Friday, May 28, 2010

Videos: BP Oil Spill and Bike Commuting

What BP does not want you to see: An ABC News underwater report from the epicenter of the Gulf Coast oil spill with Jacques Cousteau's grandson.

A typical bike rush hour in Utrecht, Netherlands. You have to see this. There are virtually no cars -- just pedestrians, bicyclists, buses and streetcars.

Linkage: Don't Forget Hydrogen

The Gulf Coast oil spill has placed a new sense of urgency in breaking once and for all our addiction to dirty coal and oil and transitioning to clean energy. 

And there is much excitement about the revenge of the electric car with the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt set to hit showrooms later this year. But while electric steals most of the spotlight, hydrogen power should not be underestimated. 

Honda is hard at work perfecting its FCX Clarity Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle for mass production in 2018. In Southern California there are cars available for lease where they are able to re-fuel at experimental "fast-fill" hydrogen stations like the solar hydrogen station prototype in Torrance. The unit is being tested for use as a home refueling appliance. Eventually there will be hydrogen filling stations installed in home garages. 

More links:

Finally: Obama halts new offshore leases and stumps for climate bill (Grist)

Obama preaches green tech gospel to California choir (Grist)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

President Answers Clean Energy Critics

Just when you think President Barack Obama is out for the count he always comes back with a brilliant move from his political playbook.

He has taken a lot of heat since the BP oil spill about not turning this environmental disaster into a golden opportunity to tout a transition to a clean energy economy. Some of the criticism has been justified as it has seemed like Obama has not been paying the same amount of attention to the Kerry-Lieberman American Power Act as he did to Health Care Reform or even now with Financial Reform.

However, perhaps the president is getting the message as Wednesday he visited solar panel manufacturer Solyndra. Inc. in Fremont, California before heading to Louisiana for a second time to assess the progress in cleaning up the massive oil spill.

Obama's speech in Fremont included these remarks:

"But even as we are dealing with this immediate crisis, we’ve got to remember that the risks our current dependence on oil holds for our environment and our coastal communities is not the only cost involved in our dependence on these fossil fuels. Around the world, from China to Germany, our competitors are waging a historic effort to lead in developing new energy technologies. There are factories like this being built in China, factories like this being built in Germany. Nobody is playing for second place. These countries recognize that the nation that leads the clean energy economy is likely to lead the global economy. And if we fail to recognize that same imperative, we risk falling behind."

"We've got to go back to making things" (White House Blog)

Obama cites spill in climate pitch (Politico)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Farmers Market Restores Faith in L.A.

I've been down on L.A. lately as some of my blog posts have exemplified. It's just not easy being green in the land of the big yellow Hummer. It seems the only green most Angelenos care about is the piece of paper with the picture of Benjamin Franklin on the front.

But then I have a sublime and spontaneous moment like today when I stumbled onto the Westwood Village Farmers Market. All of a sudden this sun-drenched city doesn't seem all that bad.

The Farmers Market is held on Wednesday afternoons from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. and takes place on Broxton Avenue in the heart of the Village. Vendors come from Fresno, Lancaster and other places to sell their fresh fruits and vegetables. It is all non-pesticide, organic, local and delicious. And did I mention cheaper than the grocery store?

It is reassuring to see people in L.A. out of their cars and walking around while enjoying healthy and affordable food from right here in California.

How To Turn People Off To Green Issues

If environmental groups want to gain more mainstream acceptance then they are going to have to stop using the same pressure sales tactics as credit card companies. They are really doing their cause a disservice.

For example, outside of my local Starbucks this morning were two attractive young women from Environment California, which is an important organization doing great work for the environment. While I respect what they are doing standing outside a coffee shop for five hours trying to interest people walking by, I don't like the hard sell tactics of Environment California and Greenpeace.

With the opener "got a minute to save the ocean?" to induce people to learn more, these volunteers explain what the organization is all about, but then instead of simply asking people to write down their contact information, the hard sell comes and they ask them for their credit card info to become a member and pay monthly or yearly membership dues.

Big turn-off.

A softer sell approach in my view would be much more successful. One guy I observed was initially very receptive up until the point they asked for money. His response was "you want money from me?" And then he walked away disgusted.

Green groups like Environment California and Greenpeace would benefit from a different approach by getting the address, phone number and email and later asking for a paid membership to support their important work. At the very least they have a new subscriber to their email newsletter. But this pressure approach on the street is a turn-off and ultimately I think hurts their cause.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Linkage: Greening Air Travel

The hot topics right now in terms of clean transportation are electric vehicles (and the excitement the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt are generating) and America's plans to update our rail lines for the 21st century with high-speed trains similar to Europe and Asia.

But what about air travel? It is one of the dirtiest forms of transportation in the world but people need to fly and at any moment there are thousands of planes in the sky whisking people to destinations around the globe.

This is an excerpt from a New York Times story to hammer home the point of how polluting air travel is:

"The problem is that air travel is the "dirtiest choice of transport" in terms of the emissions that cause global warming, according to Peder Jensen, transportation expert at the European Environment Agency in Copenhagen. Though exact estimates are complicated, it is four to five times more polluting than a train for the distance traveled, and perhaps twice as polluting as driving, according to Friends of the Earth. Many estimates are higher: flying from London to Paris or Brussels produces 10 times more emissions per passenger than taking the train, according to independent research commissioned by Eurostar in 2006."

So what do we do about it? Well, the European Union's Clean Sky initiative is working towards a greener aviation industry. With a budget of 1.6 billion euros shared between the European Commission and the aviation industry, technological research will go into finding solutions to make air travel cleaner and less noisy.

According to the original story on the Alternative Energy news site, aviation experts expect to "achieve 50% reduction of noise and carbon dioxide emission and 80% reduction of nitrogen oxide output by 2020."

Improvements will include wings more optimized to air flow, improved engine technology, long-life-span raw materials and recyclable materials, environmentally friendly plastics and innovative painting systems.

The full story:

Future air travel will have less noise, less exhaust (Alternative Energy)

More links:

L.A. Metro receives grant to study electric car charging stations (The Source)

GM bets Volt will move Californians to buy American (Grist)

George W. Bush touts wind-power legacy at Dallas convention (The Dallas Morning News)

Greens call for Salazar's resignation (Washington Post)

10 ways to kick the offshore-oil habit (Grist)

Where are the oil protests? In New Orleans they've finally begun (Grist)

Silver Lake Goes Green

The progressive neighborhoods of Silver Lake and Los Feliz are naturally leading the green revolution in Los Angeles.

I had a chance to experience this movement first-hand this past Saturday as I biked from my apartment in the Miracle Mile across town to the Silver Lake Jubilee -- a music and arts festival that is somewhat of a precursor to the larger Sunset Junction Street Fair

After parking my bicycle with the many other bikes at the huge bike rack at the entrance, I checked out the bands that were playing on two stages set up on either side of Myra Ave., which was closed off to traffic for the event. One common complaint I overheard was the lack of parking spaces. I wanted to tell them that there was plenty of bicycle parking but I kept it to myself.

There were lots of vendors, including a clothing company called Green Getup Enterprises.

"We're a 100% organic apparel company," said founder Joseph Epstein. "We use water-based inks and all our cotton is raised without pesticides. We also use recycled t-shirts and we're here today promoting the whole green movement."

There was an Eco Village at the event where groups such as Farm Feliz, Sustain L.A. and Sustainable Silver Lake were educating people about proper gardening techniques and reducing waste. Speaking of, the Jubilee was officially designated as a Waste Zero event, meaning all the vendors were assessed beforehand to figure out their waste impact.

There were recycling and composting options in addition to disposing items in the "landfill" bin, which is the word they used instead of trash. There was also a weighing station to determine how many pounds of recyling, composting and landfill items there were. When I checked the scale it was at 70% composting, 20% recycling and the rest trash.

All in all it was a perfect Southern California day and evening with a positive, laid-back vibe and great music, food and environmental values. 

Here are more pictures from the Silver Lake Jubilee:

Why L.A. Sidewalks Are in Disrepair -- Part 2

In an earlier blog post I wrote about the awful state of disrepair many of the sidewalks in Los Angeles are in and that the reason they are ripped up is because the city planted the wrong types of trees.

While the city at one time did plant the wrong type of trees that tore up the concrete with their large shallow roots, I stand corrected about the continuing practice of planting the wrong kinds of trees.

The good news, according to Farm Feliz founder Thomas O'Grady, who is very active in local sustainability issues, is that the city is now planting the correct types of trees on city sidewalks. But planting the right kind of tree is just the first step according to O'Grady.

"The key is to water the new tree deeply and slowly for about an hour, soak the whole thing every month so it incentivises the tree to grow its roots down," said O'Grady. "The worst thing you can do is water it every week or every few days. The tree senses the water is up high and the roots come up to grab the water." And of course when the roots rise to drink the water they tear up the sidewalks. Funny how nature works sometimes.

O'Grady also pointed out that it is illegal to water trees, plants and grass in L.A. on any day but Thursday and Saturday and that it is illegal for the water to flow off the grass and onto the concrete. Tell that to the apartment owners and business owners in my neighborhood -- the Miracle Mile! I have been sprayed many times from errant sprinklers just for simply walking on the sidewalk.

Overall O'Grady believes that the benefits of more trees far outweighs any problems with the sidewalks. He explained to me that street trees provide shade, the leaves filter and clean rain water, trees provide privacy for people and animals and raise property values. But he did note that there is one type of imported tree that has absolutely no benefits to the environment in Southern California whatsoever.

"Palm trees are useless," said O'Grady.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Food Matters

Imagine the Gulf Coast is your body.

Now imagine all that toxic oil is the junk food we digest every day.

We don't want to damage the earth's fragile ecosystem and we certainly don't want to harm our body's ecosystem. But that is what we have been doing to ourselves and are still doing to ourselves -- poisoning our bodies a little bit at a time with all that overly processed junk food. And it is killing us, slowly killing us.

That is the message of the documentary "Food Matters," which screened at the Awareness Film Festival in Los Angeles this past Friday.

In my view it is perhaps one of the most important films to watch this year because we have an epidemic of diabetes, heart disease and cancer in this country and we are losing the war.

And why are we losing the war? Because we have ignored nutrition, holistic diet, exercise, vitamins, detoxification and other natural remedies in favor of pharmaceutical drugs, expensive technology and costly invasive medical treatments.

One of the most moving and striking segments of the film is the topic of preventing and healing cancer. It is such a sensitive subject because it leaves virtually no one untouched. We have all had close friends or family members suffer and die from this dreaded disease. But despite evidence to the contrary, the medical establishment will not consider nutrition and vitamins as a treatment to cure cancer.

One doctor in the film treats his patients with an IV line of up to 2,000 mg of Vitamin C and many of his patients have gone into remission and have been completely cured of their cancer. And all of this without putting radiation into their bodies through chemotherapy. But this doctor is forced to practice medicine in Mexico instead of San Diego because nutrition-based treatments are currently illegal in the United States.

"I was in acute liver failure about eight months ago and so my diet really changed," said Awareness fest director Skye Kelly. "It inspired me to watch this movie and realize the toxic stuff that you put in your system all the time with all the food that's out there. This gets into the heart of the nutritive things that you can do to heal yourself. It's something really powerful. It's one of those films where people walk out changed and view everything that they do differently."

Here is the trailer for "Food Matters":

Friday, May 21, 2010

Green SoCal Soapbox: Bigger is Not Better

I was biking around L.A. today (it's National Bike Week) and I was observing all the traffic along La Brea Avenue while I was eating lunch at a cafe. What struck me was how many over-sized vehicles drove by with only one occupant -- the driver.

While the occasional Toyota Prius was seen, the majority of vehicles were big old gas-guzzling SUVs like the Hummer, Land Rover, Ford Escape, Dodge Ram and other pre-historic fossil fuel eating monsters.

I often wonder if the owners of these vehicles realize the immense harm their lifestyles are doing to the environment, not to mention our national security and their own bank accounts.

Maybe some of them bought these heaping hunks of carbon-spewing metal back in the '90s and just can't find a way to get rid of them. But didn't they hear about the Cash for Clunkers program?

Maybe their environmental impact doesn't even cross their shallow minds.

Maybe it is a security or status or ego issue -- people feel more powerful in a bigger vehicle.

Or maybe they just don't care.

A few weeks ago I had a conversation with a couple of tourists from Copenhagen, Denmark. They were amazed by the number of big cars on the roads. In Europe it is normal to drive smaller vehicles.

America's love affair with everything big must end for the sake of the planet.

Thankfully two clean electric cars will be on the market at the end of this year -- the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf. It is the start of a new smart car era when we can start to get these big dumb cars off the roads.

Why L.A. Sidewalks Are in Disrepair

While I was biking today I decided to take the sidewalk because this is L.A. and the sidewalks are usually empty. The problem with biking on the sidewalks is that they are actually bumpier than the pothole-ridden roads.

I used to think the reason the sidewalks are hillier than the Hollywood Hills was because of the frequent earthquakes in the Southland. But that's not the case. It is actually human error that causes the concrete to resemble something out of a Salvador Dali painting.

L.A. has been very successful at planting trees all over the city as part of the Million Trees LA program. The program has been a great success by greening and beautifying the city as well as making the air cleaner.

The problem is that the wrong types of trees have been planted on city sidewalks. The trees that line L.A.'s boulevards are huge and the roots grow outward more than downward. So these big roots end up tearing up the sidewalks. Brilliant. If they planted the correct kind of trees that have roots that go straight down, then the sidewalks would be immaculate.

It is perhaps one of the dumbest urban planning ideas in the history of cities. And they are still planting these trees with the big roots that protrude outward. So expect more bumpy sidewalks ahead. Better have good shocks on the bikes!

And on top of that, the City Council is considering repealing a 1974 ordinance that made the city responsible for footing bills for sidewalk and driveway repairs. Unreal. The city created this problem by planting the wrong trees and now won't pay to fix the sidewalks! 

According to the L.A. Times story, the city spends $3 million to $5 million a year to defend or settle suits arising from sidewalk "trip and fall" injuries.

From the article:

"Of the city's 10,750 miles of sidewalks, roughly 4,600 miles are in need of repairs, at a projected price of $1.2 billion, said Ron Olive, assistant director of the city's Bureau of Street Services. Since 2000, the city has spent about $95 million to replace 550 miles of sidewalks."

Thursday, May 20, 2010

NHL Ices Global Warming

The coldest sport on earth is icing global warming.

The National Hockey League is skating towards a better future with Thursday's announcement of its Green Initiative in partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

The NHL has launched a green micro-site within called NHL Green. The site contains features, headline news, eco-friendly advice, environmental links and multimedia content.

"Our game originated on frozen ponds," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "Most of our players learned to skate on outdoor rinks. For that magnificent tradition to continue through future generations, we need winter weather -- and, as a league, we are uniquely positioned to promote that message. We are thrilled to be able to work with the Natural Resources Defense Council and to draw upon its vast experience and expertise in greening League events and League and Club operations."

The NHL also announced that it will be replacing 30,000 plastic shopping bags with reusable bags at this year's Stanley Cup Finals.

"Lakes are freezing later and melting earlier, which is not good for ice hockey, and biodiversity is being lost at historically unprecedented rates, which is not good for the health and well-being of our planet," said Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, Senior Scientist, NRDC. "As one of the world's most iconic professional sports leagues, the NHL should be applauded for launching a program to help address these global environmental pressures, and NRDC is proud to join with the NHL to help identify ecologically meaningful, achievable goals. The NHL has an opportunity to make a real difference in its own operations, with its suppliers, and also to set a standard for others to follow. We are excited to embark on this valuable project."

This is a smart move by Gary Bettman and the National Hockey League. If we are going to change the public's perception of climate change then professional sports will hopefully lead the way. Spectator sports provide one of the few public spaces that unites Americans of all stripes and persuasions.

When the NHL, MLB, NBA, NFL and MLS take the lead in acknowledging and taking action against climate change, then the skeptical masses will follow.

So kudos to the NHL for going green. Here are links to the green initiatives of the other major sports leagues:

NBA Green

MLB Team Greening Program

MLS Greener Goals

While I couldn't find a web page from the National Football League, it doesn't mean the NFL isn't going green as this article about last year's Super Bowl reveals:

Six Ways the NFL is Greening Super Bowl XLIV. Really.

Here is video of Bettman talking about NHL Green:

Metro Projects: In the Works

Maybe you've seen those Metro ads popping up around town. You know, the colorful utopian drawings promising a better transit future for Los Angeles?

Well I say kudos to Metro for finally getting it right with their marketing. It is the same strategy President Obama used brilliantly in his election campaign -- you need to give the people hope.

And that is what Metro is doing with these ads promoting "projects in the works." It is all about communicating to jaded Angelenos that better times are coming.

Here is the Metro Works video:

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Linkage: How to Treat a Bus Driver

The video below almost brought tears to my eyes. It is just so sincere and heartfelt. A bus driver in Copenhagen gets a surprise birthday celebration on a hidden camera. It makes me think how we take for granted the hard-working bus drivers, train controllers and airline pilots who keep us safe each and every day.

And it isn't easy being a bus driver in a city like Los Angeles. There are potholes, pedestrians and Porsches to dodge; and cranky and crazy customers at every stop. We should all thank our local bus driver next time we board. And even if we don't take the bus, we should still be thankful for all of the people working hard to keep L.A. and every other city moving.

Thanks to Metro's The Source blog for directing me to this link.

Mukhtar's Birthday (

Local linkage:

It's National Bike to Work Week so everyone -- bikers and motorists -- could use a refresher on sharing the road. Thousands of bicyclists are injured or killed every year because of careless and avoidable mistakes by both bikers and drivers. Even tonight I was bicycling home from work at midnight along Wilshire Boulevard and a driver in a hurry to get to the grocery store and not paying attention, almost hit me when he was making a right turn onto Wilshire while I was biking across the intersection. Of course we all know who wins that battle -- my 168 pound body and bike vs. his 4,000 pound Ford Taurus.

So please be careful out there. Bikers and drivers all need to be defensive and pay attention. The video below demonstrates some of the most important safety tips about sharing the road.

Safe travels to all.

California DMV share the road video (

At tiniest levels, drugs in O.C.'s water (OC Register)

State approves big chunk of funding for train safety system for Metrolink (The Source)

Recycle your cycles in National Bike Month (LB Press-Telegram)

Riding a bike in Los Angeles (Tucson Velo)

National and International Linkage:

National Academy of Sciences urges strong action to cut greenhouse gases (LA Times)

U.S. Could Lose 250,000 Manufacturing Jobs Without Comprehensive Clean Energy & Climate Legislation (Environmental News Network)

Robert Redford Presses President Obama on Climate Bill (Wilshire & Washington)

MIT Researchers Print a Solar Cell on Paper (Alternative Energy)

Fighting to keep the Jordan River alive (Israel21c)

Satire from The Onion:

 If We Don't Stop Childhood Obesity, Our Fat Toddlers Could Become Fat Fucks

EPA: Stubborn Environment Refusing to Meet Civilization Halfway

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Linkage: Bike to Work Week

A celebration of bicycles is going on this week across the country. Here in Los Angeles there are a bunch of events culminating in this Thursday's Bike to Work Day and Friday's Bike to School Day. Click here for a list of events in your area.

I hope this week more Southern Californians give biking for fun or commuting a try. I started bike commuting to work two years ago and love it. Not only do I reduce my carbon footprint by not burning gas, but I save money by not buying fuel. In addition to the environmental and financial benefits of biking, there are the health benefits. I get exercise every day by biking to work and back, and I save myself the stress of driving. Also, when you are biking you are more aware of the people, architecture, neighborhoods and mom-and-pop shops that make up Los Angeles. When you are racing by in your car you miss out on so much of this great city.

And bicycling L.A. is going to get even better and safer once the Bike Plan is implemented. The city is going to place sharrows, bike lanes, signage and other bike-friendly features across the city. Click here for more information on the Los Angeles Bicycle Plan.

Bike Commuting Tips (

Bike Ban on Rush Hour Trains Lifted by Metro (L.A. Curbed)

On the market: Homes near bike paths (L.A. Times)

Child Obesity and Biking: A Graphic Link (Infrastructurist)

More local linkage:

Waxman seeks to have Westside Subway Extension project evaluated by the feds all at once (The Source)

Walking in L.A.: An Introduction (Good)

Fixing public transportation in L.A. requires both a carrot and a stick (L.A. Times)

Scripps battles one of its own on climate change (S.D. Union-Tribune)

California approves final energy block grants for small cities and counties (

National and International Linkage:

John Kerry: Introducing the American Power Act: On strategy and substance (Grist)

James Oberstar stymied on transit bill (Politico)

Obama to create BP commission (Politico)

Feds push solar solution to coal addiction (Grist)

Coal Emissions from U.S. Could Stop in 20 Years (Alternative Energy)

Bladeless Wind Turbine -- Inspired by Nikola Tesla (Alternative Energy)

Building an Agricultural Community: The Model Self-Sufficient Village in Haiti (Huffington Post)

Robert Reich: BP Stands for Bad Petroleum (Huffington Post)

Redesigning the Bus Stop (


Awareness Film Festival
May 20-23
Regent Showcase Theatre
614 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles

2nd Annual Green Long Beach! Festival
Saturday, May 22
East Village Arts District

Silver Lake Jubilee
Saturday, May 22
170 Myra Ave.

Amgen Tour of California Bike Race
Saturday, May 22
downtown L.A.

'Eaarth' Author: Time is Running Out

Take a good hard look at the picture above. That is the Siberian permafrost. And it is melting. And underneath this vast frozen tundra is enough methane gas to irreversibly alter our fragile planet forever. There are more of these peat bogs, like the one above, forming all the time because of global warming and they are releasing tons of methane gas into the atmosphere. And we don't know the consequences this will have on the future of the human species.

Got your attention? So while we are having nice little debates over whether climate change is real and what if anything to do about it, the earth is continuing to warm from greenhouse gases we are carelessly putting into the atmosphere.

But it isn't too late for us to take action on an individual, national and international scale to stem the tide of global warming before the permafrost completely melts.

That is the message author, environmentalist and founder of (the safest upper limit of carbon dioxide parts per million in the atmosphere) Bill McKibben relays in his new book "Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet."

I heard McKibben speak on the talkshow "Charlie Rose" on PBS tonight and he discussed the irreversible damage we've already done to the earth and how we need to take urgent action to prevent more damage to our environment before it's too late.

Rose asked him about the climate change debates going on and McKibben's answer was this:

"The real climate change debate going on is human beings vs. physics and chemistry."

I ask you to read that one more time and think about it next time you confront a climate change denier. Then ask them to read "Eaarth."

Here is video of McKibben talking for 350 seconds about

Monday, May 17, 2010

Green SoCal Reading Recommendations

There are many excellent books about the new green economy and climate change. I have read or am reading a fraction of those and there are many more books on my list. Here are some recommendations from my collection. It is just a start but hopefully it will peak your curiosity to start exploring the wealth of information on this timely subject. Click on the book title for the Amazon link to purchase a copy.

 Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis
by Al Gore
The former vice president has been sounding the alarm for decades about our destructive habits and how we are contributing to climate change. While "An Inconvenient Truth" presented the daunting problems we face, "Our Choice" provides a blueprint on how we can start to solve the climate crisis before it's too late. A must read.

Science as a Contact Sport: Inside the Battle to Save Earth's Climate
by Stephen H. Schneider
The inside story from the front lines of the climate change debate that has been raging from the 1970s and continues to this day. The book provides important lessons about confronting climate change deniers and skeptics with scientific evidence. Schneider was the recipient of the 2007 collective Nobel Peace Prize.

The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology
by Jack Kornfield
If we are going to have more compassion for the natural world and transition from our destructive habits to harmonizing with the environment, then we must first open our hearts to the "nobility and sanctity of the human spirit." Buddhist psychology offers a guide to that enlightened path.

Food Rules: An Eater's Manual
by Michael Pollan
We've known for years how destructive the Western diet is to the planet and our personal health. And yet McDonald's serves billions while establishments that sell local organic food can barely stay in business. We need a "real food" movement and Michael Pollan is the man to lead it. "Food Rules" is all about simplicity. It's about getting away from the food engineers and overly-processed "edible food-like substances." Personally I have started to become more of a vegetarian partly as a result of reading this book.

Rare: Portraits of America's Endangered Species
by Joel Sartore
When we think of endangered species our mind usually drifts to exotic places like Asia and Africa. But literally right in our backyard here in North America there are animal species that are close to be driven off the earth forever by our destructive habits. These haunting images are a strong visual reminder about the responsibility we have to protect the environment so these species can flourish again.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Angelenos' Aversion to Public Transit

I love hockey and taking public transportation. Some people have a strong aversion to both. I don't understand why.

I have talked to friends, family members and strangers alike and the knee-jerk reaction is the same. And when asked to give a reason, there either is none or it is some lame excuse.

I just don't get it.

It is beyond me why many sports fans put baseball, basketball and football on a pedestal but dislike in my view the most exciting sport in the world. But that discussion is more appropriate for my other blog  The Hockey Stop on SportsFanLive.

Since this blog is about green issues and clean modes of transportation, I'm going to focus on the confounding cultural aversion to taking public transportation in Los Angeles and Southern California in general.

There are many sociological and psychological reasons why this mentality is so pervasive amongst the middle class and wealthy sectors of the region. But I won't get too academic in this story. I just want to stick to my own experiences as a transplant from Washington, D.C.

Now I'll admit, when I was in high school, college, and even the first few years of living in Southern California I preferred to drive and wouldn't even consider taking public transit. I remember how my father, who walked a mile every day from our home in Falls Church City, Virginia to the West Falls Church Orange Line Metro Station for his commute into downtown D.C., would always say how ridiculous it was that I thought I was "too good" for the bus. Now looking back I realize he was absolutely right, and I was being a spoiled elitist brat for looking down upon taking the bus or subway.

Eventually as I started spending more time in D.C. taking the Metro, and then traveling around Europe on trains and buses, and then later moving to the middle of Los Angeles and taking the buses and subway system, I became more comfortable with mass transit.

So now I'm at the point where I have a car but choose not to use it most of the time in favor of walking, biking and taking public transit.

Now when I hear family members, friends and strangers talk the way I did when I was in high school about taking public transit, I always prod them as to why they feel this way.

And what really gets me about some people I encounter are the places they were from before moving to Tinseltown. For example, last night I met a girl from New York City who when she is back in Manhattan rides the subway and buses and doesn't think twice about it. But of course in Los Angeles she wouldn't think of stepping foot on a bus or subway car.

And that is really the conundrum facing the L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority here. The challenge is getting people more comfortable and feeling safe and knowing the transit is reliable. But in order to do that, as messed up as this sounds, they are going to have to see people that look like them and dress like them.

This isn't racist. It is just human nature. Yes, L.A. has the third busiest transit system behind New York and Chicago. But the majority of riders are working-class people who have no alternative but to take the bus or subway. Thankfully these hard-working immigrants from Mexico and Korea and other places have transit options.

But when there are few men in business suits or 30-something women from New York City riding the rails and buses in L.A., then it creates an unhealthy cultural divide between the "haves" (i.e. those in leased luxury cars) and the "have-nots" (i.e. those poor souls waiting at the filthy bus stop). It isn't healthy for this city and region.

But if more people like me, and bloggers Green LA Girl and Snob On a Bus, are seen comfortably riding the rails and bus lines at all hours, then hopefully other skeptics will hop on board, and Metro will take notice and make L.A. transit cleaner, more efficient and safer.

Right now it's always an adventure taking L.A. transit, and not in the good way. For example, I went to the Silver Lake neighborhood to see a show at the Spaceland music venue last Friday night and Google Maps gave me the wrong bus line. So I ended up downtown and was the only white guy on the bus at that point. On to the bus walked a couple who obviously had just smoked a crack pipe. The guy carried a vacuum cleaner onto the bus. Yes, a vacuum cleaner. I felt like I was on a bad episode of "Chappelle's Show."

Those experiences will not endear your average Brentwood resident to trying out L.A. public transit.

But at least history is on the side of public transit in L.A. Sixty years ago the City of Angels had one of the best public transit systems in the world. The richest prospectors and filmmakers sat next to the dirt-poorest Okie and Mexican immigrant on the Red and Yellow street car lines that criss-crossed the city from Santa Monica to Hollywood to Downtown to Burbank and everywhere in between.

Of course many of us know about the Great American Streetcar Scandal. The systematic dismantling and destruction of the clean electric streetcars in favor of polluting buses and polluting automobiles in every driveway was one of the greatest tragedies in the history of this country.

Now sixty years later we are starting to realize this grave error, and how it is destroying the environment and our communities. My hope is that one day, as the history books prove can be done, the thousands of hard-working blue collar rail and bus riders will be joined by tourists, business people, college students, suburban families and every other type of person you see in any other city's mass transit system except Los Angeles.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Linkage: Super Mayor V. in D.C. for L.A. Transit

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is in Washington, D.C. tubthumping the Measure R 30/10 plan before Congress. Here is the written testimony courtesy of The Source followed by a few links about the mayor's trip:

United States House Committee on Ways and Means
Subcommittee on Select Revenue Measures

Testimony of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa

May 13, 2010

Thank you Chairman Neal, Ranking Member Tiberi, and members of the subcommittee for the opportunity to address “Proposals to Establish an Infrastructure Bank.”  Your focus on the fiscal and policy implications of initiatives to stimulate critical infrastructure investment is important and timely for the nation and for Los Angeles in particular.


Los Angeles is the car capital of the world, with the traffic congestion and air quality to prove it. Despite dramatic improvements in our air quality over the past four decades, Los Angeles continues to have some of the dirtiest air in the U.S.  And, according to the Texas Transportation Institute, we continue to have the highest levels of traffic congestion in the U.S.  Angelenos spend an average of 70 extra hours each year stuck in traffic.  In total, we waste 367 million extra gallons of fuel and 485 million hours at an estimated cost of $10.3 billion to our regional economy.

At the same time, we have invested heavily in our transportation infrastructure and made progress in stemming the growth of traffic congestion.  While most other major U.S. cities have seen congestion grow since 1997 – even those with major transit systems – Los Angeles’ congestion levels have remained constant despite population increases.

We have done this by strategically expanding our car pool lane system, synchronizing our traffic lights, and expanding our mass transit system.  Our first rail line of the modern era opened in 1990, connecting the City of Long Beach and downtown Los Angeles.  Since then, we have invested heavily in expanding our light rail, heavy rail, and commuter rail systems.  Concurrently, we have seen an explosion of rail ridership in Los Angeles. From 1996 to 2008, overall rail trips increased 150%, with light rail growing 90%, heavy rail growing 275% (after opening subway legs to Hollywood, Universal City, and North Hollywood), and commuter rail growing 126%.

According to the 2008 National Transit Database Los Angeles ranks third in the nation in total transit boardings (474 million), trailing only New York and Chicago.  We also are ranked tenth in rail boardings.  And our growing heavy rail system (subway) is top in the U.S. in passengers per hour (“Unlinked Passenger Trips per Vehicle Revenue Hour”), beating out both New York and Chicago.  These data suggest that there is there is a market for rail transit in Los Angeles.  At the same time, we have continued to invest in our bus system, innovating new “Rapid Bus” service, building a 14-mile bus rapid transit project (Orange Line), operating the largest clean fuel bus system in the U.S., and winning the 2006 American Public Transportation Association’s best large transit operator award.

Transit is the Future in Los Angeles

Public transit plays a vital role in cities, relieving traffic congestion, improving air quality, and providing lifeline service to the transit dependent so that they have access to full range of opportunities they need to prosper, from jobs and shopping to medical services, education, and recreation.  But in cities like Los Angeles, we are essentially built out.  There is little undeveloped land beyond our parks and clearly there is no room to build new freeways to ease traffic without ripping out neighborhoods wholesale, which I strongly oppose.

When I ran for mayor of Los Angeles in 2001 and again in 2005 (when I was elected), a cornerstone of my platform was making our city and our region more sustainable.  A key part of building sustainable communities is investing in clean rail transit.  I argued then and continue to believe today that Los Angeles needs a greatly expanded rail system to remain competitive in the 21st century and if we are to grow into a truly sustainable metropolis made up of livable communities.

Therefore, we are investing heavily in transit, retrofitting our city and region with new systems that provide clean, reliable alternatives to driving.  At the same time, we are working to create sustainable communities around our rail stations, neighborhoods where walking, cycling, and transit can connect people to the places they want to go and the people they want to see.  We are supporting major anchor developments in transit oriented districts and between 2005 and 2009 over 40% of all new construction has occurred near rail stations.

As mayor and a member of the 13-member Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) Board of Directors, I have worked with my colleagues to start important planning and environmental studies for new rail lines that precede construction.  We have done so because we know that major public works projects are not built overnight and that pre-construction work must continue even as we work to identify funding for our ambitious rail program.

The Measure R Story – Cities Investing in Transportation Infrastructure

In 2008, in the midst of a national economic recession, Los Angeles voters said “yes” to cleaner air, jobs, and livable communities and supported Measure R, a 30-year half-cent sales tax dedicated to transportation investments.  Over two million voters and two-thirds (67.9%) of those casting votes on November 4, 2008 supported Measure R.  While surprising to many, we were confident that our voters again would choose to invest in themselves and the transportation future of our city and our region.

Measure R will generate an estimated $36 billion in revenue over the next 30 years, according to our latest projections.  It is a multi-modal funding source, dedicating 20% of revenue for highway improvements.  In addition, local cities in the County of Los Angeles receive 15% of the revenue by population formula that they can spend on local projects that improve mobility, transit, cycling, and pedestrian access. But the majority (65%) of funding is dedicated to transit capital projects and transit operations.  And the construction of Measure R projects will create thousands of new, high quality jobs.

Measure R can serve as a model for local investment in transportation.  This is the third time the Los Angeles electorate has voted to tax itself for a better tomorrow.  Previously, our voters passed half-cent sales taxes in 1980 and 1990.  As a result, Los Angeles has been able to make massive investments in public transit and our highway system.  We have had matching funds to compete for and secure state and federal transportation funding, including federal New Starts to support our heavy rail and light rail expansion.  And we have had additional operating funds that have allowed us to keep our fares low.

MTA 2009 Long Range Transportation Plan – Consensus Transit Projects

Last year, the MTA Board of Directors unanimously adopted a new Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP), which serves as the blue print for our transportation investments over the next 30 years.  Our plan represents an MTA Board consensus of support for the 12 transit projects approved by voters in Measure R.  Thanks to Measure R, we will be able to expand our rail system dramatically, building 12 new rail and bus rapid transit (BRT) lines and adding an estimated 78 miles of new service.  Our plan assumes that 65% of its transit construction funding will come from Measure R, 23% from Section 5309 New Starts grants, and 12% from other local, state, and federal funds.

The construction and operation of these lines will yield significant regional benefits.  We will remove from the environment 570,000 pounds of emissions annually.  We will use 10.3 million fewer gallons of gasoline.  We will drive 208 million fewer miles each year.  And we will increase annual transit use by 77 million trips.

But beyond these important environmental and transportation benefits, our plan will create jobs. Over our 30-year plan, we expect to create 166,000 construction jobs and at least 2,800 permanent jobs operating and maintaining our expanded transit system.

Los Angeles 30/10 Initiative

Unfortunately, 30 years is too long to wait if we can find a way to build these projects faster.  Our “30/10 initiative” is a proposal to accelerate construction of 12 new mass transit lines and build these projects over the next decade.  (See Appendix A for a list of the projects and their accelerated time schedule under 30/10.)
30/10 will create jobs, secure our energy future, and make Los Angeles move sustainable and livable.  By transforming our region, we will achieve the many benefits in the near-term, in time to see and appreciate them.  Specifically, we would triple the number of construction jobs in Southern California (not just Los Angeles), with an average of over 16,000 jobs annually.  These would be career jobs in the construction trades, not short-term employment.  We would see 1.8 times less carbon monoxide (CO) and 2.4 times less nitrous oxides (NOx) over the next 30 years.  And we would see an expanded rail network connecting many of the most important employment and population centers in our region.

We believe that there is a compelling local and national interest in getting the jobs and environmental benefits of our transit program as quickly as possible.  One of our 12 projects is already under construction and we expect to break ground on a second project later this year. Another seven projects are in some stage of formal pre-construction development (planning, environmental, or design).

By accelerating our transit program, we can reduce construction costs by 25% from avoided cost inflation alone, from $17.5 billion over 30 years to $13.7 billion over 10 years (figures updated from March 2010).  In addition, the soft construction market provides an opportunity to put Americans back to work and save money building new rail lines.  We have seen aggressive bidding on public works projects by companies hungry for work, with bids coming in ten, twenty, or more percent under the engineer’s estimate.

The challenge we face is that our adopted Long Range Transportation Plan only has $5.8 billion in transit capital funding capacity for the Measure R projects over the next decade.  This means a shortfall of nearly $8 billion in meeting the 30/10 plan.   At the same time, we will have an estimated $10.4 billion of Measure R transit construction money in the second and third decades of our plan that we want to tap now.

We have explored using existing federal programs, such as the Department of Transportation’s TIGER discretionary grant program and the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) credit program.  But there is insufficient capacity in these programs to accommodate the 30/10 initiative.  Los Angeles voters have made the major commitment of approving the new Measure R funding stream, but we need federal assistance in monetizing it in a cost-effective manner.

We have followed with great interest recent proposals for establishing a National Infrastructure Bank by Representative Rosa DeLauro and Senator Chris Dodd.  Likewise, we have noted the President’s FY 2011 budget proposal to establish a National Infrastructure Innovation and Finance Fund (the I-Fund), designed to assist major investments of national or regional significance.  Each of these programs would substantially expand federal lending capacity beyond the existing TIFIA levels.  We support any approach that can provide lendable funds at the same rates and flexible terms as the existing TIFIA program.

We also believe there is a special opportunity through an infrastructure bank or an I-fund to allocate new, Congressionally-authorized tax-preferred bonding authority for transit investments.  Such programs have been extremely valuable in stimulating investment in other infrastructure sectors, such as public schools.  For example, last month, the Los Angeles Unified School District successfully marketed $290 million of Qualified School Construction Bonds, a new form of tax credit bond for educational facilities that provides a direct-pay interest subsidy to the issuer.  These bonds, and several other categories of tax credit bonds authorized by Congress in recent years, provide a much deeper interest subsidy than conventional tax-exempt bonds or Build America Bonds (BABs).  Depending on the program; the federal government will subsidize up to 100% of the interest expense, with the borrower being responsible for repaying the principal.

Given the environmental, energy independence, safety and “livability” benefits of major public transportation investments, we think a compelling argument can be made for a similar targeted program for transit, while volume capping it for fiscal control.  Even though the bonds would be issued locally, the volume cap could be allocated by the infrastructure bank or the I-Fund to those major projects and programs offering the highest societal return on investment.

It should be noted that the existing 100% tax credit bond programs have constrained bond maturities in order to limit the present-value federal share of total project costs to 50 percent.  However, the long-lived nature of transit improvements and their substantial positive “spillover” benefits warrant a longer bond maturity and correspondingly higher subsidy.  It is proposed that the maximum maturity of transit-oriented tax credit bonds be 35-40 years.  This term is similar to the final maturity of many of the existing BABs issues.  The proposed structure will allow Metro to more than double the amount of capital investment supportable by Measure R revenues, compared to conventional tax-exempt bond issuance.

Together, an expanded TIFIA-style federal credit program and a targeted “specified” tax credit bond program for transit investments of national significance administered by an infrastructure bank or I-Fund would allow Los Angeles to more effectively raise the upfront capital needed to achieve the accelerated benefits of the 30/10 initiative.


As Congress continues its important focus on stimulating the U.S. economy, we believe an infrastructure bank or investment fund could play an important role in helping sponsors of major public transportation investments capitalize, literally and figuratively, on local revenue streams.  In this way, Congress could encourage state and local governments to invest in the transportation infrastructure that is essential to maintaining the competitiveness and sustainability of the U.S. in the 21st century and enable the federal government to leverage its resources strategically.

Attached are additional supplemental materials related to our 30/10 initiative, Measure R, and the job creation benefits of investing in public transit.  Please do not hesitate to contact me directly or Deputy Mayor Jaime de la Vega at (213) 978-2360 or before or after the hearing if you have any questions.

Thank you for providing me with the opportunity to submit this testimony.  I look forward to working collaboratively with you and this committee in the future to forge a partnership that will help us create quality jobs and clean up the environment.

Villaraigosa explains 30/10 Initiative to House Committee (The Source)

LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa testifies before Congress for transportation money (89.3 KPCC)

Villaraigosa heads to D.C. (LA Daily News)

More local linkage:

A Peek at Placing a Park Over the 101 Freeway in Downtown L.A. (LAist)

New Raw-Vegan Restaurant Opening in Echo Park Next Week (LAist)

National linkage:

America 2050 Calls on Congress to Fund HSR and Amtrak (America 2050)

E.P.A. Unveils Rule to Regulate Greenhouse Gases (NY Times)

Shell Arctic Drilling Plan Gets Court Approval (Huffington Post)

50% Want More Offshore Drilling, Obama Gets Good Marks For Gulf Spill Response: AP Poll (Huffington Post)

Clean Power Act: Time to Get it Done

There is finally movement in the Senate on the Clean Energy/Climate Change Bill as yesterday Senators John Kerry and Joseph Lieberman unveiled the 987-page American Power Act.

This is great news, but with so many issues on the congressional agenda, there is worry that the bill will be backlogged. This cannot happen and it won't if each and every American calls, emails or sends a letter to their Senators demanding immediate action on clean energy and climate change.

Email your Senators by clicking here

Call your Senators by clicking here

We must all rise up and collectively say enough is enough with our dangerous and unsustainable addiction to fossil fuels. We must move onward to our renewable energy future in the United States of America. This legislation will start us on that path.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Ethical Markets: Growing the Green Economy

Oil spills, coal mining catastrophes, climate change deniers lurking around every corner.

It seems there is a lot to be pessimistic about these days for those who care about the economy and the environment.

But there is a solar-powered light at the end of the tunnel and documentaries like "Growing the Green Economy" from the independent media company Ethical Markets give hope that yes we can transition off dirty fossil fuels and into a new sustainable and profitable clean energy economy in America.

Thankfully there are responsible corporate and political leaders out there who have the vision to look beyond quarterly earnings reports. But breaking that three-month business cycle will be hard to do.

For example I can walk to any news stand and pick up The Wall Street Journal and I know that every three months the headlines will be all about what companies won and lost this quarter. But this is so shortsighted. We need a new method of doing business that looks at long-term sustainability and profitability, not this three-month madness.

Here is the full video "Growing the Green Economy." Running time is 54 minutes. If you want to learn about what our future is going to look like then click play and enjoy!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Linkage: Feinstein's Fund Request For L.A. Transit

Great news out of Washington today as California Senator Dianne Feinstein has requested $5 million for the Crenshaw light rail line and $10 million for the Westside Subway Extension and Downtown Regional Connector. These requests are for next year's federal budget.

The FY 2011 transportation appropriations requests state that the Crenshaw line would run from the Expo Line to the Green Line and then a future People Mover train zipping passengers to LAX International Airport. This would mean someone in downtown will be able to take the Expo Line to the Crenshaw Line to the Green Line to the People Mover to their airline without stepping foot in a car.

We won't know until October if Feinstein's funding requests will make it into the federal budget. The funds have to be approved by Congress before the money starts flowing.

Here is the Crenshaw Light Rail-Westside Subway Extension-Downtown Regional Connector part of the funding request:

Federal Transit Administration
Project Title: Crenshaw / LAX Transit Corridor, CA
Recipient: Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority
Location: One Gateway Plaza, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Amount Requested: $5,000,000

The Crenshaw / Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) Light Rail Project is an 8.5-mile extension between the Expo Line (under construction) and the existing Metro Green Line. The extension will serve the cities of Los Angeles and Inglewood and will include at least six new stations. This connection would enable transit riders to access both downtown Los Angeles and the Westside, relieving congestion and improving mobility.

This project connects to an Automated People Mover planned to be constructed at LAX.

This is a valuable use of taxpayer funds because it will extend public transportation to key hubs of employment, residency, and throughout greater Los Angeles, while also providing convenient access to and from the country’s third busiest airport.

Project Title: Downtown Connector/Westside Subway Extension, CA
Recipient: Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority
Location: One Gateway Plaza, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Amount Requested: $10,000,000

The Downtown Regional Connector is a 2-mile light rail connecting three existing lines at their downtown stations, providing a final link of 50 miles of light rail service throughout Los Angeles. The Metro Board has paired this project with the Metro Westside Extension, which will extend the existing subway system over nine miles into Beverly Hills, Century City and Westwood. The Westside is one of the major job centers of Southern California, with more than 150,000 jobs in the areas to be served by this new subway. Ridership forecasts anticipate up to 116,000 new systemwide boardings daily by the year 2030. This is a valuable use of taxpayer funds because it will extend public transportation to several key hubs of employment, residency, and education throughout greater Los Angeles, promoting the use of mass transit, taking cars off of the road, mitigating congestion and improving air quality.

I am also requesting the following language:

“For purposes of approval into preliminary engineering and project evaluation and rating under 49 U.S.C. 5309(d)(5), and analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act, the Secretary shall treat the Westside Subway Extension from Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue to Westwood as a single project.”

Feinstein seeks funding for three Metro rail projects (The Source)

More linkage:

Your LA to Vegas Party Train Will Start Rolling Next Year (Curbed LA)

Hail-a-Taxi Program Likely to Go Permanent, Possibly City-Wide (LAist)

Man honored for work to save endangered bird (SD Union-Tribune)

Power plants face closures (SD Union-Tribune)

Editorial: Climate change is the true crisis (LA Times)

Opinion: More than an oil spill (LA Times)

First look at Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan’s green cred (Grist)

Why it's worth passing a crappy climate bill (Grist)

Obama's failure on climate change (Grist)

Oil Spill Hearing in Congress: Companies Blame Each Other, Refuse Responsibility (Huffington Post)

From Three Mile Island to BP: The Corporate Culture of Catastrophes (Huffington Post)


Bike to Work Day
Thursday, May 20

UCLA Extension Sustainability Ethics seminar
Saturday, May 15
9 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
UCLA Campus

Friday, June 25
9 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
Extension Lindbrook Center

Monday, May 10, 2010

Linkage: How Green Will Pauley Pavilion Be?

There is a celebration planned this Tuesday on the UCLA campus in Westwood to kick off the renovation of Pauley Pavilion. The good news is that the long overdue update of this legendary arena is going to cost almost $50 million less than initial estimates (LA Times).

But how environmentally friendly will the renovated facility be? One clue comes from a story last summer in the faculty and staff online newsletter UCLA Today:

"The arena will also be built with environmentally friendly features, such as a white roof, low-flow plumbing and low-water-use landscaping, which should make it eligible for a LEED-Silver rating from the U.S. Green Building Council, (Vice chancellor of finance, budget and capital programs Steve) Olsen said."

That sounds encouraging. But the greenest development that can happen has nothing to do with the renovations at Pauley Pavilion, but the mode of transportation people use to attend the events there.

Pauley Pavilion could be the greenest arena on the planet, but if the majority of Bruins basketball fans drive to the game in carbon-emitting cars, then it doesn't matter. It is another reason why extending the subway to Westwood through the Measure R 30-10 plan is so vital.

Pauley overhaul about to begin (Curbed LA)

More linkage:

Help keep San Diego clean and green (SD Union-Tribune)

Wayward whale in Dana Point harbor (OC Register)

Two Wind Farms get Investment from Google (Alternative Energy)

Remarkable Insight Into the Climate Denial Machine (Huffington Post)

Photo gallery: Visions of the Arctic (EarthJustice)

Gulf of Mexico: from magnificent resource to industrial sacrifice zone (Grist)

BP, other companies point fingers in oil rig blast (Associated Press)

Gulf oil spill: a BP shareholder revolt? (LA Times)

The current state of the Gulf Oil spill (Infrastructurist)


Pauley Pavilion Renovation Event
Tuesday, May 11 at 1 p.m.
East exterior concourse of Pauley Pavilion on UCLA campus

Metro Hosts Pedestrian Forum: Walking into the Future City
Wednesday, May 12 at 8:30 a.m.
Metro headquarters

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