Archive for September, 2008

Southern California’s urban sprawl got you down?

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

You know, that one hour traffic jam, where you traveled 3 miles towards your destination with a faraway stare and a gas gauge heading toward E. You know, where you live in one country and work in another, because that’s where the jobs are … unless that McEconomy management post tantalizes. Incredibly blessed as we are here, the greater Los Angeles area is flunking many of the quality of life criteria. Go to the Southern California Association of Government website and take a look-see.

In the lastest effort to put the brakes on our collective mileage — the L.A. Times reports it’s growing twice as fast as our population — and horizontal lifestyles, Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) has proposed an astonishly important piece of legislation for the global warming age. SB375 would reward metropolitan planning organizations like SCAG (don’t get us going on that agency) with first dibs at politically fragile state transportation funds if cities within their jurisdictions actively work to curb greenhouse gas emissions. The most straightforward path to that? You guessed it. Limit unncessary driving by encouraging “smart growth,” heretofore a buzz word most Californians haven’t understood. One of its tenets is simply boosting employment centers, shopping districts and what-not as close to the people who need them as possible.

Reigning in Southern California’s luxurious and self-consuming lifestyle — what’s a tortuous drive for a big house with a backyard and a mountain view — is hardly a new flash of genius. It traces back all the way to the 1950s, when air pollution literally was swallowing Los Angeles, and some in the smognoscenti suggested making smog a consideration in county and municipal zoning decisions. For all that logic, the economics of subdivisions and frontier real estate was too powerful. Twenty years later, what with San Bernardino and Riverside Counties growing like hotcakes, Gov. Jerry Brown embarked on an even deeper foray to slow down the state’s propensity to build first and ask questions later. His ideas proved more durable than you might realize. We cover all this and more in our fast-approaching book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles.

Daryl Steinberg: you are not alone!

Iconic Cartoon of Los Angeles crying for rescue

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

This cartoon, sketched when we were wee lads (or not born at all), beautifully typified the region’s desperation for state and federal assistance combatting air pollution. It took an excruciatingly long time to arrive. Look closely at this cartoon, and you can feel the anguish of the actual cartoonist. Notice the apocalyptic gas mask face below City Hall’s hollering face. Sacramento and Washington D.C.’s glacial response to L.A.’s murk makes Southern California’s campaign against smog all that more extraordinary. It’s a topic we explore it in depth in our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles. It rolls out next month by The Ovelook Press/Penguin U.S.A.

The federal government’s now-defunct Department of Health, Education and Welfare in the early 1970s compiled and disseminated a brochure of smog cartoons like this from the nation’s periodicals. It was called No Laughing Matter, and it was aimed at the average citizen. Officials probably believed that people, after a few chuckles, would realize that surrender and dark humor was no way to solve a crisis. If you’d like see more of these cartoons, check out the CLASSIC DOCS page.

With Smogtown about to launch, we appeared on Patt Morrison’s NPR radio show to get things rolling.

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

Morrison, a longtime Los Angeles Times columnist and author herself, is one of the best radio interviewers in the game. We were delighted when she invited us down to NPR local KPCC to tape a segment. She asked us about Smogtown’s heroes and villains, L.A.’s level of pollution at the turn of the century, how much the good, old American buck played in the struggle and just how “bad” the air used to be compared to today. To listen to the interview, just clikc here and scroll about two-thirds of the way through the show. We’re just getting started, too. Just in case, here’s where you can buy the book for yourself.

Chrysler announces 2010 will be the year of the electric car. Let’s hope by 2050 it’s the century of them, or something even better. Waiting isn’t an option anymore.

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008


For your viewing please here’s a vintage Youtube video on the subject and the MSNBC story about the announcement. The onetime auto giant, now an also-ran giant, can’t decide which of 3 new models to roll out. One is 100 percent electrically powered. However you slice it, this is a big deal, if not a predictable one. Chrysler has no choice. And neither does mighty General Motors and its rivals. Toyota worked harder, longer and more innovatively to be the world leader, and that’s what it is today. In our book, we devote plenty of time to GM’s resistance to de-smogging its shiny products. Automakers sleek-footed manuvering around California’s innovative electric car program some years back also gets bigtime coverage by us, as it should. Anyone want to rekindle the debate about why — in 2008, for goodness sake — even discussing alternatives to the environment-damaging, national-security-imperiling internal combustion engine. For those in the dark, the electric car concept is long in the tooth — 110 years long, that is. If Americans want to shout their demand for a new energy way, an electric car should make their list of models to test-drive. For now, we say bully to Chrysler. You have lots of wasted time to make up.

A little respiratory stroll down memory lane anyone?

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

If you think this disturbing picture of downtown Los Angeles was snapped before the region got its dander up about fighting air pollution, you might’ve underestimated the magnitude of the problem. This scene, taken by the L.A. Times and stored at the UCLA Special Collections Dept., was photographed in 1948, some five years after air pollution rolled into the Southern California and didn’t roll back as it had before. A Times photographer got this Civic Center picture from First and Olive Streets. Anytime today that hovering, russet layer appears — a dirty sunset, a plane ride through the inversion layer, a dull reflection, heck, a nostalgic film of pollution on your car – remding you that smog is still very much in the L.A. basin, think about how it used to for your parents and their generation. Breathing was life-risking. It’s a subject we dissect in our book Smogtown

KIRKUS praises Smogtown as “colorful,” “a zany and provocative cultural history”

Monday, September 8th, 2008

This colorful history of smog in Los Angeles begins in the 1940s and ends with a warning call for action. Self-proclaimed “survivors” of “L.A.’s greatest crisis,” journalist Jacobs (Wheeling the Deal: The Outrageous Legend of Gordon Zahler, Hollywood’s Flashiest Quadriplegic, 2008) and California Energy Circuit senior correspondent Kelly (Home Safe Home: How to Make Your Home Environmentally Safe, 1990) draw on newspaper articles, scientific case studies, policy books and oral-history archives to dredge up the story of smog in all its hazy—and sometimes humorous—permutations. It all began on July 8, 1943, when a blinding, “confounding haze” spread around unsuspecting Angelenos, birthing a decades-long battle against a toxic, shape-shifting monster. The side effects were sinister and wide-reaching: increased car accidents and cancer rates, ruined crops, suicides and even smog-induced mental conditions, like “globus hystericus,” the formation of an imaginary lump that aroused the need to swallow constantly. Most remarkable, note the authors, was the push to develop sprawling, car-dependent communities even while L.A. officials and scientists were trying to combat the deleterious effects of automobile emissions … In this tale of underhanded deals, gritty politics, community organizing and burgeoning environmentalism, the corruption is plentiful and the subplots replete with intrigue. Though the timelines are often confusing, the authors offer a zany and provocative cultural history.”

(Authors note: we drew on many more sources than Kirkus identified — and we promise the timeslines won’t make your head spin. We can’t vouch for the material we present.)

Library Journal gave the book high marks, as well, highlighting its “hip and lively” style and a content that produced an “intriguing social history of an environmental problem that won’t go away.”

Were the Beijing Olympic games the smoggiest on record?

Friday, September 5th, 2008

Here’s a well-done news report produced 50 days before the opening ceremonies. It’ll be fascinating to see how much of a factor air pollution plays in upcoming marquis sporting events. Of course, longtime Angelenos need no such prompting. They remember how New York, Detroit, Moscow and other major world metropoles campaigned against L.A.’s bid for pre-1980 summer Olympics by charging that Southern California’s air would be too toxic for athletes and too obscuring for fans. One can only wonder what those same cities said after the 1984 summer games in Los Angeles, where smog and traffic reached record lows because the region undertook smart, basic steps against them. Alternative work hours. Trucks urged to drive at night. Nimble smog monitoring. Spread out events. How does this compare to the heavyhanded approach the Chinese took by outlawing millions of cars and shutting down thousands of factories in advance of the crowds? From the murky looks of things, and news reports that corroborate it, China didn’t learn much from Los Angeles’ sterling success battling those 3-D skies. We just couldn’t let summer pass without a farewell to Beijing. We’ll revisit the subject, perhaps when the athletes speak up more. If you recall, some U.S. athletes arrived for the games wearing gas masks. They later apologized to their hosts. Maybe the apologies should’ve come from the opposite direction? Don’t get us started on Chinese water pollution.