I’m going to take a diversion to write about a local story that’s been brewing for months. It’s long and a bit like a Sherlock Holmes mystery, bear with me.
Some WUWT readers have noted that my town Chico, CA has been well known for a few “crazy” things. Some people call it “Berkeley North”. There’s a t-shirt you can buy at the Made in Chico store that says “Chico: Where the Nuts Come From“. This pun speaks to the agricultural base around the community, which produces high quality nuts such as almonds, pistachios, and walnuts. There’s a lot of nut orchards here.
There’s also Chico State University, where there is a large sustainability group. They like to try out all sorts of new ideas on the townspeople, putting our tax dollars to work. Chico also has the dubious honor of having one of the most inane laws in the USA, you may have heard about it.
Chico has a city ordinance preventing storing or testing of a nuclear device within city limits, punishable by a $1000 fine and jail time. At left, here’s a newspaper clipping from 1983 talking about how it came to be. City municipal code section 9.60, Ordinance 1564 §2 says:
The city council finds and declares as follows:
A. That the possibility of nuclear war is a clear and present danger that threatens not only the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of the Chico community, but also their very existence.
B. That the use of nuclear weapons in the event of war, whether for the purpose of self defense or any other purpose, is totally unacceptable.
C. That even participation in preparation against nuclear war is inappropriate in that it lends credence to the belief that such a war is survivable when in fact it is not.
D. That by reason of the foregoing, the interest of the citizens of the Chico community will be best served by making the city a nuclear free zone in which the production, testing, maintenance, and storage of nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons delivery systems is prohibited and in which the appropriation or use of city funds or property for participation in or preparation against nuclear war is also prohibited.
No person shall produce, test, maintain, or store within the city a nuclear weapon, component of a nuclear weapon, nuclear weapon delivery system, or component of a nuclear weapon delivery system. (Ord. 1564 §2 (part))
So, almonds and walnuts aside, it goes without saying that my town is a little, er, “nutty”. On the plus side, it has worked so far, and there’s no nukes going off or kids experimenting with nuclear reactors in their basement that I know of in the town. Though, it appears that I myself am a danger to the town, as a member of the Chico Peace and Justice Center once labeled me as a WMD.
I mentioned that Chico State University has a large sustainability group that tries to impose all sorts of experimental ideas on local citizens.They are so gung-ho about this, they now observe earth month and fly Earth Flags around town every April on city owned streetlight poles:
What’s this got to do with the fire department? Bear with me, there’s a lot of backstory.
About three years ago I was asked by my local city councilman Larry Wahl to serve on the city of Chico “sustainability task force”. I accepted. More on the whole thing here.
The task force came into being when Vice Mayor Ann Schwab, along with a majority of the City Council, voted in favor of signing on to the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. This was something championed by Portland’s big green mayor.
Because energy efficiency is something I embrace, especially when tax dollars are involved, I was initially enthusiastic. But, the talk soon turned away from alternative energy solutions, to getting a city wide inventory of carbon emissions. The task force didn’t seem the least bit interested in solutions, but focused on tallying carbon emissions in town. That effort didn’t make a lot of sense to me then, since it gained the city nothing.
Now I know why. The “greenhouse gas” report they issued on September 2nd of 2008 had a number of oddball fees, taxes, giveaways, and edicts, such as a city wide gasoline tax, and even free electricity handouts to city employees for sustainable commuting. All of this while we are in an economic downturn and in a city financial crisis.
Let’s look at some of the suggested “community reduction” actions in this report presented by Schwab and her sustainability task force:
- A suggestion to pay city employees to give up their parking spot.
- Require energy audits on residential units at the time of sale.
- Increased fees on waste disposal.
- A local gasoline tax to generate local revenue.
- Forcing a lights out policy on local businesses after hours
- Free electricity and free parking for city employees that drive electric vehicles
- Free or reduced cost electricity and parking for citizens that drive electric vehicles
You can find these items in Appendix C of the report, near the end under “Community Reduction Measures” which are designed to meet a carbon emissions target.
But wait, there’s more. We had a big stink over the proposal for our local Wal-Mart to expand and it almost tore the town apart. It bled over into many things. Right in the middle of the big fight at the council chambers over the use of wood stoves and fireplaces councilman Scott Gruendl tried one of those “sustainability experiments” on the townspeople.
His suggestion was, that as a condition of approval, Wal-Mart be required to put down a million smackeroos to buy new low pollution efficient wood stoves for local residents as a way to fix our wintertime air pollution problem. Mayor Schwab piled on with demands that Wal-Mart be solar powered. Suggestions of extortion were raised. Needless to say they were both almost laughed out of town and Wal-Mart told them nicely, “no”.
Given these sorts of things that come out of our university influenced city government, it was no surprise to me then when about two months ago I heard a rumor in my local coffee shop, about some upcoming change to our fire protection system.
It seemed that there was a plan afoot to change out the fire hydrants in town. I asked around, but nobody seemed to know what it was about. All I heard was that it was in the planning stage and it had to do with water waste.
There’s been lots of changes in our town infrastructure recently. Our green city council has added roundabouts to minimize traffic jams and idling vehicles, a good thing, and they work well. There’s also the not so popular “street bulbing” as a way to discourage vehicle traffic downtown. Many of these projects replaced other surrounding infrastructure such as sidewalks and sewers too.
So changing fire hydrants? I figured it had something to do with all that. Maybe some new model that keeps kids from doing stuff like this and wasting water?
Or maybe some sort of beautification/irrigation project?
Or art project? Chico is big on art.
Or maybe it was some sort of system that was better designed so that the city no longer had to regularly flush the hydrant system, wasting millions of gallons of water each year in a La Nina driven drought stricken state?
Or maybe it was something simpler. I could see a better designed hydrant that prevented slow leakage, like this “soylent green” fire hydrant?
I was intrigued by this idea. What could it be?
Fire hydrants aren’t really high on the list of city improvements. People hardly notice them, except when they get a ticket for parking in front of one. I thought maybe it had to do with saving money, since our city is financially broke, and salaries and benefits (including firefighters) have become a big issue the last couple of years.
I asked around. I asked people at the Rotary club. Nobody knew. I asked our local newspaper editor, David Little, who said he’d “sniff around”. He came up with nothing. I asked our local city government blogger, Lon Glazner, if he had heard anything. Lon’s got moles in the city offices that tell him things, secret things, and he’s scooped local media more than once on city issues that they’d rather not talk about. He couldn’t find anything either.
Yet the guy at the coffee shop swore he’d seen a draft plan to replace fire hydrants in town, and he only knew about it because one of his relatives worked for the fire department. He said they were pretty steamed about it.
I asked a council member. He didn’t know but said he’d look into it. I even asked somebody who was running for council, Mark Sorensen, one of the sharpest guys I know. He hadn’t heard anything either but also said he’d ask around.
I was stumped.
Then I thought, ya know, maybe this has something to do with sustainability. So I asked one of our local sustainability gurus. Yep he’d heard about it. In fact, he pointed me to the document that had the specs.
Remember when I mentioned the City Council voted in favor of signing on to the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement which had its roots in Portland?
Turns out there’s a spec for sustainable fire hydrants.
That’s right, the City of Chico is going to replace all of the standard fire hydrants with “low flow” fire hydrants in an effort to save water and money while at the same time being “sustainable”.
Where could they get such a crazy idea?