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

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Apologies to Mayor Bradley


By Jack Humphreville, May 21, 2013

 LA WATCHDOG - On Tuesday, May 21, the politically appointed Commissioners of Los Angeles World Airports are expected to recommend that the Great Hall at the Bradley West Terminal be named as The Antonio R. Villaraigosa Pavilion in honor of the current Mayor of Los Angeles. 

At the same meeting, the Commissioners will approve a Travel Authority where Los Angeles World
Airports will pay for the airfare and “reasonable” expenses for the Mayor’s upcoming three day 2013 Trade Mission trip to Beijing so that he and an aide can promote the new Bradley Terminal at LAX and hob knob with Chinese officials and other muckety mucks.

But both of these agenda items lack any supporting information, not dissimilar to what happens at City Hall when our Elected Elite try to slip a backroom deal past an uninformed public at the last minute.

With respect to the Beijing trip, there is no publicly available financial information, either in the 19 page agenda for the Board of Airport Commissioners’ agenda or the accompanying 62 page report that provides details on the agenda items.  But this game of hide and seek raises numerous questions as to whether the Mayor is travelling first class, staying in Presidential Suites, and what are “reasonable” costs.

While we are probably not talking “big bucks” to use a term floated by a City official when asked about this all expense paid junket, there is the issue of whether our philandering Mayor is once again living the high life of wine, women, and song while the City is still “kicking the can” down the road to insolvency and our unemployment rate is one of the highest in the country.

As for the naming the Great Hall at The Bradley Terminal at LAX in honor of Mayor Villaraigosa, several wise guys (a unisex term) commented that LAX is certainly an appropriate place to honor our globetrotting 11% Mayor.  This $1.7 billion project is, like the mayor, late and over budget because of the lack of proper planning.  And like the mayor’s wine tab for high end wines, the bill for this massive project will be paid for by third parties, in this case, the airlines and their passengers, including many residents of our City.

But to name such an important part of The Bradley Terminal after a glib politician with a million dollar smile and lifestyle who is still alive and, even more so, still in office, is totally inappropriate and against protocol.  This is further aggravated by fact that the Airport Commissioners were appointed by about to be honored mayor.

It will take years to determine the true legacy of Mayor Villaraigosa. 

While many hail his accomplishments on transportation, crime, education, and the environment, there are issues of character that must be considered.  More importantly, the financial condition of the City is questionable, in large part because of Villaraigosa’s abject failure over the last eight years to address the Structural Deficit, to pave our streets, and to fund our pension plans. 

The Board of Airport Commissioners should send the mayor to China, but only after proper
disclosure. But given that there are only 41 days until we have a new mayor, these politically appointed commissioners should defer any decision on naming the Great Hall of The Bradley Terminal after Antonio Villaraigosa.  To make the decision now is not only inappropriate, but an insult to Mayor Bradley’s great legacy.



Whereas, Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa took office as mayor of the City of Los Angeles on July 1, 2005 and immediately thereafter resolved to advance a rational, community sensitive plan for Los Angeles International Airport that allowed for sensible improvements for the people of Los Angeles and the millions of world travelers who depend on it; and

Whereas, Mayor Villaraigosa played a pivotal role in bringing a historic settlement of the LAX Master Plan lawsuits beginning an extraordinary era of peace between the airport and surrounding communities; and

Whereas, the settlement ushered in the development of a number of critically important airport modernization projects not seen since the 1984 Olympics; and

Whereas, chief among them the modernization program is the Bradley West Project, the largest public works project is the City’s history; and

Whereas, the $1.7 billion Bradley West Project will create a new world class terminal that will offer travelers the very best in airport amenities and will help retain the City’s global competitiveness for years; and

Whereas, none of this would have been possible with the Mayor’s leadership, vision, and resolve; and

Whereas, this action is exempt from the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) pursuant to Article II Section 2(f) of the Los Angeles City CEQA Guidelines; and
Whereas, actions taken on this item by the Board of airport Commissioners will become final pursuant to the provisions of Los Angeles City Charter Section 245;

Now, therefore, be it resolved, that the Board of Airport Commissioners determined that this action is exempt for the California Environmental Quality Act requirements, approved naming the Great Hall of the Bradley West Terminal in the Mayor’s honor as the Antonio R. Villaraigosa Pavilion.

More than 100,000 electric vehicles now on the roads in U.S.


By John Upton, May 21, 2013


  A Nissan Leaf.

 A Nissan Leaf.

America passed a milestone on Monday, according to electric-vehicle advocacy group Plug-In America. That’s when the 100,000th EV was sold in the U.S., the group estimates.
From Plug-In America board member Barry Woods’ blog:
Based on the average US household size, this means that over a quarter million people are now being exposed regularly to the benefits of electric transportation.  The vehicles themselves are reaching an even greater number of people simply by being on the road — perhaps as many as 1 million or more people per day. While much work remains to be done, 100,000 vehicles means that we are ever closer to the tipping point for electric transportation.
And like an EV driver who passes a gas station — and just keeps on driving — the nation is expected to sail past this milestone and keep on snapping up ever more of these clean-running cars. From Treehugger:
In 2011, the first full year with the current crop of plug-ins on the market, fewer than 20,000 were sold. In 2012, that number tripled to over 50,000. And it’s currently expected that more than 100,000 plug-ins will be sold in 2013 alone. Not a bad growth rate for a technology that is still maturing (like personal computers in the 1980s or cellphones in the 1990s).
How good is business for the nation’s electric-auto makers and sellers? A press release from Plug-In America says that the all-electric Nissan Leaf has been outselling all other Nissan models in some markets this year, and that Tesla’s Model S sedan is outselling the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, the BMW 7 series, and the Audi A8. For another sign of the health of the EV market, check out Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s tweet from Monday:

  Elon Musk         @elonmusk
Given govt loan repayment this week (prob Wed), Supercharger update will be next week. Work continuing independent of announcement.

That’s about Tesla repaying a federal loan nine years before it comes due. From Bloomberg:
Loans for Tesla, Ford, Nissan and Fisker were all awarded from a program created under President George W. Bush in 2007 and implemented by President Barack Obama in 2009.

Tesla plans to use $452.4 million to pay off its Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing loan, with interest, the company said in a statement. … Based on the $25.4 million already paid to the Energy Department, taxpayers may see as much as a $12.8 million profit, based on company filings.
Despite some major hiccups, the electric-vehicle industry is now really starting to rev its engines.
Alameda County Details How Transit Cuts Harm Health


May 16, 2013

 (Getty Images)
At first glance, you might not think that cuts to public transportation might affect someone’s health. But Devilla Ervin understands the impact firsthand. The 23-year-old lives in West Oakland and a few years ago worked the graveyard shift at McDonald’s.

“I got off work at 4 a.m. and there was no bus service,” he describes. “And so I was walking in my community of West Oakland, with shootings and violence, 45 minutes to an hour to get home.”

Yet, in addition to the threat of violence, Ervin also described a sense of social isolation that he’s felt as a result of recent cuts to bus service in his area.

“It’s not good for physical and mental health,” he says. “It wasn’t good for my spiritual health too, because I couldn’t get to church. A lot of the bus cuts were around International Boulevard where my church is.”

Access to public transportation is what policy types call a “social determinant of health” or SDOH. Health is about much more than health care, than simply seeing a doctor.
Now, in a new study, the Alameda County Public Health Department documents the link Ervin has experienced between health and access to reliable public transportation.

In the report, Getting on Board for Health, health department representatives surveyed transit-dependent riders in Alameda County. The Bay Area as a whole has experienced an 8 percent cut to bus service between 2006 and 2011.

“We found among the transit dependent riders we surveyed, more than 8 in 10 say they have more difficulty getting to their jobs, social activities, school or doctors office,” says study co-author Rebecca Flournoy. “And we know this is problem from public health” studies (for example, this one).
Flournoy, the deputy director for planning policy and health equity at the Alameda County Public Health Department says the health impacts include cumulative effects of stress and social isolation, as well as missed doctors care.

And Devilla Ervin is not alone. There are about 2 million Bay Area residents who do not have a car and are transit dependent.

The survey included 477 transit-dependent riders in Alameda County. Nearly two-thirds reported longer wait times as a result of service cuts, one-third said they had longer commutes, and about one in ten said they didn’t see friends or family as frequently. About 6 percent — mostly seniors and people with disabilities — reported less access to health care appointments.

Sheela Gunn-Cushman, a member of the Disability Action Network of Hayward, is blind and relies on buses to get around. She says there’s a clear link for her between health and transit.

“When the buses don’t run, neither do we. That means we can’t work, play, socialize things like that. And we can’t get jobs and keep jobs and and go to doctors appointments and be human,” says Gunn-Cushman.

“A lot of these residents really build their daily lives around where, when and if public transportation is available,” says study co-author Flournoy.

While other transportation studies have explored public transit health impacts in terms of physical activity, traffic safety, and air quality this is one of the first of its kind to focus on health benefits from improving transportation access.

The county health agency released the report now in hopes of influencing the draft Plan Bay Area which will go before the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) for a vote in July. The long-term plan helps determine the allocation of $289 billion in regional transportation spending over the next 27 years.

One option for the MTC’s plan includes maintaining public transportation funding at current levels. The Alameda report advocates for a different option called the “Equity, Environment and Jobs” alternative. This approach would invest more funding into services, including bus transit around the region.

Could This Be a Solution to VMT Privacy Concerns?


By Larry Ehl, May 17, 2013


A vehicle-miles-traveled tax is an option for future road funding. Image - Fun with Num3ersReplacing or supplanting the gas tax with a tax on the miles you drive is gaining more and more attention. More states and regions are implementing pilot programs to determine the feasibility of a vehicle-miles-traveled (VMT) tax (wikipedia overview).  Oregon’s work, which we wrote about recently, is perhaps the furthest along. See “Vehicle-Miles Tax on Rural Drivers: Everything You Believe May Be Wrong.”

 A vehicle-miles-traveled tax is an option for future road funding.

One of the biggest concerns about VMT is privacy. People aren’t enamored of the notion of their travel being tracked by government.  People are either comfortable with businesses tracking them (Facebook and any number of cell phone/iPad apps) or don’t realize the degree to which their personal information is being gathered.

Privacy is a legitimate concern.  But a legitimate solution may already exist.  Cy Smith, Founder & CEO of AirSage, explains in this guest post.

Could This Be a Solution to VMT Privacy Concerns?

Congress is busy overseeing the implementation of the $105 billion transportation bill it passed last summer, but transportation planners are already turning their attention to its replacement.

As they do, the most important consideration they’ll have is how to pay for it.

The 2012 bill, known as the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), was paid for by a patchwork funding package because the amount of revenue brought in by the federal gas tax was about $20 billion less than the annual amount of revenue that is spent in the bill.

That fact, which House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman, Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA), called a “transportation fiscal cliff,” has resulted in openness to discuss alternative funding sources for road and transit spending that is rare in Washington.

The openness even includes once-controversial measures like Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT), which
would charge drivers based on the amount of miles they drive instead of the amount of gasoline they purchase.

Early VMT proposals relied on transponders that would be placed in cars, opening the door to criticism from privacy groups. The transponders would be similar to equipment that is already being used by some auto insurance companies where car owners agree to have their driving habits monitored in exchange for safe driver discounts on their policies.

Changing technologies like smart phone apps have opened the door even further to less intrusive ways of collecting data.

That fact has not been lost on Rep. Shuster, who has indicated an openness to potential VMT
proposals that has not existed in previous Congresses.

Shortly after Shuster became Transportation Committee Chairman last fall, Washington, D.C. newspaper, The Hill, reported that he said, “longer term, VMT seems to me to be the only way to stop the decline because we’re all going to be driving cars five, ten years from now that are going 40, 50 miles [per gallon] or more, or maybe not using any gas at all.”

Shuster acknowledged that it will be tough to sell VMT politically though, by saying, “The most conservative member in our committee and the most liberal member both say ‘you’re not putting transponders on my car,’ so it’s going to be a challenge.”

Anonymously collected, aggregate mobile device data, like the data AirSage provides, could ease privacy sensitivities, however.

AirSage is already collecting and analyzing over 15 billion wireless signals from mobile devices 24×7.

The technology could form the basis for a new system of measuring drivers’ usage of roads in a much more effective way than the current per-gallon tax system.

Some states are already moving away from individual gas taxes, which have been dwindling revenue streams as Americans drive less and cars become more energy efficient.

For example, state lawmakers in Virginia recently approved a plan to shift gas taxes to the wholesale level, meaning revenue will be generated from gas stations purchasing gas to sell rather than drivers filling up their tanks.

Other states are approving direct appropriations and raising sales taxes to pay for road projects that current gas tax revenue is leaving in park.

It remains to be seen if the shift away from traditional individual gas tax collections catches on, but lawmakers in Washington are listening for potential new solutions.

Rep. Shuster said recently at an event organized by another Washington publication, National Journal, that “everything should be on table” when the next highway bill is crafted.

With the current legislation set to expire in September 2014, the table is being set now. As the relief of passing any new transportation funding at all is fades, it’s replaced by the feeling that things have to be different next time around, especially in regards to MAP-21.

Mobile phone data analysis could hold the key to that change.

With privacy concerns assuaged, AirSage data is already being used for transportation modeling applications, helping non-traditional “out-of-home” media marketers reach consumers where they are, assisting brick-and-mortar companies in locating where their most lucrative customers are, and more.

The next step could easily be assisting state and local governments in levying taxes more thoroughly on drivers who are using roads that are badly in need of repair.  The need for drastic repair of the U.S. transportation infrastructure is the one thing almost everyone agrees on.

Cy Smith, Founder & CEO of AirSage. Cy is an experienced entrepreneur with over 25 years of experience in the telecommunications industry.
Disclosure: AirSage has been an advertiser and sponsor. 

Learn More:

Congressman Earl Blumenauer promotes legislation enabling VMT pilot studies (USA Today story).

Alternative Approaches to Highway Funding,” Congressional Budget Office, March 2011
Hill’s story about CBO report: “CBO: Taxing mileage a ‘practical option’ for revenue enhancement
“Can a miles-traveled tax finance infrastructure?” Politico, February 2013

Robert Poole argues a VMT is fairer and smarter in this pro/con opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal: “Is Raising the Federal Gasoline Tax the Best Way to Pay for Highways?”
Density: Census Numbers Betray an L.A. Cliché


By D. J. Waldie, May 20, 2013

 How Much Is Too Much?
 How Much Is Too Much?

Paul Krugman (in a New York Times column) clarified for me a feature of population density that is sometimes lost in our conversation about how we should house ourselves:
First, although America is a vast, thinly populated country, with fewer than 90 people per square mile, the average American lives in a quite densely populated neighborhood, with more than 5000 people per square mile. The next time someone talks about small towns as the "real America", bear in mind that the real real America -- the America in which most Americans live -- looks more or less like metropolitan Baltimore.
Second, however, although the US population and hence the population density rose about 10 percent over the course of the naughties, the average American was living in a somewhat less dense neighborhood in 2010 than in 2000, as population spread out within metropolitan areas. If you like, we're becoming a bit less a nation of Bostons and a bit more a nation of Houstons.
If Houston represents the new average of a slightly less dense urban America, then it's worth noting that Houston itself (also based on Census data released last year) is becoming somewhat more dense than it had been, but not at the city's core. Houston is densifying at its fringes, not downtown.
Arguably, the Los Angles-Long Beach-Anaheim region (as the Census Bureau defines it) is mostly fringes. There are several downtowns scattered across the region (the Civic Center, Century City, Hollywood, Studio City, Culver City, "Silicon Beach," Long Beach) none of which looks like Manhattan or Chicago's Loop or the San Francisco peninsula.

Looked at (as the Census Bureau did) in terms of their "weighted population" ( a measure of concentration), all the fringes of the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim region are themselves uniformly concentrated, so that the region is about as dense as Chicago's.
For urbanist and urban advocate Richard Florida, the data show that:
... (T)he New York metro has much higher levels of concentrated or population-weighted density, 31,251 versus 12,114 people per square mile. San Francisco, which has lower average density than L.A. (1,755 people per square mile), tops L.A. on population-weighted density with 12,145 people per square mile.
New York's population-weighted density is much higher than L.A.'s in close proximity to city hall, roughly 80,000 people per square mile compared to between 20,000 or 30,000 for L.A., but it dips substantially about 15 miles out from the city center, falling beneath that of L.A.
Surprised? Population in the New York metropolitan area is highly concentrated until, less than the distance from City Hall to the beach at Santa Monica, New York's density falls below the density of Los Angeles.

The data show that a lot of people in the region live far from the Los Angeles Civic Center, but they do so at pretty high density levels. Few people in the region live in locales with lower density. And unlike the demographics anywhere else in America, almost no one in the region lives a rural life.
Public transit as one among many issues this unique form affects. As Kristin Eberhard of the Natural Resources Defense Council has noted, Metro's light rail and subway system is centered on downtown Los Angeles, where only about three percent of the region's jobs are concentrated. The hub-and-spoke rail system fails the rest of the region. Instead, we need a web of transit.
(The Green Line -- conceived during the last century's defense boom and the only line not anchored downtown -- was supposed to take workers from the county's east to aerospace jobs in the county's west.)

I'm not an "exceptionalist" about where I live. I understand -- and argue for -- the value of its ordinariness. But I also understand that the built form of Los Angeles is something other than the crude dichotomy of "urban" and "suburban" that makes a caricature of Los Angeles when we discuss how and where we should live and how we might make our region more livable.
How clean is the air we breathe in cities?
By Umang Jain, May 20, 2013
 A boy peers out a bus window in Mumbai, India. Photo by gregor_y.
 A boy peers out a bus window in Mumbai, India.
More and more cities worldwide are grappling with the ever-increasing menace of air pollution — especially in India, which contains some of the most polluted cities in the world. Rapid economic growth in developing countries and increased individual wealth is leading to an ever-increasing number of cars and motorcycles on the roads. We are seeing highly increased emissions and rapid deterioration in urban air quality. The transport sector itself is now the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, accounting for 13% of total greenhouse gas emissions and 23% of global energy-related emissions.

Most Indian cities are exceeding the critical levels of particle pollution (particulate matter, or PM) and nitrous oxide (NOx), two of the worst air pollutants. This phenomenon is due to an ever-increasing number of private vehicles, old technology, and unclean fuels.

What are PM and NOx?

Particulate Matter: Particulate matter is a mixture of small particles and droplets including acids, like sulphates and nitrates, organic chemicals, metals, soil, or dust. Combustion can produce a large quantity of very fine particles, known as PM10 (defined as 10 nanometers in diameter or smaller). The human body cannot protect against exposure to these PM10s and against ultra-fine particles (PM2.5) which can enter the heart and lungs through inhalation and have serious health effects, including respiratory disease and heart  and lung conditions.

Nitrous Oxides: They are an important family of air-polluting chemical compounds. These highly reactive gases affect health and lead to increase in global warming. Nitrous oxide can be oxidized in the atmosphere into nitrogen dioxide, which is a dangerous air pollutant in itself and can also react to form ozone and acid rain.

How can our cities deal with this menace?

As far as vehicle pollution is concerned, the remedy lies in adopting a multi-pronged approach with concrete steps towards promoting public transport solutions, such as bus fleets which run on cleaner fuel, such as low-sulfur diesel or natural gas.

1. Make an informed, location-specific selection of fuels and vehicles

Cities should base their selection of fuel on the total cost and emissions  – from extraction or production, to processing to combustion —  associated with each type of fuel.
Fuel policies should be revisited by municipalities, and current gaps in pricing should be taken into consideration. In India, for example, there exists a huge gap in the prices of diesel and gasoline due to fuel subsidies on diesel, which are leading to increased sales, and production of diesel vehicles. Diesel vehicles now account for 40% of vehicles on Indian roads, and the figures are expected to grow further. Most of these vehicles are operating on dirty diesel, with a high sulfur content. Yet, technology today is capable of producing diesel fuel with as low as 50 ppm sulfur content, but this cleaner fuel has thus far not caught on.

2. Adopt the Avoid-Shift-Improve strategy

A more promising and holistic solution lies in the adoption of the avoid-shift-improve framework, which essentially entails avoiding motorized trips, by planning land use and mixity in buildings  in such a way that most of the trips are within short distances which can be covered by bike or on foot; shifting from individual motorized transport to public transport; and improving upon today’s fuel options and technologies.

 Video at

3. Increase financial incentives for sustainable transport, disincentives for private vehicle use

At the same time, financial incentives, and disincentives, need to be put in place to encourage use of buses and clean fuels; at the same time governments should also aim at discouraging the use of personal vehicles through disincentives, such as levying congestion charges, raising parking fees, hiking insurance premiums, etc. Research in the alternate/renewable fuels should be undertaken and efforts focused on making technology more cost effective to enable wider commercial application.

The disposal of old, high-polluting vehicles also warrants more attention. The enforcement of emissions standards and disposal regulations should be strictly imposed. Moreover, emissions standards should be made uniformly applicable to an entire country across all modes of transport. Current fuel policy in India allows for a relaxation of emissions standards for 2-wheeled vehicles, such as motorbikes, which have become the major urban pollutants, due to sheer numbers and outdated technology.

Holistic approach should be taken toward fighting air pollution
Air pollution needs to be dealt with in a more holistic manner, wherein major contributors, like industries, power plants, and vehicles are addressed together. A host of policies, regulations, and incentives, implemented simultaneously, are required to deal with this issue, as no one policy is sufficient to deal with this multi-faceted problem.
1. http://www.embarq.org/en/exhaust-emissions-transit-buses-working-paper
2. http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-03-03/pollution/37409934_1_air-pollution-ghaziabad-critically-polluted-areas

John Kennedy Sworn in as District 3 Councilmember


By James MacPherson, May 20, 2013


Posted On : 6:22 am | May 20, 2013

In a reception and ceremony that spanned 3 hours and brought together a diverse crowd of over 250, District 3 City Councilmember John J. Kennedy was sworn into office by Congresswoman Judy Chu Sunday evening at Pasadena’s Central Library one block from City Hall.

Kennedy said his swearing in ceremony was the perfect opportunity to re-affirm his commitment to the District Three citizens he now represents as their City Councilman, as well as his commitment to the entire city of Pasadena.

“For what happens in one district, affects each district,” said Kennedy. ” We are one neighborhood, one community, one city.”

“The people are the eyes, ears, heart and soul of this community and its government,” he said. “They deserve transparent, responsive and compassionate government. We won’t always agree but together we bare witness that there is only one Pasadena – rich, middle class or poor – we are on the same journey.”

The event drew a diverse crowd from all walks of life, ages and ethnicities, with attendees including City Manager Michael Beck, Chief of Police Phillip Sanchez, City Attorney Michelle Bagneris and Fire Chief Calvin Wells.

Robin Salzer, a local businessman who ran for City Council in 2007, said he has attended swearing in ceremonies for 30 years but never seen “anything like” the Sunday night event.

Vice Mayor Jacque Robinson, City Council members Gene Masuda and Steve Madison were also in attendance.

Campaign opponent Dr. Nicholas Benson attended, greeting Kennedy on the Central Library steps with a bear hug. Kennedy’s other opponent in the race, Ishmael Trone, did not appear.

Congresswoman Judy Chu conducted the swearing in ceremony that included book shelves festooned with fragrant floral displays, appetizers and wine, and a harpist.

“When I first met John I was so impressed by his commitment to public service and his devotion to making a difference,” Chu said. “John truly knows this city inside and out. I know John will do an outstanding job as City Council member.”

Kennedy said the more than 100-year-old Bible used in the ceremony was once held by his brother, retired Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Malcolm Kennedy — his parent’s (“two God-fearing Southerners”) third son of 10 children.

The program included a color guard by the United States Marine Corps, the Pledge of Allegiance led by Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and prayer by the Rev. Dr. Mark K. Smutny, Senior Pastor, of the Pasadena Presbyterian Church.

The closing prayer as led by the Rev. Terry Turrentine, Senior Pastor of the Deliverance Tabernacle Church of God in Christ.

“I am grateful to the voters in District Three for the trust that they have placed with me,” Kennedy said. “I pledge all of my efforts to live up to that trust.”
Oops! Judge Slams Local Public-Private Deal


By Fawn Johnson, May 13, 2013


A weird thing happened a few weeks ago that I would never have noticed had I not been putting the final touches on a feature story for National Journal magazine on public-private partnerships. (See this week's issue for that story.)

In what locals hailed as a victory against 58 years of toll hikes, a circuit judge in Portsmouth, Va.,
ruled unconstitutional a $2.1 billion agreement between Virginia's Department of Transportation and two global infrastructure firms to create a new under-river tunnel connecting Portsmouth and Newport. Under the deal, tolls to traverse the tunnel were set to increase from $1.59 to $1.84 per car in 2014, although that tolling schedule is now in doubt.

The ruling left the lawyers and government officials who negotiated the agreement scratching their heads. No one saw it coming. It was a classic case of David and Goliath. The deal with the Australian firm MacQuarie and Swedish firm Skanska had been in the works for years. Former Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, and the current Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, both wanted it to happen. Virginia's transportation department and the attorney general's office are preparing an appeal, which will likely wind up in the Supreme Court of Virginia.

Meanwhile, the plaintiffs--including one flamboyant city council member and several business owners--are still trying to figure out how to pay their attorney, Patrick McSweeney. That kind of situation is not unusual, McSweeney told me last week, fresh off his victory. Locals often don't know where to go or who to fight when big infrastructure deals like this one are announced in their area.

The judge reasoned that the public-private partnership under question had exceeded the bounds of allowable government because it imposed a financing system on travelers and residents that could not be rectified for decades to come. That's a lot of electoral cycles. The Virginia law on which the deal was based "gave unfettered power to the Department of Transportation to set toll rates without any real or meaningful parameters," said Judge James A. Cales, Jr.

I have argued that private-sector deals like this one are the wave of the future as federal funding for infrastructure continues to shrink. But now I'm starting to wonder. What if the laws in this country, and perhaps its citizens, stubbornly won't let that kind of privatization happen?

Should tolls be subject to public referendum? Does it make sense to go to court, as Portsmouth residents did, to stop a major public-private deal from going forward? How can public-private partnerships be crafted such that they don't run afoul of public opinion and/or the law? How much freedom should government have to negotiate with the private sector?

Comments to the article:

May 17, 2013 7:05 PM

Public Scrutiny Essential

President and CEO, AAA

The use of public-private partnerships (P3s) as a financing method for new transportation projects is a trend that is increasing in popularity in states and localities across the country. Many times, these P3 projects are meeting state and local needs that have been previously identified by both government and the private sector. However governments bring these projects to fruition – either through legislative adoption or voter referendum – they need to be accompanied by a robust public review and evaluated through a process that is fully transparent.

The price of tolls, or even the necessity of placing tolls on a P3 project, will differ from project to project. The most important principle is that project originators must convey how any charges are a true user fee that is directly tied to the costs of using the facility. The public has demonstrated a willingness to pay for improved transportation in certain areas of the country when the case is properly made.

In terms of how the P3 process should unfold in order to best protect the public interest, we recommend a few important components:

Once the transportation problem has been identified and a P3 approach is entertained, there should be full public visibility into the structural components that govern the bid request and in the process for selecting the concession grantee.

The public partner involved should have expert legal and financial counsel that are not compensated on a success fee basis, so as to help ensure their interest resides with the public interest.

The P3 contract should be very clear in delineating the public's ongoing responsibilities in terms of oversight, accountability, and evaluation of the private sector’s commitments and the impact of the P3 project(s) on the region’s transportation network.

One concept that may be worthy of further exploration is to consider treating transportation assets in the same way as public utilities. In this instance, rate increases would be justified using a mechanism of the type used by public utility commissions. To de-couple politics from the process, the National Surface Transportation and Revenue Study Commission proposed a model of this type for federal investment, so it makes sense to explore its impact on a state and local level for toll setting and revenue raisers.

The contract should have explicit renegotiation provisions in order to protect the long term public interest.

The selection of the private partner should be based on best value to the public, not the highest (or lowest) priced bid.

Those involved in the P3 market are best served by a transparent process from the beginning. Claimed benefits and expected costs to users under P3 arrangements must be fully vetted, debated and decided upon in a transparent and forthright way.

May 15, 2013 10:40 AM

Setting future road toll levels

Research Fellow, The Independent Institute

Toll setting involves difficult issues. I’ll try to answer two of the questions, and ask a few myself.
As the $2.1 billion tunnel was designed to last for “decades to come” it seems reasonable to set tolls for a lengthy period. Or at least to set the conditions governing the toll levels. Or would Judge Cales permit the government to reduce the toll soon after the facility was built, as happened in Bangkok some twenty years ago? If such changes by governments were possible, why would investors risk their money in public-private partnerships?

However, misbehavior in toll setting is not confined to public-private partnerships. Consider the manner in which tolls on the Dulles Toll Road are being raised six-fold by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) to finance a rail line (the Silver Line) to Dulles airport. We all know that the Dulles Toll Road was built for, and paid for by, travelers not going to that airport. Why should they be forced to subsidize those who are?

As the courts have yet to decide whether the MWAA has the legal power to raise highway tolls for such a purpose, some of us still hope that this toll-raising will be stopped. So, yes, it does sometimes make sense to go to court.

How much freedom should government have to negotiate with the private sector? As public-private partnerships can enable governments to reward their friends at public expense, these deals merit particularly close attention. At the very least, should they not incorporate transparent bidding processes for all significant contracts? Did this happen in the case of the Silver Line?

Do We Suddenly Hate Driving?


By Fawn Johnson, May 20, 2013

I hate driving, actually. The only reason I do it is because my 10-year-old needs someone to cart him around the city. I consider myself as a weirdo on this front because I know most people love their cars.

A new study from U.S. PIRG and Frontier Group indicates that I may be more normal than I thought. It argues that "the driving boom" -from the end of World War II to 2004--is over. "Americans drive fewer total miles today than we did eight years ago, and fewer per person than we did at the end of Bill Clinton's first term," it says.

United States policy on transportation hasn't caught up to this phenomenon, the report argues. Plans for expanded roads and highways that were cooked up a decade ago are still in the works, even though the users might not be there to make them worthwhile. What's more, driving is down most dramatically among millennials, the generation aged 23 to 30, and the people who will make the most use of those roads over the next 50 years. Their habits tend to favor city-living (i.e., walking, transit and biking) and car sharing.

This trend is good news for the transportation community, which has been stuck in a dilemma of needing more money to fund roads and bridges but having nowhere to go for it. My National Journal cover story last week illustrates the difficulties of trying to fund transportation with the help of the private sector. Government officials see public-private partnerships as their only option for infusing cash into a state, but the long-term deals that involve tolling and concessions require the public to foot the bill for decades.

If PIRG's projections are right, the cost of maintaining our infrastructure won't be quite as high as some economists project. But with fewer drivers also comes less gas consumption. That's good for the environment but bad for the highway trust fund, funded by fuel tax and drivers' use of roads.

With decreased driving, the investment framework (be it public or private) might have to shift towards alternate forms of transportation. That idea has its own unique problems. When has anyone ever made money on a transit system?

Is PIRG on the mark in terms of its projections about reduced driving? How does the data change the way we should think about infrastructure? Will millennials' driving behavior increase when, like me, they have to start carting children to baseball games and martial arts classes? Is there a business opportunity to be developed in the country's overall change in behavior? If driving continues to decline, how far would that go toward solving the infrastructure funding shortfall?

(By the way, the study is co-authored by U.S. PIRG's Phineas Baxandall, a commenter on this blog, and Frontier's Tony Dutzik.)
What's up with Nick Conway?


May 21, 2013

The Pasadena Star News has been following the strange story of the SGVCOG's fallen Executive Director for quite awhile now, and the latest legal chicanery of Nick Conway is no exception. Nick, who could soon be giving up a life of unearned privilege for 7 long years in the pokey, is now trying to wriggle off the hook before his case has even gone to trial. Here is how the Star News tells it (link):

The trial of Nick Conway, the former executive director of the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments, is scheduled to begin May 30 in front of Judge Norm Shapiro in Los Angeles County Criminal Court.

Before the trial can proceed, however, the judge first will consider a motion filed by Conway's attorney on Wednesday to dismiss the charges pending against his client.

In the motion, Conway's attorney argues that Judge M.L. Villar de Longoria was mistaken when she held his client to answer to four criminal charges of conflict of interest at the conclusion of the preliminary hearing. The charges are related to four contracts Conway managed for the regional planning body while he was heading up his own for-profit company, Arroyo Associates, which managed the public agency.

At issue is whether Conway personally benefitted from the contracts, for which the COG approved amendments and extra costs amounting to at least $148,000, according to evidence presented at the preliminary hearing this winter.

"He sought out contracts that benefited him," said Judge Villar de Longoria after she ruled there was enough evidence to proceed with a trial.

Conway's attorney, Kenneth White, wrote in the motion that Conway had acted entirely according to the COG's Strategic Plan laid out by the COG board of directors and approved by the COG's attorneys. In an email to this newspaper, White wrote: "I've consistently said that all contracts, and the negotiations thereof, were part of a strategy explicitly directed by the Board, were approved at every stage by the Board, and were approved by the COG's general counsel."

Assistant District Attorney Dana Aratani said he just received the motion to dismiss charges and will be preparing a response within the next five or so days.

"Essentially, the evidence supports the charges that he was held to answer for," Aratani said Wednesday. "There were others that knew of the conflict of interest or might have suspected the conflict."

Government Code section 1090 prohibits public officials from having any financial interest in any contract made by them in their official capacity, according to the D.A.'s Office.

A couple of things that I found out. Despite Conway's attempts to get the taxpayers to foot the bill for his high-priced attorney, poor Nick has been forced to pay out of his own pocket. Something that must have come as a shock to a man who had come to think of the taxpayer's money as his own.

It is also a good measure of the arrogance of the man. Apparently Nick, who had been offered the opportunity to cop a plea in exchange for a suspended sentence along with being barred from ever holding a government job again, thinks he can beat these corruption charges. Despite the overwhelming evidence that he is guilty.

But that said, there is also this scary consideration. Nick's "other people at the COG knew about what I was doing, so how can I be held accountable?" appeal to the Judge just might be a trial run for what will become his defense strategy once the real show begins.

And given the well-known fact that many juries are as dumb as rocks, this could be an emotional appeal that works. It is a serious gamble on Nick's part, though. And if he loses it could easily cost him his freedom for much of what remains of his time here on this mortal coil.

Were they kidding with this headline?

The Pasadena Sun, which somehow manages to be considered a newspaper without printing much in the way of actual news, has now run the following story about a tractor trailer truck that, filled with several tons of grapes, crashed onto a concrete 210 Freeway barrier early yesterday morning (link):

Big rig carrying fruit crashes on 210 Freeway, creates jam

Monday’s morning commute started off horribly for drivers in the San Gabriel Valley when a big rig carrying fruit overturned on the 210, blocking lanes in both directions in Monrovia for most of the morning.

The big rig crashed through the center divider just before 5 a.m. near Myrtle Avenue, the L.A. Times reported. Three westbound lanes and two eastbound lanes will be blocked until about 9:15 a.m., according to the California Highway Patrol.

Westbound traffic appeared to be backed up to the 605 freeway. The trailer is estimated to weigh about 35,000 pounds, according to the CHP.

I hope they were kidding. Then again, maybe I don't.