Shooting canaries

Curiouser and curiouser: After months of doom and gloom, the outlook on the energy crisis seemed to brighten a little last week when wholesale energy prices dropped to the realm of the less-than-outrageous.

Please note Bites’ emphasis in that last sentence, because after our trip down the rabbit hole of energy market deregulation, nothing is what it seems. Rather than a sign that the situation is getting better, recent price indicators simply show the energy capitalists are getting worried by the radical political rhetoric.

Anyone who got at least a B in Economics 101 (which unfortunately leaves out our president) and who has taken a few minutes to peruse the California Independent System Operator’s reports on energy market price manipulations ( understands how easily the power players can move prices up and down at will.

One such study found that during 98 percent of the bidding time, companies like Reliant, Mirant and the other bad boys used their market power, bidding strategies and plant output levels to artificially influence prices.

So it was no surprise that when the Legislature was considering the utility bailout packages and going into the power-buying business a couple of months ago, there were rolling blackouts and skyrocketing prices, painting the picture of a crisis that needed to be dealt with using public funds.

And now that public venom against the power companies is causing growing support for the radical solutions outlined in this week’s cover story, suddenly prices become reasonable and power seems plentiful. But we all know what the next chapter in this saga is, right?

As soon as the anger abates a little and most of the radical legislative attacks die for lack of a gubernatorial signature, rates will creep up again as high as they can go without triggering more backlash. This little balancing act might seem comical if it weren’t so damaging.

Can I get that to go? Is it worth trading a community garden for a Starbucks? What about some locally owned coffee joint? Are toxic tomatoes still sweet?

These are some of the incongruous questions that have been swirling through Bites’ brain in recent weeks as Sacramento contemplates a future of urban infill development.

Reactionary anti-chain types like Bites were disappointed when the choice retail space on the ground floor of the newly completed Fremont Building turned out to be a Starbucks, furthering the coffee giant’s quest for world domination.

But when cool urban infill projects turn out to be cookie cutter shrines of Korporate Amerika, it certainly does hurt Bites’ ability to argue with the gardeners. The Mandella Community gardeners, that is.

While SN&R has spilled lots of sympathetic ink on the decision to build apartments and townhouses on what is now Mandella Community Gardens—the denizens of which have been banging their protest drums at the site every Saturday—Bites has had a hard time dancing to the beat.

Even as the nearby replacement site for a smaller scale Mandella was recently nixed by the discovery of toxic soil onsite, Bites has still clung to the belief that urban infill projects are environmentally and philosophically the best way to go, even if the casualties include gardens, open space and other funky urban attributes.

Yet is it still worth it for yet another Starbucks in Midtown? We all want dilapidated housing to be replaced, but replaced by luxury apartments filled with espresso-swilling yuppies? I dunno, it’s a tough trade-off. It’s tough enough to stand against the gardeners without that having to mean standing next to a greedy developer holding a Frappuccino.

What’s the point in all this? There is none, really, just the mental musings of a conflicted soul.

Failing test: Scores for the first California High School Exit Examination showed more than half of test takers failing the exam.

“The results are sobering,” declared schools chief Delaine Eastin, who sees in those results no reason to actually sober up from the education reform bender politicians have been on as they blindly tweak school policies for self-interested political reasons.

Will it really take rising high school dropout rates before we can see the flaws in our logic? Are we going to keep shooting down the canaries that emerge from our policy coal mines, just as we did in the energy sector?