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, June 3, 2013

Request for Qualifications released for Metro’s first public-private partnership project


By Steve Hymon, June 3, 2013


Metro’s highway program quietly reached a milestone on Friday when the agency officially posted online a solicitation to firms to be considered to both build and help finance a project that would add 13.5 miles of HOV/toll lanes to the 5 freeway between the 14 freeway and Parker Road.
I know. The release of “request for qualifications” is not the sort of thing that inspires a lot of jumping and down and such. Let me try to explain in plain English why this matters and what it means for the project. The RFQ is posted above not because I expect you to read all 100-plus pages but to show the considerable work that the agency must do to release these things and what’s involved for private firms who respond to them.
First, a brief look at the project (a lot more info here in an earlier post). It’s actually six different projects, the foremost being the construction of an HOV lane for 13.5 miles in each direction on the 5 freeway between the 14 freeway and Parker Road. A toll for vehicles with one or two occupants (at peak hours only for vehicles with two occupants) would be charged to use the lanes — with the tolls being used in part to finance the construction of the carpool lanes about 30 years earlier than planned in Metro’s long-range plan. Four general purpose free lanes would remain in each direction in this stretch of freeway; the idea is to add capacity to the freeway.

This is a significant break from the traditional way that transportation projects are funded and built. Most often, government agencies either save money to pay for big projects, or pay for them as money becomes available (pay as you go), or borrow money to pay for the upfront costs and then pay off those loans (usually in the form of bonds) over many years. Think of it like taking out a loan to re-do your kitchen. Except most transportation projects are like simultaneously re-doing a a few thousand kitchens.

In this case, the money to build the project will come from a private firm willing to pay the upfront cost in return for 35 years of revenues from the toll lanes and sales tax revenues that Metro had planned to use to build the project later. Such deals are designed to be a win-win for the public and private alike — the public gets funds to build something that otherwise would have to wait decades and the private, if things go as they should, gets its money back and then some in exchange for building the project.
As for this project, it’s being called ARTI — as in “Accelerated Regional Transportation Improvements.” Yes it’s a bit of a mouthful so just memorize the ARTI part. The project also includes reconstructing and/or repaving the 5 freeway between the 14 and Parker Road, adding one carpool lane in each direction on the 71 freeway between the 60 and 10 freeways in Pomona and building sound-wall segments along the 210 in Pasadena, the 210 in Arcadia and the 170 and the 405 in the city of Los Angeles.
Statements of Qualification are due on July 19. In the weeks that follow, Metro will evaluate the proposals and select the most qualified firms to be “shortlisted.”  These firms will then be later invited to submit bids to design, build, finance, construct and maintain the projects, and Metro will determine if the bids pencil out and are a good deal for taxpayers; the Board would approve the toll amounts.
The project is not being designed as a giveaway. A PPP would have to be approved by the California Transportation Commission and the Metro Board of Directors will still have to make some key decisions in order for the project to advance as a PPP. That said, the release of the RFQ is a critical first step to determine if a PPP will work for this project.


My Sunday Column: The Valley’s Missed Opportunity


By Ron Kaye, June 1, 2013

The meeting started late and it started badly, with a 10-minute argument about approving the minutes of the last meeting. Then it headed downhill.

Issues that were raised were sent to committees for further study, though no one was quite sure which members were on them or when they would be able to meet.

Welcome to the San Fernando Valley Council of Governments — a three-year-old coalition that was supposed to finally, belatedly, bring the cities of Glendale, Burbank, San Fernando, Santa Clarita and Los Angeles together to develop plans and raise funds to solve transportation and other regional problems like every other part of the county has been doing for so long.

But the Valley COG is not like the others. It was set up to fail.

There are 13 members: one council member from each from the smaller cities, seven council members who represent parts of the Valley in Los Angeles, and the two Los Angeles County supervisors who carve up the region, Mike Antonovich and Zev Yaroslavsky.

Amazingly, every one of them has veto power. Even more incredibly, each of the smaller cities contributes $10,000, the same amount L.A. and the counties contribute, for a total annual budget of $60,000, a fraction of the funding provided to other COGs.

As the dysfunction has become painfully apparent in the last six months, it was inevitable that the politicians would need to find a fall guy.

Since the only employee is Executive Director Robert Scott, there were no other candidates. For more than a quarter century, Scott has been a driving force behind efforts to organize the Valley politically and economically, the last man standing from the Valley secession movement when others have moved on or been co-opted by the downtown power structure.

The focus of last week’s meeting was the same as several previous meetings: Find candidates to replace Scott, who has irritated some with his aggressive efforts to change the voting rules and get enough funding so the COG can get projects moving.

There are 18 candidates, including Scott, who will be considered at a special meeting June 17 or 24, depending on whether all 13 members can make it.

Getting members to meetings is a big problem, even though they are only held every two months, and on Thursdays, when there are no conflicts with other meetings.

Last week, only five of the 13 members showed up — Chairman Ara Najarian of Glendale, Jesse Avila of San Fernando, Marsha McLean of Santa Clarita and Paul Krekorian, one of the L.A. seven, and Yaroslavsky. Three others sent aides so they had a quorum.

Through a series of reports, the two professional politicians — Krekorian and Yaroslavsky — expressed repeated irritations that bookkeeping and financial operations were not up to the high standards they are used to in their giant governments with tens of thousands of employees.

There was some good news from the county Metropolitan Transportation Authority: Money left over from local projects can be used in the region — a long list that does not include improvements to the Ventura (101) Freeway through the Valley, as Coby King, chair of the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn., noted in a presentation.

“It is one of the most congested routes in the world,” King said, adding that “not talking about the 101 doesn’t do anything to fix the 101 … I know it’s a political hot potato, but we need to stop ignoring it.”

Yaroslavsky, long-time MTA board member and representative of much of the Valley, demanded King be specific: what problems, what solutions?

“If we approve something this global, than anything is possible,” he warned, recalling that proposals a decade ago to double-deck or widen the freeway created an uproar. “It could be interpreted by some that we are looking to get back into what was politically explosive in 2002 … I don’t know what this means, other than trouble.”

Added Krekorian: “There’s no need to reinvent the wheel here. There’s been a lot of studies over the course of decades. There have been task forces convened, summits held.”

It was agreed, unanimously, to find out what’s already in the files and to consider, down the road, convening a task force to propose specific fixes someday.

With that, Santa Clarita’s McLean triggered another round of hand-wringing by asking for support for a resolution urging the Valley legislative delegation to vigorously oppose Gov. Jerry Brown‘s plan to “borrow” $500 million dollars earmarked for local governments from the cap-and-trade program.

“We all know how well they pay back loans,” she said. “Once it goes into the general fund, we have no say in it. It just disappears … I don’t know what you need to know beside that.”

Krekorian needed to know a lot, raising unanswerable question after question about possible effects on state finances and casting doubt that a “generic statement, ‘Don’t take our money’” would be taken seriously in Sacramento.

“We just don’t have enough information to make an informed decision … I don’t have anything in front of me,” he said.

But he gave in when it was pointed out that Bob Blumenfield is chairman of the Assembly Budget Committee and councilman-elect for the West Valley. He will be joining the COG board on July 1.

The Valley COG represents a missed opportunity for a region with more than 2 million people, 20% of the county.

It’s why the subway ends as it reaches the Valley, why light rail skirts Burbank and Glendale, why every other part of the county is getting major transit projects.

Unless the rules of the Valley COG are changed dramatically, the region will remain badly underserved — exactly the way officials downtown in the county Hall of Administration and L.A. City Hall want it to be.


Mayor Villaraigosa’s Transportation Legacy: Top 10 Remarkable Achievements


By Denny Zane and Gloria Ohland, June 4, 2013

 PERSPECTIVE - After eight years as the mayor of Los Angeles, during the worst national recession of our lifetimes, LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s accomplishments for LA County’s transportation system clearly stand out as his most significant legacy.  Below Move LA takes a crack at what we think the Top 10 transportation accomplishments were, most of which he was clearly responsible for, and a couple where his strong support was essential to their success. 

1) LA’s got new mojo! The success of Measure R and nationwide interest in Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s 30-10 Plan has yielded more than money for transportation and jobs for LA workers. It has given Los Angeles real momentum, and the confidence to think big and to expect to succeed.

This could be LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s most important legacy, and the world has taken notice. 
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s efforts to expand LA’s transit system have been applauded far and wide, pushing Los Angeles into the national spotlight as an innovator after a few decades as the poster child for urban dystopia.
The mayor’s “30-10 plan” has played in newspapers and on blog sites across the nation, with photos of the mayor and President Obama striding together across the tarmac to Air Force One, of the mayor at press conferences with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, and with Democratic and Republican Congressional leaders in Washington DC.
The mayor’s renown in transportation circles eventually earned him a top spot on of the list of favorites to succeed the extremely popular LaHood – in Governing magazine as well as on Streetsblog – though he declined consideration. “Los Angeles is the future . . . NYC watch your back,” enthused the New York Post in a story that raved about downtown LA, the city’s many walkable neighborhoods, “a decade of building real transit,” and a subway stop in Beverly Hills.
Matthew Yglesias wrote — in a post on Slate entitled “How a Ballot Initiative, Visionary Mayor and a Quest for Growth are Turning LA Into America’s Next Great Transit City” — that “The usual response to too much traffic in the U.S. is to strangle growth. LA has chosen the bolder path of investing in the kind of infrastructure than can support continued population growth.”
Author Taras Gresco wrote in an LA Times op-ed that “Many people are surprised to learn that their city’s reputation is at an all-time high among international transit scholars.” And international transit consultant Jarrett Walker noted, on his Human Transit blog, that “When I talk about public transit I don’t talk much about New York or Boston . . . When I really want to shift [the audience’s] thinking I talk about Los Angeles.”

2) Measure R doubles the size of LA County’s transit network. It all began with the mayor talking about an iconic “subway to the sea” and then working with Congressman Henry Waxman to lift the ban on the use of federal funding for tunneling along the Wilshire Corridor so work on extending the subway could begin.

A coalition of community leaders and Move LA saw the opportunity and joined the mayor in the effort. When the Measure R half cent sales tax for transportation was placed on the ballot in 2008, the mayor campaigned and fundraised vigorously to win the landslide support of 67.8% of LA County voters.

Measure R helps fund a total of 12 transit projects over 30 years, ranging from the Westside Subway to the downtown LA Regional Connector to — finally! — a connection to LAX and a down payment on a real solution for the impossibly congested 405. Here’s the list with completion dates that assume no acceleration from the 30-10 plan.

  • ● Extension of the Orange Line Busway from Canoga Park to Chatsworth (opened last summer).

  • ● Extension of the Expo Line from Culver City to 4th and Colorado in downtown Santa Monica in 2016.

  • ● Extension of the Gold Line through the San Gabriel Valley foothills from East Pasadena/Sierra Madre to Azusa (opening 2015).

  • ● A new Crenshaw/LAX corridor from Exposition Boulevard to the Green Line (to be completed in 2018).

  • ● The Regional Connector, a 1.9-mile underground light rail line in downtown LA that will link the Blue, Expo and Gold Lines via a central corridor from Little Tokyo to 7th Street (by 2019).

  • ● The Westside Subway (erstwhile the subway to the sea) extension of the Purple Line from Wilshire/Western to La Cienega (2023), Century City (2029), Westwood and the VA Hospital (2036 or sooner if 30-10 works!).

  • ● A Metrorail connection with LAX airport terminals — alternatives being considered include bus rapid transit, light rail, and a people mover (by 2028).

  • ● Extension of the Eastside Gold Line to either South El Monte or Whittier (2035).

  • ●An extension of the Green Line into Torrance (2035).

  • ● North-south transit improvements in the East San Fernando Valley Transit Corridor between Ventura Boulevard and the Sylmar/San Fernando Metrolink station — either bus rapid transit or light rail (by 2018).

  • ● A study of transit and highway “concepts” connecting the San Fernando Valley (at the Sylmar Metrolink station) to the Westside of Los Angeles (the LAX station) via the Sepulveda pass. The concept generating the most excitement is a public-private partnership that would use toll lanes to fund a rail tunnel under the pass (by 2039).

  • ● A new bus rapid transit or light rail corridor connecting downtown LA and the Gateway Cities, and eventually Orange County.

3) Business, labor and environmentalists are standing together for infrastructure investment.
The mayor is a consummate coalition builder who helped create a bipartisan business-labor-environmental coalition of leaders willing to stand together — even though they’re usually at odds —on the need for job-creating business-boosting transportation infrastructure investment.

He did it in Los Angeles around passage of Measure R, and then did it again around the America Fast Forward proposal in Washington DC. Amidst the bipartisan strife there was a remarkable kumbaya moment caught on video, with the mayor, Democratic U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer — the Congressional champion of LA’s cause — as well as Republican John Mica, then chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, U.S Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donohue, and Republican leaders including Mayor Scott Smith of Mesa, Arizona, who told the press: “We have Democrats, Republicans, House, Senate, Labor, business, lambs, lions, cats and dogs lying down together. But there’s no apocalypse on the horizon. There’s a new dawn.”

The mayor’s coalition-building skills were earlier evidenced when he helped broker unanimous agreement at LA Metro on the 2009 Long Range Transportation Plan, which was based on the Measure R project list. And he worked with Assemblyman Mike Feuer and the state Legislature to get both Measure R and Measure J, which would have extended the Measure R sales tax to leverage additional financing, authorized to be placed on the ballots in 2008 and 2012.

4) The federal government has become a smart lender and not just a big spender. The mayor has been widely acknowledged for his visionary “30-10 Plan,” now termed the “America Fast Forward” program, to build out 30 years of transit projects in just 10 years.

Mayor Villaraigosa is still working with Congress to find new ways to leverage investment for transportation infrastructure by adding financing strategies to the federal government’s portfolio of grant programs.

No less august a think tank than the Washington DC-based Brookings Institution has cited the mayor’s “bottoms up federalist approach” as one of the “Top 10 Metropolitan Innovations to Watch.”

It’s “bottoms up” because it encourages the federal government to provide incentives for local governments, voters, corporate, civic, labor and environmental leaders to step up and help themselves — as LA County voters did in 2008 by voting for the Measure R sales tax, which can be used to secure financing from the private sector as well as the federal government.

The mayor’s “America Fast Forward” proposal to provide flexible, low-cost credit assistance consisted of 1) a low-interest loan program, which was adopted by the federal government in 2012, and 2) a bond program, that provides tax credits to investors in lieu of interest payments, which the mayor is urging Congress to adopt now.

Together these programs would enable the accelerated construction of all Measure R projects.

“Policymakers in DC didn’t know how to respond to a local politician who came asking for money that would be paid back, as opposed to the other kind,” wrote Jake Blumgart on the Next American City Blog. As Villaraigosa told Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson in 2010, “They laughed. They said they didn’t have a program that could do this.”

5) LA’s port is going green, reducing toxic emissions by half: The neighboring ports of LA and Long Beach make up the world’s fifth busiest port complex, handle 44% of all container goods entering the U.S., and together employ more than 400,000 people.

These ports are also responsible for more than 20% of toxic air emissions in the South Coast Air Basin — contributing more smog and particulate-forming emissions than all of the region’s 6 million cars combined.

In order to address this enormous problem the mayor championed a Clean Trucks Program that required operators to replace or retrofit all 16,000 dirty diesel trucks that serve the port so that they meet US EPA emissions standards, and included a $35 fee on every container entering or leaving the port to help pay for the retrofitting. The mayor’s Clean Air Action Plan also requires ships to turn off their diesel engines when in port and use onshore electricity for at least half the time they are docked.

The Clean Trucks program is estimated to have reduced harmful emissions from trucks entering the port by 98%. The clean air plan requires ships to reduce emissions 80 percent by 2020.

6) LA Metro’s bus fleet has expanded faster than any other in the U.S., is the cleanest in the world, and Metro’s fares are the lowest: LA Metro’s bus fleet, this country’s second-largest, is the largest “clean air fleet” in the world, with every one of the agency’s 2,227 buses running on alternative fuels, all but a few of them on CNG.

The mayor, working with the Coalition for Clean Air, started the clean bus program in 1994 while representing LA County Supervisor Gloria Molina on Metro committees. And while Speaker of the California State Assembly he convinced Senate Minority Leader Jim Brulte, a Republican, to co-author legislation creating the Carl Moyer Program, which still provides grants for replacing dirty diesel fleets with clean alternative fueled vehicles.

The mayor also, during his tenure on the Metro board, worked under the Consent Decree with the Bus Riders Union to add 500 buses during peak service hours, and he championed, with other board members, the addition of nine Metro Rapid lines — which speed riders to their destinations in 23% less time than local bus service (because traffic signals hold green lights longer or shorten red lights).

The mayor has also helped keep transit fares low by using the 20% of Measure R revenues that are dedicated to bus operations to subsidize fares at a time when other agencies across the U.S. have raised fares and cut back service due to economic difficulties.

Metro’s fares are the lowest when compared to big city transit systems in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, Portland and Atlanta. (It’s hard to make comparisons to all cities since some, such as Washington DC, calculate fares depending on the distance traveled.)

Both LA Metro’s base $1.50/trip transit fares and discounted fares for seniors and the disabled (55 cents) are the lowest. Metro also has one of the largest discounted student transit pass programs, and among the lowest daily, weekly and monthly passes.

7) Metro’s Project Labor Agreement and Construction Careers Policy make tens of thousands of good jobs available in low-income communities. Last year LA Metro became the first transit agency in the nation to adopt both a Project Labor Agreement as well as a Construction Careers Policy applicable to all Measure R projects — policies that ensure there will be a union workforce and union working conditions as well as employment and training opportunities for people who live in local low-income communities.

While Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas deserves credit for taking the lead on this issue, Mayor Villaraigosa’s strong support was essential to its success. These remarkable victories by the Los Angeles-Orange Counties Building Trades Council, which championed the PLA, and the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) and the LA County Federation of Labor, which championed the CCP — both were championed by the mayor — won a unanimous vote by the Metro board across political lines as hundreds of workers looked on.

The upshot is that all Measure R projects costing more than $2.5 million will be built using skilled labor trained in joint labor-management apprenticeship programs, and the contracts will be subject to all the protections and benefits associated with a middle-class livelihood.

Forty percent of the work hours must be completed by workers living in neighborhoods where the annual median income is less than $40,000. Ten percent of the 40 percent must be struggling with poverty, chronic unemployment, homelessness or other challenges, and 20 percent must be apprentices.

The PLA could cover contracts totaling as much as $70 billion if Metro fully implements its long-range transportation plan, which would translate into an estimated 270,000 union jobs. Projects that include federal funding must be open to economically disadvantaged communities nationwide.

The PLA includes a no-strike provision and bars Metro contractors from locking employees out.

8) LA is becoming a better city for walking and biking: The mayor began seriously campaigning to make streets safer for bicyclists after a taxi cut him off while he was riding his bike in 2010, and he fell and shattered his elbow.

It prompted him to convene a bike summit and begin talking about the need for a 3-foot safe passing law, and he championed CicLAvia and helped fund it, meanwhile accelerating passage of the city’s long-awaited bike plan to build 1680 lane miles over 30 years.

He’s remained committed, building 123 miles of bike lanes in 2 years for a total of 431 miles citywide, and he fought for the funding to increase CicLAvia to thrice annually, also extending the route 15 miles to the beach. He reached agreement with the company named Bike Nation to install 400 bike-sharing kiosks in downtown LA, Hollywood, Westwood, and Venice Beach that will be stocked with 4,000 bikes – and requiring no subsidy from the city -- which would make LA’s bike-sharing program the nation’s largest.

The mayor is also credited with presiding over a paradigm shift at the city’s Department of Transportation, which has taken new interest in non-motorized transportation. He oversaw the hiring of two LADOT pedestrian coordinators, spearheaded the adoption of “continental crosswalks” that are much more visible than conventional striped crosswalks, and launched a Safe Routes to School master plan.

It should also be noted that while Speaker of the Assembly, Villaraigosa co-authored a Safe Routes to School bill that became the model for the national program that funds projects that make it easier and safer for kids to walk and bike to school.

9) The synchronization of 4,398 traffic signals together with two congestion pricing demonstration projects promise to help relieve traffic: One of Mayor Villaraigosa’s first campaign promises was to finish synchronizing all the city's traffic signals — making LA the first city in the world to do so — in an effort to make traffic run more smoothly.

The LA Department of Transportation, which developed the software to do this (and is selling it to other cities), says synchronization has increased traffic speeds by 16%, decreased travel times by 12%, and reduced carbon emissions by 1 metric ton per year. And it raises, The New York Times speculated, “the almost fantastical prospect, in theory, of driving Western Avenue from the Hollywood Hills to the San Pedro waterfront without stopping once.”

The system uses magnetic sensors in the road to detect the flow of vehicles, extending green lights, for example, for buses running behind schedule. It’s harder for the system to sense bikes and pedestrians, but it does allow extending walk lights near the Staples Center during events, for example, or on Saturdays in Jewish neighborhoods.

The mayor negotiated with the state legislature to get $150 million from the Proposition 1B bond measure in 2006 to complete synchronization. Mayor Villaraigosa also succeeded where both New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsome failed: Bloomberg and Newsome won congestion pricing demonstration project funding from the federal government but couldn’t win the political support they needed to implement their proposed programs.

So Villaraigosa asked then US Transportation Secretary Mary Peters to give the funding to LA instead, and he was able to open the Express Lanes Congestion Reduction project on 25 miles of the I-110 Harbor Freeway and the I-10 San Bernardino Freeway.

10) The Transit Corridors Cabinet is reorienting the city around public transportation, with a revamped Union Station at the transit system’s epicenter: If LA’s freeway system divided communities with wide roads and fast-moving traffic, the mayor and the Transit Corridors Cabinet intend to knit them back together again.

The city's new 6th Street Bridge, for example, will cross the 5 freeway and the LA River to reunite downtown LA with the East Side, and can be traveled by transit, bicycle, car, or on foot — providing neighbors with the best Stairmaster in the city (check out the multiple staircases on the bridge supports!) and greening the river with paths and parks.

The mayor created the Transit Corridors Cabinet partnership to facilitate projects like this by improving communication and cooperation among eight key city departments that have authority over planning, policy, design and infrastructure investment around LA's expanding transit system.

The goal is to help ensure high transit ridership by providing people with more transportation and housing choices, by making it easier and more pleasant to walk or bike to stations, by ensuring there is housing for people of all incomes, and by enlivening local business districts — and in the meantime preserving nearby single-family neighborhoods.

A revamped Union Station will be at the epicenter of LA’s expanded transit system, improving the passenger concourse, consolidating bus activity, incorporating the future high-speed rail line, improving bike and pedestrian connections, and possibly replacing the parking lots in front of the station with open space.
These are significant transportation accomplishments by any measure. The impact of Measure R and the 30-10 plan alone may end up being as important to our city’s future as William Mulholland’s water project – only this time the initiative was democratic because the voters had their say!

JOIN THE LEGACY PARTY: Move LA is celebrating the transportation legacy of LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa at Union Station Wed., June 12, with music, food and drink. Join us! Tickets at: http://www.movela.org

CPR Sidewalk Lessons

Carla Riggs passed this message along from Alix, June 3, 2013:

 “Citizen CPR is a fast-growing movement to empower bystanders to save a life when someone suffers sudden cardiac arrest,” says Cathy Chidester, director of the County EMS Agency. “We are glad to partner with the American Heart Association, fire departments and hospitals to bring Sidewalk CPR into local communities. With 80 percent of all cardiac arrests occurring at home, we need to help family and friends learn how to double or triple their loved one’s chance of survival.”

Please link to the Los Angeles Fire Department for times and places. 

 Here are a few classes that will be held near-by tomorrow.

Pasadena ~ Huntington Hospital
Juicy Couture (a clothing store) on Hughs Alley (One Colorado)
Pasadena City College 1507 E. Colorado Blvd. 91106
Santa Anita Mall, Arcadia
Star Bucks 2265 Huntington Dr., San Marino, 91108 (8am-noon)
South Pasadena Fire Station #81 817 Mound Avenue, 91030

This is a great site of the Los Angeles Fire Department:


Among other news, you can find out how the California wildfires are doing and also weather advisories.


Worst backseat drivers are spouses, moms, friends; dads are best, poll says


By Ronald D. White, June 3, 2013Drivers say their spouses make the worst passengers

 A new poll by Insurance.com says that drivers complain that their spouses are the worst backseat drivers, followed by moms and friends. The most amiable adult passengers are dads, the poll shows.



Who is your worst critic when you are driving? A new poll by Insurance.com says that spouses are the worst, most critical backseat drivers. Moms and friends are next in line.

“Getting there isn’t always half the fun,” said Insurance.com managing editor Michelle Megna. “Micromanagement from the backseat critics can turn a scenic drive into a battle of wills.”

Given the fact that the poll of 500 drivers ages 18 and older, conducted earlier this year, found children to be the least offending passengers, the poll may also be showing something else, too.

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Maybe drivers love their space and their own techniques a little too much.

"Spouses were definitely tagged as being the worst backseat drivers, but even friends were in the mix," Megna said. "Even if it's a stranger in the car with you, there's a pretty good chance you're going to be annoyed."

One couple in Santa Monica, Mark Schwartz and his wife, Debra Joy, provide an example. Outside of the Toyota Camry sedan they share, they manage to look as though they just fell in love, even after several years of marriage.

"When she's driving, I can't shut up about trying this route or that, about getting around someone driving too slow," Schwartz said.

"When I'm driving, she tells me she should be entitled to combat pay," Schwartz said, "because of the terror she has to experience with me behind the wheel."

Among women in the Insurance.com poll: 34% said husbands were the worst passengers, followed by their mothers (18%) and friends (15%).

Men were even more aggravated by their wives, with 40% citing them as the worst passengers, followed by friends (17%) and mothers.

Among the least critical passengers, for men and women, were their teenage sons and daughters. Maybe they just don't know enough about driving to be appalled by their parents' motoring skills.

Drivers hear the most complaints about their speed, followed by unwanted navigational help, followed by their passengers just talking too darned much.

Biggest driving pet peeves: passengers who make melodramatic facial expressions or gestures; riders screaming about something the driver is already aware of; hearing complaints that they are driving too slowly.

Who are the least aggravating adults to have as passengers?
Dads, by far.

"Fathers are pegged as the worst passengers by only 5% of drivers," according to the poll results.

The dads are probably thrilled anytime they aren't expected to drive.

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Futuristic High-Speed Tube Travel Could Take You From New York to Los Angeles in 45 Minutes


By Melissa Knowles, May 31, 2013


Traveling across the country or the world via any modern mode of transportation is a time-consuming affair. It can also be really annoying with the long lines, crying babies, armrest hogs, cramped space, etc. Would it not be the most awesome invention ever if some new type of transportation could cut that travel time significantly?

Get ready, because it may only be a few years from becoming a reality. A company called ET3 has plans in the works for the Evacuated Tube Transport, a high-speed transportation tube that uses magnetic levitation. The ETT can travel at speeds of up to 4,000 miles per hour, and each tube seats a maximum of six people and comes with a baggage compartment. How does it go so fast? It's airless and frictionless and could have you from New York to Los Angeles in 45 minutes, as opposed to the nearly five hours a direct flight would take. It could even have you depart from New York and be in Beijing in two hours.

The tubes would be set up like freeways to prevent crowding and traffic congestion problems. Plus, ET3 claims that passengers need not worry about feeling discomfort while traveling at such high speeds. The high velocity at which the tubes move is equal to 1G of force at top speed, which is similar to the force felt by someone traveling in a car on the freeway.

Daryl Oster, the founder and CEO of ET3, says that he got the idea for the tube transport system when he visited China back in the 1980s.

When and if the tubes make their debut in the next decade, they will initially be used to transport cargo, not people.

[Related: Map Shows Where 220 mph Trains Would Go in the U.S.]

Metro station upkeep and patrols are 'inadequate,' says Long Beach Vice Mayor Robert Garcia


By Karen Robes Meeks, June 2, 2013


The Metro Blue Line station at Long Beach Boulevard and Fifth Street in Long Beach is fairly clean, according to riders on a recent afternoon, with the exception of food wrappers thrown about on occasion.

 LONG BEACH -- City leaders on Tuesday will rally for improvements to the eight Blue Line Metro stations in Long Beach.

Vice Mayor Robert Garcia will introduce legislation insisting that the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority upgrade the Long Beach stations with electronic turnstiles and deal with public safety, maintenance and other issues at the stations.

The legislation also calls for City Manager Pat West to collaborate with Metro officials on a plan and a timetable for addressing those concerns.

 "It's been a long time coming," said Garcia, who co-authored the legislation with City Council members James Johnson, Suja Lowenthal and Steven Neal. "There have been consistent
 issues that have not been addressed."
Opened in 1990, the Metro Blue Line travels between downtown Long Beach to downtown Los Angeles. It boasted 29.6 million boardings in 2012, according to Metro.

After seeing the newly opened Expo Line, Garcia said more attention could be paid to the Long Beach stations; roughly six million people board trains locally at eight stops.

 Long Beach officials want more done in terms of safety and cleanliness at the Metro stations in the city.

Public art has been damaged or removed and has never been replaced, and the stations are devoid Long Beach officials want more done in terms of safety and cleanliness at the Metro stations in the city. of landscaping, he said.

Pedego electric bicycle juices up commute to train station

 The motor makes hills and head winds a breeze, and there's no need for a motorcycle license and insurance as there would be with a scooter.


 By Peter Pae, June 1, 2013

 electric bicycle

 A Pedego City Commuter electric is shown bicycle at the Metrolink train station in Tustin.The motor is built into the hub of the rear wheel, so the only sign of non-human power is the inconspicuous battery pack strapped to the luggage rack.


For years I contemplated selling my car and riding a bicycle to work.
I would ride to the Tustin train station four miles from my Irvine home on a bike path that would put me just half a mile from the station. From there I would take the Metrolink train to work in downtown Los Angeles.

But the few times I tried riding my road bike, I was exhausted by the time I got home. Getting there was easy — all downhill — but coming home was sheer agony, grinding up hills after a long workday. The road bike went back up on the rack in the garage.
I considered a scooter, but that ruled out the bike trail and would require a motorcycle license and insurance.

Then I tried something in between — an electric bicycle from Pedego, a 5-year-old company co-founded by Don DiCostanzo, a former carwash mogul. He believes that electric bikes are the future, especially in sunny Southern California, and preaches this gospel to anyone who will listen.
He's winning over some high-profile converts: The Pedego electric bicycle even gets a thumbs up from Google Inc., which has begun offering it at a subsidized rate to employees at its Mountain View, Calif., campus. Apple Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Tesla Motors Inc. are doing the same.

At first glance, it's hard to tell that the Pedego is anything other than a casual bike. The motor is built into the hub of the rear wheel, so the only sign of non-human power is the inconspicuous battery pack strapped to the luggage rack.

But Pedego can get you up a hill, no sweat. Topping out at 20 miles per hour (the self-imposed limit to keep the two-wheeler in the bicycle category), an electric-powered Pedego can easily go spoke-to-spoke with the lightest, fastest road bikes — yet it retains all the comfort and smooth ride of a cruiser.

But the economics of the Pedego are what sold me.

Like most everyone who has bought a Pedego, I had to get over some sticker shock. The Dutch-style city commuter I rode was nicely built, with top-notch components, but $2,500 for a bicycle? (Other Pedego models range from $2,000 to $3,000.)

But then I started thinking of all the money I could save if I used this thing to commute. I could dump my car — that's about $3,000 a year in gas, insurance, maintenance and registration, not to mention the lump sum from selling the vehicle. And there's no need for new insurance or a license, as with a scooter.

It's still a bicycle, after all, which meant I could cruise the extensive bike trails and lanes in Irvine. And with the electric motor helping me out, hills or head winds would be a breeze.
It turned out to be a no-brainer. With a combination of pedal-assist and electric throttle, I could go anywhere with ease.

In pedal-assist, the electric motor adds a little juice to your pedaling. That's handy for a middle-aged man like myself, who wants to get a little exercise — or at least pretend to — without too much exertion. I initially pedaled with the setting at "5" — meaning the electric motor at full power — which required little effort beyond moving my legs up and down. After several days, I gradually reduced the setting to "2" and got a little exercise. Now I sometimes pedal with the motor off completely.

The Pedego costs next to nothing to operate — about $2.50 a month on my electricity bill. A full
recharge takes four to five hours using the regular household AC plug and gives the bike a range of about 25 to 50 miles depending on weight, terrain and how much of the electrical power I use. I usually plug in the charger before I go to sleep so Edison charges me a lower nighttime rate.

Bottom line: The bike would pay for itself in about 10 months, not counting the extra cash from the sale of my car. And I've cut my daily trek down by about 15 minutes, compared with driving traffic-clogged streets to the train station.

Riding the Pedego has proved so addictive, in fact, that I even find myself looking forward to the commute.

Consumers can buy a Pedego bicycle online at http://www.pedegoelectricbikes.com (the company delivers the bike to the home fully assembled) or try one out before buying at Pedego stores in Cardiff by the Sea, Carlsbad, Corona del Mar, Dana Point, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Santa Barbara, Santa Monica and Seal Beach.

A Pedego tent with various models for test rides is scheduled to be at Great Park Farmers Market in Irvine on Sunday.
 At-Large PUSD Seat--Two Articles


 June 1, 2013

Tony Brandenburg: The Rites of (an occasional) Spring

June 1, 2013 

   Just looking for a 4th ...

Captain’s Log, Stardate 5.30.13 The 2001 Voting Rights Act prohibits “racially polarized” elections that impair the election of minorities. Redistricting was supposed to fix that. However, it did not, and we are still being held hostage by Measure A.

The City of Sierra Madre, firmly and flatly rejected the redistricting model. However, because our city falls into a tri-city served by a single school district - Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) we fell under their jurisdiction, and thus we are at the mercy of the larger of the three cities, the city of Pasadena.

A fiasco has ensued, created by the larger,  paranoid city, which in order to fend off a lawsuit that was never filed and never would have been, pushed this thing through. Now we sit voteless, and unrepresented on the PUSD Board of Education, as regional self-interests determine who will make decisions for the larger district in a, ahem,  cooperative blending of harmony and good will.

So, keeping in the spirit of goodwill and super juju, then, the Board of Education - made up of six residents of Pasadena called the Board of Education - with the assistance of  Mayor Bogaard of Pasadena and Mark Jomsky, the Pasadena City Clerk, offered advice to the PUSD Board President, Renatta Cooper who was not exactly the president that week, and which she shared at the May 14 Board Meeting.

The outcome was that the now vacant Board seat, which had previously been opened for all residents of the tri-city area, and which attracted a whopping 38 applicants, was now going to be reduced from 38 interviews, to 8 interviews.

One of the applicants was disqualified, and due to the vote by the 6 Pasadena residents under the, I assume, informal advisement of the Bogaard and Jomsky, for a “paper screening” which was quickly attributed to “Doctor” Tom Selinske. The result was that 28 of the eligible 37 applicants were turned away from the promised interview process. In the fairness of disclosure, one of those applicants was myself, as well as a handful of people I know and respect. Two of the four Sierra Madre residents were removed during the paper screening - Joellyn McGrath and myself - leaving two applicants, Makayla Rahn and Gretchen Vance, to be considered for the interview. The latter was almost eliminated at the May 28 Board Meeting as the Board discussed possibly narrowing the process down to three applicants, a point I brought up during public comment. I also brought up that there was no clear criteria, and that the process kept changing (click here).

I had read about it that day in the Pasadena Star News (click here). According to James FigueroaThree 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 … Ruben Hueso, Stella Murga and Luis Ayala ... 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.

Come Back, Annette, Come Back
Two days later I submitted a blog to the Sierra Madre Tattler (click here) which outlined my public comment. As  a conversation about eligibility and parenting and criteria and education, quickly devolved into a muscle beach party, I tried to focus on just a few points:

1)This isn't about who is a harder working parent, or who has more education, or the ethnicity of the applicant.
2) This is about six people from Pasadena telling applicants from Altadena and Sierra Madre who can be interviewed and who can't be.
3) Why is it that the Pasadena city clerk and Pasadena Mayor are deciding with six Pasadena residents which Sierra Madre citizens are worthy of holding court with them?
4)Why were the other candidates, candidates who, like me, got involved because of the promise of a face to face interview suddenly disenfranchised, again?

I Believe! I Believe!
I am still convinced that a conversation took place about the placement of the president and vice president prior to the official “election” process took place which placed Renatta Cooper into the President’s seat. I also believe a conversation took place before the paper screening about applicants, and I believe that preferential treatment has been granted to some candidates.

I believe that the Board members did not fairly analyze the applicants, that not every board member read every application, and that there is a voting trend that is suspicious, at the very best.

I believe that Renatta Cooper swiped the seat from under Scott Phelps - a seat that he was supposed to be grandfathered into, and that Renatta Cooper’s statements in the press over the last few weeks may have had a precedence somewhere else.

You can call it a hunch.

So What’s All This, Then?
A couple weeks back in Pasadena Now an unassuming little blip flew under the radar (click here) in which the Pasadena Latino Coalition released a short note to the press. Apparently the PN article didn’t include the entire letter. At the very least, its underlying meaning wasn’t completely understood.

Date: May 13, 2013, 3:55:37 PM PDT
Subject: Letter RE: PUSD Board of Education Vacant Seat

PUSD Board of Education Members:
Please find the enclosed letter on behalf of the Pasadena Latino Coalition, regarding the appointment of the 4th seat on the PUSD Board.

Kind Regards,
Alex Nogales
President & CEO National Hispanic Media Coalition

(Attachment) May 13, 2013

Dear PUSD Board Members,

We write as concerned leaders of the Pasadena community, to urge the Pasadena Unified School District Board to appoint a Latino for the newly vacated seat on the Board.  Pasadena’s student body consists of over 60% Latino students. Representation from the community the District is serving matters. It is essential that Pasadena have a Latino on the PUSD Board.

The Pasadena Latino Coalition (PLC) has long been concerned with the lack of Latino representation in appointed and elected positions in Pasadena, on the School Board and in local government. Given the importance education plays in improving the socio-economic status of Latinos, we could not be more convinced as to the importance of appointing a Latino advocate to the Board.

During redistricting talks last year, the PLC came together to comment during the District Task Force meetings, calling for more accountable districts for Latinos. We believe that the Board has a historic opportunity to not only appoint a qualified applicant that adheres to the Latino community’s needs, but also one who will help strengthen the community’s engagement to help contribute to the betterment of Pasadena’s education system.

We are currently aware of three qualified applicants: names who would address the concerns expressed above. These candidates all ran for a PUSD seat and have expressed a commitment to serve on this body. We hope these applicants garner the serious consideration of the Board. We trust the appointment process will be thorough and fair with the knowledge that all people deserve to be represented at the decision-making table, especially such a large population as is the Latino population in Pasadena.

If any of the current board members have questions as to PLC’s concerns or PLC in general please contact Alex Nogales, National Hispanic Media Coalition President & CEO at (626) XXX-XXXX.


Boys & Girls Club of Pasadena
Centro de Educacion del Pueblo
Community Organization of Pasadena for Advancement in Education (C.O.P.A)
Flintridge Center
Latino Heritage
Mothers Club Family Learning Center
National Hispanic Media Coalition
Office of Creative Connections at All Saints Church
Pasadena Mexican American History Association (PMAHA)

CC: Renatta Cooper, Tyron Hampton, Kimberly Kenne, Scott Phelps, Elizabeth Pomeroy, Tom Selinske

So What am I going on about ?
Read it again.

Remember? The outcome of redistricting changed the Latino voice on the board from 14% to 0% during the 2013 election when Ramon Miramontes stepped down from the Board,  and none of the Latino candidates (Carlos Ayala, Stella Murga, Reuben Hueso, Guillermo Arce) was voted into office.

So ... which three Latino Board candidate applicants are being referred to?

Go back to the Figueroa story, the one that seemed to set everything off ... Mikala Rahn, Laura Romero and Carmen Vargas were each named by four of the six sitting board members as top candidates … Ruben Hueso, Stella Murga and Luis Ayala ... wound up on three board members' lists

How was it that within three days of the applications going in around closing time - 5PM on Friday, May 10 (click here) - was the Pasadena Latino Coalition able to coordinate and then email this document before 4PM on the following Monday, May 13?

Ruben Hueso, Stella Murga and Luis Ayala ... wound up on three board members' lists

I mean, it’s possible, yes. Especially in today’s electronic digital frenzy. But, damn, that is pretty organized. Like, we have a plan, organized. I mean, all of those groups signed on, right?

So. Let’s start connecting the dots. Stella Murga was the spokesperson for Pasadena Latino Coalition in an official capacity until approximately December, 2012. We located a blurb which cites October, 2012, as a solid (click here) and for all I know, she still is the spokesperson.

Where’s the financial trail of love? Well, let’s see. Dale Gronmeier from Sierra Madre, and who was on the districting task force as a PUSD attorney donated some money to the Murga campaign. So did Nogales, the sender of the previously mentioned email - and which consolidates a couple of  connections. Who are the other Grono-buddies? You may recall Reuben Hueso and Luis Luis Carlos the Iceman Ayala. Hmmmmm. I wonder if they are the other two swell choices alluded to.

Another interesting connection is the Measure A Redistricting Task Force (click here) which included one Victor Gonzalez. Gonzalez updated Murga’s campaign page in 2009 (click here) prior to serving on that pesky Redistricting task force with Bart Doyle in 2012. Gonzalez and Ken Chawkins, another Measure A Alumni, both donated money in January, 2013 (click here) to Murga’s campaign. Interesting.

And then there’s this fluff piece, written to represent a letter from an ordinary guy (click here) named, uh, Victor Gonzalez.

Having served on the task force to create the new districts I was surprised (and angered) when we were accused by some people that the creation of these districts would actually disenfranchise voters. It's great to see such a variety of candidates from areas of the city that have had no representation. Which leads me to the second reason for this letter.

I'm disappointed by some of your endorsements. I agree with you that Kim Kenne and Ruben Hueso will be great on the board! Another great addition will be Stella Murga.

She is smart and passionate about students having started and run a nonprofit serving students in Pasadena. However, when you endorse Scott Phelps you endorse the continued dysfunction of the board. He was an early opponent of the districting that now allows for a great slate of candidates.
The clear choice for this seat is Luis Ayala.

Well knock me dead and drag my soul to Hell. Did ya catch that? The PLC 3: Luis Carlos Ayala, Stella Murga, and Ruben Hueso = good. Scott Phelps = bad. Oh, and by the way,  Just Plain Old Vic Gonzalez from Pasadena, aka the letter writer, is actually Dr. Victor Gonzalez, an LAUSD administrator (click here).

By the way, did I mention that Ayala is a lawyer? (click here)

Captain’s Log, Stardate 5.28.13
So..... on May 28 that list of 3 candidates was expanded to 9. Why?

Well, maybe, just maybe, the next six, including Gretchen Vance, were added so that the three candidates that the PLC wanted in could be dropped in, too. Take a look my presentation during public comment (click here) and while you’re at it, listen to Mary Dee Romney because she was onto it, too. As you watch mine, pay attention. Take a good look at how weird things started to get.

These people forget that I grew up in a world filled with junkies and grifters. It gave me Spidey Sense. I knew I was onto something, though I got there quite innocently and accidentally because of the newspaper article I mentioned earlier. Selinske glared at me, Renatta got weird with me, and then she started asking a bunch of questions around the chamber. Then there was an odd exchange with Dr. Pappalardo.

These guys would be a blast at a poker tournament.

So, dig it. Gretchen Vance had to be included in order to get the Sierra Madre pitbulls off of the scent. I stand by my assertion that some of them already talked this stuff through beforehand, maybe a discussion, or two, or three.

What a better way to placate the Tattlers who might poke around asking questions than to include a Sierra Madre hero? The one thing they hadn’t figured on is that Gretchen has lots of fans at the Sierra Madre Tattler, but I am not one of them. I am hopelessly indifferent.  But while Gretchen’s inclusion on the list uplifted the hopes of others, it just made me want to know why.

Why did the list go from 8 to 9? It was more than just “it was a tie” and I think I have a pretty good idea what it was. It was a smokescreen. That way the PLC 3 could slide in without any fanfare, and no one would be the wiser.

The Board was right about one thing though. Tony Brandenburg has no business being among their ranks.

Renatta Cooper, is yer BFF
From Pasadena Star-News (click here) of January 13, 2011. The lack of proportionate representation on the board could expose the PUSD to a lawsuit, said Renatta Cooper, PUSD board member."Given the demographics in the district, Latinos are under-represented on the board, she said. "That's the place where we can be sued."

From the Pasadena Weekly (click here) of May 2, 2013. “I believe the school board should be representative of the constituency served by the school district,” said School Board President Renatta Cooper. “With that in mind, given our demographics, clearly we need Latino representation at the school board level, at least one person.”

From the Pasadena/ San Gabriel Valley News Journal (click here) of May 22, Renatta Cooper wrote: The Pasadena Unified School District is a majority Latino serving district 61 percent of our current Latino students. Currently, there is no Latino presence on the board of education and it is my hope that the current vacancy will be filled by a member of the Latino community. (emphasis added)

Are you paying attention?

Mike Severa Takes an Educated Guess at the Vote
Mike is a math guy. He likes numbers. He gave a rundown in an email, which made perfect sense, and took this guess at the vote. His logic made sense, but I will not share the letter. What I wish to remind you is that this is a HYPOTHESIS and that is it. But it raises some interesting possibilities (click here).

My bet is the rows are:
1. Cooper
2. Hampton
3. Kenne
4. Selinske
5. Pomeroy
6. Phelps

If Mike’s numbers line up, then Board members 1, 4, and 5 voted very closely, impossibly close if you ask me. 1, 4, & 5 ... Cooper, Selinske, & Pomeroy.

Cooper - Hueso Murga Ayala Espinoza
Selinske - Hueso Murga Ayala Espinoza
Pomeroy - Hueso Murga Ayala Espinoza

Pasadena Latino Coalition ... spokesperson Stella Murga “... three qualified applicants ...These candidates all ran for a PUSD seat ...”

Out of 37  applicants, Mike, help me baby. What’s the likelihood? Three of the same board members’ lists ...

Hueso, Murga, Ayala
Cooper, Selinske, Pomeroy

Hueso, Murga, Ayala
Cooper, Selinske, Pomeroy

Gooble, Gobble,
Gooble, Gobble,
We accept you, one of us.

Educating your kids is worth fighting for

June 2, 2013

There was another educational miracle that touched a lot of us pretty deeply, and that was yesterday's decision by the PUSD's Board of Education on an appointment to fill an empty two year at-large seat. Something that on the surface might seem like a fairly humble thing, but for those of us who have for some inexplicable reason chosen to immerse ourselves deeply into the wild and strange world of local politics around here, an event of far larger significance than you might have ever known.

Here is how James Figueroa describes what went down in today's Pasadena Star News (link):

Learning Works director Mikala Rahn appointed to Pasadena school board vacancy
By James Figueroa, Staff Writer
@jfigscribe on Twitter

PASADENA - Mikala Rahn, the founder of Learning Works charter school, will join the Pasadena Unified School District board after she was appointed Saturday to fill the remaining two years of a vacant seat.

Rahn, a Sierra Madre resident, won the board seat on a 4-2 vote by the six other members of the board, and is set to be sworn in at the next meeting on June 11. She will take Seat 4, an at-large position representing the entire district.

"It's an honor," Rahn said. "I'm feeling very, very good that were all going to get along and it's going to be good."

She beat out investment banker Carmen Vargas in the final vote, following the board's interviews with nine finalists on Saturday. The finalists had been selected from a pool of 37 applicants who qualified for the position.

"I think she just stood out," said board member Scott Phelps, who nominated Rahn and cited her extensive experience working with PUSD as an indication that she could quickly become familiar with issues in the school district.

Learning Works, established five years ago, is dedicated to getting dropouts back into classrooms and has proven successful with its "chasers" model, staff members who follow-up with absent students.

Rahn also works with homeless youth and others on probation through various organization, and she was previously involved in PUSD as a Sierra Madre PTA president and Washington Middle School site council member.

Although the seat is at-large, the appointment satisfied Sierra Madre residents who had decried a lack of representation on the board with the establishment of voting districts this year. Some residents had threatened to start a petition that could overturn the appointment with a special election, but they backed off once Rahn won the seat.

However, the appointment also ensures there won't be any Latino board members for the next two years. Board President Renatta Cooper pushed to appoint a Latino candidate, backing Vargas in the final vote, but no other board member wanted to make race a factor in the decision.

There can be little doubt that Sierra Madre resident Mikala Rahn's appointment to the final two years of this "at large" seat is in large part due to her remarkable resume' and successes with Learning Works. Her real world accomplishments alone make her a great selection to a Board of Education that has, in the minds of many, gone badly adrift over the last few years. A place where some rather bizarre ideological agendas have dominated, with predictable results that have been devastating to the core mission of any school district. Teaching kids.

But that said, you also need to consider just how far her appointment has symbolically taken Sierra Madre. Here we were the community that had become, under an unfair and poorly conceived "subdistricting" scheme that purposefully denied us the right to vote in last March's Board of Education election, something of an unwanted stepchild. One whose own very real interests had been covertly shoved aside to accommodate a cynical, politically conceived and racially balkanized catastrophe of a system that seemingly had no real use for us beyond serving as a reliable source of tax revenue for them.

All of that has now gone full circle with the aims of our detractors having failed miserably, and Sierra Madre getting its first representative on the Board of Education in years. Not the kind of outcome the Ken Chawkins, Peter Dreiers, Jon Fuhrmans, Renatta Coopers and Bill Bogaards of this world thought they would get. Or hoped would happen.

(Inserting a reader's comment here: There was a miracle that occurred at the school board meeting yesterday. As the board was immersed in an intense debate over Latino vs. qualified person to fill the vacancy, a young voice spoke out from the audience. This whole board meeting was filmed and as such a cameraman and his assistant - or girlfriend - had been there the entire day listening to the proceedings. This young Latina spoke up in the midst of the impassioned discussion and said that she didn't think it was right that someone be placed in a job just because of what they look like. She thought that considering someone's qualifications was more important than considering their race. I tell you, her comment took all the wind out of the room, and really and truly, I believe that is why Mikala Rahn was elected to fill the vacancy. Talk about speaking truth to power!)

I believe a lot of that might actually be behind us now. This was a serious defeat for the bad guys. People who for the first time in quite a while will find themselves sitting on the sidelines as the important decisions are made. This PUSD thing just might get saved yet.

It also appears that we will be hearing some very good news shortly regarding our sorely tested Middle School. The bids are at long last in and it looks like ground will be broken soon for a brand new school that will make all of us proud. A fitting testimonial to a town that always leads the district in academic achievement. We take education seriously in Sierra Madre. We take care of our kids. We need to take care of them all.

Would any of this have happened had some brave residents not gone to the meetings, made their feelings known and yelled their bloody heads off at every opportunity, and in every conceivable way possible? I kind of doubt it.

Once again we are the mouse that roared. The smallest town in a big school district that refused to be ignored. It works for us. And often that is all we have. I doubt they'll ever think stealing our vote is a good idea again. We're a terrible nuisance once we get riled.

On a personal note I would like to thank my friends Gretchen Vance and Tony Brandenburg for standing up. I hope this community understands what they owe to you both.

Streetcar Proponents Woo Washington Leader


May 31, 2013

  Streetcar Proponents Woo Washington Leader

 Congressman Bill Shuster (left) on a tour of the Los Angeles Streetcar route organized by 14th District Councilman Jose Huizar (far right). Downtown leaders want to drum up federal support for the $125 million project.


  DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - In an effort to drum up federal support for the proposed $125 million Los Angeles Streetcar, 14th District City Councilman José Huizar and dozens of Downtown business and civic leaders last week took Congressman Bill Shuster (R-Penn.) on a 90-minute “whistle stop tour.”

The May 29 event ferried Shuster, who is chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, along the proposed route of the project.

The tour included stops at L.A. Live, Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Orpheum Theatre, as well as talks with Downtown stakeholders.

The move is important because Huizar and officials with Los Angeles Streetcar Inc. hope to secure $52 million in federal funds to pay for the project (in December, Downtown residents approved a plan to tax area property up to $85 million for the circulator). Huizar hopes to secure the money through a single grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Small Starts program, and has said an application will be filed this year. Shuster’s Transportation & Infrastructure Committee has oversight of the DOT.

The streetcar would connect L.A. Live and the Civic Center with a main spine on Broadway.

Editorial: Safety is latest worry about California bullet train


June 1, 2013

Take "The Little Engine That Could," remove the hero's underdog charm and the inevitability of a happy ending, and you've got the saga of the California bullet train as the project nears the scheduled start of construction next month.
It thinks it can, it thinks it can. Planners think it can get over a mountain of legal, financial and procedural worries, the latest being a red flag about safety and quality in a major contractor's proposal. Gov. Jerry Brown and other supporters think it still can become the 21st century jewel of the state's transportation system, carrying residents and tourists between Los Angeles and San Francisco in 2 hours 40 minutes.

Who else thinks so?

The high-speed rail project born of state voters' approval of Proposition 1A in 2008 now seems to be powered solely by the determination of proponents with reputations and jobs on the line. The only happy ending in sight may be one in which the project's problems stop it while there's still time to turn back. The whole idea would slam to a halt if Californians were allowed to vote again — as, increasingly clearly, they should be.

There are open legal questions.

Arguments were to begin last week in a lawsuit against the California High-Speed Rail Authority by Kern County, claiming current plans violate Prop. 1A's requirement that all money and environmental approvals be in place before construction begins. Disputes continue over which state and federal bodies have authority over the United States' first bullet-train project.

There are unsettled economic questions.

What is the whole thing going to end up costing, and will it make money? The original $33 billion price tag rose to nearly $100 billion before being pared to its current $68.5 billion. Is vital private financing coming? Without an updated business plan showing sufficient revenue, it's hard to entice investors. Is the needed federal money on its way? Powerful California Republicans in the House vow to block federal funding beyond $3.3 billion already committed.

The discussion of finances leads to talk of safety.

These concerns come from reports that Tutor Perini Corp. was selected for the first 29 miles of rail construction because it's the lowest of the five bidders (at $985 million), even though its proposal earned the lowest technical scores for safety and design. The High-Speed Rail Authority shifted its priorities to emphasize low cost Sylmar-based Tutor Perini over two European firms.

Not that taxpayers should complain about efforts to contain costs. But there must be no scrimping on safety and quality for a 220-mph train. If the state has to sacrifice quality to make the bullet train affordable, that's another sign it's unaffordable.

The Tutor Perini contract is scheduled for final approval at the High-Speed Rail Authority's meeting Thursday in Sacramento, and Californians should tell these officials to slow down.

Time is running out to put the brakes on the bullet train that shouldn't.


Ford Still Trying to Get Millennials to Like Them


By Tanya Snyder, May 31, 2013

Ford, you're trying a little too hard.

 Poor Ford.

They’re trying so hard. They’re like the Cassandra of the car world, foretelling the future of less driving, more transportation options, a preference for car-lite urban living. They’ve been re-designing their Mustang to appeal to younger folks and stressing their move away from cars and toward “mobility opportunities” (like driving cars). And now they’re holding panels with hip marketing firms, trying to figure out how to crack that elusive youth market. You know, the one that doesn’t want to buy cars.

Salon was there yesterday and brings us this dispatch:
The invitation from Ford, which had put on the event, told us the goal: “use data, trends and expertise to show that Millennials aren’t just a bunch of PBR-drinking hipsters who spin vinyl and ride bikes.” We were trepidatious. …
Attendees were asked to tweet about the event using the hashtag “#fordtrends.”

Cars went little discussed, at first: The Ford Fiesta, around which the company had tried to build a “movement” by lending cars, for free, to “influencers” and asking them to document their experience online, was generally agreed upon to have been a success among millennial car buyers. But the event was intended generally to get a sense of how brands might attach themselves, lamprey-like, to millennials who lack purchasing power as yet. Said [David] Rabkin, of American Express: “We attract a ton of millennials but aren’t able to approve them for many of our products, so we need to work on a relationship. Who are they now vs. who will they be when they hit our sweet spot of people who spend a lot of money? But we do love their spend.”
If you can decode ad-speak and know what “we do love their spend” means, please let me know in the comments. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure it means they’re trying to suck blood from a stone, so actually, never mind.

The assembled marketing geniuses lamented the shiftlessness of Gen Y, their laziness about finding jobs amid a recession that erased 2.5 million jobs that it never put back, but took heart that they all have trust funds, so really, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be buying Ford Fiestas. They’re so fun and youthful! And even if they can’t buy those cute little buggies now, well, Ford will be there, aggressively marketing to them, when the millennials hit that “sweet spot” of earning power. They’ll be wrapping cars in tattoos! They’ll be reminding this tech generation that there are lots of little computers in cars! They’ll be totally hip to the whole mobile phone thing!

So, um, Ford? We hate to bust this bubble for you. Millennials aren’t buying your cars, and it’s not because they’re too lazy to afford them. It’s because they’re just not that into you. That whole cruising-around-Main-Street-in-your-hot-wheels thing? They’re sort of over that. Not that young folks have totally given you up – the addiction you’ve helped inculcate in our culture persists all too strongly – but young people just coming into their prime simply will not replace all the driving that was done by the older folks that are retiring now.

If you really want to keep up, maybe you should start manufacturing streetcars or bikes?