To consolidate, disseminate, and gather information concerning the 710 expansion into our San Rafael neighborhood and into our surrounding neighborhoods. If you have an item that you would like posted on this blog, please e-mail the item to Peggy Drouet at pdrouet@earthlink.net

Friday, August 9, 2013

Poll results thus far: transit riders mixed on whether Google Glass should be allowed aboard buses and trains


By Steve Hyman, August 9, 2013



Above are the results thus far of our unscientific (as always) poll on how transit riders feel about other transit riders wearing Google Glass in the future with some of the comments below.
Thus far, the results are very mixed and indicate that Google Glass may have a little work to do in the marketing department. I’ll keep the poll open for those interested in this topic and haven’t voted yet.
How do you feel about people wearing Google Glass on mass transit?
How do you feel about people wearing Google Glass on mass transit?
Total Votes: 280

Also, from our original post:

Here’s a fun story in last week’s New Yorker about one of those testers and his experiences. As the story explains, having the functions of a smartphone sitting on your face (for lack of a better term) is very different animal than having the functions of a smartphone in your hand or pocket.

As the article also notes, some establishments have already banned Google Glass because they don’t want users surreptitiously taking photos through glasses either for legal reasons (an art gallery may not own the rights to the art it displays) or for the sake of their clientele (patrons at a bar, for example).

Memo Named Pasadena as Potential Terrorist Target

Police chief says no credible threat of attack, despite memo


August 9, 2013

A memo obtained by Pasadena Now lists Pasadena and Austin, Texas as sites of possible terrorist attacks this month.

According to the July 19 “Force Protection Alert” issued to U.S. military commanders in Texas, “a group of trained terrorists are planning to conduct attacks in Austin, Texas and Pasadena, California at the conclusion of the Ramadan period. The period lasts from 8 July to 8 August.”

The memo states that the group plans to use “backpack style bombs” and plans to attack a school and theological seminary in Texas. If Aug. 8-9 is not a viable date then the group plans to wait until Aug. 29.

Pasadena Police Chief Phillip Sanchez said that he has spoken to several federal agencies, including the FBI, since the White House reported the possibility of terrorist attacks last weekend.

“After the embassies closed in the Middle East there was memo sent to law enforcement in Northern California saying there was a possible threat there,” Sanchez said. “I had our counter terrorist team reach out to the federal government and ask them if there were any specific threats to Pasadena and there were none. Pasadena maintains a high level of readiness. If there were specific threats to Pasadena, I would initiate the appropriate protocol which would involve county and state officials which would mitigate and eliminate that threat.”

Calls to phone numbers listed at the bottom of the threat memo were not returned. Television station KXAN in Austin, Texas reportedly confirmed the memo’s veracity with military forces earlier this week and the Austin Police Department said it was aware of the threat.

“The Austin Police Department was aware of the threat made. We vetted all the information with our Regional and Federal partners as we do with all threats. APD will continue to monitor the situation and have in place an appropriate response plan if necessary.”

5 Dramatic Plans For Transforming the Banks of the LA River


By James Brasuell, August 9, 2013



The proposal by Binbin Ma, of the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, included an outdoor movie theater on the river.
Counting down the days until the Army Corps of Engineers announce plans for the future of the concrete banks of the LA River? Tide yourself over until the big reveal by perusing some recently-completed design work imagining some brand new possibilities for the river. Landscape architecture firm SWA, which has an office in Downtown, recently wrapped up its summer internship program, which tasked interns from all over the country and the world with making an intense study of selected sites along the LA River.
According to Ying-Yu Hung, Managing Principal of SWA's Los Angeles office, the interns examined sites that haven't yet been subject to some of the repeated design exercises of, say, the Cornfields or the Piggyback Yards. Instead, the students strung together sites that reflect both the length and the breadth of land by the river. "The potential is just so immense from a landscape perspective. It connects these large parcels of open space, like Griffith Park, Dodger Stadium, and Elysian Park. That's a really exciting prospect to investigate," says Hung.

Students responded to that potential with visions for the river that included everything from a birder's paradise or a punk rocker's urban wasteland--the kind of variety that suits the major geographic and cultural shifts of the river basin (even given the constraints of the concrete banks that currently line most of the river's 41 miles). Some of the more radical ideas presented include work by Esther Korteweg, of Van Hall Larenstein in the Netherlands, who pitched floating houses arranged on a flood plain below Dodger Stadium. Different water levels would reconfigure the neighborhood and the location of houses would even change completely after a flood event. Another project, by Ian Mackay of Ohio State University, would create a vertical habitat serving as a proxy riparian zone for the many species of birds that visit or live along the LA River.

While the city's architects, engineers, and politicians might see the LA River as a long list of challenges, with huge costs and bureaucratic red tape standing in the way of visionary thinking, bringing students in from around the world will hopefully inspire the passion and imagination of the various interests working along the river every day.

And if you're still in the market for LA-River-inspired design creativity, tonight Metabolic Studios is holding an open house to introduce its big La Noria water wheel public art project.

· 3 Plans on the Table For Major LA River Revitalization [Curbed LA]
· New Plans For a Bike Path Along All 51 Miles of the LA River [Curbed LA]
· Huge Water Wheel Might Be Renewed River's Iconic Public Art [Curbed LA]

Rasmussen: Americans Want More Federal Support for Transit


By Tanya Snyder, August 9, 2013

Rasmussen Reports, the polling firm that got the 2012 election completely wrong, asked 1,000 Americans last week how they feel about public transportation [PDF]. The takeaway they reported was this: “74% Rarely or Never Use Mass Transit.”

On the flip side, 6 percent said they used transit every day or nearly every day, and another 7 percent report using it at least once a week. That’s way lower than it should be, but still indicates greater transit use than the 5 percent mode share transit tops out at in the American Community Survey, which measures only commuting and asks only what mode people used most often in a given week.

Rasmussen didn’t ask whether people had access to transit. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, 45 percent of U.S. households have no access to transit whatsoever. If the same proportion applies to Rasmussen respondents, that means nearly a third of people who have any access to transit use it at least once a week. Thirty-nine percent of the respondents live in suburbs and 30 percent in rural areas — places where transit access is spotty, at best.

But perhaps more than 55 percent of the Rasmussen respondents had access, since an impressive 37 percent of respondents said the availability of transit services was at least somewhat important in choosing where to live. (Seventeen percent said it was “very important.”) It’s encouraging to see that so many people are hip to the benefits of living near transit, though it’s confusing, then, that only 13 percent of them actually ride it with any regularity.

Best of all, fully 50 percent said the federal government should “do more to encourage use of mass transit services in the United States, including funding more public transportation projects.” Fourteen percent more weren’t sure. That means that even people who never ride transit — who might never even see transit in their communities — get that it’s important. They want their tax dollars supporting it.

That aligns with several other surveys gauging public support for transit. In 2010, a poll by Transportation for America and NRDC found that people thought 37 percent of federal transport dollars should go to transit — nearly double transit’s actual share. A Rockefeller Foundation poll in 2011 found that Americans’ top two infrastructure priorities were safer streets and more transportation options. The same year, 80 percent of Republicans in a Yale University study said public transit investment was a good way to avert global warming. And last year, an NRDC poll found that Americans across the political spectrum support new transit twice as much as new road projects.

Support for transit funding among Rasmussen respondents went down some if the system loses money (as almost all transit systems do), with 45 percent saying the government shouldn’t subsidize transit. Still, it’s impressive that 36 percent answered “yes” to a question worded in a way that seems specifically designed to turn off anyone who considers himself fiscally responsible.

Rasmussen also asked how safe people think transit is — another somewhat confusing question. First of all, I’d like to see the answers split between people who use transit and people who don’t. Second, for what it’s worth, I wonder if people are thinking about crime or derailments when they’re thinking about safety. Or maybe they’re just worried that they’ll get caught in the doors? In any case, 74 percent said “mass transit services” were at least “somewhat” safe and just 3 percent said they were “not safe at all.”

People had no particular idea whether transit is getting safer or less safe than 10 years ago. I have no particular answer to that either. It could depend on things like crime rates in individual cities, the routes people take now versus 10 years ago, and whether the transit agency has implemented best practices in signaling and automation and the like.

Another question asked: “If you have the choice, would you rather take public transportation or drive your own car to go somewhere?” The surprise isn’t that 76 percent said they’re rather drive. The surprise is that 19 percent flat-out wanted to take transit, and 5 percent were on the fence. So while only 6 percent of these people actually do take transit every day, this poll shows that with better options, perhaps, more would choose it.

Once you add in the real-life trade-offs associated with driving and transit, the numbers might climb. Maybe next time they’ll ask, “Would you rather be whisked, traffic-free, to your destination via or choke on fumes in traffic jams, only to circle endlessly looking for parking when you arrive?”

Would This Insanely Complex Diagram Help You Navigate a Subway System?


By Henry Grabar, August 9, 2013

Would This Insanely Complex Diagram Help You Navigate a Subway System?
 Otemachi station. All images courtesy of the Tokyo Metro Navi.

Navigating the Tokyo Metro can be a challenge.

Together with the Toei Subway, Tokyo’s is the busiest metropolitan transit network in the world, with over 3 billion annual riders. The Metro’s nine lines have 179 stops, where travelers can transfer, in addition to the Toei, to dozens of privately owned rail lines, dozens of Japan Rail commuter trains, and of course, the Shinkansen bullet trains. (See the "Transport in Greater Tokyo" Wikipedia page for more.)

Are you confused yet? Try transferring at one of the world’s busiest stations.

The Tokyo Metro has by and large done an excellent job helping locals and tourists alike parse this labyrinthine underground network. Digital screens in every train car display the design of the approaching platform, adjusted to correspond to your current car, so you can see which way you’ll have to walk to the elevator, escalator, or transfer points.

And then there is the Tokyo Metro Navi booklet, free for the taking at every station, which maps out both the street geography surrounding the busiest stations and the architecture of the stations themselves.

These latter diagrams are of particular interest, for despite their good intentions, they might have been drawn by M.C. Escher. Is this a navigational aide or some mad artist’s blueprint for a subway station? You decide.

Akasaka-Mitsuke station

Ginza station

Ikibukuro station

Kasumigaseki station

Iidabashi station

Kokkai station

Shibuya station


Future of high-speed passenger rail could ride on private investment


August 9, 2013

WASHINGTON — Gridlock in Washington over transportation funding could be an incentive for states and cities to look to private investors to help finance high-speed passenger train systems.
Advocates of high-speed passenger rail see it as a remedy for urban traffic congestion that’s more reliable than air travel and environmentally beneficial because it takes cars off the road.

The financial success of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor service linking Washington and Boston is widely viewed as a signal that Americans will opt for train service as an alternative mode of travel.
But paying for high-speed passenger rail has become problematic.

The federal commitment reached a high point in 2009, when Congress enacted an economic stimulus package that included $8 billion to financing high-speed passenger rail projects.

But House Republicans eliminated funding for high-speed rail in the 2013 federal budget and rescinded $400 million of the $2.5 billion set aside for projects in 2010.

House Republicans also have proposed a 2014 budget that would prohibit the use of previously dedicated federal funds for the California High Speed Rail Authority, which is developing rail service that would carry passengers between San Francisco and the Los Angeles area in less than three hours by 2029.

Division among House Republicans prevented a floor vote before the August recess. In the Senate, Republicans blocked passage of a bipartisan 2014 transportation spending bill.

The United States trails many developed countries in the use of private investment to expand high-speed passenger rail. That could change with the development of a privately financed high- speed line between Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston. Texas Central Railway, which has proposed building a 220 mph high-speed passenger system by 2021, has Central Japan Railway Co. as its lead investor.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said at a recent Senate hearing she’s talked to private investors who are interested in “highly trafficked routes that could be very financially lucrative if the investment is done properly.” She said those investors would finance the full cost of the routes.

 She speculated they could include service between New York City and western New York or New York City to Montreal.

Gillibrand has declined to identify the investors.

Many transportation experts say it is unlikely that entirely privately financed high-speed lines or the sale of existing lines to private investors will become the norm.

Instead, transportation experts say public-private partnerships are the model most likely to succeed in the United States, with state or local governments granting concession rights to private investors for parts of the transportation system.

And it’s already happening.

In Connecticut, the privately owned Carlyle Group has a contract to rehabilitate and operate rest stops on Interstate 95 and other major roads.

And the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced in April a $1.5 billion deal with NYNJ Link Partnership to build a replacement for the Goethals Bridge linking New Jersey and the New York City borough of Staten Island. The private partner will not only design, build and maintain the bridge - it will also finance construction.

The 36 states that do have enabling legislation usually limit how the partnerships can be applied.
The New Jersey law, for instance, applies only to higher education projects, according to Richard Norment, executive director of the National Council for Public-Private Partnerships. New York is among the states without enabling legislation.

The National Conference of State Legislatures says most public-private partnership laws apply to bridge or highway projects. None cover passenger rail service.

Public-private partnerships are sometimes controversial because they can be seen as the sale or privatization of public assets.

Public employee unions have been critical of some deals because they are seen as a way to eliminate jobs and hard-fought benefits. And deals involving the construction of sports stadiums often have come under fire when a professional sports team is seen as deriving most or all of the financial benefits.

 Experts say the structure of each arrangement is important, pointing to examples where construction workers have been guaranteed prevailing union wages and public employees have been given job security.(AT)

Robert Puentes, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, says public-private partnerships should be seen as “a collaborative enterprise.”

‘It’s not a public sector resource being sold off to a private sector entity or a private entity doing something the public sector would normally do,” Puentes said.

Richard Geddes of Cornell University said the United States is behind the developed world in using public-private partnerships. “If you go to France or Spain or Portugal, they assume a road is going to be built as a public-private partnership,” he said. “That’s sort of the default model.”

The most commonly mentioned example of a public-private partnership involving passenger rail is High Speed 1, the segment of high-speed train service between London and Paris that covers the English side between St. Pancras station in London and the Folkestone, Kent entrance to the tunnel under the English Channel.

The Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System, one of the largest institutional investors in Canada, used its Borealis Infrastructure investment division to purchase the concession rights to High Speed 1 through 2040. Borealis collects fees for the use of the tracks and operates the stations. In addition, one privately owned company uses the tracks for Eurostar high-speed trains between London and Paris and another private rail operator, Southeastern, uses it for commuter trains.

“That’s a great model for the world and I think that’s what is bringing investors to speed up their interest,” said Andrew Kunz, president of the U.S. High Speed Rail Association.

Daniel Krause, co-founder and executive director of the citizens group Californians for High Speed Rail, said private investment will be needed to eventually complete the system planned between San Francisco and the Los Angeles area. “I think in this day and age when you have limited government budgets, it’s necessary,” Krause said. “Typically they would get the concession to operate the trains and the money would help to get the system constructed.”

 Upgrading the Northeast Corridor to accommodate trains traveling 200 mph or more will cost tens of billions of dollars because it will mean construction of a new line of tracks dedicated to high-speed service along a highly urbanized route that passes through Baltimore, Wilmington, Del., Newark, N.J., and New York City.

For instance, Amtrak’s Gateway Program, which calls for doubling the train capacity over the relatively short distance between Newark and New York City’s Penn Station, will cost at least $15 billion, according to preliminary estimates. The project includes digging two new tunnels under the Hudson River to supplement the two existing tunnels built in 1910 that already handle 450 trains daily, and building two new bridges over the Hackensack River to replace a 100-year-old, movable bridge
Stephen Gardner, Amtrak’s vice president for the Northeast Corridor Infrastructure, said a public-private partnership is “one of the possible avenues we are looking at” to help finance or more parts of the Gateway project.

“I think there is interest from the private sector in finding ways to be involved,” Gardner said. “So I think we are quietly hopeful that there are ways to make something work there. But it’s going to be finding the right balance of what’s right for the public sector to do and what’s right for the private sector.”

Amtrak has talked to private investors about redevelopment of major stations, partnering with the real estate development firm Akridge on a master plan for redeveloping Union Station in Washington and discussing with institutional investors and universities a plan for the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia.

“The private sector does not take the place of the public sector,” the Amtrak vice president said. “I think they can augment and can bring value if structured correctly to these projects. Almost all of these big projects rely on some sort of public commitment as kind of the foundational investment.”

WeHo: new nighttime trolley service starts tonight


By Chloe Rodriguez, August 9, 2013

 The PickUp Line, the new entertainment shuttle of WeHo. Photo: City of West Hollywood.

The PickUp Line, the new entertainment shuttle of WeHo.

Starting tonight, West Hollywood will run a free nighttime trolley service known as The PickUp Line. On Friday and Saturday nights, this entertainment shuttle will carry passengers safely down Santa Monica Blvd from 8 p.m. to 3 a.m. This program will start August 9 and will run until December 28.

The PickUp will make 15-minute runs from Doheny Drive to Fairfax Avenue with a detour to the West Hollywood Public Library parking deck on San Vicente Boulevard.

The vehicles have 20 stops along circular route with 10 east bound stop locations and 10 west bound stop locations, all of which are existing Metro bus stops.

To find a stop, look for the brightly colored yellow signs out on Santa Monica Blvd or you can find a route map at the official website.

Will Montgomery County Fall Into the Zombie Highway Trap?


By Angie Schmitt, August 9, 2013

There ought to be a statute of limitations on highway plans, because chances are, if a transportation project was conceived of at a time when rotary phones were the norm, it is just as outdated.

Residents protested a plan to build a 1960s-era highway project earlier this week in Montgomery County, Maryland. 

But these zombie highway projects from another era still hold a powerful allure over public officials, even in places where they really ought to know better.

Montgomery County, Maryland, has a reputation for being pretty forward thinking on transportation, but an undead highway is clawing its way out of the grave.

At Greater Greater Washington, Kelly Blynn reports that local officials are under the spell of a 1960s vision called the Midcounty Highway Extended, or M83. Worst of all, they seem to be settling on the most costly intervention, fiscally and environmentally:
Last night, the Maryland Department of the Environment and the Army Corps of Engineers held a public hearing at Seneca Valley High School in Germantown regarding whether they should grant a joint permit to impact wetlands and streams in the highway’s path. Dozens of highway opponents from the Transit Alternatives to the Midcounty Highway Extended (TAME) Coalition, many of whom have fought the project for years, turned out in force to testify against the project.

MCDOT originally evaluated 11 alternatives, and has since narrowed the field down to just 6, including a no-build option. Alternatives 4, 8, and 9 are the most controversial and involve the most new pavement and right-of-way through environmentally sensitive areas and existing neighborhoods. They also happen to be MCDOT’s preferred alternatives. MCDOT estimates that Alternative 9 would cost $350 million to build, though local activists say it could be double that.

Alternative 2, the cheapest option, would make improvements to Route 355 and use transportation demand management (TDM) to give travelers other ways to get around, while alternative 5 involves widening it. MCDOT did not look at any transit alternatives. Their report contains a footnote saying that the community requested a transit alternative, but says that the county’s Bus Rapid Transit plan is still too nascent to be considered.
The county leaders will decide soon whether to include the money for this project in next year’s budget. Blynn says, “It remains to be seen whether the County leaders will continue their progressive planning tradition by investing scarce local dollars in transit and smart growth, or whether they sink hundreds of millions into a 1960′s-era sprawl highway.”

Elsewhere on the Network today: Mobilizing the Region sheds light on some of the perilous situations faced by pedestrians in south Jersey. Cap’n Transit theorizes that two schools of thought on transit planning emerge from two difference conceptions of the city and suburbs. And I Bike TO criticizes the Toronto police department’s decision to stop tracking “dooring” crashes.

The Expo Line: From the Court of Public Opinion to the Supreme Court...And Back Again


By Ken Alpern, August 9, 2013

ALPERN AT LARGE - If ever there was proof positive that Westside traffic was, is and will remain a staple of grassroots and media buzz, it's the explosion of media and e-mails announcing (and for some, celebrating), the support of the California Supreme Court for the EIR for Phase 2 of the Expo Line (from Culver City to Santa Monica).

Yet while some of us might be rejoicing, and others of us might be in shock or in grief from the Supreme Court decision, it is my own strong contention (as one of the grassroots supporters who helped keep hope for this line alive during some very tough years) that we'd all do well to restrain our joy or our disappointment because there is a growing crystallization of both hope and concern for our Once and Future Expo Line.

In other words, so long as we ALL keep up the debate, and keep things out in the open, we'll get a better Expo Line and related transportation/planning policy, to boot.

The "legalese" of the 6-1 California Supreme Court ruling (which affirmed several lower court rulings) can be summarized by its conclusion that there was "no prejudice" in the decision of the Expo Line Construction Authority to base its future traffic counts and studies on projected future conditions in 2030, and not on existing environmental conditions.

The Supreme Court concluded that the Phase 2 Expo Line EIR actually DID violate CEQA's requirements to use current baseline traffic conditions, but it did NOT do so to be biased, confusing or hide any impacts of the Expo Line to either current or future traffic.  Restated, the strategy, but NOT the intent, of the Expo Line Construction Authority was and is faulty...but it's the intent that matters.  So the Supreme Court was NOT too thrilled about what the Authority did, but it wasn't going to stop the line from being built as is.

While that may not resonate well with all, it does suggest and conclude that the Expo Line Construction Authority was trying to be helpful in showing the Expo Line could work for the Westside and Mid-City alike.

And it should also throw out a spotlight on the strategy and intent of those who raised the lawsuit (Neighbors For Smart Rail), because there is considerable confusion (and concern) over what that entity's intent was.

It is my earnest belief that some NFSR members just wanted to kill the line altogether, while some merely had misguided and misinformed ideas of how the Expo Line could be mitigated. Just as Expo Line supporters have diverse attitudes and perspectives on what the Expo Line should be, and are "evolving" to this day, it's fair and appropriate that NFSR litigants and Expo Line opponents are also diverse and evolving.  "Blaming" anyone will not help matters at all, but a little history is in order--this Once and Future Expo Line was once called the Air Line, and it stopped carrying freight and passengers a few decades ago (I welcome historians like Jonathan Weiss and Fred Gurzeler to elaborate more on this at CityWatch, but time and space constrains me).

Darrell Clarke and others--many from Santa Monica--convinced Metro to purchase this Air Line and other unused or underutilized rail rights of way for future transit use.  Mr. Clarke and others--all grassroots, all unpaid, and who were from all parts of the political spectrum--pursued support of a light rail to connect Downtown to Santa Monica.

Mid-City rail backers such as Presley Burroughs linked with Darrell Clarke, and the two of them (along with other grassroots leaders) were savaged by some of their neighbors who held considerable influence over politicians such as Zev Yaroslavsky, Yvonne Braithewaite-Burke, and Richard Riordan (and who were ardent opponents of the proposed straight-shot light rail from Downtown to the beach).

In the background of all these grassroots efforts was the splitting of the City of Los Angeles along racial and geographic lines after the L.A. riots, which left many Westsiders reversing their desire for the Wilshire Subway and related east-west rail lines in order to keep "those people" out of their neighborhoods.  And Zev Yaroslavsky and Henry Waxman were all too happy to support the will of their constituents.

Furthermore, the cost overruns for the Red Line Subway revealed a Metro Board spending money with reckless abandon, and prevented not only the Expo Line from being built, but prevented rail to the Eastside and to LAX to boot (for example, the Green Line was originally supposed to go from Aviation/Imperial to pass by LAX and extend up Lincoln Blvd. to Marina Del Rey, but with less money it was shunted towards the South Bay instead).

The outlook was bleak for the Expo Line, because federal money dried up and both political and grassroots support for mass transit declined...until the combined triad of worsening traffic, the faded memory of the LA riots, and the increasing popularity of mass transit among new generations of Angelenos changed everything.

And there was another critical element:  the Internet, which linked like-minded individuals to create a larger and newly-formed collaborative of Friends4Expo transit supporters via a website created and regularly updated by the aforementioned Darrell Clarke, that to this day is a vital icon of grassroots influence in transportation policy.

Friends4Expo Transit began an aggressive lobbying policy with a second wave of activists (including myself, a dermatologist who in the year 2000 worked in Culver City and Torrance and who recognized the miserable transportation situation of transit riders and motorists alike), while Clarke co-chaired "F4ET" with other motivated Westside leaders such as Kathy Seal and Julia Maher.

Meanwhile, the Mid-City (now increasingly Latino and Asian, but then predominantly African-American) kept its representation with Presley Burroughs and other activists...and I will never forget how--during an outreach meeting to the Crenshaw Blvd. Chamber of Commerce, after a few very outspoken and angry opponents spoke against the Expo Line, a simple hand vote showed overwhelming support for the line...and as a rail, not a bus.

Burroughs and Clarke were savaged publicly at these events, and accused repeatedly of being paid lobbyists for some group or another (they didn't, and I didn't, receive a dime for these efforts, but a considerable amount of our own money, to say nothing of our blood, sweat and tears, were lost).

Because their opponents were invigorated and politically enabled by support from Yaroslavsky, Burke and Riordan, Friends4Expo faced an uphill battle but continued its political and local outreach,  but met regularly with first-rate Metro staff members David Mieger and Tony Loui, who told us the Good, Bad and Ugly about what we could and could not do.

Then Yaroslavsky, Burke and Riordan, referencing costs and a bus system in Curitiba, Brazil for which they were suddenly enamored, pursued an alternative strategy in 2000-01 to create an Expo Line Busway that skirted around Cheviot Hills and Rancho Park from Venice/Robertson down Venice Blvd., up Sepulveda Blvd, to proceed then west to the beach.

My own neighborhood of Westside Village, as well as adjacent Westside neighborhoods from Mar Vista to Venice, rose up in fury against what considered to be both poor transit planning and inappropriate favoritism of one community at the expense of many, and revealed in 2001 that the Westside wanted the same as what the Mid-City wanted:  a straight-shot light rail line, and not a Busway, along the rail right of way.

I and other activists in the Westside converted this sudden surge of interest for rail transit into an organized Internet communications network that raised the volume to earsplitting levels against the proposed Venice/Sepulveda diversion at a time when many Cheviot Hills/Rancho Park residents thought the diversion was a "done deal".

The Metro Board, at the recommendation of its staff, split the difference in 2001 by establishing "half a rail line" from Downtown to Culver City (Venice/Robertson), with details of how the line would proceed to the beach to be determined later...and Santa Monica City Councilmember and Metro Boardmember Pam O'Connor established an amendment that the ultimate western terminus of this line was the region near the Santa Monica Pier.

(True historians and sticklers to detail will read my oversimplified history with frustration, so either bear with me and/or write a more detailed article to CityWatch--because this grassroots story is one that stands out in recent history of ordinary individuals making a difference in transforming City/County transportation policy.)

Funding was an issue, however, and a year or two later, the Expo Line was proclaimed to be "on life support" from David Mieger.  I felt that Friends4Expo needed to maintain a high profile during this bleak period, and so I helped fund and organize an "Expo Expo" in Santa Monica, complete with presence of political, Metro staff and press and a very filled room.

Similar events were held elsewhere in the Westside. Then Zev Yaroslavsky had a personal and political epiphany on traffic problems in the Westside, and spearheaded an Expo Construction Authority to achieve local consensus and political buy-in to expedite the planning, funding and construction of the Expo Line.

This Authority was a messy exercise at best, and with a host of political egos from the Mid-City who were only too happy to "take over" the line and exert their influence over the Westside, but the Authority's efforts might have been necessary to overcome the legal opposition to this line--which, to most everyone's surprise, came at first NOT from the Westside, but from the Mid-City in the region of Dorsey High School.

A few local activists, many of whom are now leading the Crenshaw Subway Coalition to fully grade-separate the Crenshaw/LAX Light Rail Line, wanted the Expo Light Rail Line underground by Dorsey High School for safety purposes--and elevated/above-ground options were not on the table.

They were supported by Westside groups who later coalesced into Neighbors For Smart Rail, and who similarly wanted an Expo Line subway in the Westside. The legal obstacles from this unexpected opposition, coupled with tremendous cost overruns by subpar contractors (and a LADWP that was all too slow to cooperate with the Expo Authority), slowed the Phase 1 of the line to Culver City by years, and many did (and still do) deem that this effort to grade separate at Dorsey High School was merely to kill, and not to slow or improve the line.

It is truly uncertain (and up for immeasurable, if not irrelevant debate) whether the Mid-City opponents were using the Westside, or the Westside opponents were using the Mid-City, to create a more expensive underground route for the Expo Line and/or slow or even kill the line, or maybe it was a marriage of convenience, but the Authority hung in there and the combined/linked oppositional approach probably backfired on all of them. Which is a pity, because grade-separation (elevating or submerging the light rail line) has its benefits--but it also has its costs.

The university leaders of USC and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas demanded that the Expo Line go underground at Exposition Park, which was NOT necessary (it's operating just fine at this time at surface level), but an undercrossing at Jefferson, and elevations at La Cienega and La Brea were and certainly are betterments to the line.

Ditto for the elevation of the line at Sepulveda, Centinela and other locations in Phase 2 of the line...but with elevations costing $40 million, and subways costing $300 million, which endeavor would cost-minded engineers and government officials normally choose?

The Authority came up with the innovative idea of an extra stop for Phase 1 of the line near Dorsey High School at Farmdale, a fairly small residential street that got equated with large Overland Ave. in the Westside because the latter was next to Overland Elementary School.

This idea received the support of the California Public Utilities Commission, and although the Westside did later win its fight to get a rail bridge for the Expo Line at Sepulveda Blvd., it probably also lost an opportunity to have a similar bridge at Overland Ave. because of its being connected/equated with Farmdale Ave.

The Overland Ave. bridge was indeed taken seriously by the Authority...I saw the powerpoint presentation for that bridge, and it came after years of evaluation where even many pro-Expo advocates sought an undercrossing at Overland.

Yet the enormous cost associated with reconfiguring the storm drain made that undercrossing cost-ineffective, and those opposing the surface-level crossing--as with Farmdale/Dorsey--refused to consider a rail bridge alternative, leaving those (such as myself, and others) favoring the rail bridge in the minority.

It is speculation only whether the Westside as a whole would favorably reconsider an Overland rail bridge, and it is equally speculation as to whether a critical traffic mitigation measure was lost because of the strategy used by NFSR at the time. But in the interest of Environmental Justice, where one neighborhood could not be treated differently than another, both Farmdale and Overland are "at-grade" or surface level.

Westwood Blvd. was NEVER considered for a rail bridge by analysts at the LADOT, but Overland certainly WAS, and only time will tell whether the decision to have Overland "at-grade" will hurt Westside traffic access to/from the nearby I-10 freeway. Many efforts and strategies were used by opponents of the Expo Line Authority and NFSR to consider other routes to the beach, and former Councilmember Bill Rosendahl (who did favor the line, overall) also considered a routing that would have the Expo Line proceed down Venice to Lincoln Blvd., then north to Lincoln Blvd to the rail right of way...but the straight shot was concluded by the Authority to be the most cost-effective route.

And then Phase 2 began in earnest, with a new and infinitely-better contractor, combined with a tougher Authority that sought to reverse the inertia of the past cost-overruns and legal obstacles and move the project forward.

Friends4Expo Transit was by now eclipsed by more local entities such as Light Rail For Cheviot, a group of Westside Expo Rail Line and Expo Bikeway activists--yet they were also often given short shrift by the Authority.

Witness the fight for the Bikeway, for bicycle accommodations, for native plant requirements and for station amenities that were and still are being fought for with only limited results, and with only scant attention and respect, from the Authority to those who efforts actually created the line to begin with, and one can easily conclude that the Authority is either a necessary evolution from the Expo Line's grassroots origins or something that has proven tone-deaf to its original constituents.

But the legal opposition, which only this week in early August 2013 is likely finished, probably prevented any reasonable discussion of mitigations because of the need to drive this project forward against such a rising tide of fiscal and legal challenges.

Which is indeed a pity, because there are betterments and mitigations that have remained unaddressed far too long by the Construction Authority, and now that the legal hurdles are behind us it's time for the Construction Authority to stop blowing off the same activists who allowed the Authority to ever exist, and for its staff and Boardmembers to ever have their jobs and related positions.

And of particular note is that staff and political leaders at the Authority somehow sneakily allowed a scurrilous individual, one developer Alan Casden, to be enabled to build an oversized residential project on industrial land adjacent to the future Exposition/Sepulveda rail station, and to enlarge the project using the publicly-owned rail right of way in the FAR calculations without ANY guarantees of that development being TRULY transit-oriented.

This Casden Project was included in the details of the Authority agreement with the City of LA in an extremely nontransparent way, and was first fleshed out by those opposing this project by one Darrell Clarke--yes, THAT Darrell Clarke who suddenly found himself (along with myself, and Barbara Broide, and other Cheviot Hills activists) fighting side by side with NFSR leaders to fight this inappropriately-sized and zoned project.

I assure you I wasn't the only Expo Line advocate who did not want this project to be destroyed and exploited after all of our efforts to create quality transportation/planning for the Westside. Yet when both Expo Line and NFSR leaders BOTH fought this project, and the Sierra Club and Transit Coalition and virtually every Neighborhood Council and homeowners association opposed this project because of its size, its lack of transit-orientation and its deleterious environmental impacts to the entire Westside, we were shut down by a Mayor Villaraigosa and City Planning which suddenly announced that... ...the purpose of the Expo Line was NOT to enhance mobility options but to allow densification and strong-armed persuasion of commuters to leave their cars at home.

Meaning that the City of LA, coupled with an unholy alliance of developers, contractors, chambers of commerce and construction unions, has an agenda which has now eclipsed the original intent of the line--and while the Casden project was downsized, its complete lack of transit-orientation and its persistent oversized and overdense "project" was almost certainly what the cunning Mr. Casden wanted all along.

Mitigations and transportation improvements, from bicycle to sidewalk to bus to parking accommodations for the line remain unresolved to this day...and both Expo Line advocates are more leery of the their advocacy of the line, while opponents are more open to the evolving reality of the Expo Line. ...but if there is anything good that came from the Casden project, it's that both Expo Line advocates and opponents (once in vicious, neighborhood-dividing opposition) were united in their fight against this project, and now have the opportunity (if the egos and biases of both sides can be let go) to move forward with a proper 21st century transportation/planning focus that can create the better vision that this light rail line can offer.

A vision that unites neighborhoods and geographies of all races, of all socioeconomic backgrounds, and from all regions, to enjoy an enhanced Economy, Environment and Quality of Life for current and future generations:  The Once and Future Expo Line!

Bertha tunneling in Seattle bolsters property surge


August 8, 2013

Several sections of "Bertha," the massive tunnel boring machine that is expected to spend the next 14 months drilling a two-mile tunnel to replace the 60-year-old Alaskan Way Viaduct, are shown Saturday, July 20, 2013 in Seattle. The tunnel will replace the viaduct, a double deck highway along the downtown Seattle waterfront. (AP Photo: Ted S. Warren)

 Several sections of “Bertha,” the massive tunnel boring machine that is expected to spend the next 14 months drilling a two-mile tunnel to replace the 60-year-old Alaskan Way Viaduct, are shown Saturday, July 20, 2013 in Seattle. The tunnel will replace the viaduct, a double deck highway along the downtown Seattle waterfront.

 Seattle’s commercial-property market, one of the hottest in the U.S., is getting a boost from a 7,000- ton tunnel-boring machine nicknamed Bertha.

The world’s largest tunnel driller last week began work on a 1.7-mile (2.5-kilometer) underground freeway along the city’s downtown waterfront, the centerpiece of a $3 billion redevelopment plan that will bring new parks and public areas, along with residential and commercial developments.

“It’ll improve transportation, amenities and quality of life,” said Kevin Shannon, head of western U.S. office sales for CBRE Group Inc., the largest commercial real estate brokerage. “Those things all help Seattle improve its credibility as a key gateway coastal market.”

A modernized transportation network is poised to attract more investment to a city that’s already seen a surge in demand for commercial properties, according to Dan Fasulo, managing director of Real Capital Analytics Inc. Seattle, with its growing population and increased hiring at companies from Amazon.com Inc. to Boeing Co., has surpassed larger markets such as Washington and Chicago for office-building sales since the start of last year, while apartment rents are growing at the fastest pace in the country.

The city trailed only Manhattan, Los Angeles and San Francisco in U.S. office-property sales from January 2012 to June 2013, with more than $6.5 billion of transactions, according to New York-based Real Capital. The total was boosted by Amazon’s purchase last year of its headquarters campus from developer Vulcan Inc. for $1.16 billion.

Premium pricing

Investors are willing to pay a premium for Seattle buildings, as demonstrated by the March sale of the 47-story Wells Fargo Center for $390 million, Fasulo said. Chicago-based Callahan Capital Partners, on behalf of Canadian real estate investor Ivanhoe Cambridge Inc., paid the equivalent of a 4.5 percent investment yield for the building, matching capitalization rates for Manhattan office towers during the market peak in 2007, according to Fasulo.

“Seattle’s trading like one of the gateway cities,” he said, referring to the most attractive areas for real estate investors because of their steady returns. Real Capital designates New York, Boston, Washington, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles as major markets.

Attractive market

Seattle-area unemployment of less than 6 percent and population growth help make real estate attractive in the Northwest’s largest city, said Lisa Picard, Seattle-based executive vice president and regional manager for the U.S. development unit of Swedish construction company Skanska AB. It’s also a cheaper place to live than West Coast areas such as San Francisco and Silicon Valley, where property prices are surging.

“We have an amazing amount of skilled labor, entrepreneurialism and the opportunity to not spend your entire paycheck on housing, which is a major issue in other metro areas,” said Picard.

Seattle’s new tunnel, set to start service by early 2016, will replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct, a two-tier, 60-year-old elevated highway that was damaged in a 2001 earthquake. The viaduct is part of State Route 99, the second-busiest north- south highway running through Seattle, after Interstate 5.
The drilling machine boring the new artery was named for Bertha Knight Landes, who was elected mayor of Seattle in 1926 and the first woman to lead a major American city, according to the office of the city clerk.

High line

The tunnel will lead to 20 acres (8 hectares) of new parks and recreation areas, some of which will be designed by the same firm behind New York’s High Line, which turned a defunct elevated railway into a mile-long green park and brought new residents and tourists to lower west Manhattan.

Residential and retail developments are also in the works to replace the parking lots and low-rise buildings that line the waterfront now, which may create as many as 1,000 new housing units, said Marshall Foster, city planning director at the Seattle Department of Planning and Development.
“We’re trying to create a neighborhood on the waterfront,” he said. There will be “residents walking their dogs at six in the morning and out there having a drink in the evening.”

Seattle took the lead from San Francisco for the biggest increase in U.S. apartment rents in the fourth quarter and has held it since, with a 6.2 percent gain during the three months ended June in effective rent growth, or what tenants paid after any landlord price breaks, according to Reis Inc., a property-research firm based in New York.

Hartz purchase

Hartz Mountain Industries Inc. last month acquired the 184-unit Alto Apartments in Seattle in its first West Coast real estate purchase. The Secaucus, N.J.-based company, which began buying and developing multifamily properties in 2010, paid about $62 million for the complex, located five blocks from Elliott Bay, according to the King County record of sale. The purchase was done at a cap rate just above 4 percent, the lowest the company has ever paid for real estate, said Emanuel Stern, president and chief operating officer.

“Long term, we like the demographics of the city and the infrastructure,” Stern said.

Seattle-based Amazon boosted employment 57 percent last year, adding 32,200 full- and part-time workers worldwide, according to its annual report. The headquarters of the world’s largest online retailer dominates the technology and medical hub of South Lake Union, located north of the main downtown area.

Nordstrom, Costco

Department-store operator Nordstrom Inc., also based in Seattle, increased hiring 8 percent last year; Issaquah, Wash.-based membership-warehouse retailer Costco Inc. added 6 percent more employees; and employment at Boeing, the world’s largest planemaker, increased 2 percent, according to those companies’ annual reports. Boeing, which does most of its commercial airplane assembly north of Seattle at its Everett, Wash., plant, added about 4,500 workers in Washington state last year, a 5.5 percent increase, according to the company.

Job growth is making Seattle one of the most attractive U.S. markets for real estate investment, said Len O’Donnell, president and chief executive officer of USAA Real Estate Co., a unit of the insurer that oversees more than $12 billion of assets. The company recently purchased land adjacent to Amazon’s headquarters and is considering developing an office building without any tenants in place, he said in an interview this week at Bloomberg’s New York headquarters.

“Of all the markets in which we might consider speculative development, Seattle is at the top of the list,” he said.

Interest rates

While property values are jumping, deals may slow in the city as interest rates increase, boosting financing costs for borrowers, said Matthew Gardner, chief executive officer of Gardner Economics LLC, which advises clients including pension funds and developers on land use, real estate and economics.

“My one concern is if interest rates start rising at a faster rate than expected,” Gardner said. “That’s going to put pressure on acquisitions.”

Seattle’s new tunnel has drawn parallels to Boston’s Central Artery/Tunnel project, popularly known as the Big Dig, the more-than-15-year project that rerouted traffic through three new tunnels, Fasulo said. While that project was marred by cost overruns and delays, it helped contribute to a revitalization of south Boston’s waterfront.

Related Beal, a partnership of New York-based developer Related Cos. and Boston’s Beal Cos. that has been active in Boston’s waterfront construction, is considering a project in the Seattle area, said Peter Spellios, executive vice president.

Leasing demand

In Boston, the venture is building a new world headquarters for Nike Inc.’s Converse unit by renovating a historic mill building on the north waterfront. It is part of the firm’s $250 million Lovejoy Wharf project that also will include a new public wharf and a 200,000-square-foot (18,600-square-meter) residential building on which construction will begin next year.

“Leasing activity is overwhelming,” as a result of the upgraded infrastructure, Spellios said. “Maybe 12 million square feet is under development in Boston, and it wouldn’t surprise me to know that more than half of it is sitting in areas that benefited directly from the Big Dig.”

As with Boston, “part of the vibrancy of Seattle is its location on the waterfront,” Spellios said. The development that Related Beal is considering would encompass offices and residences near the waterfront and would be the company’s first in that city, he said.

Price doubled

Unico Properties LLC, a downtown Seattle office landlord, in May paid about $31 million for a six-story building at 51 University St. next to the viaduct, more than double what the building sold for two years earlier.

“Redevelopment of the waterfront will deliver unobstructed views of Elliott Bay and improved access,” Unico said on its website. The seller of 51 University St. was Chicago-based apartment landlord Equity Residential, which had bought the building for $11.8 million in 2011.

Lease Crutcher Lewis, one of Seattle’s largest construction companies, in June purchased a 50 percent stake in 2200 Western Ave., near the north end of the waterfront, that it plans to redevelop as its new headquarters by summer 2014. The purchase of the building, completed in 1910 as a stable to house horses that drew streetcars and fire engines, “gives us a chance to be connected to the waterfront redevelopment,” chairman Bill Lewis said in a June statement.

“In terms of fundamentals and overall credit quality of the employment base in the Western United States, Seattle is higher than any other market I cover,” said CBRE’s Shannon, who has worked on transactions including the $480 million sale of Russell Investments Center, the former Washington Mutual Inc. headquarters, in April 2012. “It’s clearly gotten more popular.”

East L.A.’s 3rd Street Rezoning Plan Wrapping Up Initial Phase

 Plan will enhance areas affected by the Gold Line.


By Gloria Angelina Castillo, August 9, 2013

East Los Angeles residents last Saturday attended a scoping meeting on the East LA 3rd Street Specific Plan, which aims to set new building standards and an attractive vision for the transit-oriented revitalization in the area affected by the arrival of the Metro Gold Line light rail extension.

The draft specific plan, available online, is a result of the input and efforts by the East Los Angeles Planning Advisory Committee (ELAPAC), county staff, local residents, business and property owners, according to the county. Public outreach has been taking place and the scoping meeting was part of the outreach efforts.

Residents listened to a presentation and had an opportunity to ask questions and look at large maps and rendering.  (EGP photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo)
Residents listened to a presentation and had an opportunity to ask questions and look at large maps and rendering.

Meetings on the plan began back in 2009, at the height of the now defunct East LA Cityhood movement; several cityhood proponents were members of the committee.

The Specific Plan is meant to replace the outdated East Los Angeles Community Standards District and Community Plan established 25 years ago, in 1988.

The new 3rd Street Specific Plan, however, focuses on an area bound roughly by Cesar Chavez, Indiana, Hubbard and 6th Street and Atlantic Boulevard, according to Carmen Sainz of the LA County Dept. of Regional Planning.  The second phase of the specific plan will focus on updating the plan for the remainder of the community, according to the Los Angeles Planning Commission website.

The initial phase is wrapping up and stakeholders have until Aug. 12 to submit a public comment if they feel something is missing or concerning in this initial environmental review. Saturday’s scoping meeting was intended to get oral input from residents about what should be included in the Environmental Impact Report (EIR), which is expected to be published in about 6 months. The Final EIR should be available about a year from now.

More public meetings and public comment periods will be scheduled at those benchmarks, according to Julian Capata of Atkins, the company preparing the EIR.

“We’re looking at the impacts of the plan itself, so we’re not looking at specific developments.” Capata said.  “Because  there are no applications [for construction projects] as part of this… we’re looking at what happens if the area gets built out as envisioned by the plan,” he explained.
Capata said the EIR will determine the environmental impacts on the community and prescribe mitigations that will inform developers and the county what level of review will be required for specific types of developments.

According to the LA County Dept. of Regional Planning’s principal regional planner, Phillip Estes, the current zoning ordinance for the plan area will be replaced by “form-based code”, a type of zoning that sets requirements for building types, their placement near the sidewalk, and other considerations such as where parking will be located and required windows and doors. The form-based code will also look at options for what the building fronts, signs and landscaping should look like, ultimately giving the area a consistent and attractive character.

“It prescribes a set of land use, urban standards, architectural standards, sign standards to guide the development of the area,” explained Estes. So “it provides a more predictable built environment in contrast to the existing zoning ordinance, which is more about separation of land uses,” Estes said.
The form-based code will facilitate mixed uses for residential, office and commercial development in order to create a more pedestrian friendly community.

Existing businesses and structures will not be affected.

The placement of bike lanes, bike routes and jogging paths are also being considered as part of the planning process.

According to Estes, residents have raised concerns about the plan’s impact on traffic, which he said will be analyzed in the EIR.

Antonio Gomez of So-Cal Burgers Chill & Grill on Mednik told EGP he owns a vacant lot on 3rd Street behind Belvedere Elementary School that he would like to develop.

“Right now, parking issues are the barrier,” Gomez said.

The lot, zoned commercial (C-3), is not big enough for a building and a parking lot, and the construction of the Gold Line took street parking, Gomez said.

He’s hopeful mixed-use zoning will make it easier to get a loan and help bring down the costs of getting permits so he, and other property owners, can start to bring new shops to East LA and keep the community’s money in the community.

Victor Duran and his wife Stella, owners of Original Snow Cone and Antique Car Parts (both located on 3rd Street), said they liked what the Aug. 8 presentation detailed, but generally feel the studies are a waste of money and time, and too often don’t go anywhere. “I hope to see it [implemented] in my lifetime,” Stella said.

Victor said he was disappointed that more people from the community did not participate n the process.

It was a sentiment echoed by Brian Anda, 24, who said county planners missed an opportunity the night before to announce the meeting to a captive audience during “movies in the park” at the East LA Civic Center outdoor amphitheatre, which is right outside the East LA Library where the scoping meeting took place.

Anda added that he would like to see more housing developed in the area, like the Alta Vista apartments at 3rd and Woods, near the Gold Line Atlantic station.