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

Friday, March 1, 2013

When Metro Locks Subway Gates, Riders Actually Pay to Ride


By Eve Bachrach, March 1, 2013



[Image via The Source]

Metro has been experimenting with locking the turnstiles at subway stations, forcing riders to buy tickets or use their TAP cards. The totally mindblowing results, via The Source? More people are paying to ride the subway. Crazy, right? LA's unlocked subway gates have long puzzled riders/delighted cheapskates, and it has taken years to get this far in the Great Gatelocking Campaign. The sticking point has been how to handle riders who transfer in from other transportation systems, and so part of the experiment has invovled issuing paper TAP tickets to Metrolink riders who transfer onto the subway. The goal is to have locked gates on the Red and Purple Lines by the summer.
[Image via The Source]
For even more evidence, head on over to The Source.
· Results of gate latching at Metro Red and Purple Line stations: many more people TAP [The Source]

Temple City breaks ground on Rosemead Blvd. Safety Enhancement and Beautification Project


By Anna Chen, March 1, 2013


Photo by Anna Chen/Metro

This morning Temple City held a groundbreaking ceremony for the Rosemead Blvd. Safety Enhancement and Beautification Project. The project will redesign the two-mile stretch of Rosemead Blvd. from Callita Street to the south side of the UPRR railroad tracks and transform one of Temple City’s main commercial corridors into a complete street. Project features include:
  • new ADA-accessible sidewalks
  • San Gabriel Valley’s first protected bike lanes
  • recycled asphalt concrete pavement
  • added green life, including 500 trees and 60,000 plants
  • outdoor dining opportunities
Metro contributed approximately $2.25 million to the project through the 2011 Call for Projects program.
DSC_0001“This project will provide Temple City with much needed sidewalks, bus stops, shelters and bike lanes,” said L.A. County Supervisor and Metro Board Chair Michael D. Antonovich. “It will create a safer environment for people to walk and explore alternative modes of transportation.”

New York City’s transportation boss offers a few lessons on making the big changes actually happen


By Steve Hymon, March 1, 2013


Janette Sadik-Khan at last night's event. Photo by Juan Matute/UCLA.

Janette Sadik-Khan at last night’s event talking about closing parts of Times Square to traffic in favor of pedestrian plazas.

I had the good fortune of attending a forum last night with Janette Sadik-Khan, the innovative Transportation Commissioner for New York City. She was the featured speaker at UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs Complete Streets Initiative, an effort to make local streets more user-friendly for pedestrians, cyclists, transit users and motorists.

New York has taken a number of bold steps since Sadik-Khan began working for Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2007: building new public plazas in places that were once streets (including parts of Times Square), creating new bus rapid transit lines with the New York MTA, adding 300 miles of bike lanes and implementing traffic calming measures to reduce fatalities and injuries caused by motor vehicles in New York City’s five boroughs. The New York MTA is also building a new subway line and extending another.

In other words, New York City made a lot of significant changes quickly, not letting distractors or controversy get in the way even when things didn’t break their way (such as a plan to implement congestion pricing in Manhattan). I think most of what she discussed is highly relevant here, given that some big changes are underway in L.A. County courtesy of Metro’s Measure R program along with many other local initiatives and projects that are either being discussed, studied or implemented across the county.

I few things I heard that I really liked:

•”Just remember the headlines don’t always translated into the opinions of actual people,” said Sadik-Khan. Couldn’t agree more. It’s difficult in some media reports to gauge the degree of opposition or support for a particular projects and many media outlets either don’t offer the context or disclosed they rely on the same people for years for quotes.

•”Safety and sustainability go hand in hand,” she said. “You won’t get more people walking or biking if they don’t feel safe.” Several cities in L.A. County are quickly putting in new bikes but I haven’t seen a lot of data about which are being used and which are not — and why not. For example, there are new bike lanes directly next to three lanes of freeway-like traffic on Huntington Boulevard in El Sereno. It’s great to have the lanes, but I have seen very few people actually using them and non-productive lanes could harm the overall program. 

•”People are hungry for public space,” she said, adding that the city managed to avoid its usual five years to complete construction of a project on the public plazas by moving quickly with paint, new curbs street furniture and simple landscaping. Sadik-Khan also said that New Yorkers had given up on the notion that New York’s streets could be changed — because nothing much had been done since a series of one-way streets were created in the 1950s. All in all, a very good reminder to all agencies that speed is a good thing and earns the public’s trust. Taking forever to do relatively simple things (i.e. website upgrades) is a good way to make it look like you’re not minding the store.
1st Street in New York after a makeover. A bus lane at right was added and at left, the parking lane was moved away from the sidewalk as a way to protect a new bike lane from the general traffic lanes. Photo: New York City DOT.
1st Street in New York after a makeover. A bus lane at right was added and at left, the parking lane was moved away from the sidewalk as a way to protect a new bike lane from the general traffic lanes. Photo: New York City DOT.

A couple of other take-aways on this point: L.A. has the same exact issue as far as its streets go — traffic often stinks, but there seems to be high resistance against doing anything different because of concerns it will impact traffic. Also, New York has seemed especially adept at creating public spaces that are easy to reach. I really like the new Grand Park and L.A. Historic Park in downtown L.A. but I wouldn’t give either a gold medal for their connections to surrounding streets or sidewalks.

Sadik-Khan said that Mayor Bloomberg is very data driven, which isn’t surprising for a billionaire who owns a giant media company. Therefore, changes impacting transportation are closely tracked to determine if they’re working and a lot of public data is created to earn the public’s trust. (Check out these bike usage stats). That’s how the city knows that retail and car safety has greatly increased near public plazas and the corridors where bus and bike lanes have been implemented. (Here are the stats from when the Times Square plaza was made permanent). 

How did New York do all these things politically and fiscally, asked Metro Board Member Richard Katz, who attended the event. Sadik-Khan said the plans originally came from PlaNYC, a citywide effort to engage residents on planning and transportation issues. They were ultimately approved by community boards across the city with funding from the city budget, which under Bloomberg has emphasized these projects as economic development opportunities, i.e., mobility + quality of life = a strong economy. My three cents: how often do you hear that discussed here?

Of course there was the inevitable question on what Sadik-Khan would recommend for Los Angeles. She reminded the audience that she attended Occidental College and didn’t have a car at the time, the reason she believes L.A. is doing the smart thing by building out its transit lines (something long in place in New York). She specifically mentioned the importance of connecting LAX to the rail system.
“I would say there’s a lot of opportunity here,” she said. “You have a lot of streets. There’s a lot of room to play.”

She also said it’s important to have bold leadership — not a knock at anyone — and that a good way of showing that is to push projects that be built within the four or eight years a mayor is in office.
“Otherwise people believe change can’t happen,” she said.

All in all, it was a great talk — inspiring and mildly depressing at the same time. It reminded me of
the many big changes underway here, namely the new rail lines that have opened or that are under construction (two currently, three soon). It also reminded me of the many big unfunded or under-funded plans here, i.e. the Los Angeles River master plan, the Los Angeles Streetcar, the many worthy transit and planning projects that are beyond the reach of Measure R.

Finally, I wanted to emphasize something Sadik-Khan said about cities: they are the future of the planet and they’re the places where most people are going to live. Cities can also be very sustainable because of efficiencies of having many people live close together. But when it comes to funding in the United States, as she emphasized, “Cities are home alone, we have nowhere else to go.”

Brit Bikes From Venice to Griffith to Find Real GTAV Locations


By Adrian Glick Kudler, March 1, 2013




 Above, a photo only.

 Grand Theft Auto V is set to be released on September 17; it'll be set in Los Santos, a fictionalized Southern California, and we've already taken a look at many of the real-life locations that'll show up in the game in one form or another (Downtown bridges, Westwood condos, the Beverly Center). Now PlayStation Access (via Kotaku) has sent some poor bastard on a bike trip to photograph some of those locations--he starts with Venice Beach and ends up at Griffith Observatory over the course of a day. The British fellow is clearly not used to American-style sprawl--he mistakes Century City's towers for Downtown's and marvels at the long journey from Venice to Brentwood (on a bike, but still). Which really just makes the whole trip more impressive.


Santa Monica Transportation Fee Could Raise $50 Million-Plus For City Hall


By Parimal M. Rohit, March 1, 2013


Santa Monica City Hall may generate between $50 million and $60 million within the next 20 years to help the City achieve its ambitious transportation goals.

Council members unanimously approved on Tuesday evening a transportation impact fee (TIF) to be applied to developers who build with Santa Monica’s borders.

The potential infusion of cash from the TIF would help offset some of the $134 million City Hall expects to spend on building a better transportation infrastructure in Santa Monica.

“The purpose of the Multimodal Transportation Impact Fee is to ensure that new development, projected through the year 2030 in the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the Land Use and

Circulation Element (LUCE) of the Santa Monica General Plan, pays its fair share of the costs of providing the transportation infrastructure necessary to implement the policies and achieve the goals of the Plan,” Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates stated in its Nexus Study submitted to City Hall.

Developers would only be assessed the fee if its proposed land use would increase the amount of auto trips. Just the same, developers “would not be charged if land use changes result in fewer auto trips.”

“The proposed transportation impact fee is intended to capture projects that result in changes from one type of land use category to a land use category with a greater trip generation rate, such as from office to medical office or office to retail,” City staff stated. “Consistent with other impact fees in the Municipal Code, development agreements would not be subject to the ordinance.”

The fee amount collected will vary from project to project and based upon a square foot basis. For non-residential developments, a building permit would not be issued unless the TIF is paid.

According to City staff, Santa Monica plans to spend $33.7 million on bicycle actions, $25 million on pedestrian actions, $6.1 million on Transportation Demand Management actions, $10.2 million on public transit actions, and $11.6 million on “auto network” actions. More than $47 million will be allocated for contingency, design, fees, and project management.

Between 37 and 45 percent of those costs would potentially be covered by the TIF, with the remaining balance funded by regional, state and federal grants and the City General Fund, among other sources.

According to the Nelson/Nygaard Nexus Study, if all the proposed developments in Santa Monica were completed, “it is estimated that the number of PM peak hour vehicle trips generated within the City of Santa Monica would increase from approximately 60,100 existing P.M. peak hour vehicle trips to 64,700 P.M. peak hour vehicle trips.”

However, by collecting the TIF to help fund the transportation infrastructure plans, City Hall hopes Santa Monica would meet the goals of the LUCE and see an estimated net reduction to 59,500 P.M. peak hour trips.

While City Hall hopes the TIF may fund up to 45 percent of future transportation infrastructure plans, there were some who were cautious about the TIF.

In an open letter to Council members submitted to The Mirror in the lead-up to Tuesday’s meeting, the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce, while in support of the TIF in principal, expressed concern of the fee rates.

“The unprecedented magnitude of the proposed fees, in combination with other City fees (both those in effect and those being studied), would have the unintended consequence of being a barrier to the quality development that the LUCE envisions for a small percentage of Santa Monica land, including projects that would be fiscally beneficial to the City as well as a source of the community benefits envisioned in the LUCE,” the letter stated.

The ordinance still has to pass a second reading before going into effect. If the second reading hurdle is cleared, the TIF ordinance will go into effect 60 days later.

The Nelson/Nygaard next study proposed possible fee rates for developments based upon land use. For residential developments, the TIF could range from $7,600 to $7,800 per dwelling unit for single-family projects and $2,600 to $3,300 per dwelling unit for multi-family units. Retail projects would be assessed either $21 or $31 per square foot, while office developments would be on the hook for $9.70 or $10.80 per square foot.

Medical office developments would be subject to the highest TIF of $28.10 per square foot or $29.80 per square foot. Conversely, hospitals would be assessed a TIF of $14.80 per square foot.

Lodging projects would pay $3.60 per square foot, while industrial developments are nicked for $1.20 or $1.30 per square foot.

The amount assessed depends upon which area a project is located. Developments in Area 1, which includes the downtown and Bergamot Station, would pay the lower rate. The rest of Santa Monica falls within Area 2; developments in Area 2 would pay the higher rate (except for hospitals or hotels/motels).

Nelson/Nygaard estimated these rates could yield a little more than $60 million in fees.

Key infrastructure project included in the $134 million figure include: San Vicente Bikeway ($6 million); Marvin Braude Bike Trail ($4.8 million); Sixth/Seventh Street Bikeway ($8 million); bike detectors ($5.2 million); enhanced pedestrian crossings ($4.3 million); pedestrian network improvements ($19.6 million); bicycle transit centers ($4 million); bike sharing program ($9.6 million); and, Fourth Street Bridge widening ($9.6 million).
We Still Mostly Use Amtrak for Shorter Trips, Report Says

By Matt Bevilacqua, March 1, 2013

 Ten metro areas accounted for two-thirds of Amtrak passengers last year.

Despite the frequent threat of budget cuts from Republicans in Washington, Amtrak has enjoyed a pretty successful recent history. Ridership has increased by almost 50 percent since 2000, topping 31 million passengers last year, the highest since the service began in 1971. And the numbers are likely to increase: Nine out of the last 10 years, Amtrak has set ridership records.

But these promising stats are mostly due to shorter trips taken on a few well-knit routes, according to a Brookings Institution report released today. Furthermore, the less-traveled longer voyages cause Amtrak to lose a lot more money than the shorter trips make.

Defining “short-distance” as spanning less than 400 miles, Brookings researchers Robert Puentes, Adie Tomer and Joseph Kane find that more than 80 percent of Amtrak passengers use the service for shorter rides, accounting for a $47 million operating surplus in 2011. Yet trips covering more than 400 miles, which cost more to complete and carry fewer passengers, wound up losing Amtrak $614 million the same year.

A look at an interactive map accompanying the report helps put this in perspective. The most traveled Amtrak route is, expectedly, the Northeast Regional line. Connecting Boston to Virginia Beach, Va. and hitting every major coastal city between, the Northeast Regional is the busiest passenger rail line in the country, with more than 8 million riders annually.

Only six other routes had passenger counts into the millions last year: The Acela Express (which runs along the same corridor); the Pacific Surfliner in Southern California; the Capital Corridor Service in Northern Cali; the Keystone Service from New York City to Harrisburg, Pa.; Central California’s San Joaquin Service; and the Empire Service from New York to Albany.

As you can see, all of the most popular Amtrak lines are found on the East or West coasts. And as the report makes clear, 10 major metropolitan areas are responsible for nearly two-thirds of the service’s total ridership. With the exception of Chicago-Naperville-Joliet, all of these metros are on the coasts. Among those on the East Coast, none are farther south than Washington, D.C.

Away from these, where major cities tend to be much farther apart from one another, ridership drops off, often dramatically. Even lines reaching out from Chicago rarely break 600,000 passengers. But these can still lean toward the expensive side: The Empire Builder, Southwest Chief and California Zephyr routes each cost more than $110 million a year to operate, and only moved a combined total of 1.3 million people last year.

To exploit Amtrak’s short-distance strengths and remedy its long-distance weaknesses, the report’s authors write that states ought to take a prominent, collaborative role in determining the course of passenger rail in the U.S. This includes states sharing operating costs with Amtrak for routes longer than 750 miles (in addition to typically Brookings-like suggestions such as “foster[ing] a stronger relationship between public agencies and private capital and management firms”).

Still, almost all Amtrak routes gained passengers last year. And the three metro areas that saw the greatest jump in ridership — Phoenix, Dallas and Austin, Texas — aren’t near the coasts.

The only lines that lost passengers were the Vermonter (D.C. to the Green Mountain State), the Coastal Starlight (Seattle to Los Angeles) and the Sunset Limited (L.A. to New Orleans). Which brings me to the theory that cool-sounding names lead to empty trains.
Middle class key to better health

 By Li Zoxue, March 1, 2013

Middle class key to better health

Laurie Garrett says environmental and human behavioral trends are the main contributors to most of the emerging diseases.

Concerted action will help find fixes to problems including air pollution, health expert says

Balancing prosperity and health will be a major challenge for policy makers in China, especially if the nation wants to capitalize on its economic gains, says a leading US expert on global health.

Laurie Garrett, currently the senior fellow of the Global Health Program at the Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank specializing in US foreign policy and international affairs, says that the task appears to be daunting considering that sectors like finance and energy hold more sway in government corridors, rather than health.

"It is important for the government to realize that prosperity with poor health is not prosperity at all. Rather, it is like the money in a bank account that is used for cancer treatment," she says.
Talking about the current challenges for China, Garrett says the government must take immediate steps to prevent the air quality from deteriorating further.

"It is not good for people's health, and it makes people feel depressed that they cannot see the sun at all," Garrett says referring to the air quality in Beijing. "It is also really bad that the poor air quality will lead to diseases like cancer."

Though cleaning up the air is a pressing problem for Chinese policymakers, people should not be disheartened as these challenges are not new or unique to China, she says.

"Every country in the world goes through these development phases, involving pollution. The US faced a similar situation in the 1950s, when pollution peaked in cities like Los Angeles. I remember when I was a child in LA, the city was teeming with freeways and highways. Population skyrocketed and there were millions of cars on the roads. The air quality was so bad that schools had to be suspended," Garrett says.

Concerted action by the officials and all the stakeholders have helped improve the air quality in most of the US cities like Los Angeles, she says.

"As far as China is concerned, it is the middle-class that needs to take the lead in fixing pollution-related problems," Garrett says.

In her second book, Betrayal of Trust: The Collapse of Global Public Health, Garrett dwells at length on public health in various countries. Using case studies from different regions, Garrett points out that the most effective cases of public health have come from countries where the middle class has a strong demand for better health conditions.

"The rich will not have a stake in fixing public problems. If the air is too bad, they will install an air filter in their home and if the water is not clean, they will source clean water from other locations."

The air pollution in China is an accumulated effect and can be fixed only through dedicated steps by all the stakeholders over the next five to 10 years, she says.

Garrett also sounds a note of caution when she says that major epidemics or health crisis could strike any time and that most of the nations are unprepared to tackle the problem.

Quoting from her experiences in dealing with the SARS outbreak in Guangdong province during 2003, Garrett says such diseases can occur in China again, and it is important for the authorities to end most of its live animal markets.

"Though the local center for disease control is working toward these goals, it is also important for the government to encourage people to look for other ways for the meat," she says.
Environmental and human behavioral trends are the main contributors for most of the emerging diseases, she says.

Citing SARS as an example, Garrett says that the disease originated from a vegetarian bat that lived in the rainforests. Because of climate change and trees being cut for timber, the natural environment of the bat was disturbed. This in turn, led to the SARS virus finding its way to humans.
Health is often a subject that gets the short thrift from policymakers in most nations, Garrett says.

"It is important to understand that health is important or in some cases even more important than climate change. There are some exceptions though as in some nations like the US, health figures prominently in national security and foreign policy."

Infection control is another major sector that China must pay attention to if it wants to sustain its economic growth. Garrett says there have been several recent instances of dirty needles and dirty blood injections leading to outbreaks, she says.

"Many dangerous viruses can be delivered during the dirty blood injections, and they in turn will lead to diseases or in some cases even cancer. China needs to think more aggressively about what is going on in its hospitals and make sure that it is clean and safe."

Infection control is not a problem that is only for China but something that everyone must be aware of, she says.

"Doctors or nurses tend to get tired after spending long hours in the field or in the hospital. So it is important that we have people on the ground who are vigilant about infection control, and remind the doctors and nurses to change gloves and ensure no needles are reused and so on," Garrett says.

Before becoming a scholar at the US think tank, Garrett used to be a science journalist and was a Pulitzer Prize winner for explanatory journalism in 1996.

"I love journalism! There is nothing as terrific as the environment of a newsroom," Garrett says.

Though she has left active journalism for the corridors of research, Garrett says her work often ends up as a mixture of both.

"In most of the cases, I am still trying the find the original source even as I am conducting the research."

Garrett is currently working on ensuring drug safety and has been trying to increase the transparency of information between countries as well as increasing international cooperation in this field.

"Because of globalization and more steps being added into the drug supply chain, people often find that most of the drugs do not have the ingredients they claim to possess. In many cases, they often have the wrong ingredients," she says.

Garrett says the problem is more acute in Africa where most of the drugs are sugar pills without any effective ingredients. In countries like China, drug regulatory agencies need more support from the government, she says.

"They need to be bigger and also get more financial support from the government so that they can keep a tight leash," Garrett says.

Air pollution needs urgent action


By Zhou Rong, March 1, 2013


Air pollution needs urgent action
This winter, the air quality over the north China plain has been record breaking - but not in a good way. From Jan 10 to16, the air quality in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region was so bad it was actually off the scale used to monitor air quality. The air pollution reached levels that the World Health Organization describes as hazardous and people were advised to stay indoors. On Thursday, heavy haze and smog descended over most of northern and eastern China again.

It is reasonable to ask why the air pollution was so bad this winter. Weather conditions and topographic factors have been given as reasons, but, although contributing factors, these are not to blame. The worsening air pollution is linked to an energy mix that relies heavily on coal and to motor vehicle emissions.

But despite the astonishing growth of motor vehicles in our cities, it is the burning of coal that is the biggest cause of air pollution. More than half of the country's thermal power plants are located in the eastern region and China's coal consumption more than doubled between 2000 and 2011, from 1.5 billion tons in 2000 to 3.8 billion tons in 2011, accounting for almost half the world's total coal consumption. And with coal occupying nearly 70 percent of the country's primary energy consumption, it has become critical to reduce the use of coal if we are to solve the nation's overall air pollution problem.

In the face of the toxic air recently, one netizen said, "we have nothing but hot air to purify the skies".

In fact, the government plans to have 350 billion yuan ($55.67 billion) investment in desulfurization and denitrification of coal-fired facilities and the phasing out of yellow-label cars - those that do not meet the Euro I emissions standard and so on- during the course of the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15) period.

However, it would be far more effective to reduce emissions at the source, which means the biggest challenge currently facing government departments is saying "no" to the country's air polluting culprits. The industrial sector was responsible for 68.5 percent of the nation's energy consumption in 2010.

Yet, according to the Joint Prevention and Control Plan on Air Pollution in Key Regions released recently by the State Council, China's cabinet, the amount of coal the nation consumes is set to rise by 30 percent during the period of the 12th Five-Year Plan. This is not going to let anyone breathe easier.

This highlights a key problem when it comes to environmental issues in this country - economic development takes precedence. The fundamental cause of the worsening air pollution is the mentality of economic growth at any cost, which has resulted in ever-worsening pollution and environmental degradation. In other words, even if unprecedented action is taken for treatment, there will be no cure as priority will still be given to newly launched projects.

And the priority given economic growth presents another problem, namely the failure of existing environmental protection policies and regulations to curb pollution. For instance, the current weak regulations covering emissions would suggest there has been a significant reduction in emissions when clearly this is not the case. Also those enterprises found breaking the regulations are still far lower than the cost of treating the pollution they produce. This means even if many large-scale enterprises with lagging production capacity fail to meet the requirements for environmental protection, the environmental protection department is incapable of shutting these enterprises down or forcing their relocation.

Dealing with air pollution requires taking action at the local level to reduce vehicle emissions and at the regional level to reduce industrial emissions. But it also requires giving more priority to environmental issues in policymaking. Our hope is that the environmental protection department will be truly capable of saying "no" to pollution, and it will raise standards and effectively enforce them, and that governments at all levels will prioritize quality of life not just economic growth.

The author is the campaigner for air pollution at Greenpeace.
PM2.5 will disappear, in name that is
 China's scientific authority is soliciting ideas to come up with a new Chinese name for PM 2.5, or particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter that can enter people's lungs and bloodstream.

By Zheng Xin, February 28, 2013

 The initiative has aroused public interest and caused an Internet buzz.

Because PM 2.5 uses the Latin alphabet, the China National Committee for Terms in Sciences and Technologies is conducting research and gauging opinions from all walks of life to name the term properly, it said.

People nationwide are contributing creative terms, including 'Beijing grey', 'toxic dust', 'air pollution index' and 'cough trigger'.

In addition to the people who are busy brainstorming, some also suggest that the government should focus more on relieving the dense smog rather than providing a fancy name.

The committee has consulted experts from environment, physics, medical sciences and linguistics to contribute advise for a name for the particulate matter.

PM2.5 kills thousands, researchers say

By Wu Wencong, December 19, 2012

Report shows toll of air pollution on nation's economy, human health
An estimated 8,572 premature deaths occurred in four major Chinese cities this year due to high levels of PM2.5, a study has found.

The report also said severe air pollution in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Xi'an and Beijing has led to a total economic loss of 6.8 billion yuan ($1.09 billion).

The study released on Tuesday by Peking University's School of Public Health and Greenpeace looked at the health and economic impact of PM2.5, particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter.

Modern toxicology research has shown that exposure to PM2.5 can lead to significantly increased death rates due to cardiovascular, cerebrovascular and respiratory diseases, as well as increased cancer risk.

The study, the first of its kind, was based on available data and took into account varying conditions in the four cities, such as temperature and humidity.

In its conclusion, the report states that if the cities can effectively lower PM2.5 levels to meet the World Health Organization's Air Quality Guidelines - 10 micrograms per cubic meter - such deaths would be reduced by more than 80 percent.

Of the four cities, Shanghai had the highest amount of deaths, although its PM2.5 concentration is not the highest, the study found.

"The reason can be very complicated, but this phenomenon corresponds with research in other countries," said Pan Xiaochuan, a professor at the School of Public Health and lead author of the report.

"There are three main factors. First, Shanghai is the most populous city. Second, people from the south and the north have different sensitivities to pollution. Third, PM2.5 in different places has different components whose effects vary."

The methodology adopted by the study is a widely applied standardized method in epidemiological studies of air pollution, authors said.

"A mathematical model was developed based on PM2.5 laboratory monitoring values over the past three to four years in the four cities, as well as statistics from centers for disease control and prevention of deaths and their causes over the same period," said Li Guoxing, a lecturer at the School of Public Health and a co-author.

"From this, a PM2.5 exposure relative risk coefficient was calculated. The total of deaths related to PM2.5 pollution in 2010 was also estimated based on population sizes and PM10 concentration statistics published in the National Statistical Yearbook 2010."

He said the study also calculates mortalities caused by PM2.5 this year, together with figures based on potential improvement scenarios.

However, researchers conceded that the study has many limitations.

"The data we used, though they're the best we can get, are still limited," Pan said. He said the data mainly came from independent research institutions in the four cities, not official sources, which may affect the results.

The central government recently started to ask major cities to start releasing readings of PM2.5 levels to the public.

"The result is an estimation, based on a probabilistic method in statistics, with a possibility of uncertainty," Pan said.

Li said that the study only takes into consideration a relatively short-term effect of PM2.5 pollution, without measuring the possible health effects of other major pollutants in the air, such as black carbon and ozone, which may result in an underestimation of the health risks.

On Dec 12, a policy study executive report was released to the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development, an organization chaired by Vice-Premier Li Keqiang. The report also mentioned the relationship between premature deaths and PM2.5.
It cited an estimate by the WHO that 470,000 Chinese died prematurely in 2008 due to air pollution.

"A World Bank study showed China's deaths and diseases caused by air pollution in 2003 brought an economic loss of 160 billion yuan, equivalent to 1.16 percent of GDP that year," read the Regional Air Quality Integrated Control System Research report, written by a team led by Hao Jiming, an academic at the Chinese Academy of Engineering and a professor at Tsinghua University's School of Environment.

Financial burden for 'casual car-poolers': Letters to the Editor for Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013


February 27, 2013

Re "Toll-lane plans shouldn't move too fast" (Editorial, Feb. 25):

Glad to see your editorial urging restraint on the expansion of car-pool and toll lanes until the trial period is over and impacts fully assessed. I understand and support the concept of alleviating traffic in this manner; however, it's clear no one took into consideration people like my husband and me - the casual car poolers. We are retired and don't commute anymore, but we use car-pool lanes when we find them. Under Metro's plan, even though we wouldn't be charged a toll to use the lanes, we would have to purchase a transponder and pay a monthly fee to maintain an account. We paid taxes to build roads and freeways and shouldn't have to pay extra to use these roads. This requirement should be dropped from the program immediately. It's a financial burden to those on a fixed or low income.
-- Stephanie Strout, Pasadena

California's gas tax to rise 3 ½ cents per gallon in July


Associated Press, March 1, 2013


 CULVER CITY -- California regulators have ordered a 3 ½ cent gas tax hike to take effect this summer.

The Sacramento Bee (http://tinyurl.com/a9x93cg ) reported that the state Board of Equalization on Thursday voted 3-2 to increase at the end of its three day meeting in Culver City.

The state excise tax on a gallon of gas is now 39 ½ cents a gallon.

The state Legislature passed a law in 2010 requiring the board to adjust the excise tax each March. The increase takes effect on July 1.

Actions taken by the Metro Board of Directors


 By Steve Hymon, February 28, 2013

•The Board approved a $33.2-million, five-year contract with the California Vanpool Authority, Enterprise Rent-a-Car Company of Los Angeles and VPSI, Inc., to provide vanpool services to Metro. Metro staff report
•The Board voted to accept $26.1 million from the state of California's Prop 1B to help fund the I-405 Sepulveda Pass Improvements Project. Metro staff report
•The Board voted against taking a position of support of state bills that would lower the threshold needed for voters to pass a transportation sales tax from two-thirds to 55 percent. The item could return to the Board in the future. Metro staff had recommended supporting the bills as a possible way to help accelerate transit projects in the future; several Board members had issues ranging from lack of public input to an unwillingness to seek a change because of the narrow loss of Measure J last fall. Metro staff report
•The Board approved a revenue-generating contract with InSite Wireless to install equipment in the Red and Purple Line subway and other underground portions of the Metro Rail system to provide cell phone service and, eventually, wi-fi service for Metro riders. Metro staff report and recent Source post

California gas prices peak; pump pain changes U.S. driving habits 


 By Ron White, February 28, 2013

High fuel prices have U.S. drivers reducing the amount of gasoline they use

 Gas prices are displayed at a Mobil gas station in Chicago on Jan. 31. Americans have sharply reduced gasoline consumption because of high prices.

California gasoline prices may have already peaked for the first half of the year and should head lower soon, analysts said.

Meanwhile, nationwide gasoline price averages over the first two months of the year rose at such a blistering rate that Americans were on pace to pay half a trillion dollars on gasoline in 2013 for the first time ever, analysts said.

The high prices were causing big changes in the driving habits of American motorists, with gasoline consumption dropping sharply.

And one result of the big decline in U.S. consumption was a record amount of gasoline exports by U.S. refineries, to Central and South America and even Singapore and Australia.

Overnight, the average price of a gallon of regular gasoline in California was unchanged at $4.238, according to the AAAFuel Gauge Report, which uses averages collected by the Oil Price Information Service.

“Los Angeles wholesale gasoline prices and oil prices have taken a nose dive in the last week, along with gasoline futures, because fuel supplies have risen and refineries have increased production,” said Auto Club spokesperson Jeffrey Spring.

The price for CARBOB, for example, which is the unfinished blend of gasoline used in California, was running about $3.09 a gallon Thursday, down sharply from a peak of $3.447 earlier this month.

It's considered unfinished because ethanol hasn't been added at that stage, and the final retail prices, often about 65 cents to 75 cents a gallon higher, include various federal, state and local taxes.

“The average Los Angeles price is still higher than the average Honolulu price, but given that local retail prices have exceeded the typical 75-cent margin over wholesale for the past three weeks, there would appear to be plenty of room for prices to drop," Spring said.

Patrick DeHaan, senior energy analyst for GasBuddy.com, said that gasoline supplies in California were also running more than 12% higher than last year, which should also move prices lower.

Americans paid more for gasoline in 2012 than ever before, said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for OPIS.

That's partially why, in December, American drivers consumed 8.38 million barrels a day of gasoline, according to Energy Department statistics. While that remains a huge amount, it was 305,000 barrels a day less than the amount consumed in December 2011.

That was part of "a huge slide in U.S. demand for gasoline" that began "after Thanksgiving Day," Kloza said.

U.S. refineries responded by exporting a record 590,000 barrels a day of gasoline to foreign customers, according to Energy Department statistics.

"Some of the destinations were predictable, with Mexico getting 219,000 barrels of gasoline a day," Kloza said. "Central and South American countries dot the export spreadsheet, but leaping from the page are record purchases from Venezuela of 94,000 barrels a day."

The U.S. was also exporting gasoline to Singapore, Japan and Australia, Kloza said.

Today, the average price of a gallon of regular gasoline in the U.S. is $3.782, according to the Fuel Gauge Report. That beat the record for Feb. 28 of $3.731 that was set in 2011.

New Cars Increasingly Out of Reach for Many Americans


By Paul A. Eisenstein, February 27, 2013

 Looking to buy a new car, truck or crossover? You may find it more difficult to stretch the household budget than you expected, according to a new study that finds median-income families in only one major U.S. city actually can afford the typical new vehicle.

The typical new vehicle is now more expensive than ever, averaging $30,500 in 2012, according to TrueCar.com data, and heading up again as makers curb the incentives that helped make their products more affordable during the recession when they were desperate for sales.

According to the 2013 Car Affordability Study by Interest.com, only in Washington could the typical household swing the payments, the median income there running $86,680 a year. At the other extreme, Tampa, Fla., was at the bottom of the 25 large cities included in the study, with a median household income of $43,832.

The study looked at a variety of household expenses, such as food and housing, and when it comes to purchasing a new vehicle, it considered more than just the basic purchase price, down payment and monthly note, factoring in such essentials as taxes and insurance.

Bottom line? A buyer in the capital can purchase a car with a sticker price of $31,940, slightly more than the new vehicle average for the 2013 model year and about what it would cost for a mid-range Ford Fusion sedan or a stripped-down BMW X1 crossover. The buyer in Tampa? They'll just barely cover the cost of a basic Kia Rio, with $14,516 to spend.

"If you live in New York City or San Francisco, you're probably going to have to pay a lot for housing, but you don't have to pay a lot for a car," said Mike Sante, the managing editor of Interest.com, a financial decision-making website.

Affordability has been a matter of growing concern for the auto industry in recent years as prices have continued to move upward. Even the most basic of today's cars are generally loaded with features that were once found on high-line models a few decades back - if they were available at all - such as air conditioning, power windows, airbags and electronic stability control, as well as digital infotainment systems. They also have to meet ever tougher federal safety, emissions and mileage standards that have added thousands to the typical price tag.

"The average compact car of today has the features of a midsize model somebody might be trading in - but it may be just as expensive," said David Sargent, director of automotive operations for J.D. Power and Associates.

That is one reason why many buyers have been downsizing in recent years, said Bill Fay, general manager of Toyota, though he added that "there is still a lot of affordability in the marketplace."

Perhaps, but industry planners have come to recognize that they are targeting a much smaller segment of the American public than in decades past. That's one reason why most manufacturers are offering more downsized models.

They also are working with their dealers to offer certified pre-owned programs where buyers can stretch their budget by purchasing a two- or three-year-old vehicle that has gone through an extensive inspection and, if necessary, repairs and replacements. Such vehicles may cost slightly more than a conventional used model but usually include a like-new warranty.

While the typical new vehicle will likely nudge up this year, Interest.com editor Sante stressed that car costs are one of the most controllable parts of a household's budget. "You're better off driving something more affordable and saving or investing the difference."
If the typical new car costs $30,550, with an average monthly payment of $550, the five cities most able to meet - or come close - are:

1) Washington
Average Household Income: $86,680
Affordable Purchase Price: $31,940
Maximum monthly payment: $628

2) San Francisco
Average Household Income: $71,975
Affordable Purchase Price: $26,786
Maximum monthly payment: $537

3) Boston
Average Household Income: $69.455
Affordable Purchase Price: $26,025
Maximum monthly payment: $507

4) Baltimore
Average Household Income: $65,463
Affordable Purchase Price: $24,079
Maximum monthly payment: $468

5) Minneapolis
Average Household Income: $63,352
Affordable Purchase Price: $24,042
Maximum monthly payment: $470
At the other end of the scale, those five cities least able to handle a car payment are:

21) Phoenix
Average Household Income: $50,058
Affordable Purchase Price: $17,243
Maximum monthly payment: $348

22) San Antonio
Average Household Income: $48,699
Affordable Purchase Price: $17,137
Maximum monthly payment: $334

23) Detroit
Average Household Income: $48,968
Affordable Purchase Price: $17,093
Maximum monthly payment: $332

24) Miami
Average Household Income: $45,407
Affordable Purchase Price: $15,188
Maximum monthly payment: $295

25) Tampa
Average Household Income: $43,832
Affordable Purchase Price: $14,516
Maximum monthly payment: $282

Japanese take action against Chinese smog


 By Michiyo Nakamoto, February 27, 2013



  A woman rides a bike in the heavy smog with a mask on a street in Haozhou, central China's Anhui province on Jan. 30, 2013.


TOKYO — Even as it struggles to keep menacing Chinese ships from entering its territorial waters, Japan is bracing itself for an altogether different kind of danger from its larger neighbor – toxic smog.

Under guidelines issued on Wednesday, Japanese authorities will urge residents to stay indoors if the level of toxic smog spreading to Japan from China exceeds twice the allowable limit set by the central government.

The guidelines come in response to mounting concerns in Japan about the potential harmful effects of the toxic smog wafting across the ocean and after talks between the two countries on ways to curb pollution levels.

In recent weeks, levels of air pollution in Beijing have hit all-time highs – the concentration of fine particulates reaching levels far greater than that considered healthy under the latest U.S. standards – and triggered health concerns beyond China.

“There are increasing inquiries from the general public on the situation,” especially in western Japan, said Hitoshi Yoshizaki, deputy director of the ministry of environment’s air quality division. “Many people would like to know how to protect themselves.”

The new provisional guidelines, compiled by the environment ministry, recommend that people stay indoors if the average amount of air pollutant, PM 2.5, is projected to exceed 70 micrograms per cubic meter – or twice the ministry’s maximum permissible level of 35 micrograms a day. Beijing’s pollution regularly exceeds 10 times that level – on Wednesday evening Beijing’s PM 2.5 levels were 273 micrograms per cubic meter.

The air pollutant PM 2.5 is considered most hazardous because the particulates are small enough to enter the bloodstream and damage lung tissue.

Since April 2012, levels over 70 micrograms per cubic meter have been recorded at six monitoring stations in Japan. In future, Japanese local authorities will recommend that those most vulnerable – people with heart or lung disease, the elderly and children – stay indoors if the PM 2.5 level exceeds that level.

In China, where PM 2.5 has enveloped cities including Beijing, the government considers anything above 300 as “severely polluted” and “hazardous.” The main source of the pollution is believed to be intensive burning of coal in power plants and people’s homes in China, particularly in the cold winter months.

Levels of PM 2.5 are being monitored at more than 500 stations across Japan but the government aims to increase that to 1,300.

The municipal government of Fukuoka, the biggest city on Japan’s southern island of Kyushu and one of the closest to the Chinese mainland, has developed its own system for warning residents when levels of PM 2.5 exceed certain limits.

However, with just a few weeks of data since concerns mounted in January, it is hard to assess the real risks to health, Yoshizaki said, noting that overall air quality standards had not dropped dramatically from a year earlier.

Last week, officials from Japan’s Ministry of the Environment met counterparts at China’s Ministry of Environment Protection to discuss “potential collaboration” on projects to curb pollution, according to Yoshizaki.

The U.S. may not have money for infrastructure repairs, but Afghanistan does


By Walter Pincus, February 28, 2013


  A truck is driven across a bridge spanning the Helmand river near Garmser, Helmand Province. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is continuing a vast construction program in Afghanistan, renovating bridges and building facilities for Afghan security forces.

  President Obama’s “Fix-It-First” program to repair bridges, proposed in his State of the Union address on Feb. 12, may be getting a test run in Afghanistan.

Don’t worry about the lack of money in this country that could limit fixing those “nearly 70,000 structurally deficient bridges” Obama mentioned.

 The Afghanistan Security Forces Fund and the Economic Support Fund for Afghanistan have roughly $6 billion in unobligated money from the past two years, enough to cover that country’s projects through 2014, according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). And there’s about $6 billion more in the fiscal 2013 budget.

Sequestration is expected to cut the unobligated 2011 and 2012 money by only 9.4 percent, if it takes effect for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

The Army Corps of Engineers is prepared to spend up to $25 million to repair four bridges and widen and resurface 20 miles of roadway in the Gulam Khan Transportation Corridor, which runs through Khost province to the border with Pakistan’s North Waziristan Province, according to a Corps description. Fixing the corridor will increase trade by reducing the travel time between the Afghan capital, Kabul, and Karachi, Pakistan’s chief port city.

Poor drainage caused the bridge erosion, so the project’s contractor must install edge drains along the road and provide a new reinforced-concrete bridge deck.

One of the more interesting problems for the contractor is designing what is known as “Friendship Circle,” described as “a traffic direction changing system . . . that will allow vehicles to efficiently change driving sides at the border since Afghanistan and Pakistan drive on opposite sides of the road,” according to the Corps project specifications. Pakistanis drive on the left side; Afghans on the right.

While the United States is withdrawing its combat forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the Corps is continuing a vast construction program there, primarily providing facilities for the planned 352,000-member Afghan National Security Forces, which include the Afghan army and its border and national police. According to a U.S. Army Web site, in 2012 the Corps office headquartered at Kandahar Airfield alone awarded 11 projects totaling $1.28 billion. During that same period, contractors completed roughly $795 million worth of projects, primarily for the Afghan National Security Forces.

One of the most exotic Corps projects was to revamp the power plant, lighting, ventilation systems and pavement of the Salang Tunnel, more than 11,000 feet up in the Hindu Kush mountains and a key part of the northern route for supplies going to U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan.

The $12.8 million contract for these short-term fixes to the Soviet-built tunnel was awarded to the Omran Holding Group, an Afghan company that has until October to finish the job. Meanwhile, the tunnel will be needed for U.S. and NATO military equipment both arriving in and leaving Afghanistan.

Just this month there were six other Corps construction contracts offered or amended, including a new $10 million forward-area arming and refueling point for the Afghan air force at Kunduz Civil Airport. It will not be completed until mid-2014. There’s also the fourth phase of the Afghan army’s Kabul training center, the cost of which could go as high as $100 million.

One project was canceled: the designing and building of austere border police stations, to be located “in remote and potentially dangerous locations east of Kabul Province.” They were to house up to 60 people, be served by helicopter and be constructed on site using “quick modular or panelized structures.” Sanitation was to be “outdoor toilets,” and the buildings would have had “simple ceiling fans and minimal lighting supported by minimal power requirements.”

The Corps said it could have been a $25 million or more project. But, it said, “the solicitation produced little competition, and little design innovation.” Now the plan is “to develop an innovative approach using in-house designers.”

As of Dec. 31, U.S. completed or planned construction of facilities for the Afghan army and national police has totaled at least $11.6 billion, according to the recent SIGAR quarterly report.

The special inspector general for Afghanistan, John F. Sopko, on Friday wrote to U.S. government departments and agencies working in that country, seeking details about all the projects underway or planned for the transition. He wants to conduct detailed oversight of the $75 billion appropriated for all Afghan reconstruction funding through the end of last year and to get an indication of what is planned for this year and next.

It is the first time such a request has been made, according to SIGAR officials.

Somebody Invented a Car that Runs on Coffee


By John Metcalfe, March 1, 2013


Somebody Invented a Car that Runs on Coffee 
Is it time to start rooting around the compost pile for discarded coffee grounds? This waste substance is proving to be remarkably versatile, first as an odor-remover for sewers and now as a fuel for a souped-up British vehicle that recently set a record for fastest coffee-powered car.

The Coffee Car Mark 1 percolated into existence a couple years ago when a team of engineers hacked an old Volkswagen Scirocco to run on gasification, a century-old technology that converts carbon-containing substances into energy. The back of the auto is modified with what at first glance looks to be a moonshine still, complete with a charcoal stove stocked with pellets made from used coffee grounds. The heat from the stove causes the acrid material to break down and release hydrogen, which is routed through a cooling system and a filter that removes tar. The explosive gas eventually winds up powering pistons to move the car forward a significant distance – in 2010, the Coffee Car performed a history-making journey from London to Manchester.

Having proven coffee's worth as a fuel for long road trips, the engineers (who are led by a guy named, wonderfully, Bacon) next attempted to prove it could make a car zoom along as fast as a gasoline-powered ride. Thus the Coffee Car Mark 2 was born from the chassis of a Ford pick-up, looking like a Giant Peapod delivery truck with all the coffee-bean decals adorning its sides. When it's gearing up for operation, the Mark 2 smokes like a chimney – I assume that's normal – leaving a fluffy cloud of exhaust that probably smells nothing like fresh-brewed coffee. But it has done what its inventors asked of it, setting a new speed record last week of 65 mph at an airfield near Manchester.

Bacon's team is spending the coming weeks driving their coffee machine around the U.K. to promote Co-operative Food, a British fair-trade organization. The vehicle is said to travel about 55 miles on the power of a 22-pound sack of grounds, so no doubt the engineers will be wired to the gills trying to drink enough joe to keep their engine from dying. (I guess they could also just pick it up from the trash behind coffee shops, but that doesn't sound as fun.) As to why they're doing this, they say:
The reason behind doing a land speed record is to  show how the old gasification technology renowned in its day for being rather slow although very useful in wartime Europe , can with modern engineering become something quite capable. Furthermore we get a caffeine kick  producing energy from a waste product. Roll on Carpuccino.

 Here's them achieving the speed record on February 19:

 And for those who want to build their own coffee-burning vehicle, there's this making-of video:

How Amtrak Could Become a Robust, Profitable Enterprise


By Henry Grabar, March 1, 2013



 How Amtrak Could Become a Robust, Profitable Enterprise

Over the last 15 years, Amtrak ridership has grown 55 percent, outpacing population growth by a factor of three. It’s the fastest growing means of domestic transport, and shows no signs of slowing down.

So why do its routes continue to lose so much money?

The answer, according to a report released today by the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, is that Amtrak comprises two different and increasingly divergent systems of passenger rail.

 "We have the efficient portion," says Adie Tomer, a fellow at the Brookings one of the authors of "A New Alignment: American Passenger Rail in an Era of Fiscal Constraint." "And then we have the geographically equitable portion of it."

Taken together, the 26 of Amtrak’s 44 routes that run less than 400 miles had a positive operating
balance in the 2011 Fiscal Year, with a surplus of $46 million. The 14 routes longer than 750 miles posted a loss of $597 million. The former account for 83 percent of ridership; the latter 15 percent.
What makes these routes successful? In part, as this interactive ridership-funding map makes clear, it’s because they fit a vision of passenger rail service as short, quick, intermodal transport. America’s 100 largest metros generate 88 percent of Amtrak’s ridership, though they make up only 65 percent of its population.

Contrary to popular opinion, the Northeast Regional and Acela Trains are not the only routes in the country with a surplus. The Adirondack and Washington-Lynchburg Routes were also in the black in FY 2011. And several other routes aren’t far off. The Downeaster (Boston to Brunswick, ME), the Piedmont (Raleigh-Charlotte), the Pere Marquette (Chicago-Grand Rapids), Washington-Newport News, the Missouri River Runner (Kansas City to St. Louis), the Vermonter (D.C. to Vermont), and the Carolinian (Charlotte to D.C.), were each within $2 million of an even operating balance.

Courtesy Brookings.

But many of Amtrak’s recent success stories, the report argues, can be attributed to a new model through which states take increased responsibility for funding – and management – of their own train lines. Some states, particularly California and Illinois, have contributed hundreds of millions to their own passenger service since 2007. Direct state funding for the 24 routes shorter than 400 miles was responsible for turning those lines, taken as a whole, from the red into the black.

There's more state money on the way later this year. As a requirement of the 2008 Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act, Amtrak will demand "uniform cost structure," shared between states for routes under 750 miles. A moment’s thought reveals how difficult it is to transfer funding requirements from the federal government to the states. How to evaluate the benefits different states receive from different lines? What if one state refuses to contribute?

So far, it seems to be working in a variety of different ways. Illinois and Wisconsin split their share of the Hiawatha service connecting Chicago and Milwaukee 25-75. Texas and Oklahoma go dutch on the Heartland Flyer. North Carolina has provided all the state funding for the Carolinian service to New York City.

"They’ve shown they can come together and form these compacts. They’ve shown a willingness to partner," Toomer says. He and his co-authors, Robert Puentes and Joseph Kane, believe that forcing states to collaborate on funding is not only an efficient tactic of decentralization, but compels them to assign value to the various segments of Amtrak routes, changing train times, frequency and stops to accommodate partners.

It was always supposed to be this way. The Rail Passenger Service Act of 1970 intended for national passenger service to grow out of hubs in New York and Chicago, as determined by cost efficiency. But, the authors note, "political resource allocation abounded throughout the system" and many more routes were added.

One of the next steps they advocate is to require state-funding partnerships for all routes, not just the ones shorter than 750 miles but the longest and least profitable lines. What happens when Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and California try to work out a funding arrangement for the Southwest Chief, whose operating deficit in 2011 was over $66 million?

That remains to be seen. "One can want it, but not necessarily take responsibility for it," says Tomer.
For routes shorter than 750 miles, meanwhile, states came to a funding agreement in March 2012, and their compacts will go into effect in October of this year.
Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard Responds to My Letter About the PUSD


March 1, 2013

 Mod: An interesting letter exchange was sent my way yesterday. I figured I'd post the two letters involved here just as they are so that you guys can check them out as well. The exchange was initiated by a savvy Tattler reader who was concerned that Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard had not answered my e-mail regarding the shoddy treatment accorded Sierra Madre by the Pasadena Unified School District. She dropped him a line and wouldn't you know it, Bill wrote her back. There apparently was something that he needed to make understood. Here is how that this all went down:

Mayor Bogaard,

You received an email regarding the taxation without representation from John Crawford. Here is that correspondence:

Mayor Bogaard,

I run a blog called the Sierra Madre Tattler. I was at your meeting last night in Pasadena, and I wrote about my observations and experiences there for today's post. I thought I should share some of my thoughts with you.

Perhaps you are not aware, but here in Sierra Madre we do not feel that we have been given quite the respect or care that our financial contributions to your school system warrant. There is quite a bit of anger.

The revelation that this "Community Schools" effort was being finalized, and after we had been told nothing about it, is part and parcel to the problem. The Pasadena BOE actually met with Sierra Madre's City Council a couple of weeks back, and made no mention whatsoever of "Community Schools." For so large and expensive an initiative as this one, the omission had to have been both deliberate and planned.

Couple that with the loss of our right to vote in the 2013 BOE election, along with the destruction of our Middle School by the careless functionaries of the PUSD, plus the growing belief here that we will not receive what was promised to us when the school district was asking for our Measure TT vote, and you can see there is a reason for some concern.

It is a shoddy and unfortunate situation.

Have a great day, John Crawford

As a very concerned citizen of Sierra Madre, I would like to know what your answer is. Taxation without representation is a very serious matter Mr. Bogaard, frankly the people of Sierra Madre are pretty tired of getting the proverbial shaft from PUSD.

I look forward to your reply, (name withheld)

(Mod: What follows now is Mayor Bogaard's reply.)

Dear (name withheld):

I have your message regarding the PUSD situation in the City of Sierra Madre, and I appreciate your conveying this information as a source of better data on the situation for my benefit.

In truth, I do not feel well informed on the Sierra Madre experience with PUSD, not having any formal responsibility to your great community, and recognizing that the PUSD schools are an independent agency from Pasadena City Hall.

In the past, I have maintained open lines of communication with several Sierra Madre Councilmembers, but in recent times that communication has not been maintained.  I am sure I am disadvantaged by not having such relationships.

I thought it would be well to mention that the PUSD/City Work Plan is, in my view, simply a starting point for a focused effort by PUSD and the City of Pasadena to explore opportunities to work together.  This represents a continuation of Pasadena’s efforts over several years to collaborate with the schools as a way of strengthening the educational experience of the students.  For example, Pasadena has committed a total of $2.5 million to two gym projects at PUSD, at McKinley School and at Washington Middle School. In this way, we hope to strengthen the working relationship with PUSD.

I am not aware of what efforts might have been pursued along these lines in your community as part of the working relationship with PUSD.

I should emphasize that the Work Plan does not represent any new monetary allocation, but is simply using current budgetary resources in a different way as described above.

Finally, as previously mentioned, the PUSD schools in Pasadena are independent of Pasadena City Hall and we work with the District as a collaborator in our joint efforts. I regret that I do not have more substantive response to the questions you raise about the relationship between Sierra Madre and PUSD.


Mod: The circle of elected officials who do not know what the Pasadena Unified School District has been up to in Sierra Madre continues to widen. Perhaps it is the lack of any municipal oversight that causes the PUSD to act as irresponsibly as they do? The thought that we entrusted several hundred million dollars in bond money to a Board of Education comprised of so dull set of knives is troublesome. That they have no adult supervision whatsoever doesn't make me fell much better. Who exactly do they answer to?

The sad irony here is that through his letter to our friend, Mayor Bill Bogaard has now acknowledged more about the confiscation of Sierra Madre's Board of Education vote than Sierra Madre's own Mayor, Josh Moran. Think about that as you don't cast your vote next Tuesday. 

There was also a missed opportunity here. At the Pasadena City Council / PUSD Joint Meeting the other week our friend Tony Brandenburg had planned to talk during public comment about the topic of vote confiscation. Unfortunately the two minute limit imposed by Mayor Bogaard prevented Tony from speaking on the issue. Something which would have helped bring the Mayor up to speed on this matter. If Bill only knew how close he had come to learning more about this, and more. Here is what Tony had wanted to say (original location click here):

As Pasadena moves full throttle towards its lofty goals for the future, it has left a couple of things out of the discussion, mainly the independent cities of Altadena and Sierra Madre. Ordinarily this wouldn't be a big deal, but there are a couple of things that still hold our auxiliary cities hostage besides proximity, one is that we are still part of the Pasadena Unified School District, the other is that we are now locked into a city plan that does not and never has included us, but which holds us hostage in the same way our children are locked into the PUSD school system.

Item 1: The voters of Sierra Madre rejected the Measure A redistricting, yet the outcome is that Sierra Madre is still bound by its restrictions. We have lost our right to vote on a Board member until 2015, and even at that time could be saddled with a Board Member who does to serve the needs of our city, or a Sierra Madre board member who does not necessarily provide for East Pasadena constituents. Quite simply, this is taxation without representation.

Item 2: This redistricting has further denied every PUSD family of having a BOE that represents it's needs, by fragmenting the board in order to provide equity, the opposite effect has  emerged. Any families who utilize magnet schools, or who are special education students bused for specific programs have a board member voted for by someone else, and who were denied the right to vote for representation. Again, this is taxation without representation.

Item 3: As the City of Pasadena works towards its 8th guiding principle, it neglects to notice that there are two other cities affected, but not necessarily included in this discussion. Grassroots groups such as IIPK do not speak for, nor represent the interests of Sierra Madre families and students.

Item 4: Memorandum of Understanding MOU as PUSD continues to work towards MOU's with Pasadena Police Department, we wish to continue to voice our concerns that the due process and civil rights of students accused of crimes are honored first and foremost as the schools are working as en loco parentis at that time

Item 5: Special Ed Questionnaire from December. In December I received a link to a November questionnaire for the City of Pasadena’s Policy on Children, Youth and Families (PCYF) from the CAC which provides support for parents of Students with specialized needs in Pasadena. I exchanged a couple of emails with Jackie Scott, but I was not able to determine whether the input of Sierra Madre parents was desired. My conclusions were that they were not.

Item 6: SARB process and students outside of school subdistricts vs. City/DA prosecuting families who are tardy, especially when most of the schools are over impacted with school arrival traffic, and with the schools not offering transportation alternatives. This is further exacerbated for families who fall out of grace with local providers at the site level such as teachers and administrators. As the city moves towards its goals to stitch up school and local government for what it calls the betterment of community, but which I call the further interference of government and the securing of taxpayer funded folly, the spectre of “take it, or else” programs looms on the horizon for parents who do not take advantage of parent workshops and school recommendations.

Mod: At the Tuesday morning Middle School walk through I had an opportunity to discuss some of these issues with Susan Henderson, the publisher of the Mountain Views News. Susan said that she would be writing extensively soon about the PUSD situation, but did not want to discuss her views on these matters with me out of a fear that I would write about them here before she had the opportunity to publish them. I thought that was fair enough. However, I asked her if the BOE vote confiscation issue would be included in her examination. She said no, it would not.

Again, I find this kind of passivity baffling. Both in our Mayor and Sierra Madre's adjudicated newspaper of record. Hopefully Susan will have changed her mind by the time she publishes her report.