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

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris has a big business dream: China

Lancaster's eccentric leader, R. Rex Parris, aggressively courts Chinese investors. A bus maker is already on board, but labor and quality issues have arisen.


 By Shan Li and Abby Sewell, October 27, 2013


Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris rides an electric bus with Stella Li, senior vice president of Chinese automaker BYD, in May as part of the unveiling of an electric bus factory in the city. Li has high praise for Lancaster. “They ask what you need and they do it.”

The city of Lancaster has few Chinese restaurants. Its mayor cannot use chopsticks. And he has tried and failed to learn Mandarin.

But that doesn't stop R. Rex Parris from dreaming of creating an oasis for Chinese investment in this Mojave Desert town.

The mayor has taken numerous trips to China, wooing corporate leaders and government officials with his business-friendly ways. He talks boldly of opening a trade

office in Beijing just for Lancaster, much like the one that California opened this year in Shanghai. And he even hopes to build a Buddhist temple in town to attract Chinese residents.

This might sound a little ambitious for a city tucked into a dusty corner of Los Angeles County not exactly known as a beacon for international commerce. But Parris' plan might just be working.

"Hopefully, Lancaster will become the largest Chinese corporation area in California," Parris, 61, said during an interview at an Italian restaurant in town. "How cool is that? The little town of Lancaster."

The city scored its first victory this year by persuading Chinese automaker Build Your Dreams to open an electric bus factory and a plant for building batteries. City officials hope that it could bring 1,000 jobs and millions of dollars in sales taxes in the next few years.

The company, known as BYD, has won contracts to build 10 buses for the Long Beach transit agency and as many as 25 for the L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. It is pursuing other contracts in the U.S., Canada and South America, and already plans on adding dozens of workers to sustain the ramp-up in production.

But the company has already run into issues with its California operations, including a state investigation of its labor practices and quality issues with its buses.

The state's Department of Industrial Relations opened an investigation into workplace issues last month, and on Oct. 10 issued five citations, ordering the company to pay $79,250 in fines and nearly $20,000 in back wages for violations involving 22 employees.

The agency found BYD had failed to pay minimum wage to some employees at its Los Angeles headquarters and Lancaster factory and had failed to give Lancaster workers a second rest break during their shifts as required by California law. The company was also cited for issuing itemized wage statements containing "inaccurate or incomplete" information and for failing to give some employees statements twice a month.

A spokeswoman for the industrial relations department said the investigation is ongoing.

BYD Vice President Micheal Austin declined to comment on the investigation. Parris said there had been questions as to whether BYD's Chinese employees were subject to Chinese or U.S. labor laws. He said BYD hired a labor lawyer who will audit the company's practices to make sure they comply with all state and federal laws.

"It's really minor, the problem," said Parris, who owns a law firm that handles employment cases, among others. "My understanding is these are easy fixes."

BYD's Long Beach contract drew fire from critics who thought it should have gone to a U.S. company, or at least one that had built buses in the United States before. The project ran into issues in July when a bus developed cracks while going through federal safety testing; Long Beach transit inspectors subsequently found welding issues in frames built at a BYD factory in China.

Austin said that testing is intended to find problems in order to fix them before any buses actually hit the road.

"It's a process. Everything is solvable," he said. "None of their audit findings are showstoppers."

Despite the issues, Parris remains upbeat about BYD, and hints at negotiations with another Chinese company that he said is "much bigger in scope" compared with BYD. A deal could be announced within the next year, he said.

A lot of money is up for grabs: Last year, Chinese firms invested $6.5 billion in the U.S., up 12% from 2010, according to Rhodium Group. That figure is expected to rise again this year. From 2000 to 2011, California ranked fifth in total investment behind New York, Texas, Illinois and Virginia.

"The smart mayors and governors will do what they did and try to attract the Chinese investment, which is going to grow dramatically in the U.S. in general and in California," said Richard Drobnick, a business professor at USC.

For Parris, turning toward Chinese business deals was a matter of necessity.

When he was elected in 2008, Lancaster was facing tough times. The city, 70 miles north of downtown Los Angeles and near Edwards Air Force Base, was hit hard when the aerospace industry shed thousands of jobs during the economic downturn of the early 1990s.

Lancaster recorded 21 homicides that year, up from eight in 2001. The jobless rate was 10.7% and has surged to 14.4%. At one point, Lancaster had the second-highest foreclosure rate of any ZIP Code in the country.

Economists such as Drobnick say Parris' goal to create a hub for Chinese business could serve as a blueprint for other small cities in the nation. In some ways, Lancaster has advantages.

Unlike mayors in bigger cities such as Los Angeles, the mayor of Lancaster can clear red tape quickly, and with little opposition, for favorite projects. He can rush contracts and permits through City Hall in a matter of days or weeks, unlike the years it can take in L.A.

Parris is also not shy about using his powers to lavish the red-carpet treatment on foreign visitors. Visiting dignitaries and tycoons zip around town with police escorts. Many are treated to catered lunches, serenaded by violinists, at either the mayor's home or the city's only art museum — Parris says there aren't many good restaurants in town.

Stella Li, BYD's senior vice president, said Parris compared favorably to mayors in China, who often went all-out to woo big companies into their cities.

"They ask what you need and they do it," she said.

The city of Lancaster resurfaced some roads and put up new signage at the factory site, and pegged larger incentives to BYD's performance. If the company hires 200 workers in the next three years, the city will buy 13 acres of land adjacent to the current bus factory and give it to BYD to build a second manufacturing plant. Austin said the company currently has about 15 employees at the Lancaster facility, which is scheduled to begin production by year's end.

Parris is just one of many mayors around the country who are eagerly luring Chinese investment to their cities.

Jean Quan, the first Chinese American mayor of Oakland, recalls being buttonholed at a conference in Washington by two mayors from Ohio and Indiana. Chinese companies had recently reopened manufacturing plants in their towns.

"These two mayors, one white and one black, from the Midwest were asking for cultural advice," she said. "They were so grateful that the Chinese would come in and reopen a factory in the Rust Belt."
But there's certainly no guarantee that Lancaster will get its big payday.

Economists say small cities simply don't have the name recognition or amenities that Chinese investors often look for. High-tech companies sometimes have trouble finding the skilled labor force they need. It can also be harder to bring workers over from China with no Asian communities nearby or Chinese restaurants and grocery stores.

It could especially be hard for Lancaster, whose past is riddled with failed schemes to improve its economy. The city has tried and failed to create an inland port. Efforts to attract companies over the years with incentives have mostly stalled. Economists say its best selling point may be its closeness to Los Angeles.

Then there is Parris.

The eccentric mayor, who made a fortune as a personal injury lawyer, is more known for his zany ideas than skills at economic development.

He has proposed playing bird noises over public loudspeakers to make residents happier, passed a law allowing the city to castrate pit bulls and once proclaimed that his high desert town was "growing a Christian community." Critics have called him a control freak, and crazy to boot.

But the mayor has powerful allies, including county Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich and his Chinese-born wife, Christine, a well-connected former actress.

It was Antonovich who introduced Parris to BYD officials in 2008, at a dinner at the swanky California Club in downtown Los Angeles, where, Parris recalled, Christine kept kicking him under the table and telling him, "Keep talking."

The Antonoviches also brought Lancaster officials to China in 2010, where they toured BYD's headquarters in Shenzhen and even test-drove its electric vehicles. Antonovich also backed BYD on its bids for contracts with Long Beach and the MTA; in June, the MTA board, including Antonovich, awarded the contract to the Chinese company as part of a $30-million clean air pilot program.

The supervisor, whose district includes Lancaster, said he hoped the BYD factory would become a linchpin for other foreign investors interested in the Antelope Valley.

His interest is not exclusive to Lancaster; he also pushed for another recently announced project, a light-rail manufacturing facility that Japanese firm Kinkisharyo International is bringing to neighboring Palmdale.

He said he first met BYD executives at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in 2008 and brokered the meeting with Parris shortly after.

"It was a fierce competition between Los Angeles city and Lancaster," Antonovich said. Los Angeles got the company's U.S. headquarters, but the factory, and most of the jobs, went to Lancaster.

Christopher Tang, a business professor at UCLA, said Parris may succeed to a certain extent.

"The Chinese will not have heard of Lancaster, but they can position it as just north of L.A.," he said. "The cost of setting up a factory in L.A. or San Francisco or San Jose is getting very expensive. If you can give some concessions to build a factory, that would be attractive."

Traffic Infographic for Los Angeles [VIDEO]


October 25, 2013

Los Angeles can be a frustrating place to get around —drivers there spend a whopping 72 hours per year trapped in traffic. (That’s double the national average!) GOOD decided to show residents, and the rest of the world, just how huge an effect we could have on traffic flows if just 3 percent of drivers switched to biking and public transportation.

So in December, GOOD “attacked” downtown Los Angeles with an infographic flashmob of people who care about fixing the city’s transportation crisis. With the help of Minneapolis-based creative agency mono, they were able to wrangle volunteers and create an impact, quickly and memorably.

'No Woman, No Drive' Is This Year's Best Saudi Driving Protest Song




Saudi Arabia has some of the most repressive laws against women in the entire world, prohibiting them from even sitting behind the wheel of a car. Today, brave women across Saudi Arabia are protesting those laws by simply by driving, and brave comedians are protesting by making absolutely hilarious songs.

It's not strictly illegal, per se, for women to drive in Saudi Arabia, but they just won't let you get a driver's license unless you have what they consider to be the requisite equipment between the legs. So that makes it illegal, to the tune of ten lashes. Yes, ten lashes.

Saudi comedian Hisham Fageeh posted the excellent "No Woman, No Drive" today to bring more attention to the plight of women in the Middle Eastern country. It's not only sarcastic and sharp, but relevant as well, with references to the new and absurd claim that driving might damage one's ovaries.

Protest songs have a long and clear history, and a cappella multi-take music videos have a less long and clear Internet history, but when you combine them with the real fear struck in the hearts of regular citizens by the Saudi religious police, and the great satire it invites, you have comedy gold. Oh, and the beard-scratching and sardonic grins totally help.

A Cyber Attack Against Israel Shut Down An Entire Road Last Month




Hackers managed to infiltrate and shut down an enormous tunnel system in Israel last month, causing massive traffic jams for eight hours, according to the AP. Though their sources indicate that the attack didn't come from a state actor, this first strike opens up a whole new world of cyber warfare.

The attack against the Carmel Tunnels on September 8th actually came in two waves, according to the report. The hackers targeted the Tunnels' camera system which put the roadway into an immediate lockdown mode, shutting it down for twenty minutes. The next day the attackers managed to break in for even longer during the heavy morning rush hour, shutting the entire system for eight hours:
The expert said investigators believe the attack was the work of unknown, sophisticated hackers, similar to the Anonymous hacking group that led attacks on Israeli websites in April. He said investigators determined it was not sophisticated enough to be the work of an enemy government like Iran.

The expert said Israel's National Cyber Bureau, a two-year-old classified body that reports to the prime minister, was aware of the incident. The bureau declined comment, while Carmelton, the company that oversees the toll road, blamed a "communication glitch" for the mishap.
As the Carmel Tunnels are a main artery through the heart of the Israeli city of Haifa, an enormous amount of traffic ensued. Perhaps more alarming, the city had apparently planned to turn the massive tunnel system into a public shelter in case of emergency.

We've seen cyberwarfare before, most famously by the United States and Israel in the form of their combined virus Stuxnet, most attacks have been on military targets. In cases where attacks on the physical world have come against civilians, they've come against large multi-national conglomerates like Saudi Aramco that serve strategic needs.
 So this is attack will probably prove to be of major significance.

It's not like no one's predicted this sort of thing before, though. Governments, public utilities, and private corporations the world over have prepared for and weathered attacks in the past, and this is just a natural progression of what we've already seen.

But a world in which your next traffic jam is caused not by a collision or construction, but by malicious actors intent on causing harm is a scary place indeed.

San Rafael Neighborhoods Association Upcoming Meeting


The mission of the San Rafael Neighborhoods Association (SRNA) is to enhance and maintain the character and quality of all San Rafael neighborhoods through advocacy and an activated community. 
S R N A 
General Meeting

Special Guests

Pasadena Police Chief Phillip Sanchez


Anna Pembedjian
Justice Deputy
Office of Supervisor Michael Antonovich

To AB 109

November 6 2013
7:00 PM
Church of the Angels
Church Hall
1100 Ave. 64

All members of the public are welcome to attend the next SRNA General Meeting.  





Seating is limited.
Light refreshments will be served.

The San Rafael Neighborhoods Association is registered with the City of Pasadena Neighborhood Connections.

A State-by-State Map of the Penalties for Texting While Driving


October 25, 2013

 At this point, we've all heard tell of the many dangers of using smartphones while driving. And we've all probably also ignored those dangers at one point or another, which has led 47 states to establish bans on what's now become the leading cause of death for teenage drivers—texting. So how much will you be coughing up for all that behind-the-wheel screen tapping? 

Mother Jones has put together this state-by-state map of max penalties for first-time offender, and according to where you live, the answer can vary wildly—anywhere between $20 and $10,000, in fact. A few states even only have bans on bus drivers and/or new drivers; four have absolutely no ban at all. That fact's especially disconcerting when you realize that nearly a dozen teens die every single day from the act.

So considering that 3,092 people died in a cell phone-related crash in 2011 (with an additional 20,000 being injured), we all might do well to follow Alaska's lead. [Mother Jones]

A State-by-State Map of the Penalties for Texting While Driving

SigAlert issued after big rig fire closes 710 Freeway in Commerce


By Kate Mather, October 27, 2013

Both directions of the 710 Freeway in Commerce were closed Sunday morning after at least one big rig caught fire, the California Highway Patrol reported.

A SigAlert was issued for the incident, which was reported at the Washington Boulevard offramp about 9:30 a.m., according to a CHP online log.

There were conflicting reports about whether one or two semis were on fire. There were also reports that part of a big rig was hanging over the edge of the freeway.

CHP Officer Monica Posada said details about the crash were not immediately available, but the online log reported that Los Angeles County firefighters were on the scene and working to douse the flames.

The latest CHP update, issued at 10:40 a.m., indicated that the fire had been extinguished and that the freeway was expected to be closed for about four more hours for cleanup.

Tanker truck fire shuts down 710 Freeway in Commerce, severely burns driver


By Brian Day, October 27, 2013


A tanker trunk burst into flames on the 710 Freeway in Commerce, severely burning the driver and forcing the closure of all southbound lanes, authorities said.

The incident was first reported at 9:37 a.m. as a double-wide tanker trunk that had tipped onto its side and caught fire on the southbound 710 Freeway, at the Washington Boulevard overpass, according to California Highway Patrol logs. It was not initially clear if any other vehicles were involved in the crash.

The tanker fire quickly grew to massive proportions, prompting authorities to evacuate nearby homes as a precaution.

The badly burned truck driver was taken to a hospital with severe burns, CHP Officer Monica Posada said. His condition was unclear.

Caltrans officials were summoned to the scene to inspect the overpass to see if it had been compromised by the fire, Posada said.

The northbound lanes of the 710 Freeway near the crash scene was shut down for about an hour following the fire, Posada said. The southbound lanes were expected to remain closed well into the afternoon.

Officials were also working to clean up crude oil that spilled as a result of the fire, she added.

Officers from the East Los Angeles office of the CHP were handling the investigation.

A black box in your car? Some see a source of tax revenue

The devices would track every mile you drive —possibly including your location — and the government would use the data to draw up a tax bill.


 By Evan Halper, October 26, 2013

 Tracking mileage
 Ryan Morrison is chief executive of True Mileage, a Long Beach company testing devices that can track drivers' mileage. "People will be more willing to do this if you do not track their speed and you do not track their location," he says.

WASHINGTON — As America's road planners struggle to find the cash to mend a crumbling highway system, many are beginning to see a solution in a little black box that fits neatly by the dashboard of your car.

The devices, which track every mile a motorist drives and transmit that information to bureaucrats, are at the center of a controversial attempt in Washington and state planning offices to overhaul the outdated system for funding America's major roads.

The usually dull arena of highway planning has suddenly spawned intense debate and colorful alliances. Libertarians have joined environmental groups in lobbying to allow government to use the little boxes to keep track of the miles you drive, and possibly where you drive them — then use the information to draw up a tax bill.

The tea party is aghast. The American Civil Liberties Union is deeply concerned, too, raising a variety of privacy issues.

And while Congress can't agree on whether to proceed, several states are not waiting. They are exploring how, over the next decade, they can move to a system in which drivers pay per mile of road they roll over. Thousands of motorists have already taken the black boxes, some of which have GPS monitoring, for a test drive.

"This really is a must for our nation. It is not a matter of something we might choose to do," said Hasan Ikhrata, executive director of the Southern California Assn. of Governments, which is planning for the state to start tracking miles driven by every California motorist by 2025. "There is going to be a change in how we pay these taxes. The technology is there to do it."

The push comes as the country's Highway Trust Fund, financed with taxes Americans pay at the gas pump, is broke. Americans don't buy as much gas as they used to. Cars get many more miles to the gallon. The federal tax itself, 18.4 cents per gallon, hasn't gone up in 20 years. Politicians are loath to raise the tax even one penny when gas prices are high.

"The gas tax is just not sustainable," said Lee Munnich, a transportation policy expert at the University of Minnesota. His state recently put tracking devices on 500 cars to test out a pay-by-mile system. "This works out as the most logical alternative over the long term," he said.

Wonks call it a mileage-based user fee. It is no surprise that the idea appeals to urban liberals, as the taxes could be rigged to change driving patterns in ways that could help reduce congestion and greenhouse gases, for example. California planners are looking to the system as they devise strategies to meet the goals laid out in the state's ambitious global warming laws. But Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Transportation Committee, has said he, too, sees it as the most viable long-term alternative. The free marketeers at the Reason Foundation are also fond of having drivers pay per mile.

"This is not just a tax going into a black hole," said Adrian Moore, vice president of policy at Reason. "People are paying more directly into what they are getting."

The movement is also bolstered by two former U.S. Transportation secretaries, who in a 2011 report urged Congress to move in the pay-per-mile direction.

The U.S. Senate approved a $90-million pilot project last year that would have involved about 10,000 cars. But the House leadership killed the proposal, acting on concerns of rural lawmakers representing constituents whose daily lives often involve logging lots of miles to get to work or into town.

Several states and cities are nonetheless moving ahead on their own. The most eager is Oregon, which is enlisting 5,000 drivers in the country's biggest experiment. Those drivers will soon pay the mileage fees instead of gas taxes to the state. Nevada has already completed a pilot. New York City is looking into one. Illinois is trying it on a limited basis with trucks. And the I-95 Coalition, which includes 17 state transportation departments along the Eastern Seaboard (including Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Florida), is studying how they could go about implementing the change.
The concept is not a universal hit.

In Nevada, where about 50 volunteers' cars were equipped with the devices not long ago, drivers were uneasy about the government being able to monitor their every move.

"Concerns about Big Brother and those sorts of things were a major problem," said Alauddin Khan, who directs strategic and performance management at the Nevada Department of Transportation. "It was not something people wanted."

As the trial got underway, the ACLU of Nevada warned on its website: "It would be fairly easy to turn these devices into full-fledged tracking devices.... There is no need to build an enormous, unwieldy technological infrastructure that will inevitably be expanded to keep records of individuals' everyday comings and goings."

Nevada is among several states now scrambling to find affordable technology that would allow the state to keep track of how many miles a car is being driven, but not exactly where and at what time. If you can do that, Khan said, the public gets more comfortable.

The hunt for that technology has led some state agencies to a small California startup called True Mileage. The firm was not originally in the business of helping states tax drivers. It was seeking to break into an emerging market in auto insurance, in which drivers would pay based on their mileage. But the devices it is testing appeal to highway planners because they don't use GPS and deliver a limited amount of information, uploaded periodically by modem.

"People will be more willing to do this if you do not track their speed and you do not track their location," said Ryan Morrison, chief executive of True Mileage. "There have been some big mistakes in some of these state pilot programs. There are a lot less expensive and less intrusive ways to do this."

In Oregon, planners are experimenting with giving drivers different choices. They can choose a device with or without GPS. Or they can choose not to have a device at all, opting instead to pay a flat fee based on the average number of miles driven by all state residents.

Other places are hoping to sell the concept to a wary public by having the devices do more, not less. In New York City, transportation officials are seeking to develop a taxing device that would also be equipped to pay parking meter fees, provide "pay-as-you-drive" insurance, and create a pool of real-time speed data from other drivers that motorists could use to avoid traffic.

"Motorists would be attracted to participate … because of the value of the benefits it offers to them," says a city planning document.

Some transportation planners, though, wonder if all the talk about paying by the mile is just a giant distraction. At the Metropolitan Transportation Commission in the San Francisco Bay Area, officials say Congress could very simply deal with the bankrupt Highway Trust Fund by raising gas taxes. An extra one-time or annual levy could be imposed on drivers of hybrids and others whose vehicles don't use much gas, so they pay their fair share.

"There is no need for radical surgery when all you need to do is take an aspirin," said Randy Rentschler, the commission's director of legislation and public affairs. "If we do this, hundreds of millions of drivers will be concerned about their privacy and a host of other things."