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

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

California's Global Warming Law Upheld By Federal Appeals Court


By Jason Dearen, September 18, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO — A panel of federal judges on Wednesday upheld California's first-in-the-nation mandate requiring fuel producers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday rejected arguments from fuel makers that California's "Low Carbon Fuel Standard" discriminated against out-of-state producers.

The ruling reverses a U.S. District Court ruling in favor of the plaintiffs, and removes an injunction that at one point halted implementation of the law.

The California Air Resources Board, the agency in charge of implementing the standard, appealed, and was able to continue implementing the law while the case was being heard.

"This is a very good step for Californians and the fight against climate change," Dave Clegern, a spokesman for the board, said in an email.

"We are pleased, on behalf of the people of California and its environment, that the Court recognized the importance of this program and that the (standard) remains in effect."

The low carbon fuel standard is a key piece of California's landmark global warming law, AB 32, and is meant to cut the state's dependence on petroleum by 20 percent and account for one-tenth of the state's goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

Charles Drevna, president of the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, said in a statement he was disappointed by the ruling and that the group was considering further legal action.

"Although the LCFS is a California law," he said, "its broad reach and intended scope means that implementing the LCFS will have adverse consequences throughout the nation's fuel refining facilities and supply chain far beyond California's borders."

The industry has argued that the standard will place too high a burden on refiners and fuels makers, which will ultimately affect supply and drive up prices at the pump.

The companies say the standard discriminates against imports by relying on a "carbon intensity score" to determine a fuel's greenhouse gas burden.

The scores measure pollution from a fuel's entire life cycle – such as the type of electricity used to produce it or the energy used to make it and transport it to California – not just when it is burned in a vehicle.

Out-of-state refiners and ethanol companies argued that transportation of the fuels into California alone raised their scores, making them less competitive with in-state produced fuels. They argued the law violated the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution by imposing limits on interstate commerce.

U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence O'Neill in Fresno agreed with the fuel companies and halted implementation of the new law.

But 9th Circuit Judge Ronald Gould, who wrote the opinion, said the state's standard provided fuel makers with avenues to comply with the requirements and get their fuels to market.

He also wrote ethanol made in-state does not ensure a lower carbon intensity score than ethanol made elsewhere.

"California ethanol produces the most transportation emissions because California grows no corn for ethanol, so its producers import raw corn, which is bulkier and heavier than the refined ethanol shipped by producers in Brazil and the Midwest," Gould wrote.

Eight injured in big rig crash on 60 Freeway; lanes closed


By Ari Bloometkatz, September 18, 2013

Eight people were injured — including one person who was airlifted to a hospital by helicopter — when a big rig collided with other vehicles on the eastbound 60 Freeway early Wednesday.

California Highway Patrol Officer Francisco Villalobos said the crash occurred about 10 a.m. on the eastbound 60 at Grand Avenue.

When emergency crews arrived, Villalobos said officers found what appeared to be a four-vehicle collision. He said it is unclear what caused the accident.

One of the vehicles involved was a Caltrans vehicle parked on the right shoulder of the freeway.
"It did end up with the big rig going over the side of the road and the driver being trapped in the cab," Villalobos said. The driver has since been extricated, he said.

Four eastbound lanes of the freeway were closed. Villalobos said he expected tje lanes to be reopened about 1 p.m.

Motorcyclist who died in 134 Freeway crash possibly hit by big rig


By Matt Stevens, September 18, 2013

Authorities say they believe a motorcyclist who died in a crash on the 134 Freeway on Tuesday morning suffered fatal injuries when he was run over by a big rig.

Ozer Ozyildirim, 42, of Los Angeles died at the scene of the collision, said Los Angeles County Coroner's Assistant Chief Ed Winter.

CHP Officer Tom Miller said Ozyildirim was riding a 2012 BMW motorcycle at around 65 mph on the westbound 134 approaching the 5 Freeway, when for an “unknown reason” he veered to the right and collided with a guard rail.

The collision caused the motorcycle to overturn, and Ozyildirim was ejected into the roadway, Miller said. Though authorities cautioned that the investigation was ongoing, they believe he was killed when he was run over by the rear wheels of a big rig.

They are asking anyone who saw the collision to contact them. Miller did not rule out seeking a suspect for hit-and-run.

Officers first received calls about a downed motorcycle at 6:37 a.m. Tuesday. The crash forced closure of all but the far left lane and backed up westbound traffic past the 2 Freeway.

Officials issued a SigAlert around 7 a.m. and lanes were reopened about three hours later.

A Potentially Brilliant Idea to Keep Escalator Obstructers to the Right


By Jenny Xie, September 17, 2013

A Potentially Brilliant Idea to Keep Escalator Obstructers to the Right

It's one of the commuter's biggest frustrations -- getting stuck behind someone who's obstructed the entire width of an escalator.

London-based designer Yoni Alter has an elegantly simple solution. Alter used Photoshop to create mockups of his proposal, shown in the images below. (The specific escalators pictured are from a Metro station in Newcastle, England, but London Tube escalators are essentially the same.)

Alter's proposal calls for highly visible orange decals that would signal the right side as stationary and the left side as intended for movement. The designer had first tried yellow footsteps, but thought that might be confused with a double yellow line. Alter writes via email that there are already audio announcements and signs reminding people to stand on the right and pass on the left, but neither are effective in an environment filled with advertisements. His bright-colored, conspicuous design, on the other hand, is meant to cut through the "visual noise" at transit centers and transcend language barriers.

Is this the simple solution busy commuters have been waiting for? Alter thinks so, but Transport for London, the city’s public transportation authority, is not yet convinced. Alter writes, "I had a long and frustrating correspondence with TFL, who said they are aware of the obstruction issue. But instead of considering my proposal, they promised to enhance the signs and announcements." Alter even proposed that he test the decals for a brief period and remove them afterwards himself, but the TFL rejected this idea.

Alter has not given up and is now appealing to the public. A few days ago, he started a campaign on Thunderclap, a "crowdspeaking" platform where, if enough people pledge support for a cause, Thunderclap will "blast out" a Facebook post or tweet from all the supporters at the same time. Alter hopes that amassing more public support for the design proposal will give it a better chance of getting considered by TFL. With 9 days left in the campaign, the project has  attained 91 percent of the target number of supporters.

The "Stand on right, walk on left" rule is common in various countries around the world, including the United Kingdom, the United States, and Germany. (Australians stand on the left and walk on the right). Alter’s proposal could appeal to commuters worldwide, if only it could catch the London government's interest first.

California high-speed-rail groundbreaking pushed back another few months


By Mike Rosenber, September 17, 2013

All year, the state billed the summer of 2013 as the season when California's biggest-ever public works project -- a $69 billion high-speed rail line -- would finally leave the station with a groundbreaking that has been decades in the making.

But with autumn arriving this weekend and no bulldozers in sight, rail officials for the first time have acknowledged it will be another "few months" before construction, which has already been delayed a year, begins.

 Train tracks along Highway 99 near Borden, a Central Valley town to be served by the first leg of California's high-speed rail. 

The state still needs to buy more land and equipment, finish designs and hire workers, while a pair of lawsuits set to be decided in the coming months could even force more delays.

 A date still hasn't been set for the formal ceremony marking the first shovel in the ground -- the moment when the project should finally seem more real for many dubious Californians, as billions of tax dollars begin flowing and steel starts going up.

Bullet train officials maintain they're meeting their schedule. They now say the start of construction they had promised was actually "shorthand" for initial prep work such as testing soil, surveying land and finishing designs. Those jobs began a month ago without fanfare.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority says it has the needed permits and bought enough land to start building on part of the initial 29-mile section in the Central Valley, from Madera to Fresno. But the contractor working on the first $1 billion package wants to wait until it can proceed full-speed ahead on several miles of the route all at once.

"We could be out there this week if we wanted to just knock down one building," said rail authority CEO Jeff Morales. But "that doesn't make economic sense."

Still, critics say Californians won't see hammer-wielding workers in the field unless the state wins two civil cases -- one to be heard next week, the other in November.

"The future of this plan is in doubt," said former longtime project Chairman Quentin Kopp, a former state legislator and judge who now opposes the bullet train. "I don't know how (the state) could even mention starting construction with pending litigation. It's irresponsible."

Morales says the state is still on pace to meet a September 2017 deadline to spend $3 billion in federal grants, the first pot of money that would be used. And the delays have not driven up the bullet train's latest price tag or the schedule for starting service in 2022 between the Central Valley and Southern California, with the full route between San Francisco and Los Angeles opening by 2029.

The Obama administration initially tied the funds to starting construction by September 2012, but later relaxed its guidelines. After the first target was missed, construction was scheduled to begin by the end of 2012, then early 2013, then July, then late summer.

"I don't think they know what the real construction start date is," said Kings County resident Aaron Fukuda, one of the plaintiffs in a 2011 suit against the rail authority. "This is being made up from day to day."

Construction has been a long time coming, since Gov. Jerry Brown, in his first go-round as governor, signed a bill that kicked off planning 30 years ago. California voters approved a $10 billion high-speed-rail bond five years ago, and President Barack Obama awarded the project a $2.3 billion stimulus grant to create jobs four years ago.

But Morales said the "starting gun" really went off 14 months ago, when the Legislature and Brown approved the $6 billion bill authorizing construction on the first 130 miles of tracks between Merced and Bakersfield.

Since then, officials have more than tripled the rail authority staff to 80 employees, signed the first construction contract with developer consortium Tutor Perini, obtained various government approvals, and reached key deals with private companies such as Union Pacific and PG&E. The state has also reached agreements to buy 50 of the 375 rural properties it needs along the first route.

"We've been doing a lot of work," Morales said. Referring to the future groundbreaking event, he said: "We have not tried to artificially accelerate (construction) in order to get a picture or anything like that."

But they've also been unable to swat away a 2011 lawsuit brought by Kings County and Bay Area opponents who want to invalidate the bond funds, arguing that construction costs have doubled and service delayed a decade since voters approved the train line in 2008.

A Sacramento judge last month ruled that the rail authority had violated two aspects of the ballot measure but set a November court date for both sides to argue over whether any punishment should be doled out. The plaintiffs formally filed a motion in court this week seeking to block construction, but the judge has repeatedly denied such attempts in various civil cases against the bullet train over the past half-decade.

The rail authority also faces a Sept. 27 hearing for a "validation" lawsuit the state filed in March, essentially against the whole world -- an attempt to take care of all other potential cases challenging the bond measure at once. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and a handful of other opponents responded and are now asking the judge to shut down the rail line.


Staff report on Measure R second and third decade projects


By Steve Hymon, September 18, 2013

The Metro Board of Directors is gearing up for its September meetings and agendas are now posted for Board Committees.

Of those, I thought the above Metro staff report above was the most interesting. It provides an update on the status of Measure R transit and road projects. It also explains a policy decision that the Board may make this month on moving ahead with the planning documents for a variety of projects due to be completed in the second and third decade of Measure R — i.e. the 2020s and 2030s.

On the transit side, this includes projects such as an extension of the Eastside Transit Corridor Phase 2 (a possible Gold Line extension), the South Bay Green Line Extension and a transit project to span the Sepulveda Pass, among others. There’s more info on metro.net’s planning page.

The item is scheduled to be discussed at the Board’s Planning Committee meeting this afternoon at 2:30 p.m.  If you have questions about any of the ongoing studies, I’ll try to answer them on the comments page.

In response to PEPRA issue’s temporary solution, Moody’s confirms good credit rating for Metro


By Steve Hymon, September 18, 2013

This issue is an excellent example of the domino effect. Metro and other California transit agencies were threatened with losing billions of dollars in federal funds because of a dispute between the state and the U.S. Department of Labor over whether the state’s pension reform violated the rights of transit workers.

As a result, Moody’s had threatened to downgrade the credit ratings for Metro and other agencies. That, in turn, would have made it very difficult for Metro to negotiate loans and bonds. Losing federal funds and lending ability would have spell doom for several Metro projects, including the Purple Line Extension and the Regional Connector.

A state bill, AB 1222, approved by the Legislature last week solves the problem for now. Some transit workers will be exempted from pension reform, the state-Labor Department dispute will be resolved in court and now Moody’s has confirmed Metro’s credit rating.

Thank whew-ness! Here’s the update from Metro CEO Art Leahy:
PEPRA/13(C) Update: Moody’s Investor Service Confirms Credit Ratings for California Transit Agencies
Earlier today, Moody’s Investor Service confirmed the credit rating for our agency and other California transit agencies, and revised their outlooks to stable based on legislation (AB1222) recently adopted by the California State Legislature. Governor Brown is expected to sign the bill into law in the very near future. Last month, Moody’s issued a notice that it had placed the ratings for our agency and other transit agencies in the State of California under review for downgrade due to the ongoing PEPRA/13C dispute. The Moody’s notice cited the U.S. Department of Labor’s potential delay in certifying federal transportation grants (capital and operations) as the rationale for placing the transportation agencies under review for downgrade. I would like to extend our appreciation to our Board members, Governor Brown, members of the California State Legislature, our U.S. Senators and Members of the House of Representatives from Los Angeles County and senior officials at the U.S. Department of Transportation for working cooperatively with our staff to favorably resolve this matter. Please find here a copy of Moody’s notice.

La County's transit transformation & Measure R-2

From Judy Bergstresser:

Here's an article for touting Measure R as the reason LA has gotten so many transit projects off the groundDenny Zane's Move LA was the prime force behind the original Measure R, pushed hard for Measure J and they are now promoting "R-2." They have not been very forthcoming about the impact of these measures on non-transit projects.

Move LA is also spearheading the efforts to reduce the voter threshold for local taxes from 66.6% to 55%, which requires a constitutional amendment with a two-thirds majority vote in both the Assembly and the Senate in order to be put on the ballot for a vote by the people. If one or more of the possible bills passes, it could be very easy to vote Measure R-2 into existence.

Another thing to keep our eyes on...
The fact that Los Angeles County is in the midst of a transit transformation has been duly noted in the media,  from the LA Times (“LA – transit’s promised land”) to the New York Post (“Los Angeles is the future . . . NYC watch your back”),  and from Atlantic Cities (“Is Southern California this Country’s Next Environmental Success Story?”) to Slate (“How a ballot initiative, visionary mayor and a quest for growth are turning LA into America’s next great transit city”).

With the passage of the Measure R sales tax in 2008 -- which won 67.8% of the vote – voters resoundingly affirmed their interest in modernizing LA County’s transit system, and in helping to pay for it. This is a story that has resonated far and wide. “Many people are surprised to learn their city’s reputation is at an all-time high among international transit scholars,” author Taras Gresco wrote in an LA Times op ed. Added international transit consultant Jarrett Walker on his Human Transit blog: “When I talk about public transit I don’t talk much about Boston or New York . . . When I really want to shift [the audience’s] thinking I talk about Los Angeles.”

Measure R helps pay for a doubling of the size of our rail transit system,  12 projects ranging from a rail connection to LAX to the Westside subway to the downtown Regional Connector, which will make a one-seat ride possible from Azusa to Long Beach, and from East LA to Santa Monica. Measure R is funding an infrastructure enhancement program that could be as important to our future as William Mulholland’s water project -- only this time a two-thirds majority of voters will have approved it. We can also thank Measure R for the fact that Metro’s fares continue to be among the lowest in the U.S., and  for making it possible for the region to meet greenhouse gas reduction targets of  8% by 2020 and 13% by 2035.

And we think LA County is just getting started. Lots of people have begun talking about Measure R-2 because we need money to fix the 405 with underground light rail and tolled lanes that help pay for it, and we could connect the San Fernando Valley to Hollywood and then to LAX, and connect the San Gabriel Valley to the Inland Empire and to Ontario Airport, and extend the subway beyond Westwood.  Improved Metrolink service! More bike lanes and more walkable communities! Student transit passes! A Great Boulevards program! Clean freight corridors with electric and natural gas trucks and freight rail!
This is the discussion that we think needs to be heard in the corridors of LA Metro and in meeting rooms around the county, prompted in part by the very close vote on Measure J last November. Measure J, which would have extended the Measure R sales tax, got 66.1% of the vote but fell just short of the required two-thirds majority. This means that voters have twice registered an extraordinarily high level of support for a clean and modern transit vision, and with the 2016 presidential election looking like an especially good opportunity for high voter turnout, a lot of people are talking about what LA Metro should do to complete the transit transformation.

In the new book entitled The Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros Are Fixing Our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy,  Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley of the Brookings Institution write that the paralysis in Congress has created a leadership vacuum, and that regions are stepping up with transformative agendas to fill the void. Katz and Brookings like to point to Los Angeles and its success with Measure R as a prime example of what self-help regions can do.

Los Angeles isn’t often cited as an example of what works – especially when it comes to transportation. But we have entered a brave new world.
                -----Written by Gloria Ohland


Reminder: South Pasadena City Council Meeting

Wednesday, September 18th   @  7:30pm

1414 Mission St.
South Pasadena, CA  91030

What is happening?

There will be a presentation regarding the direct impacts on the City of South Pasadena of the five remaining alternatives of the 710 EIR/EIS Study.  Presentation will take place early in the meeting.  Meeting is open to the public.

City Council Hopes Metro Drilling Does Not Impact 2 Sundays

Beverly Hills City Council authorizes permits for exploratory drilling for Metro's Westside Subway Extension project at Wilshire and La Cienega boulevards.


By Matthew Sanderson, September 17, 2013

 Ten days of exploratory drilling required for Metro's Westside Subway Extension project in Beverly Hills has city officials asking the impacts come at a minimum to nearby residents.

The city council approved the permits for Metro at its Sept. 10 meeting with a restriction that the drilling only impacts one Sunday.

 The work happens between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. on week days but the dates and weekend times are not set, an official from Metro said. In its resolution, the council noted that Metro will have to come back to them if a second Sunday is needed for drilling.

Metro says the drilling is required to locate 19 tieback anchors, or horizontal wires, extended from 8536 Wilshire Blvd. for temporary shoring in preparation for building the La Cienega Station along the Westside Subway Extension.

Mayor John A. Mirisch said if 10 days are needed for the work, two Sundays should not be "destroyed" by loud boring noises, noting quality of life concerns for residents on Le Doux Road and Stanley Drive.

Prior to the council's approval, Mirisch told the Metro representative the city would like to know the history of the nearby buildings on Wilshire with tieback anchors and the impacts of hitting tieback anchors from drilling.

Will cyclists get a 3-foot cushion from cars? Only Gov. Brown knows


By Robert Greene, September 17, 2013

 Dowtown L.A. bike lane
 A byclist rides on the sidewalk despite the new commuter bike lane on 7th Street in downtown Los Angeles.

Will the fifth time be the charm for the three-foot rule?

Among the hundreds of bills on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk is AB 1371, which would require a driver to keep at least three feet of space between his or her car and a bicycle when passing. If the governor signs it, the bill would affect all motor vehicles and bicycles sharing the road in California, but it would have special significance for Los Angeles.

This city -- long regarded as the nation’s most car-loving, driver-centric, petroleum-fueled, bike-hating municipality -- is sponsoring the bill. It’s part of L.A.’s long-simmering but suddenly swooning romance with the bike, nurtured over the last decade by cycling enthusiasts but perhaps brought into full bloom on July 17, 2010, when then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, riding his mountain bike on Venice Boulevard, was cut off by a taxi driver. He crashed, broke his elbow -- and became a champion of the city’s burgeoning bike culture.

By then, two bills that would have required motorists to leave at least three feet between their cars and cyclists had already died in the Legislature. AB 1941 by Democrat Pedro Nava of Santa Barbara failed to get out of the Assembly Transportation Committee in 2006, and Nava’s AB 60 met the same fate in 2008.

After the mayoral crash, Democrat Alan Lowenthal of Long Beach, a state senator who has since moved on to Congress, authored SB 910 in 2011 (see this bill comparison from the California Bicycle Coalition); it would have required the three-foot distance where possible, and otherwise would have required cars to slow to 15 miles per hour when passing.

Lowenthal's bill got through the Legislature, but Brown vetoed it. The governor noted that California already required a "safe and reasonable" distance, but he had no problem with nailing down the minimum to three feet. It was the reduced speed that troubled him. Or, rather, that troubled the California Highway Patrol and Caltrans. They told the governor that slowing for a bike could cause other cars to rear-end the driver who was dutifully braking, or that one cyclist could cause an entire line of cars to have to slow down. And in case you were wondering, yes, Brown made it clear that such decelerating would be bad thing.

Brown also vetoed last year’s SB 1464, also by Lowenthal, even though the slowing provision was removed. In his veto message, the governor again cited Caltrans, which this time expressed concern that the bill allowed cars to move to the left -- over the double-yellow line, if necessary -- to keep the three-foot minimum distance from cyclists. Allowing cars to violate the sacrosanct divider and, perhaps, stray into oncoming traffic could make the state liable in case of a head-on collision, the governor wrote.

So here we are. Nava and Lowenthal and their four bills are gone, and now Assemblyman Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) is carrying the latest version. The new Three Feet for Safety Act requires drivers who can’t keep their distance to pass at a "reasonable and prudent" speed, but the reference to 15 miles per hour is gone; so is the part about the double-yellow line. The law would take effect a year from Monday, to give everyone time to get used to the idea. Violations could result in a $35 “base fine” -- that means before various surcharges and fees are added. Actually hitting a cyclist and causing bodily injury would result in a fine of $220.

Plus, those rooting for cyclists might add, one heck of a lawsuit. Hundreds of cyclists are hit by cars annually in Los Angeles alone.

If you are, as they say, on the driver’s side in the ongoing encounter, or debate -- or cold war -- between cars and bikes in this motorist-oriented city, you may find yourself wondering whether such a law is necessary. Or wonder what happens when it’s a cyclist who veers too close, or who cuts off a car in traffic.

It’s worth noting, then, that one of the enthusiastic supporters of this bill, along with the city and cycling advocates, is the Automobile Club of Southern California.

We’ll know by Oct. 13, the deadline for signing bills, whether Brown is with them or against them.

These 2 Charts Prove American Drivers Don't Pay Enough for Roads


By Eric Jaffe, September 18, 2013

 These 2 Charts Prove American Drivers Don't Pay Enough for Roads

Many Americans may not have a clue that the country is in the midst of a road-funding crisis. On the contrary, drivers see $4 gas, and $13 tolls, and HOT lanes that charge them to drive beside free ones — and probably think road wallets run deep. A recent survey found that a quarter of Americans believe they pay twice as much in gas taxes as the national average suggests they do.

But America is in the midst of a road-funding crisis, and part of the problem is that drivers don't pay enough for roads.

That fact comes through in a series of charts produced by transport researchers Juan Gomez and José Manuel Vassallo for an upcoming issue of the Journal of Infrastructure Systems. Gomez and Vassallo compared approaches to road funding in the United States and five European countries for the period of 2004 to 2009. They found that Americans paid "noticeably lower" road charges than Europeans.
Two charts in particular tell the story. Chart one:

Charts via Gomez, J. and Vassallo, J. (2013). "A Comparative Analysis of Road Financing Approaches in Europe and the United States." J. Infrastruct. Syst., 10.1061/(ASCE)IS.1943-555X.0000193 (Sep. 13, 2013).

Here Gomez and Vassallo present the ratios of road expenditures to road revenue. The U.S. ratio is not only higher than those of Spain, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and even Switzerland, it's also higher than 1 — indicating that America spends more on roads than it generates in road charges.

Why is that the case? Perhaps the United States builds too many roads, or maybe the roads we do build are too expensive. But the core of the problem comes back to the federal gas tax, which hasn't been raised since 1993 and loses purchasing power to inflation every day. These two lost decades of road taxes are the reason the Highway Trust Fund, which is supposed to cover road costs, is expected to fail in 2015.

Meanwhile, as Gomez and Vassallo point out, European countries take in far more road revenue than they spend. As a result, the road system in Europe can be (and is) used to subsidize other public programs. That's the opposite case of the United States, where general income taxes have subsidized the Highway Trust Fund to the tune of tens of billions of dollars in recent years.

Now for chart two:

Charts via Gomez, J. and Vassallo, J. (2013). "A Comparative Analysis of Road Financing Approaches in Europe and the United States." J. Infrastruct. Syst., 10.1061/(ASCE)IS.1943-555X.0000193 (Sep. 13, 2013).

Here the researchers depict the annual road charges paid by drivers of typical cars in 2012 — a total that includes gas taxes as well as tolls and other vehicle fees. Once again the comparison isn't even close. Despite failing to cover the cost of their roads, American drivers pay much less per year than drivers in developed European countries.

To wit: Americans pay around $450 a year in road charges, according to the data compiled by Gomez and Vassallo. That's roughly 3 to 4 times less drivers from other countries in the study. Once again the key culprit is the gas tax. U.S. gas tax rates are up to 83 percent lower for gasoline cars and 81 percent lower for diesel cars compared to the same taxes paid in European nations.
Gomez and Vassallo conclude:
The US funding model has showed itself to have a limited capacity to meet the increasing demands of road programs in the future. In this respect, it seems clear that significantly relying for the securing of funds on non-revisable or seldom-revisable charges, as happens with the federal gas tax in the US, makes the system unsustainable in the long-term.
Ideas for improving the U.S. funding model vary. Some feel that taxing miles traveled is the way to go. Others suggest tolling every interstate in the country. Still others suggest we stick it out with a higher gas tax. What's clear, in any scenario, is that American drivers will have to start paying more to drive — because whether the realize it or not, they've paid too little for too long.

Almost Half of All Car Crashes in Los Angeles Are Hit-and-Runs


By Sarah Goodyear, September 18, 2013

 Almost Half of All Car Crashes in Los Angeles Are Hit-and-Runs

Southern California has a problem with hit-and-run drivers.

How much of a problem? In just the last month, seven people have died in such collisions in the city of Los Angeles, and another five have lost their lives in Los Angeles and Orange Counties.

Those numbers don’t take into account people who are injured and maimed by hit-and-run drivers, such as Damian Kevitt. Last February, Kevitt was struck by a driver while on his bike in Griffith Park, got hooked on the minivan, and dragged for more than 60 feet as the motorist sped off toward the I-5 on-ramp. He suffered numerous broken bones and one of his legs had to be amputated. He might have been killed if another motorist hadn’t used his vehicle to shield Kevitt’s body from oncoming traffic.

This spate of hit-and-runs may be dramatic, but it is far from unprecedented. Last December, LA Weekly ran a cover story called "L.A.’s Bloody Hit and Run Epidemic," in which writer Simone Wilson laid out the grim numbers: 20,000 hit-and-run crashes in the city each year, 4,000 of which resulted in injury or death. Even more telling than the raw numbers were the percentages, wrote Wilson: nationally, 11 percent of crashes are hit and run, while in Los Angeles, in 2009 it was 48 percent.

After the publication of Wilson’s article, state Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles) introduced a bill, AB 184, that would lift the statute of limitations on hit-and-run offenses, currently a mere three years.

Gatto’s bill was amended, and the statute of limitations was doubled instead, from three to six years. It recently passed both the Assembly and Senate unanimously and now awaits the governor’s signature.

"AB 184 will allow victims of hit-and-runs and law enforcement to obtain justice from cowards who do everything possible to avoid responsibility for their actions," said Gatto in a press release.

"Thousands of hit-and-run victims suffer life-threatening injuries annually. Allowing the perpetrators to avoid prosecution just adds insult to these injuries."

It is a small step forward, not just legally, but also in terms of signaling that the community at large recognizes that the hit-and-run epidemic is real.

If the governor signs the bill into law, the test will be to see how vigorously it is applied.

Investigations by the LAPD into hit-and-run crimes are all too often lackluster, as Wilson’s reporting in LA Weekly showed. And if the police aren’t motivated to search out those who drive away from the scene of a crash, it doesn’t matter if the statute of limitations is 3 years, or 6, or 26.

Mayor Nancy Walsh: Fighting for Sierra Madre at this year's League of California Cities Conference


September 18, 2013

 Ask a League representative for details

In case you are not aware, today kicks off this year's League of California Cities Conference in Sacramento. Our Mayor Nancy Walsh, along with an unidentified number of City of Sierra Madre officials (unidentified probably because the cost of sending them to this event has been a source of controversy in the recent past), are by now happily jetting off to the state capitol to participate in this yearly rite of advocacy and bonhomie, conducted for local officials by people who love them. Or, more likely, want something. And they always want something. Why else would they be throwing this shindig?

This conference is a key opportunity for many powerful statewide confabulations to sink their talons into tax money empowered local elected officials and get them to work in their interest. You know, rather than the interests of those folks back home who paid for all that airfare? And you do know that these very special interests will have come prepared to get exactly what it is they want. This has all been carefully planned for months. Think of it as a shark tank at the aquarium, with a feeding time that stretches over three days.

Another critter-centric metaphor would be "lambs to the slaughter." Do feel free to take your pick.

Of course, the Leaguers don't come right out and actually say any of that, and most officials such as our Mayor Walsh probably do believe that they are going there to do good by their constituents while networking with key government and private sector players over a couple of drinks. Just someone please try and keep the Buxton people away from her.

Here is how The League describes the event:

Join hundreds of city officials at the League’s 2013 Annual Conference & Expo for educational sessions and speakers that will provide innovative ideas to better serve your city and residents. Visit the Expo Hall to find state-of-the-art products and cost-saving services and explore the League Partner Speaker Theater.

The Expo will showcase nearly 230 exhibitors, including more than 50 first-time exhibitors. Make time to meet the vendors and learn how your city can benefit from their products, services and resources. The Expo Grand Opening, held in conjunction with the Host City Reception, is slated to run from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 18. The Expo will be open on Thursday, Sept. 19, from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

A Grand Prize will be given away during this year’s conference. Your city could win a language-interpretation system ($4,000 value), provided compliments of SmartCitiesPrevail.org. These systems are typically used for city council meetings. The drawing will be held Friday, Sept. 20, during the Annual Business Meeting, which begins at noon. Be sure to look for entry details inside the Expo Hall entrance. You must be present at the Annual Business Meeting to win.

A language interpretation system would be very useful here in Sierra Madre. It could be used to help clear up what exactly our City officials mean when they use such words as "process," "local strategic partnerships," "paradigm," "sustainability" and "best practices."

As an example: "The process involves the creation of a new sustainable paradigm where best practices will help assure a lasting viability for all interested local strategic partnerships." It would take quite a miraculous piece of machinery indeed to make much sense of that one.

The big issue is, as usual, how to get more taxes out of the citizenry. It is always a key League of California Cities priority, and this conference is where they like to bring all of the latest strategies for separating the citizenry from their cash to the attention of the attendees. Here is this year's biggest bouncing baby (link):

Local Government: Special Taxes: Voter Approval Lowers the vote threshold for a local agency to levy, increase, or extend any special tax from 2/3 to 55%.

The California Constitution states that taxes levied by local governments are either general taxes, subject to majority approval of its voters, or special taxes, subject to 2/3 vote (Article XIII C).  Proposition 13 (1978) required a 2/3 vote of each house of the Legislature for state tax increases, and 2/3 vote of local voters for local special taxes.  Proposition 62 (1986) prohibited local agencies from imposing general taxes without majority approval of local voters, and a 2/3 vote for special taxes.  Proposition 218 (1996) extended those vote thresholds to charter cities, and limited local agencies' powers to levy new assessments, fees, and taxes. Local agencies generally propose to increase taxes by adopting an ordinance or a resolution at a public hearing. The Constitution further bars school districts from imposing general taxes, but allows school districts, community college districts, and  county offices of education to issue bonded indebtedness for school facilities with 55% percent approval (Proposition 39, 2000).

Senate Constitutional Amendment 11 lowers the vote threshold for local agencies imposing, extending, or increasing any special tax from 2/3 to 55%.  The measure also makes conforming changes to the Constitution.

Do you recall last year's Measure J? It would have raised sales taxes in Los Angeles County had it received 2/3s of the vote. Fortunately it did not (Measure J failed by a mere 0.6%), with the result being that organizations like Metro were denied the extra funding they felt they needed to help bring forward such unfortunate projects as the godforsaken 710 Tunnel.

The statewide powers that operate the League of California Cities are never happy about taxpayers having any control over how much taxes they will pay, and this matter will be put before the voting representatives of cities like ours at this conference. How do you think Sierra Madre Mayor Nancy Walsh will be voting? Will she cast a ballot to make it easier to raise our taxes on a state and county level?

This should actually be a fairly easy matter for Nancy. Here is the link to how the League of California Cities would prefer her to vote. In the face of such an estimable level of persuasion whatever we might actually want probably won't matter. I'm not sure she ever even asked.

There is also Proposition 26, which thwarts the ability of the State of California to tax at a level they are comfortable with. It passed in 2010 (link), but apparently some people there are still pretty chapped about it. What this has to do with the interests of a so-called league of cities is anyone's guess, but that is hardly the point. Here is how the dummy sheet reads for this one (link):

Much effort has been expended trying to explain and analyze the purpose and effect of Proposition 26, the so-called “Stop Hidden Taxes Initiative.” Wading into the morass of municipal finance is a daunting task even for the expert, and Prop. 26 adds another layer of complexity to an already complicated area. This article provides the non-expert with tools to gain a working knowledge of Prop. 26.

Prop. 26’s genesis occurred in 1997 with the California Supreme Court’s decision in Sinclair Paint v. State Board of Equalization.1 In this case, Sinclair Paint challenged a state fee imposed on companies that utilized lead to manufacture paint and other products. The fee was used to fund various state programs to address the impact of lead exposure on children. Sinclair Paint argued that this was not a fee but rather a tax, because Sinclair Paint did not benefit from any of the programs funded by the fee.

Why is this distinction important? A fee may be adopted by the Legislature with a simple majority vote. A tax, on the other hand, requires a two-thirds vote of both houses for approval.

How will Nancy handle this issue when she is asked to express her opinions on the matter? The League will recommend to her how she should feel about Prop 26, and she will likely agree when called upon to do so. My guess is she will comply with their wishes and express concern.

Another topic that the League of California Cities frets over every year is how to pack more high density SCAG Housing (or ABAG Housing if you live up north) into cities where people not only don't want the stuff, but fight to oppose it in any way that they possibly can. Including not supporting the levying of higher taxes to help fund these purportedly planet forward imperatives. So how will Sierra Madre Mayor Nancy Walsh deal with this one (link)? Here is what the League has to say:

Urban Infrastructure Funding Is Problematic

Compact development in existing urban areas requires an analysis of the existing parcel and the quality of the services that will be needed, whether it’s more sewer capacity, fire trucks that can make multi-story rescues, modern stormwater systems that can meet new federal requirements or improved schools to keep families from seeking higher performing school districts (as measured by test scores).

When cities approve development in "greenfields" (undeveloped land), much of the cost of infrastructure is captured through development fees because the new infrastructure will serve only the new development. The fees therefore meet the proportionality requirement of the Takings Clause of the federal and state constitutions, which in essence says you can charge fees only in proportion to the development’s impact. Likewise, Mello Roos financing districts can be created to cover the ongoing cost of providing services for schools, parks and other improvements.

This natural proportionality does not exist in urbanized areas. Any new infrastructure must serve old and new residents alike. But the proportionality requirement limits the amount that cities can charge developers --- new development can pay only its fair share. Cities are specifically prohibited from charging fees on new development to fix deficiencies in existing infrastructure (see California Government Code section 66001g).

Thus, cities must turn to other revenue sources. But they encounter another constitutional limitation: the two-thirds voting requirements of Props. 13 and 218 on property taxes and assessments.

In short, to fund the infrastructure needed to make infill work, local governments must get two-thirds of the existing residents within an urbanized area to approve a new assessment or tax in order to approve a project that will, in effect, create more density and traffic in their neighborhoods.

There really is all an awful lot to have to think about when you go to a League of California Cities conference. Fortunately there will be plenty of the buffets and social occasions needed to help take some of that pressure off.

Perhaps the key to having a good time at a League of California Cities Conference is to just cast your votes as you are told, and then head on out to the bar just as quickly as possible?

If so, then we are certainly sending the right people. Besides, isn't that really why most elected local officials go there?

Smoke and mirrors: the regional impact of HS2


By Mike Geddes, September 17, 2013

Honorary Professor Mike Geddes attacks the ‘desperation’ of a government that relies on ‘trashed evidence’  to prop up the collapsing case for HS2.

Debate about the regional impact of HS2 has been revived by the release by government of KPMG’s report, HS2: Regional Economic Impacts.  KPMG claim that HS2 could generate £15bn in productivity gains for the GB economy in 2037 when the full network opens (to Leeds and Manchester as well as London to Birmingham), with a further positive effect in following years.  Moreover city regions like the West Midlands will experience an improvement in their competitive position relative to London and the rest of the UK.

As might be expected, this has been seized on gleefully by key figures in Birmingham.  Jerry Blackett of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce Group is quoted as saying that ‘the KPMG report is a ringing endorsement of everything those of us who support HS2 have been saying’.    Mr Blackett is, as usual, engaged in ‘boosterism’ – bigging up positive news in order to create a bubble of optimism around the city economy.  But of course we all know what happens to the economy when bubbles burst.  So should we join with the Birmingham boosters in welcoming the KPMG report?

Well in the first place, we should note that this is not the first time consultancy reports have been produced with eye-catching headlines about the regional economic benefits of HS2.  Not so long ago, Volterra and Arup undertook a study on the basis of which the Core Cities Group (which includes Birmingham) claimed that HS2 could underpin £44bn of GVA (gross value added) and 1m additional jobs in our major urban areas.  The only problem was that the Volterra/Core Cities figures turned out to be no more than a hypothetical and highly unlikely ‘best case’ economic scenario for the period up to 2020 – well before HS2 could be operating and so in no way a result of it!

KPMG also have previous form on this.  Earlier work for Greengauge 21, the pro-HS2 lobby group, suggested that high high speed rail would help to bridge the north-south divide, creating more jobs and higher wages in the North and Midlands, especially in the core cities, than in London and the south, which might actually see relative losses.

It is notable however that the government and HS2 Ltd have not directly associated themselves with such claims until now, leaving that to regional boosters.  There are excellent reasons for this.  Studies such as that by KPMG for Greengauge were criticised by impeccably independent experts.  The Institute for Transport Studies at Leeds University thought they exaggerated the role of transport investments in driving employment and questioned whether London would lose out.  Indeed the great majority of experts take the view that the most dynamic centre (in this case undoubtedly London) is likely to be the principal beneficiary of new transport investments like HS2.

A study by Imperial College commissioned by HS2 Ltd said that the order of magnitude of national economic ‘agglomeration’ benefits from high speed rail is likely to be very small.  A cross-national review of the evidence by Professor John Tomaney of Newcastle University found that “the impacts of high speed rail investments on local and regional development are ambiguous at best and negative at worst”, while Professor Roger Vickerman, commenting on the much-hyped parallel case to HS2 of the supposed economic benefits of HS1 in Kent, says ‘they are not visible to the naked eye’.

So does the new KPMG report turn this around?  Absolutely not.  Experts are already trashing their methodology and conclusions.  One of the biggest names in the field, Professor Henry Overman of the LSE, in a commentary titled ‘HS2 Regional Economic Impact: Garbage in……?’, says the report does things which are ‘technically wrong’ but are crucial for their findings.  Key parts of their method ‘does not have a firm statistical foundation’, ‘is essentially unfounded’ and ‘produces estimates of effects that are meaningless’.  This may well explain why KPMG are so curiously coy about their own work, saying in the preface that ‘all users are advised to undertake their own analysis ….before making any decision ….based upon information in this report’.  Hardly a glowing endorsement of their own product!

So what can we conclude?  First, that the government is getting desperate in making the case for HS2 if it needs to rely on ‘evidence’ like this.  Secondly, that HS2 may well produce a bit of new regeneration around the (very few) stations, but will do little or nothing for anywhere outside these locations and will be absurdly expensive in employment creation terms.

Brummies have always had a reputation for straight talking and common sense.  Hopefully they will see through the smoke and mirrors which the government and some local voices are forced to rely on to prop up the collapsing case for HS2.