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

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

State orders department-wide review of Caltrans
Posted on No 710 on Avenue 64 Facebook page: Great first start for Gov. Brown and his administration. I hope they realize that down in LA there are a host of questions and concerns regarding the shepherding of the 710 tunnel disaster. Just a few to mention, studies cut short or curtailed, false and misleading statements on trucks or no trucks and recent shifting to one tunnel vs two tunnels. There continues to be a growing number of folks concerned about the reliability info made available to the public.
By David Siders, May 29, 2013

The Brown administration said today it has ordered an independent, system-wide review of Caltrans, the department at the center of controversy surrounding construction of the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.
Brian Kelly, acting secretary of the Business, Transportation & Housing Agency, said in a prepared statement that experts from the State Smart Transportation Initiative, a group housed at University of Wisconsin, Madison, will "take a fresh look at Caltrans operations and help improve performance, communications and management."

The transportation group's members include 19 state departments of transportation, including California.

The review, which is expected to cost $270,000, is part of a reorganization of various transportation-related departments into one agency, officials said.

Kelly said members of the independent review group will interview Caltrans staff and people outside the department before providing a written review in about seven months.

Caltrans has come under scrutiny for its management of construction of a new, $6.4 billion span of the Bay Bridge. Following reports of broken and suspect bolts on the bridge, Gov. Jerry Brown said this month he does not know if it will open as scheduled on Labor Day weekend.

Brown told reporters after an event in Sacramento on Wednesday afternoon that the review has nothing to do with the Bay Bridge.

"No, it's to do with the reorganization and taking a fresh look at Caltrans as part of our government reorganization," he said.

When asked if he was concerned about the bridge, Brown said, "I'm concerned about everything."

Gareth Lacy, an agency spokesman, said the agency had been contemplating an outside review of Caltrans for months, and he said Kelly met with representatives of the review group in December.

Comments to the article: 

I guess like the Gov says, "Sh*t happens". So his PR hanlders told him he stepped in it. OK.
We're just at 600% of the original estimate of Mayors Brown & Brown architects.
And 10 years behind schedule.
And problems galore.
But s**T happens?
And... AND... Caltarns has 20,000 people who each make at least $100,000 per year???

 This will take 25 years to complete.  Why?  Because the Brown administration is behind it.  It will probably cost more than rebuilding the bay bridge. 

 Good. It's about time someone took a good hard look at Caltrans' management. Not just the bridge designers, but the entire professional staff including planners, engineers, bean counters, etc. (not including the maintenance crews, just the desk jockeys). Their culture needs to change. This review can only result in positive changes--changes that are long overdue.

It doesn't need to get to the guys on the pavement, but I think that a review has to extend, at the very least,  down to the level of project management.  The Bay Bridge fiasco looks every bit to me like a failure to manage, on site. 
That means getting into the on site management of contractors.  It also means looking into how crews are run, and if they could be run any more efficiently.

 Maybe if the dinosaurus bureaucraticus that is CalTrans had been kicked in the butt 20 years ago, the message might just now be getting to it's tiny brain.

 Nothing to see here peons, just move along!!  CalTrans bridge inspectors faked and didn't inspect work in So. Cal.-- Caltrans boss and workers stole material to build gate on boss's private property- Bridge phony inspector Duane Wiles fired 1998, rehired  and faked more work- arrested for child molesting 9 year old girl( along with the girl's grand mother, Duane's girlfriend May Clark)  and Caltrans did retire him with pension.  Nothing to worry about here- EXcept he faked some of the inspection work on the Oakland Bay bridge  also.   Drive safe, my friends!!!!  Caltrans loves you.

Read more here: http://blogs.sacbee.com/capitolalertlatest/2013/05/state-orders-department-wide-review-of-caltrans.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://blogs.sacbee.com/capitolalertlatest/2013/05/state-orders-department-wide-review-of-caltrans.html#storylink=cpy

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Read more here: http://blogs.sacbee.com/capitolalertlatest/2013/05/state-orders-department-wide-review-of-caltrans.html#storylink=cpy

Bombardier’s Brazil monorail honored for innovation


May 29, 2013

Bombardier Transportation won the award for Intermodal Innovation for Latin America for its Innovia Monorail 300 system for the São Paulo Metro in Brazil.

The International Association of Public Transport (UITP) presented the award to André Guyvarch, president and chief country representative Brazil, Bombardier Transportation, at a ceremony held during the 60th UITP World Congress and Mobility & City Transport Exhibition in Geneva.

The award confirms that the Eastern Express Monorail, also known as São Paulo Metro line 15, has put the city of São Paulo on the map as a global pioneer in urban public transport. Brazil´s largest city will be the first in the world to implement Bombardier’s high capacity Innovia Monorail technology for a public transit system.

The UITP recognized Bombardier’s Innovia Monorail system for São Paulo as a true game-changer for public transportation in Latin America. It offers the ideal solution for megacities such as São Paulo, where innovative solutions are needed today to solve their mobility challenges. The monorail’s many advantages include its high passenger capacity combined with the fact that the system is cost effective to introduce as it does not require major infrastructure or civil works. Innovia Monorail technology offers transportation capacity similar to a metro while being up to twice as fast to implement.

São Paulo’s new 15-mile line with 17 stations will operate with 54 seven-car trains, connecting the Vila Prudente and Cidade Tiradentes areas in the eastern part of the city. The new driverless transit system for São Paulo features the integrated Bombardier Cityflo 650 communications-based train control technology, which will allow for very short headways of only 75 seconds. Currently this journey takes approximately two hours by car and the monorail will reduce the time to only 50 minutes, benefiting half a million users daily.

The project is being delivered by the Expresso Monotrilho Leste Consortium (Eastern Express Monorail consortium), led by Brazilian civil contractor Queiroz Galvão and incorporating construction firm Construtora OAS as well as Bombardier Transportation. The consortium was awarded the project in 2010 by the Companhia do Metropolitano de São Paulo (São Paulo Metro). The system will be completed in 2016.

Do Bicycle Helmet Laws Really Make Riders Safer?


By Eric Jaffe, May 29, 2013


 Do Bicycle Helmet Laws Really Make Riders Safer?


Typically in transportation — and most social arenas, for that matter — laws promoting safety precautions lead to an increase in public health. Legislation on speed limits, drunk driving, and seatbelt are a few of the most obvious examples. Even bans on the relatively new phenomenon of driver-texting seem to be doing the trick, according to early evidence.

With bike helmet laws, however, the connection isn't quite so clear.

Take a recent study published earlier this month in BMJ [PDF]. The Canadian research team, led by Jessica Dennis of the University of Toronto, analyzed the rate of cycling-related hospital admissions for head injuries across the country between 1994 and 2008 — an enormous research sample of more than 66,000 people. The size and length of the study allowed Dennis and collaborators to track the injuries against the emergence of bike helmet laws in various provinces.

What they found initially seemed to suggest that this legislation improved public safety. In provinces with helmet laws, the rate of head injuries among young people decreased 54 percent and the rate among adults decreased 26 percent. At the same time, in provinces without the laws, the rate among youth riders dropped only 33 percent and among adults remained constant. (It bears mention that the study was the first to examine the effects of helmet laws on adults.)

But upon closer inspection, according to Dennis and company, this positive effect failed to stand. On the contrary, the researchers concluded that head injuries were decreasing across the country at a rate that wasn't "appreciably altered" by the new helmet laws. Other rider health initiatives — namely, public safety campaigns and the introduction of better bike infrastructure — rendered the contribution of helmet laws "minimal":
Reductions were greatest in provinces with helmet legislation. Rates of admissions for head injuries, however, were decreasing before the implementation of provincial helmet legislation and did not seem to change in response to legislation.
The study is just the latest to highlight the paradox of bike helmet laws. At the foundation of the puzzle is the fact that wearing a helmet, without question, reduces a rider's risk of injury. (Recent work estimates an 88 percent reduction in brain injuries and an 85 percent decrease in head injuries.) Add in the fact that legislation does increase helmet usage among riders, and it would seem to follow that these laws should produce a net public safety benefit.

But what's clearly good for the individual rider appears oddly neutral (or worse) for riders at large. Public education and infrastructure upgrades, as the aforementioned works shows, protect riders considerably even before helmets come into play. Both efforts increase the overall amount of cycling, which provides safety in numbers. Mandatory helmet laws, meanwhile, may discourage riding to the point where public safety as a whole suffers from the relative decrease in physical exercise.

The bike safety researcher Piet de Jong framed the situation nicely in a paper published last spring [PDF]. In places where riding is already safe, helmet laws are likely to have a "large unintended negative health impact" for some of the reasons stated above. In places where it's unsafe, the laws may make riding a little safer, but are also likely to distract attention from initiatives, such as infrastructure upgrades, that would be even more effective.

"Resolution of the issue for any particular jurisdiction requires detailed information on the bicycling environment," De Jong writes.

Of course, none of this should be seen as an argument against wearing a bike helmet. Quite the opposite, really, if you're a lone reader thinking of taking a ride today. What the helmet paradox does suggest, however, is that there's a progression toward rider safety that each city must pursue according to its own situation. And that if helmet laws do have a place along this path, it's toward the end rather than the beginning.

MTA to assist Bob Hope Airport's train connection project

 The transportation agency has agreed to spend $1.7 million to help the airport achieve its goal of becoming easier to reach by means other than a car.


By Daniel Seigel, May 26, 2013

 A train-to-plane connection

 As a Metrolink train rumbles past in the foreground, construction continues on the regional transportation center at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank. 

 The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority has agreed to spend $1.7 million to assist Bob Hope Airport's efforts for an ambitious train connection project.

The money — a local match for a decades-old $4.3-million federal grant — will help accelerate construction of an airport Metrolink station along the Antelope Valley Line, among other improvement projects, airport officials said.

The funds will come from Measure R, a half-cent sales tax approved by county voters in 2008 to pay for transportation projects.

A groundbreaking ceremony for the new Metrolink station will be held June 21.

Airport spokesman Victor Gill said the MTA's vote last week to spend the money will help the airport achieve its goal of becoming easier to reach by means other than a car.

"It really speaks to the Metro board and its vision of linking airports to [other] transportation and making something real and tangible happen as soon as possible," he said.

The remaining Measure R funds will probably be spent on other projects such as using more durable concrete, instead of asphalt, in the airport's regional transportation center under construction and improving the Ventura County Line Metrolink station south of the airport, airport officials said.

The money is tied to a federal grant obtained in 1987 through the Surface Transportation and Uniform Relocation Assistance Act, which requires local matching funds in order to be used.

Of that $4.3-million grant, $1.8 million is already funding a study that gauges traffic congestion and access to the airport.

Also, $1.75 million from the grant was transferred from the airport to the MTA last year for construction of the Antelope Valley Metrolink station, to be built at Hollywood Way and San Fernando Road.

At the same time, the MTA board more than matched the airport's transfer by allocating $2 million for the north Metrolink station.

Dan Feger, executive director of Bob Hope Airport, said the approved funding demonstrates the MTA's support of the facility's transportation plan.

"This validates what we told you was Metro's intent: that they are very strong supporters of the program the airport has put into play here, trying to bolster the plane-to-train connection," he said.

The Port of LA adopts policy to protect historical buildings and sites


By Brian Watt, May 28, 2013




 The Japanese-American memorial on Terminal Island.

Like other ports around the U.S., the Port of Los Angeles is trying to modernize to compete in the changing global shipping market.   At the same time,  the port recently adopted a new policy to protect historic buildings and sites within its area.

Under the new policy, the port has made it a priority to preserve buildings and sites that are at least 50 years old.  In a statement, the port said historical resources that are less than 50 years old could also come under review.

"This policy provides a comprehensive and proactive framework for the ongoing identification of historical resources and consideration for their preservation and reuse,"  Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Geraldine Knatz said in the statement.   "It assures that these resources are identified early in the planning process for proposed projects or potential leasing of vacant properties."

  The Los Angeles Conservancy helped the port develop the new policy.  Conservancy Advocacy Director Adrian Fine said the port’s Terminal Island was once home to a Japanese-American internment community, a shipyard that played a key role in both world wars, and the Starkist and Chicken of the Sea canneries that launched the canned tuna industry in the U.S.

The historic sites at the port "could really benefit" from the new policy, said Fine, who expressed the hope that port officials will think " a little more creatively about how could we reuse those buildings without calling for their demolition."

 The Port of Los Angeles could be the first port to establish a preservation policy.  Officials said while drafting it,  they looked to other ports for a model, but couldn't find one.

Last year the National Trust for Historic Preservation included Terminal Island on its list of the eleven most endangered historic landmarks in the country.
The Rest of Last Week’s Metro Board Agenda: Billboards, Attacked Bus Drivers, More Antelope Valley Line Service 


By Dana Gabbard, May 29, 2013

 Supervisor Mike Antonovich wants to see more weekend service on the Antelope Valley Line.

Beyond the Leimert Park station drama that dominated coverage of the Metro Board meeting last Thursday there were other items of interest as reported by both Steve Hymon on The Source and myself here at Streetsblog.

But there are three additional items that I think are notable and/or newsworthy:

Metro is undertaking an expansion of its program of placing billboards on Metro property. Billboards have long been and continue to be a contentious issue, especially digital billboards. Here is an example of a local politico whose involvement with the billboard industry essentially ended his career in politics. Metro does seem aware of the need to make nice with local jurisdictions, stating “Each municipality … is presented with the opportunity to place signage only in locations that meet their individual safety and aesthetic criteria”. That sounds like a prudent approach.
The summary paragraph of agenda item #60, which concerns the assault of a Metro bus rider and the investigation to find a suspect, deserves to be quoted verbatim regarding the incident it is in response to:
On Friday, May 10, 2013 at approximately 7:35 p.m., Metro Bus Line 150 in Studio City was traveling along Ventura Boulevard at Laurel Canyon Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley and a suspect boarded and became angry with the bus operator  over a fare dispute. The suspect caused bodily harm to the bus operator, knocking him unconscious. The suspect then exited the bus and fled the location in an unknown direction. The Metro bus operator, a six-year veteran of Metro, suffered injuries to his head and was transported to Sherman Oaks Hospital where he was treated and later released.
Buried in the staff report is a bit of good news: “The suspect is currently in custody”.
Lastly Chair Antonovich has requested that next month Metro CEO Art Leahy return with “a proposal to increase Sunday service on the Antelope Valley Line from three to six round trips, as part of the proposed Metrolink budget. … [and also] that the CEO work with Metrolink and Amtrak to do the following:
  1. identify missed connections between Metrolink trains and between Metrolink and Amtrak trains
  2. implement an updated schedule plan that allows for Metrolink and Amtrak train schedules to be coordinated to allow for timely transfers throughout the region, and
  3. report back to the Board at the June 2013 Planning Committee and Board Meeting with an update on these efforts and timeline for completion”.
As I have noted previously Leahy is a big proponent of regional connecti

4.6 earthquake hits off Santa Barbara coast


By Kate Mather, May 29, 2013


 A 4.6-magnitude earthquake struck Wednesday morning off the Santa Barbara Coast. (USGS / May 29, 2013)Santa Barbara earthquake

 A magnitude-4.6 earthquake struck off the Santa Barbara coast Wednesday morning, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The temblor struck at 7:38 a.m. about three miles west of Isla Vista, the USGS reported. Initial reports indicated that the quake had a magnitude of 4.9, but that was later adjusted to 4.6.

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department said there were no immediate reports of damage or injuries.

Dozens of people stretching from Bakersfield to Manhattan Beach reported feeling the quake on the USGS "Did you feel it?" site. Others weighed in on social media.

"That was a shaker!" @Larsonomics tweeted.

"It has definitely been a while since I was woken up by an earthquake. Thanks Santa Barbara," @SnsetStripLocal wrote.

A magnitude-2.6 aftershock struck at 7:50 a.m. in the same spot, the USGS said.

  (Magnitude subsequently increased to 4.8.)

Top candidates emerge for vacant Pasadena school board seat


By James Figueroa, May 28, 2013

PASADENA -- Three leading candidates have emerged from a pool of 37 applicants for the vacant seat on the Pasadena school board, and another six might join them in the interview process.

Mikala Rahn, Laura Romero and Carmen Vargas were each named by four of the six sitting board members as top candidates based on their applications. The board members each submitted eight to 10 names as part of the paper screening process, and the applicants with the largest tallies are expected to be interviewed on June 1.

Ruben Hueso, Stella Murga and Luis Ayala, who each lost election bids this year, wound up on three board members' lists and would be interviewed if the board decides to consider the top nine candidates. Also receiving support from at least three board members are Cushon Bell, Serafin Espinoza and Gretchen Vance.

One person out of the 38 initial applicants didn't meet the qualifications of being a registered voter within the PUSD boundaries.

The board is expected to make an appointment in June, and that person would serve until the seat is up for election again in 2015.

Chairman of House Transportation Committee gets first-hand look at 57/60 freeway interchange


By Steve Scauzillo, May 28, 2013

 Traffic flows through the interchange of the 60 and 57 freeways in Diamond Bar April 5, 2012. A congressional hearing is being held on the $265 million project.

 DIAMOND BAR -- The chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee got a firsthand look at the 57/60 freeway interchange on Tuesday, 2.5 miles of dangerous lane alignments that have 600 accidents a year and is ranked the seventh-most congested interchange in the United States.

As he stood on Grand Avenue overlooking the unusually combined portion of the two major freeways, Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., got a sense of the third-worst traffic spot in the state, even while remarking on Southern California's ideal weather.

But what impressed Shuster most was the scaled-down fix presented to him by the cities of Industry and Diamond Bar during a meeting at Diamond Bar City Hall hosted by Rep. Ed Royce, R-Rowland Heights, also a member of the committee.

"I appreciate you are trying to solve the problem without breaking the bank," Shuster said.

The projected cost is $265 million and will include separate fixes that will add lanes by preventing the lane drop-offs that cause bottlenecks. Over the 2.5 miles, 16 lanes of freeway traffic get squeezed into 12. The improvements included creation of a bypass lane to reduce the need for motorists to cross several lanes as they exit or enter the freeway at Grand Avenue.

The project calls for construction of an eastbound bypass ramp, which would run under the 57 Freeway and take traffic exiting the 60 directly to Grand.

A new eastbound loop on-ramp would connect Grand to the 60 and eliminate the need for left-turn lanes.
The westbound off-ramp at Grand would be widened and relocated about 100 feet north. Plans also include construction of a new 2,500-foot auxiliary lane on southbound 57 as it merges with the 60. The third lane would eliminate the bottleneck that is created when the southbound 57 drops from three lanes to two.

Traffic flows through the interchange of the 60 and 57 freeways in Diamond Bar April 5, 2012. A congressional hearing is being held on the 265 million project.

The Grand overpass would get higher and wider to accommodate

four lanes in each direction. It also would feature a new westbound on-ramp. Project Engineer Wei Koo said after all the improvements are built, the average traffic speeds will increase from 17 mph to 57 mph.
"We will essentially have a free flow of traffic," he said.Originally, Caltrans wanted to separate the two roadways by building a second deck. That would have cost around $800 million.The environmental documents for the first phase will be finished in a month, but the project is not listed for funding by Metro until 2028, said Diamond Bar City Engineer David Liu.

Royce invited Shuster to see the interchange for himself in an effort to add federal funding to the mix, perhaps as a way to speed up construction.


Monrovia Gold Line station artwork to honor town's architectural history with Craftsman tiles


By Brenda Gazzar, May 28, 2013


 Monrovia Mayor Mary Ann Lutz and Construction Authority CEO Habib F. Balian visit Friday, May 24, 2013 the Pasadena studio of artist Cha-Rie Tang to view elements of the artist´s works being developed for installation at the future Monrovia Gold Line Station.

 Monrovia Mayor Mary Ann Lutz and Construction Authority CEO Habib F. Balian visit Friday, May 24, 2013 the Pasadena studio of artist Cha-Rie Tang to view elements of the artist´s works being developed for installation at the future Monrovia Gold Line Station.


Gallery: Artist Cha-Rie Tang's work for the future Monrovia Gold Line Station
PASADENA -- Artist Cha-Rie Tang's passion and deft hands in making Craftsman tiles is evident on a recent tour of her Pasadena studio, where she's been consumed with creating the elaborate artwork for the future Monrovia Gold Line station on the Pasadena-to-Azusa foothill extension.

The concept of the Monrovia station's artwork, dubbed River of Time, aims to celebrate "man in harmony with nature" and draws on both the elements of nature and architectural features that are prominent in the small but proud foothill city.

"I wanted to tie together Monrovia's love of Batchelder tiles, architectural history and their love of nature," Tang, an architect and MIT graduate, said during a studio tour Friday that she gave to Monrovia Mayor Mary Ann Lutz and officials from the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority.

Ernest Batchelder, who once directed the department of arts and crafts at Throop Poly-technic in Pasadena, was an Arts and Crafts master tile maker whose unique decorative style emerged in the 1920s during the Craftsman movement, which was popular in the Pasadena and San Gabriel Valley area. Some of the tiles Tang is using were cast from original Batchelder molds but most were impressions taken from original Batchelder tiles, including floral and animal motifs native to the region.

"I'm glad to have a chance to gather so many Batchelder tiles together," Tang said. "I believe this is the largest collection of Batchelder designs in a public art project."

Tang's artwork for the station will include a 7-foot high sculptural rock carved by nature that is intended to signify a mountain and will be placed near the north side of the platform and surrounded by a pool of glass bricks she is making, which are meant to symbolize ripples of water. The work will also include watercolor field tiles that will flank the station's pedestrian entrance ramp as well as a "treasure trove" of Craftsman tiles - many of which were reproductions of tiles gathered from fireplaces, kitchens and bathrooms of community members - that will be set on column bases on the station's platform.

"I think (community members) are just going to be in awe of it," Mayor Lutz said, noting how excited she was to see the station's artwork come together after seeing a rendering several years ago. "I think people will stop and stare and look at it and enjoy it; they're not just going to walk through. They'll want to be a part of it for a while. "

Lutz said she was particularly excited about how the artwork reflects the city of Monrovia's history by connecting with the community's love of Batchelder tiles as well as its love of nature. As for the large sculptural rock imported from southern China, "that rock is just amazing," she said. "I only wish it came from our canyon but you get it where you get it but everything else is so true to our community. "

While Tang has been making Craftsman-style relief tiles for about two decades, the first 10 years she was doing so in secret, she said, "because I wasn't quite sure about using Batchelder designs" and she wanted to wait to get approval from Batchelder's heirs, she said. Tang said she has been working on the project for about seven years, even though she didn't get the contract with the design-builder Kiewit Parsons until earlier this year.

The total budget for the artwork's fabrication and delivery is $143,000 plus another $15,000 for design, said Lesley Elwood, public art program manager for the Gold Line Construction Authority.

Under Elwood's supervision, each city with a stop along the foothill extension had a public art committee that interviewed the artists and then narrowed down the concepts they wanted at their station, the authority's CEO, Habib Balian, said.

"It's just so different for public art to see this kind of quality that's not just out there it's indigenous to the area," he said, noting that each station along the route is unique.


Fitch Ratings downgrades Pasadena to AA+ in part for Rose Bowl debt


By Lauren Gold, May 28, 2013




PASADENA-- Citing a "weakening" debt profile and a combination of risky credit endeavors including the $195 million renovation of the Rose Bowl, Fitch Ratings announced it has downgraded Pasadena's bond rating from AAA to AA+.

In a report issued Friday, the credit rating bureau noted that the amount of debt borne by Pasadena for city projects has steadily increased over the past few years to $7,255 per resident. Coupled with the City Council's decision in January to issue an additional $30 million in bonds for the Rose Bowl ultimately triggered the action, which one expert called a "black eye" for the city.

"The downgrade largely reflects the slow weakening of the city's debt profile over time, most recently reflected in a debt restructuring with extended maturities related to the Rose Bowl project," the report noted. "Other indicators include high debt per capita and above-average variable-rate exposure and interest rate swaps that exacerbate an already elevated debt service burden on the budget. "

Rather than address the sobering language contained in the downgrade, city officials focused on some positive elements noted by the agency in its report.

City Manager Michael Beck pointed to complements on the city's substantial reserve - at $45.4
million or 21.5% of spending in fiscal 2012 - and its implementation of a five-year plan to reduce cost and return the city to a balanced budget.

 "I think if you read their full analysis they have a lot of complements to the city with regard to their fiscal management, the five-year plan, the approach we've taken to achieving a balanced budget," Beck said. "The only real reason for the downgrade is really the increased debt load the city has taken on and part of its restructuring, and we've always known that there was a potential risk associated with doing it but it was still the right thing to do. "

He added that Standard & Poor's rating agency still lists the city with a AAA rating. Beck's comments closely followed a list of "talking points" obtained by this newspaper that were sent to members of the City Council and city spokesman William Boyer by Julie Gutierrez, an assistant city manager.
Economist Christopher Thornberg, founding partner of Los Angeles-based Beacon Economics, said the city should take Fitch's downgrade as a lesson to hold off on acquiring more debt.

"It's more or less kind of a black eye," Thornberg said.

City Councilman Steve Madison said despite the downgrade, the city's credit and financial reputations remain strong.

"(The rating) is more a reflection of the debt load than of any lack of confidence in the city's ability to repay its debts," Madison said. "AA+ is still very good."
Pasadena's debt is large for a city of its size, City Councilman Terry Tornek said, noting that the downgrade didn't come as much of a surprise.

"We've known for some time that this was a real possibility," Tornek said. "There is no sugar coating it, it's not good news, but it's not what I would categorize as alarming. Citizens shouldn't be concerned about the future of the city based on this. "

In addition, much of the city's $887 million in debt is not covered by the general fund, but instead by revenues from local tourism, the Convention Center and downtown parking structures.
Fitch analyst Matthew Reilly said Pasadena's problems could be magnified if those revenue sources suddenly fell through.

"Pasadena has a significant amount of debt that is being paid from non-general fund sources that could potentially be paid from the operating budget if those other revenue sources don't perform as expected," Reilly said.

In addition to the general obligations rating, Fitch downgraded the city's ratings for its pension obligation bonds, lease revenue bonds, outstanding certificates of participation and taxable lease revenue refunding bonds. City Finance Director Andrew Green said the downgrade could mean higher interest rates for future borrowing, but said he doesn't see the affect being significant.

"Right now the impact is fairly minimal," Green said. "In the marketplace right now, the city is not looking at issuing any additional debt. "

Tornek said that Fitch's ratings downgrade was prudent timing, as the city is in the midst of planning next year's budget, which will be up for final council vote next month.

"Things are improving on the economic front, all the indicators are positive," Tornek said, "but by the same token this is a useful reminder that we are really not out of it and we have to be very prudent in terms of what kind of expenditures we make. "


Bullet train's risk of cost overruns reduced, rail chief says


By Ralph Vartabedian, May 28, 2013


 Rendering of California's proposed high-speed rail trains.

 Artist rendering of proposed California high-speed train coming into a station.


 Dan Richard, chairman of the California high-speed rail authority, said Wednesday at a congressional hearing in Madera that the agency had reduced the risk of future cost overruns, but the project's price tag could increase in the future.

"I am not going to sit here and promise that there will not be [cost growth]," Richard said.
Richard was one of six witnesses called by the House rail subcommittee chairman, Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Atwater), who has been harshly critical of the agency's plans and what he contends is lack of compliance with a voter-approved measure that provided $9 billion for the system.

Denham said voters were told that the system would cost $33 billion and be operational by 2020. The current plan carries a $68-billion price tag with a start date of 2028. Deham noted that the 130-mile segment of construction in the Central Vallley, which is to start construction in July, will not be electrified or operate profitably, as required by the bond measure voters approved in 2008.

The rail authority is expected to approve a $985-million contract at its board meeting next month with a construction team led by Sylmar-based Tutor Perini Corp.  Denham said that he had a number of questions about the methodology the authority used in tentatively selecting the company to build the first 29 miles of the system, but that those questions would be submitted in writing for later answers.

Richard said the authority's use of a design build contract, in which Tutor Perini would design the majority of the project and then build it, will relieve the government of most of the risk in the project.

Asked about progress on the project, Richard said the agency is discussing Central Valley land purchases needed for the first segment of the system, but could not say for sure whether the agency has actually completed any deals. "I am not completely sure," Richard said.

Doug Verboon, chairman of the Kings County Board of Supervisors, said that his county's relations with the rail authority have continued to deteriorate since 2011 and that they have not heard from the agency for 11 months.

Anja Raudabaugh, executive director of the Madera County Farm Bureau, said the authority's handling of relations may have improved but there still exists "an insurmountable amount of mistrust."

The initial construction will affect 500 agricultural operations in her county and 80% of land owners have told her that they will not voluntarily sell their land. She said the authority has budgeted land purchases at a small fraction of the actual market value of agricultural land.

Al Smith, president of the Fresno Chamber of Commerce, said his group supports the project that would pump millions of dollars and thousand of jobs into one of the "neediest" places.

"It would be a shame if we didn't make it work," Smith said.

Many don’t know how much they pay for roads, survey finds


By Ashley Halsey III, May 28, 2013


 Gas prices over $4 a gallon are displayed on a pump at a Chevron gas station on March 1, 2013 in San Francisco. The California Board of Equalization has voted to implement a statewide excise tax on gasoline starting July 1.



 As Congress continues the search for a new way to fund the nation’s roads and bridges, it turns out that many American taxpayers don’t know how much they’re paying for them now.

Forty percent of those who participated in an advocacy group’s survey said they didn’t know, and a quarter of all those surveyed estimated that they paid twice as much as the $46 that the Federal Highway Administration said was the average monthly gas tax paid by households in 2011.

One of the dilemmas faced by those on Capital Hill and in the Obama administration is that of selling the American public on new ways to pay for transportation, since so many people are unaware of how the current system works — and therefore, why it’s failing.

There is greater public awareness of state fuel taxes, in part because many states have raised them recently, than there is of the federal gas tax of 18.4 cents per gallon, last increased in 1993.

Inflation alone has eroded the value of that tax by an estimated 40 percent over two decades, even as the average mileage per gallon has increased dramatically. As a result, the federal Highway Trust Fund, which pays for highways, bridges and public transit, is nearly bankrupt.

The current federal highway bill, which expires next year, was bolstered by the transfer of billions of dollars from the general fund and elsewhere.

The American Road and Transportation Builders Association commissioned the survey done last month and released it Tuesday to buttress its argument for greater investment in transportation.

The survey found that 78 percent of respondents said driving was an important part of their daily life, and 21 percent said they counted on public transportation.

“Americans and our elected representatives can’t simply wish for a 21st century transportation network. We have to pay for it,” said Pete Ruane, president of the advocacy group. “We are under investing in our road and transit infrastructure relative to many other basic services we rely on every day. This research clearly shows there is a disconnect between our perceived value of transportation mobility and our personal investment in the infrastructure that provides it.”

What Happens When a Nonprofit Car-Sharing Service Gets Bought By a Major Rental Company?


By Emily Badger, May 29, 2013

 What Happens When a Nonprofit Car-Sharing Service Gets Bought By a Major Rental Company?




Car-sharing officially went mainstream earlier this year when the legacy car-rental giant Avis snapped up Zipcar in a $500 million deal. With that move, what was once considered a quirky market niche – strangers, sharing cars none of them own, to run errands! – grew into a serious industry. Of course, that news elicited the groaning that happens any time a subversive idea loses its upstart appeal. On the whole, though, when more car-sharing is available to more people, in more places (with, as companies like Avis can provide, more infrastructure), that's good news for anyone who's been behind the idea for years.

Now this week brings another acquisition that feels arguably even more bittersweet: Avis competitor Enterprise announced yesterday that it was acquiring IGO, the Chicago nonprofit that pioneered the concept there more than a decade ago. As we've previously written, nonprofits have had the room to test the limits of car-sharing with an eye solely toward the goal of advancing alternative transportation. They can experiment with ideas that might not make money, like expanding service to low-income residents, or integrating it with public transit, or structuring it around electric cars.

We don't yet know whether Avis, or Enterprise, or any other for-profit company will ultimately focus as much on these goals that have less to do with the bottom line and more to do with transportation equity and environmental impact. Until now, for example, IGO has enabled members to use debit cards in addition to credit cards, a crucial logistical detail for bringing low-income users who may not have credit cards into a car-sharing system. Enterprise previously acquired the nonprofit PhillyCarShare, which had a similar option. But Enterprise now requires credit cards in Philadelphia.

IGO has also pioneered a partnership with Chicago's public transit agency, with members able to use one smart card to access separate accounts with both systems. That deal reinforces the idea of car-sharing as an extension of public transit. But it's a little harder to imagine how such an arrangement might work between a public transit agency and a private car-rental company (IGO is hoping to work this out in the coming transition).

"Originally when IGO started, there was this idea that we always wanted [the concept] to be adopted by the private market and grow to scale," says Sharon Feigon, IGO’s chief executive officer. She does not mean by this, though, that IGO was always aiming for a corporate acquisition. "Our idea was always to grow to scale. What we learned over last couple of years was that it is not that feasible to grow to scale as a nonprofit."

This means that IGO, started as an offshoot of the Center for Neighborhood Technology, is now letting go of its experiment so that it can serve more people.

"Basically the way we view it is that we started car-sharing, we brought the idea to Chicago, it was a pilot project, there was a lot of skepticism, and we didn't know if it would work," Feigon says. "It worked, it grew, it got a following, it’s done really well. And now it’s gone mainstream, and we need to grow it a lot more. That’s where the private market is effective. They have the resources to make it a lot bigger and a lot stronger. That’s what we are wanting for IGO. It’s kind of like your kid grows up, and you've got to send them out there."

IGO has sold its cars, its parking locations, its member list, its intellectual property, its staff and even
its name to Enterprise for an unspecified amount. But the CNT nonprofit that created it will still exist – albeit under a new, not-yet-determined name – to work on the next innovation that will enable people in Chicago to "live well without owning a car." The nonprofit has kept, for instance, the solar canopies that cover and charge its (former) electric cars. The proceeds from the sale to Enterprise will be folded back into the nonprofit for this purpose, supporting whatever the next new thing winds up looking like.

"It’s premature to say what the next one is going to be," says Kathy Tholin, CNT's CEO. "This is such a fast-changing world of innovation, we’re taking stock of where we can have the most impact. We are interested in peer-to-peer car-sharing, and we will be engaged in some form in its development."