Wednesday, June 10, 2015

New report predicts cost of Bay Area super storm

In this month's Estuary News, I have a short little item about a new report called Surviving the Storm, by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute with other public agencies and private firms. It includes some very interesting historical data and insightful observations about extreme weather and high-rainfall events in the Bay Area over the past 160 years or so, all of which contributes to the formulation of a specific hypothetical super storm, which the authors then modeled to determine its approximate economic impacts throughout the region. Their conclusion: a 100- to 200-year storm of the sort the authors dream up would cause at least $10.4 billion in damages. You can find the report at the above link, and my article ("Pretty Penny for Extreme Event") on page 8 of the June issue of Estuary News (pdf).

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The mapping backpack

Here's a story I just wrote for the UC Berkeley College of Engineering on the development of an indoor-mapping backpack with a wide variety of potential uses, including building construction, commercial real estate, search and rescue, and energy audits for large buildings. It's a pretty neat tool that's been under development for a long time and is finally ready for commercialization. In fact, its primary developer, Berkeley prof Avideh Zakhor, is taking the next year off of teaching, along with a former student who also spent years on the project, to begin bringing it to market. Read all about it here.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Journalism fellowship on climate change inspires real estate columns on St. Louis

Last month I was one of 25 or so journalists selected nationwide to attend a fellowship on climate change and the news sponsored by the Metcalf Institute at the National Adaptation Forum in St. Louis. Over the course of three days I absorbed some great information, identified a number of promising story ideas, and found some helpful new sources.

But that's not all. I also was inspired by my trip to write about St. Louis in my next two real estate columns for the San Francisco Examiner. Something about the city moved me. Today I heard from my wife that one of her co-workers in San Francisco read my column and was similarly inspired by St. Louis, to the point that she joked (we think) she wanted to move there.

They're not about science or the environment, and only tangentially about real estate. What I was trying to convey was the importance of perspective, and the poison of the particular brands of provincialism and exceptionalism that are pervasive in parts of the Bay Area, especially within the San Francisco real estate industry.

Here's the first one, which ran 5/24, and the second one, which ran on 5/31.

A Busy June, Pt 3: New study confirms dangers of BPA substitute BPS

Finally, on the environmental health side, I recently completed a news article for Environmental Health Perspectives covering a new study, also published in the June issue, comparing cardiovascular effects of BPS in rats to those of BPA. The authors tested both chemicals on rat hearts, using identical experiments (the BPA study was previously published) and found them to have nearly identical effects. This doesn't prove human health effects, but it is concerning that BPA has been widely replaced in consumer goods and packaging with a chemical that is equally potent, at least as far as cardiovascular effects go. Other researchers have come to similar conclusions for other biological endpoints for both BPS and BPF, another common BPA "substitute." Read my article and find the full study here.

A Busy June, Pt 2: Cape Town travel piece

Back in February my family undertook an epic journey (epic considering the 45 or so hours in the air, all told, with two-year-old son in tow) to Cape Town for my sister's wedding. While the coming and going was hard, the staying was easy. We spent a full two weeks in Cape Town, which offered a great opportunity to soak up the vibe, see the sights, do the beaches, visit different neighborhoods, sample the cuisine and nightlife, and generally get a feel for the place. That combined with insights from my sister, who's been there a few years, and her new husband, a native South African (though not Capetonian), helped me put together this travel piece for Oakland magazine on the city. The California angle wasn't forced: I drew connections nearly everywhere we traveled in and around Cape Town. Indeed, South Africa's diverse metropolis is often compared to the Bay Area, but I sensed even more similarities to Los Angeles, including in the climate, size, geography, and culture of the city. Then you've got wineries, urban hiking trails, and dense older neighborhoods that seem to scream San Francisco. Read my full dispatch here.

A Busy June, Pt 1: Music and Geology in Marin Magazine

While I was slaving over articles the last two weeks that will appear in forthcoming issues of Environmental Health Perspectives, Estuary News, San Francisco Examiner, Haas NewsWire, and Berkeley Engineer, finishing touches were being put on stories I'd written earlier in the year for the June issues of Marin magazine, Oakland magazine, and Environmental Health Perspectives. Suffice to say, it's been a busy few months since the big trip to Cape Town (read all about it in Oakland mag). And heck, things were busy before that, too.

Part one of the recap includes two stories that ran in the June issue of Marin: a beautiful, hopefully enjoyable and educational piece (I know I learned a lot in reporting it) on the geologic highlights of Marin that freelance photographer Joseph Schell and I undertook together; and an interesting Q&A with accomplished Marin-based music producer Narada Michael Walden, who has collaborated with the likes of Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Aretha Franklin, Carlos Santana, and many more. Give it a read; he's a far-out dude.

Of note, this issue also included the 10th-anniversary retrospective. I've been writing for Marin for nearly five years now, and the retrospective references a number of my previous features, including "Smart Meters, Dumb Idea," about resistance in Marin to PG&E's new wireless SmartMeters; "Quest for Zero," about one Marin resident's drive to build a large, luxurious, net-zero-energy home in Mill Valley; "My Generation," about the kids of Marin rock legends like Carlos Santana, Phil Lesh, and Tom Johnston (Doobie Brothers) who followed their famous parents into the music biz; "Up in Smoke," about the backlash against medical marijuana in liberal, if NIMBYish, Marin County; and, finally, a pair articles on Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir's San Rafael studio Tamalpais Research Institute and GD bassist Phil Lesh's San Rafael venue/restaurant Terrapin Crossroads (I met them both!).