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

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Caltrans begins drafting regulations for sale of homes in 710 freeway corridor


By Lauren Gold, October 26, 2013

PASADENA >> The sale of the state-owned homes in the 710 Freeway corridor has been a goal of many state legislators, freeway fighters and tenants for years, but with the transition into private ownership finally on the horizon, the mood in the room is largely one of concern and fear.

Tenants turned out in droves to two community meetings this week to express questions, comments and concerns about the process of selling the houses. The meetings, in El Sereno and Pasadena, were the first step in Caltrans’ process to create a set of regulations for the home sales.

Three Caltrans attorneys recorded comments from the audience at the meetings and answered questions in what they said was an effort to be “transparent” and involve as many people as possible in creating the regulations.

“We are in a very unique situation here. We will be disposing of many of the homes that are in the 710 corridor, and we’re going to be doing so under a scheme that is absolutely unique in California,” attorney Glenn Mueller said. “(Existing) laws are merely a skeleton. They don’t answer all the questions, and I’m sure folks in this room have a lot of questions. Generally speaking, administrative regulations add meat to those bones, they offer the details on the procedure and the process.”

The process to sell the homes was expedited this year after Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill by State Sen. Carol Liu, D-Pasadena, which requires Caltrans to sell the homes it will no longer need to demolish for the freeway extension now that the originally proposed surface route is infeasible.

Revenues from the home sales will going into an account that will be used to fund home repairs and, after all the homes are sold, go toward local transportation projects.

Tenants raised concerns about the timetable for the home sales, the cost of the houses and the possibility that current tenants might not qualify and will get kicked out of their houses. A bill known as the Roberti Bill gives residents first priority to buy their home, but only if they have low or moderate income.

“What we want is some kind of goals and timetable so staff members in Caltrans understand their goal is to move forward quickly,” Caltrans tenants attorney Christopher Sutton said. “There needs to be some kind of accountability if and when this process does not go as you are proposing.”

Some also suggested that Caltrans create a task force to involve the public more in the process and also asked that Caltrans freeze the rent hikes that it recently implemented as a result of a scathing report from the California State Auditor.

Many of those who spoke at the meeting Thursday in Pasadena had logistical questions about their properties, complaining that they can’t get a response from Caltrans any other way.

Officials said they plan to release a draft of the regulations by the end of the year, conduct another public review process, then release the final regulations in fall 2014. They said the agency will not begin selling the homes until the draft environmental impact report, expected in spring 2014, which will delineate the specific routes for each of five possible alternatives for the freeway gap closure.

But, Mueller said, that doesn’t mean the agency plans to stall the process.

“We are really trying to get this done,” he said. “You usually don’t see Caltrans attorneys out here like this.”

Though the three attorneys addressed many of the concerns and vowed to respond to all of them, some tenants were still skeptical.

“I think it was a little bit of a placebo,” Pasadena tenant Jessica Rehg Susnar said. “They are doing this hoping that maybe they can avoid other issues down the road and fly under the radar. They are going to do whatever they want.”

Saudi officials set up roadblocks against women's 'drive-in' protest


By Laura King, October 26, 2013

 saudi women drivers
 A Saudi Arabian woman drives in 2011 as part of a campaign to defy Saudi Arabia's ban on women driving, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

CAIRO - Some dared to drive. Others stayed home, but promised to take to the roads another day.
Calls for a nationwide “drive-in” to protest Saudi Arabia’s de facto ban on women driving were softened at the eleventh hour by organizers, who said Saudi Arabian authorities threatened them with serious consequences if they drove on Saturday.

Activists urged female would-be motorists to instead make it an ongoing campaign, and to get behind the wheel whenever they could. They said about 60 women altogether reported they had driven in Saudi Arabia on Saturday, with more than a dozen uploading videos of themselves doing so.

Even on a smaller scale than originally envisioned, it was the year’s biggest action against the restriction. No arrests were reported, although authorities did have stepped-up traffic patrols and some roadblocks in the capital, Riyadh.

Women in Saudi Arabia have for decades chafed at the kingdom’s driving ban, the only one of its kind in the world, which forces them to rely on male relatives or drivers to run even the most basic errands. Some women are virtually imprisoned in their homes as a result.

The pro-driving campaign drew an outpouring of international support, with backers cheering on the women on social media. “Ride, Saudi women, ride!” exclaimed one Twitter commenter. Some of the women taking part tweeted accounts of their motorized excursions.

Many men joined in the campaign as well, voicing encouragement of the drive-in. One Saudi performer made a YouTube video called -- sarcastically -- “No Woman, No Drive,” set to the tune of the Bob Marley classic, to make fun of the reasons authorities give for refusing to give women driving licenses. That included a widely mocked recent claim by a conservative cleric that driving damages women’s reproductive health.

A History of Parking in a City Made for Wheels


By Fred Gurzeler, October 25, 2013


PART 1 OF FOUR PART SERIES-The prolific CityWatch contributor Ken Alpern (who just happens to be my friend and neighbor) recently wrote an article titled “Park It, LA!,” discussing (among other issues) the need for parking at Metro’s light rail stations. 

This got me to thinking about parking in general, something most people don’t give a second thought about unless they are looking for a parking space or have recently received a parking ticket.  It should come as no surprise that parking has been an issue in Los Angeles for almost as long as the automobile has been here and has been dealt with in many ways, mostly reactively because the proliferation of cars in Los Angeles during the first quarter of the 20th Century overwhelmed the infrastructure, people and politicians.  We are, in many ways, still feeling the effects today.

One of the many points Mr. Alpern makes is that light rail will not make people abandon their cars, but if people can drive to a station, park and take the train, the service will be much more successful than if only used by people who leave their cars at home and walk to a nearby station.

For starters, we no longer live in the hey-day of Pacific Electric when many stations and many more lines were within walking distance.  Historically speaking, the streetcar system was already in place when the “great merger” that created what we know as Pacific Electric occurred in 1911, just about when the automobile started growing in number. 

The only major improvement PE made to the system after that was the construction of a subway in 1924 to move trains off the car congested streets of downtown Los Angeles and a few bridges to likewise segregate trollies and automobiles. Pacific Electric was also considered to be an alternative to the automobile; today’s light rail network would be better thought of as an extension to the automobile.

Because Los Angeles’ streetcar system was built before the rise of the automobile, there was no concept of “park and ride.”  Indeed, the earliest reference I could find for that phrase as far as its use in Los Angeles is concerned is an April 26, 1957 article in the Los Angeles Times:   
Although somewhat skeptical about results, the City Council yesterday approved a trip for three city officials, interested in traffic problems, to visit eastern cities and make a study of park-and-ride installations there.

One of the things the trip is expected to find out is why eastern park-and-ride systems seem to be financial successes while an experimental bus service here between the Hollywood Bowl and downtown Los Angeles is more or less of a “bust.”

(A reader from Van Nuys wrote to the Los Angeles Times a letter published April 30th about the “taxpayer-financed trip to eastern cities to study park-and-ride installations” asking, “Why is it necessary for the long-suffering public to pay for a midspring vacation for these … men? Can’t these men write letters and ask for information?”  The more things change….)

If Pacific Electric had provided park-and-ride facilities, who knows how it may have evolved?  We could have had a very different rail transit system today. 

This article, however, is about the history of parking in Los Angeles.  It is not going to be an exhaustive history; the drama behind the introduction of parking meters, for example, would be several pages by itself.  It is also not about the history of the automobile in Los Angeles, although cars and parking are inseparable.  After all, if the car is not being driven or repaired, it is parked somewhere.

Perhaps, then, the most suitable place to start is at home.  If a house 100 years ago had a garage, chances are it was little more than an oversized shack off to the side in back of the house. 

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when garages built expressly for “machines” or automobiles – the word “car” over 100 years ago was used primarily for streetcars -- started to appear.  If someone did have a garage, chances are it was for one car, and while we tend to associate the two car garage as a 1950s development, I did locate a January 30, 1910 advertisement in the Los Angeles Times for an $11,000 house on a 64x150 corner lot in the Wilshire district that boasted ten rooms, two baths, an attic and a “double garage with telescope doors designed for two machines.”

Ford’s Model T began production October 1, 1908, but it wouldn’t be until 1914 when perfected mass production of the car would truly bring automobile ownership to the average person, but the concept of a person owning more than one car already existed. And the ad is significant in that the garage was built for two automobiles as opposed to simply being a horse and buggy garage conversion.

One of the automobile pioneers in Los Angeles was a man named Norman W. Church.  Mr. Church came to California in 1902 at the age of 27.  He was a “large stockholder in various Midwestern corporations, most of them related to the automotive industry” (LA Times 1/8/53).  (Years later Mr. Church would be one of the primary forces in getting a race track established in Inglewood.)

An August 28, 1904 Los Angeles Times article praised the “pioneer automobile man” and his “strong line of machines” ranging from the $1000 Cadillac to the $4000 Peerless, “probably the most expensive car on the market in Los Angeles.” 

Mr. Church erected the “first building to be constructed for the [automobile] business in Los Angeles” at 116-118 East Third Street at the beginning of 1904.  The structure included an “above garage.” An electrically controlled elevator, 12x14 feet and the largest in the city, was used to raise the automobiles to the second floor storage rooms.  While technically not public parking, the building did represent the prototype of future public parking structures. 

This is a good place to pause and clarify that the main thrust of this article will be about parking in downtown Los Angeles.  (Parking in the suburbs was generally not an issue at the time, although the advent of preferential parking clearly indicates that it is an issue today.)  Parking 100 years ago became a huge problem when thousands of cars converged on one place at one time.  One such example is cited in the July 6, 1915 Los Angeles Times:      
There were 9000 automobiles at Venice yesterday by actual and careful count.  This is a record attendance of the motor driven vehicles. Every vacant lot, side street, parking space and alley was filled to overflowing.  The new auto pier with accommodations for 700 machines was covered by 9 o’clock in the morning. 
The principal trouble was controlling the host of gasoline invaders.  The regular policemen could not possibly do the work and help had to be solicited from many outside sources.  Life guards, firemen and special patrolmen assumed the additional responsibility.

The “auto-parking pier” was built in 1914 by the Kinney company to “alleviate the auto-parking situation” and “serve for the hundreds of autos which now fight for space on Windward avenue on Sundays and holidays” (LA Times 12/9/13).

With rare exception such as the Venice auto pier there was little to no proper off-street parking and certainly little to none provided by the city itself, which made parking in downtown Los Angeles a daunting task.
A November 29, 1914 article in the Los Angeles Times headlined “The Traffic Problem in Los Angeles” has photographs of fender to fender street parking, “all space taken in motor park during noon hour” and “no room at Spring St. private auto park.”  The article says “Los Angeles has the best drivers in the country …. accounted for by the fact that only an expert can drive a car on the streets of this city.”  Among the many traffic ills, the article notes that “the most serious of all local traffic problems is the parking.”
Often it is impossible to find a place to park a car even in the evening.  Within blocks of the popular cafes there is not a vacant parking space on busy nights and in the middle of the day it is a hardship to be in the city with a machine.  The man who drives his car to business often has a stall at a garage or a vacant lot parking space.  These are often several blocks from the owner’s office.●●●

There are dreams of elevated boulevards and underground street railways.  Some suggest auto parks on the tops of buildings and in the basement of department stores.   
If the automobile continues to thrive in Los Angeles, as it most probably will, the day will come when there will be several stories in the Los Angeles city streets; then the driver of an automobile will have some chance.

Two years later the Los Angeles Times (December 10, 1916) wrote “TRAFFIC PROBLEM IS GETTING WORSE DAILY.”  The article noted that “registrations show 121 cars are sold daily in Southern California” and that “the sale of automobiles is going to go on.  No one wants to stop it.  And what’s more, the sales are going to increase.”  The Los Angeles Times had asked readers to offer suggestions on how to solve the traffic problem.  One reader offered this solution:  
Why not use Central Park for auto parking.  The grass and flowers don’t buy us anything, and that space would go a long ways towards solving the traffic problem …. [Make] parking free or charge 10 or 15 cents a day.

Drivers themselves started making changes to alleviate some of the parking problems as noted in this June 15, 1919 Los Angeles Times article:

A large number of people who own large, heavy cars have recently been purchasing a smaller car in which to run around town …. The larger cars are so hard to handle and the streets are so crowded that it is a difficult thing to find a parking space large enough to accommodate them.  A car with a shorter wheel base and a turning radius can … slide into almost any parking space.  And then there is the question of economy …. A smaller car … is considerably less expensive to operate.

Even though the lack of enough parking in downtown Los Angeles was a known issue for years, despite a lot of hand wringing, little was done about it by the City Council. Office buildings with underground parking were rare to non-existent and the only city provided parking was on the street.  A reference to “underground parking” was noted in the November 7, 1920 Los Angeles Times as almost throw-away trivia:
Municipal underground parking stations for motor vehicles have been in operation in Europe for more than ten years.  They are found in Berlin, Paris and Rome.  The average capacity of the subway garages is 260 cars.

Faced with the parking issue, did the City Council of Los Angeles come up with a most excellent plan?  Of course they did!

Are You Smarter Than Your Teen Driver? Take A Quiz To Find Out


October 24, 2013


AAA National has come up with a fun, informative (and humble) way to underscore the main message of National Teen Driver Safety Week, which runs from October 20 to 26, that involved parents produce safer teen drivers.

They have created a quiz for parents: “Are You Smarter Than Your Teen Driver” to review how some basic driving recommendations have changed over the years (hand position on steering wheel, for example) and to reinforce that one major thing remains the same: smarter teen driving starts with parents.

The quiz is part of a national contest soliciting driving advice from parents and a chance to gauge their own driving smarts. (Entries can be submitted through December 11.)

The quiz is short, but challenging. (This reporter, who frequently writes about teen driving safety issues, scored modestly.)

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers in the United States and teens have the highest crash rate of any age group. And the risk of teens being involved in a deadly crash increases significantly when they carry peer passengers.

But research from the final phase of a multi-year study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, a nonprofit research and education organization, highlighted that parents can do two simple things to help make their teens safer behind the wheel:

• Ensure that they get plenty of practice in a wide variety of driving conditions and situations
• Share their driving experience and wisdom with their teens

“These recommended coaching techniques may seem rather obvious, yet research findings show that parents aren’t regularly practicing these techniques,” Dr. William Van Tassel, AAA manager of driver training programs said in a statement.

The foundation’s research found that:

• Nearly half of parents reported they wanted their teens to get “a lot of practice,” when asked about their plans for their teens’ driving. Yet, only about one in four parents mentioned practicing under a variety of situations or conditions, such as in bad weather, heavy traffic, or on unfamiliar roads.

• Nearly half of parents (47 percent) reported that there was still at least one condition in which they were not comfortable allowing their teen to drive unsupervised even after they passed their driving test and got their license to drive independently.

• Few parents in the study were observed sharing more complex driving tips—such as visual scanning or anticipating other drivers’ behaviors – with their teen drivers.

“Parents should make sure that their teens get ample driving practice, which goes beyond getting practice on routine trips on familiar roads,” Peter Kissinger, president and chief executive of the foundation said in a statement. “If they do, teens will be much more likely to have the skills and mindset needed to be safer drivers.”

Setting and enforcing family rules, and providing additional coaching beyond the minimum required is also important. State requirements regarding supervised driving practice vary by state, with many requiring a minimum 50 hours, but in most cases this is not enough, experts say.

In step with AAA’s advice that parents should spend more time with their teen drivers so they can build as much experience as possible before driving alone, the organization has developed a wide range of educational tools to help simplify the learning-to-drive process, like its new “StartSmart Online Parent Session.”

The interactive two-hour program covers the essential elements, including a discussion about the situations and challenges parents will most likely experience during supervised driving practice, the AAA noted. The program is being launched in conjunction with a new “How to Drive Online” novice driver education program.

Parent-teen driving agreements, online webinars, licensing information, a web-based parent support e-newsletter program created in partnership with the National Institutes of Health, and other resources are available here.