Advisory panel rejects wider two-way bike paths at Harriet-Calhoun

The idea of building wider, two-way bike paths around lakes Harriet and Calhoun was shot down resoundingly Tuesday night by those advising park commissioners on renovations at the two lakes. A strong majority of the Harriet-Calhoun advisory group opposed the idea on safety and environmental grounds. Some also disliked its appearance late in the group’s deliberations as it was debating its recommendations to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. The rationale for the proposal was that converting the current one-way trails to two-way would offer bikers more flexibility in accessing destinations around the lake. For example, King Field resident Ben Schweigert noted that he has to bike more than 2 miles around most of Lake Harriet to reach a band shell that’s only half a mile in the wrong direction from the Rose Garden area, where he accesses the lake. The other alternative is competing with cars in the parkway, but he avoids that if he’s hauling his 18-month-old, the advisory panel member said. The proposal also was described as more commuter friendly, but members of the advisory committee argued that the bike paths should instead be oriented toward recreational use. Another concern for the advisory group was the proposed widening of the paths in order to accommodate two-way traffic. The current paths, nearly 10 feet wide, would grow to 11 to 14 feet wide where feasible under the park staff proposal. That would require the removal of a minimum of 146 trees at the two lakes, and the work could potentially affect another 93 trees, according to a partial analysis. But most of those would be ash trees already doomed under the Park Board’s program to remove all such trees in the city because of the emerald ash borer. Lake Harriet-area resident Lisa McDonald was among those faulting the late introduction of an idea not discussed previously. “It’s very complex. A lot of people would have an opinion on this,” she said. Another Continue Reading

Trade groups gear up for more tariffs

With David Beavers and Garrett Ross TRADE GROUPS GEAR UP FOR MORE TARIFFS: The National Retail Federation is putting together a coalition of business groups to try to stop the Trump administration from imposing new tariffs on China. POLITICO’s Adam Behsudi and Andrew Restuccia reported Tuesday that President Donald Trump told cabinet secretaries last week that “he wanted to soon hit China with steep tariffs and investment restrictions in response to allegations of intellectual property theft.” In August, Trump signed an order that instructed U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to investigate China under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974. The NRF hosted a meeting this morning with the Retail Industry Leaders Association, the Information Technology Industry Council, the American Apparel and Footwear Association, the Consumer Technology Association and the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America to discuss their strategy. Story Continued Below —Bethany Aronhalt, a spokeswoman for the NRF, told PI that groups are “gearing up for a robust lobbying campaign similar to 2017 efforts to defeat the border adjustment tax and aimed at highlighting the devastating impact any tariffs would have on consumers, businesses, and the U.S. economy.” Among the strategies business groups are using to try to stop the tariffs is to argue that they have the “potential to negate any progress made with the passage of tax reform,” Hun Quach, vice president for international trade at RILA, told PI. Naomi Wilson, director of global policy for China and Greater Asia for ITI, said today’s meeting demonstrated that the tariffs’ potential effects extend beyond the tech sector. — In other tariff news, members of the American Soybean Association are on the Hill today to protest the forthcoming tariffs on aluminum and steel imports. Among the offices members will meet with are those of Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) Continue Reading

Palo Alto evaluating regulations to improve safety of seismically vulnerable buildings

By Alec Glassford, Peninsula Press Palo Alto City Council voted Nov. 13 for city staff to begin drafting new regulations for certain buildings at risk of earthquake damage, the latest step in a multiyear effort to understand and improve the seismic safety of the city’s older buildings. A structural engineering firm contracted by the city found that in a magnitude 7.9 earthquake on the San Andreas Fault, city buildings could suffer roughly $2.4 billion in damages. Retrofitting the most vulnerable buildings could cut these potential earthquake damages nearly in half and save lives, but the city still needs to decide how exactly it will encourage improved safety and what types of buildings it will focus new regulations on. There is currently no mandate for property owners to address this risk. The firm hired by the city and an advisory group of local stakeholders have compiled a wide-ranging list of options for action. The city council voted unanimously, without discussion, for its Policy and Services committee and city staff to consider the options and begin drafting new regulations if it sees fit. “The next phase of this is definitely going to take a bit more work,” said Peter Pirnejad, Palo Alto’s development services director. He guessed that it “could take another 12 months” before the city has any new earthquake policies. Palo Alto began looking into seismic risks in 2014, after an earthquake near Napa caused significant damage there. It hired the structural engineering firm, Rutherford + Chekene, to study Palo Alto’s risks. The research excluded single family and two-family homes, focusing instead on apartments and commercial buildings. In April, the firm released its final report, which highlighted four new categories of seismically vulnerable buildings whose dangers the city could try to mitigate through a variety of strategies, which range from increasing public disclosure to mandating retrofits. The risks Palo Alto Continue Reading

A third of drugs got extra safety warnings after they were already on the market

Nearly a third of drugs cleared for sale in the U.S. between 2001 and 2010 posed safety risks that were identified only after their approval, according to a study published Tuesday.The results underscore a continuing need to monitor medications for safety problems even years after FDA approval, according to the report in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It can be found at of 222 drugs reviewed during that period were taken off the market for safety reasons; 61 received new warnings on the box, and the Food and Drug Administration issued 59 safety advisories. The boxed warnings are issued for major, potentially fatal risks; the advisories for less serious problems.Cardiovascular concerns caused the withdrawal of valdecoxib (Bextra), an anti-inflammatory used for arthritis; and tegaserod (Zelnorm), for irritable bowel syndrome. Risk of a dangerous brain infection called progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy caused withdrawal of efalizumab (Raptiva), an immunosuppressive drug.Post-approval safety problems occurred more frequently in biotech drugs such as monoclonal antibodies, psychiatric medications, those getting accelerated approval and those approved near the regulatory deadline for action, the study found.“We seem to have decided as a society that we want drugs reviewed faster,” said lead author Dr. Joseph Ross, an associate professor of medicine and public health at Yale University. That makes it critically important “that we have a strong system in place to continually evaluate drugs and to communicate new safety concerns quickly and effectively,” he said.Cherry-pickingTo win FDA approval, medications must be shown to be safe and effective. But many pivotal clinical trials used for approval involve fewer than 1,000 patients with follow-up of six months or less, according to the study. Safety problems often crop up years later after therapies have been used by much larger numbers of Continue Reading

Governor’s group convenes to look at Wilmington crime

A sense of optimism was present among members of the Wilmington Public Safety Strategies Commission, which held its first meeting Tuesday at the Walnut Street YMCA.Consultants outlined a six-week plan that, when implemented, is meant to reduce shootings, homicides and violent crimes in Wilmington. About 55 people attended the first meeting of the Gov. Jack Markell-controlled panel.Calling the assembled consultants "an all-star team," Lewis D. Schiliro, secretary of Delaware's Department of Safety and Homeland Security, added, "that has not only experienced great success, but also knows what it is to be behind the 8 ball, which is probably equally important."Vigilant Resources International, one of the consultants, is led by Howard Safir, a former police commissioner of New York City. The other, the Police Foundation's team, will be led by Jim Burch, a former assistant director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The consultants are being paid a total of $200,000 for their services.As part of their work, the consultants will spend the first two weeks conducting interviews and collecting data on the city, the third and fourth weeks conducting analysis and the final two weeks developing a strategy and writing the final report, Safir said Tuesday.The commission's future meetings will begin with a progress report before addressing a specific topic, said Drew Fennell, a deputy chief of staff to Markell. Each of the meetings will address specific topics, with the second focusing on best practices; the third, law enforcement resources in the city; the fourth, neighborhood assets that support public safety; and the fifth, the business community's effect on public safety.Addressing some residents' concerns that the commission would focus solely on the policing aspect of crime prevention, Rep. Helene Keeley said the group is expected to continue meeting without the consultants after March to try to address the remaining social concerns.Earlier in the Continue Reading

What ever happened to President Trump’s gun advisory group?

WASHINGTON — Days before the November election, Donald Trump announced the formation of a coalition of gun enthusiasts to advise him on Second Amendment issues. And he hasn't mentioned them since.The coalition hasn't formally convened, and it's unclear when, or whether, that will happen."I suspect there’s more things on the president’s plate of higher urgency," said coalition co-chairman Michael Kassnar, an executive with IWI US, a subsidiary of an Israeli small arms manufacturer. "We're as interested as you are in what role we're going to be able to play."The White House now says the group is a “campaign coalition.” But a handful of co-chairs said they expect — or at least hope — to play some role in advising the White House.Co-chairman John Boch believes Donald Trump Jr., an avid outdoorsman, will serve as a conduit between the advisory group and the White House. He and National Rifle Association lobbyist Chris Cox were tapped to lead the group.“As it was explained to me, this whole thing is about providing policy and legislative recommendations for the new administration through Donald Trump Jr.,” said Boch, executive director of the non-profit Guns Save Life Inc.Co-chairs' personal goals for the administration vary. But several interviewed said the Trump administration should pursue legislation to nationalize concealed carry permits, a top priority for gun advocates that Trump has said he supports. Another priority is legislation to make it easier to buy firearms suppressors, or silencers. While critics say that’s dangerous, Trump Jr. has said, “It’s about safety and it’s about hearing protection.”Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., one of the group's co-chairs, said he isn’t sure how Trump Jr. and Cox will lead the group. But he knows how he plans to use it. He wants the group's help to push his Continue Reading

Cuomo team pulls plan to let drivers renew licenses without vision test after safety concerns

ALBANY - A little vision is still required to renew a driver's license in New York. State officials Friday backtracked on plans, just announced Monday, to let drivers renew licenses without taking a vision test. "Those of us charged with delivering key government services to the public must always look for the most cost-effective ways to provide those services," state Commissioner of Motor Vehicles Barbara Fiala said in a statement. "But public safety will always be the first priority at DMV and it will not be compromised." Fiala said she will form an advisory group of health, safety and transportation experts to review the issue. The DMV, as part of an effort to streamline the renewal process, wanted to allow motorists to renew licenses simply by certifying they meet the vision requirement. Officials said the goal was to allow motorists to renew their licenses on the DMV website or by mail. They noted that six other states, including Connecticut and Pennsylvania, do not require eye tests at the time of license renewal. People obtaining a license for the first time or renewing a commercial driver's license would still have needed an eye test. The proposal brought sharp criticism from traffic safety experts and local officials. "Ending the vision tests would have put millions of people in harm's way," said Transportation Alternatives' Executive Director Paul Steely White. "New Yorkers will applaud the governor's U-turn on this policy." Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

EDITORIAL: Who’s checking Oyster Creek safety?

It has been five months since Adam Cohen, the independent member of the state’s three-member Oyster Creek Safety Advisory Panel and the only member with any expertise about nuclear energy, left his post.Cohen left his job as chief operations officer at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory to serve as deputy undersecretary for science and energy with the Department of Energy. The other two members of the oversight panel are Bob Martin, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, and Edward Dickson, director of the Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.Who has replaced Cohen?No one.Asked when a replacement will be named, a DEP spokesman this week responded, “We expect a replacement to be named over the summer.”Asked when the panel last issued a report on its activities, the spokesman replied “2013.” He added that the panel “meets with NRC and Exelon to go over the progression of steps toward closure of the facility.” Oyster Creek is scheduled to shut down in 2019.The apparent indifference about filling the vacancy on the oversight panel and about providing updates on what the panel has been doing to carry out its responsibilities should come as little surprise to those who have stayed abreast of Oyster Creek matters over the past several years. MORE: 'Old design' blamed for Oyster Creek's performance  The Chris Christie administration created the panel, which was charged with monitoring the safety performance of the Lacey plant and planning for its decommissioning, in May 2011, two months after the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear complex in Japan and long after persistent prodding from citizen groups.But the panel didn’t hold a public meeting for another 18 months — its first and last public meeting. It made no presentation at the meeting, and didn’t prepare a promised report (four pages) on its activities for nearly a year afterward.What has it done since? Continue Reading

Facebook creates safety advisory board to protect child users

Facebook. The social networking site announced Monday that it will create a safety advisory board to protect its users from sex offenders and other online criminals, the Associated Press reports. The global board will include representatives from Internet safety groups with which Facebook already has relationships. They include Common Sense Media, ConnectSafely, WiredSafety, Childnet International and The Family Online Safety Institute. Last year Facebook signed an agreement with the attorneys general of 49 states vowing to help protect children online. New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo last week revealed that more than 3,500 offenders registered in New York have recently been removed from Facebook and MySpace. Meanwhile, 25 states have passed new laws in the past two years that require sex criminals to register their email addresses and home addresses. Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

Pruitt moves to shake up EPA advisory boards, further antagonizing environmental activists

WASHINGTON — Scientists who receive grants from the Environmental Protection Agency will no longer be allowed to simultaneously serve on the agency's nearly two dozen advisory boards, an unprecedented directive EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said would increase the scientific integrity behind its rule-making."Whatever science that we are involved in here at the EPA shouldn't be political science," Pruitt told a group of reporters Tuesday. "We want to ensure that the American people have confidence ... in the process and that the advisers that we have in each of these respective capacities are providing independent, arms-length input to us as we make decisions."The move was immediately denounced by environmental activists who said it would allow Pruitt to replace impartial researchers with industry allies.Steven Hamburg, chief scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund, called it "the height of hypocrisy."Pruitt "is trying to gaslight Americans into believing that industry-funded scientists can offer EPA impartial advice, while those with EPA research grants are biased,” Hamburg said. “EPA’s fundamental duty is to protect the health of American families from dangerous pollution, and it can only do that by using sound science.”Pruitt, a former Oklahoma attorney general who sued the EPA 14 times over various rules, said members of the 22 committees that guide the agency's work on numerous fronts should not be receiving money from the very entity they are guiding and reviewing.The administrator pointed to three of the most important panels — the Board of Scientific Counselors, the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, and the Science Advisory Board — where 20 members collectively received $77 million in EPA grants over the past three years, according to agency figures. The funding was part of billions of dollars in grants awarded to universities and other Continue Reading