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

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Ron Kaye: It isn't utopia, but it's far from dystopia


By Ron Kaye, February 9, 2013

Once long ago, during my year as an old-fashioned rewrite-man at the National Enquirer, the demonic man who owned and ran the tabloid as if it and its journalists were a figment of his over-active imagination sent a reporter around the world in search of utopia.

Every week, the reporter would send in a dispatch doing his best to make the case that a forgotten village in the Himalayas or a pristine beach in the South Pacific, or an overlooked outpost at the headwaters of the Amazon, or a village in the south of France, was the most perfect place on Earth.

He was on the road for more than a year, but the response was always the same: a long series of unanswerable questions shattered each and every place he claimed was utopia. Finally, they brought the guy home and summarily fired him for having failed in his mission.

Having spent a million or two of the boss' money for the time of his life, he didn't complain at all.

The moral of the story is simple: There is no utopia, no ideal society outside the pages of fiction and film where apocalyptic visions of dystopias — not utopias — have become a dime a dozen, many of them using Los Angeles as the setting for the exploration of humanity's dark fantasy future

The irony is hard to miss in that the vision of L.A. as a sun-kissed paradise that brought so many of us here only to find a city that is becoming more dark than light, a city of ostentatious beauty and vast stretches of grim grittiness, of endless expressions of enormous wealth surrounded by a churning sea of poverty and decay.

I spent 30 years here as a newspaperman doing what I could to tell the stories and the stories behind the stories of a city that was becoming increasingly dysfunctional, its infrastructure aging, its public services declining, its civic and political leadership paying lip service to the needs and values of ordinary folks while mostly serving themselves and their narrow interests.

When I got old and no longer had a newspaper as my outlet to sound the alarm in blazing headlines and fiery editorials, I blogged about what I saw, and then I got a call offering me the chance to write a Sunday column about Glendale and its neighboring communities.

That was two years ago last week. It has been an eye-opening experience that has helped me to understand better the suburb-envy so many people I meet in middle-class L.A. communities have, why the “it-is-time-to-get-out-of-town” sentiment is reaching a crescendo.

Los Angeles elections come up in March, and the likelihood is that three reprocessed city elected officials will hold down the mayor, controller and city attorney posts and the City Council will be made up of eight state legislators, five City Hall staffers and two ex-cops without a single ordinary citizen or anyone with real experience in the private-sector holding office.

These are the highest-paid municipal officials in America, earning $180,000, plus free cars, pensions and staffs of 18 to 20 with huge personal slush funds supplied by donors and taxpayers. Public service to them has become selfish service; the public story is a fiction that has little or nothing to do with what is really going on in back rooms.

Contrast that with the part-time citizen-elected officials in Glendale, Burbank and other suburban communities where the professionals are the city managers and the bureaucrats — not the politicians.

We're not talking about utopian communities, but cities that work by solving problems and muddling through tough times. They are run by part-time citizen politicians who cost a tiny fraction of L.A.'s professional pols and are closely tied to the civic and business communities, high and mighty power brokers representing nearly 300,000 people each.

In the big city, bureaucrats can only whisper the truth under their breath when no one's looking because they have been so politicized they are at risk of losing their jobs if they utter even a single word that is out of step.

It's very different in the tri-city area, where I've found nearly every official I've spoken to is open and forthcoming, and they actually seem to want their bosses — the public — to understand what they are trying to do and why.

The result is they have made real progress in balancing their budgets in these tough economic times, even winning substantial concessions from employee unions, while L.A. is being sucked down by fiscal quicksand toward bankruptcy, even as it faces tens of billions of dollars in costs to repair the broken streets and sidewalks and the unfunded employee pensions and healthcare costs.

In Glendale, people get upset about a 3% rate increase and the transfer of electricity revenue to the General Fund. In L.A., they hiked the electricity revenue transfer from 5% to 8% and are increasing utility rates three times faster than Glendale, yet the voices of the few are drowned out by the power of the political machine.

No, your cities are not utopias. But they sure look good to this old San Fernando Valley resident and a lot of other L.A. residents.

There are a lot of problems that would be solved better and faster if you got more involved and paid better attention, especially with city elections coming in April.

Valentine's Day: Pasadena makes Most Romantic City list, restaurants rated


By Mark Kellam, February 7, 2013

 Pasadena has made it onto the list of the Top 25 Most Romantic Cities as compiled by the website Open Table.

As Valentine’s Day approaches, Open Table features its top restaurants in Pasadena, which came in 21st on the list, for couples wanting to spark a new love or reignite one that’s endured for years.
Among the Pasadena restaurants that made the list are POP Champagne & Dessert Bar, redwhite +  bluezz and The Royce at the Langham with their contemporary American cuisine and Maison Akira and Cheval Bistro with their French dishes.

The Pasadena Restaurants List:

10 Diners' Choice Winners

Restaurant NamePrice
POP Champagne & Dessert Bar
Pasadena | Contemporary American
The Royce at the Langham
Pasadena | Contemporary American
Ba Restaurant
Highland Park | Provencal
Maison Akira
Pasadena | French
Coco Palm
Pomona | Latin American
Pasadena | Contemporary American
The Raymond Restaurant
Pasadena | American
Parkway Grill
Pasadena | American
Cheval Bistro
Pasadena | French

Pasadena might ax Rose Bowl nonprofit

Massive funding gap for stadium renovations has officials weighing the move.


 By Joe Piasecki, February 9, 2013

 Rose Bowl renovation project
Workers build outdoor box seating as construction continued at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

What is now turning out to be a $195-million renovation of the Rose Bowl was lowballed by roughly $50 million during a rushed process to get the massive project approved by the Pasadena City Council.

Three years later, the overshot budget has forced officials to delay or indefinitely suspend parts of the plan until $30 million more in funding can be found. The blown budget has sparked an inquiry on whether to do away with the nonprofit organization appointed by the City Council to operate the stadium.

Almost from the moment the project broke ground in January 2011 it was over budget by millions, and by the end of the year, the original $152-million estimate had grown to $160.7 million. By mid-2012, the price tag had climbed to $176.9 million — four months later, roughly $184 million. And before the year was over, Pasadena taxpayers were staring at a final estimated tab of nearly $195 million.

TIMELINE: Rose Bowl renovation project

The faulty cost projection “wasn't a matter of being venal, corrupt or stupid. It was a matter of being too aggressive,” said Councilman Terry Tornek, who cast the lone vote against the project.

Still, he acknowledged that “when you look at public projects, there is almost an imperative to lowball [cost estimates] because if you are too conservative no one will let you build them.”

An independent analysis of the project made partially public last month concluded that the yawning budget gap “is not the result of cost overruns” but “deficiencies in the original project budget.” Essentially, a $200-million project was sold to the City Council — and taxpayers — as a roughly $150-million project.

For those pushing the project forward, that apparently was a good thing.

“If a $200-million project had been put forth, there would have had to have been [stadium] revenue able to support that,” Councilwoman Margaret McAustin said. “It would have been a completely different picture.”

But deals struck before Rose Bowl officials sold city leaders on the stadium renovations, combined with a lack of transparency and sense of urgency, all but ensured that the cost would be significantly undersold to get the project approved.

Seven months before the San Fernando-based construction firm Bernards delivered a cost estimate of $152 million in September 2010, representatives for the Rose Bowl Operating Co. had promised Bernards and a partnering company a nearly $7-million contract to manage the work if it was approved — providing a huge financial incentive to lowball the estimate.

Stadium officials say they were under intense pressure to get the project pushed through and ready in order to qualify for a key federal stimulus bond financing program, prompting the move to skip the competitive bidding process and go with Bernards from the get-go. At the time, the near collapse of the financial sector had made securing private construction financing next to impossible.

Councilman Victor Gordo, who serves as president of the council-appointed Rose Bowl Operating Co. board, said the financing crunch, combined with the need to have the stadium ready for the September 2012 kickoff of the UCLA season, put officials in a “very difficult situation.”

Officials sought out Bernards “for their working knowledge of the project site” from 2007 work on the stadium's locker rooms and media center that was completed under budget, according to a report by Rose Bowl General Manager Darryl Dunn. Bringing in a contractor unfamiliar with the stadium, he contended, “could seriously jeopardize the project timeline.”

Dunn also said officials were confident in the accuracy of the Bernards estimate following a third-party review by a Westlake Village firm before the City Council approved the project on Oct. 11, 2010.

But every step of the way, Bernards had a reason to undersell the costs and keep the change orders coming.

The project management contract provided an initial payment of $475,000 and promised roughly $6.5 million in additional fees pending the project's ultimate approval.

Bernards and Barton Malow have so far received $4.6 million on that contract to date, Dunn said.

Repeated attempts to reach Bernards representatives by telephone were unsuccessful, and questions were referred to other officials during a visit to the company's project site office at the Rose Bowl.

The independent analysis of the project estimate process — commissioned by the Rose Bowl Operating Co.— determined that construction documents were incomplete, forcing several change orders. It also found that carrying out construction work in several phases under contracts with multiple prime contractors, instead of one general contractor, exposed the project to financial risks.

The Pasadena city attorney's office declined to release a full version of the report prepared by Atlanta-based Heery International, citing the potential for litigation, but declined to elaborate.

Meanwhile, a report on whether the city should eliminate the Rose Bowl Operating Co. and directly manage the stadium by Pasadena City Manager Michael Beck is expected later this month, city spokesman William Boyer said.

In an interview, Beck defended the merits of the project, saying the risks of not proceeding “far outweighed the risks of proceeding, and I still believe that today.”

He also said that the city had to have UCLA and the Tournament of Roses Assn. locked into 30-year agreements in order to invest in the stadium, something that couldn't happen without the extensive renovation.

Still, Paul Little, president of the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Rose Bowl Operating Co. board, acknowledged that stadium officials should have reconsidered the scope of the project in early 2012, when work on press box and luxury seating increased the price tag by roughly $16 million.

“We probably should have been looking at making program adjustments earlier on, and we may have been able at that point to perhaps prioritize differently,” Little said.
State Senator Carol Liu's Letter to Metro and Metro's Response

Carol Liu's Letter:

December 10, 2012
Arthur T. Leahy, LACMTA CEO
One Gateway Plaza
Mail Stop: 99-25-1
Los Angeles, CA 90012

Malcolm Dougherty, Caltrans Director
1120 N Street MS 49
Sacramento, CA 95814

Dear Sirs:

As you know, we have diligently been following, participating in, and seeking to understand the SR-
710 DEIR/EIS study process. Our common positions are opposition to the proposed F7 tunnel
alternative, which we believe is too costly, infeasible, and will exacerbate - not relieve - regional
traffic congestion; and accelerating the sale of properties SR-710 Study Area long held by Caltrans.

Over the course of several meetings with various State and MTA officials and MTA Board Members,
some questions we have about the SR-710 study process have been answered but new ones have
arisen. We ask you to bring clarity to the issues so that the cloud of uncertainty can be raised from
what is intended to be a transparent process.

In general, we are confused by the division of authority and responsibility between Caltrans and
MTA and would appreciate receiving a copy of the MOU that sets forth this agreement. Our specific
questions are:

1. What are the process and the point in DEIR/EIS by which Caltrans will determine whether
MTA has appropriately selected viable alternatives to be examined in the DEIR/EIS? When
will the MTA Board approve the decision to reduce the alternatives from 12 to five? Who in
Caltrans will make, and what criteria will be applied to, that decision?

2. Caltrans and MTA appear to disagree, by virtue of MTA’s sponsorship of SB 204 (Liu)
expediting their sale and Caltrans recommendation for a veto, when houses in the SR-710
study area can be sold. We ask Caltrans to explain the basis for maintaining ownership of
homes that are outside the footprint of any alternative being considered in the SR-710
DEIR/EIS. We also request the legal basis upon which MTA determined it was appropriate
for properties to be sold when an alternative was eliminated or the DEIR/EIS “locally
preferred alternative” was selected.

3. The process by which the state can declare properties surplus must be well documented as set
forth in CHAPTER 26 – Disposal of Rights of Way for Public or Private Road Connections
and involves compliance with terms and conditions established by the California
Transportation Commission. What is the process by which such a determination can be
reversed as we are told has been done with respect to properties in South Pasadena that were
declared excess in 1997.

We sincerely appreciate all the information you can provide to clarify these issues and processes. If
you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact Suzanne Reed, Chief of Staff
to Senator Carol Liu at 916-651-4025.


California State Senator
 25th District

City of Pasadena

South Pasadena

 City of La CaƱada Flintridge

Council Member, City of Glendale
Board Member

City of Glendale

cc: Brian Kelly, Acting Secretary, Department of Business, Transportation and Housing

Metro's Response 


(You will have to go to the url directly above as I am unable to copy and paste the letter here.)

Gas prices in L.A. County rise to highest level in state


February 8, 2013

 LOS ANGELES - The average price of a gallon of self-serve regular gasoline in Los Angeles County rose to its highest amount since Nov. 1 today, increasing 3.1 cents to $4.122, the highest in the state.

The average price has risen 36 of the past 38 days and 40 of the past 43, including 3.3 cents on Thursday, according to figures from the AAA and Oil Price Information Service.

The average price is 20.7 cents more than one week ago, 45.6 cents higher than one month ago and 31 cents greater than one year ago.

The Orange County average price rose 2.9 cents today to $4.11, the highest since Oct. 30. It's now 21
cents more than one week ago, 46.4 cents higher than one month ago and 30.8 cents greater than one year ago. It has risen 41 times in the past 46 days, increasing 55.9 cents over that span, including 3.4 cents on Thursday.

The Orange County average price is the third highest in the state, behind Los Angeles, San Diego ($4.117) and San Luis Obispo (4.111) counties.

"Refinery maintenance and issues resulting in low levels of production in Southern California are key among reasons cited for the spike," said Jeffrey Spring of the Automobile Club of Southern California.

"However, gasoline inventories are now reportedly increasing again locally, so that could help to stabilize or lower prices soon provided that no additional refinery incidents occur."

Korean Air hotel in DTLA to be tallest building in the West


 Kevin Roderick, February 7, 2013


 Developer Korean Airlines today unveiled the AC Martin design for the new Wilshire Grand tower at Wilshire Boulevard and Figueroa Street and said it will be 73 stories — one floor more than the US Bank tower downtown. This could make the $1 billion hotel and office development the tallest tower west of Chicago. The US Bank tower has held that distinction since 1989. The old Wilshire Grand, opened originally as the Statler Hotel in 1952, is currently being demolished.

From the LA Times:
As designed by Los Angeles architecture firm AC Martin Partners, arriving hotel guests will be whisked by high-speed elevators to the "sky lobby" on the 70th floor for check-in to one of 900 rooms. An operator, who could bring a familiar brand name to the inn, has yet to be selected.
The 71st floor will be a restaurant. The floor above that will house window-washing gear and engineering equipment, clearing the top floor for an "infinity" swimming pool and recreation area.
At street level there will be about three floors of restaurants and shops, topped by 30 floors of offices for rent.
Korean Air is the flagship company for Hanjin Group, which has $20 billion in annual revenue from its interests in land, sea and air transportation as well as construction, heavy industry, finance and formation services.
Los Angeles architect David Martin, a principal at AC Martin Partners, is designing the project. Martin designed the Figueroa-at-Wilshire high-rise across the street from the Wilshire Grand in 1990. The family firm was the primary architect of Los Angles City Hall in the 1920s.

Aside from bragging rights, why put up the tallest building in LA?


By Mark Lacter, February 8, 2013

 That would be Korean Air's 73-story hotel and office building that will replace the Wilshire Grand Hotel. When completed in 2017, it's supposed to be the tallest building west of the Mississippi. This was not the original idea: The Korean Air project, first announced four years ago, was going to be two smaller towers. Then stuff happened - a struggling economy along with a less-than-desired incentive package coming from City Hall - and so they decided to go with the one big tower. For Korean Air, it's an obvious (if very expensive) way of becoming an L.A. icon. The skyscraper will be cool to look at,of course, and it'll enhance the downtown skyline, but does it make sense? As an economic matter, big new office towers are iffy. When a new building goes up, at least some tenants in older, nearby buildings move in (despite often higher rents). But the local economy is enhanced only if the vacated space gets filled - and at a time when businesses are looking to downsize, not expand, that might be unrealistic. Besides, who knows what the economy might look like by 2017. Downtown's office vacancy rate is already hovering around 17 percent. Here's a summation of pros and cons of building tall from a piece in World Architecture News:

Efficiently-designed tall buildings utilize less materials for enclosure per unit of usable floor space, a smaller surface area for heat loss/gain, a natural energy share between floors and provide the potential for harvesting solar and wind energy at height. On the other hand there are disadvantages with building tall that offset, and may even negate, the benefits of concentrating people together in taller buildings. Smaller floor areas may limit people's access to natural light, views and ventilation. Growing taller requires more materials and primary structural systems, which may affect the overall sustainability equation. The general concept of 'vertical' being more sustainable than 'horizontal' may be true, especially when the larger-scale urban scenario is considered, but the myriad factors that contribute to this scenario should be better investigated.
The negative view of super-tall buildings goes back to the 1950s, as Edward Glaeser notes in his insightful 2011 Atantic piece about skyscrapers:
During the 1950s and '60s, both public and private projects ran into growing resistance from grassroots organizers like Jane Jacobs, who were becoming adept at mounting opposition to large-scale development. In 1961, Jacobs published her masterpiece, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, which investigates and celebrates the pedestrian world of mid-20th-century New York. She argued that mixed-use zoning fostered street life, the essence of city living. But Jacobs liked protecting old buildings because of a confused piece of economic reasoning. She thought that preserving older, shorter structures would somehow keep prices affordable for budding entrepreneurs. That's not how supply and demand works. Protecting an older one-story building instead of replacing it with a 40-story building does not preserve affordability. Indeed, opposing new building is the surest way to make a popular area unaffordable. An increase in the supply of houses, or anything else, almost always drives prices down, while restricting the supply of real estate keeps prices high.