By Ken Alpern, October 29, 2013
ALPERN AT LARGE-In my last CityWatch article, which compared three proposed trains--the Downtown Trolley, the California High-Speed Rail and the LAX/Metro Rail People Mover/ITF option, I promoted the notion (to which I still adhere) that honesty is the best policy when it comes to taxing individuals for transportation initiatives.
My background as a physician has clearly influenced my approach towards doing the right thing with respect to honesty, and the courage to be honest, in order to achieve and maintain credibility with my patients. Usually my bad news to patients is that my diagnosis is a chronic one--in other words, the word "cure" is not as realistic as the word "control", but that I can try to minimize the impacts on that diagnosis on my patient's daily lives.
And if I have to tell someone something really scary (like when I recently had to inform a patient she had metastatic breast cancer after it had been treated 20 years earlier), I always start with, "I'm going to say something that will ruin your day, and I'm really, really sorry."
Any other approach makes me look like a liar, and a callous one at that.
Ditto for the transportation and associated planning initiatives to be necessarily performed so that they can truly succeed.
My recent and ongoing anger (shared by so many others) towards the proposed Casden and Millennium projects is that they are NOT transit-oriented, are NOT with sufficient mitigation and size for the neighborhoods they're going to be built in, and that up front rightsizing and obeying the rules and laws are conveniently being ignored...for the convenience of the developer, of course, and at the suffering of the neighboring region.
Had the Downtown Trolley folks done the math and considered that light rail (which is not the same, but is similar to a trolley in that they both require...wait for it...UTILITY RELOCATION!) is $40-80 million a mile, it would not have been hard to conclude that a four-mile train line in the middle of Downtown L.A. would not, could not and should not be expected to be $125 million.
The Downtown Trolley promoters could have said up front, "Look this is a lot cheaper than a subway, which is up to $300 million a mile, so it'll be up to $320 million or so and perhaps can be done in segments. It'll be a lot cheaper than another Downtown Light Rail Connector, which is about $1 billion."
And the trolley might have--and hopefully would have--succeeded with a determined effort to have the private sector chip in and make deals to pay for it...and the public might have still been willing to tax themselves, perhaps for a segmented, pay-as-you-go trolley authority.
Now the Downtown Trolley promoters look like consummate liars, and a potentially great way to expand and connect the future Downtown Light Rail Connector indirectly with a large portion of Downtown could very well go down in flames.
Ditto for the California High Speed Rail Authority and Governor Brown, who might have a great idea but look like consummate liars on this issue. We can and should honestly conclude that Governor Brown has twisted and warped the voter-approved initiatives into something legally tenuous but is the smartest way to expand Caltrain in the north, Metrolink in the south, with a connecting high speed rail in-between.
That said, it's costing twice the $33 billion the voters were promised, and the routing has all sorts of questions. These questions range from "should a cheaper upgrade of the Amtrak, Metrolink and Caltrain tracks be done to keep the total cost within $33 billion?" to "should we drop this altogether, and should we spend $33 billion on better local and regional rail projects?".
Hence, as a grassroots promoter of a first-rate, high-quality LAX/Metro Rail connection, I will tell you that the proposed westward deviation of the Crenshaw/Green Lines towards LAX, combined with a connecting LAX People Mover train to connect the central airline terminals with Century/Aviation and perhaps even Inglewood will be $1-1.5 billion.
It's not an unrealistic or inappropriate cost to build such a necessary piece of infrastructure, and when amortized over the next 50-100 or so years it's a good investment. We should work together to be transparent and cost-effective and efficient, but we should approve it, pay for it, and build it forthwith.
The more that LA World Airports and the private sector put into it, the better, but sooner or later the taxpayers will need to shoulder some of the financial burden of the Metro Rail/Intermodal Transportation Facility and LAX People Mover project that is being promoted by all sorts of L.A. City and County leaders.
It's arguably tough medicine, but it's certainly worth it if done right and with citizen input and oversight.
Ditto for planning and sacrifices that some communities have to make for proper land use and transportation initiatives. As described by Dan Weikel of the L.A. Times, the residential neighborhood of Manchester Square is being bought out by LA World Airports to create a commercially-zoned region that absolutely WILL not allow for residential zoning.
This is, to my way of thinking, proper and courageous and HONEST planning. Unlike the Casden/Sepulveda project, which will throw hundreds of families next to the unhealthy air of the 405 freeway, the residents of Manchester Square (who must now deal with the noise and fumes of LAX-bound jets) are being bought out and asked to leave.
This site will have a Consolidated Rental Car Facility, a commercial/industrial center, a connecting LAX People Mover, or a combination of the above. It is NOT for people to live in, and it is a neighborhood which is taking some very difficult medicine...but medicine necessary for their physical health and medicine necessary for the region's economic health.
My only concern is that families whose homes are being bought out aggressively by L.A. World Airports are given fair compensation and the ability to move on with their lives. Clearly, those still living there are emotionally tied to their neighborhood...but they do have to go.
And I'm very, very sorry. We should ALL be very, very sorry and show that in any economic or compassionate approach to their relocation.
I wish them well, but want to have this LAX/Metro Rail connection and an economic powerhouse to benefit us all.
Courage and honesty and credibility all go together here, as does compassion. We're all adults, and we can and should do the right thing when it's outlined and explained to us.
There are times we must all take our medicine, and this is one of them.