Planes and Trains- Transportation Updates

AIR- Redding gets a grant.  Redding has been awarded a $450,000 grant from the Dept of Transportation in the form of a revenue guarantee to help SkyWest defray the cost of replacing their current turboprop (Embraer Brasilia) service with Canadair Regional Jets, according to the Redding Searchlight Record. The grant requires a $50K match and does NOT guarantee that jets will return to Redding but is a necessary first step in that direction. SkyWest recently pulled out of Modesto and is discontinuing service to Chico in December.

RAIL-HSR is on the way.   The California High-Speed Rail Authority took the first step toward actually buying trains, opening bids for a billion-dollar contract to build trains and maintenance facilities. Siemens, which has a location in Sacramento, will be among the bidders, and interest from Chinese and Japanese manufacturers is expected to be strong. The specs are that the trains must be able to deliver passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in three hours. If Siemens prevails, the economic benefits to the Sacramento area would be substantial.

MORE RAIL- The Economist reminds us that HSR is nothing new, in fact it’s been around for 50 years, just kinda slow in coming to California. Fifty years ago this week the Osaka-Tokyo line commenced operations and has “since whisked 5.6 billion passengers across the country without a single serious accident.  Punctuality?  The average delay is  less than a minute.” Japan’s HSR, at 200 mph,  is actually pokey compared with China’s Shanghai maglev  (430 kph) or the maglev being developed to update the Tokyo-Osaka run to a speedy 500 kph, about an hour’s time. This will cost $47B, but the Japanese have a government that is willing to invest in infrastructure. 

STILL MORE RAIL- Closer to home, a three-judge panel of the 1st District Appellate court found that the North Coast Railroad Authority and its partner the Northwestern Pacific Railroad can expand freight service without further environmental review.  Specifically, the panel found that freight rail traffic is interstate commence and not subject to the California Environmental Quality Act.  The envronmental groups that brought the suit, Friends of the Eel River and Californians for Alternatives to Toxics, had not announced at press time whether they would appeal. The NCRA’s next step is to raise $5M to rehabilitate the tracks between Windsor and Cloverdale and to recruit customers for the freight service between Napa and Windsor which currently runs twice a week. 

END

News From All Over

Here are some factoids with which to tickle your brain.

TOURISM- As the HSU survey in our last post pointed out, tourism stats are down in Humboldt County.  However, our friends in Redding are feeling the same pain, according to the Searchlight -Record, no link available. Isn’t it puzzling or are tourists staying away because of the drought and fires? 

CHINA- University of California officials have made no less than 20- that’s TWENTY- trips to China so far this year to woo Chinese students with their lucrative out-of-state tuition payments. Oh, yeah, they’re smart too. And haven’t fried their brains on drugs.

APPLE- now has 2500 workers in their Elk Grove location which started as a distribution center but is now hiring folks who wouldn’t know what a forklift looks like. 89 current vacancies,  including one for “Mandarin Team Manager”.  

100 OBJECTS- The State of South Carolina, which has imho the slickest tourism of any state,  is sponsoring a promotion of “100 Objects” in Orangeburg County ranging from battlegrounds, old schools, gravestones, gardens etc.  It’s sort of like “101 Things To Do on the North Coast” combined with a historical scavenger hunt. Any community could adopt this promotion except we’d have to lose the bland word “objects”. “Prizes?” “Treasures?” OK, I can see why they settled for “objects”. Still a good gimmick for a promotion. 

SHERLOCK HOLMES- the stories by A Conan Doyle have fallen into public domain. Those of you who always thought you had a future writing screenplays, have at it.  

OBAMA- one of his biggest financial supporters is the CEO of COSTCO. 

OLIVES- due to the drought,  this year’s olive crop is going to be down 45% from last year. Martini drinkers might want to stock up bigtime. 

OYSTERS- Rumor has it that a major Marin County oyster producer will start operations in Humboldt Bay. 

That’s all, folks, for this week.  Stay safe and far away from the fires. 

   

July 2014 Economic Index Shows Most Sectors Declining

The Humboldt Economic Index.  produced by Dr. Erick Eschker and his team at the Economics Department of HSU, does not show a pretty picture this month.  The leading indicators are, shall we say, mixed.

Lumber is up, but Hospitality, Retail and Home Sales were down in July, as were building permits and help-wanted advertising.  On the positive side, manufacturing orders are up  slightly and UI claims are down. The national jobless rate declined to 6.1 percent in June while the unemployment rate was 7.2, virtually the same as the State as a whole.

Here’s what you’ve been waiting for: gas prices. “Both California and the Northern California region have seen 8% decreases in their average gas prices this month, while Eureka’s average price stayed at $4.25 in June.”  Enjoy the report, and our continued thanks to the HSU team.

Cheers! Wine tasting now permitted at Farmers’ Markets

A new law just signed by Governor Brown (AB 2486) and effective immediately allows wine and cider tasting at Farmers’ Markets under the following conditions:

-The wineries (or cideries) must grow ALL the fruit in their product

-Only one winery can hold tastings on a given day

-Each Farmers’ Market can determine whether to hold testings

-The tasting area must be cordoned off

-Samples are limited to 3 ounces of wine or cider per adult customer.

The bill, which was authored by Assemblyman Mark Levine, D-San Rafael, passed both houses UNANIMOUSLY.

The delightfully  named Portia  Bramble of the North Coast Growers’ Association  reported that Winnett Vineyards from Willow Creek would be  a likely participant at the Arcata Farmers’ Market,  at least by  next season.   This is one story which does not seem to have a downside. 

 

 

 

 

Aviation Update July 2014

Don’t read this if you’re looking for good news for airline passengers. A friend of the blog compiled the following links which show that no matter how bad it gets, there’s always room for worse.

1.  You’ve noticed the carriers imposing more and more fees along with the regular airline fares? Try 1200% in the past seven years, like from $2.4 B in fees in 2007 to $31.5 B in 2013.  More carriers are counted in the later figures but the fees are all coming from the same source: you. 60% of these fees are from the sale of frequent flyer points, 25% for baggage fees, the rest from such services as early boarding and extra-leg-room seating fees. Here, courtesy of Yahoo Finance is a full accounting.

2. I’m sure you’ve heard by now that TSA is also raising its fees. The current fee is $2.50 for non stop and $5 for a connecting flight. The new rate is $5.60 per flight with any connecting longer than four hours counting as a separate flight. That may not sound like much but it adds up, especially when you miss your connection due to delays  leaving  ACV and end up with a ten-hour layover at O’Hare. Here is an account from USA Today.

3. The impact of the war in Ukraine and its spinoffs will be enormous and it is probably too early to assess. The route changes resulting from the war are coming at a time when fuel prices are at an all-time high. When the carriers are squeezed, guess who they’ll pass the increase onto?  The Hindu Business Line newsletter carried an analysis but the link is no longer available. Time moves quickly in the Middle East. 

LOCAL UPDATE: The  Airport Advisory committee did not have its meeting as scheduled yesterday for lack of a quorum but Emily Jacobs reported that there was “some” interest in serving ACV demonstrated by other carriers at the confab in Edmonton. Someone reported that Santa Rosa is improving its runways in anticipation of DIRECT FLIGHTS TO HAWAII.  Wouldn’t  that be great? Yes, it would.  

Humboldt Economic Index for June 2014

The hardworking crew at HSU has published its Index , which shows a sharp drop in housing sales, down 12.4% since last month. Most indicators were down or flat although Retail held steady.  Unemployment rates: National 6.3 (May figures), California 7.6, Humboldt unchanged at 7.1. Many thanks to Dr. Eschker and his researchers.  

IT COULD HAPPEN HERE! Modesto loses passenger air service.

Today is the last day SkyWest Air will serve Modesto City-County Airport, leaving Modesto without regular air service for the first time in at least 20 years. Modesto, with a population of 203,000, has twice the potential ridership of Humboldt and Del Norte counties combined. The Modesto Bee has a brief writeup, also carried in the LA Times..

The airlines have been complaining about supposedly onerous regulations which are driving up their personnel costs. These new rules, in effect since January, require pilots to be allowed ten hours of rest between shifts, up from eight. From a passenger’s point of view, a rested and alert pilot is invaluable. To the FAA and to the carriers, it’s just an added expense in a time when the emphasis is on packing the planes as full as possible.

The FAA in particular has been a monstrous employer for years.  The PATCO strike was largely brought about by the FAA’s inhumane scheduling of the air traffic controllers in a bizarre six hours on, six hours off schedule which afforded no one enough rest. At LAX the ATC’s rented apartments as crash pads since they didn’t have enough time to get home to the Valley for a real rest. Reagan of course destroyed PATCO. I don’t recall the name of he successor union but it sounds as if improvement has been slow to come.

This leaves ACV competing with  Redding, Modesto and God knows who else for air routes which will have to be secured by pledges of customer revenue. Sound familiar?

CORRECTION: In the earlier post on the Airport Advisory Committee I erroneously stated that the trip to Edmonton in which Gregg Foster and Emily Jacobs will be pitching for additional service to ACV was happening on June 3. They’re leaving on June 23rd instead and they have their work cut out for them. The Fly Humboldt Facebook page has further info on the Edmonton meeting. Let’s hope for the best but Modesto losing ALL air service? That’s scary for people who intend to continue to conduct business by commercial airline flights.

“Fighting Intensifies Following Election”

My heart sank when I read this. It CAN’T get any worse, can it?  Then I realized I was reading about Ukraine. Here, to give you something to think about besides the elections are accounts of two meetings in the last 48 hours, the County Airport Advisory Committee and the Humboldt Harbor Working Group.  On the  latter website, look up at the banner and click on “Community Forums” to see what’s coming up.

The Airport group meets on the 4th Tuesday of each month, currently at the Prosperity Center, 520 E Street. Eureka. I won’t give a blow-by-blow description because they have a very competent secretary, Mr. Fenton,  who provides minutes of the meetings, so here’s just a few of the juicier items that came up.

-The Quest For Another Carrier.  A small delegation from ACV ( Gregg Foster and Emily Jacobs, according to the Fly Humboldt Facebook page) staff will travel to Edmonton for a meeting on June 3 with THREE major airlines. These meetings were described as something like Shark Tank with numbers and load factors being bandied about. Apparently we were the only small airport to get meetings with THREE possibles, so that’s good work. This is against a backdrop of United cutting service to Vegas and cutting a Portland route which also serviced Eugene. Not specifically addressed at the meeting but clearly on everyone’s mind was trend by UAL and other majors to dump their low-volume routes in favor of jumbo jets (the “Dreamliner”) carrying big crowds to big cities. We wish the ACV folks well in Edmonton.  If you’ve ever been there, you know they’re not going for fun.

-Infrastructure issues at ACV are going to be critical as the new Courthouse spurs expansion. Right now there isn’t even a safe way for pedestrians to get from the Holiday Inn to the airport without running across Airport Road with their baggage and limited visibility. HCOAG was at the meeting yesterday to present their initial plan for ground access. This will be a high priority since killing tourists  is bad for business. The remarks was made that “We have so many needs,  and not much money.”  The word “insurance” was used at least 30 times during the meeting, just another factor in a complex operation. They will be working with Moser Properties to develop safe pedestrian and bus access

-The FAA is not the easiest agency to work with.

-The proposal to rename the airport the gawdawful “California Redwood Coast -Humboldt County Airport” is alive and well and the Committee will be writing to the BOS and to Jared Huffman soon for backing. Those of us who want to stop this abomination should act quickly.  This County has already provided enough fodder for the late-nite comedians.  Maybe the FAA will save us from ourselves.

EAST-WEST CONNECT- Ryan Burns was at the sparsely-attended Harbor group meeting and provided his usual excellent reportage on LOCO so I won’t duplicate him, not that I could. Bottom line is they’re looking for $300,000 for another study and have already been turned down by CALTRANS.  This will be a long slog, but I’m a north-south advocate, so what do I know?

The Timber Heritage Association-Sleeping Giant in Samoa

Speeder train at aSamoa

Speeder train at at Samoa

The last time I went to one of the Humboldt Bay Harbor Working Group’s monthly   community forums I noted how downspirited everyone was after listening to an hour of “no”.  No, the east-west train doesn’t pencil out. No, there isn’t enough identified freight to make it work. No, no, no. Yesterday’s meeting was completely different. The Timber Heritage Association reminded us that there are FEASIBLE projects to bring more jobs and more tourists, and everyone left in a good mood. There ‘s a lot of work ahead, but as someone said, there’s a light at the end of this tunnel.

(In view of the NCJ column by Marcy Burstiner regarding Brown Act violations, let me clarify that the meetings I attend on the fourth Wednesday of each month are the HBHWG’s PUBLIC forums and are not an inter-agency advisory committee subject to the Brown Act.  I do not attend the AHHA , don’t intend to , don’t know if anything will come of it.  The monthly forums are strictly informational, usually worth attending and represent a lot of hard work by Susanna Munzell and her committee. Glad we got that straightened out.)

Back to the THA which since 1977 has worked hard for a railroad museum and a round-the -Bay tourist train,  and is shortly starting its summer schedule of speeder rides (if you haven’t been on one, speeders are crew cars that look kind of like a caboose.) They run from the Samoa Cookhouse on a short run, only 20 minutes or so but by God, it’s a train ride. Your kids will love it and so will you. The speeder rides are in Samoa four times a year, in Old Town Eureka twice, in Fortuna for the Apple Harvest Days and and have recently started runs in Loleta (check the schedules on the website.)  The steam train rides at Ft Humboldt are all done by THA volunteers during the summer months. By now it should be clear that the THA is a major refuge for train nuts (like me) and they have rolling stock scattered around the county until a real museum can be organized. If you have never ventured down the road behind the Cookhouse, go check it out. They have several train cars right there, all of which are worthy of preservation.

Pete Johnston, who delivered the excellent presentation, pointed out that the Skunk is the major tourist attraction in Mendocino now and if we had a train museum and an opportunity for a train ride, that would be enough to get tourists to stop HERE, rather than shooting past us to Bend or other places with train-related attractions. Did you know the Samoa roundhouse is one of only four on the entire West Coast? That the THA is sustained by 6000 hours of volunteer labor a year?  That’s dedication and one day it will benefit the entire county.

So go ride the speeders and support the THA. I’ve donated before but never joined up but I have now, just wrote them a check for $25 and if I can do it , you can, and should.  They have a couple of fundraisers coming up and last year the Salmon, Oysters Ales and Rails BBQ in August was completely sold out (500 tickets.) Trains have been a big part of Humboldt County history and if the THA has its way they will be a part of its future, as well. .