To consolidate, disseminate, and gather information concerning the 710 expansion into our San Rafael neighborhood and into our surrounding neighborhoods. If you have an item that you would like posted on this blog, please e-mail the item to Peggy Drouet at pdrouet@earthlink.net

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Parklet Party in Downtown Los Angeles

 By Damien Newton, February 7, 2013

It felt like a political rally.

“Don’t Stop Thinking about Tomorrow” was blaring from the speakers. One speaker at the microphone, LADOT Pedestrian Coordinator Valerie Watson, proclaimed, “It’s the dawn of a new day!” from the podium. Roughly 100 people gathered in a circle, hooting and hollering at the applause lines (“Let’s hear it for UCLA!”) .

But, despite the presence of Jose Huizar, one of the Council Members that represents Downtown Los Angeles, it wasn’t a political rally. It’s was the opening ceremony for the second and third parklets in the City of Los Angeles. Parklets are extensions of the sidewalk, usually into what was a car parking area, that provide seating and recreational public space to encourage increased pedestrian use and community interaction.

This morning in front of LA Cafe, at 639 Spring Street in Downtown Los Angeles, the Spring Street Parklets were officially open for business. These parklets join the Highland Park parklet as the only ones of their kind in city limits. On February 16th, the third Parklet will open in El Sereno. All four parklets are inside Huizar’s Council District 14.

While L.A. is not the first city to turn parking space into open space, the city has tried to do something different and unique with their parklets. In Highland Park, the parklet is not attached to an eatery, but is more of a communal open space that just happens to be located in what used to be a parking spot. On Spring Street, the theme is exercise. In addition to chairs, benches, and tables, both parklets have a pair of exercise bicycles. The one in front of LA Cafe also has a foosball table, although nobody pointed to that as an example of exercise equipment.

“More and more, Downtown Los Angeles is becoming an increasingly vibrant and dynamic place to live, work, shop and entertain,” said Councilmember José Huizar. “The Spring Street parklets will add to Downtown’s unique urban atmosphere, encouraging and supporting a pedestrian-friendly, local experience…we are creating a model that can be used throughout the city.”

In fact, the story of all four of L.A.’s parklets started at the community level. When Living Streets L.A. and Huizar’s office teamed to create community created projects in El Sereno and Highland Park, both communities selected parklets. At the same time, the Downtown Neighborhood Council, pushed by Watson and President Patti Berman were pushing a separate program to bring parklets to the Downtown.

“It all kind of worked out,” Huizar said of the timing of the two programs.

 While the Parklet in front of LA Cafe remained crowded with city staff playing foosball, Bike Coalition staffers checking out the exercise machines, and reporters posing on the street furniture trying to get that perfect shot; it was the little brother up the street that gave me hope that parklets would really catch on.

Moments before shooting the above video, I walked up the block with Huizar’s press director Rick Coca. When we got there, a homeless woman, smoking a cigarette asked what was going on. When it was explained that the park was there for everyone to use, she smiled and got on the exercise bike. A couple of minutes later, she got off. Winded, the cigarette still dangling from her hand, she thanked us and said that was “the first exercise she got in years.”

“Will you come back and do it again?” I shouted after her?

“Sure. If you don’t take it up, I’ll use it every day.”

Measure R Funds & Where They Are Going--Video by Joe Cano
February 7, 2013
Father & Daughter Act

International man of mystery


By Andre Coleman, February 7, 2013


By his own account, the Rev. Dr. Nicholas Benson is a community activist with advanced degrees from USC and the Fuller Theological Seminary who is running for the Pasadena City Council District 3 seat in hopes of bringing people together to combat gang violence.
 But after some digging, the Pasadena Weekly has learned that Benson may not be the person he says he is.
For starters, the reverend attended neither of those colleges, according to officials at both schools. But perhaps even more disconcerting is the fact that Benson’s background is so checkered with different names and birth dates that it’s difficult to determine exactly where the truth begins and fabrications end.

In fact, Benson, supposedly a native of Zimbabwe, has used so many different birth dates he appears unable to remember which is the correct one. When questioned about his birth date, Benson gave the Weekly two different years in less than one minute, later admitting he has used several dates after it was pointed out to him that his most recent answers did not coincide with the Jan. 5, 1945 birth date he provided on a form to legally change his name.

“My real birth date is 1/5/1953,” Benson told the Weekly last week, after which he immediately said, “Yes, 1/5/52. When we were growing up in Africa, they didn’t want us to go to school. You had to be a grown-up man before you started going to school. My uncle said, ‘I will give you a date.’ I don’t even know when I was born, to tell you the truth. My uncle said, ‘You were born at this time.’ My mother said, ‘I think you were born at this time.’ The truth of the matter is I can’t tell you. I had to just find something for myself. To tell you the truth, I don’t know when my birthday is,” Benson said tearfully. “My uncle didn’t want me to go to school. He told me that was my birthday, and my mother told me another day.” 
Revelations about Benson’s background are just the latest bizarre twist in what’s turning out to be one of the most controversial local elections in recent memory. 

Benson is running against John J. Kennedy, a Los Angeles Urban League executive who was tried and acquitted after the 1993 shooting of a 20-year old man that occurred while the two men were sitting in a car in Northwest Pasadena, and Ishmael Trone, a Pasadena bail bondsman whose residency is being investigated by the Public Integrity Division of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office amid claims he still resides in Altadena with his estranged wife and daughters.
In 1997, Trone pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor gun possession charge after being flagged by security at Bob Hope Airport. Today, Trone owns a shotgun, Kennedy owns a 9mm handgun and Benson owns a .22-caliber handgun.

The three men are hoping to fill the council seat left vacant by Democratic state Assemblyman Chris Holden, who resigned after winning the 41st Assembly District seat in November.

Benson, according to records obtained by this newspaper, actually graduated from the little-known California School of Theology, an unaccredited interdenominational school in La Habra, where he registered under the name Benson Mnkandla — his alleged birth name. Other names Benson has used include Nicholas M. Mnkandla, Nicholas Benson Mnkandla and Nicholas Jophat Benson, a name he was using last year when he was briefly detained by sheriff’s deputies in Altadena for driving with a suspended license. His license had been revoked by judge for nonpayment of child support, records show.

“Lots of people change their name when they come into this country, because they are struggling when they come here,” Benson told the Weekly. “I legally changed my name to Benson; that is my father’s name. I have never tried to hurt anybody or used anyone’s name.”

Benson, however, was unable to explain other names associated with him, including Benson Caskey — a name the candidate says he’s never used but which is a name connected to his Social Security number, according to legal documents obtained by the Weekly. 

In 2007, records indicate that a judge in San Bernardino County ordered Benson to pay child support. Benson said the court order referred to one of his older children. However, Benson originally told the Weekly that his older children, Norman and Tandy, were 32 and 29, which means his child-support obligations for them would have ended well before 2007.

“I was homeless for awhile,” Benson confided. “I fell off on some of my responsibilities. I have never tried to hurt anybody. I just kept my faith and believed in God and kept trying. There was a time when people would not even talk to me. I have done what I had to do to survive.”

Much like Trone, Benson’s actual residence has also come into question.

Benson and his wife, Eva A. Meyers, own a home on Mendocino Avenue in Altadena. According to property records obtained by the Weekly, that address is listed as Benson’s residence from May 1995 to November 2012, the same month the filing period opened for the current election, when he would have had to have been living in a home in District 3 to run for office. Under the name Nicholas Jophat Mnkandla, Benson registered to vote in 2006 using that Altadena address.

According to Pasadena Public Information Officer William Boyer, City Clerk Mark Jomsky’s office — where candidates must file nominating papers to run for office — does not investigate candidates or their residency status. “We assume they understand fully and completely they are signing under penalty of perjury,” said Boyer. “They are responsible with supplying us with their correct residential address. We are not an investigating body. That is up to the District Attorney’s Office. 

Deputy District Attorney Anne Ingalls, director of the DA’s Public Integrity Division, told the Weekly that while her office is actively investigating Trone based on a complaint that has been filed. It is not looking into Benson.

“I looked through our database, and we have not received a complaint,” said Ingalls.

But what’s perhaps even more troublesome is the place that Benson actually does call home.

According to him, he and his wife along with two sons, Joshua, 15, and Caleb, 11, live at 280 W. Washington Blvd., a transitional living facility called “Back to Life,” which houses people with substance abuse and sex abuse convictions who are trying to reintegrate into mainstream society.

According to the Pasadena Police Department and the Megan’s Law Web site, a national database which tracks sex offenders, two convicted sex offenders — John Gonzalez and Robert Lou King — currently reside at that location.

Gonzalez was convicted in 1991 of lewd or lascivious acts with a child under 14. King was convicted of oral copulation by force or fear with a minor under 14. The database did not list a conviction date for King. Benson told the newspaper that he has no problems with his sons living at the home. 

“They are not harmful at all,” Benson said of the two sex offenders. “They are not sex offenders. Their cases are very clean,” Benson insisted. “[Gonzalez] touched a young lady. He didn’t do anything to the young lady, but because of that, he was arrested. He went into the system, and once he went in there, he will stay in there for a long, long time. They come every year to check on them, and I talk to their parole officers and they say he is OK. I really don’t look at him as a sex offender. He’s just an old man. [King] doesn’t live there. He’s a homeless man. He comes and he says, ‘You know what? I need a place where I can have an address so when they look for me I can meet them here.’ He doesn’t live on the property and he doesn’t live in the house. He lives in his car inside my place in the back.” 

But that’s not what Benson told the Weekly in a phone conversation just two days earlier. At that time, Benson denied anyone with histories of sex offenses or drug or alcohol abuse was staying on the property.

The property first came to the city’s attention in March 2005, after the Weekly broke the story about another pastor, Roger Marshall, who was housing 10 registered sex offenders without a license. After the story broke, then-Police Chief Bernard Melekian and city code enforcement officials moved in to shut down the program. Within a few days, parole officers moved the sex offenders from the property, located less than two blocks from the King’s Villages housing complex and La Pintoresca Park and Library. Cleveland Middle School and Robinson Park are both less than one mile away from the facility.

Neither Trone nor Kennedy would comment on questions being raised about Benson’s background.

“I am going to stay focused on the issues impacting District 3,” said Trone, who is waiting for the outcome of a probe into his own eligibility to run for office. 

Letters to the Editor: Re: "Roadblock to Dissent"

See  http://www.pasadenaweekly.com/cms/story/detail/roadblock_to_dissent/11749/


February 7, 2013

Re: “Roadblock to dissent,” Dec. 27
Mr. [Ara] Najarian was approached by two separate people in the moments prior to the start of the City Selection Committee meeting and both came to him to let him know that Barbara Messina was at the door, talking to everyone as they came in and telling them not to vote for Najarian. These are reliable sources who can confirm this. I am from one of Mr. Najarian’s North County/San Fernando Valley Sector cities, and I am outraged that Messina and Fasana conspired to override the unanimous choice of my sector’s cities for their MTA representative. If Fasana and Messina are so certain that this project is the answer to the perceived problems, why won’t they support the effort to provide the public with credible information BEFORE mega millions of taxpayer dollars are spent on the EIR? Why would they not support a cost-benefit analysis to determine the worthiness of the project prior to approving $40 million in consultant fees? Fasana and Messina may view Najarian and his questions about the project and the process as obstructionist, but the public views Najarian’s approach as acting in the best interests of his constituents. Who is really the crybaby here?
Barbara Messina and John Fasana have circumvented the democratic process of discussion and debate by conspiring to oust Ara Najarian, an elected member of the MTA Board. Najarian represents his constituents who have been asking important questions regarding the feasibility of constructing a 710 toll tunnel. If Messina and Fasana are so sure that this tunnel will help ease traffic congestion, then why not let Najarian ask the difficult questions? Why not let him educate his constituents about the downside of such an enormous undertaking? Messina and Fasana are afraid once the public becomes informed about the price tag in the multibillions, the toll charged by private investors, the pollution, the environmental degradation, and the fact that the tunnel will be used by trucks from the Ports, residents in the San Gabriel Valley who supported the tunnel will have second thoughts.

As a member of the MTA board, Mr. Najarian singlehandedly demonstrated leadership on the 710 extension issue. He asked the right questions about the proposed project, questions that have yet to be adequately answered by Metro. As a resident of Pasadena, one of the communities he represents, I was grateful to have Mr. Najarian represent me. Therefore, I was outraged to learn of the recent actions of John Fasana and Barbara Messina, which resulted in the removal of Mr. Najarian from his MTA position for spurious reasons (according to this article): being an obstructionist and muddying the waters during the EIR study. If being an obstructionist is asking questions like how much will the alternatives cost, then it’s clear we need more obstructionists on the MTA board. As for muddying the waters, I’ve been to several Metro-sponsored meetings and have yet to hear anything that clarifies what the project is, how much it would cost and why one alternative is better than another. Perhaps Barbara Messina can clarify this for us.

I am a crybaby, Barbara Messina. I cry for those who have lost their homes, who will lose their homes while you laugh so cheerfully. Alhambra is not The Alhambra of Spain. The people there revere their oldest history. The streets remain narrow even after all of these years of motor cars. The people walking are the ones treasured. It is a walking place unlike your overdeveloped, crowded postage stamp of traffic you have created by ignoring transportation needs in planning massive residential accommodations. The people of Granada cry for you. The birthplace of Fredrico Garcia Lorca has a deeper vision that welcomes further understanding. A bigger freeway is no longer the answer for your Alhambra. A tunnel into the earth of sacred ground of the Arroyo Seco is an abomination.
Does Riding Transit Make You a More Committed Citizen? 


By Angie Schmitt, February 7, 2013

Civic pride, attachment to community — what does that have to do with how you get around? According to a recent study commissioned by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, possibly quite a bit.
People who use MARTA to get around Atlanta report feeling a stronger connection to the region.

A survey of more than 800 residents from the 10-county Atlanta area found those who use MARTA reported a stronger connection to their community. A total of 51 percent of MARTA riders reported they felt a strong connection to the Atlanta region, compared with just 23 percent of those who do not use the transit service. In addition, 72 percent of MARTA riders said they had a strong connection to their neighborhood, compared to 65 percent of drivers.

It’s easy to imagine how daily strolls to the transit station and riding around the city in the shared space of a train car could inspire feelings of community — even in a town like Atlanta, which isn’t known as a transit haven.

Many of the newspaper’s interviewees testified to that effect:

Some MARTA riders say riding the buses and trains exposes them to more people and places, as opposed to the isolated transport of riding in a car.

“I meet people from everywhere — Ethiopia, Jamaica, Canada, Michigan,” said Angel Lemond, 23, who commutes from Riverdale to classes at Georgia Perimeter College. “I talk probably every day with somebody just to pass the time on the train.”

But the paper said there was still a question of cause and effect. Does MARTA make people more civic-minded or do more civic-oriented people gravitate toward MARTA?

Either way, the AJC said strengthening the “social fabric” might be one more benefit transit provides to the region. Unfortunately, MARTA customers are now facing a third fare increase in just four years.


By Peggy Clifford, February 5, 2013

The grand opening of Ocean Park Boulevard’s “Complete Green Street” will be held Saturday, February 9, at 2 p.m. in front of SMASH/John Muir Schools, between Fifth and Sixth Streets on the boulevard.

There will be live jazz, bicycle demonstrations, bicycle-made ice cream, a Santa Monica Spoke bike ride down green lanes, and a bike valet.

Scheduled to speak are Terry O’Day, Mayor Pro Temp, City of Santa Monica, an Ocean Park Association representative and Cynthia Rose of Santa Monica Spoke.

From its beginning at Nielson Way and the beach east to Lincoln Boulevard, Ocean Park Boulevard has been turned into a “Complete Green Street” –- except for the cars, of course.

Partly funded by Measure V, the “complete green street concept” includes a range of changes that are, in the words of a City press release, “designed to result in a better performing, enhanced streetscape environment that is pedestrian and bicycle-oriented, attractive, green, and provides several environmental benefits, such as capturing and preventing significant volumes of urban run-off from entering the Santa Monica Bay.”

Key project elements include: “wider sidewalks, parkway/storm water biofilter swales and infiltration areas, and a drip irrigation system,
over 100 new trees, new landscaping, and medians, new marked crosswalks with enhanced overhead flashing beacons, more visible, painted bike
lanes and traffic striping, and new bike racks, street furniture, trash
and recycling cans, and 75 pedestrian-scaled light poles, traffic signal improvements, and Los Amigos Park storm drain improvements.


Caltrain seeks new deal with high-speed rail 


By Bill Silverfarb, February 6, 2013

Caltrain and the California High-Speed Rail Authority are crafting a new relationship that embraces the “blended system” on the Peninsula and the two parties are currently looking to scrap two old agreements for a new one.

The Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board will hear an informational report Thursday that gives a glimpse into a new memorandum of understanding that is expected to be approved next month.
The current MOU, adopted in 2004, and a 2009 agreement the two parties operate under envision a four-track, grade-separated system often called the “full build-out” that would have caused excessive property takings on the Peninsula as an aerial viaduct was proposed to be constructed.

The new MOU will focus solely on the “blended system” idea first put forward by Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, and former Palo Alto state Sen. Joe Simitian almost two years ago.

Although the blended system is expected to have minimal impacts on the Peninsula, about nine miles of passing tracks will have to be constructed somewhere along the corridor between San Francisco and San Jose to allow high-speed trains to pass Caltrain trains. The corridor is expected to be electrified by 2019 but high-speed trains will not access the tracks for many more years after that.

The blended system is expected to cost about $1.5 billion with the federal government chipping in about $500 million for the project. About $700 million of the cost will come from the state with Proposition 1A bond money, passed by voters in 2008, and the rest from the JPB, coming from sales tax revenue in San Mateo, San Francisco and Santa Clara counties.

The JPB will hear the informational report during a meeting in which the board will also hear that Caltrain ridership has trended upward for 29 straight months.

Caltrain’s average weekday ridership in December exceeded last year’s totals for the same month by 11.2 percent although it fell short of October’s numbers, the best month ever for the commuter rail line.
The agency’s average weekday ridership in December was 42,705, up more than 4,000 passengers a day compared to December 2011, according to a staff report the JPB will hear Thursday.
Farebox revenue is also up by 12.3 percent for December from $4.3 million in 2011 to about $4.8 million in 2012, according to the staff report.

Gary Toth: TTI Congestion Scores Prove Road Expansion Isn’t the Answer


By Tanya Snyder, February 7, 2013

 In response to yesterday’s story on the Texas Transportation Institute’s congestion rankings, which take traffic delays out of context and risk being used to justify road expansions, former New Jersey DOT leader Gary Toth raised this question: What if, instead of getting frustrated with the report, we reframe its interpretation?

Exponential growth in car capacity hasn't tamed Los Angeles' congestion problem.

He does it by pointing out that the frantic pace of road-building in this country over the past few decades has only made the problem worse:
Universally, during the 20th century, transportation was viewed as an end in and of itself and state DOTs furiously pursued congestion relief by adding more capacity. And universally, it has not only failed to solve the problem, it has made it worse.

The failure of auto-oriented transportation solutions has been documented by congestion data collected annually by the Texas Transportation Institute since 1982. Four hundred thirty-nine metropolitan areas have been studied; in spite of the massive investment in building high speed roadway capacity, congestion indicators are skyrocketing out of control. It is time to tell the emperor that he/she is not wearing any clothes.

The issue of how high-speed automobile capacity affected land use development and spread out destinations and activities was considered someone else’s business. The highly mobile transportation system (or “supply”) created spread-out access, which in turn affected how people chose to locate their homes and businesses (land use patterns). Conversely, spread-out land use patterns further increased the demand for transportation (travel distances, modes, etc.), and this has become the eternal cycle that we now find ourselves in. While originally accomplishing many positive outcomes, the single-minded focus on high-speed mobility has increasingly led to an ever-growing series of unintended consequences, such as the undermining of all other modes of travel. In cities around our country, streets have been tuned for high level of service for automobiles during the peak hour.

Virtually by problem definition, wide street designs stifle all other modes, inhibit livability and create barriers between places in urban areas.  To make matters worse, these high capacity designs often fail to deliver the desired Level of Service.
Indeed, if nothing else, TTI’s report perfectly illustrates this vicious cycle. The Surface Transportation Policy Project studied the relationship between road building and congestion back in 1998 and found that “metro areas that invested heavily in road capacity expansion fared no better in easing congestion than metro areas that did not.” In fact, those places went billions of dollars into debt trying to build their way out of congestion and ended up with slightly higher per-capita congestion costs, wasted fuel, and travel delay.

Writing in Slate, Matt Yglesias has a different spin on TTI’s results. “The most congested metropolitan area in the United States is Washington D.C., followed by Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and Boston,” he writes. “The striking thing about these cities is that despite serious congestion problems, they’re all big, exciting, prosperous, dynamic cities. Or rather, they have a lot of traffic congestion in part because they’re big exciting prosperous dynamic cities.”

He compares road space in these attractive cities to Ben & Jerry’s Free Cone Day. Road space is a valuable commodity being offered for free, so of course, “an underpriced valuable commodity leads to overconsumption.” As long as road space is free (and city centers are worth traveling to), there will be congestion, he posits. You could build enough highways that even more people can cram into the city, but then, I suppose, you’d also need to build so many more roads and parking lots that the city becomes boring and lifeless. A better idea is to put a price on that valuable road space.

“Charge people enough money to eliminate routine congestion and you’ll find yourself with fewer traffic jams and an enormous pool of revenue that can be used to maintain your basic infrastructure and upgrade your bus service,” Yglesias counsels.

Scared by Dangerous Traffic? Take a Xanax


By Stephen Miller, February 7, 2013 

 Why should these women be able to cross the street safely when we can prescribe them drugs instead?

Once in a while, a story comes along that perfectly encapsulates how dangerous traffic forces people to re-orient their lives. This example, relayed to us by a reader, comes from a recent lecture at the psychiatry department of a major Manhattan hospital about anxiety disorders in the elderly.

The lecturer brought up the case of an 80-year-old woman who uses a walker. The woman told her doctor that she was afraid to cross First Avenue to make her appointments because of the traffic. She wasn’t afraid of leaving her apartment or walking across smaller streets; it was First Avenue that scared her.

So the doctor prescribed Xanax to help her deal with her anxiety.

Xanax was not endorsed by this group of doctors due to its side effects, but our reader was taken aback when no one — neither the presenters nor the audience — raised concerns about applying the diagnosis of an anxiety disorder to an elderly person simply because she is concerned about crossing a dangerous street.

“Nobody said, ‘This is an inappropriate response to a dangerous situation,’” our tipster recalled. “Have we so given up on managing our streets in a rational way that we’re now just medicating people?”



 LA City App Allows Angelenos To Report Potholes, Broken Lights, Graffiti (VIDEO) 


 February 7, 2013



Tired of hitting that pothole every day on the way to work? There's an app for that.
LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Wednesday announced the launch of My LA 311, the city's new iPhone and Droid app, as well as the makeover of the city website, lacity.org.

On both the website, already live, and the app, which will launch March 18, Angelenos will be able to pay their Department of Water and Power bills as well as report abandoned furniture, fallen trees, potholes, graffiti and more. Users can attach pictures of service requests and use their phone's GPS to geotag the location.

The app also will also provide a news feed of live tweets from city agencies and officials and a Google map that shows nearby parks, libraries, pools and parking.

Villaraigosa announced the new site and app at the Google office in Venice, and over a live Google Hangout with five reporters (see video above).

The Huffington Post asked the mayor if City Council votes will be posted on the website in a timely manner, or quickly tweeted and posted on Facebook. Villaraigosa said swift reporting of votes may be available in the future, with the "2.0 version" of the app. The 2.0 version will also be bilingual, with the addition of Spanish, the "second language of LA," he said.

Free Wi-Fi would make the website and app available to more Angelenos, especially in South LA. Villaraigosa said he tried to get citywide Wi-Fi a few years ago, but "it's not an easy goal to hit," because of cost. Steve Reneker, general manager of the City of Los Angeles Information Technology Agency, said citywide Wi-Fi remains a goal.

Villaraigosa said the cost of the developing the app was "very reasonable" at $130,000. The website renovation cost an additional $5,000. He said the new technology may save the city money long-term, but the new technology was developed mostly to improve city services. "I think you'll see more complaints, less frustration and quicker responses," he said.

The mayor conceded that LA's app comes after some cities already have apps up and running. "But ours seems to me to be the best," he said. "I imagine they'll try to one up us … a little competition … and I look forward to that."

Councilman Eric Garcetti -- the frontrunner in the mayoral race -- developed a similar 311 app for his Silverlake-area district more than a year ago.

When Villaraigosa, who has only a few more months in office, was asked if President Barack Obama has offered him the position of Secretary of Transportation, he dodged the question. Instead, he responded to rumors that his cousin, Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, is being considered by Obama to replace Labor Secretary Hilda Solis.

“I heard my cousin, by the way, is on the list, and I’m glad he is," Villaraigosa said. "I’ve said to a number of people he would make a great secretary of labor." Pérez is the first openly gay state Assembly speaker and is a former officer of the United Food and Commercial Workers International union.

AQMD says air quality unhealthy for certain residents, workers


February 7, 2013

LOS ANGELES COUNTY - The South Coast Air Quality Management District said the air quality Thursday will be unhealthy for certain individuals in the West San Gabriel and East San Fernando Valleys.
Los Angeles County Health Officer and Public Health Director Jonathan Fielding advised people with heart disease, asthma or other respiratory disease to minimize outdoor activities.
Schools that have children with sensitive conditions, including heart disease, asthma and other chronic respiratory diseases, should not participate in PE or outdoor physical activity and should stay indoors as much as possible.

LaHood: ‘America is one big pothole’


By Keith Lang, February 6, 2013

Outgoing Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood lamented the amount of infrastructure spending that was approved by Congress during his tenure at the Department of Transportation (DOT) on Wednesday.

"America is one big pothole right now," LaHood said in an interview on "The Diane Rehm Show" on National Public Radio.

 "At one time ... we were the leader in infrastructure," LaHood continued. "We built the interstate system. It's the best road system in the world, and we're proud of it. But we're falling way behind other countries, because we have not made the investments."

LaHood noted that Congress passed a $105 billion surface transportation bill last year, but he lamented the fact that the measure only provided appropriations for road and transit projects until 2014.

"Congress passed a two-year bill. Ordinarily they would pass a five year bill," he said. "It was only a two-year bill because they couldn't find enough money to fund a five-year bill."

Speculation on LaHood's replacement at the DOT has centered on National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chairwoman Deborah Hersman since LaHood announced his retirement last week.

LaHood said Wednesday that whoever ends up replacing him will have to think outside the box to find more transportation funding.

Funding for previous transportation bills had traditionally come from the 18.4 cents-per-gallon taxes on gasoline purchases that goes to the federal government. However, the gas tax now only brings in about $35 billion per year.

Lawmakers used a package of fee increases and closing tax loopholes to make the difference between the gas tax revenue and the more than $50 billion that is spent annually under the 2012 transportation bill.

A House Republican effort to tie transportation funding to increased offshore oil drilling was blocked by Democrats in the Senate.  

LaHood said Wednesday that it will not be as easy to come up with a temporary solution when the next transportation bill comes up.

"The next decisions that will be made by this Congress, by this administration will have to be bold if we're going to continue our efforts to fix up our roads, keep our highways in a state of good repair, to fix up unsafe bridges," he said. "We need a bold plan, and a bold way to fund it."

So Where Did That Money Bond Money Go?


February 7, 2013


 I don't know if you noticed Tuesday evening, but our very own Mayor Josh Moran has an 
interesting approach to dealing with public comment questions that he doesn't like very much. He will listen to the questioner, wrinkle his nose as if something doesn't smell quite right, and then paraphrase what the audience member had just asked. "I think what (fill in a name) is asking here is that ..." Unfortunately, the paraphrase is usually not quite like what was originally asked, which then gets passed over as the person that is supposed to answer the question invariably - and gratefully - responds to Josh's version instead.
Tuesday evening a question was addressed to the Pasadena Unified School District representatives present regarding bond money that may, or may not, have been looted from the $350 million building facilities fund known as Measure TT. It was a good question, one that went to the heart of the PUSD's ability to manage so large a sum. There is an investigation initiated by the PUSD going on, and there has been since the beginning of December. 
The audience member wanted to know just where that investigation was going and, if I recall correctly, exactly how much had gone missing. Josh for whatever reason didn't care for that one, and interpreted the question in a far less direct way. Which enabled the PUSD personnel most familiar with the investigation to avoid answering it altogether.
In case you are not aware of what we're talking about, here is an article that ran in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune titled "Pasadena Unified hires independent auditor to conduct billing probe" (click here)." It was published on December 6, 2012.
Pasadena Unified School District has hired an independent auditor to investigate improper billing practices related to its $350 million Measure TT capital improvement program. The district has turned to Glendora-based Vicenti Lloyd Stutzman, spokesman Adam Wolfson said Thursday.

It's the same firm that Pasadena City College hired after two administrators were caught in a bribery probe by the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office this summer.

PUSD placed facilities supervisor David Azcarraga and bond consultant Robin Brown on leave Wednesday, and terminated four Measure TT contracts. District board members and administrators have declined to comment about details of the probe, calling it a personnel issue.

The D.A.'s Office is not involved in the PUSD investigation, and no criminal complaints have been filed.

Measure TT, passed by Pasadena voters in 2008, provided enough funding for renovation and construction projects and nearly 30 PUSD schools. An independent auditor, Vavrinek Trine Day and Co., provides annual reports that are reviewed by a Citizens Oversight Committee, but no billing irregularities were uncovered in a fiscal 2011-12 review.
Unfortunately, once an investigation is announced, there is nothing more that will get said until it is completed. And should the investigation never come to a conclusion? Then it becomes a permanent investigation, and whatever juicy nuggets of truth might otherwise be available get sealed in safe somewhere and never sees the light of day.
I am not saying that this is the case here, and we might see a report issued soon that will answer many of the questions people have about the Azcarraga-Brown Affair. Hopefully we will then get the information we need.
However, other things do happen from time to time. Here in Sierra Madre investigations have been launched into the Bob Matheson matter, the EVG Gas Station card skimming scandal, and John Harabedian's controversial City Council election campaign postcard. The one that portrayed what appeared to be uniformed Sierra Madre PD officers decked out in their official issue blues. None of these investigations have ever been concluded, and we have yet to hear any word about where these inquiries might have gone. Something that I am fairly certain select parties are perfectly comfortable with.
While we are at it, here is another article that details a questionable money matter involving the PUSD and Measure TT bond money. It is titled "PUSD consultant paid more than $800,000 before being fired" (click here). It ran in The Tattler's favorite newspaper, the Pasadena Star News, on May 11, 2011. 
School board officials Tuesday called for an investigation into $824,860 in payments to a consulting firm working on the Pasadena Unified's Measure TT construction bond. The district will open its investigation into the matter in closed session on May 24.

SCMC Incorporated of Thousand Oaks, a one-man consulting firm, earned the large sum during a three-year period. Acting as the owner's representative, SCMC was hired to provide oversight of contractors for the district - including those building the new Blair Middle School.

However, some school board members question whether the district was looking close enough at the actions of SCMC, which prompted the probe.

"First of all it's a lot of money and second it begs the question of where this money is really going," PUSD board member Scott Phelps said.

The district ended its contract with SCMC last fall. SCMC owner Gerald Schober declined to comment and referred any questions about his contract back to the superintendent's office. Accountability on bond projects has been an historically thorny issue at the PUSD.

Ultimately, the district exhausted all of its funds from the 1997 Measure Y bond before many of the projects slated for construction were completed.

"Given Measure Y, I would have assumed certain board members would have been super vigilant in their scrutiny of invoices and the quality of the work," PUSD board member Ramon Miramontes said. "We have to ask about control costs or else we haven't learned a thing."

As Josh Moran's preferred newspaper reporter Brian Charles so drily put it, "Accountability on bond projects has been an historically thorny issue at the PUSD." Yes, indeed.
You will notice in the passage cited above that School Board member Ramon Miramontes mentions Measure Y as a precedent that should inspire vigilance on these matters now. There is a newspaper article available of course, with the source this time being the Pasadena Weekly (click here). The title is "The great Pasadena bond caper," and it ran on October 23, 2008.
Poor oversight and record-keeping by the Pasadena Unified School District allowed thieves to embezzle tens of thousands of dollars raised through 1997's $240 million Measure Y school improvement bond, the Weekly has learned.

Superintendent Edwin Diaz told the paper this week that he contacted Pasadena police earlier this year after auditors discovered several spending discrepancies, including an $80,000 payment in late 2006 for nonexistent construction work at Washington Middle School.

Shortly after arriving on the job in March 2007, Diaz ordered an audit of all PUSD management activities, an effort that also uncovered alleged misuse of funding for the district's Pasadena LEARNs program. The district launched an internal investigation into Measure Y spending and hired a private auditor-investigator in late July 2007, then turned findings over to police in March.

Pasadena police Detective Lt. John Dewar confirmed that police found significant evidence of wrongdoing, but said that in June the LA County District Attorney's office declined to file charges in court because the school district's records of Measure Y expenditures were inadequate to mount a prosecution.

"It appeared there had been a theft of at least $80,000 - maybe much more," said Dewar, who also considered some payments for work at other school sites suspect. "But when we filed the case with the DA's office it was rejected, basically on the ground that the school district couldn't verify what work was done, if any, or who did it, and didn't have any viable records, so prosecution was just impossible."
Kind of an amazing situation. Thieves took off with an undetermined amount of money, and the Pasadena Unified School District couldn't prove that they even had that money in the first place. The necessary paperwork didn't exist. As the article goes on to say, nothing ever came of the investigations into this one, and the thieves went on to enjoy their ill-gotten gains free from any inconvenient intrusions from law enforcement. Apparently in this case, crime paid.
So yes, there really are lots of questions that could be asked. You just need to get them past Josh Moran first.