With Our Car Culture, No Gas Is No Glory

Some parents offer their children a blessing every time they see them.

architecture auto automobiles bridge
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My dad’s holy water is gasoline.

Whenever I visit him, he looks under my car to make sure the fuel lines aren’t leaking, then switches on the ignition to see if the tank is at least half full, like he says it always should be. Whenever Dad visits me, he comes holding a five-gallon gas can to top off the lawnmower, weeder and edger we use on the patch of lawn I keep so we can have something to do together.

He’s a retired truck driver, someone who always tries to ride in style, despite his limited income. So most of Dad’s life lessons center on the combustion engine. Check the timing belts every morning. Ten cents saved on a gallon of lower-octane gas will cost you later. Always carry a wrench, jumper cables and a quart of oil. If you can’t own a truck, know someone who does.

Dad imbued me with a love of cars that continues. I own four gas-guzzling relics — a beat-up 1968 VW Bus, an immaculate 1974 Cadillac Eldorado convertible, a sturdy 1979 Ford SuperCab and a 2005 GMC Yukon that’s my daily driver. Yep, I wince at the pump every day — but I largely don’t mind, because I love ’em.

Strangers and friends are always surprised, because I seem like a Prius-driving liberal. I keep my fleet because it connects me to my self-sustaining, rancho libertarian roots. I boast that three of my four cars have carburetors, then laugh as I have to explain what one is. Owning an older car means constant vigilance and the acceptance that sooner or later, good times are going to break down. Besides, my jalopies force me to pay attention while I drive, since the most advanced thing any of them carries is a CD player.

So when I heard that California has banned the sale of new gas-powered cars after 2035, I didn’t immediately celebrate.

The development came via a vote by the California Air Resources Board, two years after Gov. Gavin Newsom tasked its members with developing and implementing a plan to accomplish the audacious goal. It’s the latest move in the state’s battle against anything that uses fossil fuels.

The air board last year banned the sale of gas-powered gardening equipment starting in 2024 and portable generators by 2028. More than 50 cities are limiting or outlawing natural gas in new homes and businesses. California is supposed to reach 100% renewable energy by 2045, and Newsom pushed the state Legislature earlier this month to make it harder to tap into new oil and natural gas wells near schools.

We’re doing all this to fight climate change and set an example for everyone else. Lauren Sanchez, Newsom’s climate advisor, described the gas-engine ban as “a huge day not only for California but the entire world.”

I’m all for cutting back on emissions. They exacerbate climate change, poison our environment and disproportionately affect minority communities, like the one I grew up in right next to the 91 Freeway that divides Anaheim and Fullerton. I appreciate California thinking big and its willingness to lead on important issues while other states look on. Coming into the Los Angeles Basin on a sunny morning and seeing a tarry gray cloud over it is a grim reminder of what we’ve done to ourselves.

But a crackdown on gas engines also threatens a communion that working-class Californians have shared for decades.

Learning how to work on your car is a rite of passage in car culture, a torch passed from hot-rodders to lowridersvan-life hipsters to import-car enthusiasts. Maybe you can’t own a home, but you can at least maintain something and call it your own.

You learn to respect the engine’s facets, whether you’re a gearhead or not. The different greases and grimes each part creates. The deep smell of oil, the acrid stench of gas. The symphony of sounds — a roar, a purr, a putter — each engine creates. An ecosystem of enthusiasts, generalists and specialists creates community (if mostly among men).

All of this is now endangered. California officials insist that only new gas-powered cars are being targeted. But no one buys that. In 2004, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger repealed the so-called grandfather clause on smog checks, which exempted cars older than 30 years. Now, it applies only to models from before 1975. With the new regulations, the slow drip against the combustion engine turns into a fire hose.

Again, I get the reason why. But telling Californians that banning combustion engines is necessary to save the planet isn’t enough. The air board also needs to realize that the culture gas-powered cars created is one that electric cars will have a hell of a time replacing. There’s no emotional attachment yet from the masses, and I don’t think there ever can be.

Nothing is cheap on electrics. Something as simple as getting out of the car turns into a dystopian mess if the computer doesn’t cooperate. Most need specialized mechanics for the tiniest fixes — you can’t call over a cousin to check on your car in the driveway. Their shape and feel remain robotic and antiseptic. Their sickly wheeze when on the move is such a stumbling block for blue-collar types that the electric version of Dodge’s iconic Charger muscle car will roar just like its gas-powered ancestor. Electric cars also aren’t as harmless for the environment as proponents make them out to be, since mining for the rare-earth minerals that power them threatens oceans and Native American reservations alike.

These are just some of the reasons only a handful of my friends and family float around in electrics. Families tend to get hybrid SUVs; men favor mamalonas (massive trucks) or muscle cars that proudly belch out exhaust. None are conservatives; all believe in climate change. But the state will have to pry their Silverados from their cold, dead hands.

These might seem like selfish and trivial points in the face of the existential dread that is our air-quality emergency. But to dismiss such concerns is classic elitism. You can’t shame the working class out of what brings them joy. That’s why the air board hasn’t outright outlawed gas-powered engines — yet.

Bans in the name of saving Earth almost always fall on the very people they claim to uplift. I sadly know this from experience. In 2006, the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach announced a program to ban all but the newest big rigs in the name of cracking down on diesel emissions. The air board eventually adopted the same regulations. Drivers whose rigs were no longer eligible either had to buy a new model or retrofit their old ones, costing thousands of dollars that self-employed truckers didn’t have.

Many lost their jobs. One of them was my father. Dad was too old to justify buying a new truck, yet too young to retire. He had to sell off his Kenworth and remained unemployed for years as a glut of younger truckers flooded the market.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

Proposals to ban internal combustion engines in California are a bad idea


carpool-laneThe latest battle in Sacramento’s war on California’s middle class is the push to ban the internal combustion engine.

Luckily, the effort has stalled.

The legislation that would have imposed the ban, Assembly Bill 1745, died last month, but bad ideas in California have a way of recurring like nightmares. We will see this proposal again, either as legislation next year or perhaps even as a ballot initiative. A number of so-called progressive candidates on the ballot this year have publicly stated they embrace this foolish idea.

The bill that was stopped, AB1745, would have prohibited the Department of Motor Vehicles from registering a new vehicle unless it was a zero emissions vehicle, beginning on January 1, 2040. Under the proposed law, a new car with an internal combustion engine could not legally be driven in California after that date.

A ban on internal combustion engines would certainly limit mobility and transportation options for millions of California families and businesses. And it would arbitrarily limit the development and use of advanced and efficient vehicle technologies, the kind that have already achieved great success in squeezing extra miles out of a gallon of gas.

Today, despite the availability of ZEVs, a substantial publicly funded rebate program and access to HOV lanes, ZEVs accounted for only 1.9 percent of the over 2,000,000 new passenger vehicles sold in California in 2016. And many of these sales are repeat sales to the same households, according to the UC Davis Institute of Transportation, raising the question of whether plug-in vehicles are experiencing widespread consumer rejection, outside of a limited group of true believers.

A ban on internal combustion engines is an attempt to force consumers into buying vehicles that they have decided are not best suited to their needs.

The better alternative is leveraging all available vehicle technologies, including efficient internal combustion engines, so that California can reach its environmental goals without banning or discouraging any technological innovations. …

Click here to read the full article from the OC Register

California Wants to Ban the Internal Combustion Engine


Engine CarCalifornia’s relentless crusade against emissions effectively camouflages its voracious need for revenues.

AB32, the original landmark bill was signed into law in 2006 when California contributed one percent to the world’s greenhouse gases. While the cap and trade program has been a cost effective method of reducing CA’s greenhouse gas emissions, the program does next to nothing to reducing global emissions. A decade later, in 2016, the California Energy Commission said we still contributed a minuscule one percent to the world’s greenhouse gases, but it has successfully extracted more than $7 billion dollars of revenue from our citizens to fund a multitude of governmental pet projects.

California’s elected officials must be in La La Land when they state that California’s economy is thriving in large part because of its emphasis on enacting sweeping environmental legislation. California’s economy, like the rest of the nation, has been booming ever since the recession, but California is ranking up where the state is not proud of. The California go-it-alone crusade to reduce emissions regressively impacts consumers.  Today the California energy portfolio, the environment, and climate change are always discussed together. Here’s what’s really up – energy costs, poverty, homelessness, welfare and unfunded pension liabilities.

  • California taxes and cost of living are higher than most other states.
  • California’s energy costs are as much as 50 percent higher than the national average.
  • Nearly 20 percent of California’s 38 million residents live below the poverty line.
  • California has more than 33 percent of the nation’s welfare recipients.
  • California is home to 12 percent of the nation’s population, but startlingly 22 percent of the nation’s homeless population.
  • Roughly 1.5 million households pay more than 50 percent of their income toward rent.
  • Unfunded pension liabilities.

Now compounding these problems is a bill currently under consideration in the Legislature, Assembly Bill 1745, that would outlaw the sale and registration of new light-duty vehicles powered by internal combustion engines beginning in 2040. The unintended consequence for those existing internal combustion engines after 2040 would be that people would drive their internal combustion engines for 50 years, like they did in Cuba, and adversely affect air pollution, and not take advantage of technology improvements. The sheer scope of the proposed mandate is staggering. According to the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles, of the 35 million registered vehicles in CA there are over 26 million passenger vehicles registered in California. Of these, only about three percent are personal electric vehicles.  Limiting the types of new cars Californians could buy would disproportionately punish working families already struggling to make ends meet.

It appears that governments, worldwide, in pursuit of the current EV crusade, may be overlooking the fact that an essential ingredient that lithium-ion batteries are dependent on is cobalt which is already in limited supply worldwide to manufacture IPhones, IPads, and car batteries. Without the element’s energy density, batteries without cobalt tend to perform worse.  Currently about a quarter of global production of cobalt winds up in smartphones. In the expected event that cobalt supply does not meet the EV needs in the decades ahead, the impact on the local and international economies could be devastating. Environmentally, it’s also harder to recycle lithium-ion batteries with cobalt than lead-acid batteries used in gasoline powered vehicles.

Finally, AB1745 fails the cost-benefit test. California accounts for less than one percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, so even if every gasoline-powered car in our state were taken off the road tomorrow there would be zero impact on climate change.

Our elected leaders need to address the very real challenges facing California, rather than touting misguided new policies like AB 1745 that will only make our problems worse.

ounder of PTS Staffing Solutions, a technical staffing agency headquartered in Irvine

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Cars Crush Transit

traffic-los-angelesThe Los Angeles Times has recently reported that public transit agencies “have watched their ridership numbers fall off a cliff over the last five years,” with multi-year decreases in mass transit use by up to 25%. And a new UCLA Institute of Transportation study has found that increasing car ownership is the prime factor for the dive in usage.

As Homer Simpson would say, “Doh.”

Southern California residents bought 4 times as many cars per person in the fifteen years after the turn of the century, compared to the decade before. That substantial jump in automobile ownership caused the share of Southern California households without access to a car to fall by 30%, and 42% for immigrant households. As one of the study’s authors, Michael Manville, put it, “That exploding level of new automobile ownership is largely incompatible with a lot of transit ridership.” In other words, once a household has access to a car, they almost universally prefer driving to mass transit.

This patronage plunge threatens transit agencies. Typical responses echo Hasan Ikhrata, executive director of the Southern California Association of Governments, who said, “We need to take this study as an opportunity to figure out how we make transit work better for us.” In other words, we should ignore increasing access to automobiles and overwhelming revealed preferences for driving over mass transit, and find new ways to fill bus and train seats.

Many things are already in motion to solve transit agency’s problems. For instance, in 2015, Los Angeles began a 20-year plan to remove auto lanes for bus and protected bike lanes, as well as pedestrian enhancements, diverting transportation funds raised from drivers and heightening congestion for the vast majority who planners already know will continue to drive (it would have doubled the number of heavily congested–graded F–intersections to 36% during evening rush).

Such less than effective attempts to cut driving (and bail out transit agencies) by creating gridlock purgatory suggest we ask a largely ignored question. Why do planners’ attempts to force residents into walking, cycling and mass transit, supposedly improving their quality of life, attract so few away from driving?

The reason is simple–cars are vastly superior to alternatives for the vast majority of individuals and circumstances.

Automobiles have far greater and more flexible passenger- and cargo-carrying capacities than transit. They allow direct, point-to-point service, unlike transit. They allow self-scheduling rather than requiring advance planning. They save time, especially time spent waiting, which surveys find transit riders find far more onerous. They have far better multi-stop trip capability (which is why restrictions on auto use punish working mothers most). They offer a safer, more comfortable, more controllable environment, from the seats to the temperature to the music to the company.

Those massive advantages explain why even substantial new restrictions on automobiles or improvements in alternatives leave driving the vastly dominant choice. They also reveal that policies which will punish the vast majority for whom driving remains far superior cannot effectively serve all residents’ interests.

The superiority of automobiles doesn’t stop at the obvious, either. They expand workers’ access to jobs and educational opportunities, increase productivity and incomes, improve purchasing choices, lower consumer prices and widen social options. Trying to inconvenience people out of their cars also undermines those major benefits.

Cars’ allow decreased commuting times if not hamstrung, providing workers access to far more potential jobs and training possibilities. That improves worker-employer matches, with expanded productivity raising workers’ incomes as well as benefitting employers. One study found that 10 percent faster travel raised worker productivity by 3 percent, and increasing from 3 mph walking speed to 30 mph driving is a 900 percent increase. In a similar vein, a Harvard analysis found that for those lacking high-school diplomas, owning a car increased monthly earnings by $1,100.

Cars are also the only practical way to assemble enough widely dispersed potential customers to sustain large stores with affordable, diverse offerings. “Automobility” also sharply expands access to social opportunities.

Attempting to force people out of cars and onto transit recycles earlier failures and harms the vast majority of citizens. As Randal O’Toole noted:

Anyone who prefers not to drive can find neighborhoods…where they can walk to stores that offer a limited selection of high-priced goods, enjoy limited recreation and social opportunities, and take slow public transit vehicles to some but not all regional employment centers, the same as many Americans did in 1920. But the automobile provides people with far more benefits and opportunities than they could ever have without it.

Gary Galles is a Professor of Economics at Pepperdine University, an adjunct scholar at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, part the Foundation for Economic Education faculty network, and a research associate of the Independent Institute. His books include “Apostle of Peace” (2013); “Faulty Premises, Faulty Policies” (2014); and “Lines of Liberty” (2016).

CA’s War on Drivers Escalates


carpool-laneJust in case you had any doubt, it’s now clear that California’s war on drivers has escalated.

Three weeks ago, for example, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would have allowed all motorists to use the carpool lane on two L.A. freeways during off-peak times. That may have seemed to you like an easy, no-cost way to relieve traffic congestion, but not to the governor. Brown shot it down, he said, because he believes carpool lanes are necessary “to reduce pollution and maximize the use of freeways.” Yeah, right; those miles-long lines of idling cars next to an open carpool lane at 8 p.m. sure help to reduce pollution.

But there are other examples of how our elected leaders lately have declared a surge in the longstanding war against motorists.

Santa Monica is considering moves aimed at curtailing cars there. And here’s the biggest example: The city of Los Angeles a couple of months ago decided to push ahead with a 20-year plan that – in this city known for traffic jams – calls for taking away what was described as “hundreds of miles” of lanes now dedicated to cars so that there’d be more room for buses, bicycles and pedestrians. City leaders are calling it Mobility Plan 2035 apparently without any awareness of the irony.

One bureaucrat actually pooh-poohed the suggestion that reducing car lanes increases congestion. She was quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying: “Slower traffic can actually in some ways accommodate more cars moving through an area.”

If that’s the case, cars should be moving unfettered all over Los Angeles this very minute.

We’ve known there’s been a long-term war on drivers. Just look at how state and local governments have ignored street and bridge repairs. For years.

The group called TRIP reported in July that California had the worst road conditions in the country. San Francisco was the worst city in the country with Los Angeles a close second. Syria probably has fewer potholes. A different group said bridges statewide are similarly decrepit; you might recall that the 10 freeway bridge near the Arizona border collapsed this summer.

Add it all up, and well more than $100 billion worth of repairs and rebuilding are needed, yet the state budget included no new money for it. Having diverted tax money that should have gone to road and bridge repairs all along, the state is now talking about imposing new taxes, if you demanding taxpayers actually expect bridges not to collapse and roads not to break your axle every other week.

Yeah, this is a war all right. A nasty war of attrition on drivers. The goal, of course, is to make it so uncomfortable, so expensive for you to drive that it will force you to take mass transit.

Look, I think most of us agree that it’d be nice if we could ride a bicycle to work and take a train for an evening out. Maybe someday we’ll get there. But Los Angeles today is not like Paris or Tokyo or even New York, where long-established train systems and dense cities mean mass transit makes sense right now.

We barely have a train system in Los Angeles, and the build-out is painfully slow. The so-called subway to the sea isn’t scheduled to be completed until 2035. Gosh, that’s probably longer than it’ll take the drip-drip-drip of Hillary Clinton’s email controversy to end. Face it, a truly usable subway network won’t get built in spread-out Los Angeles for decades, maybe for well more than 50 years. If you’re reading this column, chances are you will not see it.

I don’t understand why California’s political class can’t adopt an all-of-the-above position. Continue methodically building out mass transit systems while accommodating automobiles and trucks with better and more roads. I’m convinced that people will gladly take the train or a bus or a bicycle when it makes sense for them. But because only 5.8 percent of metro L.A. commuters regularly used mass transit in 2013 (it was 5.9 percent in 1980), we have to conclude that cars remain the preferred choice for the vast majority of residents and probably will for years.

We motorists are tired of the punishment. Please, politicians, de-escalate. Stop the war.

All I am saying is give peace a chance.

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

ditor of the Los Angeles Business Journal

Los Angeles: The City Of Whining About The Car


los-angeles-freeway-helicopter-1There was something very strange about the Los Angeles City Council debate on the day they adopted the Mobility Plan 2035.

On August 11, the council was rushing to pass a 20-year plan that called for removing traffic lanes on busy streets to make room for 300 miles of protected bike lanes. Councilman Mike Bonin told his colleagues how much safer the roads would be once traffic was slowed by the lane reductions.

“Only 5 percent of those hit by a car going 20 miles per hour die,” Bonin said. “Over 80 percent of those who are hit by a car going 40 miles per hour die.”

You don’t typically hear an elected official arguing for slowing city traffic to 20 miles per hour. And then the council members began to hint that the plan wasn’t binding on anybody.

“Every particular project will need to be vetted by you, in your district, with your constituents,” Bonin told his colleagues.

“This is a concept,” council president Herb Wesson said. “If you choose to vote on this today, it will not be put in place tomorrow.”

They called it “a vision statement,” and “an aspirational document.” And then the truth came out.

“This is a document that also helps us get a lot of money from somewhere else,” Bonin said. “This is a document that can help us get active transportation funds from the state. This is a document that can help us tap into cap-and-trade funds because it will help us reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This is a smart thing to be doing.”

Sacramento has more than a billion dollars available for projects that reduce greenhouse gases, money that is pouring in from new fees on gasoline and diesel fuel that began on Jan. 1. The cash goes into a fund for politicians to hand out to anything green, or greenish.

And that’s why officials have turned Los Angeles, the city of the car, into the city of whining about the car.

“We have for too long been wedded to the single-occupancy vehicle,” Bonin intoned.

But how many people in Los Angeles want to divorce their cars?

A test is underway in Northridge, where Reseda Boulevard between Parthenia and Plummer has been declared one of the city’s “Great Streets.” It’s now the site of L.A.’s only protected bike lanes.

“People love it,” City Council representative Mitchell Englander said, “it’s brought back new vibrancy to an area that didn’t have that.”

Mayor Garcetti says the Great Streets initiative aims to create “transformative gathering places for Angelenos to come together.” So in addition to the bike lanes, the Reseda Boulevard sidewalks were given a paint job and some outdoor furniture.

But on a recent afternoon, no one was transforming or gathering on the new streetscape. The scattered furniture — yellow benches, chairs and tables styled to suggest a 1960s living room — sat empty and grimy, facing the traffic or turned toward the gritty storefronts, bolted to a sidewalk that had been painted to look like flagstones.

And on that afternoon more cyclists were riding on the sidewalks than in the protected bike lane. Alex, a CSUN student who said he rides a bike to get around the neighborhood, said the sidewalk is much safer, because cyclists in the bike lane can too easily be hit by cars near the corners, where the right-turn lane and bike lane overlap.

In a shopping center on the southeast corner of Reseda and Nordhoff, people sat at outdoor tables having coffee or dinner, and no one had anything good to say about the new street design.

“I hate it, it’s made traffic worse,” said one Northridge resident. Another said it was “much more dangerous” with parking spaces to the left of the bike lane leaving drivers to open their doors into the traffic.

Left turns into the shopping center are now illegal, so customers have to go around the block and drive north on Reseda to be on the right side of the street. “Who’s going to do that?” said a restaurant manager. “Everyone just makes an illegal left turn or goes somewhere else.”

A few yards away, customers were lined up for handmade ice cream sandwiches at a new store called Cream.

“I’d like to put in some benches,” said co-owner Mario Ramirez, indicating the walkway between his store and a row of parking spaces. “People seem to gather here.”

The early test results are in: People don’t want streetscapes and bike lanes. They want parking and ice cream.

Blame game as car break-ins escalate in S.F.

As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle:

An alarming 47 percent spike in San Francisco car break-ins in the first half of this year has prompted a blame game between police, prosecutors and politicians while repeat victims like Kelley Maulbetsch are left feeling exasperated and helpless.

When Maulbetsch walked to her car one morning last week in San Francisco’s Mission District, her usual upbeat demeanor quickly gave way to sour frustration. Someone had smashed a hole in the rear passenger-side window of her Volkswagen Jetta station wagon and made off with the paltry haul — two camping chairs and a music stand.

Pea-size pieces of glass were strewn about her car’s interior while chunks of the window still broke away from the hastily punched hole as she pulled up later that day to In and Out Auto Glass in the city’s Bayview district. …

Click here to read the full article