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, December 18, 2013

Pasadena Officials Express Concern Over Devil's Gate Proposal

Officials will send a letter to county officials outlining numerous issues they feel riddle the draft environmental impact report.


 By Aaron Castrejon, December 17, 2013

The Pasadena City Council Monday night voted to send a letter to county officials expressing concern over a county plan to remove millions of tons of sediment from Devil's Gate Dam reservoir in the Hahamongna Watershed Park.

The letter will urge Los Angeles County officials to study the needs of the Devil's Gate Sediment Removal and Management Plan in greater detail, adopt a plan that mirrors the Hahamongna Watershed Park Master Plan and involve the city on a staff level in the project's design and engineering aspects, officials said.

Over 100 comments from at least eight Pasadena departments expressed concern regarding all aspects of the county's Draft Environmental Impact Report.

Pasadena's Environmental Advisory Commission also suggested officials seek the least harmful sediment mitigation plan. Concerns over increases to air and noise pollution, traffic and permanent loss of critical habitat were also expressed.

"The more significant challenge that the city of Pasadena has … relate to the aspirations we have for this wonderful, natural area," said Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard. The mayor also noted that time is of the essence to deliver adequate comments by the county's Jan. 6 deadline.

Pasadena owns the land at the center of the debate and operates the Hahamongna Water Shed Park. The Los Angeles County Flood Control District maintains a perpetual easement to maintain the area, officials said.

Officials believe the county would overburden areas outside of its easement.

The proposed project would remove anywhere from 2.95 to 4 million cubic yards of sediment, over an area of 120.42 acres for a period of up to five years, according to the project's Draft Environmental Impact Report.

Pasadena's Environmental Advisory Commission found the county's DEIR to be replete with flaws and that it offers "no scientific rationale" to the necessity to remove the sediment or why exactly it needs to be done in the five-year timeframe.

Victor Gordo, Pasadena council member, said the county failed to properly maintain the reservoir over time.

"The last time anything was removed was 1994. The Station Fire only deposited 1 million cubic yards of sediment and now they're proposing the removal of up to 4 million. That tells me you haven't been maintaining this reservoir," Gordo said.

1.3 million cubic yards of sediment was deposited over the years as a result of the Station Fire in 2009, the largest fire in the Angeles National Forest, which scorched over 160,000 acres. The storms that followed deposited sediment into the Devil's Gate Reservoir.

County officials contest that sediment and plant removal is necessary to the Arroyo Seco flood control system, reporting that the reservoir no longer has the capacity to contain another large debris flow in the event of a large storm.

The project, if approved, would begin in 2015.

Many area residents have spoken out against the project since the DEIR was revealed in late October.

The area is home to mature willow trees, Mule Fat Scrub, Riversidean Alluvial Fan Sage Scrub and riparian vegetation, which would be destroyed if the plan was carried out, officials said.

The heavy machinery planned for excavation includes, but is not limited to, four front loaders, two bulldozers, one excavator, one grader, one water truck, and two tender trucks, according to the DEIR.

Double dump trucks would haul away the sediment and plant debris and would make an estimated 50 truck round trips an hour, equalling about 425 round trips per day, officials said.

All that machinery, opponents say, would generate traffic congestion, noise and air pollution.

The excavated sediment would be trucked and dumped offsite. Primary disposal sites being considered include the Waste Management Facility in Azusa, the Vulcan Materials Reliance Facility in Azusa, or the Manning Pit Sediment Placement Site in Irwindale. Secondary sites are being considered in Sun Valley, officials said.

Excavation would take place during the dry months.

Pasadena officials plan to retain a hydrology expert to perform an independent technical review of the county's project, said Loren Pluth, Department of Public Works Project Manager for Pasadena.

Staff may also establish the creation of a Devil's Gate Dam Sediment Removal working group, comprised of city staff and key community members to develop an alternative to the county's plan, Pluth said.

The Environmental Reporting Process is in the 75-day comment period process and is accepting comments by letter, email, or during public meetings. The deadline to submit comments is Jan. 6, 2014.

"We have a responsibility as the owners of the property to properly measure whether or not the county … is overburdening the easement and I think in this case there's clear evidence they intend to do that," Gordo said.

To view the Draft EIR, click the link.

Even An 85 MPH Highway Can't Fix Austin's Traffic Tangle


By Wade Goodwyn, December 17, 2013
 With a rapidly growing population and very limited mass transit options, Austin now ranks among the nation's most congested cities — but has done little to address the traffic problem.

 With a rapidly growing population and very limited mass transit options, Austin now ranks among the nation's most congested cities — but has done little to address the traffic problem.

Four decades ago, Austin, Texas, had a population of 250,000 and a reputation as a laid-back oasis of liberal politics and live music. Today, the Austin metro area is home to 1.8 million people and has some of the nation's worst traffic congestion.

For years, the city has done little to address the growing problem. But most in the Texas capital now agree something has to change if Austin is to save what's left of its quirky character.

The best way to experience Austin traffic may be from inside the police department's new helicopter. Breathtaking in the late afternoon sunlight, the state Capitol and the University of Texas Tower glow like torches.

But tear your eyes away from the skyline to look down and — poof! There goes your pretty picture. Nearly everywhere you look, the roads are backed up with cars, pickup trucks and 18-wheelers crawling along.

Police officer Ryan Miller is up in the sky nearly every day, and he says he has seen Austin's traffic grow exponentially worse during the past five years. Now, a large portion of the city's inhabitants must plan their daily activities with the traffic in mind.

Mayor Lee Leffingwell, a native Austinite, says he's watching automobile traffic slowly ruin his beautiful city.

"There was kind of an epiphany — a moment in time when we realized that we are going to have to quit ignoring the problem, which we'd done for so many years in the past," Leffingwell says.

An 'If We Don't Build It, They Won't Come' Mentality

While Austin fiddled decade after decade, Dallas was busy building the largest light rail system in the country. Thirty years later, the Texas city with the conservative reputation has the regional mass transit network, not Austin. Austin has done practically nothing in that regard.

"I think that is a fair statement," Leffingwell says. "There's a very strong no-growth movement in our city. And that applies not only to transportation but other infrastructure."

Leffingwell says that view can pretty much be summed up as, " 'If we don't build this water plant and we don't have enough water, they won't come. If we don't build this power plant and we don't have enough power, they won't come.'

"And that is absolutely wrong in my view," he continues. "The growth trend has been steady and constant since 1870, and there's no indication that anything is going to change."

In fact, the Austin metro area is predicted to double in population over the next 25 years to 4 million people.

The Texas A&M Transportation Institute has built sophisticated computer modeling of Austin's future traffic — and the findings are not good. The commute from downtown Austin to the northern suburb of Round Rock currently takes about 45 minutes during rush hour. But by 2035, the institute estimates, it will take two hours and 30 minutes to go those 19 miles.

Perhaps nobody knows more about Austin traffic than Texas A&M's Tim Lomax. The transportation planning expert says Austin's relentless growth overwhelms all potential solutions.

"The technical word we use is 'awful,' " Lomax says. "If you do all of the scenarios that we normally think of as transportation improvements, it's still going to be awful."

Trying To Lure Drivers With Speed
 Texas Highway 130, a new Austin bypass toll road, is so far east of the city that it sees little traffic. The state recently raised the speed limit there to 85 mph in hopes of boosting its use.
 Texas Highway 130, a new Austin bypass toll road, is so far east of the city that it sees little traffic. The state recently raised the speed limit there to 85 mph in hopes of boosting its use.

Austin is the largest city in America with only one interstate running through it. Just six lanes wide through downtown, Interstate 35 backs up for miles regularly.

A tolled bypass to the east of Austin was supposed to help relieve the bottleneck. But Texas state Highway 130 was built so far to the east that practically nobody uses it.

In desperation, the state raised the toll road speed limit to 85 mph, the fastest in the nation. The idea was that drivers could drop the top, drop the hammer, crank the music and fly right past Austin.
It's a beautiful, wide-open highway — but it's empty, and the builders are nearly bankrupt. So now, the state is considering tolling Interstate 35 and making the toll road free — as well as building a light-rail system and putting in more bike lanes.

But Lomax says his computer models show the only real solution is going to involve changes in behavior and lifestyle.

"We did some modeling to suggest the kind of magnitude of change," he says. "We used a giant hammer on the travel model. We took away 40 percent of the work trips. We said those are going to happen somehow, but they're not going to happen in a car."

To keep traffic flowing in his sophisticated models, Lomax plays God of Austin.

"We said, instead of people driving on average 20 to 25 miles to get to work, now they're going to drive five, six or seven miles to get to work," he says. "That says there's going to be a massive shift in jobs and population."

If Austin can do all that, Lomax says, the roads and highways in his computer models stay the color green — traffic still flowing. But without those drastic changes in behavior? The entire region turns into red capillaries of doom, with everybody crawling along everywhere almost all the time.

Like many in Austin, businessman Kevin Tuerff moved here to attend the University of Texas and never left. Ten years ago, he bought his dream home in the Austin Hill Country. Traffic has become a mess as the population has exploded.

By last year, Tuerff was fed up with two hours on the road every day. Now he rents a high-rise apartment in a gleaming new building downtown.

"My office is about five minutes by car or 12 minutes by bicycle," he says. "And that's what I love about this place."

Tuerff is part of that 40 percent that Lomax needs to make his transportation models work. And there's a growing population of successful professionals paying $3,000 to $5,000 in rent every month for the privilege of walking and biking to work and play.

But what about Austin's many musicians and artists — and, in fact, everybody else?

'The Velvet Rut'

"I used to feel like I could go anywhere in 12 minutes," says Amy Scofield, a successful artist who has lived and worked in Austin for more than 22 years. "And I still have that mentality, and now I'm late all the time. And I'm stressed out all the time because a 12-minute trip takes 25 at least."

As the city Scofield loves has grown from a lovely university town into something bigger, she has considered leaving.

"I thought that about five or six years ago. I was really looking for someplace else to go. I felt like everybody's driving a [Porsche] Boxster and wearing a Rolex, and I don't relate to this population," Scofield says. "But I couldn't think of any place. Because I want this kind of — the attitude, the political mindset, the social mindset, but I also want warm weather."

Scofield calls this "the velvet rut" of Austin. It is shared by many here, and that's the problem in a nutshell: not enough leaving, plenty more coming, and nobody, old or new, wanting a fleet of bulldozers plowing up their pretty city.

Austinites sometimes wear T-shirts that protest the relentless growth with the slogan "Keep Austin Weird." They have their work cut out for them.

Board approves eminent domain move for high-speed rail


December 14, 2013

SACRAMENTO — A state board gave approval Friday for the California High-Speed Rail Authority to start the process of seizing its first piece of property through eminent domain for a $68 billion bullet train. 

The State Public Works Board voted 3-0 to approve a request from the authority to try to seize a 2.5-acre parcel in Fresno that is needed to build an underground trench for the project. The authority has declared an impasse with the owner of property.

Fresno County records value the property at $2.4 million. It includes a 20,000 square-foot commercial building that is leased to the state Department of Corrections.

Rail officials said they have been unable to reach an agreement with owner Frank Solomon Jr. after making an initial offer in May. Details of the offers have not been made public.

Solomon did not appear at the hearing and a phone listing under that name in Fresno could not receive messages.

Don Grebe, director of real property for the rail authority, said the parcel has been pegged as critical to acquire early because of the complicated construction needed to be done there. He said the rail authority is still open to negotiations with the owner.

The action by the board allows the rail authority to file paperwork in court asking a judge to determine the fair market value of the property as well as compensation the owner is entitled to for relocation.

The legal action also could allow the rail authority to access the property and start construction even before the state owns it.

Frank Olivera, co-chairman of the group Citizens for High-Speed Rail Accountability, told the board it would be premature to let the state acquire the property, given recent legal and administrative setbacks for the project.

Last month, a Sacramento County judge invalidated the state’s funding plan and said it must have 300 miles of environmental clearances in place to meet the terms of Proposition 1A, the bond measure voters approved to sell nearly $10 billion in bonds for high-speed rail.

“I question the necessity to even take this parcel when the rail authority may not even be able to pay for it,” Olivera said.

Grebe said the authority has closed escrow on five of the 380 parcels needed to complete the first nearly 30-mile stretch from Madera to Fresno.

“Overall we have people that have been signing agreements. I think it’s been going quite positively, slowly,” he said. Still, he estimated that as many as 20 percent of the properties could end up going through the eminent domain process.

Olivera, the rail opponent, said the prospect of eminent domain has cast a pall over many residents and business owners in the train’s proposed path.

“Everybody is scared of the state of California coming to your house and saying we’re going to take this, we’re going to take your parking lot or your business, and they don’t know what to do,” he said.
Grebe said if the project were scrapped at some point and the property was no longer needed, state law gives the original owner the first option to buy it back.

Parklet program expands citywide


December 17, 2013

Los Angeles officials on Tuesday approved expansion of a pilot program to create parklets at parking spaces as a way to expand green space throughout the city under what it is calling the People Street Program.

Under the program to be administered by the Department of Transportation, communities can apply to convert what are considered under-utilized areas to create plazas, parklets and bike corrals around the city.

Councilman Jose Huizar, in whose district the program has operated, said it has proven valuable in improving the quality of life of residents and getting people to begin using the streets and investing in local businesses.
Councilman Felipe
 Fuentes said it also has value in slowing down traffic and making a community more pedestrian friendly and walkable.

The concept of parklets developed in San Francisco in 2005 when some activists fed coins into a parking meter and reclaimed the spot for a day by rolling out mats of grass and sitting in the improvised park.

Win Your Holiday Arguments: Jaywalking


By Damien Newton, December 18, 2013

(Stealing an idea from Salon, Streetsblog Los Angeles is here to help you win arguments with the beloved Car Culture Warriors in your life this holiday season. We’ll have at least two more parts in this series. – DN)

Recently, the Los Angeles Times reported on a “jaywalking crackdown” underway in Downtown Los Angeles. Pedestrians are being fined $250 for infractions as serious as starting to cross the street after the signal has become a flashing red hand. Response has been uniformly negative. Brigham Young slammed it on DTLA Rising and KCRW. Ever restrained, Curbed called the crackdown “total bullshit.” The DTLA News comment section is similarly outraged. Even the L.A. Times weighed in with a negative editorial this morning.

I was actually standing next to an LAPD officer pointing at the infraction while he ticketed a pedestrian. He was neither amused nor enlightened.
I was actually standing next to an LAPD officer pointing at the infraction while he ticketed a pedestrian. He was neither amused nor enlightened.

While I agree with the sentiment of all the articles and outrage, the LAPD’s most recent “crackdown” is hardly new news. The Department’s love of what it calls jaywalking tickets earned it national outrage in 2006 when it ticketed 82 year-old Mayvis Coyle for not being able to cross the street during the walk signal. In 2008, there was the hilarious time that the LAPD was ticketing outside of Metro Center, handing out many tickets to employees of the Southern California Association of Governments…many of whom were planners or transportation engineers.

In 2009, I noticed LAPD officers aggressively handing out tickets to pedestrians while buses and cars ran red lights with impunity right in front of them. In 2010, the L.A. Times wrote almost the same story on a $191 dollar ticket “crackdown.”

So “jaywalking crackdowns” are nothing new. Because they’ve been in the news recently, it’s possible a car-culture warrior could bring up the topic in an attempt to trap you this holiday season. For that reason, we present these counter arguments:

Argument 1: Jaywalking crackdowns make everyone safer

There is actually little data to suggest that this is true.

The first thing to understand is that laws that concern ticketing pedestrians for traveling in the vehicle right-of-way were not made to make streets safer. They were made to normalize car travel over other forms of transportation, and a lot of money was spent to enshrine these statutes into law. In a review of Peter Norton’s book Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American CityGoodyear writes:
AAA and other auto clubs turned first to the younger generation, financing safety education programs in the public schools that were designed to teach children that streets are for cars, not for kids. They funded safety patrols that taught kids they had to stop for traffic, not the other way around…

…Local auto clubs and dealers recognized that cars would be a lot harder to sell if there was a cap on their speed. So they went into overdrive in their campaign against the initiative. They sent letters to every individual with a car in the city, saying that the rule would condemn the U.S. to the fate of China, which they painted as the world’s most backward nation.
In other words, the United States had safer streets decades ago and gave up that world for one with higher car speeds, even in urban areas. Comparing the United States to countries that went in a different direction, ie those who did not make it illegal for pedestrians to cross the street without being at an intersection, it’s clear we made a mistake. Fatality rates, both for pedestrians and drivers, are uniformly lower in countries that assume guilt on the driver, not the pedestrian, when there is a crash.

So what can be done to make the streets safer for pedestrians? Enforcement is one answer, but enforcement should focus on cars that are a) going to fast or b) refusing to yield.
Consider these statistics provided by Streetsblog.net member Sustainable Savannah:
…when pedestrians are hit by cars:
at 20 mph, the risk of death is 5 percent, and most injuries are minor
at 30 mph, the risk of death is 45 percent, and most injuries are serious
at 40 mph, 85 percent of pedestrians are killed.
Safety studies also show that “too many drivers fail to look left” before turning.
Of course, there are other answers that aren’t just about enforcement. Tom Vanderbilt, a traffic expert who writes at Slate, gives some better ideas:
Instead, here’s what should be done. First, spend more money on making walking safer; despite the fact that pedestrians make up a large part of the traffic deaths in many states, funding is always disproportionately scant. Second, provide good places to walk.

People instinctively strive for the conservation of energy, and failing to provide proper crossings in the presence of clear “desire lines” invites a jaywalking problem. Third, install pedestrian-friendly engineering. One of the simplest tools is the “leading pedestrian interval,” which gives walkers a slight head start against turning traffic, thus making them more visible and allowing them to establish their presence in the intersection. A much more common problem than urban jaywalking crashes are left- and right-turn car-pedestrian crashes at intersections. Fourth, lower (and enforce) urban speeds.

Cities like Barcelona and Amsterdam—pedestrian paradises both—are proposing limiting entire tracts of the city to 30 kph (that’s 18.6 mph, folks), and in places like the “Skvallertorget,” or “Gossip Square,” in Norrkoping, Sweden, the legal right of way is shared equally, and safely, among pedestrians and drivers, without clear markings, because car traffic has dropped to human speeds. * Fifth, stiffen penalties for cars that violate the rights of those legally crossing (which would provide ancillary benefits for those crossing in a more informal fashion). Pedestrian fatalities wouldn’t exist without cars, a stubborn fact that the law should reflect.
Of course, here in Los Angeles the LAPD has other ideas about pedestrian safety. After a woman was thrown 40 feet in the air and killed by a hit and run driver, the LAPD released a handy set of pedestrian safety tips that included “look both ways before crossing the street.” At the time, I noted that this is similar to releasing match safety tips after a gas main explosion.

Now granted, there is the occasional person who is either in such a rush, or is so entitled, that he or she makes unsafe choices on the street. There is also the occasional mentally insane person who is just wandering around. The sad reality is that tickets are unlikely to change these people’s behavior.

Argument 2: People that walk should pay their fare share, and ticketing is one way to do it.

First off, the idea that car drivers are the poor, put upon load bearers of all transportation funding is extremely false. Nationally, the federal gas tax doesn’t cover national transportation needs. In California, a mix of sales tax, gas tax, vehicle registration fees, property tax and other fees pay for transportation funding.

When you consider the amount of damage done to streets as a result of driving, as compared to walking, the opposite is true. The car-free are subsidizing vehicle drivers.

20% of all trips in Los Angeles County are made on foot or bicycle, yet funding for pedestrian and bicycle projects falls somewhere in the 1% to 3% range. No, the people that are walking are not the freeloaders in the transportation funding equation.

Blog Downtown

With that in mind, let’s look at how the money raised with pedestrian tickets is used. In 2010, Blog Downtown broke down where the money goes from the $190 ticket. About 12% goes towards the city’s transportation fund and less than 1% into the state transportation funds. The rest goes into a variety of state and local criminal justice fees.

Argument 3: Pedestrians are getting in the way of the cars

As discussed above, this is pretty backwards thinking. We’re not living in a Pixar film, we should be building our cities for human beings, not Lightning McQueen.

Of course, this argument is really “people that aren’t me are getting in my way.” This is a hard argument to counter logically, because often times the person is arguing from an anecdotal point of view, and it’s hard to argue that someone’s experiences aren’t valid.

The best counter here is to provide your own experiences as a harassed walker, cyclist, pogo stick rider or whatever form of transportation you use. Just yesterday, I passed through 12 crosswalks on foot or on my bicycle (I ride my bicycle on the sidewalk underneath a 405 over pass when I pick up/drop off my son at school. I believe this is the safest option and there are crosswalks on each side of the bridge.) Eleven times there was a car parked in the crossing.

Eleven times.

Of course, that’s just my experience. I’m sure you have plenty of better ones of your own.

 (Up next: what to say about all the money the city is “waisting” on bicycle lanes!)