OWN VOICE. ~ InPerspective by Gregg Dieguez —
Memorial Day, the Drought, Code Violations, Missing Midcoast Money (?), Home Insurance, and Long Term COVID.
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Memorial Day: Extra Meaning?
Was it just me, or was this Memorial Day a bit more somber and meaningful than most others? Our family has had more than its share of premature deaths, so we follow a grave visitation ritual each year, but this year there was a stillness, a somber cloud hanging over everything. We didn’t lose immediate family members to the Pandemic, but the nation is headed towards 1 million excess deaths over this two year period, and as much as we want to escape the Pandemic, it SHOULD be with us for a long while, because it surfaced fault lines in our society while enmeshing more people in grief than any conflict in American history. We are grateful to have survived, and are now thinking more than ever about what to do with our remaining time.
Some of you have heard me warning about this for Years, but it gives me no comfort to face the implications of the coming drought. What stands out to me is that our elected officials, who have been addicted to growth (and/or unduly influenced by the Real Estate interests), still don’t get it. Senator Josh Becker performed a remarkable act of mental gymnastics over the past few weeks:
1. Listened to a group of 150 constituents angered by a series of potential state laws (including SB 9 and 10) which would increase housing density and pass costs onto current residents.
2. Hosted a webinar on the Drought, which discussed some of the issues previously covered here in articles regarding HMB and Pacifica.
3. Then voted IN FAVOR of SB 9, increasing population without funding or water for the cities and towns it will burden.
One can only speculate as to the motives driving this cognitive dissonance, but he’s not alone. We need a society designed to THRIVE, not GROW, at least not grow without paying for itself. And the level of debt in almost every state, county and city tells you that historically growth hasn’t paid for itself.
But the water issue in California will not go away, and it has implications for the design of our society that we will address, or we will fail like the Mayans. Three things stood out in Becker’s Drought Webinar:
A. Felicia Marcus, who was manager of the California State Water Resources Control Board, has changed her tune in the years since she spoke at one of our MIT Energy & Environment events. Previously, her message was that ‘we have it under control; we’ll do X and Y and we’ll be OK’. Now, her message is “we can’t conserve our way out of this drought”.
B. And the implication of her message was amplified by Gary Kremen, a Director of Valley Water, who said that he is buying water at 10 times the normal cost. Previously, I had stated a cost of 5 to 7 times normal to create extra water, based on studies by the Pacific Institute. So we can get more water, if we take decades to invest in the infrastructure, but there’s a real equity issue because more New Joiners mean they will require VERY EXPENSIVE additional water, which under current regulations YOU will have to pay for.
C. Finally, some panelists admitted that they were beyond Worried; they are now a little bit Scared.
People have awoken to this issue (if not elected officials) and are now suggesting moratoriums on new water connections. But there are many ‘tributaries’ of the Drought, including the local implications, which we’ll cover in a subsequent article, because CCWD and NCCW are nearing completion of their analyses of the impacts of drought years.
Who’s in charge here?
As an MCC member, I’m hearing and seeing many complaints about code violations: locked gates blocking recreational access, intrusive night-time lighting (not only at the new El Granada Fire Station), failure to enforce no-parking rules on fire evacuation routes, development violating codes, scarring the landscape in Quarry Park, and more. Why can’t our government follow and enforce the rules it has established? Not only are these violations harming the quality of life for taxpaying residents, shouldn’t any violations be a Revenue Opportunity for the government? A feature, not a bug, where the County or City could collect fees and fines while Doing the Right Thing? This is worth more research and follow-up.
Where’s the Midcoast Money?
In February, based on an inquiry from a concerned citizen (and she knows who she is), I filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the County for information on the Midcoast Parks and Recreation Development Fund, which seems to lack periodic financial statements. The questions are not only how much money has accumulated – which could be used for funding, for example, a Midcoast Community Center – but has the money been appropriately accumulating, and expended on only the Right Things. Today, Parks presented an update and there are about half a million dollars left in the fund. It will take more work to assess the implications and accuracy of that report, but stay tuned, because we have needs.
We just got our home insurance “renewal”, except it wasn’t, exactly. GEICO has changed from outsourcing via Traveler’s to Fireman’s, and rates have gone WAY up. It’s not quite double, but I have a ream of terms and conditions to examine, and it seems that coverage is worse. Others, particularly in El Granada, have reported worse experiences – ranging from actual doubling to cancellation. At least some carriers are still providing insurance. As was pointed out a few years back, many California carriers have loss ratios above 100%. Which means insurers are losing more than they’re collecting, and have no extra funds to contribute to administrative costs, or to overhead and profit. This reality, and the forecast of future rates, raises another affordability issue in the Midcoast, and a homeowner strategy question others may ponder, beyond changing deductibles and coverage…. If your home has fire-safe siding and roofing, and you have indoor sprinklers, can you better spend the money on improving your defensible perimeter and cancel your policy? When we lived in San Carlos, the prior owner had EXTERIOR sprinklers on the roof. However, before you consider this, note that: water pressure from our small local agencies is unlikely to be there when you need it during a wildfire, that MWSD (to cite one) only stores enough water to comply with Fire Code requirements for a 2 hour “designer fire” in a single dwelling (plus some extra), that larger multi-unit affordable housing projects will further risk the adequacy of that storage, and that the FEMA report from the Oakland hills fire said INDOOR sprinklers were of little value during that wildfire. As a community, we need to rethink how we’re handling the costs and risks of living here.
Long Haul COVID
The death rate from COVID is way down, thanks to an avalanche of good treatments and hard-learned lessons by the medical community. The last statistics showed a 0.5% chance of death for an unvaccinated person, although for healthy and/or young people it’s much less. However, a series of troubling studies are coming out. We had previously reported that 30% of hospitalized patients had long term organ damage and effects. A new, broader study now reports “Over 70% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients experience ‘long haul’ symptoms”. And we don’t know how long “long” is, because we’re only a year into the health histories of most patients. So, don’t get hospitalized with COVID, and stay tuned for more information on the long term effects of people who were asymptomatic or NOT hospitalized. This is much worse than any “flu”.
Mr. Dieguez is a native San Franciscan, longtime San Mateo County resident, and semi-retired entrepreneur who causes occasional controversy on the Coastside. He is a member of the MCC, but his opinions here are his own, and not those of the Council. In 2003 he co-founded MIT’s Clean Tech Program here in NorCal, which became MIT’s largest alumni speaker program. He lives in Montara. He loves a productive dialog in search of shared understanding.