Posts tagged with "California":

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Celebrities are using private firefighters to save their neighborhoods

As the Woolsey and Camp Fires continue to burn across California, razing a combined total of nearly 250,000 acres and destroying entire towns, celebrities are turning to private firefighting teams to keep their homes safe. Kanye West and Kim Kardashian reportedly hired a team of private firefighters to save their $60 million mansion in Hidden Hills, protecting the rest of the neighborhood in the process. Big insurance companies like Chubb and AIG offer firefighting services to high-rolling clients as preventative measures. As The Atlantic noted, Wildfire Defense Systems, a private company from Montana, currently has 53 fire engines on the ground in California and is working to safeguard 1,000 homes. At a time when climate change-accelerated wildfires are occurring year-round, the privatization of a form of public infrastructure has become more commonplace as well. West and Kardashian first picked up the 15,000-square-foot mansion in 2014 for $20 million, and it’s estimated that the power couple has sunk another $20 million in renovations into the property. Belgian interior designer and staid space enthusiast Axel Vervoordt has been collaborating on the house’s interior, and West revealed a sneak peek of the highly-structural space back in April during a Twitter meltdown. The couple’s private fire team was able to prevent the encroaching Woolsey Fire from reaching a heavily forested field behind their property by digging fire breaks. Because the house sits at the back of a cul-de-sac, it’s likely that a meltdown at the West-Kardashian mansion would have spread to the rest of the block afterward. The privatized history of firefighting in America is well known, dating back to when roving bands of firefighters used to squabble for territory throughout the 1800s; the first responders to put out a fire were the ones rewarded by the insurance companies. Those competitions often saw squads setting fires to intentionally throw off their rivals, but the practice thankfully died out in the second half of the 19th century as government ownership became the norm. A decision in 2010 by firefighters in rural Tennessee to let a house burn down because the owner forgot to pay a $75 fee drew national scorn, but privatized firefighting services are coming back in a big way. The National Wildfire Suppression Association, a group that offers (and lobbies for) private firefighting services currently represents more than 10,000 employees and 150 wildfire contract service companies. It’s estimated that it can cost insurance companies at least $10,000 to send a private team into the field, putting the service far out of the reach of most homeowners. Thanks to the encroachment of the urban environment into wilderness areas, and dry conditions and higher temperatures caused by climate change, the era of megafires in California may be here to stay. But whether the protection afforded to the megawealthy, normally thought of as a common good, remains out of reach for the masses will remain an open question as these fires only become more prevalent.
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California fires claim over 7,000 structures and displace over 270,000 residents

A pair of particularly destructive wildfires that burned through the weekend in California have claimed over 7,000 structures and caused a wave of displacement across the state. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the so-called Camp Fire grew to more than 105,000 acres over the weekend as it swept through Butte County in Northern California, devastating the town of Paradise. The fire quickly became the deadliest and largest wildfire in California history over the weekend, a record that has been broken every year for the last three years in a row. The blaze has so far claimed 6,713 structures, including 6,453 homes and 260 commercial buildings. It is expected that close to 15,000 other structures are threatened by the fire, which is currently 20 percent contained. So far, 31 people have died and over 100 are reported missing. Reports from the frontlines of the blaze indicate that much of the town has been destroyed, with journalists on the scene fielding calls to check in on particular properties and posting block-by-block surveys of the devastation on social media. It is expected that between 90 and 95 percent of the city was destroyed, leaving its 27,000 residents to seek shelter across the housing-strapped region.

In the Santa Monica mountains that ring Los Angeles, the 85,550-acre Woolsey Fire has forced the temporary displacement of over 250,000 people as the cities of Thousand Oaks and Malibu and surrounding mountain communities were evacuated in advance of the fast-moving blaze.

Curbed reported that the fires have threatened several historic Hollywood filming locations and other notable structures located in the scenic mountains, including a replica of the set from the television series M*A*S*H and the recently-restored historic Sepulveda Adobe complex. Distressingly, the fire also reportedly consumed the Santa Susana Field Laboratory, a former Rocketdyne laboratory from 1949 that housed experimental nuclear reactors as well as radioactive waste.

Many architecturally-significant structures are also at risk, including important works by Frank Gehry, Wallace Neff, John Lautner, as well as several of the Case Study homes, Curbed reported.

Several of the wealthy areas hit by the fire have seen heavy losses, as well, including the destruction of several celebrity-owned mansions in Calabasas and Malibu. The homes of pop stars Miley Cyrus, Robin Thicke, and Neil Young and others were destroyed by the inferno, E! Online reported.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the Woolsey Fire is 15 percent contained.

Regarding California’s increasingly destructive and lengthening fire season, Governor Jerry Brown told The LA Times, “This is not the new normal; this is the new abnormal.” Brown added, “And this new abnormal will continue certainly in the next 10 to 15 to 20 years. Unfortunately, the best science is telling us that dryness, warmth, drought, all those things, they’re going to intensify. We have a real challenge here threatening our whole way of life, so we’ve got to pull together.”

The fires touched off a series of antagonistic—and “ill-informed”—tweets from President Donald Trump, who erroneously blamed the fires on “gross mismanagement” of the state’s forests. Fire officials instead point to the increasing effects of climate change, as well as growing so-called “wildland-urban interface” zones where human occupation and the state’s natural landscapes come into contact, as key causes for the latest series of conflagrations.

Because the state’s populated urban areas have gradually slowed development and downsized population capacity over the decades, much of the state’s explosive population growth has largely occurred in increasingly-far-flung and precarious areas, where drought-ridden brush is easily combustible and sprawling communities are perfect targets for wind-swept flames.

Crews in the state are working to battle the flames as winds, temperatures, and humidity levels work against their favor. AN will bring more coverage of California’s fires as information becomes available.

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This gravity-powered battery could be the future of energy storage

Over the last decade, the renewable energy industry has boomed due to the proliferation of new technology that is reducing the cost of construction and long-term operability. However, one critical problem still remains: storing renewable energy during lulls in wind speed or sun exposure is often prohibitively expensive. In response to this issue, Energy Vault, a subsidiary of California’s IdeaLab, has recently announced a straightforward mechanism for the conservation of renewable sources using kinetic forces. The mechanism proposed by Energy Vault is a nearly 400-foot tall, six-armed steel crane. Using proprietary software, the towering structure orchestrates the placement of 35-ton blocks of concrete in response to drop-offs in demand and fluctuations in environmental conditions. How does it work? As power demand decreases, the cranes surround themselves with concentric rings of the concrete bricks lifted by the leftover power from surrounding wind and solar farms. Once demand increases, the cranes begin lowering the bricks, which powers turbines that transform the kinetic energy into electricity that gets pumped back into the grid. Energy Vault’s team looked toward preexisting renewable energy sources that rely on gravitational forces. According to Energy Vault, the technology was influenced by energy retention strategies of hydroelectric power dams that pump water into a series of cisterns on higher ground that ultimately flow downwards into energy turbines once demand rises. Unlike conventional resources used for the retention of renewable energy, such as Tesla’s Powerwall and Powerpack lithium-ion stationary batteries, the system developed by Energy Vault does not rely on chemical storage solutions or high-cost materials. Recycled debris from preexisting construction sites can be used for the fabrication of the bricks, which are viable for up to four decades without a decrease in storage capacity. Currently, Energy Vault is partnering with India’s Tata Power Company Limited to construct an initial 35 MWh system with an expected date of completion in 2019.
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West Coast sees big wins (and losses) in architecture and urbanism ballot initiatives

As Democratic voters moved to retake the House of Representatives and key gubernatorial seats, a series of local architecture-, urbanism-, and climate-related initiatives saw mixed results in western states. Aside from being a referendum on the divisive governance style of President Donald Trump, the midterm election brought with it fierce debates over contentious issues like expanding rent control and funding supportive housing in California, taxing carbon emissions in Washington State, and boosting renewable energy generation in Arizona and Nevada. Here’s a state-by-state breakdown of some of the major initiatives and their outcomes.   Arizona: Proposition 127: An initiative to require electric utilities to use renewable energy for 50 percent of their power generation by 2035 failed in the state. The battle over Proposition 127 saw the highest amount of political spending in the state this year, with the state’s main electrical utility, Arizona Public Service, pouring over $30.3 million into a political action committee dedicated to fighting the measure.   California: Proposition C: San Francisco’s supportive housing ordinance was overwhelmingly supported by the city’s voters. The initiative will raise $300 million per year for supportive housing and services from a modest tax levied on companies in the city that gross over $50 million annually in revenue. The measure is similar to the so-called “head tax” in Seattle that was passed and quickly repealed earlier this year. Proposition 1: An initiative to approve $4 billion in “housing-related programs, loans, grants, and projects and housing loans for veterans” in the state gained wide approval. Proposition 2: An initiative to dedicate $2 billion from the state’s 2004 “millionaire’s tax” toward providing “homelessness prevention housing for persons in need of mental health services“ was approved. Proposition 4: An initiative authorizing $1.5 billion in bonds for the “construction, expansion, renovation, and equipping of children's hospitals in California” was approved. Proposition 6: Voters in the state defeated a Republican-led effort to repeal a recently-passed gas tax increase. The recent increase is helping to fund bridge and road repairs while also providing new—and much-needed—mass transit funding for the state’s growing public transportation systems. Proposition 10: A state-wide effort to repeal the controversial Costa-Hawkins law that limits how municipalities can institute rent control was soundly defeated. Rather than instituting rent control statewide, the measure would have allowed municipalities the flexibility to set their own policies. Tenants’ rights and anti-displacement advocates saw the effort as providing a lifeline for their constituencies; ultimately, the $76 million raised by real estate and Wall Street interests against the measure was too much for grassroots voters to overcome.   Colorado: Proposition 112: Voters in the Centennial State chose to reject a ballot initiative that would have increased oil and gas drilling setbacks from homes, businesses, and waterways. Resistance to the measure was no match for heavy spending by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, the proposition’s main opponent. With controversial hydraulic fracturing rising to new highs in the state and an increasingly bleak outlook for climate change-related disasters around the world, Colorado’s pro-environment movement has been dealt a powerful rebuke.   Nevada: State Question No. 6: Voters in Nevada approved a measure that would require state utilities to generate 50 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030. In order for the measure to become law, however, it will need to survive a second vote in 2020.   Washington State: Measure 1631: Washington state residents largely rejected a measure that would have imposed a first-in-the-nation tax on carbon emissions. The initiative performed well in liberal King County—home to Seattle—but lost pretty much everywhere else in the state. Measure 940: Washington state residents approved a measure that would require law enforcement officials to receive “de-escalation” and mental health training as well as provide first aid under certain circumstances. The initiative would also require authorities to conduct an investigation after a deadly use of force by a member of law enforcement in order to verify that such force meets a “good faith” test.
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Yves Béhar debuts a prefab housing system for California

Yves Béhar, the storied tech entrepreneur and founder of San Francisco–based design firm Fuseproject, is set to release a new model for a fully-customizable prefabricated housing unit aimed at alleviating California’s housing crisis. According to designboom, his latest design venture, a collaboration with Los Angeles–based LivingHomes and their Plant Prefab studio, will revolutionize small living for low-density cities. Launching tomorrow, the LivingHomes YB1 model was designed as a response to the state’s recent decision to loosen restrictions on building accessory dwelling units (ADUs). Over the past year, homeowner applications for backyard homes have rapidly increased due to the new law. Béhar and his team have developed a ready-made house that can be bought at a reduced price and built on-site in under two months. Per the firm’s website, YB1 homes will range in size from 250 to 1,250 square feet and are easily customizable according to the client’s goals. Each home is built on a 4-foot grid allowing homeowners to reconfigure structural elements such as the roofline, the size and location of its windows, as well as the layout of the interior and the cladding material. The appliances, HVAC system, and all utilities will come pre-installed. Individual models can also be specified to fit the location and climate where they’re built; clients can select sustainable products and integrate smart home capabilities into their units to save energy. Right now, YB1 costs $280,000 total and takes 6-8 weeks to order, plan, and fully install. Béhar plans to launch a future line of “sub-$100,000 homes” through LivingHomes. Fuseproject describes the project as Behár’s attempt to “think systematically about buildings, rather than as a one-size fits all solution.” LivingHome YB1 is Béhar’s first project involving housing and arguably the largest-in-scale that he’s ever backed.  While he's served as a staple of Silicon Valley, has garnered major commissions, and helped pave the way for tech giants today, Béhar’s projects haven’t always been universally well-received recently and his latest products have been faulted for their lack of usefulness. The designer's recent ventures include highly-criticized and controversial products like Edyn, a digital garden sensor, Juicero, a $700 juicing machine, as well as Samsung’s Frame TV, which displays digital art for a hefty price tag. With YB1, Behar stands to make a difference in the housing market.
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Los Angeles approves free public transit on election day

As the contentious U.S. midterm elections taking place on Tuesday, November 6, fast approach amid numerous accusations of voter suppression and disenfranchisement often along lines of race and class, at least one city is proactively making it easier to vote. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority has just approved free public transit on election day to help encourage people to turn out to the polls. This is especially important in California, which has a number of ballot initiatives impacting housing and the environment. Ballot initiatives in California this November include Proposition 1, which would expand resources for veteran housing; Proposition 2, which would implement a 1 percent millionaire’s tax to help support mental health services, housing initiatives, and other resources for homeless people; Proposition 3 which would authorize nearly $9 billion in bonds for spending on water infrastructure and other environmental initiatives; and Proposition 10 which would allow local governments to implement rent control. The decision to expand voter accessibility in Los Angeles comes at a time where various forms of voter suppression and disenfranchisement are being brought to light across the country, including the intentional disenfranchisement of certain people who have served jail time, voter roll purges in states like Georgia, and gerrymandering districts to turn them red, such as in North Carolina’s 13th district. Some sources have also spread misinformation on the day the elections take place, such as in Suffolk County, New York, where a mailer from Republican incumbent Rep. Lee Zeldin featured the wrong deadline for absentee ballots (it’s November 5). Voter ID laws in many states have been accused of preventing lower income and minority voters from being able to enact their right to vote. In North Dakota new ID and residence rules, upheld by the Supreme Court, have been argued to be systematically targeting Native Americans. Relocating where people go to vote is another method that has been accused of attempting to prevent voter turnout. The ACLU has been brought a federal lawsuit over the choice to move a polling station for Dodge City, Kansas, whose population is majority Latinx, to a difficult-to-access location outside of the city limits. Similar moves to make voting hard to access, especially for people without flexible work schedules or easy transportation access, have been seen across the country, particularly in areas that have larger populations of people of color, as well as urban centers that tend to be more diverse and liberal-leaning. Los Angeles's announcement came as New York's Citibike announced that their bikes would be free to use for all on election day. Motivate, Citibike's parent company has announced that services in the Bay Area, Boston, Chicago, Columbus, Jersey City,  Portland, Minneapolis, and Washington D.C. would all be free on November 6 as well.
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Van Alen’s Climate Council takes a road trip to study climate change

The hot July sun hit the grooves of the farmland barreling past our bus windows as we approached Bowles Farming Company in Los Banos, California. Envisioning sunburns and muddy hikes through the furrows, we—the two dozen landscape design, engineering, and architecture professionals that make up the Van Alen Institute Climate Council—were about to visit the farm as part of a three-day expedition in Northern California to consider how design thinking could impact the way this farm and farms like it plan for climate change. Van Alen launched the Climate Council in 2018 as a platform for practicing design professionals and climate change aficionados to convene for twice-annual, three-day expeditions in regions across the U.S. Through tours, discussions, social gatherings, and hands-on charrettes, our trips provide members with a congenial setting for learning and reflection away from the hectic pace of everyday business. Right at the beginning of this inaugural trip, the Climate Council’s expectations contrasted dramatically with the realities of modern agriculture. Instead of weathering watermelon fields, we found ourselves in a comfortable boardroom. Farm executives welcomed us with cut melon samples and a PowerPoint presentation of the farm’s history, challenges, and technology. Over the soft hum of air-conditioning and with his adolescent son beside him, Cannon Michael, the farm’s president and CEO, shared the impressive facts of his large-scale operation: 11,000 acres, 14 crops, and six generations. Bowles has an advantage that it shares with a small group of farms in the area: Their history of utilizing water from the San Joaquin River provides senior rights to surface water. But with that seniority comes an increased responsibility and stewardship. Their on-staff agronomist schedules crop irrigation daily with care for every drop, logging and adapting to changes in climate on the spot. Michael proudly told us of the precision and care that Bowles uses to manage its water supply amid California’s mounting water crisis. “In times of drought, farmers are often blamed for overusing water,” Michael said. “The reality is, it’s not in a farmer’s best interest to waste water, as we only want to use the exact amount that the crop needs—improper water management has a negative impact on crop production. California is an expensive place to do business, and we must carefully monitor all our inputs and costs, water being a primary one of them. It is also a fact that producing the food and fiber we all rely on every day takes water. Where these products are produced is of critical importance. Not all farms are held to high standards of environmental and ethical production—California leads the way in the world.” Bowles’s commitment to precision and innovation unraveled the Climate Council’s anticipated mission and sent us on a new track of questioning in the days that followed. After visits with a strawberry farmer, a food distribution company, a tomato processing plant, and more, we started asking: What if cities had intricate systems dedicated to tracking inputs and outputs as accurately as these farms? We had set out on our trip thinking we would consider how design could impact the future of food production and distribution, but instead, we realized that cities had at least as much to learn from modern agricultural practices. Van Alen Climate Council Twice a year, the Climate Council travels to the same region—the first visit for exploration, the second for strategizing and discussing pressing climate issues using an interdisciplinary, systems-based approach. We offer professional advice to our partners and hosts, and aim to share lessons learned with other regions, both through further council travel and via members’ professional practices. The council’s purpose is rooted in Van Alen’s mission as a design organization that seeks to understand and demonstrate how design can transform cities, landscapes, and regions to improve people’s lives. The council also provides support and funding for Van Alen’s broader climate-related work. For more than a decade, we have created cross-disciplinary design and research projects that investigate issues of climate change across the country, from the sinking Lower Mississippi River Delta to the hurricane-battered eastern coasts. We are presently working in Greater Miami to help communities protect themselves from rising sea levels, using a design approach to make the region more socially equitable and economically resilient. In selecting the inaugural topic for the Climate Council to explore, co-chairs Claire Weisz and Mark Johnson commented, “We wanted to look at food as the first subject with this council. It’s all-encompassing. It’s something designers don’t get to talk about very often but that ultimately impacts us.” Even designers who work in cities have a vested interest in learning more about the role of agriculture in our society. At a panel conversation during our program, Mary Kimball, the director for the University of California, Davis’s Center for Land-Based Learning (and a partner in developing the council’s California program), reminded us that more than two-thirds of Sacramento’s regional farmland specialty crop jobs are in urban environments. Even though we typically associate agricultural jobs with rural labor, food distribution and packaging centers require resources that are almost always located in urban environments. So much of the food economy surrounds people in urban spaces every day, but we just don’t see it. Similarly, many of the challenges that farmers face in today’s economy are relevant to city dwellers. Time is of the essence On our first day in California, council members met David John, the business strategist at General Produce Company, a distribution center located 10 minutes from the central business district of Sacramento. As we walked through dozens of icy storage rooms, John told us that from the time of arrival to the time of departure, almost all of the fresh fruits and vegetables are present in the facility for less than 48 hours. The center runs 24/7, with days off only on Christmas and New Year’s. When asked about the built environment of the facility, John said that many of the workers adjust rooms or shelving as needed with changes in supply, but that it is difficult to allow for changes because they take time away from moving product. This distribution center, like a vital transit system in a big city, cannot take a day off. We surmised that systems thinking, like that used in transportation engineering, could be used to create more flexible environments in food distribution centers, along with more adaptable storage facilities. The berry farmer’s dilemma Following a brief meeting with the president of the Strawberry Commission of California near Salinas, our council climbed through coastal strawberry fields owned and operated by Tom AmRhein of Naturipe, Inc. AmRhein presented us with a pressing issue that berry farmers are facing in the area: The median home value in Salinas is more than $400,000. With minimum wage for farm laborers at $11 an hour, an enormous gap exists between the incomes of berry pickers and the supply of affordable housing in the area. As a result, AmRhein said that as many as five different families may share a home together in the valley, bringing housing density to the level of some of the nation’s biggest cities. As we downloaded our findings from Tom, the council considered what kind of affordable housing solutions could designers, working with migrant communities, dream up for rural laborers and their families. Moreover, with climate change making weather patterns and farming yields more unpredictable than ever, what kind of housing solutions would provide stronger, more stable, and adaptable shelters in this harsh environment? What’s next? When asked about innovation in agriculture, our program collaborator Kyeema Zerbe, deputy director of the UC Davis Innovation Institute for Food & Health (IIFH), said, “The IIFH prides itself on making uncommon interdisciplinary connections to catalyze innovation across food, agriculture, and health. Collaborations like those with Van Alen help facilitate exploration of systemic issues and view prevailing challenges from new local and regional perspectives. By delving into the intersections between design, agriculture, and innovation, we can begin to imagine a safer, more sustainable and secure food system.” Van Alen believes that climate change is an all-encompassing phenomenon. In such politically divided times, the organization seeks opportunities where designers can work under the partisan radar to generate true collaboration between cities and their surrounding regions, inviting professionals from all backgrounds to innovate. The Climate Council’s experience in Sacramento is an example of how nontraditional collaboration and open-mindedness can lead to enlightened discovery. And it’s just the beginning. On its third day in California, Climate Council members huddled pensively around drafting tables at the UC Davis Department of Landscape Architecture. Over the hours of charrette that followed, they revisited the issues that arose during this trip: How could farm feedback loops inform urban design? What role does governance play in the lack of balance of inputs and outputs in major cities? How can interdisciplinary design professionals enhance the security and resilience of existing rural communities that support our farm industry? Together, we started envisioning answers to these and other questions and made plans to return to Sacramento in early 2019 with design concepts to address them. When we go back, we intend to continue our conversations with local farmers, community members, and other stakeholders. We know there are opportunities for collaboration and implementation; we just need time together. We are onto something.
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California’s Orange County Museum of Art to open satellite location while Morphosis builds

The Orange County Museum of Art (OCMA) in Santa Ana, California, is planning to open a new temporary gallery space in the South Coast Plaza Village on November 3 as work on a new 52,000-square-foot facility by Morphosis gets underway. The temporary facility—dubbed OCMAEXPAND-SANTA ANA—will be located in a former retail space in the Victor Gruen–designed shopping mall and will host five seasons’ worth of exhibitions between this fall and 2021 when the new museum opens. This year’s inaugural season will feature exhibitions by the artists Kathryn Garcia, Valentina Jager, Alan Nakagawa, Mariángeles Soto-Díaz, Rodrigo Valenzuela, and Ni Youyu and will be on view through March 17, 2019. Todd D. Smith, director of OCMA, said in a statement, “As we build our new home at Segerstrom Center, we have a unique opportunity to broaden our programs and our reach—OCMAEXPAND is a guiding principle, an umbrella term, for the museum during the transition.” Smith went on to characterize the pop-up museum and its new name as “a call to action for the organization. It’s meant to push us to think differently and more creatively about how we engage audiences today and into the future.” Cassandra Coblentz, senior curator and director of public engagement for OCMA, explained further, “Our goal is to create a dynamic space for artistic innovation, experimentation, and dialog.” The museum plans to do this by focusing exhibition on artists and topics relevant to California and the Pacific Rim, a major initiative the institution has undertaken in recent years. The Morphosis-designed complex will begin to rise nearby at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts—a cultural complex that includes an existing concert hall and reperatory—starting in 2019. Morphosis’s plans call for 25,000 square feet of dedicated exhibition space, 10,000 square feet of multipurpose, educational, and performances spaces, and a sculpture terrace with capacity for 1,000 occupants. The striated, wind-swept complex is being designed in virtual reality and will ultimately leave close to 70 percent of the surrounding site open for public use. 
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Against all odds, California is building a high-speed train line

After years of political wrangling, regulatory delay, and economic uncertainty, California’s $100-billion high-speed rail (HSR) project is finally under construction. Though the project has more than doubled in cost and is now over 11 years behind schedule, the California High Speed Rail Authority, a public agency tasked with planning, designing, building, and operating the 300-mile route, has broken ground on a variety of key construction initiatives since 2016. The agency is currently working on 20 sites scattered across five central California counties in an effort to build a 119-mile proof-of-concept route between Bakersfield and Madera by 2022. Among the multifaceted works underway are the 3,700-foot-long Cedar Viaduct that will carry high-speed trains over State Route 99 in Fresno, and the 4,700-foot San Joaquin River Viaduct that will span the San Joaquin River to the north. The aerial alignments are test runs for the types of layered sites the authority will have to build over in more densely populated centers. Here, where temperatures can reach 110 degrees during the day, workers are laying rebar for structural columns, balancing new concrete slabs on elevated spans, and acquiring new properties to complete the future rail alignment. Roughly halfway between the two ends of this initial route, the Dragados-Flatiron Joint Venture Precast Facility outside of Hanford is currently under construction, as well. The precast concrete factory will supply girders and precast slabs for the bullet train project when it opens in 2019. Ultimately, the facility will produce roughly 1,300 different types of beams and nearly 500,000 precast slabs for the rail line. Bruce Fukuji, principal at Albany, California–based Urban Design Innovations, is an architect working to develop transit-oriented community guidelines for sites across the state that will be impacted by the new route. In a statement, Fukuji explained that his goal was to “focus regional economic activity [and] attract public and private investment to stimulate the regeneration of station areas.” Fukuji added, “We are linking locally desired projects with potential cap-and-trade funding [and are] setting up the opportunity for local communities and disadvantaged communities to benefit from collaborating with us and our partner agencies.” Though far from the state’s major urban centers now, when the full route is completed in 2033, it is expected to carry over 30 million passengers each year on trains traveling between 110 and 220 miles per hour.
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Suicide barrier controversy envelops Golden Gate Bridge

Forbes recently reported on the controversy surrounding a suicide barrier that will be installed on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California. The barrier is projected to cost $211 million of public money, which some say is too high, while others say that the landmark's iconic appearance should not be changed. The barrier will consist of a net extending 20 feet horizontally out from the bridge's deck, held up by steel members painted the same color as the bridge's main structure. The net will be about 20 feet below the bridge deck's top surface, so anyone falling onto it would still sustain injuries, but much less severe ones than they would receive from a fall to the water below. The Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District, the authority responsible for overseeing the barrier's construction, refers to the net as a "deterrent," and says that similar structures have been successful in hindering suicides related to other structures around the world. According to Forbes, the bridge is the second most popular suicide destination in the world, and the LA Times has reported that dozens of people die from jumping off the structure every year. Forbes also reported that the $211 million bill is almost three times the original $76 million estimated price for the project. The barrier should be in place in 2021.
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Lance Bass loses bid to buy original Brady Bunch home

It’s been a tough week for Lance Bass. On Friday, the former NSYNC bassist tweeted that he was overjoyed when he thought that his offer had been accepted on the original Brady Bunch house, made famous by the hit ‘70s show. Almost immediately, he was as low as he had been high—he was informed that a “Hollywood studio” was willing to pay anything to claim the house and that they would be the new owners. Bass narrated the drama as it unfolded over various social media accounts: This morning the LA Times reported that Discovery Inc. Chief Executive David Zaslav broke the news on an earnings report conference call that the company had bought the house and was planning a project involving it with HGTV, one of their subsidiaries. Details about the project have yet to emerge. According to the Times, the show was shot on a studio lot, not in the Studio City, California, house. Only the exterior was actually used. In what may come as a disappointment, the interiors never resembled those depicted on the show, but, according to photos on the realtor Douglas Elliman's site, they have been maintained in period style. The sellers apparently wanted to find a buyer who would maintain and preserve the iconic house in lieu of developing the 12,500-square-foot lot. According to CNN, the sale price has not been announced, but the starting price is listed by Douglas Elliman as $1.885 million.
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Historic California ghost town sold on Friday the 13

As luck would have it, the ghost town of Cerro Gordo near the Mojave Desert 200 miles north of Los Angeles sold to a group of L.A.-based investors on Friday the 13th. The price was $1.4 million. The 300-acre town is located east of the city of Lone Pine on the western slope of the Inyo Mountains and comes complete with twenty-two structures, including a hotel, saloon, museum, chapel, several single-family homes, and an eight-bed bunkhouse, according to the Los Angeles Times. Silver was discovered in the hills surrounding the site in 1865, according to sources, prompting a rush of prospectors to the area. At its height, the town of Cerro Gordo had a population of around 5,000 and its steady stream of silver-loaded mule trains was known as the “Silver Thread” connecting the high desert communities to L.A. The town quickly dwindled in size and significance after the collapse of silver prices in 1877. More recently, the ghost town was owned by a private family that has opened up the site for tours and visitors. In selling the property, the owners were looking to secure a buyer who would continue the practice. The group of like-minded buyers includes investors with backgrounds in hosteling, public relations, marketing, and entertainment. The hope is that the town can continue to welcome visitors and potentially expand to include new uses like overnight accommodations as well as arts and social programming. Brent Underwood, founder of youth hostel HK Austin and one of the buyers for the project told SFGate, "We want to maintain the historic nature of the property while introducing amenities that will allow more people to enjoy this piece of American history. We have spent a lot of time with the current owners and caretaker to learn the history of the place. I've read all the books I can find on the town. I can't express our excitement to be able to continue the care of this beautiful location." The sale comes as off-beat destinations grow in popularity among the Millennial demographic, with vintage, historic, and recreational marijuana-themed accommodations among the most sought-after. Investors in L.A. and other major cities are taking note of the trend, and fanning out into rural and wilderness areas in search of new opportunities.