-Immigrant Activists in Vancouver Target Academic

Bradley Saltzberg recently was dismissed as spokesman for the group Putting Canada First, an organization which has advocated against Chinese language signs in Richmond and West Vancouver. 
Putting Canada First distanced itself from Saltzberg after an expose article by the South China Morning Post, which alleged Saltzberg had used aliases while attacking Vancouver mayoral candidate Meena Wong. According to the South China Morning Post, Putting Canada First’s chairman Paul Bentley said Saltzberg had harmed the group with deception and “inappropriate inclusion of race in his discussions.” 
Saltzberg’s stream of press releases arguing against the influence of Chinese culture and Chinese-Canadian figures in B.C. is widely emailed to Lower Mainland media and politicians. In the run-up to elections in Vancouver, Saltzberg singled out Meena Wong and Toronto mayoral candidate Olivia Chow, writing: “Do voters really want two pro-multicultural, ethnocentric candidates running our largest cities? I don’t and from my direct experience, neither do most Canadians of European origin.” 
Saltzberg’s latest public target is UBC history professor Dr. Henry Yu.
Dr. Yu has lectured and written about racism in B.C., and submitted writing for The Province’s 2013 series Racism in Paradise.

Foreign Buyers Continue to Figure Large in Australian Property Market

image courtesy wikimedia

Most property pundits agree that all of this foreign interest is having an impact on the local property market. 
A recent survey of property analysts at Australia’s biggest banks and property development companies blamed foreign investment as the main driver of high property prices in our capital cities. 
According to the Australian Property Institute’s bi-annual Property Directions Survey, 96 per cent of analysts said foreign investment was a “significant to very significant” driver of increased prices in the Sydney market. 
Furthermore, foreign demand for new homes surged in the September quarter alone, according to the National Australia Bank’s residential property survey 
 The report revealed overseas buyers accounted for almost 17 per cent of total demand for new properties, and in Victoria they accounted for almost 25 per cent.

More @ The New Daily 

Anchorage Tries Again with Port Retrofit

Aerial diagram shows existing port (top) and the proposed configuration (bottom).CH2MHill / Municipality of Anchorage

Back in 2003, the municipality began its first attempt at revamping the port, located on the eastern bank of Knik Arm just north of downtown Anchorage. Officials selected a design known as “open cell sheet pile” to essentially create new land to the north of the terminals. Giant hammers drove long sheets of steel into the Knik Arm seabed that would connect in a series of overlapping U-shapes. The front of the cells would create a new dock face and the area behind would be filled with gravel. 
But the plan didn't work. Inspection revealed that some steel sheets had bent, jammed and separated during installation. Construction was halted by 2010 with the structure about one-third built. 
Of the $439 million reserved for the port project, about $300 million was spent. Now the municipality has roughly $130 million left to begin the process again. 
"I think it’s going to be pretty tough to come up with another $350 million,” said Assembly member Patrick Flynn. “But I’m not sure we have a choice.”

More @Alaska Dispatch 

In APEC's Wake, China Aid Offers Continue To Make Big Splash

President Xi Jinping of China received a traditional Maori greeting in Wellington, New Zealand, last week. Mr. Xi also visited Australia and Fiji. CreditDiego Opatowski/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images via NYT

Everywhere Mr. Xi went, he left a trail of money, a bounty aimed at showcasing China as the dominant economic power in Asia. The largess was wrapped in a long-range message: Don’t worry, he suggested in his speeches. China, the “big guy,” is friendly and worthy of consideration not only as an economic partner, but a strategic one, too. 
From the opening of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing nearly two weeks ago through Mr. Xi’s tour in the Pacific, China announced that it would spend $70 billion on loans and infrastructure in the Asia Pacific region, according to an analysis by the Australian National University. 
The impact of some of the money, like $40 billion for a Silk Road infrastructure fund in Central and East Asia, could be decades away, the university’s East Asia Bureau of Economic Research said. Still, it noted that the $20 billion for loans and infrastructure for the 10 countries in the Association for Southeast Asian Nations was a substantial amount for projects that could come on line quite soon. 
The figures were particularly stark when stacked against American promises. The White House pledged $150 million for Myanmar during Mr. Obama’s recent visit for an Asian summit. On the edges of the same meeting, China pledged $7.8 billion to refurbish decrepit roads and increase energy production.

More @ New York Times

Friday, November 21, 2014

Olympian Folly, Eastern Pacific Edition

The principal problem: This has to be a regional effort. San Francisco is too small a city to handle an Olympics by itself. It's not even the largest city in the Bay Area, as we know. So all the surrounding counties and cities must be involved.
But to give you just one example of the political problems this creates, let's assume Larry Baer, the Giants' CEO, remains at the forefront of the 2024 Olympic bid. This is the same Larry Baer who is keeping the A's from moving to San Jose, which has caused the city to sue Major League Baseball. So how do you think San Jose leaders will respond when Baer asks the city to host events at SAP Center or the Earthquakes' new stadium or the San Jose Convention Center? Baer may be sincere in his Olympic efforts but frankly, his name is toxic inside San Jose City Hall. 
Also, how do you think Oakland will respond when San Francisco, which has stolen away the Golden State Warriors from the East Bay, wants cooperation? And that's just in the sports realm. What about all the other major and minor political squabbles between all the cities in far more serious issues such as transportation, water resources and law enforcement.

Olympian Folly, Western Pacific Edition: Tokyo to slash 2020 budget

(So: How many more turtles can we still build under this one? image courtesy archdaily)

The estimated cost of 10 of the facilities for the games is currently $3.8bn, three times their original budget. Japan may reduce this price by using arenas in other cities, such as Osaka, the country’s second city, which is 400km away. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has called on Japan to consider staging events outside the capital.

The original plan was that all events would take place within 8km of the Olympic village. John Coates, the IOC vice president, said: “We should make the maximum use of existing facilities, and that overrides the 8km philosophy which we had as part of the bid.

More @ Global Construction Review

San Francisco's Progressives Ultimately Face a Demographic Challenge

If city progressives can see fit to alter their tactics and cease frontal assaults on the same windmill every few years, they'll be in for perhaps the most daunting battle of all — against this city's demographic trends.

The legions of left-leaning young people who nearly carried Gonzalez to Room 200 in '03 are gone. The city has grown wealthier, more entrepreneurial, and busier. The progressive voters who could devote the time it takes to participate in local politics while earning a living in this city are now doing so in another, cheaper city.

The Chinese vote in San Francisco, meanwhile, has tripled in the last 20 years, and 80 percent of registered Chinese voters are homeowners. They skew older. That means they pick up the phone. That means they have phones, and homes in which to plug those phones into the wall. All of this bodes poorly for progressives. But it gets worse.

When Gonzalez nearly toppled Newsom 11 years ago, only around one-third of voters mailed in their ballots. In recent years, that percentage often exceeds two-thirds. Around 60,000 fewer San Franciscans cast a vote this year than four years ago — and almost the entire difference was in election-day voters.

So, the progressive strategy of rallying emotionally charged voters to turn up on election day offers ever-diminishing returns. This vein has dried up.

More @ SFWeekly

New PG&E Fine Fails to Impress CA PUC Critics

The Utility Reform Network, a San Francisco-based advocacy group that has battled PG&E for decades, called the new CPUC sanctions a positive step, but still "an inadequate response to the evidence of serious corruption between the Commission's top brass and PG&E." 
TURN described the fine as "a mere $1 million," and said the sanctions are based on a partial record "that relies solely on evidence PG&E chose to disclose," rather than requiring it to provide all evidence relating to back-channel "ex parte" communications between utility and CPUC executives relating to the rate case and related matters.

The CPUC's new ruling also modified some restrictions placed on communications between the giant San Francisco-based utility and the commission, which has also been deeply tarred by the email scandal and related revelations. That includes retaining a one-year ban "on individual communications" outside of group meetings that include all relevant parties for rate-setting cases, and requiring continued reporting of "contacts with CPUC senior management."
Rate hearings scheduled for October 2014 were postponed until January 2015, when they will be heard by a different administrative law judge than the one involved in the alleged "judge-shopping" scheme involving PG&E and CPUC officials.

More @ Silicon Valley Business Journal