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 8, 2013

LA Mayor’s Race: Example of California Dysfunction


By Joe Matthews, March 8, 2013


 POLITICS - LA is a city of 4 million people. In an election for the mayor of such a place, you would think that a wide variety of voices would count. In reality, few do. 

Even in such a big city, a few small players dominate the political contest. The most powerful of these are public employees and their unions. Through independent expenditures, they eclipse the voices of citizens, civic groups, and even the candidates themselves.

This state of affairs isn’t confined to Los Angeles. It’s part of the California disease. This is a state that has effectively barred local elected officials from raising taxes. Since local electeds can’t hurt you, many people and interests don’t pay close attention to such races. Local officials are spenders; the people and interests who pay attention to local races are spending interests – the local employees, their unions, and, to some extent, developers.

In this context, a local California election, even one in LA, is an auction, with little connection to the city’s real needs and issues. The LA race is full of ads and attacks and counter-attacks that tell you almost nothing about what the city needs. The LA Times recently noted how few specific ideas and proposals there are for the city.

Ironically one consistent area of discussion is who will be toughest with the unions and other wealthy interests who will decide the election. It is hard to keep from laughing to hear politicians talk about their independence from their patrons. Does anyone believe any of this?

The real race has been within the public employee union community, which is divided between two candidates, who naturally have been the leading contenders — Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel.

They now advance to the second round of voting – providing another two months for Angelenos lacking in entertainment options to watch workers decide who their boss will be.

What could change this? Letting local governments set tax rates for themselves. But that’s a no-go with both liberals (who are obsessed with equalization of funding and prefer statewide policies over real local control) and conservatives (who hate taxes more than they hate big government, and big government unions, and thus defend anti-democratic limits on local taxation).

Until that changes, most Californians can safely tune out local elections. Of course, that’s advice most Californians don’t need, because they already have.

A Vote of No Confidence


By Jack Humphreville, March 8, 2013

 LA WATCHDOG - Tuesday, 55% of the voters rejected Proposition A, the Herb Wesson and Paul Krekorian inspired permanent half cent increase in our sales tax to a job killer 9½%, one of the highest rates in the nation. 

This stunning victory was even more amazing given that the special interests controlling the Yes on A cabal spent over $1.3 million bombarding us with misleading mailers, intrusive electronic billboard messages, scare mongering TV and radio ads, and bogus polls.

The outcome is also a vote of No Confidence in the Mayor, the Herb Wesson led City Council, the campaign funding union leadership, and their cronies that occupy City Hall.

Last November, 66% of the voters of the City of Los Angeles approved Proposition 30, Governor Brown’s tax plan designed to raise $6 billion to help the State balance its budget.

But in only four months, only 45% voted for an increase in our sales tax, a dramatic shift, indicating that the citizens of Los Angeles do not trust our Dear 11% Mayor and the self-absorbed, all knowing City Council to act in our best interests.

This lack of confidence stems from a variety of causes, all of which, taken together, support our extreme distrust of City Hall.

For example, Proposition A was rushed to the ballot in less than two weeks without any public hearings.  The City Council did not consider a temporary increase in the sales tax or the impact of the regressive 9½% rate on working families, retail sales, the economy, jobs, and the City’s already terrible reputation in the business and investment communities.

Or perhaps voters were turned off by Herb’s $1.3 million sleazy slush fund whose contributors were seeking billions in special treatment at our expense.  Leading the parade were AEG of Farmers Field and LA Live fame and SEIU 721, one of the City’s largest unions, as well as the Police Protective League, the United Firefighters of Los Angeles, real estate developers, digital billboard operators who are threatening to sue the City for $100 million, parking lots operators, trash haulers, lawyers, lobbyists, and numerous other ring kissers.

Voters are also concerned by the deterioration of our streets and sidewalks that are being short changed to help fund the increase in salaries, benefits, and pension contributions of $2.2 billion (July 2005 to June 2014) that far outstrip the growth in revenue by a staggering $850 million.

Or maybe Ratepayers are just mad as hell as we are being ripped off for over $750 million a year as City Hall plunders our Department of Water and Power.

The Mayor Who Broke LA and the fiscally irresponsible City Council have an uphill battle to earn our trust and confidence.

The first step is to dethrone the fiscally challenged Herb Wesson as City Council President who, as a favor to the parking lot operators and the real estate industry, was leading advocate for the permanent increase in the sales tax. 

Wesson’s track record on government finance is a disaster as he was the Speaker of the State Assembly that was responsible for the budget that led to the recall of Gray Davis. 

Also, as the prime arm twister for his sleazy slush fund, Wesson is a symbol that the City is for sale at the highest price, the citizens be damned.

A No Confidence vote in Herb Wesson will show the citizens of Los Angeles that the City Council is serious about cleaning up its act in light of resounding No on Proposition A.

The second step is for the City to address the upcoming budget immediately and not wait until April 20, the day the Mayor is required to submit his budget to the City Council.

For example, the City has the ability to balance the budget without any layoffs and service cuts by recognizing that lower pension contributions and higher revenues will reduce the budget deficit from $216 million to $100 million.

The remaining budget gap can be eliminated by requiring employees to contribute at least 10% towards the cost of their very generous healthcare benefits; entering into public private partner ships for the Zoo, Convention Center, the operation of the parking lots, Animal Services, and the golf course; restructuring the City’s ambulance service; and establishing a franchise fee generating non-exclusive trash franchise.

The City should also address Council Member Bernard Parks’ Catch 22 Budget Fixes. 

The City Council should also place on the ballot a LIVE WITHIN ITS MEANS charter amendment that will require the City to develop and adhere to a Five Year Financial Plan, approve two year balanced budgets based on Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, and, over the next ten years, fix our lunar cratered streets (and the rest of our deteriorating infrastructure) and fully fund the City’s pension plans that $11.5 billion underwater.

Finally, over the next 74 days, we must demand specific answers from wannabe mayors Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel on how they intend to balance the budget, eliminate the Structural Deficit, fix our infrastructure, and fund our pension plans.

And we are joined by The Los Angeles Times, The Daily News, and the Valley Industry and Commerce Association in demanding details and not platitudes about waste, fraud, and abuse. 

Our vote of No Confidence is loud and clear.  Now Eric, Wendy, and the occupiers of City Hall need to earn our trust and confidence.

It is our City and we will not tolerate burdening our children and grandchildren with $20 to $30 billion of debt, unfunded pension liabilities, and deferred street and infrastructure maintenance.

Beyond Leaders, Los Angeles Needs Robust Citizens


By Adam Sieff and Salvador Perez, March 8, 2013

GUEST WORDS - It is fitting of Los Angeles that two Angelenos of roughly the same age, who both love their hometown and care about their communities despite growing up in different corners of the City, would only meet after they had both moved back east for college, worked on Capitol Hill, and returned to California for law school. 

In fact, though it remains largely unaddressed in the current mayoral race, the story of our acquaintance testifies to what we believe is Los Angeles' core challenge: that Angelenos are residents and occasionally motorists, but not citizens who share and experience a common place, co-author its destiny, and take responsibility for the city and each other.

That Angelenos are dissociated from each other, and from city government, is unsurprising: this is a city where neighbors are strangers, where City Council members each represent a quarter of a million residents, and where disparate communities often only encounter each other in the concourses and queues of Dodger Stadium. (Staples Center by contrast, with its price-segregated entrances, parking lots and pavilions, was built to accommodate and reflect Los Angeles' many cocoons.)

How can a city so fragmented ever form a self-governing unit? Some raise the question to propose secession and more fragmentation. But we believe there is a glimmer of hope: Los Angeles' system of neighborhood councils.

Innovated by the threat of secession in 1999 and based on the same federal principle that enabled a young but vast republic of thirteen former colonies to cohere into a single identified polity, neighborhood councils bridge the gap between residents and city government, provide spaces for residents to participate in and feel a tangible connection to their city, and build community by providing opportunities for neighbors to socialize, deliberate, build coalitions, and weigh-in on civic issues. In short, neighborhood councils revive local democracy as not only a decision-making process, but also a vehicle to create a sense of civic ownership, and an understanding of human relationships across affinity groups constructed through disagreement, negotiation, and compromise.

But despite their promise, neighborhood councils have been virtually absent from the city's policymaking arenas, only nominally incorporated into legislative procedure, and inconsistently noticed, much less managed, by no fewer than four general managers at the Department of Neighborhood Engagement. Moreover, those who have so far had the time and incentive to participate in neighborhood councils have been older and wealthier, frequently reducing the councils to extensions of NIMBY homeowner associations. The neglect has been so severe that today, ten years into our experiment with municipal federalism, some are prepared to abandon neighborhood councils altogether. We could not disagree more.

Instead, to give Angelenos the ability and incentive to engage with and revitalize their councils, we ask that the next mayor commit to the following.

First, to make neighborhood councils more accessible and participatory, the mayor should contract with LAUSD to provide dedicated space for neighborhood council offices at elementary schools. Creating dedicated space at familiar local schools raises awareness among community members, and makes participation more attractive for Angelenos for whom attendance at evening meetings might be impractical, or else intimidating.

Second, to attract an even larger audience, the mayor should also contract with the county and state to co-locate public programs at school sites alongside neighborhood council offices to create kiosks where Angelenos can interface with local government and access, or learn about, public services. These could include early childhood education, ESL and citizenship courses, GED programs, college readiness initiatives, and adult vocational education.

Third, the mayor should pursue initiatives that integrate neighborhood councils with the City Council. Council members should be obligated to hold monthly office hours, or stand for question time, in each of their neighborhood councils' offices, so the people can hold their representatives accountable and assert their relevance.

Fourth, to further incent community buy-in, the mayor should delegate some policy-making authority to neighborhoods. For example, the mayor should consider an ordinance that grants neighborhood councils the authority to self-assess a parcel tax on their territories for hyperlocal projects like pocket parks, street repairs, and community gardens. To prevent wealthier communities from self-funding projects this way and opting out of citywide distributive taxation in the future, some portion of what neighborhoods raise over a certain threshold would be committed to a general fund shared by all councils.

This kind of social experiment to reconstitute a dissociated urban sprawl into an integrated urban community has never been tried. But with these reforms, we are confident Los Angeles can breathe life into local institutions, shore up our communities, and transform residents into empowered citizens.

District Attorney: Alhambra Councilwoman Barbara Messina violated the Brown Act


By Lauren Gold, March 8, 2013

ALHAMBRA - The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office has ruled that Councilwoman Barbara Messina violated the Brown Act when she stopped a community member from criticizing another councilmember at a meeting in October.

In a letter to the Alhambra City Council, Assistant Head Deputy of the D.A.'s Public Integrity Division Jennifer Lentz Snyder said Messina violated the state open meeting law at a council meeting just before the November election, when a member of the public attempted to make comments that were critical of Councilman Steve Placido, who was running for reelection.

As the community member, Aide Zeller, began to speak to Placido about comments he made to the press, Messina cut in, saying that members of the public cannot directly address council members other than the chair.

"Because we are in an election cycle, your comments need to be directed to the chair," Messina said.
"You can speak to him after the meeting."

Snyder said after investigating a complaint into the matter, the D.A.'s office ruled that Zeller should have been allowed to speak despite the council policy.

"We therefore conclude that the restriction on Ms. Zeller's comments which were critical of a member of the Council, though cloaked in the premise of a procedural rule, amounted to a content-based restriction that violated the Brown Act," Snyder said.

However, Snyder said the D.A.'s Office does not anticipate that the issue will happen again, and so "no further action on this matter will be taken at this time."

Placido, who is now mayor, said Messina's actions at the meeting were not done out of "malice" and the city attorney read a statement apologizing for the incident at the next council meeting.

"We all try our very best to abide by it and we take it very seriously but maybe this was a mistake she made and the city attorney apologized for it," he said. "It was a minor slip. ... I think the crime fits the punishment here."

LA City Budget Cuts To Increase After Sales Tax Increase Rejected 


By Jim Christie, March 7, 2013



 La City Budget Cuts

SAN FRANCISCO - It's back to the chopping block for Los Angeles after voters rejected a tax increase to help close a projected budget deficit of $216 million.

Voters in a local election on Tuesday rejected an increase in the city's sales tax by a 55 percent to 45 percent margin. City officials had said that the tax hike, to 9.5 percent from 9.0 percent, would raise revenue needed to prevent more spending reductions, including cuts to police payrolls.

Los Angeles' police chief said before the election that his department could lose 500 officers from a total force of nearly 10,000 officers without new revenue.

Now, cuts to their ranks must be considered to help balance Los Angeles' next fiscal year budget, according to City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, chief fiscal adviser to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the city council.

"Anything that's been spared from cuts will be back on the table," Santana told Reuters on Thursday in a telephone interview. "It includes the police, both on the sworn side and civilian side."

"The reality is there aren't too many options," Santana said. "The voters made it clear they aren't, basically, interested in paying more."

Shedding police officers always is a touchy political issue, but violent crime in Los Angeles is on the decline.

Villaraigosa last month said crime in Los Angeles is at its lowest level since the 1950s. In January he said Los Angeles posted fewer than 300 homicides for the third consecutive year, helping give the city of 3.8 million the lowest level of violent crime per capita of any big U.S. city.


Spending cuts will be under review as voters pick a successor to Villaraigosa, who is leaving office after two terms. Voters on Tuesday selected City Controller Wendy Greuel and City Councilman Eric Garcetti to square off in a runoff election in May. Garcetti, Greuel and Villaraigosa are Democrats.

The winner will take office in July with Los Angeles' finances greatly improved in recent years, Santana said.

Cutting more than 5,000 city jobs in recent years, eliminating and consolidating some departments, and reducing pension and retired city workers' health care expenses have helped decrease the city's structural budget deficit.

Spending is projected to exceed revenue over the next four fiscal years, which would leave Los Angeles with a deficit of $265 million in its 2016-2017 year.

Credit rating agencies base their stable outlook for Los Angeles on more belt-tightening.

"We are expecting ... that they'll continue to pay very close attention to their expenditures," said Alan Gibson, a director at Fitch, which rates Los Angeles general obligation debt double-A-minus.

Standard & Poor's also expects more cuts, said Sussan Corson, a director in the rating agency's local government group. S&P also rates Los Angeles' general obligation debt double-A-minus.

The general obligation debt of New York, the largest U.S. city, is rated double-A by S&P and Fitch and double-A-2 by Moody's Investors Service.

Santana said Los Angeles, the second most populous U.S. city, also plans to set aside 5 percent of its revenue and amass one-time revenues of $70 million to $80 million for its rainy day fund.

"Revenue is actually growing. The challenge is that expenditures are growing at a faster rate," Santana added. "So I'm recommending the mayor and council do everything they can to eliminate the structural deficit."

To narrow shortfalls, Santana proposes all city employees contribute to their healthcare as 70 percent pay nothing toward the cost of medical premiums. He estimates that if each employee paid 10 percent of a monthly premium - averaging less than $100 per month - Los Angeles would save about $40 million to $50 million a year.

Los Angeles needs to bear down on employee compensation to put its finances on stronger footing as the city is seeing only modest economic growth, said Kevin Klowden, director of the Milken Institute's California Center: "This city is not in a position where it can rely on growth alone."

Najarian wins re-election to MTA board despite his 710 Freeway tunnel stance


By Daniel Siegal, March 8, 2013


 Najarian keeps MTA seat

 Glendale City Councilman Ara Najarian, seen in a 2011 file photo above, was re-elected to his seat on the MTA board Thursday.

Glendale City Councilman Ara Najarian won the fight for what he said was his “future in local politics” Thursday, defeating a movement to unseat him from the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority over his staunch opposition to a potential tunnel extending the Long Beach (710) Freeway.

In December, representatives from 10 San Gabriel Valley cities voted against Najarian's confirmation, after members from the North Cities sector, which includes Glendale and Burbank, had nominated him for another four-year term on the MTA Board of Directors.

Representatives from those cites have said that it was Najarian’s public opposition to the MTA’s efforts to close the so-called “710 gap” with a tunnel extension of the 710 Freeway from its terminus in Alhambra to the Foothill (210) Freeway in Pasadena.

This time around, however, Najarian managed to receive support from those cities — such as Alhambra and Duarte — that had been most vocal in blocking his nomination in the first place.

At the meeting Thursday night in Monterey Park, Barbara Messina, mayor of Alhambra, stood to address the room before the vote to explain that Najarian had softened his stance on the 710 project, which Alhambra has long supported.

“We did come to a meeting of the minds,” Messina said. “[Najarian] has indicated he is willing to look at the region as a whole, and this project is very important to the region.”

With only Lancaster and Palmdale voting “nay,” Najarian received 316 votes — easily clearing the 254 he needed for reelection at the City Selection Committee meeting.

Votes are apportioned to each of the 87 independent cities in Los Angeles County by population.

Najarian did tell the assembled mayors that, although he continues to oppose a tunnel, he has decided that the project’s environmental impact study should be allowed to run its course.

“It’s now we let the experts work to determine the impact [of the project],” Najarian said. “Neither of us is going to roll over, but at least we’ll have the facts.”

On the campaign trail for re-election to the Glendale City Council — which will have to be successful to keep his MTA seat — Najarian has frequently mentioned hammered on the 710 tunnel option.

Jan SooHoo, a member of the No 710 Action Committee, said after the meeting that although she was strongly in favor of Najarian’s being reelected to the MTA board.

The vote came after a contentious start that saw mayors Rex Parris of Lancaster and Tom Lackey of Palmdale attempt to submit a motion to send Najarian’s nomination back to a subcommittee for reconsideration — a move that generated a rousing chorus of boos from the audience.

Najarian has previously alleged that Palmdale, Lancaster and Santa Clarita were being pressured by county Supervisor Michael Antonovich to oppose his nomination — a claim that Antonovich has vehemently denied.

Santa Clarita did not send a representative to Thursday’s meeting.

More flim-flam from Villaraigosa


By Mark Lacter, March 8, 2013




Well, don't I feel foolish. Just three days ago I reluctantly but dutifully voted for Measure A, the proposed half-cent sales tax hike that was supposed to pare down the city's mountainous deficit (exact number TBD). Mayor Villaraigosa supported the plan, despite the City Council failing to adopt other cost-cutting measures he was seeking. Several city officials, most notably Police Chief Charlie Beck, warned that without the tax increase serious cutbacks were looming - specifically, the loss of 500 cops. Just in case you weren't sufficiently warned, the proposal was officially titled the "neighborhood public safety and vital city services funding and accountability measure." No matter - the tax hike went down handily. Then two days later the mayor was asked about the shortfall. From the LAT:

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said stronger revenues and an improving economy could cut this year's financial gap by more than half. Villaraigosa, who endorsed the plan to take the sales tax from 9% to 9.5%, said Thursday that he now expects a brighter financial outlook to take a looming deficit from $216 million to a much lower number, possibly less than $100 million, for the fiscal year that starts July 1. "The economy's getting better," he said. "So I don't expect that we're going to have draconian cuts."
Villaraigosa apparently found religion after meeting with several L.A. economists last week - as in before the election. No word on why he conveniently kept the optimistic news to himself. But of course the news isn't all that optimistic, no matter what he was told. Yes, the economy is improving and yes it's likely to bring down the deficit. But it won't close the deficit - and after 2013-2014, there's the year after that, and the year after that, and the year after that. This is why structural deficits are so insidious - you can't just hope they'll go away, not as long as city workers keep demanding those pesky pension and health care packages - and as long as the city remains a mostly unfriendly place to do business. But there's another part of this story, the real deception, that no one wants to talk about. It involves the cuts that have already happened. All those lost employees and services and programs? They're never coming back. In their place is more borrowing, maintenance deferral, and desperately moving pockets of available cash from department to department. That's why City Hall is in such chaos, despite the mayor's denials. "Unless there are changes, the city is going to be so unlivable that people are going to have to leave," Steve Soboroff told me last year. "The city has to start setting priorities that involve quality-of-life issues." Good luck with that.

Want to Show People the Benefits of Transit? Build a Pretend Train Station


 By Henry Grabar, March 8, 2013

 Want to Show People the Benefits of Transit? Build a Pretend Train Station



Good luck navigating Miami without a car. Despite the construction of one heavy rail line (with an airport fork) and a downtown monorail, mass transit in the city remains, in the words of the Miami Herald, "a haphazard, disappointing mess." And there's no singing allowed.

But if the state of Florida were to develop service on underused tracks running north from downtown up the coast, what might it look like? A group of Florida Atlantic students is helping Miami residents imagine: today, they launch the Purple Line, a phantom train station.

Beginning at noon, visitors to the Wynwood area can stop by the intersection of NE 36th Street and NE 2nd Avenue, between the FEC tracks and the highway, and check out the kind of street life that a train station might produce.

The "pop-up transit station" will include sounds and lights simulating train arrivals, as well as a farmer's market, pop-up galleries, musicians, cafes, a comic book stand, a "Transit Confession Booth," and elements of urban life associated with high-activity hubs. For a couple of days, they'll turn Wynwood into Waterloo.

"We're trying to show artistically what can happen when you have an improved transit system. Miami can't grow to its full potential without a better transportation system, especially for the urban areas," Marta Viciedo, one of the organizer's, told the Miami New Times.

The organizers, veterans of the "Better Block" campaign, started the project months ago on Kickstarter. There are currently several proposals for how to best re-purpose the FEC tracks for passengers service.


California Dept. of Transporation, March 5, 2013

 LOS ANGELES - The California Transportation Commission today allocated $333 million in new funding to 91 projects that will improve the state’s transportation system and strengthen California’s economic recovery.

“Investing in our transportation infrastructure creates a better future for all Californians,” said Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty.

The allocations include $233 million from Proposition 1B, a transportation bond approved by voters in 2006. In total, nearly $15 billion in Proposition 1B funds have been distributed statewide.

The remaining allocations ($100 million) came from assorted transportation accounts funded by state and federal dollars.

Notable local projects that received funding allocations are:  

  • $28.3 million for Phase II of the Exposition Light Rail, Culver City to Santa Monica
  • $14.7 million for Interstate 110/State Route 47 Interchange Improvements
  • $10.5 million for Phase II of the Port of Los Angeles Alameda Corridor Terminus/West Basin Rail Yard – Berth 200 Rail Yard Track Connection Improvements
Please see the attached file for information about all projects that received allocations today.
Congressional Republicans Still Trying to Kill California HSR

By Robert Cruickshank, March 7, 2013


California voters and their legislators have approved the high speed rail project and construction will begin this summer. But that isn’t stopping Congressional Republicans, led by Central Valley representatives Jeff Denham and Kevin McCarthy, from trying to kill the project, as Dan Walters explains:
Denham questioned why California had not sought approval of the project from the federal Surface Transportation Board, a successor to the old Interstate Commerce Commission, as apparently required by federal law.

With the CHSRA hoping to break ground within a few months, the failure to clear the project through the federal board, or get an exemption from it, could become a new weapon in the arsenal of groups that oppose the bullet train.

The sticky point, apparently, is the CHSRA’s plan to connect the 131-mile-long San Joaquin Valley segment to Amtrak service in the region. The Surface Transportation Board exempted Florida’s bullet train project from its process because it was a stand-alone system, but connecting to Amtrak could invoke its authority.

We’re not sure yet,” Dan Richard, the CHSRA’s chairman, said earlier this week. But Tuesday, after meeting with Denham, the CHSRA agreed to seek the approval.
It seems likely that the STB will give its approval to the California high speed rail project, but this is an obvious 11th-hour move by Denham to undermine a project that will put his constituents back to work and help promote economic growth for years to come.

Walters also described another line of attack being used against the project, this regarding the ability to achieve the 2 hours and 40 minutes standard laid down in Prop 1A:
When the CHSRA switched the project from a stand-alone system to one “blended” with regional train service, critics demanded technical proof that it could meet the standard. Last month, the CHSRA generated a memorandum purporting to prove that it could do so “with appropriate assumptions,” based on computer modeling.

However, the model assumes that the train could “operate safely at 220 mph on sustained steep grades” in the Tehachapi Mountains between Bakersfield and Los Angeles – a contention that critics are attacking as unrealistic and potentially unsafe.
That could become the basis for another legal challenge.
Trains can operate safely at 220 mph on steep grades, but it requires some different technical solutions, including the right kind of braking and proper track design. The Authority is only assuming 220 mph for the downhill section, and not the uphill part. This is only necessary because of the “blended plan” and while I support that plan, I can also understand why some like Lynn Schenk think the impact to the overall project is too great.

These issues would be more easily resolved with federal money, which as we know isn’t coming as long as Republicans control either house of Congress. Bakersfield’s own Kevin McCarthy again rattled his saber, saying “I would hate to see [California] start a process they cannot finish.”

Well, I would hate for Congress to refuse to help create jobs, reduce oil consumption, and address the climate crisis merely out of ideological spite, but here we are. California will have to continue going it alone until wiser heads have control of Congress.


More are driving to San Bernardino County for jobs, according to survey

By Dave Downey, March 7, 2013

Riverside County residents’ commute to the coast appears to be moderating, with several thousand fewer people traveling to Orange County and Los Angeles than a few years ago, while about 1,400 more are driving to the San Diego area.

Orange used to draw more Riverside County commuters than any other neighboring county, according to a 2008 study conducted for the Western Riverside Council of Governments. But a new U.S. Census Bureau survey says about 67,000 residents travel to Orange County — compared with more than 76,000 in that earlier study.
Many more — about 90,000 in all — drive north into San Bernardino County for jobs, according to 
the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, which was released Tuesday.

The American Community Survey also estimated that nearly 51,000 people drive into Los Angeles County and nearly 39,000 commute to San Diego County jobs. The figure for San Diego represents an increase of 1,400, while the Los Angeles total appears to have declined by 5,000.

“It’s reflective of the recessionary impacts on county residents here, who have lost jobs or are trying to get jobs closer to home,” said former Riverside County Supervisor Bob Buster.

Buster has long advocated that Riverside County leaders focus on creating jobs locally, so residents don’t have to drive as far to support families — and can spend more time with their families. He said that is a better strategy for improving residents’ commutes than pouring billions into transportation improvements.

“Mass transit is not the answer,” he said. “I don’t think that really is going to accommodate significant percentages of commuters.”

The apparent lull in the coastal commute may be a good sign, he said, but the numbers “are still much too high.”

Buster said perhaps it is a good thing that more people are commuting to San Bernardino, since that county has much in common with Riverside, several roads connect the two and the commutes tend not to be as long.

Redlands economist John Husing said he views commuting to the coast much differently than he does crossing the Riverside-San Bernardino county line.

“This is one economy,” Husing said of the two inland counties. “And the commuting outside the area is generally less than what people think.”

Husing said 1 in 5 residents of Riverside and San Bernardino counties commutes to jobs in distant coastal cities.

“There’s this urban myth that everybody who lives in the Inland Empire commutes elsewhere to work,” he said. “Well, these data defy that. Most of the people who live in the Inland Empire, work in the Inland Empire overwhelmingly now.”

According to the Census Bureau, more than 586,000 Riverside County residents work within the county.

Nationally, Riverside County to San Bernardino County ranks as the 30th biggest commute across county lines in sheer numbers, with 89,709 people making that trip on a regular basis, according to a Census ranking.

Out of the nation’s 50 biggest commutes, Riverside County to Orange County ranks 49th, with 67,180 commuters.

But in raw numbers, the Orange County commute is less than it was a few years ago, as determined by Encinitas-based True North Research for the regional council. Perhaps that is not surprising, given the influx of Orange County renters into Riverside County in search of housing during the boom years, Husing said. 

Ghost riders on Orange County 91 Express Lanes


By Dan Bernstein, March 7, 2013


Life in the Express Lane? Bill Kasper and his Prius really wouldn't know. (Staff/DAN BERNSTEIN)

Life in the Express Lane? Bill Kasper and his Prius really wouldn’t know.

Meet Bill and Ann Kasper, the Riverside duo that defies the laws of physics. They can be in two places at once!

On Christmas Eve, they were in Roseville, near Sacramento. At exactly the same time, they were cruising the Highway 91 Express Lanes in their 2004 Prius. A camera snapped a photo of their license plate. A computer determined the plate wasn’t in the FasTrak system. The Kaspers got a $25 ticket.

Three days later, it was Bakersfield. Bill Kasper: “We checked into a motel, went out to dinner and took Molly (their dog) for a walk. We even have photographs.”

So does the Orange County Transportation Authority. As Bill and Ann bunked in Bakersfield, there they were again, freeloading on the Express Lanes in their Prius. Another $25, please.

I was set to nominate the Kaspers for the Nobel Prize for Time Traveling until Bill convinced me they had been nowhere near the 91.

Ann wrote “To Whom It May Concern,” asking the Express Laners to investigate. She offered receipts and testimony from family members. The Kaspers had air-tight alibis. “It occurs to me,” wrote Ann, “that it is possible that a similar car could have been at fault…”

Express Lanes spokespeeps give big numbers that dwarf The Wrongly Ticketed: 12 million trips a year, 350K citations, just 900 errors. Why the errors? The computer can’t always accurately read the tags. Humans do not always catch the error before the ticket goes out.

Just 900 errors may sound like chicken feed, but that’s just the number the Express Peeps cop to. Some “offenders” pay even when they doubt they did anything wrong. The Kaspers did that in November, the first time they got cited. “I paid because I wasn’t sure,” wrote Ann. She’s sure now.

After she sent her letter, Ann received dismissals and apologies for both December citations. But I’m not convinced Express Lanes wants to go to any more trouble to cut its error rate. Call us if you have a problem, they say. And if you don’t have an account, we’d be happy to open one for you.

The Kaspers have been good sports about their succession of citations, though Bill can’t help thinking there’s someone out there cruising the 91 Express in a white Prius without a care (or FasTrak transponder) in the world. Why bother to get one? Let the Kaspers take the hit.

But Express Peeps say if a vehicle is suspected of a violation but shows “record of dismissals,” they don’t mail the ticket. Oh, really?

Tickets and dismissals behind them, the Kaspers shared a Valentine’s Day lunch at the Thornton Winery in Temecula. At that exact moment, they were zipping along the Express Lanes with reckless abandon.

This time, Bill Kasper called. An actual human looked up the case number, found the two prior dismissals and dismissed the Valentine’s Day ticket — which shouldn’t have been sent in the first place. She also initiated a refund of the fine the mystified Kaspers paid for their November “offense.”
Now, the Kaspers await the refund — and the next time. Odds are there will be a next time.
Harbor Board Unanimously Approves SCIG Freight Rail Yard Project; Community Groups Outraged


By Brian Addison, March 8, 201

In what is undoubtedly a controversial decision–not to mention an utterly disheartening one as well for the multitude of community groups and leaders who opposed the project–the Harbor Board of Commissioners for the Port of Los Angeles voted unanimously to approve the building of the $500 million Southern California International Gateway (SCIG) rail yard. It will now go before the Los Angeles City Council for final approval.

The project has been years in the making (it was proposed in 2005) and the reasoning for the opposition is clear–ultimately unproven and outright disregarded aspects of the final EIR distributed discovered by respected researchers throughout the L.A. region–and makes the vote rather egregious in nature.

For example, BNSF–the rail giant responsible for creating and managing the yard–praised the decision. Matthew Rose, Chairman and CEO of BNSF, stated that the vote “validates that building SCIG is the right choice for green growth in Los Angeles and will be a new model for the rest of the country.”

However, a multitude of groups and people–including Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster, Long Beach 7th District Councilmember James Johnson (whose district is most affected by the project), the East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, Communities for a Better Environment, Legal Aid Foundation of L.A., Long Beach Alliance for Children with Asthma, Natural Resources Defense Council, Long Beach Community Action Partnership, Coalition for Clean Air, and Physicians for Social Responsibility–claim otherwise. And came to the meeting packed with documentation.

Mayor Foster was blunt in his language, insinuating that the issue had little to do with the fact that it affected a community, but it affected a non-Angelino community: “If you understand California law and the politics surrounding the EIR report process, [what the EIR really says is] we’re gonna wait ’til you sue us until we pay any attention to you… It is very hard for me intellectually to accept that you value the life of a kid on this side of the city border more than you do a kid in my city.”

Perhaps the largest failure within the final EIR’s documentation is its lack of future considerations within the trucking industry itself, specifically transloading. This trend–brought up in Streetsblog months ago as a factor within increased pollution–is vastly growing. It involves transporting three 40-foot containers, the size of containers in which international goods arrive in, into two 53-foot containers, the size of local container shipments, in order to save money.

BNSF claims SCIG will divert more than a million trucks off the 710 freeway. Instead of traveling the additional miles to the northern Hobart yard, they’ll comfortably harbor themselves at the closer SCIG. However, BNSF fails to note that they have explicitly stated that SCIG will handle international containers only. This means they’ll be transloading, which then in turn means they’ll actually still be going to Hobart which handles domestic containers (and also explains the planned expansion of Hobart). While trucks from the Port itself might be lowered, trucks from SCIG will reach high volumes, with an estimated 5,500 additional truck trips and 16 train trips daily.

The transloading of containers, according to a study conducted by the Port of Los Angeles itself, is at 29% of total cargo while another study by Cambridge Systematics puts it at 27%–three times higher than admitted within the DEIR.

The implications of such was succinctly pointed out by USC Professor of Clinical Preventative Medicine Andrea Hricko when she noted the lack of reference to reduced lung functioning amongst children near freeways, rail yards, and areas of heavy traffic.

“None of the environmental documents produced by the POLA even mention the words ‘lung function,’” she said, “even though reduced lung function is one of USC’s key findings in a study that includes hundreds of children from Long Beach schools.”

Councilmember Johnson pointed out, echoing Foster’s sentiment, a comparison to TraPAC, the $245 million 2009-approved container terminal expansion that was also in conflict with a neighboring community: “There, the Port of LA built a $55 million, 30 acre buffer park to protect residents, and set aside $12 million in community mitigation funds. Here the proposal is 0 acres and $0 for a buffer park and $0 in community mitigation funds. There is one simple reason for this disparity: TraPAC affected LA residents, and SCIG affects Long Beach residents. The Port of Los Angeles has placed this project on the border with Long Beach so the negative effects all spill over into our community, and now refuses to mitigate those affects on our community.”

Contrarily, many of the supporters of the SCIG project simply echoed Rose’s praises but typically backed it with an economic substantiation. This included Carson Mayor Jim Dear, who touted the need for jobs given his city’s 11% unemployment; LA City Councilmember Joe Buscaino who talked of competitiveness; Harbor Vice President and former longshoreman David Arian, who also discussed competitiveness with the Panama Canal in his vote; Board President Cindy Miscikowski who boasted of growth now that certain environmental efforts are in place…

But for many, it doesn’t erase the long-term impacts of the project. Angelo Logan of the East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice was blunt in his assessment: the vote is nothing short of environmental racism.

“Even with the decision of the Harbor Commissioners, we will not give up,” Logan said. “Residents of Long Beach and Wilmington know their lives, homes and children’s future is worth fighting for. And we do too. We will take our opposition to the next level and on Monday, our group of local residents will release details of that.”
In Violation of MAP-21 Promises, House Votes to Cut Transportation Spending 


By Angie Schmitt, March 8, 2013

The House of Representatives voted to subtract $785 million from the transportation budget this week, trimming dollars from transit, New Starts and highway safety programs as part of a “continuing resolution” measure that will set spending levels through 2013.
South Dakota's Tim Johnson is part of a group of powerful senators who oppose a House measure that would slash transportation funding. 

The vote, coming on the heels of last week’s mandatory budget cuts from the sequester, goes against
the funding requirements set by MAP-21, the two-year transportation bill that was laboriously pounded out last year.

The legislation passed 267-151 margin, with 50 Democrats voting yea.

The bill’s passage in the House met with some consternation in the upper chamber. Senators Jay Rockefeller, Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Tim Johnson (D-SD) — chairs of the Commerce, Environment and Public Works, and Banking Committees, respectively — responded to the bill’s introduction earlier this week with a letter condemning the cuts and calling for a restoration of the funding. In a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, the trio said the funding cuts would cost the country 25,000 jobs.

The last continuing resolution, which funded the first six months of FY 2013, also cut funding below the levels agreed upon in the transportation bill. But this time the cuts go further, the senators said in the letter:
Last September, we wrote to voice our concerns that the FY 2013 continuing resolution to fund the government through March 27, 2013, failed to honor the funding levels included in MAP-21. The reduction of funding included in that continuing resolution resulted in states receiving fewer funds to repair their roads and bridges and put construction workers back to work, and shortchanges critical transportation safety programs. At that time, according to CQ, a Republican spokesman for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee stated that the appropriate spending levels would be “overridden when a full-year transportation appropriations bill is enacted.”
Instead, the House has proposed a continuing resolution to complete FY 2013 that includes even more egregious cuts to transportation.
The senators continued:
For the businesses and the working people of this country, for the drivers of cars and trucks, for the users of public transportation, for the safety of our families in this country, and for this economy, the House should restore the funding authorized.
As Roll Call reported, this measure could come down to yet another government funding standoff. A government shutdown could happen at the end of this month if the two chambers can’t agree on a way to fund the government for the rest of the year.

If Senate Democrats refuse to approve the House’s spending cuts — or the House refuses to rescind them — a potential shutdown becomes an increasingly likely scenario.
Private contractor struggles to deliver public bus service, records show


By Zusha Elinson, March 6, 2013


 A former Fairfield transit manager says MV Transportation, which was based in the suburban city halfway between Sacramento and San Francisco, didn’t deliver what it promised in its contract.

Cash-strapped cities embracing private contractors as saviors of their public transportation systems may find a cautionary tale in Fairfield.

The suburban city halfway between Sacramento and San Francisco was the headquarters of MV Transportation, a rising star in public transit outsourcing. But the company failed to deliver the bus service it promised its hometown, emails, documents and interviews show.

Between 2008 and 2010, the company was fined 295 times by local transit officials for poor performance, including too many accidents, missed bus runs and late buses.

The use of private contractors has grown dramatically in California. Contractors ran 223 million miles of bus and train service in the state in 2011, a 42 percent increase in a decade, according to the National Transit Database. Last year, they picked up 166 million riders in California, up 29 percent. Government-run public transit systems still carried far more riders last year with 1.2 billion, a slight dip from a decade ago.

Even in the Bay Area, a stronghold of public employee unions, officials are more eagerly considering outsourcing public transit to save money. Alameda County is mulling contracting out bus routes in the growing suburbs of Fremont and Newark, managed for decades by AC Transit. Last summer, Marin County officials considered outsourcing bus service to a private company, deciding against it only when the public agency cut its price to compete.

But the arrangements are not all unmitigated successes. Some fall short of heralded savings. Others
bring lower wages and less bus service. In Fairfield, then-Transit Manager George Fink said he couldn’t hold politically connected MV Transportation to the contract, calling it a wake-up call to transit agencies thinking about outsourcing.

Riders like retiree Albert Sanchez are the collateral damage. One sunny afternoon, Sanchez and his wife waited for a bus from the mall in Fairfield to their home a few miles away, in Suisun City.
Sanchez said the outsourced Fairfield and Suisun Transit – known as FAST – has failed to live up to its optimistic acronym.

“The bus is always late. It’s always late,” said Sanchez, an inveterate public transit user who moved from San Francisco eight years ago.

Sanchez said that the previous week, he’d waited at the stop for two hours. One Friday, he walked four miles home because buses stop running at 8:30 p.m.

Documents and interviews reinforce Fink’s allegations that the Fairfield City Council and his bosses frequently intervened. Once, Fink said, he clocked the time between his criticism of MV Transportation and a call from his boss, Assistant Public Works Director Wayne Lewis, at 32 minutes.
Lewis, who now leads FAST, said Fink was a rigid manager who always stuck to the “letter of the law.” Lewis added, however, that he understood the frustration city employees feel when contractors “have access to elected officials and staff doesn’t.”

MV Transportation has been a generous donor to local charities and pumped tens of thousands into low-dollar Fairfield City Council races.

“Anything that was critical, 89 percent of the time, it would circle back to us,” Fink said. “They would engage the City Council, and they would call the city manager and then he would talk to me and tell me to back off.”

During Fink’s five-year tenure in Fairfield, which ended in 2010, records and interviews show he was ordered not to issue an audit critical of MV Transportation and to stop penalizing the company for poor performance, and his staff was ordered to halt regular bus inspections.

Chuck Timm, a city councilman until 2011, said the company gained no special access to city leaders and praised its performance.
“As a councilmember and as a citizen, they were great community partners, and they did an excellent job,” Timm said.

Timm prefaced his comments by noting that he was “friends with the boss,” former MV Transportation CEO Jon Monson. Timm also received a $10,000 campaign donation from the company in 2007, according to state campaign finance filings.

Cristina Russell, an MV Transportation spokeswoman, declined to comment, saying, “A response would unnecessarily cast a negative light on a positive relationship.”

Other agencies consider contracting

In Alameda County, even the possibility of contracting out some bus routes in Fremont and Newark worries AC Transit Director Chris Peeples.

“Mainly what it would do is screw the union,” Peeples said. “The contracted-out systems are a whole lot cheaper because of less compensation per hour and dramatically less in benefits.”

Scott Haggerty, an Alameda County supervisor leading a policy advisory committee to study “Tri-City and Tri-Valley Transit” for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, said transit agencies that use private companies have done a better job than AC Transit at keeping costs down. But Haggerty emphasized that no decision has been made and talks are ongoing.

Last summer, David Rzepinski, general manager of the Marin County Transit District, which serves the scenic county’s 255,000 residents, went shopping for a company to run the district’s buses. Rzepinski had been paying Golden Gate Transit $133 an hour. He found that private companies would do the work for between $92 and $115 an hour.

The bus drivers union protested. With the threat of contracting hanging over the negotiations, Golden Gate lowered its rate to $120 an hour, so Marin Transit ended up sticking with the incumbent. The new deal will help balance the budget, Rzepinski said.

Friction with transit staff

With public transportation in the suburbs, some problems are embedded in city planning, or lack thereof. Cities like Fairfield are built for cars and often are too spread out to justify extended hours or more regular service. But problems such as late buses and accidents are more closely related to management and oversight.

When Fink arrived in Fairfield in 2005, MV Transportation already was running the bus system, which carries about 1 million passengers a year. When the city put the contract out to bid again, he and other city officials added penalties for poor service. MV won an $18.2 million, four-year contract. Soon after, the fines started rolling in.

Over a two-year period beginning in 2008, the company was fined 295 times for a total of $164,000, according to a 2010 city audit, released in place of the one Fink sought to issue. MV was fined for the 14 months when the preventable accident rate exceeded the allowed 1 per 100,000 miles. FAST officials fined MV nine times for not meeting the agreed-upon 90 percent on-time arrival rate and 18 times for buses that never showed at all. The company was penalized twice for drivers using cellphones while driving, six times for drivers speeding and 13 times for drivers being out of uniform.

MV executives were furious about the fines. In meetings with the FAST staff, they complained they were “losing money” and the deal they signed was too punitive, according to meeting notes and internal memos.

As the friction between Fink and the company peaked in the summer of 2009, Monson, then MV’s board chairman, made $10,000 campaign donations to City Councilman John Mraz and City Councilwoman Catherine Moy. Those were hefty sums, even in a city with no campaign contribution limits. When contacted for comment, Mraz called Fink an expletive and hung up the phone. Moy did not return emails or phone calls.

Fines, inspections put aside

Monson and other executives began to meet directly with the City Council instead of city transit staff. In a 2010 memo, Lewis – the assistant public works director – complained that the “city has allowed MV to circumvent the normal management chain. Often, local issues are discussed and resolved without the input of transit staff by the City Manager’s office, City Council, and MV executives.”

Fines against MV were halted by the city for months, and old ones weren’t paid as the city manager overruled some on appeal. Bus inspections that had been yielding fines also were stopped.

In an interview, Lewis said he killed an audit of MV ordered by Fink because it was too punitive. He said that while many of the fines were valid, “there were enough of them that … would seem like they were frivolous,” such as one for a bus driver’s untucked shirttail.

Lewis added that Fairfield and Suisun Transit and MV Transportation are “in a good place now.”

But problems persisted after Fink left in 2010. The bus service performance “exhibited mostly negative trends in all areas” related to efficiency and productivity, according to a 2010 audit by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which oversees transit funding in the Bay Area. An MV spokeswoman declined to comment, and Lewis did not return calls seeking comment on the audit.

And in June 2011, an MV Transportation bus operator was involved in a fatal collision. The bus driver, identified as Dale Lee Karuza in multiple lawsuits, was turning left across a Suisun City street when he collided with an oncoming car, killing a passenger. Police cited the primary cause of the collision as the bus failing to yield right of way, according to the California Highway Patrol’s summary. Investigators also concluded that the car was speeding.

Fink now works at the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission in Stockton. Reflecting back on his time in Fairfield, he said it taught him a lesson about outsourcing public transit.

“If you had a contractor that wanted to run the business and not maximize their profit at every turn,
 then it would be fine,” Fink said. “As it tends to work out, you’re spending 85 percent of the time making sure that they’re doing everything in the contract instead of doing the things you need to be doing, like getting grant money doing transit planning.”
Downtown Party Trolley, Yes … Leimert Park Expo Stop, No


By Damien Goodman, March 8, 2013


 URBAN VOICE - Here is the latest from the gang that claims "there's no money" to add resources to the Crenshaw-LAX Line for a station at the African-American cultural center of the region (Leimert Park Village) and underground the line for 11 blocks in Park Mesa Heights to preserve and enhance the region's last black business corridor (Crenshaw Blvd). 

At Wednesday's LA City Council meeting, the body adopted a plan to program $352 million Measure R local funds to operate a streetcar in the one part of the city that is filled with subways and bus lines (Downtown LA).

On Page 2 under "Fiscal Impact Statement":

"Approval of the recommendations in their report makes long-term commitments of Measure R local return funds for streetcar operations. A total of up to $352.4 million over 30 years (FY 2017-46) would be pledged for this purpose. Actual budgeting of Measure R funds would occur annually by Council and Mayor. If budgeted per the recommended programming, these funds would not be available for other purposes." 

And it comes on the heels of the city council cutting the very budget that provides DASH service for Leimert Park and Park Mesa Heights, among other parts of the city in need of the local circulator bus service.

We can't even get well funded buses on Crenshaw, yet the Council proposes adding money to this very budget for the Downtown LA Party Trolley!

The mover of the motion is Council Member Jose Huizar who as an MTA board member was part of the block of four votes controlled by outgoing Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa that defeated the motion to fund a station at Leimert Park Village and tunnel in Park Mesa Heights.

Who said politics is color blind?
Good News for Ara Najarian

From Sylvia Plummer, March 8, 2013


 Last night at the City Selection Committee meeting Ara Najarian's nomination to the METRO Board was Confirmed for another 4 year term.  

Here's a report from Jan SooHoo:

Najarian was ratified in spite of the best efforts of Palmdale and Lancaster.  He needed 254 
(weighted) votes and received 316.  It was difficult to follow some of the responses to the roll call 
vote, but I believe Lancaster and Palmdale were the only cities of those present who voted against 
him.  Lancaster and Palmdale representatives tried to introduce a motion to refer the nomination 
back to the North County/San Fernando Valley sector cities for further "discussion".  I am willing to 
bet that the MTA Chair engineered that attempt.  Fortunately, the City Selection Committee Chair 
was strong and read the rules to everyone and did not permit it to go any further.  After some 
 comments by a few members of the public as well as some of the mayors representing various cities, 
a roll call vote was taken, and the result was in favor of Ara.  Rick Schneider, Bill Bogaard, and 
Frank Quintero, were among the mayors speaking in support of Ara.

L.A. harbor commissioners OK rail yard near port

The International Gateway rail yard wins approval despite worries of environmentalists and neighboring Long Beach about pollution.


By Dan Weikel, March 7, 2013
 L.A. harbor commissioners OK rail yard
 Emotions run high among local residents opposed to a major rail staging yard proposed near the Port of Los Angeles. Harbor commissioners approved the project.



Over the objections of environmentalists, community groups and neighboring Long Beach officials, Los Angeles harbor commissioners on Thursday approved a $500-million rail yard that could dramatically boost business but also drive more noise and dirty air into schools, parks and low-income neighborhoods.

The proposal to create a huge staging center for trains hauling freight from the Port of Los Angeles has raised questions about environmental justice, particularly for the adjacent poor and working-class neighborhoods of west Long Beach. There, residents already live in an area known as the "diesel death zone" because of port-related air pollution.

The clash also has pitted Los Angeles and Long Beach against each other, even though the cities have collaborated for years on initiatives to reduce harmful emissions in their harbors, which make up the largest combined port complex in the nation.

"You've done precious little to mitigate the impacts we see [with the rail yard]," Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster told the commission, asserting that it has typically provided more protection for Los Angeles residents who live near port projects. "Do you value the life of a kid on your side of the border more than a kid on my side of the border?"

Nevertheless, after more than six hours of public testimony, commissioners voted unanimously for the Southern California International Gateway — a 153-acre cargo facility to be built off the 710 Freeway by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co. It would be capable of handling up to 2.8 million 20-foot shipping containers a year by 2035.

The board also certified the project's final environmental impact report. Harbor Commissioner Robin Kramer was absent.

"We must look at the need to ensure that good jobs remain here and continue to grow," said commission Vice President David Arian, who contended that the project would help the harbor deal with increased competition from other ports as more ships move through a widened Panama Canal. "There needs to be additional rail capacity. It is essential to our future."

The site, which would be visited by up to 8,200 trucks a day, is in Wilmington next to California 103, between Sepulveda Boulevard and California 1 and east of Alameda Street. It is bordered by industrial uses except for the east side, where there are schools, playing fields, parks, housing for homeless veterans and residential neighborhoods.

Health studies indicate that the area has disproportionately high rates of asthma and respiratory illness related to emissions from port operations, especially among children.

Railroad and port officials say, however, that the facility would be one of the "greenest" freight yards
in the nation and provide air quality improvements by eliminating more than a million truck trips a year from the Long Beach Freeway going to and from the ports. Those container-hauling trucks now must travel 20 miles up the busy freeway to Burlington Northern's giant Hobart Yard.

Trucks serving the new facility would be clean diesels as mandated by the port's air quality requirements. Electric cranes as well as low-emission locomotives and hostlers would be used in the yard.

Noise and light pollution would be reduced by shielded lights and a sound wall along the project's border with west Long Beach. To keep trucks out of surrounding neighborhoods, haulers would be required to enter and leave the yard using dedicated lanes off the Terminal Island Freeway. Efforts also are planned to eventually use zero-emission vehicles and the cleanest locomotives.

The project is widely supported by labor unions, business organizations, elected officials and regional planning agencies. They cite the creation of hundreds of jobs, the benefits of eliminating truck trips on the 710 and the need to accommodate port growth.

Burlington Northern's environmental analysis, however, still shows there would be significant unavoidable environmental impacts that would fall disproportionately on low-income communities.

Officials from environmental groups and the South Coast Air Quality Management District questioned the adequacy of the impact report and noted that the project would increase potentially harmful emissions, including nitrogen oxide, which would exceed federal limits.

David Pettit, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which might challenge the project in court, reminded the commission that its former president, S. David Freeman, said eight years ago that no diesel trucks should be allowed to use the international gateway.

Armed with a recent harbor department report, Andrea Hricko, a professor of preventive medicine at USC, said the benefits of reducing truck traffic on the 710 could be temporary because of the increasing use of "transloading," in which goods in 40-foot cargo containers are consolidated into 53-foot containers by freight companies before being taken to Hobart and other yards.

Residents of west Long Beach, some of them speaking in Spanish and others with asthma, pleaded with commissioners to either reject the project or provide adequate measures to reduce its effects.
One community activist, Jesse Marquez, distributed copies of death certificates of harbor area residents who have died of respiratory illnesses.

Foster and Long Beach City Councilman James Johnson, whose district would be affected by the project, called for more remedial measures such as a buffer zone, zero-emission vehicles and funds to help pay for additional mitigation.

From discussions with Burlington Northern, Foster said, the attitude of the railroad — owned by a conglomerate led by billionaire investor Warren Buffett — is that it would rather wait to be sued before reducing some of the significant impacts.

"If Warren Buffett lived 20 feet from the Southern California International Gateway," Foster said, "would the applicant [Burlington Northern] wait for him to sue before providing mitigation?"

Voter turnout in Pasadena election remains low, returns show


 Joe Piasecki, March 7, 2013

Pasadena voter turnout

Bob Pocarena, with Martin & Chapman Co., puts absentee ballots into a counter at Pasadena City Hall. 

The switch from at-large elections to contests by district for Pasadena school board seats may have changed the way candidates campaign, but voters did not turn out in high numbers on Tuesday.
Just 8,919 of 80,893 registered voters in active City Council and school board districts — roughly 11% — cast a ballot, according to the Pasadena city clerk’s office.

Some 500 vote-by-mail ballots turned in at the polls and 321 provisional ballots yet to be certified and counted could increase participation to 12%, but even that figure would be lower than turnout for three of the past four school board primaries.

The last board primary, in March 2011, saw 16.2% voter turnout.

“It’s disappointing, but not shocking,” said Fred Register, a Pasadena-based consultant for Democratic campaigns.

With the new district boundaries and two council incumbents running without opposition, “for almost everybody who voted there was really only one race on the ballot,” Register said — not enough to get people excited.

Voter participation in school board elections also tends to lag without other contests on the ballot, said Jon Fuhrman,  another longtime campaign consultant.

But it’s less how many people voted and more how voters chose to cast their ballots that has local politicos talking.

A full two-thirds of those who participated in Tuesday’s elections did so with vote-by-mail ballots, according to city records.

Vote-by-mail participation in school board races was also above 60% in 2011 and 2009, but had been under 50% in prior years.

“People who get the ballots in their mail boxes are more likely to send them in than people who have to take time to go the polls,” Register said. “They have a disproportionate effect [on elections] because they don’t really have to do anything to vote.”

And because candidates tend to focus campaign resources on targeting high-frequency voters, Fuhrman expects vote-by-mail numbers will continue to rise.

“There’s a self-reinforcing quality to it once you get into these low-turnout cycles,” Fuhrman said. “If you are only talking to part of the electorate, the rest are less likely to know an election is going on.”