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

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

L.A. County transit officials plan to put sales tax measure on ballot

Transit leaders are pondering whether to seek an additional half-cent levy or extension of Measure R, either next year or in 2016.


By Laura J. Nelson, December 24, 2013
 Subway passengers wait at a station in downtown Los Angeles.

Transportation officials in Los Angeles County plan to offer a ballot measure next fall or in 2016 that would raise the county's sales tax by half a cent or extend the life of Measure R, the levy voters approved in 2008.

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and multiple advocacy groups say more transportation money would help expand the region's fledgling rail network, improve complementary service on bus lines, and speed construction and repairs on rail lines and highways.

"We need to have a system that works for us," said Hasan Ikhrata, executive director of the Southern California Assn. of Governments. "We need to maintain it, to bring it up to par, to expand it."

Metro staff officials say the ballot measure would either create a new tax that would raise the overall rate in Los Angeles County to 9.5% or extend Measure R's half-cent levy beyond its 2039 expiration date.

Similar proposals have found success in the past: Taxes approved in 1980 and 1990 paid for many of the county's carpool lanes and the first three modern rail lines. Measure R will partially fund a dozen rail projects, doubling the number of Metro train stations.

Last year, a proposal to extend Measure R failed by about 2 percentage points, in part because coastal Los Angeles County cities did not support it, a Times analysis showed. Some elected officials from those areas had complained that the city of Los Angeles received the lion's share of Measure R projects.

Metro has hired a Washington firm to poll hundreds of county residents on two tax proposals. Councils of government have drafted lists of projects they would like to see.

"There will never be enough money, obviously," said Karen Heit, the transportation deputy for the Gateway Cities Council of Governments, which includes Cerritos, Downey and Long Beach. "But to have a say in how the funds should be divided is huge."

Still at issue is whether the measure will go to the ballot in 2014 or 2016, but Metro planning staff members prefer not to rush. Some are concerned that the measure could compete with a $3-billion street repair bond proposed by two Los Angeles City Council members, which could go to voters in 2014.

The presidential election in 2016 will ensure higher voter turnout, Metro planning staff wrote in a memo to the board. Waiting two years would give the agency more time to work with subregions and drum up voter support.

By some measures, a new sales tax could raise more than $100 billion. Some projects that were partially funded by Measure R may see more money, including a rail link to Los Angeles International Airport. About $330 million of the estimated $1.5 billion needed to complete the line has been secured.

Other projects being considered include improvements to eight freeways, subsidies for senior and student transit fares, and a transit and freeway tunnel through the Sepulveda Pass, according to Metro's ballot measure concepts.

Denny Zane, executive director of transit advocacy group Move LA, said he hopes a portion of the money will go toward making the ports more environmentally friendly, including building infrastructure to support electric trucks. He said Move LA is also eyeing improvements to Metrolink service and bicycle lanes.

The legwork for the effort coincides with a push in Sacramento to reduce the 67% voter threshold for such measures. Former assemblyman, and current Los Angeles City Councilman Bob Blumenfield recently proposed a constitutional amendment that would reduce the voter threshold for infrastructure bonds to 55%.

Adding another sales tax would allow Metro to perhaps finish some new projects within a decade.
An extension of Measure R would make money available after 2039. However, Metro says it would help agencies pay down debt, freeing up other funding for other projects.

China buried behind masks as air pollution goes through the roof

Air pollution in China has reached the "highest level" in 16 provinces, including capital Beijing, according to official metrics


December 24, 2013


Sixteen Chinese provinces have registered highest degree of air pollution according to the official weather agency, as China's air woes reach alarming levels.

People in China are now used to wearing masks in the streets of capital Beijing and 15 other provinces due to rapidly deteriorating air quality.

Experts urge children, elders and people with breathing difficulty to avoid going out if possible.
Air pollution in the 16 provinces has been measured at the sixth degree, the highest according to the PM2.5 metric, Chinese Meteorology Agency announced.

This particularly intense level of pollution is expected to continue befogging the sky in those cities till Wednesday.

For the pollution alarm systems four levels are implemented in China such as blue, yellow, orange and red, and it is reported that current degree is ranging between orange and red.

Local authorities suggest the citizens not to do high effort exercises and open windows in closed areas.

Chinese Transportation and Airlines authorities earlier made it obligatory for pilots regular at 10 airports to receive blind landing training. The practice is planned for implementation by January 1, 2014.

Under Seattle, a Big Object Blocks Bertha. What Is It?


By Kirk Johnson, December 19, 2013

 In October, workers walked through the first rings of the highway tunnel being built under Seattle’s waterfront toward the boring machine called Bertha. 


 SEATTLE — A secret subterranean heart, tinged with mystery and myth, beats beneath the streets in many of the world’s great cities. Tourists seek out the catacombs of Rome, the sewers of Paris and the subway tunnels of New York. Some people believe a den of interstellar aliens lurks beneath Denver International Airport.

 Now Seattle, at least for now, has joined that exclusive club. 

Something unknown, engineers say — and all the more intriguing to many residents for being unknown — has blocked the progress of the biggest-diameter tunnel-boring machine in use on the planet, a high-tech, largely automated wonder called Bertha. At five stories high with a crew of 20, the cigar-shaped behemoth was grinding away underground on a two-mile-long, $3.1 billion highway tunnel under the city’s waterfront on Dec. 6 when it encountered something in its path that managers still simply refer to as “the object.” 

The object’s composition and provenance remain unknown almost two weeks after first contact because in a state-of-the-art tunneling machine, as it turns out, you can’t exactly poke your head out the window and look. 

“What we’re focusing on now is creating conditions that will allow us to enter the chamber behind the cutter head and see what the situation is,” Chris Dixon, the project manager at Seattle Tunnel Partners, the construction contractor, said in an interview this week. Mr. Dixon said he felt pretty confident that the blockage will turn out to be nothing more or less romantic than a giant boulder, perhaps left over from the Ice Age glaciers that scoured and crushed this corner of the continent 17,000 years ago. 

But the unknown is a tantalizing subject. Some residents said they believe, or want to believe, that a piece of old Seattle, buried in the pell-mell rush of city-building in the 1800s, when a mucky waterfront wetland was filled in to make room for commerce, could be Bertha’s big trouble. That theory is bolstered by the fact that the blocked tunnel section is also in the shallowest portion of the route, with the top of the machine only around 45 feet below street grade. 

“I’m going to believe it’s a piece of Seattle history until proven otherwise,” said Ann Ferguson, the curator of the Seattle Collection at the Seattle Public Library, who said she held out hope for something of 1890s Klondike Gold Rush vintage, when Seattle became the crazed and booming gateway city to the gold fields of Alaska and Canada. 

At the downtown storefront museum for the tunnel project, called Milepost 31, visitors are cracking Jimmy Hoffa jokes or spouting theories about buried train engines. Gabe Martin, a sales clerk at a curio shop near the dig site, said he was intrigued by the Prohibition era, when Seattle rode a tide of illegal alcohol smuggled from Canada, and people had reason to bury things, not wanting them found. “Bootlegger stuff,” he said. 

Mr. Dixon said that efforts to drain water and reduce pressure at the drill head, with a series of bore holes pushed down in recent days, could allow workers to get safe access to the blocked site as early as Friday. But working at atmospheric pressures similar to what a diver would experience, the team could stay down only for short periods, he said, and each visitor would then need time in a decompression chamber. 

And there is something of a John Henry’s hammer theme to the tale of Seattle’s object. Bertha is blind as a mole in front, with no forward-facing windows or cameras, so a kind of spacewalk through air-locked doors is required to get to the front of the machine for inspection. And the removal or breaking up of the object is likely to be done with jackhammers or other old-fashioned tools that a tunnel-digging sandhog worker of generations past would recognize. 

If the object can’t be broken up below ground, there would need to be excavation down from the street. In any event, Mr. Dixon and other state managers said, the machine’s forward progress could be halted for weeks — though they stressed that work is continuing on the ends of the tunnel, and that it is too early to talk about cost overruns or delays. The tunnel is scheduled to be open to traffic by late 2015. 

The tunnel is to run north and south along Elliott Bay from Century Link Field, home of football’s Seahawks, to a point near the Space Needle on the north, allowing demolition of an elevated roadway and improved crosstown foot and bicycle access. 

 Economics and geology — two key threads of Seattle’s creation — underpin the tunnel’s impetus. Planning for the project began after an earthquake in 2001 revealed seismic vulnerability in the elevated viaduct roadway, which was built in the 1950s. Businesses and real estate interests were then sold on the idea that a tunnel, replacing the viaduct, would open access between downtown and the waterfront. 

 But unlike, say, Boston or New York, where tunnels are common and bedrock is close to the surface, getting to that end point is messy. Seattle’s underbelly is more like pudding than soil — a slurry of sand, gravel and clay, all jumbled and compressed by the pressures from a 3,000-foot-thick ice sheet that extended as far as Olympia, 50 miles south. A city famous for being wet also has a high water table, only about four to five feet down. 

And because Seattle, as first encountered by European-American settlers, was hardly conducive to being a city at all, with steep, glacier-carved hills rolling right down to the water, the landscape was reshaped from the beginning, with projects to grind down the hills. That in turn created lots of landfill, which went into the waterfront to level it and create land on which the city’s commercial center rose. 

“It’s mind-boggling how much we have altered the landscape of Seattle,” said David B. Williams, a geologist and author of a coming book about the making of Seattle’s landscape, called “Too High and Too Steep, Reshaping Seattle’s Topography.” 

“The tunnel is just a continuation of that story,” he said as he walked north of downtown, where a cliff face showed the layered strata of the geologic past. 

Mr. Williams, who blogs about local geology, speculated in a recent post that the remains of a famous shipwreck, the Windward — which foundered in 1875 and was buried near the waterfront — might be the kind of object that Bertha encountered, though he conceded that the machine could probably grind through a wood vessel as though it were paper. 

In the end, he said, state engineers are probably right. A rock, huge in size or in a configuration that the machine cannot quite get purchase on to grind, is the most likely culprit. “I do hope it is not,” he said. “It would be great to find some new mystery.”

This Tricycle Is Headed Across the South Pole


By Lily Hay Newman,  December 2013

 This Tricycle Is Headed Across the South Pole



Right now three people are competing in a bike race from the edge of Antarctica to the South Pole. The winner will be the first person to bike there ever. And 35-year-old Maria Leijerstam is attempting to trike there on a really weird/badass-looking tricycle.

Leijerstam left the Novo Russian Airbase on December 17th on a recumbent tricycle by the British design group Inspired Cycle Engineering (ICE). Biking against two competitors with traditional bikes, Juan Mendez and Daniel Burton, she's hoping that her three fat wheels will provide stability and better traction during the grueling 400 mile, low temperature ride. 

Leijerstam tested the aircraft-grade steel trike in Siberia, Norway, Iceland ad industrial freezers to make sure it was going to be reliable on her intense South Pole ride. Antarctic bike share coming soon. [Discovery via Digg]

See website for a video.

Iceland's Hidden Elves Delay Road Projects


By Jenna Gottlieb, December 22, 2013


 See website for a video.

REYKJAVIK, Iceland (AP) — In this land of fire and ice, where the fog-shrouded lava fields offer a spooky landscape in which anything might lurk, stories abound of the "hidden folk" — thousands of elves, making their homes in Iceland's wilderness.

So perhaps it was only a matter of time before 21st-century elves got political representation.

Elf advocates have joined forces with environmentalists to urge the Icelandic Road and Coastal Commission and local authorities to abandon a highway project building a direct route from to the tip of the Alftanes peninsula, where the president has a home, to the Reykjavik suburb of Gardabaer.

They fear disturbing elf habitat and claim the area is particularly important because it contains an elf church.

The project has been halted until the Supreme Court of Iceland rules on a case brought by a group known as Friends of Lava, who cite both the environmental and the cultural impact — including the impact on elves — of the road project. The group has regularly brought hundreds of people out to block the bulldozers.

And it's not the first time issues about "Huldufolk," Icelandic for "hidden folk," have affected planning decisions. They occur so often that the road and coastal administration has come up with a stock media response for elf inquiries, which states in part that "issues have been settled by delaying the construction project at a certain point while the elves living there have supposedly moved on."

Scandinavian folklore is full of elves, trolls and other mythological characters. Most people in Norway, Denmark and Sweden haven't taken them seriously since the 19th century, but elves are no joke to many in Iceland, population 320,000.

A survey conducted by the University of Iceland in 2007 found that some 62 percent of the 1,000 respondents thought it was at least possible that elves exist.

Ragnhildur Jonsdottir, a self-proclaimed "seer," believes she can communicate with the creatures through telepathy.

"It will be a terrible loss and damaging both for the elf world and for us humans," said Jonsdottir of the road project.

The Top 13 U.S. Transportation Stories of 2013

The highlights included a new transportation secretary and big funding hikes at the state level. 


By Ryan Holeywell, December 17, 2013

US Route 127, in Lansing, Michigan

Anthony Foxx Confirmed as Transportation Secretary

After months of speculation, President Obama nominated Anthony Foxx, then the mayor of Charlotte, N.C., to succeed Ray LaHood as transportation secretary. The pick was a surprise: the Washington rumor mill initially assumed then-Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa would be the pick, then the focus turned to U.S. National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman. In the end, the president went with Foxx,  citing his experience leading the push for new street car and light rail lines as well as an airport expansion in his city. In June, the Senate confirmed him 100 to 0.

Aware of serious transportation needs and stagnant funding from the feds, half a dozen states -- including Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Wyoming and Massachusetts -- made major overhauls to their transportation taxes that will ensure billions of dollars in new revenue for infrastructure. Many of those states, mindful of the financial hurdles that come with a gas tax that isn't indexed to inflation, enacted reforms to ensure the tax grows over time. That should help prevent them from facing perpetual debates about the tax. Their action may be a signal to the feds, who will have to solve the question of funding in 2014 when the federal highway bill, MAP-21, is set to expire.
New York, Chicago Unroll Bike Share

As bike share programs have gained traction throughout the United States, the absence of major programs in two of the country's most populous cities seemed glaring. This spring, after delays in both cities, the programs finally went online in New York and Chicago. In New York, the bike stations were greeted by some with grumbles that they were unattractive and obstructed sidewalks. But the programs have proven to be a hit. Since its launch, CitiBike riders in New York have made nearly 5.9 million trips. Meanwhile, the Divvy bike share program in Chicago is slated to become the largest in North America once it opens additional stations in the suburbs next year.

More Setbacks Threaten California High-Speed Rail

Since its inception, the controversial high speed rail program in California has been mired by controversy. Critics have alleged that its leaders use overly optimistic ridership projections, are planning an inefficient route, and don't have a plan in place on how to actually pay for it. Federal regulators recently rejected a request from rail leaders to exempt part of the project from a lengthy environmental review. Meanwhile, in November, a judge blocked the sale of $8 billion in rail bonds that were approved by voters in 2008, pointing out questions about the project's funding plan.

1-5 Skagit River Bridge Collapse

The bridge, about 60 miles north of Seattle, collapsed in May when a truck carrying an oversized load tried to cross it and struck part of its supports. There were no fatalities, but the incident brought attention to the condition of the country's infrastructure, and in particular, the questionable condition of many older bridges, since the crossing was classified as "functionally obsolete." But as Governing reported at the time, transportation officials had not considered the bridge to be in especially poor shape. Instead, they were more interested knowing how and why the truck tried to follow a route that was inappropriate for its large load.

Public-Private Partnerships Survive Legal Challenges in Virginia

Virginia has long been the U.S. epicenter of the movement toward public-private partnerships to finance transportation infrastructure. So a high-profile lawsuit generated big interest in the transportation community when a judge ruled that tolls on a Norfolk-area project were technically taxes, not user-fees, and the state had illegally deferred its power to tax to a private-sector operator. P3 supporters worried that may have threated the future of similar projects in the state. But this fall, the state supreme court rejected that line of thinking and overruled the lower court, ensuring those types of projects will go forward.

Columbia River Crossing on Life Support

The joint mega project between Washington state and Oregon would have replaced the existing bridge between Portland and the suburb of Vancouver, Wash., in addition to rebuilding surrounding highway exchanges, extending light rail across the river, and improving pedestrians paths. Supporters had touted it as an economic invested, citing the $40 billion of freight that crosses the existing span annually that's increasingly held up by congestion. The project won approval from Oregon, but this summer, the legislature in Washington rejected funding for it, effectively killing the CRC despite years of planning. Some supporters have held  out hope that there's a way Oregon can go at it alone, but that may be a challenge.

US Airways and American Airlines Merge

In February, U.S. Airways and American Airlines announced an $11 billion merger to create the world's largest airline. The plan drew criticism from consumer advocates concerned with a shrinking number of players in the airline industry, citing the United-Continental merger in 2010; the Southwest-AirTran merger in 2010; and the Delta-Northwest merger in 2008. The Justice Department initially worked to block the deal, arguing it would mean less competition and thus higher fares for passengers. But the suit was ultimately settled in November as part of a deal in which the merged airline gives up space at Washington's Reagan National Airport, which it otherwise would have dominated, as well as several other major airports, in order to make room for other carriers.

Driverless Vehicles Technology Gains Steam

Long thought of as science fiction, driverless vehicles continued to gain traction in 2014. Several automakers suggested they'd have a driverless vehicles available to consumers by the end of the decade; the exploits of Google's driverless vehicles continued to make headlines; and Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, even took a spin in an autonomous car. Policy leaders say the states -- and maybe the feds -- will need to answer a slew of questions about liability and traffic enforcement before the technology becomes widespread.

Tunneling Begins on Alaska Way Viaduct

Seattle has spent more than a decade trying to figure out what to do with the Alaskan Way Vaiduct, an elevated highway that skirts the edge of downtown. Ultimately, officials opted to embark on a $3.1 billion project that will ultimately remove the viaduct and replace it with an underground tunnel. The decision of whether or not to tunnel has long been a controversial one in Seattle, but this summer, the 7,000-ton "Bertha" tunnel-boring machine began digging underground, finally setting the stage for a projected 2015 completion date.

Construction Starts on Ohio Rivers Bridges Project

The $2.6 billion project the project entails rebuilding a highway interchange and completing two new bridges across the Ohio River between Louisville and Southern Indiana. Work on those spans began this summer more than ten years after the project was announced. But the endeavor has been controversial, with critics complaining about the project's tolls and its environmental impact. The bridges are slated to open in 2016.

Crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 214

The Boeing 777, en route from South Korea, crashed as it approached San Francisco International Airport in July. Three people died, including one person who reportedly survived the crash but was killed after being struck by a firetruck responding to the scene. That situation prompted retraining of airport firefighters. It also sparked debate about whether pilots had become over-reliant on the automated systems that run airplanes, since the pilots had trouble landing without the use of a "glideslope indicator" that was out of service and may have misunderstood whether the plane's "autho thrust" was engaged. NTSB officials initially said they didn't find mechanical problems with the plane. But recently, the pilots and the airline have reportedly questioned that notion, suggesting the autothrottle might have disengaged on its own.

Metro-North's Derailments in Connecticut, Spuyten Duyvil

In May, a Metro-North commuter train connecting New York City to Connecticut derailed and collided with a train traveling in the opposition direction during even rush hour, injuring more than 70 riders. In December, Metro-North would again face tragedy, this time with fatal results, when a Metro-North derailed in the Bronx. That accidenet killed four and injured more than 70. The train's engineer said he was in a "daze" in the moments leading to the accident, when it was reportedly traveling at 82 mph through a curve that had a 30 mph limit. Federal officials have announced a massive review of Metro-North's operations and safety culture in the wake of those accidents.

BART and largest unions resolve latest contract dispute


By Lee Romney, December 23, 2013

 BART Train

 Bay Area Rapid Transit passengers wait for a train in this Oct. 22, 2013 file photo taken in Oakland. BART's tentative contract with its two largest unions may at last be headed for ratification after an admitted "error" by BART management derailed it and prompted a lawsuit.

SAN FRANCISCO — Labor discord that has dragged on since spring between Bay Area Rapid Transit and its largest unions may finally have been resolved.

Troubles at the negotiation table led to two debilitating regional commuter rail strikes, and threats of many more, that left about 200,000 weekday commuters on tenterhooks during summer and fall.

The difficulties seemed to have come to an end when BART management in October stood with leaders from Service International Union Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 and announced a tentative contract agreement.

But it turned out that top BART officials and a high-paid outside labor negotiator all had mistakenly signed a tentative agreement that would have added six weeks of paid family medical leave to the deal.

The BART board of directors balked, removing the provision before voting to approve the rest and asking unions to take the modified deal to members for a vote. The unions responded with a lawsuit.
On Saturday, the parties said they had come to an agreement with the help of Greg Lim of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, who has stepped in intermittently over the months to help the two sides bargain more constructively.

The bungled family-leave issue was resolved with "solutions that are administrative in nature and/or will be covered within BART's existing budget," the district said in a statement.

“After eight months of uncertainty for our riders, this deal will guarantee that every ounce of the agency’s focus will be directed to providing great service to the Bay Area during the peak holiday period and beyond,” General Manager Grace Crunican said.

The Family Medical Leave Act guarantees 12 weeks of unpaid leave annually, and workers have been free to use vacation, sick time or floating holidays to cover the time. A union proposal that BART pay for six of those weeks never gained traction at the bargaining table, but it was nevertheless included in a stack of tentative agreements signed by BART officials.

Crunican said that under the negotiated compromise the district’s bereavement leave policy will be expanded to allow workers paid time off in the event of the death of a grandchild or stepparent of a spouse or domestic partner; employee breakrooms at two stations will be upgraded, and "qualifying" employees will be granted more flexibility in how they pay for the costs of their family medical leave.

“Today we’re proud to announce that we’ve reached a resolution that we can bring back to our members for a vote,” SEIU Local 1021 BART Chapter President John Arantes said in a Saturday statement, calling the resolution "fair."

“BART management has been adamant in their admission of a mistake and how they’ve handled the situation,” Arantes continued, “and, in the past few days, we’ve had the opportunity to have meaningful discussion and resolve some of our differences at the bargaining table."

ATU Local 1555 President Antonette Bryant was more critical.

"We expect the BART board will now do its part and do what they should have done all along ... approve this contract," she said. "Once they do, we will ask our members to ratify it as well.

Federal judge rejects lawsuit challenging Willits freeway bypass


By Lee Romney, December 23, 2013

 A massive four-lane freeway bypass requiring wetlands compaction is being built by Caltrans in the small town of Willits in Mendocino County. A federal judge has rejected a lawsuit by opponents hoping to block the project.

SAN FRANCISCO — A federal judge has rejected legal claims by environmental groups that sued Caltrans and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in hopes of stopping construction of a controversial freeway bypass in Willits, Calif.

The four-lane bypass that will carry U.S. 101 traffic around the Mendocino County town rather than through its Main Street heart was first proposed a half-century ago, and local officials long expressed unanimous support for it.

But demographic shifts and heightened environmental consciousness recently split public opinion.

Robust opposition emerged, including prolonged tree- and crane-sits earlier this year and the 2012 lawsuit that claimed the agencies had violated the National Environmental Policy Act and Clean Water Act in approving project permits.

In rejecting the claims late last week, U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White said the project reviews were adequate and neither entity acted in an "arbitrary or capricious manner" in their handling of changes.

Construction of the massive bypass, which required the compacting of wetlands in Little Lake Valley, is already about 30% complete and the ruling all but assures that it will continue to move forward.

Critics have claimed that a less-environmentally destructive two-lane bypass would have adequately solved the town's traffic gridlock but was never considered by Caltrans. They also assert that Caltrans used poorly calculated traffic volumes to justify the need for the largest possible bypass.

"It's disappointing that the court accepted Caltrans' inadequate review and flawed rationale for the purpose and need of this project," said Aruna Prabhala, staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, among the groups that sued.

"We disagree with the determination that the environmental impacts of the Willits Bypass project are not significant — Little Lake Valley is being devastated by the construction," Prabhala said.

"Unfortunately, this is just one of the irrational and expensive highway projects Caltrans is pushing throughout the state that will cause extensive environmental damage without solving traffic or safety concerns."

Caltrans is implementing a hefty mitigation plan to compensate for wetlands removal.

In a statement, the director of the state transportation department said Caltrans "takes seriously its responsibility to preserve the species and habitats on these lands and we are pleased that the judge rejected this lawsuit.

"This project eliminates a chronic traffic bottleneck while enhancing fisheries and hundreds of acres of local wetlands," Malcolm Dougherty said.

Lung cancer: A cloud on China's polluted horizon

China's doctors are beginning to speak of a link between air pollution and lung cancer. Children as young as 8 have been treated.


By Barbara Demick, December 24, 2013
 Air pollution in Shanghai
 A man flies a kite in Shanghai. This month, the city had an air pollution reading of 500 for the first time, prompting authorities to order children and the elderly to remain indoors. Beijing and other parts of northern China have pollution that is even higher.

 BEIJING — The youngest known lung cancer patient in eastern China is an 8-year-old girl whose home is next to a dust-choked road in heavily industrialized Jiangsu province.

Another patient was a 14-year-old girl from Shanghai, the daughter of two nonsmokers with no family history of lung cancer.

Back in the 1970s, when Bai Chunxue was in medical school, the textbook lung cancer patient was a chain-smoking male in his 60s. Nowadays, Bai, one of the physicians who treated the teen, sees so many who are still in their 20s that the cases blend together.

"When I see patients who are not smokers with no other risk factors, we have to assume that the most probable cause is pollution," said Bai, who works at Shanghai's Zhongshan Hospital and is chairman of the Shanghai Respiratory Research Institute.

Increasingly, other Chinese physicians are reaching the same conclusion. At a time when cigarette smoking is on the decline in China, the nation is facing an explosion of lung cancer cases.

From 2002 to 2011, the incidence of lung cancer in Beijing rose to 63 cases per 100,000, from 39.6, according to municipal health authorities. Nationwide in the last three decades, an era in which China opened up its economy and industrialized, deaths from lung cancer have risen 465%.

In a country that manufactures 1.7 trillion cigarettes a year, smoking is still cited as the leading cause of lung cancer. But these days, only about half of Chinese men smoke, down from 63% in 1996.

The additional culprit, doctors believe, is the fine particulate matter known as PM 2.5, the microscopic particles from exhaust, coal smoke and vehicle fumes that can burrow their way into lungs.

Readings in Beijing and elsewhere in northern China frequently climb straight off the chart devised by the World Health Organization, which classifies particulate levels between 300 and 500 micrograms per cubic meter as hazardous.

The northeastern city of Harbin practically closed down for two days in October when readings approached 1,000, creating air so murky that residents said they couldn't see their dogs at the end of the leash.

The episode was reminiscent of the famous London smog of December 1952, when deadly pollution caused in large part by the burning of coal lasted for five days, leading to an estimated 12,000 premature deaths, according to a 2002 study by British health officials.

As with London, the Harbin "airpocalypse," as it was dubbed, was caused mostly by coal, which remains the major heating source in China. In January, Beijing experienced levels of pollution nearly as high; this month, far-less-polluted Shanghai hit the 500 level for the first time, prompting authorities to order children and the elderly to remain indoors.

Although China's Communist Party is more candid about pollution than it used to be, the topic remains a sensitive one. Many Chinese doctors and researchers turn down requests for interviews, saying it's too risky to speak to foreign journalists.

Wei Zhang, a Chinese-born cancer researcher at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, said he was stunned that so few speakers mentioned pollution at a major conference on cancer last month in Tianjin.

"In the plenary session, I think I was the only person who brought up the term 'air pollution,'" Zhang said.

"Ten years ago, it was sensitive to talk about smoking because the tobacco industry was so important to the Chinese economy. Now it feels safe to talk about smoking. But for pollution, people are not prepared to talk about it," he said.

Though the Chinese news media are replete with stories about pollution, connecting the dots between dirty air and the rising cancer rate is risky. The doctor who first disclosed the case of the 8-year-old girl with lung cancer last month to a reporter from the state-run China News Service appears to have been publicly silenced.

"There was a misunderstanding. I can't do an interview," said Feng Dongjie of the Jiangsu Province Tumor Hospital in Nanjing.

Researchers at Fudan University School of Public Health in Shanghai were chastised last month for reporting on an experiment in which water contaminated with fine particulate matter was injected into the lungs of laboratory rats.

Photos of the blackened lungs went viral on Chinese social media sites before China's state media jumped in, running large editorials attacking the researchers for injecting the solution rather than letting the mice breathe polluted air.

"The dramatic imagery whipped Net users into a frenzy," complained the Global Times, a newspaper close to the Communist Party, which went on to quote the chief researcher on the experiment, Song Weimin, saying that "the effects have been exaggerated in media reports and the effects on humans will not be so severe."

European researchers, however, say the techniques used at Fudan are legitimate.

"Injection is a fairly standard procedure with animal experiments because it is very hard to do inhalation studies with rodents. They are not very cooperative in that way," said Dana Loomis, a leading expert on outdoor air pollution with the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer.

In October, the agency formally classified outdoor air pollution as a major carcinogen.

"With the levels of pollution existing in Europe, the risks associated with exposure to air pollution are comparable to passive smoking," Loomis said. "You could expect higher risks in more polluted areas."

Another WHO agency reported in 2010 that air pollution was responsible for 3.2 million deaths worldwide, 223,000 of them from lung cancer. About half the cases are believed to have been in Asia.

Yet research on the connection between pollution and lung cancer remains in its infancy in China.

To learn more, researchers say, Chinese health authorities must establish cancer registries, collecting case histories of new patients. Those records then must be matched with detailed air pollution data going back over the years it takes for lung cancer to develop.

"It is not going to be easy laboratory research. You need to buildup an infrastructure over time," Zhang said. "And of course, the Chinese government has to come on board so researchers don't feel like they're doing something secret."

Sierra Madre Becomes Part of a Five City Alliance to Fight the 710 Tunnel


December 24, 2013


Now here is an expenditure everyone can get behind. Sierra Madre, along with South Pasadena, La Canada Flintridge, Glendale and Pasadena, have joined in a "5-Cities Alliance" to fight the 710 Tunnel. Which is a very good thing.

Should this tunnel ever actually happen, it would be environmentally devastating to our portion of the San Gabriel Valley. If built countless diesel trucks and other unwanted traffic out of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach will be funneled up the 710 Corridor (one of the most ecologically devastated in the U.S.) and straight out onto the already distressed 210, befouling our air with cancer and asthma causing pollutants while also causing traffic here to grind to a halt.

All so that the producers of cheap goods imported from low wage overseas labor markets can save a little money and get their goods inland to Wal*Mart more quickly.

Paradoxically, Congresswoman Judy Chu and Assemblyman Chris "Cheap Houses" Holden both support this tunnel. Which I have to assume means that the prospect of lining the pockets of their corrupt lobbyist patrons with plenteous amounts of overseas vigorish means more to them than the health and welfare of their own constituents.

But who in government actually works for the people anymore? Certainly not that unhappy pair. Each of them sold us out in a heartbeat.

Enough gratuitous vitriol. Here is how the Pasadena Star News describes the Five City Alliance:

South Pasadena, La Canada Flintridge join forces against 710 Freeway extension (link): The City Council strengthened its and other cities’ ability to fight off the proposed SR-710 freeway extension.

In a 5-0 vote, members elected to join the “5-Cities Alliance,” comprising South Pasadena, La Canada Flintridge, Glendale, Pasadena and Sierra Madre. All five cities oppose extending the 710 Freeway, which has been debated for decades.

Newly appointed Mayor Marina Khubesrian called the compact historic.

“Financially, you know people are willing to put up money, and that really makes us really confident,” she said. “And I think it sends a strong message to Metro and the politicians on the board looking at this issue. We are serious and basically we are going to put our money where our words are.”

Together they have $250,000 to spend on studies that they hope will support their stance against connecting the SR-710 freeway.

The California Department of Transportation and Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority are working together to publish a draft environmental impact report by spring 2014. The five options are “no build,” traffic management solutions, light rail, bus rapid transit and freeway tunnel.

The Alliance would allow participating cities to save money and share information related to SR-710 North studies. It is meant to eliminate expensive, patchwork consultant work.

Every city that agrees to the Memoradum of Understanding (MOU) will contribute $50,000. South Pasadena will be responsible for the safekeeping and management of the quarter million dollars.

Each city will issue a request for qualification for study consultants: South Pasadena, transportation; Sierra Madre, air quality; Pasadena, legal and California Environmental Quality Act; La Canada Flintridge, soils geology and seismologist; Glendale, safety and security.

Once the proposals come back, the Alliance members will evaluate the contenders and decide to whom to award the contract.

Councilwoman Diana Mahmud called the agreement “a tremendous step forward for our city and for the effort to fight Metro on its proposed construction of the tunnel.”

I think this is great news. If we can't get our so-called representatives in Sacramento and Washington DC to work on our behalf, then we'll just have to do it ourselves. Get behind this.

I Need A Christmas Present From You Guys

The people from the United Against 710 group have worked hard and long to help protect our little slice of paradise against what Metro, Caltrans and the likes of Cheap Houses Holden have planned for us. Which is basically mainlining environmental devastation right through the heart of the San Gabriel Valley.

And what are the UA710 people asking in exchange for the hundreds of hours of hard work they have put into fighting a government that believes it no longer has to answer to the likes of us? Your name on a petition. It is the best deal you will ever get.

So sign the petition. Here is how you do it:

Current signature count for NO710 Tunnel Petition: 1,681 --- Goal: 5,000

Recruit friends, family and neighbors to sign the petition!!
1.  Go to www.NO710.com (click here)

2. Click on the words "Sign the Petition" that appear in the yellow oval. This will take you to a page that shows all the officials who will be contacted each time the petition is signed.

3. Click on the words "Sign the Petition" in the yellow box on this page and you will taken to the petition at Change.org.

4. Fill in the information at the right to sign the petition, and if you wish, leave your comments on why this is important to you.  You can also uncheck the box under your information to opt out of receiving more petitions from Change.org.

5. Finally, click on the red box that says "Sign".

Sign it. Right now. Before you get busy with something else. Otherwise Santa is going to be very angry with you.