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

Monday, March 18, 2013

Now, Paseo Colorado Loses Gelson’s


March 18, 2013

The Gelson’s store in the Paseo Colorado at 245 E. Green St. will close this summer.

“After almost 12 years of operation in Pasadena, we have reached the difficult decision to discontinue operation of the Pasadena store,” said Rob McDougall, Gelson’s President in a news statement.
“While an exact closing date is unknown, we do expect it to occur sometime in July.”

“All of our Gelson’s Pasadena employees will be reassigned to alternate Gelson’s locations; no employee will be involuntarily displaced due to this store closure,” McDougall said.

Officials with Los Angeles-based Arden Group Inc. said its Gelson’s Markets subsidiary gave notice of termination of its Pasadena lease in accordance with the lease terms and intends to close the store on or about July 21.

Gelson’s plans to transfer some of the fixtures and equipment from the Pasadena location to the new Long Beach store, officials said.

Gelson’s previously announced that it has entered into a lease for the new store in Long Beach, which is being remodeled from an existing supermarket and is expected to open late this year.

“It’s been an honor serving our loyal Pasadena shoppers and the surrounding community–we genuinely appreciate your years of support,” McDougall said. “We hope to continue to serve you in one of our 16 other locations.”
Call for new mechanism to evaluate anti-pollution efforts

By Wu Wencong, March 19, 2013


The incidence of malignant tumors should be used as an index to measure the government's performance in combating environmental pollution, according to a leading medical expert.
Hua Yawei, deputy head of the Henan Tumor Hospital and a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference National Committee, made the suggestion in a proposal to the body, calling for the introduction of the first pollution index directly related to human health.

"The mechanism of cancer is not entirely clear, but a large number of epidemiological investigations and basic research have confirmed that it is closely related to the degree of pollution in the environment we live in, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat and the lifestyles we lead," said Hua in his proposal.

Former health minister Chen Zhu also said in an earlier interview with China Daily that although the relationship between smog and lung cancer requires further research and monitoring, preliminary statistics from hospitals have indicated that cases of acute respiratory and cardiovascular diseases rise during heavily smoggy weather.

In his proposal, Hua said a variety of chemical substances have been detected in a number of China's rivers, lakes, coastal waters and even in the bodies of wild animals and humans in recent years. The concentration of persistent pollutants and chemicals such as heavy metals and dangerous organic compounds that can disrupt the endocrine system are higher than the international norm in some regions.

A recent statement from the Environmental Protection Ministry acknowledged that recent years have seen many pollution incidents caused by toxic and hazardous chemicals, including the emergence of several "cancer villages", villages that have witnessed an unusually high incidence of cancers, possibly because of high levels of pollution.

"Pollution is causing serious health and social problems," said Hua.

"But the current environmental monitoring indicators are all quantifiable figures, such as the level of sulfur dioxide and fine particles in airborne pollutants, with no indication of their impact on human health."

Occupants rescued from fiery St. Patrick's Day crash on 134 Freeway


By Joe Piasecki, March 18, 2013


Four people suffered major injuries Sunday in a fiery car crash on the Ventura (134) Freeway in Pasadena that occurred after a drunk driver lost control of his vehicle, according to the California Highway Patrol.

The crash occurred at about 6:40 p.m. near the Orange Grove Boulevard exit after the eastbound driver struck the center dividing wall and collided with a second vehicle that burst into flames after the impact.

Passing motorists rescued occupants from the burning car, according to a CHP report on the crash.

 A 49-year-old La Crescenta man was driving a 2010 Dodge Challenger at a high rate of speed when he attempted to change five lanes from the far right lane to the far left lane of the eastbound 134, lost control and struck the center divider.

The force of the impact flipped the Challenger, which collided with a 2002 Nissan Sentra that was
traveling eastbound at 65 miles per hour.

The Sentra, occupied by two Las Vegas residents, burst into flames after the collision.
A 47-year-old Pasadena man who was a passenger in the Challenger was also hurt.

Names of those involved in the crash were not immediately available Monday. All were transported to area hospitals.

The driver of the Challenger faces charges related to driving under the influence of alcohol.

Editorial: For L.A., NFL, big questions now are about AEG


March 18, 2013

Remember when the one sure thing about L.A.'s proposed downtown football stadium was the company proposing to build it?

The National Football League was bound to keep waffling. The Los Angeles City Council was likely to screw up the deal. Promises about a new stadium boosting employment while not worsening traffic might prove to be fantasies.

But Anschutz Entertainment Group - this was a rock-solid company with a local track record to inspire confidence.

That reputation didn't start to fall apart just last week, when Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz reversed his plan to sell AEG, and announced the departure of CEO, President and stadium spearhead Tim Leiweke.

It showed cracks last September, when Anschutz put up the for-sale sign.

Right then, the L.A. City Council was preparing to vote its approval or disapproval for the AEG project, and we urged council members to call time out and figure out exactly who it was dealing with.

They ignored that advice, voting 12-0 to OK the environmental impact report for a 72,000-seat stadium and adjoining L.A. Convention Center hall, the entire $1.5 billion plan contingent on the NFL agreeing to put a team there.

A week later, the city signed a 1,000-page agreement with AEG detailing a public-private partnership to build the stadium to be known as Farmers Field (the insurance company having bought the naming rights).

So here we are today, with L.A. apparently committed to a potentially pivotal downtown development planned by a big company that may or may not be in disarray. AEG's aura of inevitability sprang from its success in building such entertainment landmarks as Staples Center, L.A. Live and Home Depot Center in Carson; but now the man who led those efforts, Leiweke, is gone.

This is about more than football. Amid the new uncertainties about AEG, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Councilwoman Jan Perry spoke of exploring ways to improve Convention Center facilities independent of the stadium project.

Two overlapping groups of Southern Californians have much at stake: Football fans, who have been without an NFL team since the Rams and Raiders left following the 1994 season. And, more important, taxpayers, who have had every right to doubt the assurances that they will be on the hook for none of the costs for the stadium and its events.

For nearly two decades, the most-asked question about the potential return of the NFL to L.A. has been what franchise owners want, whether the league prefers this stadium plan (downtown) or that one (so-called Los Angeles Stadium in Industry), and whether L.A. is being used as a stalking-horse in league negotiations with other cities.

The new questions are about AEG. Anschutz, 73, is pledging his commitment to bringing football back to L.A. His company has been saying that since it introduced its downtown plan in 2010, a revival of a 2002 plan that didn't pan out.

The announcement that AEG is no longer for sale, after fielding offers below Anschutz's $10 billion asking price, suggest it's a company with - literally - exaggerated self-worth. Let's hope L.A. officials no longer share this inflated confidence.

AEG now has something to prove. The city should be asking questions it should have asked last fall.

March Madness in L.A. — A Soulless City Searches for the Fall Guy for the Farmer’s Field Scandal


By Ron Kaye, March 18, 2013

It’s getting harder every day to tell the players in L.A.’s drama apart — maybe they should wear numbered jerseys at least while they mourn the loss of another National Football League franchise, an unnamed one that joins the Rams and Raiders in the city’s scrap heap.

Take Michael Hiltzik, the LA Times politically correct business columnist who on Sunday fell prostrate before right-wing extremist billionaire Phil Anschutz in idolizing how he called the NFL’s “bluff” and is the greedy league’s “worst nightmare: a potentialy team owner who can call his own shots.”

I guess all the other billionaire owners are just gutless lackeys but not Phil who spent up to $55 million to bribe and buy local and state officials, unions and poverty pimps to get $2 billion in entitlements for Farmer’s Field but is “not certain that pro football would be an unalloyed plus for his enterprise,” not anyway on “our campus” as if he owned all of downtown and not just the pieces City Hall bestowed up him.

Amazingly, Hiltzik finally has come to the conclusion that Anschutz has “done city officials the favor of demonstrating this project always amounted to a pig in a poke; he’s even showing them the ‘oink.’ ” Anschutz is certainly showing them something but it’s not an oink.

Even more incredibly, Jim Newton, the Times’ star editorial columnist, suddenly noticed the real pig in the AEG story was Tim Leiweke who owned City Hall so completely he got officials to write into the Farmer’s Field contract a provision that required him to be AEG’s chief executive or it could be killed by the city.

“Leiweke got his projects done by making sure that Los Angeles’ many interests all got something out of them. That wasn’t always pretty, and Leiweke sometimes resembled a ward boss. Labor got union jobs; community groups got parks or special treats; certain interests got donations to charity or programs for the homeless; politicians, of course, got political contributions.”

Citing leftist/labor leader Madeline Janis and downtown developers’ frontwoman Carol Schatz support for Leiweke’s giving them what they wanted, Newton turns from critic to admirer despite finding Anschutz’s Staples Center/LA Live “campus” something that is “gaudy and anonymous, a collection of chain stores and restaurants you could find in Kansas City just as easily as here.”

But in his morally equivocated world, it turns out bribery is a good thing in Leiweke’s case “he got things done . . .  The ability to deliver made Leiweke powerful. Some people didn’t like it — and sometimes for good reason. But he proved that with the right leverage and the right friends, big things could get done in Los Angeles.”

In other words, the ends justify the means because the soulless space Leiweke developed created some jobs and economic activity and replaced “a few scruffy buildings and empty lots” as if strong leadership couldn’t have insisted on something far more organic and interesting with longer-term impact for the health and wealth of the community.

Strong leadership was the problem as the statements from top two cheerleaders for this rotten deal gone nowhere, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and downtown Councilwoman Jan Perry, both of them now quite happy to rebuild the Convention Center without a football stadium.

The mayor who had insisted the AEG contract was “iron-clad” now is looking for a way out as if had not completely screwed up the deal.

Writing to woebegone City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana who is required to do the bidding of the people like the mayor that Leiweke bought, the mayor said:

“We are investing over $4 billion  into LAX to finally give L.A. the welcome mat to the world it deserves: World class destinations and attractions. A modernized Los Angeles Convention Center with an expanded contiguous floor space will help us book more and larger conventions.”

Added Perry: “Our first priority as a city is to make our Convention Center a leader by modernizing our facilities and increasing exhibition space. We want to make Los Angeles competitive nationwide, attracting more convention business, tourism, and the investment that comes with it. The bottom line is we need to have a plan in place with or without an NFL team.”

So we don’t have a plan. We don’t have leadership. We don’t even have Leiweke the Fixer anymore.

All we have is Miguel Santana. So fix it, Miguel, or you’re out. Every political scandal needs a fall
guy and I’m afraid you’re it.
WARNING!  DON'T DOWNLOAD THIS FROM METRO (Read the letter from the link below instead):


An Important Announcement from Michael D. Antonovich, Chairman of the Board of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority regarding the SR 710 North Study. Please click the link to download the announcement: http://www.datafilehost.com/download-8f41b25b.html
Like · ·
  • Lauren Gold I can't download this.
  • Peggy Tyarks Drouet The download includes malicious malware plus other problems per Kaspersky Anti-Virus. You need to remove this link from this page to protect people who do not have adequate virus blockers.
    (Let's see how long it takes Metro to remove the post.)

    You can read the letter at  http://www.slideshare.net/slideshow/embed_code/17329863
    and below as well.

    Unbelievable: New post from Metro but the download with the malicious malware remains on their Facebook page. I guess they don't believe what their readers post and have to remain an organization that doesn't make mistakes. According to my computer expert, malware can be transferred from an infected computer to a download, so it could be likely that someone at Metro has an infected computer.

    New post on the SR - 710 Facebook page:

    We apologize for those who are unable to download the Important Announcement from Michael D. Antonovich regarding the SR 710 North Study. We are re-posting as an image convenience to our stakeholders.
    Photo: We apologize for those who are unable to download the  Important Announcement from Michael D. Antonovich  regarding the SR 710 North Study. We are re-posting as an image convenience to our stakeholders.

Metro press release on its new bike safety campaign; cyclists have legal right to take a full lane


By Steve Hymon, March 18, 2013




Let’s face it. There are only so many bike lanes in our region and there remains many place where cyclists are faced a grim choice. They either must ride in a pebble-strewn parking lane/gutter where they have to avoid obstacles such as parked cars and garbage cans. Or they must ride in traffic lanes with vehicles that are faster than bikes and outweigh bikes by thousands of pounds.

With that in mind, here’s a news release Metro issued today on its new bike safety campaign which is more blunt than the “share the road” signs seen on many area streets. The point is this: cyclists are legally entitled to share most surface streets in California. And motorists are legally bound to pass them at a safe distance, although California law doesn’t specify an exact distance. 
Here is a good summary from the California Department of Motor Vehicles on cycling laws and guidelines:
  • Are entitled to share the road with motor vehicles.
  • Have the same rights and responsibilities as motor vehicle and motorcycle drivers.
  • Must obey all traffic signals and stop signs.
  • Are lawfully permitted to ride on certain sections of roadway in rural areas where there is no alternate route.
  • Must ride in the same direction as other traffic, not against it.
  • Shall ride as near to the right curb or edge of the roadway as practical– not on the sidewalk.
  • Are legally allowed to ride in the center of the lane when moving at the same speed as other traffic.
  • May move left to pass a parked or moving vehicle, bicycle, animal, or avoid debris or other hazards.
  • May choose to ride near the left curb or edge of a one-way street.
  • Should ride single file on a busy or narrow street.
  • Must make left and right turns in the same way drivers do, using the same turn lanes. If the bicyclist is traveling straight ahead, he or she should use a through traffic lane rather than ride next to the curb and block traffic making right turns.
  • Must signal all their intentions to motorists and bicyclists near them.
  • Must wear a helmet if under the age of 18.
  • Should carry identification.
  • Shall not operate a bicycle on a roadway unless the bicycle is equipped with:
    • A brake which will enable the operator to make one braked wheel skid on dry, level, clean pavement.
Public officials also held a photo-op Monday to help spread the word. If you’re a motorist and don’t like it, I have this gentle suggestion: perhaps you can join cyclists in calling for more bike infrastructure to be built that helps separate cyclists from vehicular traffic.
The news release:
The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) is launching a bold new campaign to increase bicycle safety in Los Angeles County.  The campaign, called “Every Lane is a Bike Lane … Bicyclists may need a full lane; Please share the road” will include messages on the back of 75 Metro buses, 135 billboards and spots on 21 local radio stations throughout the region.  The campaign will run between March and May, leading up to Bike Week L.A. May 13-17.

With bicycling increasing in popularity as a viable transportation mode, more biking events like CicLAvia and more new bikeways being installed on a regular basis, Metro’s extensive campaign will help raise motorist awareness that cyclists have equal rights and responsibilities to the road per the California Vehicle Code.

“The breakneck pace of bikeway construction demonstrates that Los Angeles is riding fast on its way to becoming a truly bike-friendly city,” said L.A. City Mayor Antonio Villariagosa. “As more cyclists take to our streets we need to ensure that safety and awareness are of utmost importance as our riders share the road.”

Click above to link to Metro's bike map for L.A. County. Green lines are bike lanes completely separated from roads, yellow lines show roads with bike lanes and pink are roads designated as bike routes -- i.e. places where cyclists must share the road with vehicles.
Click above to link to Metro’s bike map for L.A. County. Green lines are bike lanes completely separated from roads, yellow lines show roads with bike lanes and pink are roads designated as bike routes — i.e. places where cyclists must share the road with vehicles.

The California Vehicle Code Section 21200 stipulates that bicycle riders may use any lane in the street since they have the same rights and must follow the same laws as car drivers. Bicyclists may need the full lane to safely navigate specific road and traffic conditions. In addition, the state vehicle code sets out several situations in which bicyclists are specifically permitted to leave their usual position on the far right of the street:
  • To avoid obstacles and unsafe conditions (including the door zone along parallel-parked vehicles)
  • To pass another bicyclist, car or bus
  • To prepare for a left turn
  • To avoid an area where right turns are made
  • When traveling as fast or faster than other traffic at that time and place
  • When the lane is too narrow to share with a vehicle
It is becoming increasingly important for motorists and cyclists to safely co-exist on the region’s roadways.  In L.A. County, 19 percent of all trips are made by walking and biking, but bicyclists and pedestrians make up 39 percent of roadway fatalities. 

In the Southern California region, nearly four percent of all traffic-related fatalities involved cyclists, and 4.3 percent of all traffic-related injuries involved cyclists.

“At the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, we know that education is needed for both drivers and bicyclists on how to properly share the road,” said Jennifer Klausner, LACBC’s Executive Director. “We’re working hard to educate bicyclists to ride with traffic, use lights at night and other ways to avoid the most common types of collisions.  We’re excited to see Metro help with the other half of the equation by making sure drivers know to expect bicyclists on any street and to pass only when it’s safe.  Thanks, Metro, for so clearly saying that every lane is a bike lane!”

As part of its overall bicycle safety campaign, Metro also plans to begin traffic skills courses for bicyclists to help ensure cyclists know their responsibilities for riding safely on local streets. Cyclists interested in participating in these future classes should e-mail Metro’s Bicycle Program at bikeinfo@metro.net.

Additionally, Metro is planning to sponsor 20 bike rides to further promote safe cycling in Los Angeles County.

“We’re thrilled at C.I.C.L.E. about Metro’s ‘Every Lane is a Bike Lane’ campaign,” said Dan Dabek, Executive Director of C.I.C.L.E. “This attention-grabbing campaign will be significant in improving motorist and bicyclist relations and creating safer streets for all users.  When about 60 percent of trips in Los Angeles County are less than five miles, making our roads more friendly to bicyclists is the fastest and most cost-effective way to reduce traffic, improve air quality, and make Los Angeles County a more enjoyable place to live.”

This bicycle safety campaign is made possible by Metro’s Bicycle Program, which has worked closely with the bicycle community on numerous initiatives related to bicycling and transit.  Since 1993, Metro has funded more than $100 million in bicycle improvement projects in the county.

For more information about Metro’s Bicycle Program, please visit metro.net/bikes.
Krugman: Costs of Driving Deserve Way More Attention 


By Angie Schmitt, March 18, 2013

Two of the nation’s leading lefty commentators weighed in on transportation incentives last Friday, when both economist Paul Krugman at the New York Times and Matt Yglesias at Slate went on a congestion pricing kick.

Krugman kicked things off by remarking that the surest way to reduce the costs imposed on society
by drivers is to “get the incentives right, and charge large fees for driving in congestion.”
Yglesias took it one step further, pointing out how a variable fee on roads could lead to a virtuous cycle of better transit service and higher ridership:
Congestion fees are a kind of force multiplier for transit. After all, in some big American cities the peak congestion charge would have to get quite hefty at some times of the day. Some folks will respond to that by paying the fee, some by time-shifting their driving to a less-crowded hour, and some by riding transit. A bus, after all, is a great mechanism for spreading the cost of road access across a large number of people. And while with highways the quality of the service provided declines with the number of users (traffic jams), with well-designed transit it goes the other way. The more people who want to travel on a particular transit route, the more financially viable it is to provide high-frequency service. And high-frequency service is the key to real-world transit useability.
As Krugman noted, congestion pricing is an important mechanism to account for the cost imposed by drivers on society in the form of lost time. Anything that brings the actual price of our transportation decisions in line with the cost to society will be a boon for transit, biking, and walking relative to the status quo.

The flipside of congestion pricing would be to account for the social benefits of non-automotive modes by subsidizing them. The European Cyclists Federation currently has an interesting proposal on this front. With the European Union examining the “internalisation of external costs for all modes of transport, the ECF is advocating for a policy that would function as a kind of carrot, rewarding cyclists through tax rebates and incentives. Meanwhile, in America, we actually have a “symbolic” bike tax gaining traction in Washington state.
Obama’s Clean Energy Policy Elevates Efficient Cars Over Efficient Modes


By Tanya Snyder, March 18, 2013


It has a nice ring to it: using oil and gas revenue to shift transportation off oil and gas dependence. President Obama announced a plan to do just that on Friday — but the details of his plan are disappointing if you want to see the conversation on clean transportation go beyond cars.
Hey, it's OK -- they're all electric cars.

The Energy Security Trust would be funded with $2 billion in oil and gas revenues, in what the Washington Post called a “jujitsu” move – using oil and gas money to hasten the elimination of oil and gas as a transportation fuel.

This handy infographic from the Energy Department about what the money will fund shows just how narrowly defined the trust is. Light fuel tanks for natural gas, advanced vehicle batteries, cleaner biofuels, hydrogen fuel-cell technology. But as David Burwell of the Carnegie Endowment’s Climate Program notes, “it has the distinct sound — to use a Zen Buddhist metaphor — of one hand clapping.”

“Certainly, electric vehicles and advanced biofuels are a key tool in drastically reducing the 70 percent of total U.S. oil consumption devoted to transportation,” Burwell said. “However, it misses at least two additional key elements of any oil-back-out scheme — (1) more trip choices and (2) reducing the need to travel.”

Obama has shown an impressive resolve to reduce vehicle emissions but not much desire to reduce vehicle trips. While his transportation budgets have enabled some progress on rail and transit, and his infrastructure initiatives focus on maintenance instead of road expansion, his signature program – the increase in CAFE standards to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 – would do nothing to reduce traffic, create more transportation choices, or encourage walkable development.

The trust’s goal of “shifting America’s cars and trucks off oil entirely” sounds radical enough, but the plan is actually modeled off of Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski’s energy plan, unveiled last month. Among other provisions to weaken environmental regulations and increase the use of coal and nuclear power, the Alaska senator proposes creating an “Advanced Energy Trust Fund” to use oil and gas revenues to fund renewable energy and fuel-efficient vehicles. Her plan would drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Outer Continental Shelf for that.

Obama’s Trust Fund idea, which he first pitched in his State of the Union address, is funded with revenues from rising domestic energy production. He doesn’t mention any new drilling to fund the program. Still, some speculate that he may be trying to model his plan after Murkowski’s to curry her favor. As the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Murkowski would be a good ally to have.

As people in the transportation industry know, having your money in a trust fund insulates you from the vagaries of the Congressional appropriations cycle. And as a White House aide told the Washington Post, it will provide “a reliable stream of funding for critical breakthrough research” in the transportation sector. A reliable stream of funding for initiatives to take cars off the road and replace them with more efficient modes – rather than just making the automobile-choked morning rush hour on the highway a little less toxic – would also be welcome. 

CEQA Roundup: Muscle-flexing in Sacramento complicates reform debate


By Justin Ewers, March 15, 2013


 Coal-fire power plants have become a focus of the CEQA debate.

It was a week of grand political gestures in the debate over updating the California Environmental Quality Act, the state’s 40-year-old environmental law. And as always in Sacramento, the more heated the rhetoric, the more elusive the policy solution.

The would-be reformers of the CEQA Working Group kicked things off on Monday by asking local officials to sign an open letter to the Governor and Legislature supporting “meaningful CEQA reform.” The letter acknowledges the importance of CEQA, but makes the case that the law is costing too many local governments “a lot of time and a lot of money—which could be spent on actual environmental mitigation or for some other local purpose.”

Statewide labor and environmental groups responded the next day by taking to the Capitol steps to release a new report showing CEQA hasn’t been so bad for the state’s economy. The study, by the Labor Management Cooperation Trust, finds that since CEQA became law in 1970, California’s manufacturing output, construction activity, per-capita GDP, and housing all grew “as fast or faster than the other 49 states.” (Even if the law hasn’t stopped the state’s growth, three former California governors supporting efforts to update CEQA recently argued that it has still slowed things down—with major transportation projects in California now taking an average of 17 years.)

“CEQA is proof positive that environmental protection works,” Sen. Noreen Evans, author of two environmentally friendly CEQA bills, said from the Capitol steps. Evans was joined by a lineup of some of the state’s biggest labor and environmental groups, who took turns defending the law. Robbie Hunter, president of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, was the most vociferous, calling CEQA reform "a blind run at deregulation motivated by the wolves of business."
Implications for the debate

With the temperature going up in Sacramento, political observers pondered its impact on the upcoming policy debate. John Myers, a respected Sacramento political reporter, put it best in a tweet during the labor presser—pointing out that five speakers into the event, “none have actually said whether all changes are [a] non-starter, or just some proposals.”

So, just to review, what does everybody want?
  • Statewide labor groups: After its press conference, the California Labor Federation released a statement clarifying its position: “The coalition defending CEQA sent a clear message today—If corporate special interests continue to push for weakening our environmental laws, those efforts would be met with stiff opposition.”

  • Environmentalists and urban developers: While some environmental leaders took to the Capitol steps this week, many environmentalists and urban development groups have rallied behind Sen. Darrell Steinberg’s proposals in SB 731, which focuses mostly on speeding up the process for infill development. (Some labor leaders, it’s worth noting, said only a few weeks ago that they would support Steinberg’s efforts to find middle ground, as well.)

  • Business and local government groups: Representatives from the reform coalition seemed to indicate this week that they would like to see changes to CEQA that go further than Steinberg’s bill—though they’ve also called the legislation a “positive first step.” “What we want is certainty,” Kathy Fairbanks of the CEQA Working Group said this week. “So that if a project meets state and federal and local guidelines, it can't get sued after the fact and the rug pulled out from under the project.”
Back to you, policymakers
Woe be to the lawmakers who must navigate this political maze. “I’m getting it from both ends,” Sen. Steinberg acknowledged this week to George Skelton in the Los Angeles Times. “But people have to decide whether they want to fix the problem or be partisan warriors.”

Skelton is the first to get the views of Sen. Jerry Hill, the new chair of the Senate’s environmental quality committee, on where rank-and-file Democrats stand on CEQA. "We recognize there's a problem," Hill says. "Something should be done.”

But what, exactly? “There are so many interests that utilize CEQA for so many reasons,” Hill says, alluding to abuses of CEQA by businesses looking to hurt competitors and labor unions to get concessions from developers. “When something is used for other than its purpose, it dilutes its effectiveness for that purpose. We want to make it work more effectively and more timely, so as not to be a hindrance to [development] projects. We have to address these issues and not hide from them."
Meanwhile, outside Sacramento…

With lawmakers pondering their next steps, CEQA is getting a closer look outside Sacramento. The economic impact report released by labor groups this week highlighted three case studies showing how CEQA has been a vital tool in protecting the state’s environment:
  • Ending the use of coal-fired power plants: The report credits the CEQA review process for helping environmentalists push utilities away from using coal-fired power plants in California. While much of the rest of the country continued to rely on coal in the 1980s, CEQA environmental reviews convinced California utilities to rely more on natural gas.

  • “Greening” the ports: CEQA suits brought by community groups near the Port of Long Beach in the 1990s led to a settlement with the port that resulted in the construction of the first green shipping container terminal in the world, which allows ships to “plug in” to shoreside power, massively reducing the air pollution created by running their engines.

  • Discouraging use of “wet cooling:” CEQA also played a key role in pushing the California Energy Commission to discourage inland natural gas power plants from the practice of “wet cooling”—using groundwater to keep machinery from overheating. Instead, the state is now encouraging alternative “dry cooling” methods that won’t compete for the state’s water resources.
There have also been a wave of stories over the last few weeks highlighting how CEQA is being used to stymie some of the state’s most environmentally-sensitive developments:
  • Green housing in Berkeley: The left-leaning East Bay Express shared the story this week of a Berkeley developer whose plan to build what the paper calls “one of the greenest housing projects in East Bay history” has been tied up in a CEQA suit for four years, in spite of meeting LEED Platinum standards, the highest standard for environmental design. "[CEQA] has gotten in the way of projects that arguably should be considered environmentally sustainable," notes Jeremy Madsen, executive director of Greenbelt Alliance, a group that supports smart growth.

  • Transit lines in Los Angeles: The CEQA Working Group released another case study this week featuring how CEQA has been used to stop the building of a transit line that will relieve congestion on a major Los Angeles freeway. A neighborhood group has locked the project up in a CEQA suit since 2010 while they push for an alternative route. Barring further delays, the project is finally underway—and is now scheduled to be completed eight years after the approval process began.

  • High-speed rail: The governor’s favorite reason for reforming CEQA got a boost this month when a judge dismissed a CEQA suit that threatened to disrupt high-speed rail’s route through the Bay Area. The suit, brought by the peninsula cities of Menlo Park and Atherton, had long been criticized for having more to do with the way the rail system will look than with any concern over its impact on the environment. “This lawsuit is a reminder that some sort of CEQA reform is badly needed,” writes Robert Cruickshank of the California High Speed Rail Blog. The Atherton City Council recently sent $10,000 to the lawyers representing the Central Valley farmers whose CEQA suit is high-speed rail’s next major hurdle. That case will be heard beginning in April.

Congressman wants Metrolink to study health impact of Cypress Park rail yard


March 15, 2013


Congressman Adam Schiff has joined activists in Cypress Park and neighboring Elysian Valley in calling on Metrolink to conduct an extensive study of the potential risks the commuter rail line’s Taylor Yard maintenance center poses to  the health of nearby residents. In addition to noise generated by idling engines, many residents have also expressed concern about  particulate matter - small particles of pollution that can be inhaled – in the exhaust of the many diesel engines serviced at the center. A health assessment could provide evidence that could support or refute such worries.

“I would like to see them do a health assessment so that the community could get good information on what is the particulate matter concentration in the air and what impact does it have,” said Schiff in an interview with The Eastsider earlier this week. The health assessment”would arm us with good information to decide if this is as serious as people feel it is.”

Under pressure from residents and some local political leaders, Metrolink has taken steps to reduce air and noise pollution at the maintenance center, which is located on San Fernando Road south of Rio De Los Angeles State Park. For example, the agency has reduced the idling time of engines while at the center in addition to taking other steps to reduction pollution. But it has been reluctant to conduct a health assessment. In response for comment to Schiff’s request, the agency issued a statement:
Metrolink is in the process of gathering the required expertise to understand all options available to examine our operations. We will continue to gather the necessary information so that we can provide recommendations to our Board of Directors on the appropriate next steps. This effort has and will continue to include respective stakeholders.
Schiff, who is also pushing the agency to invest in “hood technology” to capture engine emissions, said he was told the agency would get back to him shortly about his request.

Comments to the article: 

Richy Rich March 15, 2013 at 6:19 pm
Uhm, I think the trains were there first!
Bobby Culvert March 16, 2013 at 8:52 am
Really? Two major freeways right there and you think the trains are the pollution problem?
Mark Craig March 16, 2013 at 11:14 am
Completely agree – no one ever considers the impact of freeways on the health of nearby communities. Given the car culture in America, we just turn a blind eye to this.

Yes, MetroLink could probably do better and a little pressure to reduce idling time only benefits the neighborhood and cuts fuel costs, but let’s get real about the source of health problems here.
Grove March 17, 2013 at 11:58 am
Metrolink Central Maintenance Facility started in 1992 with 17 locomotives and is now currently servicing over 50 locomotives today.
When implemented in 1992 there was NEVER a HRA nor a CEQA conducted. Since that time major studies have concluded MANY dangers from breathing Diesel Particulate Matter. This facility is not regulated by AQMD, ARB or the EPA. Metrolink has gone on about their business as they wished with NO oversight and NO regard to the surrounding area. Residence called them on their complete disregard due to the excessive daily noise entering their neighborhood and the obvious daily smelling & breathing diesel fumes coming directly from their activities. I personally live within 400 feet where most of the services is conducted. I have one of the very few vantage points where you can actually CLEARLY witness what’s happening at the facility and I monitor their daily activities because of my concerns breathing these fumes. I actually have wind indicators to let me know to stay inside with windows closed. Wind direction toward Elysian Valley in the mornings, Cypress park in the afternoons typically. Activities at the facility….Load Test is? What is a HEP engine is or does? Load test make an incredible amount of both Noise & Air Pollution and to witness this is actually shocking because it’s happening so close to homes and to the surrounding parks where our children play and our elderly walk daily with these clouds of fumes drifting to the surrounding area from these load test and running of the HEP engines. People are indeed breathing these fumes without question. The HEP engines? HEP engine is 1 of 2 diesel engines on each locomotive, each HEP engine is equivalent to 44 diesel truck engines and are used only for generating electricity to heat and cool the cabins and for cleaning (no passengers in cabin in the facility). They burn on average of 33 gallon of diesel fuel per hour. 32 trains average running their engines approx. 4- 5 hours each daily . Do the math and MOST of this is completely unnecessary running of their engines. Now the area is rapidly changing with the LA Revitalization, new LA Bike Trail, new National Recreational Trail, and soon an area which is being designated as a regional recreational area. Yes, the 5 freeway also has its problems. All the MORE reason that more needs to be done to reduce pollution at the facility. AND there are new policies being implemented to reduce pollution from the freeways as well. Fewer and fewer trucks run on diesel fuel these days. For people to comment that the trains were there first is ignoring the problem and throwing stones. Mind you the facility was implemented in 1992, the neighborhood began in the early 1920′s.
A Heath Risk Assessment is the responsible and right thing to do… period regardless of the results. If that facility, which was intended to be a temporary facility to begin with, is to continue to exist at this location, it must perform a HRA and implement new modern procedures bases on the HRA results such as the hood technology to capture pollution during their load test.
Susan, Union Pacific pollution in this area is totally minor compared to the facility pollution. Your just plan wrong about that.
UP horns are a whole different matter.
Yangna Local March 18, 2013 at 9:15 am
Grove, not to make light if your legitimate concerns, but it is relavent to point out that the Metrolink Facility is built on a portion of Southern Pacific’s Taylor Yard, a locomtive servicing facility which began operation roughly 100 years ago.

This study does seem like a good starting point for a discussion, especially if pollution sources can be determined (ie rail versus freeway).
Susan R March 17, 2013 at 8:04 am
Eastsider is behind the times. Metro-link has already done several things to reduce the pollution and the ideling and there are still more plans already in the works. The eastside should have spoken to MetroLink to get better information on what has already been done and what they are still working on. (More details would have been nice). To Metro-Link’s credit they have already taken action and are not finished yet.

The real problem has never been Metro-Link. But kudo’s to Metro-Link for what they have done to solve their problems and for their continued work on them. The real problem? It is with UNION-PACIFIC!!

The real elephant in the room that no one wants to touch. Union Pacific is the real polluter. Union Pacific are the trains that pollute, not Metro-Link. Everyone wants to go after Metro-Link because they are a good guy, they do the right thing, they are easy to work and deal with. Union-Pacific is the bad guy and no one wants to deal with them. Even though it is not as difficult as some think.

I sent Councilmember Ed Reyes a package of information on how to stop Union-Pacific polllution and horn blowing “quiet zones” several times. All his staff person, Sonia Jimenez, would say is “no, we are not going to do anything”. And, I am sure that package of information ended up in the trash. Sure something can be done but only when government officials are willing to get involved. And, Councilmember Ed Reyes office could have got involved and did nothing over the last 12 years. And, now his staff person is running for office, “no way, Jose”. And, he will do the same as his boss, did, nothing. He has already told me so.

Let’s put blame where it belongs. It is not Metro-Link. What problems existed no longer exists. Union-Pacific is the bad guy, go after them. But Councilmember Ed Reyes refused to do that after I asked him for 12 years to do that. So, that makes him a bad guy for not caring about our community, not caring about the pollution problem from ideling trains in our community and not caring about the train horns that blow night and day from Union Pacific (not Metro-Link). And, since this problem runs through Mayor Candidate and form city councilmember Eric Garcetti’s area, he did not care about the community either. People should remember those things when voting. Don’t vote for “no way, Jose” or Garcetti who did nothing about the train pollution problem or the train horns.

I attended meetings where no public officials up on the stage where only 1 person out of 12 even knew what a “quiet zone” was. This shows how ignorant most are. Here they are making a lot of money off of taxpayers and do not even do a little homework. They should be thrown out of office. Councilmember Ed Reyes and his staff refused to do any work on this issue even though the information was provided to them several times by me. That really is being lazy. Don’t do anything that requires a little work. Sad. Don’t vote for another 12 years of “do nothing, Ed Reyes” with his staff person, “no way, Jose.” Vote for change. Vote for Gil.
Tony Taylor March 17, 2013 at 3:04 pm
I think these folks who are harassing the Metro Link facility are a little off base. That facility has been there for many years and doubt they have done as much harm to health in that area as claimed. They provide a goodly number of good jobs. Do people in the lst really want to drive good jobs out of their community??? Ed Reyes was good at keeping jobs out of the area for 12 years do you want to lose more?? Also remember that you have freeways running through your area what you wanta do about them??
Susan R March 18, 2013 at 7:29 am
Grove, I totally respect what you said. The article sadly has no mention on you and your friend who worked on this issue. Without the two of you nothing would have been done. You two are hero’s, especially you, Grove. You worked hard and got a lot done. And, Congressman Schiff listened to you and helped. You know more about the pollution than I do so I respect your answer. Metrolink has cleaned up their act and that was only because of the work YOU did.

The issue I have tried to work on are the train horns blowing day and night. I tried to get “quiet zones” for 12 years and Councilmember Ed Reyes office would not help or do anything. The information packages I gave Sonia Jimenez, his field office deputy probly ended up in the trash. Union Pacific is the problem with the train horns. And, still no one is addressing that problem. It is not as difficult as it seems. But no one wants to try, not Councilmember Ed Reyes or his staff, “no way, Jose” or Councilmember Garcetti, who is now running for mayor. I have spoken to both of them and they both refused to do anything about it. They give ignorant answers which show they know absolutely nothing about the issue. They both said no they will not even look into it. Vote for change. Don’t vote for another 12 years of “do nothing Ed Reyes” with his staff person “no way, Jose”. Vote for change. Vote for Gil.

And, Grove still even with your group, you are not addressing train horns with Union Pacific. I guess no one wants to take on the really hard stuff. Metro-Link was very cooperative.
Time to Break Up Los Angeles


By John Seiler, March 15, 2013


 CALWATCHDOG - Los Angeles obviously doesn’t work. The election of a new mayor, the first phase of which was held Tuesday, won’t help. 

LA’s schools are among the worst in the country. Driving through the city is an obstacle course the roads are so bad. The city is visibly deteriorating.

The problem is not democracy, but the lack of democracy. The city council has 15 members for 3.8 million people. That’s one council member for every 253,000 people. How can the council possibly be responsive to what people need? Can you keep track of 253,000 people?

As with most cities in California, the council is held hostage by the ultra-powerful public-employee unions, which demand — and usually get — massive pay, perks and pensions. The pension situation is so bad the city is on the verge of bankruptcy 

’72 Suburbs’-Dorothy Parker once said LA was “72 suburbs in search of a city.” Well, if we break it up into those 72 suburbs, the new cities would be uneven in population, but the average would be about 53,000 per city.

Wouldn’t this duplicate government offices and increase costs to taxpayers? Not if it’s done right. The members of the new city councils would not be paid for their jobs. City Halls, instead of being gigantic “Taj Ma City Halls,” would be in strip-mall storefronts.

As Costa Mesa is trying to do, most city services would be outsourced to private companies. Fire departments would be of the voluntary kind. Police could be contracted out to the county sheriffs, or perhaps contracts could go to groups of cities forming competitive departments.

The LA Unified School District would be abolished. In its place — assuming the new cities even have public schools — would be 72 new school districts, all of them merely doing administrative work for charter schools, on the New Orleans 100 percent charter model

Of course, the major resistance would come from the unions. But the bankruptcy of the current LA would take care of much of that.

The politicians also wouldn’t like it. The mayor of huge Los Angeles automatically becomes a statewide, even national player. I remember when Sam Yorty ran for president back in 1972.

Tom Bradley lost two campaigns for governor, in 1982 and 1986.

Richard Riordan lost a governor’s race in 2002.

And outgoing Antonio Villaraigosa often has been talked about as a gubernatorial candidate or to get a cabinet position in the Obama White House.

Political ambition aside, breaking up LA would do wonders for the people who live there. They could control their own affairs democratically at the small, local level, instead of trying to work through the immense city bureaucracy or the remote city council.

Breaking up LA is a reform whose time has come.

An Appeal to Megacommuters


By Matt Gangemi, March 16, 2013

commute time 2

Average commute times, WNYC map.

There was an excellent piece in the Slog on Monday, based on both NYU work and a US Census graphic, showing that the Seattle area both ranks 10th in longest commutes, and that we have the 3rd fastest growth for long commutes.  The census piece introduced me to the term megacommuter, someone that commutes over 90 minutes and 50 miles each way.  One out of every 122 full time workers in the US is a megacommuter, and 10.8 million in the US commute more than an hour each way.  With so many megacommuters out there, I’ve decided to address them directly.

Dear Megacommuter,

I don’t know your situation.  I can think of at least a few tragic life situations that would keep me commuting with over 20% of my waking, non-working life(1).  But if you’re similar to a friend of mine that commuted this far just to have a large home, I’d like to make sure you have really thought through your choice.

Let’s take a look at the money you’re spending on this commute.  Looking at only tangible vehicle costs, ignoring softer numbers like the increased number of accidents you’ll be in, the cost of your reduced health from increased hours of sitting, etc., you’ll spend around $220,000 over the length of a 30 year mortgage by driving 50 miles each way(2).

Now let’s look at these 15+ hours a week you’re spending commuting.  If you plowed just half of those back into work by living close by, and made the median income in Seattle of $61,000, over those same 30 years you’d make an extra $229,000 after taking a third out for taxes and assuming no bonus for overtime or promotion for all of your dedication(3).  But rather than working those hours you could spend time with your family, start a hobby, or go to school.  Or you could take 293 extra weeks of vacation(4).

I won’t even try to persuade you with greenhouse gas numbers, or try to convince you that owning a home in the far suburbs helps destroy farms and forests and that everything from the roads that bring you home to  your water treatment to the power lines that serve your home have a much larger impact than they would near a city.  You either aren’t interested in these arguments, or they come second to other factors in your life.

If knowing all of this doesn’t change anything, you still want your large house at any cost, that’s fine.  This isn’t a “wrong” choice, and you’re welcome to it.  But if you’d consider another way, might I propose a new strategy?  Consider moving as close to your work as you can afford, even if it means living in a smaller home for a while.  Use the money you save in your commute to pay off your mortgage faster, build up equity in your home, and trade up to a larger home in a few years.  As a bonus, if you use that $220,000 you’d waste commuting over the 30 years on home, you’ll convert it from an expense to an investment and much of it will be available when you retire.

Thanks for listening,

(1) 40 hour work week, 8*7=56 hours of sleep a week, leaves 72 hours a week.  A 90 minute commute each way eats up 15 of these hours.  Note 72 hours doesn’t represent total free time – I didn’t count eating, brushing teeth, shopping, etc.

(2) 26,000 miles/yr /30 mpg car * $4 gal = $3,467 in fuel a year.  Assuming a lifespan of 200k miles you’d go through a $20k new car every 7.7 years ($2,600 a year).  Estimating $600 in insurance and $700 in maintenance a year (probably low for this many miles).  Total = $7,370 per year * 30 years = $221,000.

(3) $61,000 / 52 weeks / 40 hrs = $29.33/hr.  Time wasted commuting = 15 hrs/wk * 52 weeks/yr * 30 years = 23,400 hours wasted.  Using half of that: 11,700 hrs * $29.33/hr = $343,000.  Reduce that by a third and you get $229,000.

(4) Assuming your work is somewhat flexible, allowing you to work overtime in exchange for time off.  That’s 23,400 hours of comp time you’d rack up over 30 years, and you only need 40 for each week off.  I’ll cut that in half as well to adjust for your new commute.  That said, I’m guessing you won’t be able to take them all at once.

Cars in the U.S. are more fuel-efficient than ever. Here’s why.


By Brad Plumer, March 16, 2013


We’ve noted before that cars and trucks in the United States have starting becoming more fuel-efficient in recent years — after decades of stagnation — in response to high oil prices and strict new vehicle standards. That’s one reason why U.S. oil imports have plummeted.

But a new report (pdf) from the Environmental Protection Agency offers the most detailed breakdown yet of this trend. The EPA is a particularly helpful source on fuel-economy because the agency tests how cars and trucks actually perform in the real world — rather than simply looking at what the laws say.

Here’s what the EPA found:

1) Fuel-economy for new cars and trucks has recently hit a record high, after decades of stagnation. New cars and trucks sold in the United States have become more efficient since 2004 — after having slipped during the 1980s and 1990s. (Do note, however, that last year’s fleet-wide average of 23.8 miles per gallon is still far, far less than the fuel economy seen in places like Europe and Japan):
fuel economy improving
2) Smaller cars are now making a comeback after years of increasing light-truck and SUV dominance. Note that the recent blip was likely due to the 2011 tsunami, which temporarily throttled the availability of Japanese cars:
cars and trucks
3) Hybrids are catching on, but most of the gains so far have come from a wide variety of tweaks to combustion engines. An example: gasoline direct injection, an efficient technique for delivering fuel to a car’s engine. That said, hybrids and electric cars are expected to drive big gains in fuel-economy in the coming decades, as new cars will need to average more than 35 miles per gallon on the road by 2025:
fuel technology
4) Cars are no longer getting heavier. In the past, automakers would use advances in engine technology to build bigger, more powerful cars. That’s no longer the case. U.S. vehicles are now getting more powerful and more fuel-efficient without adding weight.
weight and horsepower
5) It’s not just Japanese cars. American automakers are building more fuel-efficient cars too. Last year, I wrote about how Detroit learned to build cars that got decent gas mileage. The EPA report brings the data, noting that all companies are adapting to the era of high oil prices:
(Note that Kia and Hyundai aren’t on here because they’re under EPA investigation for allegedly misstating their fuel-economy numbers. Toyota and Honda saw a dip in 2011 because of supply-chain issues related to the tsunami.)

Note that these fuel-economy trends are expected to accelerate in the coming decades. The Obama administration has set new rules that will require cars and light trucks to average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. (Under EPA measurements, that will likely translate into around 35.4 miles per gallon on the road.) So there’s still a long ways to go.

Further reading:

–Even with strict new fuel-economy standards, the U.S. is still lagging behind places like Europe and Japan.
–How Detroit figured out how to build smaller, efficient cars that people would buy.
–Hyundai, Kia overstated their fuel-economy numbers. How often does this happen?
–As battery prices drop, will electric cars finally catch on?
A time for renewal


March 16, 2013

RAHM EMANUEL, THE mayor of Chicago, Illinois, lifts up a decayed wooden tube and waves it for emphasis. Many of the city’s water pipes are over 100 years old, he says. Some, it turned out when the Water Department got round to replacing them, are made of wood. No wonder the network sprang 3,800 leaks in 2011 alone. Yet at the pace of investment that prevailed until last year it would have taken the local water company until 2059 to refurbish all the mains, the mayor points out.

Everywhere Mr Emanuel looks, he sees the need for new or improved infrastructure: pockmarked roads; century-old stations on the “L”, Chicago’s elevated-train network; grand but draughty municipal buildings; a congested airport; clapped-out schools and community colleges. Over the next three years alone he plans to spend over $7 billion to start fixing all this. But finding the money has required some creativity.

Cities like Chicago, with meagre investment budgets, generally rely on grants from the state and federal governments, along with municipal bonds, to pay for such improvements. However, the federal government’s fiscal woes and the political impasse in Washington have been putting the squeeze on infrastructure funding. Take the highway fund, which Congress created to pay for its share (usually about a third) of improvements to roads and public transport around the country. It is supposed to be fed by receipts from the gas (petrol) tax of 18.4 cents per gallon, but this is not linked to inflation and has not been raised since 1993. Moreover, Americans are driving less, in more efficient cars, or in ones that run on something other than petrol, all of which leaves the transportation kitty increasingly bare. At the same time the cost of building roads has risen faster than prices in general, further sapping the fund’s value.

Fingers in the dyke

Politics has compounded the problem. The act under which Congress doles out money from the highway fund expired in 2009. Unable to agree on how much to spend, or how to top up the shrinking fund, lawmakers passed nine short extensions of the old act before finally approving a new, two-year bill last year. But this does nothing to strengthen the fraying funding mechanism. Instead, Congress has frozen spending at the current level and cobbled together a few one-off revenue-raisers to pay for it. The Congressional Budget Office now expects the highway fund to run dry in 2014, and the gap between receipts and the present level of spending to reach $109 billion over the next eight years.

Worse, the current level of investment, even if Congress finds a way to maintain it, is utterly
inadequate. More than five years after the collapse of a bridge in Minnesota that claimed 13 lives and prompted pledges to speed up repairs, almost 70,000 other bridges, or roughly 11% of the total, are still rated as “structurally deficient” by the Federal Highway Administration. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) estimated in 2009 that Americans lost $78 billion a year to traffic delays, in the form of wasted time and petrol. A further $67 billion goes on repairing the damage to cars caused by the shoddy condition of many roads. Crashes, a good number of which are also attributable to this neglect, cost a further $230 billion. The ASCE reckoned that for the period from 2005 to 2020 the country was spending only 54% of what was needed to prevent further deterioration, and just 29% of what it would take to set America’s roads to rights.

Falling to bits
Nor are the problems confined to roads. The ASCE thought that America’s water and sewage systems, inland waterways and levees were equally dilapidated, and that its schools, dams, airports, public transport and hazardous-waste disposal were in only slightly better shape. It blamed “delayed maintenance and chronic underfunding” and argued that the country needed to double its spending on infrastructure over five years, from a projected $1.1 trillion to $2.2 trillion. And that was at a time when infrastructure spending was being boosted by a one-off contribution from Mr Obama’s stimulus.

Civil engineers, naturally, are keen on civil-engineering projects. But the Centre for American Progress, a think-tank, reached much the same conclusion in a report that looked only at the federal share of spending on essential projects. Congress, it concluded, was coughing up barely half of the $262 billion a year that was needed.

Such big sums are daunting in austere times, but the potential benefits outweigh the spending. In the short run, infrastructure investments provide a boost to a feeble recovery. The CBO estimated in 2011 that for every dollar the federal government spent on infrastructure through Mr Obama’s stimulus, the value of economic activity increased by between $1 and $2.50—one of the biggest multipliers of the main components of the programme. And a study by the University of Massachusetts-Amherst in 2009 found that every $1 billion spent on infrastructure creates 18,000 jobs, almost 30% more than if the same amount were used to cut personal income taxes.
Every $1 billion spent on infrastructure creates 18,000 jobs, almost 30% more than if the same amount were used to cut personal income taxes

In the long run, investment in infrastructure boosts productivity by enabling people and goods to get to places faster, communicate more easily, spend less time and money on repairs and so on. One recent study found that the construction of a road typically led to an increase in economic activity between three and eight times bigger than the initial outlay within eight years after its completion. (The impact subsequently fades, presumably because congestion returns.) And since the government’s borrowing costs are currently low and the construction industry is still in the doldrums, investment in infrastructure is cheaper now than it will be when the economy is humming again.

Mr Emanuel is convinced of all this. Unfortunately for Chicagoans, the politicians in Springfield, the state capital, are even less help than those in Washington. The state and local authorities have accumulated debts of about $10,000 per resident, which puts them among the top quintile in the country. The pension plan for state workers has assets to cover only 39% of its projected liabilities. In 2009 the legislature approved a series of tax increases on things like sweets and alcohol, as well as an expansion of gambling, with the proceeds earmarked for infrastructure improvements. But so far these measures have fallen well short of producing the hoped-for $1 billion a year. All this has left Illinois with the worst credit rating of all 50 American states—and little money to spare for an overhaul of Chicago’s infrastructure.

The city has not always been a model of fiscal rectitude. The previous administration papered over deficits with one-off measures, prompting a downgrade in its credit rating the year before Mr Emanuel took office. Although for the most part he has since cut costs enough to match the city’s means, the state’s failure to amend the pension system, in which Chicago participates, raises yet another threat to its finances.

With the city, state and federal governments all strapped for cash, Mr Emmanuel has had to turn to other sources of revenue. One obvious step is to increase the charges to users of the city’s infrastructure. At his urging, the city council raised water rates by 25% last year; by 2015 they will almost double. That has allowed the city to start replacing leaking water mains at two-and-a-half times the previous rate. Similarly, fares on the L are rising, which should help cover the costs of refurbishing decrepit stations. Mr Emanuel also wants to encourage more private investment in the city’s infrastructure, but its left-leaning voters are touchy about anything that smacks of privatisation. They noted that a consortium to which his predecessor sold a 75-year lease on the city’s parking meters immediately quadrupled the fees.

Mr Emanuel’s solution is called the Chicago Infrastructure Trust (CIT). This will help pair investors with projects that will generate a revenue stream to be hypothecated to cover the cost of the original investment, plus a return. First on its list are some $100m-worth of energy-saving measures in city buildings.

Lightbulb moment

At Newton Bateman Elementary School the principal asks a teacher how she likes the new lighting in her classroom. She seems not to have noticed any difference. That is the idea. Workmen have recently halved the number of lights above her head, installed more efficient bulbs and added automatic switches. Over the next ten months the city wants to overhaul the lighting in another 241 schools. It estimates that these retrofits will cost $14m and yield savings of $3m a year. In January it put out a request for “financial partners” to stump up the cash, to be repaid from the savings in the schools’ operating budgets.

From the mayor’s point of view this scheme has several advantages. It enables him to raise money from investors such as foreigners, charities and pension funds who are not interested in tax-exempt municipal bonds because they have little tax liability in the first place. It means that projects with clear benefits but low priority can go ahead sooner, helping to stimulate the local economy. All the assets involved remain not just the property of the city but under its management, so political attacks on “privatisation” can easily be rebutted. The mayor’s supporters in the unions are enthusiastic because the scheme will create new jobs. And although initially Mr Emanuel expects the CIT to get involved in only around $200m of the $7 billion-worth of infrastructure investments he is looking for, he clearly hopes to expand its role if the early projects prove successful.

Mr Emanuel is not the only local leader coming up with inventive ways to pay for infrastructure improvements despite the fiscal squeeze. The number of “public-private partnership” (PPP) projects under way around the country, although still low by European standards, has jumped in recent years. They include a tunnel under construction in Florida, a commuter rail scheme in Colorado and road improvements in Texas and Virginia. The Centre for American Progress, not normally a cheerleader for red-blooded capitalism, reckons it should be possible to mobilise at least $60 billion a year in private infrastructure investment. That would be a huge step up from the paltry total of $10 billion raised through such schemes between 1990 and 2006.

In Indiana a PPP is being used to boost public investment. In 2006 Mitch Daniels, a former governor, championed a 75-year lease of a busy toll road in the state in order to create an investment fund for future roadbuilding projects. The consortium that now runs the highway paid $3.8 billion for the privilege (just before the recession caused asset prices to plummet), as well as promising to invest $600m in upkeep over the first nine years of the lease. Indiana has used the proceeds to increase its roadbuilding budget by a third, to $1 billion a year.

Bob McDonnell, the governor of Virginia, is confronting the gradual decline in revenue raised by the state’s gas tax, which is levied on top of the federal one and suffers from the same problems. He recently persuaded the state legislature to abolish it altogether and instead raise the state’s sales tax from 5% to 5.3%. Along with some other increases, this should provide a steadier revenue stream.

Antonio Villaraigosa, the mayor of Los Angeles, helped secure a 30-year increase in the local sales tax in 2008 to fund transport projects. He then used the projected revenue as security for loans that will allow the city to build the original 30-year roster of projects in just ten years. The idea is to stimulate the local economy and take advantage of low construction costs, just as economists have been urging Congress to do.

Congress, however, is being unhelpful as usual, and not just by scrimping on its own capital budget. Last year, for the first time, it gave states free rein to charge tolls on new highways built with federal help, or on new lanes added to existing ones. But it still bars them from levying tolls on the unimproved portions of existing roads. It has also allowed a law to lapse that encouraged private investment in infrastructure by offering a tax break on bonds that finance it.

Meanwhile, the repeated brief extensions of the highway bill make it difficult to plan for the long term or to embark confidently on projects that might take many years to complete. Mr Obama has long called for a federal infrastructure bank which could invest more strategically and attract private capital relatively cheaply by subsidising or guaranteeing commercial loans. But Congress wants nothing to do with it.

There are plenty of ways for Congress to boost investment in infrastructure without massively inflating the public debt, but America’s governors and mayors are not holding their breath. As Mr Emanuel, a former congressman and White House chief of staff, says, “We can’t allow dysfunction, whether in Washington or Springfield, to delay our economic development.”